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12. Suffering For Righteousness In An Imperfect Church (1 Peter 3:8–22)

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Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
1 Peter 3:8–22

How should the believer respond to suffering unjustly from other believers?

In this text we see Peter encouraging Christians who are suffering by teaching them how they should respond. However, the context of verse 8 has to do with believers. He tells them to “live in harmony with one another.”

This means that some of the suffering that would be happening in these churches might be happening from one another. This is a reality that many believers aren’t really aware of. They expect the church to be perfect and to always be different from the world. However, people in the church are sinful, and they are being remade into the image of Christ. Also, in the church, there are always those who are not truly born again. Christ says in Matthew 7 that there will be many who call him “Lord, Lord” who aren’t truly saved and practice iniquity (v. 22, 23).

This makes the church a place where people sometimes suffer from one another. Problems often are compounded in a church when there is a difficulty, such as a financial crisis or persecution from outside. In fact, we saw this with Israel in the wilderness and how they responded in their difficult situation toward Moses and Aaron. Even though these people had been delivered from Egypt, Egypt was still in the hearts of many of the Jews. For that reason, they often persecuted Moses. They talked about stoning him; they accused him and talked bad about him. Even Christ was persecuted by those who claimed to be the people of God. We should be aware that this happens in the church as well. It happens because of sin and sometimes because the people may not truly born again. Understanding this should make us prepared for difficulties we will at times encounter among the people of God.

Let me share that at the first church I served at, it split before I came and it split a year after I was there. I was the youth pastor, but it was a sobering reality of sin and the difficulties that often happen in a community of believers. Churches can often be messy, and Christians need to know how to serve in an imperfect church and to work through these difficulties together.

Does that mean we should bail on the church because it often may not be healthy? Absolutely not! I have known many students who have fallen away because they have seen the messy side of the church. We should not leave the church; it means that we must be salt in the church. We must be the ones laboring to live in harmony with one another—the peacemakers (1 Peter 3:8). When we are mistreated, we must respond not with evil but in a godly manner. By doing this, we help bring transformation amongst the people of God.

In this text, Peter will give us the proper response to suffering for righteousness’ sake, even amidst an imperfect church.

Big Question: How should the believer respond to suffering unjustly from other believers according to 1 Peter 3:8–22?

In Suffering, Believers Must Live with the Right Attitudes

Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.
1 Peter 3:8

Peter starts off saying “finally.” Obviously, this is not the end of the book, but it is an end of a thought process. He has been talking about the believer’s response to government, masters and slaves, husbands and wives, and now he talks about the believer’s response to the church, specifically in difficult times.

Observation Question: What should be the attitudes that we, as believers, demonstrate toward one another, no matter the circumstance we are in (bad or good) in verse 8? How should we demonstrate these attitudes?

1. Believers should seek to live in harmony with one another.

The word harmony actually means to be “one in mind.” This not only means that we should seek to work through discord and live without it, but it also calls for doctrinal unity. We must seek to have doctrinal unity in the church as we “speak the truth in love.”

Listen to what Paul said about how the church should be run and the role of pastors:

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (emphasis mine).
Ephesians 4:11–13

One of the primary reasons that God has given pastors is so the church can come to a unity in the faith. Yes, we should not be divided over minors, but it is the leader’s responsibility to help the church work to a unity in doctrine. This will deliver us from much discord, as people start to think the same. It is also each member’s responsibility. We must all labor to have “one mind.” We must labor for doctrinal unity.

But, this also clearly refers to laboring in the church towards unity in any situation. This includes scenarios where others are fighting. Listen to Paul’s appeal to particular believers in the church of Philippi:

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life (emphasis mine).
Philippians 4:2–3

This loyal “yokefellow” was called to help these women “agree in the Lord” and work things out. We should “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

How is God calling you to help the church have harmony--the same mind?

2. Believers should be sympathetic.

To be sympathetic means to “share the same feeling.” This would be very important for a congregation that was suffering attacks from without and within. There would be people mourning losses and others enjoying victories. It would be very easy to be detached from the rest of the church, especially if one’s experience was different from others. This happens every day in our churches.

