Be honest—much of what we call suffering in the western world is inconvenience. But there is such a thing as genuine suffering. Believers who go through it, because of the gospel, learn to leverage it for the world’s good and for God’s glory. Ultimately the devil is to blame for suffering (Job 1:11). Sometimes we cause our own suffering (Genesis 3:16-19). And sometimes other people cause our suffering (Joshua 7:10-26). When God brings suffering, he internalizes it on himself (Isaiah 53:10).
Our text begins where we left off in the last lesson. We move from the subject of submission to the subject of suffering. Suffering seems to be the backdrop of this general epistle. Because people love darkness rather than the light (John 3:19), doing right can bring about suffering to the people who are doing right. Sometimes it comes because of what Christians do, and sometimes it comes because of who Christians are.
Suffering Because of What We Do
1 Peter 3:8-17
Christians do good. This phrase appears twice in this passage (11, 13, but “what is right” and “good behavior” are similar phrases and they appear in 14 and 16). People who do good can get thrown in jail (Acts 4:3) or even put on a cross (Acts 10:38-40). Peter called the Christian exiles to do good even if they were the recipients of evil because this would ensure that they would inherit the blessing of God (a concept that appears in this passage three times).
There are at least five virtues (framed up as verbs) that contribute to returning good for evil to experience the blessing of God. They are like-mindedness, sympathy, love, compassion, and humility. When these are embraced, doing good becomes the default setting. To underscore this truth Peter drew upon a lengthy citation from Psalm 34:12-16. The value of this Old Testament text for Peter’s argument is that it deals with King David living in the midst of Abimelech (a believer living in the midst of an unbeliever). When Christians live in non-Christian environments it is important for them to love life and keep their tongue from evil and seek peace and pursue it. After all, God will hear their prayers while turning his face against the evil ones.
One thing for sure that followers of Jesus do not want to do is suffer for the wrong thing. When they suffer for right things then they do not need to be frightened. The best posture is that famous Scripture 1 Peter 3:15. Often used as a verse to justify the study of apologetics (and it fits in application) it probably more accurately is an apologetic for Christian living without a spirit of retaliation—and for the hope that is in believers. This is done by reverence to Christ and gentleness and respect for others. The best way to handle slander is to give adversaries a clear (good) conscience and good behavior. Verse 17 provides the thesis of the entire lesson: suffer for doing good.
Suffering Because of Who We Are
1 Peter 4:12-16
The word Christian appears only three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26; 26:28; and here). It describes one who is a Christ follower. We do not just act Christianly; we are Christians. It describes “who” we are. So if suffering comes to Christians, and it will (2 Timothy 3:12), make sure that God is glorified through that name.
Peter again addressed them as dear friends (beloved). The term is one of endearment. But he called for them not to be surprised at suffering (described as the fiery ordeal). As ugly as suffering is, it can be leveraged as a way to test (and thereby mature) believers. The idea of suffering not seeming like something strange reminds one of what Jesus promised (John 15:18, 19). In fact, when we are “participating” (having fellowship) in the sufferings of Christ there is a solidarity that exists between the teacher and his disciples. The joy of this solidarity will only be surpassed when his glory is revealed (when Jesus returns).
Then Peter returned to a theme developed earlier in chapter three (the blessing). Two words for blessing are used in this lesson. One word means “to speak well of” (3:9—twice), and the other word means “congratulations” (3:14; 4:14). When we take our licks for Jesus, Heaven congratulates us since that gives evidence of God’s Spirit resting on us. Peter reminded us that if we are to suffer at all, it should not be for the four-fold of evil (murderer, thief, criminal, or meddler). Rather it should be as a Christian—a name under which God can be praised.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.
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