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5. Week Five—Suffering for Doing Good

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Words To Live By

Do not return evil for evil or insult for insult, but instead bless others because you were called to inherit a blessing.

1 Peter 3:9

I’ve been doing a study the past few weeks from The Voice of the Martyrs1 with a small group of women. It uses the story of Richard Wurmbrand based on his autobiographical book, Tortured for Christ, and compares scriptural references that apply. (I highly recommend reading his book2 or watching the movie.3) Wurmbrand and his fellow Romanian believers were willing to suffer for the truth and the name of Christ—all the while loving and praying for their Russian persecutors.

In contrast, today in America it’s common for Christians to label those with different opinions, political parties or even Christian perspectives as enemies, which somehow gives them license to attack them. Hatred and arrogance seem to be the order of the day. How very opposite of the way the Bible teaches us to respond to people, even those we might consider enemies! (Note and memorize this week’s verse.) I pray that God will give me love, grace and humility for those with whom I disagree now, so that if the day comes when I do suffer for Christ, blessing my persecutors will be second nature to me.

Part One Study

In this part of our lesson, we’ll consider the final section of the household code found in 1 Peter 3:8-12, where Peter speaks to every group he already mentioned, plus individuals who don’t fall into a previous category.

Review 1 Peter 2:12, The Theme And Purpose Of Peter’s Household Code: “. . . Maintain Good Conduct Among The Non-Christians, So That Though They Now Malign You As Wrongdoers, They May See Your Good Deeds And Glorify God When He Appears.”

In Light Of That Context, Read 1 Peter 3:8-12.

Now Focus On 3:8 That Deals With Relationships Within The Church, And Dwell On The Character Qualities Listed. These Are Traits That Would Apply To Us In America As Well As To Persecuted Christians. Journal As You Consider This Question:

  • How well are you doing with these qualities? Rate yourself on each one. How do you see these character qualities relate to each other?

Peter begins v. 8 with “be harmonious,” also translated as “unity of mind,” “like-mindedness,” “agreeable,” “in agreement” and “of one mind.” Jobes says this quality “implies a willingness to conform one’s goals, needs, and expectations to the purposes of the larger community”4 and presumes “a high commitment to the stability and well-being” of the church in contrast to our Western individualistic focus.5

Prayerfully Comment On This Next Question. Be Honest Yet Gracious As You Consider Your Personal Experiences Which May Have Been Hurtful.

  • How willing right now would you say that American believers are to give up personal goals, needs and expectations (and I would add rights and preferences) for the unity of Christ’s church and the flourishing of his larger kingdom? What would you identify as our highest priority?

McKnight points out that v. 8 is essential for the persecuted church because “. . . they need to be harmonious and love one another if they are going to be able to make an impact on the outside world; in fact they may need to unify simply in order to survive.”6

Obviously, there are times when the church both universal and local can’t be of one mind because orthodoxy requires standing for the truth of Scripture. But not every doctrine is essential to unity, nor is it equally clear. Too much of what’s being argued today doesn’t fall into heresy but simply involves doctrinal differences about second and third tier issues. If our differences aren’t about core issues, it’s hard to see why there would be division (not simply disagreement) if the other characteristics in v. 8 are present. (If you aren’t sure of the core issues, watch BOW’s free videos Choosing Trustworthy Resources7 or download the podcast episodes.8)

Reread 1 Peter 3:9-12, Which Deals With Our Relationships And Attitudes Toward All People, And Journal About The Bulleted Questions:

Marshall adds this insight into giving a blessing instead of revenge: “. . . inherent in the Christian way of life is the attitude of love for others, including enemies and persecutors.”9

  • Summarize the description of the one who wants to see God’s blessing. In general, what is your perspective of how we as the church are doing with God’s words here?
  • Ask God to show you how you personally measure up to the attitudes he commands toward all, including unbelievers. Write down what you sense him saying.

*** Compare Jesus’ teaching in Luke 6:27-28 with 1 Peter 3:9-12.

I love this quote by Jobes: “Those who are able not simply to clench their teeth and remain silent but to maintain an inner attitude that allows one to pray sincerely for the well-being of one’s adversaries, are truly a witness to the life-changing power of a new identity in Christ.”10

Lord, give us the grace to be such witnesses, even if we have to face a hostile world!

Part Two Study

Read 1 Peter 3:13-22. Don’t Linger On The Parts That Are Unclear (Vv. 18b-2011), But Focus On Peter’s Comments About Suffering, A Word Which You Marked In Your Copy Of 1 Peter In The Appendix. (You May Want To Mark The Commands By Underlining Them In Blue As Suggested Before.) Then Record Your Thoughts On The Following Questions:

  • What commands did you find in this section of God’s Word? How do you feel about them? (You can’t be wrong if it’s how you feel.)
  • By looking at the word suffering and its synonyms and knowing that in this context it occurs because of faith in Christ, what is God’s message about this topic in this passage?
  • How are we to respond to those who ask about the hope they see within us?
  • Peter refers to Noah’s ark as a symbol of baptism in vv. 20b-22. What does he teach about baptism and salvation?

Let’s take a brief look at the unclear section of this passage in vv. 19-20a: “In it [the spirit referred to at the end of v. 18] he [Jesus] went and preached to the spirits in prison, after they were disobedient long ago when God patiently waited in the days of Noah as an ark was being constructed.”

