I want to begin by pointing out THREE SHOCKING SENTENCES in Peter’s letter. The first two we just read. I didn’t hear any sharp intakes of breath when we read them, so perhaps you didn’t notice them.
One. Look at v9 of 1 Peter 3.
Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, BECAUSE TO THIS YOU WERE CALLED so that you may inherit a blessing.
God has CALLED you to be CURSED by people. That’s his PLAN for people he LOVES! Shocking!
Two. Down to v14.
14 But even if you should SUFFER for what is right, you are BLESSED.
Not just has God PLANNED IT, but there’s something GOOD about it when you suffer. God’s BLESSING you when you’re persecuted. Shocking!
And finally down to ch 4 v19. Summing it all up. Just in case we haven’t grasped it yet.
19 So then, those who SUFFER / ACCORDING TO GOD’S WILL should commit themselves to their FAITHFUL CREATOR and CONTINUE TO DO GOOD.
TWO shocking things there. First, when you SUFFER, it’s GOD’S WILL. Somehow the faithful Creator WANTS us to suffer.
And the second thing is what Peter calls us to DO when we suffer. Rather than shake your fist at God, he says COMMIT YOURSELF INTO THE CARE of the One who’s WILLING the suffering. The one who’s your FAITHFUL CREATOR. And then CONTINUE TO DO GOOD. DESPITE what’s happening to you.
Is that REALISTIC? Is that SHOCKING? How is it POSSIBLE that suffering can be a BLESSING? That GOOD can come from it? And, in particular, how can your REACTION to suffering serve to advance the cause of the gospel?
They’re the questions we’re going to answer today. But let’s pray before we begin.
John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, was released from prison in England in 1672 after 12 years, off and on, in prison. His crime? Daring to preach the gospel of Jesus in a church other than the Church of England. I visited Bedford in England where Bunyan’s non-conformist Baptist church was.
Before his imprisonment his first wife had died, leaving him to care for four children, the oldest of which, Mary, was born blind. He re-married a year later. Within a year he was arrested, leaving Elizabeth, pregnant, to care for four children not her own, with no means of support.
While he was in prison, Elizabeth miscarried. For 12 years, off and on, she cared for the children on her own, and bore John another two children.
After his release he continued as the pastor of his little church that met in a barn in Bedford. But the persecutions continued. One biographer describes the situation,
Meetings were broken in upon, worshipers hurried to prison, “separatists changed the place of gathering from time to time, set their sentinels on the watch, left off singing hymns in their services, and for the sake of greater security worshipped again and again at the of night. Ministers were introduced to their pulpits through trap-doors in floor or ceiling, or through doorways extemporized in walls.” Bunyan expected to be taken away again and deeded over all his possessions to his wife Elizabeth so that she would not be ruined by his fines or imprisonment.
Pretty tough! Shocking to think that all of that could be A BLESSING. And that it could be GOD’S WILL.
But that’s what Peter’s teaching. He’s writing his letter to a pretty similar situation. Christians being persecuted for nothing more than following Jesus. The Roman Emperor Nero blamed the fire in Rome in AD 64 on them. He had them arrested, and killed for sport.
And it’s in a situation like this that Peter writes the shocking words: they were CALLED to suffering, that suffering is BLESSING, and that it’s God’s WILL. Shocking!
So how CAN good possibly come out of suffering? It’s a question Peter returns to again and again through his letter. Let’s just quickly run through THREE of them. v6 of Ch 1. Trials REFINE your faith
Now for a little while you may have had to SUFFER GRIEF IN ALL KINDS OF TRIALS. 7 These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-MAY BE PROVED GENUINE and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
All sorts of things we’re tempted to trust in. But when suffering comes. All of that gets burned away. Money, or intelligence. Health, approval and popularity, or good planning. The Sovereign, loving, all wise God who created you for his purposes is the only one WORTH trusting.
And suffering has a way of CLARIFYING things. What SEEMED so important just doesn’t MATTER. Who cares about WORK, or leisure, or promotion, or possessions, or ambition? When LIFE ITSELF is in the balance?
That’s the REFINING NATURE of trials on our faith.
The second good thing that can come out of suffering is that it means WE’RE FOLLOWING JESUS. Peter doesn’t try to explain suffering away. In fact, he says over in 4:12 you should EXPECT it. Have a look
Do not be SURPRISED at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something STRANGE were happening to you.
