I Peter 3:13-17

Sunday, April 3rd, 2016

A BIBLICAL PATTERN FOR SUFFERING

INTRODUCTION:

 

In I Peter 3:13-17 we see a Biblical pattern for suffering for believers.

 

Believers were living in a hostile environment. How could they get things settled down so they could go about their business of living for the Lord and winning the lost to Christ? Peter’s advice tells them how. First they must be certain they are innocent of wrong-doing. This will help a great deal; and if they are then still called upon to suffer, they should realize that they are blessed. They should not even begin to be afraid or begin to become unsettled; instead, they must suffer properly, knowing that it is God’s will for them and submitting to the sovereignty of God in this matter. This in itself will be a good testimony; and, if given an opportunity to witness regarding their salvation, they should make the most of it. At the same time they should be careful to do it in an attitude of meekness and fear. Some of their persecutors may even be saved as a result. Others may be brought to shame by their good manner of life. How much better it is to suffer for doing what is right than to bring suffering upon yourself for doing what is wrong.

We note that –

    I.     SUFFERING DOES NOT NORMALLY OCCUR WHEN PEOPLE DO RIGHT – 3:13

 

I Peter 3:13 And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?

 

In verse 13 Peter asks a rhetorical question, i.e. a question to which he does not expect an answer; yet, the answer is clear.

 

Verse 13 is in the form of a conditional sentence where the condition follows the conclusion.

 

The condition is if ye be followers of that which is good, and the conclusion is who is he that will harm you? Its form indicates that it is probably going to happen. Most likely, under normal circumstances no one would be expected to harm someone else for doing good. Yet, it has happened on some occasions.

 

Christ’s experiences recorded in I Peter 2:21-25 provide a good example of suffering for doing what is right. Also both statements to the slaves in I Peter 2:19-20 indicate that Christians may occasionally be called upon to suffer for doing what is right.

 

First of all, Peter wrote that it is thankworthy when someone, for conscience toward God, endures grief, suffering wrongfully.

 

Secondly, he wrote that, when one does well and suffers for it, taking it patiently, it is acceptable with God.

 

Who is singular and very general.

 

Who will harm you? means who will do evil to you?, and it is used in the sense of who will mistreat you?

 

You is plural and speaks of believers in general.

 

If ye be suggests assuming that you are or assuming that you become. These believers to whom Peter is writing may not yet have become consistent followers of what is good, and Peter is urging that they take this step in their lives.

 

Followers is imitators. The best way to imitate good is to do good. Although we are not saved by doing good works, we have been saved in order that we might do good works.

 

Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

 

Followers of that which is good suggests imitators of what is beneficial or imitators of what is useful. Believers are to be doing what is good or what is right. In this way they will avoid any legitimate reason for suffering; and, therefore, they will avoid most suffering. At least they will force their persecutors to manufacture reasons to continue persecuting them. Believers must make certain in advance that any suffering they are called upon to endure will be unjust.

Next, we note that –

  II.     IF YOU HAPPEN TO SUFFER BECAUSE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, YOU ARE FORTUNATE – 3:14A

 

I Peter 3:14 a – But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye. . . .

 

Verse 14 is also a conditional sentence. Whereas the condition in verse 13 was probable, this one is less likely and only remotely possible.

 

But indicates that what is being said in verse 14 is being said in contrast to what was said in verse 13.

 

But and if is understood in the sense of but even if and suggests the remote possibility that one might suffer for righteousness’ sake. Even though it is not likely, it is remotely possible.

 

But and if ye suffer is but even if you (plural) should suffer, but even if it so happens that you suffer.

 

For righteousness’ sake suggests because of righteousness, which would indicate that the cause of the suffering is righteousness, i.e. that the individual is saved and living for the Lord as he should be.

 

Happy is the word translated blessed in the beatitudes of Matthew 5 and means fortunate. Those suffering for righteousness’ sake should realize that what Jesus said in Matthew 5:10-12 applies to them.

 

Matthew 5:10-12 – (10) Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (11) Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. (12) Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

 

Are ye is in italics which indicates that it has been supplied by the translators.

 

We note next that believers are not to fear the efforts of people to intimidate them –

III.DO NOT BEGIN TO BE AFRAID OF THEIR TERROR – 3:14B

 

I Peter 3:14 b – . . . And be not afraid of their terror. . . .

 

And indicates a continuation of the thought of what has been said in the first part of this verse.

 

Be not afraid of is a command whose tense forbids the very beginning of an action. It is, therefore, used in the sense of do not begin to be afraid of, do not begin to be frightened by, or do not begin to fear. It may instead be understood in the sense of never be afraid of, never be frightened by, or never fear.

 

Their terror refers to the specific fright or fear which they might attempt to cause in others and is the noun form of the verb translated be (not) afraid of in this same verse. Taken together they suggest do not begin to fear their fear or do not begin to be terrified by their terror, and they are used in conjunction with each other for emphasis. Believers should never even begin to fear the efforts of ungodly people to intimidate them.