However, this is not how a body should work; it’s not how a family should work. When a body is sick, the rest of the members of the body recruit one another to help in the healing process. This is what we see in a fever. The body is responding to a sickness in order to heal itself. This should happen within the church as well. We should be sympathetic and share both successes and problems. Look at what Paul said in Romans 12:15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

Do you rejoice with others? Do you mourn when others are hurting? Look at what Paul said to the Hebrews: “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Heb 13:3). He said we should remember those who are suffering in prison as though we were with them. Do we react this way when a member of our church is hurting or when a member of our church is promoted? We should respond with sympathy to other believers, especially those who are suffering. We must seek to share the same feeling.

Who is God calling you to show sympathy to in the body of Christ?

3. Believers should respond by loving one another as family.

Peter then says we should love one another as brothers. This is the word phileo, which is a brotherly or family love. Christ said, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35). As believers, we have become as close, if not closer, than natural family with people in the church. Look what Paul commanded in our normal relations with church members:

Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.
1 Timothy 5:1–2

He said we should treat each member of our church as a family member. To the older men, do not rebuke them harshly; treat them as fathers. Treat older women as mothers and younger women as sisters with absolute purity. Paul said treating other believers as family also includes purity. We should do nothing with members of the opposite sex that we wouldn’t do with our natural brother or sister. We should respond to one another with a familial love.

What ways is God calling you to practice brotherly love to those in the church?

4. Believers should respond to one another with compassion.

The word used here is actually a physical word. It speaks of the inner bowels of a person. It means to be moved so much by a situation that we must respond. Some have called compassion “feeling in action.” It is more than sympathy; it is compassion that compels us to respond.

We see this often used of Christ. “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick” (Matt 14:14). Christ was so moved when he saw the crowd that he began to heal their sick. We should feel that way when we see members in our church who are struggling and in pain. It doesn’t do much to feel pain and to not respond. We should be moved in such a way that we respond with action.

How is God calling you to show compassion in the church?

5. Believers should respond to one another with humility.

In a church or relationship going through discord, it is necessary for the members to humble themselves before one another. It is pride that is the root of almost all our disputes. We feel disrespected, we feel not cared for, and our pride rises up with anger.

However, humility enables us to lower ourselves in order to work for peace and the good of the whole. Listen to what Paul tells the Philippians who were struggling with division, especially as they had two women fighting.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus (emphasis mine).
Philippians 2:3–5

Essentially, Paul encourages members of a divided congregation to care more about others and their good, than themselves and their pride. He says, consider the interest of others. A person who is humble listens to the gripes and complaints of others. They are not quick to become angry, even when wronged, because they care more about others than themselves.

Believers must be humble in their relationships with one another. These five attitudes are necessary to have in the church especially when going through hardship, division, or persecution. Trials often reveal the ugly in our hearts, and therefore, when going through them, we must seek to respond with these godly attitudes instead.

Application Question: Which attitude is God calling you to work on most? How will you seek to improve it?

In Suffering, the Believer Must Respond with Blessing Instead of Evil

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing. Because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it” (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 3:9-11

What other ways should the believer respond when suffering, sometimes even from within the church? The believer must respond to evil that is committed against them with blessing. Again, the context of this is actually from other believers. In verse 8, he calls them to “dwell in harmony with one another,” which seems to infer there was some difficulties. This should be the response of a believer ultimately to any evil done against him. He must respond with blessing.

Look at how Paul described his response to persecution in 1 Corinthians 4:13: “When we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world” (emphasis mine). He chose to answer kindly to those who slandered his good intentions. Paul also said that the believer’s response to evil should be to “overcome evil with good.” He says this in Romans 12:19-21,

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

We should bless those who commit evil against us not only by praying for them but by practical ways. Paul says meet their needs. If they are hungry, give them drink or food and by doing this, overcome their evil with good.

