Suffer Well For The Gospel (Part 1)

1 Peter 2:21-25 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. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Good morning, Grace. We’ve come to one of the most important passages in 1 Peter. It’d be hard to overstate the need for God’s people—including you and I—to hear and understand and apply these words of Peter.

At the risk of kicking an already, long-dead horse, I want to remind you of the condition of Peter’s readers. They were (according to 1:1) Christians who had been driven out of their homes on account of their faith in Jesus Christ. They were people going through various, fiery trials (1:6, 7). And they were people enduring injustice, sorrows, suffering, and even beatings (2:19-20) because they had chosen to align themselves with Jesus rather than the world.

In the past few weeks I’ve met with people who have lost loved ones, who are planning for the loss of loved ones, who don’t have enough money to buy gas, whose marriages are falling apart, whose families are hurting one another in tragic ways, whose spouses despise the gospel, who are inside abusive relationships, whose minds won’t allow them to rest, who are dealing with scary medical situations, whose businesses are struggling, who have experienced great and chronic pain, and who are forced to watch their children suffer without being able to understand or explain why. And all of this is just in the past few weeks. There are various trials, great trials all around us.

The question before Peter’s readers—which is the same as the question before so many among us today—is, how do we walk through these situations in ways that honor God.

Now I know that in a room like this one, that question lands differently on different people. For some, regrettably, it is barely a blip on the radar. Their only thought is on how to end their suffering in the quickest and easiest way possible. For others, regrettably, this question makes them angry. Their main concern is why God would allow such suffering in their lives. For others still, regrettably, this question has haunted them for a significant period of time. They appreciate the question, but have never felt like they could gain clarity on the answer.

Whether you’re in one of these groups or another one altogether—that is to say, if you are suffering or are close to someone who is—you must come to the point at which you long for the answer to this question. You must get to the place where the thought of knowing the answer is like hearing an approaching plane while stranded on a desert island.

Let’s pray now that today would be that day for all of us, as Peter’s answer in this passage is as clear as it gets.

The first words of our passage are, “For to this you have been called…”. This morning’s sermon focuses on those seven words because embedded in them (and, as we’ll see next week, those that follow) is Peter’s answer to the question of how Christians are to honor God in times of suffering. To help us understand and appreciate his answer I intend to answer four questions from 1 Peter 2:21-25: 1) Who is “you,” 2) What is “this,” 3) What is the nature of the calling, and 4) Why were “you” called to “this”?

We’ll look at the first three questions this morning, and the fourth one next week. Again, in seeing Peter’s answers to these questions we’ll find the depths of Peter’s answer to the larger question of how God means Christians to suffer well.

“For to this you have been called.” The first question we need to answer is, to whom is the “you” of v.21 referring. Who has been called to this? To find out, we need to look at the surrounding context.

Is “you” the servants of v.18? That’s the immediate context, as v.21 follows (of course) right after 18-20. Therefore, Peter’s “you” certainly included those servants.

But is there anyone else included in “you”? Would Peter have us back up a bit? Does “you” include the citizens of 13-17? They are within the same line of thought and are found in the immediately preceding context. Indeed, it’s fairly easy to see that 2:13-17 belongs with 18-25. Therefore, I don’t think there’s any doubt that “you” definitely includes these citizens as well. They too are “called” to “this”.

Are there more still who are “called” to “this”? Are there more people who Peter though of when he wrote “you”? What about the husbands and wives of 3:1-7 and the “all of you” of 3:8-12? Did Peter have these people in mind too when he wrote, “to this you have been called”? They are, after all, still within the same line of thought and addressed in the verses immediately following v.21. Because they are so clearly connected with the words “likewise” (husbands and wives) and “finally” (you all), they are, without question, to be understood as a part of the “you” as well.

Is that it, or did Peter mean us to zoom out even further? Grace, here’s the key. I believe the letter’s context makes it clear that Peter would have his readers (including you and I) take one more significant step out still. There’s an even broader understanding of who he understood to be included in “you”. Stepping back to look at the letter as a whole, by “you” Peter meant all the “elect exiles” of 1:1 (the first verse of the letter). And he meant the “all of you who are in Christ” of 5:15 (the very last verse). In other words, the “you” of 2:21 includes all Christians—those to whom he was directly writing, to you and I today, and to all who are yet to come.