Furthermore, we note that believers are commanded –

IV.DO NOT BEGIN TO BE TROUBLED – 3:14C

 

I Peter 3:14 c – . . . Neither be troubled.

 

Neither is a negative conjunction which indicates that another command is being given.

 

The word translated be troubled is used literally of shaking together or stirring up. When used figuratively as it is in this verse, it means to be stirred up, be disturbed, be unsettled, be troubled, or be thrown into confusion. As with be (not) afraid of, its tense forbids the very beginning of an action in the sense of do not begin to be disturbed, do not begin to be unsettled, or do not begin to be thrown into confusion. If believers are called upon to suffer for righteousness’ sake, they should not even begin to be frightened or unsettled. It might instead be understood in the sense of never be stirred up, disturbed, unsettled, troubled, or thrown into confusion. Instead, they should follow the course of action indicated in verse 15. They should also be reminded of our Lord’s words in Matthew 10:28 .

 

Matthew 10:28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

 

They should also be reminded of what Paul wrote in Romans 8:31 .

 

Romans 8:31 If God be for us, who can be against us?

In addition, we note that believers are commanded –

   V.     SANCTIFY THE LORD GOD IN YOUR HEARTS – 3:15A

 

I Peter 3:15 a – But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts. . . .

 

But indicates that believers should pursue another course of action rather than being frightened or unsettled in the event of unjust suffering.

 

Sanctify suggests an action of setting someone or something apart. It means to consecrate, make holy, treat as holy, or reverence. Its tense suggests that this is a one-time action rather than an oft-repeated action. It is to be done each time a believer suffers because of righteousness.

 

The Lord God is understood in the sense of God as Lord, and Lord implies Master or Sovereign. Thus, it means set God apart as sovereign in your hearts.

 

In your hearts tells where God is to be set apart as Lord, Master, or Sovereign. The idea is that, if a believer is called upon to suffer because of righteousness, he should, by a deliberate act of his will, recognize God as Master of his life, and, more specifically, as Master of his life in this particular circumstance. He should accept the suffering as God’s will for him.

 

He must realize that God could have prevented this whole situation but for some reason has chosen not to. The believer should accept the situation as it is, realizing that God knows what He is doing. He is the believer’s Master and has charted this particular course for this believer at this time in his life. It is a realization that God is still on the throne and a recognition of the sovereignty of God in this situation.

 

Paul was a prisoner for several years in order that he might bear witness at Rome (Acts 23:11 ).

 

One cannot help but remember the example of Paul and Silas in the jail at Philippi as well as the example of the Lord Jesus, Who when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously (I Peter 2:23 ).

 

Also, how can one forget Joseph who landed in prison because he refused to involve himself in sin with Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:7-21 ).

 

One is also reminded of the truth of Romans 8:28 .

 

Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

In addition, we note that believers are commanded to –

 VI.     BE READY TO ANSWER EVERY MAN WHO ASKS YOU A REASON OF THE HOPE WITHIN YOU – 3:15B

 

I Peter 3:15 b – . . . And be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.

 

Not only were they to set God apart as Master in their lives, they were also to be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh . . . a reason of the hope that is in you. The believer should also seize this opportunity to be a good testimony for the Lord. To give the believer an opportunity for witness may be the very reason God has put him in this situation.

 

Be ready is (be) prepared.

 

Always indicates that a believer was to be in a state of readiness at all times. He must be ready at all times because he never knows when he may be called upon to give an answer regarding his faith.

 

To give an answer is for defense. How will one always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in him? It will be by thorough preparation in advance in Bible study, prayer, and meditation, as well as practice. If it is not his normal practice to be telling people of his hope in Christ and to be giving a defense of his Christian faith, how can he expect to be prepared to do so when, all of a sudden, he finds himself suffering great persecution for righteousness’ sake?

 

One cannot help but remember God’s instructions to Joshua when he took over the leadership of the nation of Israel. These instructions are found in Joshua l:7-9.

 

Joshua 1:7-9 – (7) Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest. (8) This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. (9) Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.

 

Along the same line David wrote in Psalms 1:1-3 ,

 

Psalms 1:1-3 – (1) Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. (2) But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. (3) And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

 

Back to I Peter 3:15

To every man is literally to all or to everyone. It is not limited to adult males.

 

It is limited by that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.

 

The hope that is in you refers to the saving gospel of Christ which gives hope for the believer.

 

Hope is not something which may or may not happen as in present-day English; in the New Testament hope is certain of fulfillment.

 

If a believer is called upon to suffer for righteousness’ sake, he may have an opportunity for telling others how they, too, may be saved and have this same hope in themselves. However, it is to be done with meekness and fear.

 

One may be tempted to defend himself and make a lot of noise about how he does not deserve to suffer. Meekness, however, suggests an absence of self. It also suggests gentleness, humility, courtesy, or considerateness. It is apparent that the believer should not be arrogant, self-righteous, vulgar, crude, defiant, or a whole host of other things that would be inconsistent with meekness.