John MacArthur shares at least four ways we can bless our enemies:

1. First, believers can bless people by loving them unconditionally (John 13:34; 15:12; Rom. 12:9–10; Col. 2:2; 3:14; 1 Thess. 4:9; James 2:8; 1 John 3:23; 4:7).

2. Second, they can give a blessing by praying for the salvation of an unbeliever (cf. Matt. 5:44; 1 Tim. 2:1–4) or the sanctification of a fellow believer.

3. Third, believers can bless people by expressing gratitude for them (Rom. 1:8; 1 Cor. 1:4; 2 Cor. 1:11; Phil. 1:3–5; Col. 1:3–6; 2 Thess. 1:3).

4. Finally, and most crucial, believers are to forgive those who persecute them

In the rest of 1 Peter 3:9-11, Peter also describes how believers can bless those who harm them. What are the acts he shares?

Observation Question: In 1 Peter 3:10, how should believers bless those who harm them?

1. Refrain from verbal retaliation (must keep his tongue from evil).

Obviously, the normal response to someone who wrongs us is to speak evil of them. This may happen through gossip behind their back or cursing them to their face. Peter declares this should not be the response of a believer—they must keep their “tongue from evil.” They must refrain from verbal retaliation.

Do you practice restraint of your tongue in response to evil (James 1:26)?

2. Fully commit to truth (must keep his lips from deceitful speech).

Peter declares that a believer must be committed to truth. He says this by using a negative—to keep one’s “lips from deceitful speech.” There is often a tendency to lie or embellish the story when we are really mad at another person. We must be committed to truth, even if it doesn’t help our case.

Do you guard yourself against the temptation to lie or embellish the truth in response to evil?

3. Reject anything sinful (he must turn from evil).

Again, Peter recognizes the natural response for us to respond with evil—an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. They hurt us, and now we must hurt them. But no! Believers must turn from the temptation to respond with evil.

Do you guard your integrity in response to evil?

4. Do righteous acts (and do good).

He commends righteous acts. We must do good in response to evil. This includes, if they are hungry, to feed them or thirsty to give them drink (Rom 12:20, 21). We must seek practical ways to bless those who harm us.

What ways is God calling you to bless your enemy?

5. Seek peace (he must seek peace and pursue it).

“Seek and pursue are both vigorous actions. Implicit in the phrase is the analogy of the hunter vigorously tracking down his prey.”1 Like a hunter seeking his prey, we must aggressively pursue peace in these situations. We must do everything possible to have reconciliation with those who have harmed us. Paul says, as much as depends on you live at peace with all men (Romans 12:18).

Do you practice aggressively pursuing peace in response to evil?

In suffering, we must refrain from sin and pursue righteousness. This is the example Christ set for us. He never sinned even when the Pharisees tried to kill him. He pursued peace, which is not the absence of conflict but the pursuit of righteousness.

It should be noted that in times of conflict or persecution, many become inward focused and separate from people, and others lash out. Neither of these are biblical responses. We must respond with blessing and seek to overcome evil with good.

Application Question: What is your typical response to experiencing suffering or conflict with others? How is God calling you to practice blessing those who harm you and to aggressively pursue reconciliation with them?

In Suffering, Believers Must Focus on the Blessing of God

Because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened” (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 3:9-14

How else should we respond to suffering, especially from other believers? Peter says we should focus on the blessing of God.

In this passage, Peter quotes Psalms 34:12–16. He encourages the believers to pursue righteousness while suffering by viewing the blessings that God promises to the righteous. God often promises us reward in order to encourage us to do what is right in the Scripture. Some of these rewards are heavenly, and some are earthly. He says practice righteousness so you may “inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9).

What are these blessings? We must know them so we can have encouragement and motivation to pursue righteousness in the midst of suffering.

Observation Question: What blessings does God promise those who pursue righteousness in verses 9–12?

a) The blessing of loving life and seeing good

“For, ‘Whoever would love life and see good days” (1 Pet 3:10).

Scripture would declare that the ability to enjoy life actually comes from God. Solomon declared how everything under the sun (without God) was vanity. Wealth, relationships, wisdom all leave a man empty. However, to enjoy one’s labor is a gift of God. “That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God” (Eccl 3:13).