We can’t understand this passage, and we can’t understand Peter’s answer to the question of how Christians are to honor God in suffering, if we don’t understand that by “you” Peter is addressing the entire Church; all of God’s people.

And that leads us to the next question. To what, specifically, have those who are in Christ been called?

“For to this you have been called? The second question we need to answer is, what is “this”? What is the universal Christian calling that Peter had in mind in this passage?

Going through the same process we just went through (that is, looking at the surrounding context) it’s fairly plain to see that by “this” Peter meant slaves serving their masters. Christian servants have been called to be subject to their masters in the particular ways described by Peter (even the wicked and unjust ones).

Additionally, as the context indicates, “this” included Christian citizens obeying their government (2:13-17). To that we have been called as well (even when our government refuses to rightly honor God).

Further, by “this” Peter meant that Christian husbands and wives are called to subject themselves to one another (3:1-7) (even disobedient, non-Christian spouses) and that all Christians are called to subject themselves to each other (3:8-12) (even to ones who do evil according to 3:9).

Likewise, and more broadly still, by “to this you have been called” Peter also meant that Christians are called to be subject to “every human institution” (2:13). Indeed, that’s the phrase that sets up and unites most of chapters 2 and 3.

But again, just as with the previous question (who is the “you), Peter would have us back way up one more time. There’s an even higher level to “this”. As we encounter the next few verses I believe you’ll see that for Peter the essence of “this” (that to which every Christian is called), is a life of gospel-sacrifice; God-minded perseverance through persecution; faithful-endurance of fiery trials (same thing said three different ways).

In short, by “to this you have been called,” Peter meant (you =) all who are in Christ. And by “to this you have been called,” Peter meant (this =) suffering faithfully through the “various trials” (1:6) (especially the unjust ones) that come our way as Christians.

In other words, Peter’s main point is that all Christians have been called to endure hardship—including the hardship that comes from submitting to the imperfect and even bad authorities of 2:13-3:12—in ways that bring glory to God. That is why he later writes, “If anyone of you suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (4:17).

Grace, let that sink in just a bit. You and I, as Christians are called to live lives of persecution and suffering. We are not called to lives of comfort and ease. Jesus and the apostles did not try to hide this. Indeed, they promised it.

John 15:18-20 [Jesus said,] “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.

2 Timothy 3:12-13 [Likewise Paul wrote,] Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

1 Peter 4:12 [And, as well see later in 1 Peter, Peter wrote,] 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.

These are the things we are called to before experiencing our ultimate calling (eternal, perfect fellowship with God). All of this, though, leads to another question: what is the nature of the calling?

“For to this you have been called? What did Peter mean by “called”? Or, what does it mean to be called and who did the calling?

What does it mean to be called?

The calling of 2:21 is the same calling as 1:15 (“as he who called you is holy…”) and 2:9 (“…him who called you out of darkness…”) and 5:10 (“…who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ…”). And it’s the same calling as Romans 8:30 (“those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified…”) and 2 Thessalonians 2:14 (“To this [to be saved and sanctified] he called you through our gospel…”) and many, many other passages.

To be called to suffer various trials faithfully means both that it has been predetermined for us and that it is an elemental part of the Christian life. It is who we are and it is what we do.

In other words, that Christians are called to suffer well means, according to Peter (and the NT writers), that suffering for our faith in Christ is tied up in the very nature of being Christian. The same calling that leads to our justification and sanctification and glorification, leads also to our suffering and persecution. Being a Christian means being called to salvation and suffering. But, because of the next point, it also means that the same goodness and love and mercy and grace that lead to our salvation calling, lead also to our suffering calling. Do not forget, Grace, because of Him who called, every calling on our lives is a good calling; even if it’s not always easy or immediately pleasant.

Who did the calling?
But from where did this calling come? Or, more accurately still, from whom did this calling come? The answer, which I imagine is plain at this point, but should be somewhat shocking, is God. It is God who calls to salvation, and it is God who calls Christians to suffer faithfully.

1 Peter 4:19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

You might love that God has called you to everlasting fellowship with God. You might love that God has called you to adoption as his sons and daughters. You might love that God has called you to be a blessing to others. You might love that God has called you to experience his love and forgiveness. But I’ve not met many who love the idea that God has called them to suffer fiery persecution and trials.