 

Fear carries with it the connotation of reverence or respect. Although it might suggest fear toward God, or fear of failure when given an opportunity for witnessing, or even fear of displeasing the Lord, it seems best to understand it as respect toward the one who might be asking a reason of the hope within the believer. If he does not treat the person to whom he is witnessing with courtesy and respect, how can he expect to win him to the Lord? A believer’s spoken testimony and the silent testimony of his righteous life must go hand in hand and speak the same message. His life must never contradict his message. As a matter of fact, it may bring him many opportunities for witnessing about His Savior; and it may enable him to tell what salvation has done in his life. Then, when given an opportunity to speak for Christ, he must do so with meekness and respect.

We also note that believers must –

VII.     HAVE A GOOD CONSCIENCE – 3:16

 

I Peter 3:16 Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.

 

Believers should be careful to maintain a good conscience by always doing what is right so that they might not give their enemies anything legitimate to use against them. How convincing can a testimony be that is not backed up by the life of the one giving it?

 

The tense of having a good conscience suggests that these believers should continue to have a good conscience. Now the only way to continue to have a good conscience, i.e. a clear conscience, is to do nothing which would in any way violate that good conscience. If by his lack of meekness or by his lack of proper respect the believer violates his conscience, it will no longer be clear; and it will haunt him. If he then suffers, he may conclude that his suffering is deserved because of his conduct. Those who are aware of what he has done will also make use of it to slander him as well as to slander other believers and even the Lord Himself. Therefore, Peter tells them that they are to have a good conscience.

 

Whereas they speak evil of you as of evildoers suggests that it is possible, perhaps even probable, that unbelievers might speak evil of believers.

 

Whereas is the translation of a prepositional phrase which was also used in I Peter 2:12. It is literally in what (thing). Here it modifies speak and may be understood in the sense of wherein, while, or because. All three make good sense in this verse. Since its action is only possible and not necessarily actual, they speak evil of you is understood in the sense of they may speak evil of you.

 

They speak evil of you means they may speak against you, they may slander you, they may defame you, or even they may insult you. Although those who do evil may deserve to be spoken against as evildoers, believers who do not do evil are not deserving of such treatment.

 

As of evildoers suggests like they would speak evil of criminals or like they would slander criminals.

 

That . . . they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ gives the reason believers should maintain a good conscience.

 

That suggests in order that or for the purpose that.

 

They that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ functions as the subject of may be ashamed.

 

May be ashamed is may be put to shame or may be humiliated.

 

They that falsely accuse is they who threaten, they who mistreat, they who abuse, or they who revile. Its tense indicates that these slanderers are constantly or habitually falsely accusing the believers. Were they being falsely accused before judges of violating laws, or were they just the topic of much public discussion where they were being reviled? Both are probably true.

 

What was being falsely accused is your good conversation in Christ.

 

Your is plural and refers to Peter’s readers.

 

Conversation is manner of life, behavior, or conduct and is not limited to one’s talk.

 

Good implies that their behavior was proper or of the sort that would be described as Christlike.

 

Their good manner of life is said to be in Christ. It is their behavior in the realm of Christ, or their behavior as Christians, which is being falsely accused.

 

What would make those who falsely accuse the believers ashamed? Would it be that they are unable to prove their accusations when called upon by some judge to do so? Might it be that they would later be saved and then be ashamed of what they had done before they were saved? Could it be that the believers’ attitude and manner in suffering persecution might bring shame to those persecuting them? This would be consistent with the context. Since Peter did not specify, we cannot say for certain either. Also, since he did not limit it in any way, we dare not place limitations upon it either.

Finally, believers must –

VIII.   FOLLOW THE EXAMPLE OF CHRIST – 3:17

 

I Peter 3:17 For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.

 

Verse 17 compares two things: suffering for well-doing and suffering for evil-doing. Suffering for well-doing is better than suffering for evil-doing. There may be a good deal of suffering in life. Some of it may be deserved.

 

If the will of God be so that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing indicates that believers who are living in the center of God’s will may be called upon to suffer; but if they do, they must be certain that their suffering is undeserved. Then, they can rest assured that God has some purpose in it beside allowing them to get what they deserve. Perhaps, it will be to refine their Christian character; or, perhaps, it will be to provide them with opportunities for witnessing. Perhaps, God will have more than one purpose. They must submit to suffering with a clear conscience, fully assured that God is in complete control of the situation, knows exactly what He is doing, and is accomplishing His ends.

 

Peter speaks from experience. One remembers how he and John were arrested and jailed in Acts 4 and then were forbidden to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. In Acts 5 they were put into prison but released by the angel of the Lord, only to be taken and beaten and again commanded not to speak in the name of Jesus. Then in Acts 12 after James had been killed, Peter was imprisoned and held for execution but again released by the angel of the Lord. We have no idea how many other persecutions he may have endured before he wrote I Peter, but he knew what it was to suffer unjustly.