It can also be translated to “enjoy” ones labor is a gift from God. The ability to love life comes from God. If you look at job-satisfaction surveys, you will find that the majority of people are unsatisfied with their jobs. In fact, this in some sense is part of the curse. Man would labor and work hard, but the ground would produce thorns and thistles (Gen 3:17, 18). We wouldn’t get what we worked for.

There is difficulty in labor and in life in general, but joy, happiness, the ability to love life, is something that comes from God, and it has nothing to do with one’s circumstances. In fact, Paul talked about this in Philippians 4:11-13,

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength (emphasis mine).

Paul said he had learned contentment in every circumstance, whether bad or good, by recognizing that contentment comes through God’s strength (4:13). The ability to love life, to have joy in life all comes from God, and he promises this, regardless of circumstances, to those who practice righteousness.

This also reminds us that we cannot have true joy while living in sin. They are incompatible. Sin promises joy, getting revenge promises it will make us feel good, lust promises to make us happy, but instead they bring slavery and depression (John 8:34). Love and joy come as gifts of God to those who are righteous, even when mistreated. In suffering from other’s wrong doings, we must seek the blessing of God in order to keep us from sin.

What other blessings does he promise?

b.) The blessing of God’s watchful eye

“The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous” (1 Pet 3:12).

Peter also promises the blessing of God’s eye being on the righteous. What does this mean? God is omniscient; he always sees the evil and the righteous. It essentially refers to various blessings from God. Look at what 2 Chronicles 16:9 says: “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (emphasis mine).

God blesses those who are righteous. He strengthens them. He protects them. He favors them. He favored Abraham by making his name great, made his seed a blessing to the nations. He favored David by making him king and brought the Messiah through his lineage. God’s eyes are on the righteous. This promise to bless the righteous should encourage us to be holy in the midst of suffering evil from others.

c.) The blessing of God answering their prayers

“His ears are attentive to their prayer” (1 Pet 3:12).

One of the ways he promises to bless the righteous is by hearing their prayers. Conversely, Scripture declares that God does not hear the prayers of those living in unrepentant sin. Listen to what David said in Psalms 66:18: “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.”

In fact, Peter declares that those who choose to respond with sin, specifically in trials and persecutions, the face of the Lord is against them (v. 12b). He will come against them to discipline. But those who are righteous in suffering with difficult people, in the church and outside of it, God will hear and answer their prayers.

One of the things we must do in order to respond with righteousness during unjust suffering is focus on the blessing of God. The blessings are meant to motivate us to respond to others in a righteous manner. Those who respond with sin will lose the blessing of God, and in fact, invite his wrath on their life (1 Pet 3:12).

Application Question: Have you ever considered the promises and the rewards of God given for how we respond to those who treat us unjustly? Do they motivate you? Why or why not?

In Suffering, Believers Must Not Be Afraid

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 3:13-14

One of the things that Peter says about suffering is that in suffering, a believer should not be afraid or frightened. We have seen this tremendous boldness in the face of suffering in the lives of many believers throughout the Scripture. Look at the three Hebrews in Daniel.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Daniel 3:16-18

These young men stood strong and bold in the face of suffering, without fear. We also saw this in our Lord Jesus Christ. Look at how he responded when Judas was coming to betray him. He says: “Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Mark 14:42).

You cannot but notice this great boldness and lack of fear they had at the prospect of death. Peter exhorts the Christians suffering in the Roman Empire, and us through them, to have this boldness as well. He challenges us to “not be frightened” when we suffer unjustly.

Why not? Why should a believer not have fear in the face of suffering?

Interpretation Question: Why should a believer not be frightened when experiencing unjust suffering from other people?

1. The believer should not fear because they are blessed by God. In the context, Peter is no doubt referring to all the blessings that come from faithfully suffering in God’s will in 1 Peter 3:9–12. This includes loving life, answered prayer, and God’s favor, among other things. The prospect of blessing should remove fear.

