1 Peter 3:18 (NIV)
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
In our Verse of the Day, Peter articulates some essential aspects of the Gospel – the message of Jesus Christ. But I think it is important for us to put this verse in its larger context in order to understand and appreciate why Peter mentions the suffering of Christ in this verse. Beginning at 1 Peter 3:8, Peter reviews the expected conduct of believers and how we should interact with one another … even to the point of “suffering” for doing what is good. Remember in 1 Peter 2:15, we studied that “it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.” These may be the same people who consider us “foolish” when we “do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult.” On the contrary, Peter tells us that we are expected to “repay evil with blessing”. Let’s check it out:
1 Peter 3:8-18 (NIV)
8 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. 11 They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (Citing Psalm 34:12-16) 13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear (or their threats); do not be frightened.” (Citing Isaiah 8:12) 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
I think what Peter is driving at here is that suffering for righteousness … suffering for our faith in Jesus Christ … is to be expected. As Jesus had already told His disciples: “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (Cf. John 15:20) Therefore, it is important that we revere Christ as Lord and follow His commands. We need to do what is right … even if it hurts or brings hardship or suffering to ourselves. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. And perhaps that is the point. Our “reserved” response to others who are “ignorant of the truth” might actually convict them of their own evil … it might actually “bring them to God” just as the “kindness of God in Christ led us to repentance.” (Cf. Romans 2:4)
Jesus taught these same principles in His “Sermon on the Mount”:
Matthew 5:9-12 (NIV)
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Luke 6:22-23; 27-30 (NIV)
22 Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. 23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.
And Paul affirms the same principles that we should follow in this regard:
Romans 12:14; 17-21
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Citing Deuteronomy 32:35) 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Citing Proverbs 25:21-22) 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
In light of these additional passages, it is clear that Peter is leading us into what it means to exhibit Christ-like conduct. And in doing so, he entertains the probability that we also, in doing what is right, will be treated by the world as Christ was treated. I hope these insights will resonate and give us more thoughtful strategies on how to deal with those who do not know God … who have not been reconciled with Him through Christ Jesus … and who might be hostile toward you and me for our “good conduct.” As Jesus encouraged, we should rejoice and be glad. We will be blessed because our reward in heaven will be great! Let that be our hope when suffering comes our way for putting those things Jesus taught into practice … as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. Amen.