(We apologize for posting the sermon text so unusually late! We’ll get it posted more promptly in the future.)
1 Peter 3:13-17 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
How many of you are familiar with 1 Corinthians 10:31 (“whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”)? How many of you have been challenged and inspired by that passage, declaring your desire for your entire life to be a reflection of that passage? Before we began looking at 1 Peter, how many of you thought to apply that passage to your suffering? That is, how many of you, upon entering into a season of suffering, immediately thought and sought to glorify God in your suffering? For those of you who did think of it and try to do so, how many of you felt confident that you knew what that meant?
I’m so thankful for 1 Peter and the countless ways that God has used it to increasingly cause us to look to glorify God, and to know how to do so, in times of suffering. 1 Peter 3:13-17 is the most concise, comprehensive summary of how Christians are to glorify God in our suffering that I know of in the entire bible. This morning is our final week on this passage.
This morning, primarily from v.17, we’ll consider Peter’s final two essential perspectives on suffering faithfully: God’s will for our suffering and our need to entrust justice to God.
We suffer in ways that are honoring to God, build up the Church, and evangelistically testify to the transforming power of the gospel when we suffer according to Peter’s instructions. With that, let’s thank God for his good and glorious sovereign reign over all things. And let’s ask God to give us an eagerness to live our entire lives in light of these great truths.
FAITHFULNESS IS ALWAYS BETTER
Consider something hard that I might charge you to do as your pastor. What hard (godly) thing comes to your mind? Sell all your possessions and give the proceeds to the poor? Share the gospel with the 10 closest unsaved people in your life today? Confess your most persistent and destructive sin to someone? Move your family to a hostile, remote, gospel-less village to declare the name of Jesus?
Now consider what type of reasoning it would take to get you to joyfully jump at my charge. That is, on what grounds would you immediately obey? Sell all your possessions…for it will be fun? Would that convince you? Share the gospel with your closest unsaved family/friends…for it might rain later? Confess your darkest sins…for they will probably get posted on Facebook? Move your family to the mission field…for soccer is too expensive here?
My guess is that none of the reasons I just suggested are powerful enough to convince you to obey the charges I suggested. You’d need something more.
Leading up to our passage for this morning, Peter had spent a good deal of time calling his readers to do comparably hard things (trust God in times of great persecution, love their enemies, submit to their oppressors and abusers, do good to those who do harm them, etc.). In v.17 Peter gives one of the grounds/reasons for his hard commands.
Believe and do all of these things (particularly the things of 3:13-16, and most especially the good things mentioned in 16), “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” That’s a pretty simple answer. Obey my hard commands because, in God’s economy—even if they result in harsh persecution—it is better than every alternative.
Is that sufficient for you? Is that enough of a reason to convince you to do the things Peter calls God’s people to do? Your answer inevitably hinges on the fullness of your understanding of what Peter means by “better” and the level of your trust in its ability to deliver. The more complete our understanding and the more confidence we have in it, the more sufficient the explanation will be.
To help us gain a more complete understanding of, and confidence in, the betterness of suffering for good, I’m going to spend the rest of this sermon answering two main questions: 1) How is suffering for good “better”?, and 2) How can we be sure that suffering for good is better?
HOW IS SUFFERING FOR GOOD “BETTER”?
In v.17 Peter mentions two ways in which suffering might come to the Christians to whom he is writing: 1) suffering for doing, and 2) suffering for doing evil. Christians ought to expect to suffer both when doing good and doing evil. However, Peter writes that one way of suffering is better than the other. That is, suffering for good is better than suffering for evil. But how is suffering for good better?
Obviously, doing good is better than doing evil. Also obvious, then, is the fact that whatever comes from doing good is better than what comes from doing evil.
What might not be as obvious, though, is the fact that for Christians both kinds of suffering (suffering for doing good and suffering for doing evil) are good. That’s what the “better” indicates. One is good, the other is better. So how is suffering for evil good?