2. The believer should not fear because God is in control. Peter later says it is better if it is Gods will to suffer for doing good than for doing evil (1 Pet 3:17). He sees suffering as being part of God’s will for the believer. If God has called us to be just like his Son, we should expect the cross and also the blessings that come after it. We also do not fear because we understand that Gods will is an extension of Gods character. He is all wise and only allows things for our good (Rom 8:28). This should remove fear from us.

3. The believer should not fear because this is a witness to unbelievers. Look at what Paul says:

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God (emphasis mine).
Philippians 1:27–28

Paul says this lack of fear in going through suffering is a sign to unbelievers. It tells them that your faith is genuine and real. It is a witness to them that they will be destroyed and that the believer will be saved by God. We have seen this throughout history. One historian said about Christians who were dying for their faith: “They die so well.” A church father said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”  This boldness in the face of suffering is a tremendous witness to the world. We should not be afraid when suffering for righteousness because God uses suffering to not only help us grow but help others come to Christ. It is a sign to them.

4. The believer should not be afraid when suffering because it is a sign that we will ultimately be saved (Philip 1:28). How is suffering for righteousness a sign of our future salvation? Matthew 5:10 says this, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (emphasis mine). Jesus said suffering for righteousness is a proof that we are truly born again. If a person never suffers for righteousness, they might not be part of the kingdom of heaven. Suffering for righteousness is a sign to us of our salvation. This should remove fear and in fact give us joy. That is what the word “Blessed” means. It can be translated “happy.”

5. The believer should not be afraid when suffering because God will comfort and equip them through it. Look at what Paul says: “For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows” (2 Cor 1:5). Where Christ’s sufferings overflow, so does his comfort. In this context Paul, also, says that the comfort he receives enables him to better minister to others (v. 4). “So that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”  Therefore, not only does God comfort us but equips us for further ministry. This is why we should not be frightened.

Application Question: Have you ever experienced an overwhelming boldness in doing God’s will, even in the face of potential suffering? In what situation(s) did you experience this?

In Suffering, Believers Must Submit to Christ as Lord

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.
1 Peter 3:15

Interpretation Question: What does it mean to set apart Christ as Lord? What does that look like practically?

One of the ways that we should respond to suffering is by setting apart Christ as Lord. This is a strange appeal to those who are already saved. Why does he say this? He says it because often Christ is not literally ruling over our lives. We often choose our own way, our own path, which is often the path of least resistance, and we must again “set Christ as Lord over our hearts.” He must rule our mind, will, and emotions.

I think we get a picture of this in Romans 12:1: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (emphasis mine).

It has been said the problem with a “living sacrifice” is that it often runs off the altar. When it gets too hot on the altar of God, there is a tendency for the believer to run to “cooler” ground. We see Christ “setting apart God as Lord” right before his suffering. What does he do? He prays. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). He asks for God to take the suffering, the separation from God’s presence and his wrath away, if possible, but he declares nevertheless God’s will be done. He again sets apart God as Lord. He declares, God I will do your will.

We often need to do this as well in order to accept whatever difficulty we face—the challenging roommate, the difficulty with family or church, the difficult boss. We often want to quit, run off the altar. But we must say, “If this is your will for my life in order to make me mature, I will do it, Lord. Your will be done.”

Are you “setting apart Christ as Lord” in your life? It’s the only way to go through unjust suffering.

Application Question: How do we set apart Christ as Lord when going through unjust suffering or being mistreated?

  • Sometimes, setting apart Christ as Lord means recommitting to things like prayer, study of the Word, church, or small group. Often, trials are allowed in order to turn us back to these types of disciplines.
  • Sometimes, setting apart Christ as Lord means forgiving someone or letting a hurt go.
  • Sometimes, setting apart Christ as Lord means accepting a certain trial we are going through as from the Lord and persevering through it so we can become mature (Jas 1:2–4, Rom 5:3-4, 8:28).

In Suffering, Believers Must Be Ready to Defend their Hope in God

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 3:15

It is in the midst of suffering that your life shines the most. It is often in the midst of the fire that there are opportunities to evangelize or share the faith. The word answer in the original language is where we get the word apology or apologetic--to defend one’s faith.

