Courage to Suffer Unfairly
Topic: Suffering Passage: 1 Peter 3:17–4:1
Peter has a lot to say about suffering. He loves the people he is writing to. Verses 18-22 point us wonderfully to the suffering of Christ and the good that it brings to us, but it is 3:17 and 4:1 that actually provide the main point of the text. (Read 3:17 and show how it leads into verses 18-22 and read 4:1).
One of the hardest realities in life is when you suffer unfairly – and everyone does at some point. And I mean you really don’t deserve it. The early Christians Peter is writing to knew this well. They were convenient scapegoats – blamed for things they didn’t do and many suffered imprisonment, displacement, economic setbacks, even torture and death.
The most basic instinct of our flesh when mistreated is to retaliate, to seek revenge, to even the score. But the gospel guides us in unfair suffering. The apostle Peter never compels us to get even. Peter never justifies retaliation. Peter never encourages vengeance. Instead Peter tells us to accept insults, slander, mocking, and unfair treatment with a firm, settled trust in God. This surely doesn't describe the domestic policy of our sinful nature. But it does describe the policy of our new life in Christ.
At the end of the day, Peter wants us to have great courage to face suffering this way; he wants to give us strong encouragement for when we suffer unfairly. Because we will. In this letter, Peter uses phrases such as: suffering "for righteousness' sake," "suffering for doing good", “suffering for the name of Christ”, and "suffering as a Christian". Of course, Peter heard Jesus speak this way: Suffering “for the gospel’s sake, for my sake, for righteousness' sake…”
You want to live for Jesus and do live for Jesus; you want to do good and do good; you want to live righteously and do live righteously, but then you suffer for it.
Some here may be in a situation where your teen or grown child has rebelled, walked away from you, and from the Lord – and they unfairly blame you for it. You may find yourself in a situation where you are routinely mistreated by your husband or wife. At Thanksgiving, you want to be salt and light to family – all you get is mocking.
This is why the prosperity gospel gets it all wrong. It promises that if you believe in Jesus and follow him – wealth will come to you, ease will come to you, your children will never turn from you. Peter's letter would find that message hard to understand.
You need encouragement for your heart, so when you suffer unfairly (in however big or small a way) you will respond not by retaliating or score-settling, but with grace and patience. What Peter does to help us with this is he points us to the undeserved sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ. If anyone suffered, it was Jesus. And if anyone suffered unfairly, it was Jesus. That’s what verse 18 says.
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous... - 1 Peter 3:18
There is an ocean of glory in these words! What love is this? In his great love Jesus, the righteous One, died for me, unrighteous. He is the only Person who truly deserves NO suffering. Because of my sin, I deserve suffering – eternal suffering. And he suffered for me? Oh, there is much encouragement here. Let Peter encourage you this morning:
1. Jesus suffered unfairly to bring you home to God.
Here we see one of the clearest and most potent implications of the gospel in all the bible for you and I.
"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God." - 1 Peter 3:18
Peter shockingly hops right over numerous precious gifts which the death of Jesus secures for us (such as forgiveness, etc.) and gets to the most central reason why Christ died for you – to bring you to God. This makes the Christian heart come alive and leap for joy. You could say this is the summit of Gospel promises! John Piper, in God is the Gospel says,
Preachers can say dozens of true and wonderful things about the gospel and not lead people to where the gospel is leading. People can hear the gospel preached, or read it in their bibles, and not see the final aim of the gospel that makes the good news good. What makes the events of the death and resurrection of Jesus and the promises they secure good news is that they lead us to God.
Jesus himself says, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. - John 14:6
Now this, of course, has a future orientation to it. We will be brought to God in the future. And when we are, he will satisfy our souls forever. But there is also a present dimension to this which we must have. The beloved parable of the prodigal son portrays a reckless son coming home to his gracious father. Paul graciously reminds us that we once had,
...no hope and [were] without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. - Ephesians 2:13
Jesus suffered undeservedly to give you this – to bring you to God! A prayer Augustine recorded in his book Confessions helps us understand this in which he said, "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you." Modern translation: "We are homeless until we find our home in You." We are homeless; spiritual runaways; orphans; until we are brought home to God as our Father. Jesus suffered undeservedly to bring you there.
Here's a question to sufferers and those who will suffer. Do you know your total acceptance with God such that you are at ease and relaxed before him? Have you found your home in God your Father. The Lord Jesus died to bring you there. The door is open. His heart is open to you. Come on in. In your suffering, God can become more real and more precious to you. Your Father’s massive, tender hands will hold you.