Let’s be clear, Peter does not say that the evil Christians do is good. He says the suffering that comes from it is. When a Christian suffers for doing evil it is always the result of God’s loving discipline, designed to lead us back to righteousness; and in that sense it is good. That’s the essence of passages like Hebrews 12:6.
Hebrews 12:6-8 …the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.
It is good for Christians to experience suffering when we sin (in whatever form God deems appropriate); not as punishment (Jesus fully took that), but as a reminder that sin is harmful and dishonoring to God, and as an instrument of repentance mercy.
Again, then, it is good for Christians to suffer when we do evil since our suffering leads to repentance.
On the other hand, there are times (as we’ve seen over the past few weeks in 1 Peter), when Christians who do good suffer as well. That is, there are times when evil-doers choose to harm God’s people for doing God’s will. This suffering is good as well. In fact, once again, Peter says this suffering is better. In this letter alone, Peter mentions at least four specific ways in which it is better.
1. Suffering for doing good is better because it (in a way that suffering for evil doesn’t) proves the genuineness of our faith and ends in the praise, glory, and honor of Jesus.
1 Peter 1:6-7 you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
2. Suffering for doing good is better because it (in a way that suffering for evil doesn’t) gives us credit, grace, and the opportunity to follow in Jesus’ example.
1 Peter 2:19-21 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
3. Suffering for doing good is better because it (in a way that suffering for evil doesn’t) shames God’s enemies.
1 Peter 3:16 when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
4. Suffering for doing good is better because it (in a way that suffering for evil doesn’t) is the sign that God’s blessing and Spirit are upon us, and it earns for us the right to rejoice and be glad when Jesus returns.
1 Peter 4:12-14 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
Suffering for doing evil is good because it shows God’s love for his people and it leads his people back to good. Suffering for doing good, however, is better because it tells the truth about God, it demonstrates the reality of the transforming power of the gospel, and it is a powerful witness to unbelievers.
All of that leaves us with another question, though: how can we be sure that suffering for good is better than suffering for doing evil?
HOW CAN WE BE SURE THAT SUFFERING FOR GOOD IS “BETTER”?
Do you know what a linchpin is? A linchpin is “a person or thing that holds something together. It is the most important part of a complex situation or system.” Giant machines are often held together by a single piece of hardware. If you remove that hardware—that single piece of metal—the entire machine becomes inoperable. In some cases removing the linchpin can even cause the machine to completely collapse.
I remember walking out to my truck one time many years ago. I hoped in, turned the key, listened to the engine turn over…and over…and over…and over. Everything sounded good, but it just wouldn’t start. I popped the hood and took a quick look around. I immediately noticed that (what I later learned was) the distributor cap was unscrewed. What’s more, it turns out that the distributor cap was held together with a single screw…that was missing. Everything else on the vehicle (hundreds and hundreds of parts) was in perfect working condition. One screw was able to render the entire truck inoperable. That screw functioned as a linchpin; a single thing that the rest of the truck depended upon to run.
Everything I’ve said so far in this sermon has a linchpin. Everything Peter has said so far in this letter has a linchpin. That linchpin is the benevolent sovereignty of God over suffering. If God is not a good sovereign over the suffering of his people, we have no real reason to believe that suffering for good is truly better than suffering for evil. Even with the best intentions, if God is not powerful enough to carry them out, the whole system collapses, and it very well might be worse for Christians to suffer for good than evil.
Peter understood that, which is why he included the middle clause in v.17, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” The middle clause is the linchpin for this verse.
How can we be sure that suffering for good is better than suffering for doing evil? Because God is benevolently sovereign over suffering and has benevolently and sovereignly determined to make it so. How can we be sure? We can be sure because God has lovingly promised that it will be so for his people and has all authority in heaven and earth to make it happen.
That’s a pretty bold claim. It’s a claim that causes many to stumble. God really wills my suffering? It’s important, therefore, that I not merely assert it, but demonstrate it in scripture. It’s all over the bible, but I’ll keep it to four representative passages.