People will wonder why are you responding the way you are responding. How come you are not angry or fighting back? Why are you persevering through this difficult relationship, job, marriage, or church situation? And it is there you will have the opportunity to encourage other believers or evangelize nonbelievers. We may not feel capable of ministering in our trials but that is often where God uses us and demonstrates his glory the most.

Certainly, we see this in the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They are about to get thrown in the fire if they do not bow down to the idol in the Kingdom of Babylon. Let’s look again at their apologetic to the King and to all those watching.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Daniel 3:16–18

Here we see their apologetic, they said, “The God we serve is able to save us.” But, we should also notice the manner in which they responded. They said, “O Nebuchadnezzar” and “O King.” They responded with honorific language with the “O.” Even right before being thrown in the fire, they are honoring and respecting the king even in their apologetic.

Peter teaches the same thing.  He says not only must we be prepared to give an apologetic, but the manner we do it in is important as well. Look again at what 1 Peter 3:15 says: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (emphasis mine).

Interpretation Question: Peter says our apologetic must be done with gentleness and respect, what do these words mean and what do they look like practically?

1. We must speak with gentleness.

The word gentleness can also be translated “meekness.” It is a very difficult word to translate. Sometimes it is translated meekness, gentleness, or even humility. It was used of a wild horse that had been tamed. It means “power under control.”

It speaks of a believer that could be mad or angry but instead responds with gentleness, with a tamed tongue and emotions. This word was used of Christ. Matthew 11:29 says he is gentle and humble in heart.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28–30

When we fail Jesus, he doesn’t lash out on us—he is controlled and gentle in response. He is the perfect teacher. I can’t but think of how Christ responded to Judas, after his betrayal. He didn’t lash out at him in anger. He simply asked, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss? (Luke 22:48)” He was meek and gentle. When he was accused by the Pharisees and lied about at his trial before his crucifixion, he simply said nothing. He has power, but it is under control. We must do the same when we are persecuted for righteousness as well. It is that character in unjust suffering that opens the door for us to share an apologetic about our faith.

2. We must speak with respect.

We must show respect in reference to people. We respect them as people made in the image of God. In situations where the people are our authorities, we must respect their position. Because we respect others, we will not argue, talk down, or mock their views or responses. Many Christians, in their apologetics, actually argue about the faith and push people away. Paul taught that the servant of the Lord must not quarrel.

And the Lords servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will (emphasis mine).
2 Timothy 2:24–26

In response to suffering, we must be prepared to give an apologetic for our faith, but in doing so, it must be done with gentleness and respect.

Application Question: What makes showing gentleness and respect when speaking to people who are wrong or mistreating us? How can we grow in these attitudes?

In Suffering, the Believer Must Maintain a Clear Conscience

Keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 3:16-17

Interpretation Question: What is the conscience? How does it differ in a believer versus a nonbeliever?

One of the ways a believer must endure unjust suffering is by keeping a clear conscience. God has given each person a conscience to help us stay holy, and it is this conscience that either affirms us or accuses us. However, it is possible to constantly disregard our conscience in such a way that it stops working and even encourages us to sin or follow deception. Look at what Paul says about the conscience in describing false teachers.

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron (emphasis mine).
1 Timothy 4:1–2

These false teachers would be led by demons because their consciences no longer were working properly. They had become hardened by living in continual sin and by living a hypocritical life. Therefore, they could no longer properly evaluate what was right or wrong.

We have all experienced this. I remember being a high school student struggling with cursing. Every day I would confess my sins of cursing and decide that the next day I would stop. But, eventually, by continual practice, I stopped being convicted of cursing and began to practice it normally. I had hardened my conscience and it wasn’t working properly anymore. Christians do this all the time in various ways and especially, when going through unjust suffering.