Grace, insofar as our calling is from God (whatever that calling might be), we must learn to trust that it is good and, therein learn to love it. For most of us that means flipping many of our priorities upside down. I think this will become crystal clear next week.

All of this means, then, that by being “called,” Peter meant that Christian suffering and faithfulness in it are a part of God’s plan, design. Suffering well is part of the “good works” which God prepared in advance for his people to do (Ephesians 2:10).

But this leaves us with one giant, important, indeed crucial question, why would God call Christians to this? Why does God build suffering into the life of ever Christian? That’s where we go next week.

For now, let me quickly say two things. First, Peter mainly has persecution in mind (not cancer). That is, when he speaks of Christians being called by God to suffer well, he primarily means being mistreated for following Jesus. Second, that this calling is from God, and that it does include other kinds of suffering as well, does not mean that the suffering is easy. There are people going through unimaginable pain right now according to the good calling of God, but that does not mean that we shouldn’t weep with them or cry out to God on their behalf. Along with hope and faith and trust, the God-honoring Christian response to suffering (even though it is part of God’s calling) is grief and empathy and prayer and compassion and love and service. We must be a people who understand God’s plan for suffering in the life of Christians, but we must also be a people who understand God’s heart for those who suffer according to his plan.

All Christians have been called by God, by the very nature of being Christian, to live faithfully through various trials in this life. Our lives will have trials—sometimes severe ones—by God’s design. It is not, therefore a question of “if we will suffer,” but “when and how” and whether or not we will endure them faithfully.

Let me ask you, how many of you were first introduced to Christianity in this way? How many of you were told this from the beginning?

Christianity was first introduced to me with the line, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” That’s true enough, I suppose. But what most people (myself included) fail to understand is that the bible is absolutely clear on the fact the “wonderful plan” includes endless trials and constant upstream swimming and steady sacrifice and life-long persecution (small and, occasionally, big). Our understanding of “wonderful” is often nothing more than comfort and ease and the ability to indulge in a few less, but still most, of our worldly desires.

I submit to you that we’ve been lied to as American Christians. This is not the gospel most people are told. We’re offered our best lives now if we come to Jesus. We’re told that the good news of Jesus is that by praying a prayer this life magically becomes better and we get to go to heaven when we die to boot.

It seems to me that at first this was a mistaken, but well-intended alteration of the gospel. At some point in the previous generation well-meaning evangelists noticed that fewer and fewer people were responding to the gospel (particularly the fire and brimstone style that was common at that time). Longing for people to trust in Jesus—to be saved—Christian ministers began attempting to soften their message to make it a bit more palatable. They wanted to help it go down a bit easier. What they said was true, but it was incomplete.

They offered forgiveness in Jesus, but stopped talking about what people needed to be forgiven of.

They offered a view of mankind that highlighted his value and importance in God’s sight, but stopped talking about the fact that owing to our treasonous rebellion, that’s not the deciding factor in our relationship with God.

They offered eternal life, but stopped talking about the eternal death we deserve.

They offered a God of love, mercy, and forgiveness, but stopped talking about a God of holiness, justice, and wrath.

They offered a life of unimaginable bliss, but made it seem like that life was now and left out the fact that God (not merely his gifts) is the cause of the bliss.

By the time my generation got the gospel, this softer gospel is all that was left. The softer side of Jesus’ person and message was no longer an evangelistic strategy, though, it was the only gospel anyone knew.

For that reason, in most churches that I know today, passages like 1 Peter 2:21-25 are either ignored or mashed up into something quite a bit fluffier. When it is preached on accurately, it is generally taken as offensive and disturbing. People are genuinely bothered by the fact that anyone would think of God, or the gospel, or the Christian life in these terms. What is clear in scripture is unimaginable to our sensibilities.

Grace, I hope I’ve made it clear this morning, from 1 Peter and the rest of the NT, that the Christian life prior to Jesus’ return is indeed wonderful, but its wonder includes suffering and persecution as we endure the various trials God has called us to.

Next week, we’ll consider the crucial question of why. Why would God call his people to such a life? Why would we consider this aspect of God’s calling wonderful? And we’ll find Peter’s crystal clear answer: “Because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).