Suffering for Righteousness' Sake

“.... having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,” (1 Peter 3:16–18, ESV)

Peter taught about suffering in his epistles, but not as a mere expositor. He taught as one who knew the subject matter intimately. The other writers weighed in too, and we find the theme of suffering winding its way through the New Testament. But Peter used suffering as a lens. It determined his view, and he taught that all of our Christian lives and their future glories must be viewed through the flames of the refiner’s fire (1 Peter 1:7).

Peter charmed us with his impetuousness. He blurted out, "Thou art the Christ!" He jumped out of the boat and swam to meet the Lord; he cut off Malchus’s ear in the garden — the list goes on. Perhaps you like your heroes a little more controlled, but these impetuous types let us know what is on their hearts, because their actions quickly betray them, and this directness comes across in Peter's epistles. But as he aged, his personality softened a bit. As he guided the early church, he took on the voice of a shepherd. Yet, even amidst the shepherdly diction, we can still hear his child-like directness as he speaks about Christian suffering with no apologies.

The apostle Paul, on the other hand, used a tone that fit his personality: Paul was informed, aggressive and doctrinal — but he also spoke from experience, using his various personal sufferings to teach on the subject. Nevertheless, Paul was ever the learned — the didactic — teacher. This is not to say that Paul did not love the brethren. His letters were simply laced with care and affection. It is just that his style was different than Peter's. Paul spoke directly as teaching leader. Peter spoke gently as a teaching shepherd.

Peter taught about suffering as a father would teach a child about the world: how to proceed, what to watch out for, and the like. We fathers do not want to scare our children out of participating in life; we do want them to be cautious, though. But at the same time, we value intrepidness — loving the child who takes chances and explores. On one hand, we desire that our children progress through life happily and with purpose. On the other hand, we lay out the cautions: Look both ways before crossing the street; do not talk to strangers; dial 911, etc. That’s all that Peter is doing. He taught us the lay of the land, that suffering defines our world, but that suffering has a purpose. Therefore, we should not be afraid.

Nonbelievers and immature Christians wrestle with the issue of why there might be suffering in the world. "How could a God of love allow so much suffering?" The issues are complex and beyond the comforts of casual thought, but Peter made the necessary connection to bring it all together. If you think we suffer unjustly by behaving in good conscience and still getting thumped — how about the Christ? He took on flesh and became the purest human. He took on our sin and became the noblest, self-sacrificing man ever to walk the earth. He was simply the best in all categories, yet look at how he suffered. Simply put, we must aspire to his example. Our lives provide fuel for the lamps of the Gospel... but light, by its nature, consumes the fuel.

Christians must follow Christ in all things. Jesus suffered before he was glorified! If you are still on the earth, suffering shall reign — but glory is coming! In the meantime, walk in the light — and walk through the fire unafraid.

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