Paul declares that a defiled conscience is the pathway for falling into deeper sin and even away from the faith. Look at what he says about two other false teachers:

Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme (emphasis mine).
1 Timothy 1:18–20

Because the conscience is so important to living a life of holiness, Paul always labored to keep a clear conscience and commanded believers to do so as well. Listen to what he says in 2 Timothy 1:3: “I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers” (emphasis mine).

He also taught that God would use our conscience in the final judgment. He will look at how we obeyed or disobeyed our natural warning system. This will be used to condemn or reward us based on our response.

(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God will judge mens secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares (emphasis mine).
Romans 2:14–16

We also see a warning in 1 Corinthians 8 about not offending other people’s consciences. If these people harm their consciences, even in areas that may not be sin, it will make it easier to continue to disobey it and potentially cause ruin in their spiritual lives.

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall (emphasis mine).
1 Corinthians 8:9–13

While going through suffering, we must continually ask ourselves, did I handle this situation in such a way where I did not defile my conscience? We must labor to keep a clean conscience so that our faith may not be hindered.

Application Question: What is your understanding of the conscience? Why is it important? What ways have you experienced the hardening of the conscience? How do we protect our conscience?

In Suffering, Believers Must Be Willing to Endure It as Part of the Will of God

It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
1 Peter 3:17

Implied in this text is that believers must be willing to endure suffering, even unjust suffering from other believers, as part of the will of God. He says if you suffer, it is better if it is God’s will to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. The implication here is that God is in control and that we should be willing to endure the suffering he allows.

In speaking to people who were suffering from outside and from within the church, he was trying to encourage them to accept this suffering because it is “God’s will.” God is in control even of our enemies.

Joseph said, “What you meant for bad God meant for good,” when talking about his brothers sending him into slavery (Gen 50:20). Joseph saw God in control of the trials his brothers brought on his life. Job, also, saw his suffering as coming from God, even though it was Satan afflicting him. Job said, “The Lord gives and he takes away blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). These people accepted their unjust suffering as part of the will of God and coming from his wise and just hand. Listen to what Paul said about God’s sovereignty even over trials:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (emphasis mine).
Romans 8:28

One of the things a believer must do when suffering within the church is realize that God is in control. He is in control, and his will is always best for us. He works everything for the good in a believer’s life. Even the work of their enemies is used to bring good things in their life.

If we do not see God’s faithful hand in the suffering, it will be impossible to respond properly to it. We will respond with anger towards others instead of with forgiveness. We will harbor bitterness towards ourselves or even God. Peter wants them to see God’s hand in the midst of the suffering. He wants them to see “God’s will.” We must do this as well. We must have this view in the trial in order to suffer in a righteous way.

Application Question: What do you think about the concept of suffering being part of God’s will for the believer? How does that make you feel? Does that bring comfort or terror to you?

In Suffering, We Must Remember Christ Suffered for Righteousness’ Sake

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
1 Peter 3:18-22

What else should we do in order to respond properly to those who mistreat us?

Peter says, we must remember Christ. In this passage, Peter calls the believers to remember that Christ died for the sins of the world, even though he was righteous. He was without fault, and therefore, not deserving of death. He took the penalty for our sins. Because of this reality, followers of Christ should be encouraged by his model, and therefore, willing to suffer for righteousness’s sake, even as our Lord did.

The writer of Hebrews also exhorts believers to look at Christ to encourage them when they were suffering. Look at what he says:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood (emphasis mine).
Hebrews 12:2–4

As we suffer for righteousness’ sake, we must fix our eyes on Christ who suffered before us. This “fix” means an unwavering look. It is like Peter walking on water in the storm. While his eyes were fixed on Christ, he could walk even amidst the storm. But when he began to focus on the storm and the waves, he sank. In the same way, it is impossible for us to stay holy in the storms of life and especially when suffering unjustly without a fixed, unwavering look at Christ. By looking at him, we find encouragement and strength to suffer for righteousness’ sake.

Application Question: How do we remember Christ while suffering?