2. But Jesus also suffered unfairly to rescue you from certain disaster.
being put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons were brought safely through water. - 1 Peter 3:18-20
These are some challenging verses, so I am going to give you my best shot at it. We often read the OT stories in a way that draws out a “moral of the story”. We often tend to read the stories as though the moral of the story is what we must do in order to be like Daniel or Esther or Gideon or Deborah. Or in our case here, like Noah. And this is not totally wrong. We should draw out imitative principles from biblical stories.
However, the apostles read the OT in a Christocentric (Christ-centered) way. In other words, they saw Jesus and his work everywhere! So Peter looks at the death of Jesus on the cross and our salvation and then looks back at the story of Noah and the ark and sees some parallels: Noah and Jesus and the rescue of Noah from the flood and baptism.
Noah and Jesus: “he went and proclaimed…” Jesus, through the voice of Noah, preached to that generation. The spirits are [now] in prison, namely hell. Remember how Peter describes “the Spirit of Christ” speaking through the OT prophets.
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. – 1 Peter 1:10-11
So it was the Spirit of Christ in Noah warning the wicked of his day to flee from the flood that would surely come. Doesn't that sound like our Savior? Jesus called people to come to himself – over and over again, “come to me”, he says. But the people in Noah's day rejected him. And worse – they rejected Christ because he was speaking through Noah. And therefore that unbelieving generation was swept away in the flood of God's judgment.
Which leads to the second parallel between Noah’s salvation from the flood and baptism in Peter's day (and ours):
Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. - 1 Peter 3:21
Baptism corresponds to Noah and his family being safe in the ark from the flood. Baptism is a saving act. When Peter says this, he is quick to qualify what he means. Not getting dunked in water. He says that what saves you is what baptism signifies. And what it signifies is a response of the heart that appeals to God by faith. So water is not the instrument which saves, but faith is. Peter at Pentecost proclaims, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord…”
And here is what faith does. It is no small thing – it is amazing! Faith unites us to Christ in his death, his burial, and his resurrection, so his death is counted as yours and his resurrection is counted as yours. That’s the connection Peter makes, we “appeal to God [by faith] for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”. So Christian baptism corresponds to Noah’s salvation from the flood in this way: Noah averted the disaster of the flood by being brought safely through water by means of the ark and we avert the disaster of the final enemy, death through what baptism signifies, namely our union with Jesus by faith. Sufferers, is there a greater disaster than death and judgment apart from Jesus? He died unfairly and rose to rescue you from this disaster!
3. Finally, Jesus suffered unfairly as a precursor to his exaltation.
Verse 22 shows us the death of Jesus, though undeserved, led to his resurrection and eventual exaltation as Sovereign King with universal dominion.
… who [Jesus] has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. - 1 Peter 3:22
Jesus has been exalted and has placed under his feet angels – probably evil demons. He has placed authorities under his feet. Whatever authorities exist in this world – governmental, home, workplace, and so forth, Jesus is their King. And Jesus has placed powers under his feet. All the powers of the world. But Christ’s exaltation had to be preceded by his humiliation. He first needed to be obedient to death on a cross before he could ascend as sovereign King.
This is the point Paul makes in Philippians 2:8-11:
He humbled himself unto death, even death on the cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and given him a name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. - Philippians 2:8-11
To you who are suffering, think about the massive implications of this. This exalted Lord of the universe loves you. If others revile you, be encouraged – Jesus, who has all authority in the universe, rejoices over you with shouts of joy. If others mistreat you, be encouraged – Jesus, who is at the right hand of God, is your shepherd who will lead you continually to green pastures and beside still waters. If you are unfairly neglected or forgotten, be encouraged – Jesus will never lose sight of you!
His suffering was a precursor to his exaltation. So it is with you. Paul says, “You are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided you suffer with him in order that you may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17).
So we come to the only command in the whole passage:
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking – 1 Peter 4:1
Like a Marine Infantryman would arm himself with his rifle, arm yourself with this way of thinking.
Bishop Festo Kivengere (Africa’s Billy Graham) was forced to flee Uganda after one of the leaders of the church was killed by the brutal dictator Idi Amin. While in exile, Kivengere was asked, “If you were sitting in Idi Amin’s office with a gun in your hand, what would you do?” He responded, “I would give the gun to Amin and say, ‘This is your weapon; my weapon is love.’”
Arm yourselves with this way of thinking. Arm yourselves with this way of thinking, looking to Jesus for all his mighty help. And he will help. He says, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Let’s pray.