13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. – 1 Peter 3:13-17 ESV
Suffering wasn’t just a possibility for the recipients of Peter’s letter, it was a daily reality. And Peter is attempting to get them to realize that their suffering was a natural byproduct of their faith in Christ. It came with the territory. Being a Christ-follower was not going to be easy. Being a member of God’s family, one of His chosen ones, was a status that came with some great benefits, but also some less-than-pleasant byproducts. Doing what was right in God’s eyes was going to produce a reaction among the lost, including unbelieving masters, spouses, friends, family members and co-workers. And those reactions would not always be enjoyable or positive in nature. But Peter responds, “even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats” (1 Peter 3:14 NLT). The thing Peter wanted his readers to recognize was that God’s approval meant more and carried more weight than the approval of men. The bottom line was that they needed to do what was right according to God’s viewpoint, not that of the world. Listening to His will brought a reward. Listening to the world might bring acceptance and immediate affirmation, but not peace with God.
For Peter, it all begins in the heart, where each believer is to “honor Christ the Lord as holy” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV). That’s where we begin the process of setting apart Christ as unique and as a transformative presence in our lives. Peter refers to “ the hope that is in you” and wants his readers to know that it is Jesus Christ who has made it possible for them to have a right relationship with God and to enjoy the indwelling presence of the Spirit of Christ. Paul refers to this as “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27 ESV). And Peter states that, regarding that hope, we are to be ready at all times “to make a defense to anyone who asks.” We need to be able to explain why we have hope, both in this life and in the one to come. It is important that we be able to defend what it is that we say we believe, especially when we get push back from those who don’t agree. Of all people living on this planet, we should have hope, and that hope finds its foundation in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. It is our hope in Christ, and the promise He offers of abundant life now and eternal life to come, that should influence our behavior. It should be the reason we give for the way we live.
But we are to make our defense with “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV). Part of what we need to be able to communicate is the reason behind our willingness to suffer for doing what is right and good. While suffering, we are not to complain, get bitter, or respond in anger. Remember what Peter said in the last chapter:
if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you… – 1 Peter 2:20 NLT
And people are going to want to know why you willingly put up with suffering, shame, humiliation, rejection and persecution, all for doing what is pleasing to God. The average lost person is not going to understand that kind of mindset. If you say you are following the will of God and suffering as a result, they will have a hard time understanding what the motivation behind your actions might be. It will make no sense to them. They will find it hard to justify belief in a God who allows His followers to suffer.Who would want to worship a God like that? Peter’s answer would be simple. He would say he would gladly suffer for God and so should we, because of the hope He has brought to us. Our hope is based on a future promise, not immediate gratification. We don’t necessarily get our best life now, but the promise of a better life to come. In speaking of “those who revile your good behavior in Christ” (1 Peter 3:16 ESV), Peter says we are to maintain a good conscience among them, because we are suffering for the sake of Christ. Even if we are slandered, we can rest easy, knowing that we have remained faithful to Christ. And Peter makes it clear that “it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!” (1 Peter 3:17 NLT).
Peter will pick up this same theme in chapter four of his letter.
15 If you suffer, however, it must not be for murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs. 16 But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name! – 1 Peter 4:15-16 NLT
You see, it is normal and natural, even among the lost, to suffer for doing the wrong thing. Bad people can and do receive punishment for wrong behavior, and so they should. But it makes no sense to the unsaved that anyone should suffer for doing what is right. It is unfair and unnatural. That’s not the way the world is supposed to operate. But for us as believers, it is to be expected. Jesus even warned us about it.
18 “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. 19 The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. – John 15:18-19 NLT
The world hates us. And the more we live for Christ and the more we live like Christ, the more intense that hatred will become. Jesus went on to say, “Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you” (John 15:20 NLT). Not only that, He explains that “They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the one who sent me” (John 15:21 NLT). God sent Jesus as the Savior of the world, and the world rejected Him. Jesus has now sent us into the world, and we find ourselves rejected as well. It is to be expected. It shouldn’t surprise us. And just like Jesus, we will suffer most for doing what is right and good. And when the lost around us see us suffer willingly and gladly, we must be ready to share with them the hope that is within us. It was Paul who said:
8 Always remember that Jesus Christ, a descendant of King David, was raised from the dead. This is the Good News I preach. 9 And because I preach this Good News, I am suffering and have been chained like a criminal. But the word of God cannot be chained. 10 So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen. – 2 Timothy 2:8-10 NLT
Are you willing to suffer for doing good? Are you ready to explain to the lost around you why you willingly suffer for doing what God has called you to do? The only sane answer is that you have a hope, a living hope as Peter described it, reserved in heaven for you.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you… – 1 Peter 1:3-4 NLT
We should be able to defend our actions and the suffering we endure as a result of those actions. We need to be able to articulate why we do the things we do, and why we are willing to suffer for having done them. It is because of our hope – our living hope based in Jesus Christ; our Redeemer, Savior, Shepherd and King. And it is because of our hope founded on His promise of eternal life because He sacrificed His life for ours. We suffer because He did. We endure the shame because He did. We willingly put up with the rejection and ridicule, because He did. He has given us hope and we defend our lives like it.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.