How do we unpack a weird reference that no one today understands for sure? Good study requires cross referencing and looking up definitions and usage of the words Peter used. In this case there really aren’t clear cross references and definitions don’t provide a definitive answer, so no one can be adamant about its meaning.

For our purposes, it’s good to recognize that the meaning in this obscure passage has no bearing on Peter’s theme or purpose in this letter or on our understanding of the core beliefs of Christianity. That means it’s okay not to know what Peter meant. Spending a lot of time on it may just end up distracting us from Peter’s message about how to live in a godly way in a hostile world.

That said, Jobes explains a couple of the interpretations of these verses held today. One view holds that “the preincarnate Christ preached repentance through Noah to the sinful people of that generation, who were about to be judged by the waters of the flood.”12 She also identifies the most common interpretation among modern scholars: “. . . it refers to Christ’s victory proclamation following his resurrection as he ascended to take his rightful place in heaven as the ruler over all.”13

McKnight connects the gist of these verses to Peter’s theme: “Just as Jesus suffered as a righteous man and was vindicated, so too if the churches of Peter live righteously (as he has exhorted them to do), they will be vindicated and sit with Jesus in the presence of God.”14

*** Study these obscure verses in 3:19-20 in commentaries or online.15

Journal As You Consider These Questions:

  • Read Hebrews 12:1-2 and comment on how we can endure hostility as Jesus did.
  • What is God saying to you today through the commands in this section of the Word?

Part Three Study

The last passage in this week’s study (1 Peter 4:1-6) begins with “therefore” or “so.” Although those who divided our Bible into chapters and verses disconnected 4:1-6 with those that preceded them in chapter 3, Peter’s thoughts are connected.

Review 1 Peter 3:13-22 And Read Through 4:6. Write Down Your Thoughts On The Following Questions:

  • How do you see 4:1-6 connect back to 3:13-22?
  • Copy the only verse containing a command in this passage. What is the reason Peter gives them to obey it? What questions do you have about it? How can you obey this command in your present circumstances?
  • How does Peter describe the lifestyles of his audience before they became Christians? How have their old friends responded to their changed lives?
  • How has your life changed because of your love for Jesus? How have your old friends responded?

You may be wondering about how we understand 4:6. Through the years there have been multiple attempts to explain it, but McKnight says this: “The vast majority of commentators today argue that Peter is referring to Christians in Asia Minor who heard the gospel while alive but are now physically dead,”16 which makes perfect sense. Nowhere does the Bible suggest that either Jesus or the apostles preached the gospel to dead people so that they could be saved, nor does the Word anywhere allow for dead unbelievers to come to faith.

Jobes quotes P.J. Achtemeier’s comments about negative reactions from unbelievers when Christians do what is right by living a lifestyle pleasing to God: “It is a problem that will recur whenever Christians are forced by their faith to oppose cultural values widely held in the secular world within which they live.”17

And yet, we are still to respond in grace, love and prayer, just as Jesus would do because we are his ambassadors to the world. Whether that means losing friends, being isolated by the crowd or co-workers, hated by the culture or imprisoned and tortured like Richard Wurmbrand was, we are to respond with kindness and love.

After spending several weeks looking at Wurmbrand’s story of being persecuted and reading many Bible verses on the subject, I find myself more and more convicted by the strength of faith of so many persecuted believers, and I know my faith doesn’t hold a candle to theirs. As Peter says in 4:1-2, suffering has the power to change people so that they live for the will of God instead of sinful desires. In other words, their hearts and lives are purified by suffering. When the Christians in Romania began suffering for Christ, Wurmbrand and his wife started praying that God would allow them to share in the sufferings of Jesus.

I came across this prayer by Henry Suso that well reflects the posture of Wurmbrand and so many nameless others:

Lord, I can see plainly that you are the only and the true source of wisdom, since you alone can restore faith and hope to a doubting and despairing soul. In your Son, Jesus, you have shown me that even the most terrible suffering can be beautiful, if it is in obedience to your will. And so the knowledge of your Son has enabled me to find joy in my own suffering.

Lord, my dear Father, I kneel before you this day, and praise you fervently for my present sufferings, and give thanks for the measureless sufferings of the past. I now realize that all these sufferings are part of your paternal love, in which you chastise and purify me. And through that discipline I now look at you without shame and terror, because I know that you are preparing me for your eternal kingdom.

I don’t know what will happen tomorrow or in the next few decades, but who am I to be exempt from sharing in Christ’s sufferings? The early Christians rejoiced that “they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41, NIV).

*** Spend some time in prayer considering how willing you are to suffer for Christ if necessary.

Could you honestly pray such a prayer? I’ve been mulling over that question for myself since I first read it. May God give us the grace we need to be true to him no matter what comes.




4 Jobes, 216.

5 Ibid., 215.

6 McKnight, 204.



9 Marshall, 109.

10 Jobes, 218.

11 The b refers to the second part of a verse.

12 Jobes, 236.

13 Ibid., 237.

14 McKnight, 215.

15 As mentioned before, Dr. Thomas Constable provides a helpful and free resource. “Constable’s Notes: 1 Peter.” Access it at

16 McKnight, 327.

17 P.J. Achtemeier, 1 Peter; A Commentary on 1 Peter (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 227), quoted in Jobes, 262.

18 Prayer by Henry Suso (1295-1366), quoted by Skye Jethani in “WITH GOD DAILY: More than the Absence of Bad,” July 27, 2022.

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