  • We must spend more time in the Word which speaks of Christ (Phil 4:8, 9).
  • We must spend more time with believers who are Christ’s body (Matt 18:20).
  • We must not focus on the trial or injustice for that will steal our peace (Isa 26:3).
  • We must spend more time in prayer so we can have the grace that only Christ gives (Heb 4:16)

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (emphasis mine).
Hebrews 4:14–16

Christ can sympathize with suffering unjustly, and he can give us grace in time of need. Let us remember him by coming to him and enjoying his presence.

Interpretation Question: What does Peter mean by talking about Christ being made alive by the Spirit and ministering to the spirits in prison during the days of Noah? Why does he add this, while teaching believers how to suffer for righteousness sake? This is a very controversial passage.

He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
1 Peter 3:18–22

There are two primary views to this passage:

1. It speaks of Christ ministering through Noah, as he spoke to the rebellious men during the flood. Noah was said to be a preacher of righteousness (2 Pet 2:5). Support for this interpretation is seen in 1 Peter 1:10–12 as it says the Spirit of Christ ministered through the former prophets.

This would encourage the saints who were suffering for righteousness because Christ was rejected even through Noah. Only seven were saved by his preaching and that was Noah and his family. Therefore, what is happening to Peter’s audience has happened since the beginning of time. God saved those who were righteous, Noah and his family, and judged the lost and rebellious. Though persecuted for righteousness, the Christians Peter wrote to would ultimately be saved and the unrighteous judged.

2. The second view is that Peter is talking about Christ visiting Hades during his three days in the grave. In the spirit, Christ went to Hades, the abode of the dead, while his body was in the grave. While there, he spoke to the spirits in Hades.

Evidence for this view is the word spirit is not typically used of humans but of demonic spirits or angels. It would seem that Christ is there declaring victory over those spirits who had worked in leading the world astray in the days of Noah (Gen 6:2). Also, another evidence is the fact that Christ immediately went to Paradise, not Heaven, after his death (Luke 23:43). Paradise in the Old Testament was part of Sheol where all the dead were located, both the righteous and the unrighteous (Luke 16:22–26).

Many would say these spirits are mentioned in Genesis 6 as angels who cohabitated with women during the time of Noah, creating giants, or nephalim, in the land that conquered the societies (Gen 6:1–4). There are also other Scriptures that seem to support that these demons were judged and kept in the prison of hell (a compartment in Hades) unlike other demons that roam the earth. We see support for this in Jude 6 and 7. Therefore, Christ would have been proclaiming a “public” victory over these demons that were active during the early stages of earth (Colossians 2:15).

This would have encouraged the saints because even though evil permeated the early world through the work of demons, the ultimate victory was in Christ. He defeated all powers and principalities in his death and resurrection (Eph 4:8–10). Christ proclaimed his victory even to those who persecuted the righteous in the days of Noah.

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross (emphasis mine).
Colossians 2:15

Therefore, these believers could trust that even though they are suffering, the ultimate victory has already been won in Christ

Application Question: How does the fact that the righteous have always been persecuted and rejected since the beginning of time encourage you at the prospect of suffering for righteousness sake? How does Christ’s ultimate victory over demons and the devil encourage you in suffering?

Conclusion

Often trials reveal what is in our hearts. In the midst of hard times, this often will cause conflict and problems, even amongst the people of God. 

In the wilderness, Israel rose up against Moses, Aaron, and God. We should not be surprised when this happens to us in the church as well.  But, how should we respond to suffering unjustly, even from believers?

  1. In suffering, believers must live with the right attitudes.
  2. In suffering, believers must respond with blessing instead of evil.
  3. In suffering, believers must focus on the blessing and reward of God.
  4. In suffering, believers must not be afraid.
  5. In suffering, believers must submit to Christ as Lord.
  6. In suffering, believers must be ready to defend our hope in God.
  7. In suffering, believers must maintain a clear conscience.
  8. In suffering, believers must be willing to endure it, as part of the will of God.
  9. In suffering, believers must remember Christ suffered for righteousness’ sake.

Chapter Notes

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Copyright 2014 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked KJV are from the King James Version of the Bible.


1 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2004). 1 Peter. MacArthur New Testament Commentary (193). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Spiritual Life