God was sovereign over the good-induced suffering of Joseph
If you aren’t familiar with the story, Joseph was the son of Jacob and the youngest of 12 brothers. Because he had the special favor of God and his father, his brothers, when “they saw that their father loved him more than all” of them, “hated him and could not speak peacefully to him”.
In fact, his brothers hated the fact that God and their father had a special love for him so much that they eventually sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt and reported him dead to their father.
After a remarkable series of events Joseph came to be the second most powerful man in Egypt. From this platform God granted him the power to rescue countless people from starvation, including the very brothers who sold him into slavery.
Joseph simply received God’s blessing in faith and was made to suffer for it at the hands of his brothers. In the end, however, Joseph’s conclusion was this: “You [his brothers] meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive” (Genesis 50:20).
God was sovereign over (he willed) the good-induced suffering of Joseph (Genesis 37-50).
God was sovereign over the good-induced suffering of Paul
We see this in the New Testament as well in the person of Paul the Apostle. After a life of misguided religious zealousness, the resurrected Jesus revealed himself to Paul while he was on his way to persecute Christians.
From the moment of his miraculous conversion until his death Paul gave himself to the good work of proclaiming the good news of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And from the moment of his conversion Paul encountered suffering beyond measure.
2 Corinthians 11:23-28 [Compared to other Christians, I’ve been subjected to] far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
What was Paul’s conclusion in light of all this suffering for doing good? He knew that it was God’s will for him.
2 Corinthians 12:9 “[The Lord said] My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
God was sovereign over (he willed) the good-induced suffering of Paul.
God was sovereign over the good-induced suffering of Jesus
The most convincing example in the Bible is the example of Jesus. No one did more good and no one suffered more under God’s sovereign rule because of it. Having lived a life of perfect righteousness, Jesus was “despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised…” (Isaiah 53:3). Indeed, he was murdered for doing only good.
And yet, in one of the greatest speeches ever, Peter noted that all of this was a part of God’s sovereign plan.
Acts 2:22-23 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst… 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
And again in Acts 4:27-28 Peter continued, “Truly in this city there were gathered together against your [God’s] holy servant Jesus, whom you [God] anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your [God’s] hand and your [God’s] plan had predestined to take place.”
God was sovereign over (he willed) the good-induced suffering of Jesus.
God is sovereign over the good-induced suffering of all who love God
While I could continue with example after example, Paul, in Romans 8:28 declares that God is sovereign over every ounce of suffering that His people will endure as a result of their good-doing and God-loving.
Romans 8:28 for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
God is sovereign over (he wills) the good-induced suffering of all who love God.
Once we escape the worldly notion that all suffering is bad and to be avoided at all costs, we are free to embrace the plain reality that God sovereignly uses the suffering of his people for some of his most good and glorious work (including his most glorious work—the crucifixion of his Son).
All of this frees us, then, to follow Jesus’ example (2:23) and entrust justice to God. When we face trials and suffering of various kinds for doing good we need not worry ultimately about our rights, our comfort, or even our lives. God’s sovereign goodness means that ultimately we need to worry only about hoping in God and doing good, and that when we do it will always and certainly be better.
Grace, this is a remarkable passage. It instructs us on how to turn our suffering into glory.
We will suffer. God’s people will suffer. And when we do, before we consider how to get out of it, we must consider how we might respond to it in such a way as to put on display the glory of God and the power of the gospel. That is, we must use our suffering as a platform to make clear that our hope is in God and that he is worthy of our hope. We do this, Peter wrote, by being fearless. We do this by surrendering wholly to Jesus the Lord as holy. We do this by gently and reverently sharing the reason for our strange hope with all who ask. And when we do all of this, God is glorified, the gospel is put on display, we are blessed, our revilers are shamed, and it is better than every alternative.
May these things mark us for these reasons and to these ends. In the name of Jesus, amen.