When You Suffer

It hasn’t worked well for me to get much new writing done this week, so I’ll use something I wrote in the past.  We’ll return to something I haven’t posted on in a while — my series of sermons on I Peter from seven years ago.

Tried With Fire — I Peter

#8 WHEN YOU SUFFER (3:13-22)

From 2:13 through 3:12, Peter wrote to tell how believers should live as they expect impending trials and persecutions — as citizens (2:13-17), servants (18-20), followers of Christ’s example (21-25), husbands and wives (3:1-7), and finally as believers who are strangers and pilgrims.  Now he gives his readers instructions for the time of their suffering.

I. Suffer for Well-Doing

13 And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?
14 But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;
15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:
16 Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.
17 For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.

A. Who Will Harm You (13)? This is not simply a rhetorical question implying that no one will want to harm you, for the next verse makes it clear that there are those who will. Rather, Peter is calling his readers to consider the nature of those who will want to harm them (for has not he emphasized repeatedly that we are “strangers and pilgrims”?), and, more importantly, to consider the nature of the harm that they will do to us.

B. Happy, not Fearful (14). The nature of that harm makes us blessed, not fearful! No true harm can come to those who are in Christ. Psalm 91:1 speaks of those who dwell in the secret place of the Most High, and verses 9&10 make it clear that when we make the Lord our habitation, no evil comes nigh our dwelling. He is our dwelling-place – no evil can touch Him. We need not fear their terror.

C. Living Our Hope, Ready to Answer (15). Peter tells us to sanctify the Lord God in our hearts. To sanctify means to set apart, to make holy. How is it that God tells us to make Him, the Holy One, holy? It is simply that we do not hold Him as holy in our hearts. The view we have of Him is too low, too imperfect, too impure. If we saw Him as He is, we would be like Him. If we held Him to be as holy as He truly is, we would not pollute His temple with sin. Every time our words are dishonest, proud, or wrathful, every time our actions displease Him, we are saying by those actions that His holiness is not enough to affect our actions.

If we sanctify Him in our hearts, we are living our hope, and people will see it. If we live our hope, some will ask a reason for that hope. We are to be ready to answer that question.

Look back 1900 years, to the first recipients of Peter’s letter. We live in a society where there is corruption, immorality, violence, and dishonesty, where Christians are in a minority and having less influence every day. If we profess our faith, we may be mocked and insulted. It may cost us financially. But in Peter’s day, to profess Christ may have meant a death sentence – it did for Peter. Yet, he said, “Be ready always to give an answer to EVERY man (even, perhaps, your executioner!) that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.”

D. Suffer With Good Conscience (16-17). If we have sanctified the Lord in our hearts and professed him without terror, we have a good conscience before God that will make ashamed those who accuse us. If we suffer, we will do so with a good conscience, for well doing and not for evil doing.

II. The Purpose of Christ’s Suffering

18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:

Christ’s suffering is an example to us, yet that is not the purpose of His suffering. It is almost as if Peter wished to use that example to encourage the believers, but could not focus on the example without first reiterating the purpose of his suffering.

A. For Sins. There are those who would make Christ only an example, but they do so to obscure the truth which they do not wish to face. All men have a sin problem; all are guilty before God. It was for this that He died, to redeem us from sin.

B. Just for Unjust. He who was holy died in my place. He who was right and just died for those who were not. When we suffer for well doing, we must remember that He who had done nothing wrong also suffered, and He did so for us, so that our wrong-doing might be removed.

C. To Bring Us to God. The great gulf has been bridged, the gap between God and man has been closed. We could not come to God, for we were unholy. He could not come to us, for He is holy. So He made us holy, that we could be brought to Him.

III. His Suffering Led to His Exaltation

18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
22 Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.

This section is one of the most controversial in all of Scripture. One book I read said that since the second century A.D. there had been more than 900 different interpretations of verses 19&20. In such cases, it is helpful to be very careful about what the verses actually say, and what they do not say. It is also very important to step back and look at the central truths that are being communicated in the passage as a whole. This can help us to keep a proper perspective on the difficult verses.

It seems clear that the primary point of these five verses is to provide an example for us. Do you suffer, even though you have done nothing worthy of suffering? So also did Christ – but His suffering led ultimately to His exaltation. This seems to me the central truth of these five verses.

A. Put to Death in the Flesh (18). If you die for your faith in Him, you but follow where He has already gone before. But He was made alive by the Spirit, and you also, in Christ, have a resurrection to anticipate.

B. Proclaiming in Prison (19). These verses are much disputed. Some would say that Christ preached the Gospel in prison, but it does not say that. There is a Greek word for preaching the Gospel, and it is not used here – the generic word of “proclaim” or “herald” is used. Those who say He preached the Gospel may be right, these verses neither prove nor disprove that idea. Others say that He proclaimed judgment on those souls. Again, these verses neither prove nor disprove that idea.

In fact, Peter gives us no clear explanation of exactly what he means when he says that Christ proclaimed to the spirits in prison, nor does any other passage in Scripture clearly and unambiguously explain this. My conclusion is that we don’t need to know, for this fact of the preaching in prison is not a fact in isolation.

The purpose here is to describe Christ’s suffering and exaltation. And in that we see the key. For is proclaiming in prison to disobedient spirits any place for the Almighty God, Jesus Christ, the Messiah and Saviour? He “endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself” (Hebrews 12:3, another passage where His suffering is an example to us) on this earth. And then He endured it again in prison. Do we have any remote idea of exactly how much Christ suffered for us? We are given here a glimpse of His suffering that we may never fully understand. And yet, we see also the power of God, in turning His suffering to a good purpose, fulfilling His will in proclaiming His truths even to disobedient spirits in prison.

C. Rejected by Many (19-20). His people are the few, those who reject are the many. This He suffered, and we, His strangers and pilgrims, suffer it with Him.

D. Resurrection Giving Life (20-21). His suffering brought the victory. For both the flood and baptism are figures, illustrations, of the cleansing of the conscience, the new life that we have in Him, through His resurrection. His death paid the ransom, His resurrection gives the victory.

E. On the Right Hand of the Father (22). The final end of His suffering is exaltation and glory. Angels, authorities, and powers have been made subject to Him. In His exaltation after suffering, we see how God works. Christ’s exaltation is our guarantee that the promises to us are true also. As He suffered, we suffer. As He rose, so also we shall rise. As He was glorified, so also we shall be glorified. We are in the Father’s hand, and our deliverance from the suffering of this life is sure.

First in series: #1 Strangers Scattered 

About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
This entry was posted in Rightly Dividing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to When You Suffer

  1. Diane says:

    Thank you very much for this. I have shared it with our pastor. We are embarking on a new theme for this year’s sermons: “God Tries His Children”.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hi, Diane. I’m glad it was helpful. I think there is more that could be said about 3:14-15, but I was short on time so I just posted what I wrote in the past. I may elaborate further next week — but I’m getting way behind on my Bibliology sermons, so it may wait.

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