Here’s the way to approach it.
13 But rejoice that you PARTICIPATE IN THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST,
Christ suffered FOR A PURPOSE. Good came out of it. It brought our salvation. If we’re following Jesus, then we should expect suffering to come to US TOO. He puts it like this in 2:21
21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, LEAVING YOU AN EXAMPLE, THAT YOU SHOULD FOLLOW IN HIS STEPS.
It’s no more and no less than what Jesus went through for US. So follow Jesus through it. That’s the GOOD that can come through suffering.
Three. Suffering shows we’re DONE WITH SIN. Have a look at Ch 4:1.
4:1 Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because HE WHO HAS SUFFERED IN HIS BODY IS DONE WITH SIN.
You have to make choices about what MATTERS when life is falling apart. And it can help you harden yourself to the seductiveness of sin when is near.
When you choose to endure suffering in Christ’s name, you’re deciding that HIS NAME is more important than YOUR COMFORT. That HIS PURPOSES are more significant than YOUR self-centredness. And that’s a choice God can USE to make you more like Jesus.
(Three. Suffering shows we’re DONE WITH SIN)
But what I want to FOCUS ON today is the FOURTH good thing that can come from suffering. It can be GOOD FOR THE GOSPEL. It can make people recognise Jesus in us. And hand their lives over to him.
The particular sorts of trials Peter is thinking about here is not sickness or unemployment or a in the family. But persecution because you’re a Christian. Not something we’re PARTICULARLY familiar with. But plenty of places in the world we’re it’s an everyday occurrence.
And Peter says the way you RESPOND to people who persecute you can bring GOOD out of those sorts of trials. Have a look at v9 of Ch 3.
9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.
Choose to give blessing when they insult you. Because God’s blessing for YOU depends on you giving THAT to others.
That’s the way to respond to suffering. It’s the way GOD INTENDS you to deal with it. That’s what the third of our shocking verses said. 4:19
19 So then, those who SUFFER / ACCORDING TO GOD’S WILL should COMMIT THEMSELVES TO THEIR FAITHFUL CREATOR AND CONTINUE TO DO GOOD.
That’s saying to God “I don’t understand this. But you made me. You know what’s best. I’ll just keep trusting you, and living the way you want.”
Why is that God’s will? Jump back to 2:12 to see what EFFECT that can have.
12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Your opposite response to those who persecute you can actually cause them to recognise Jesus in you. That’s the RIGHT way to respond to suffering.
And yet, often, we’re tempted to do the OPPOSITE in the face of being treated badly. We often use suffering or persecution as AN EXCUSE TO SIN.
It might just be that we RESPOND IN KIND. We bite someone’s head off when they tease us about being a Christian. We curse when WE are cursed. That’s the way.
Or we get defensive and embarrassed. Ashamed of Jesus. Clam up and say nothing.
Or it might be PRIDE. Thinking we know better than God. And BLAMING God. Accusing him of not noticing, or caring, or being ABLE to change our situation.
Or perhaps in the face of suffering, we feel sorry for ourselves, and we try to make ourselves feel better. It might be by taking it out on someone else, like the kids, or our spouse. Easy targets.
Or perhaps there’s a sin you fall back into easily when life’s kicking you in the guts. For guys it might be , or anger, or drinking. For s it might be self-pity, or worry, or shopping. But we think, “I DESERVE this. It will make me feel better.”
We’re tempted to shift our identity from belonging to Christ, and seeking to bring glory to him in everything. To being a SUFFERER. To being someone who deserves pity. A victim.
We’re tempted to covet. To wish we had what someone ELSE had, or belonged where someone else belonged. Tempted to distrust God. Tempted to think he DOESN’T know what he’s doing.
How do YOU respond to suffering and persecution? Do you respond by SINNING? Or by living godly lives, which is God’s will? Responding by DOING good, and SAYING good. So that people can SEE IT, and give praise to God.
The next hint Peter gives about responding to suffering is there in v14 of Ch 3.
14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “DO NOT FEAR WHAT THEY FEAR; DO NOT BE FRIGHTENED.”
Whether it’s persecution for being a Christian, or suffering like sickness, or loss. SO OFTEN the Christian distinguishes himself from others by facing it WITHOUT FEAR.
- We’re not afraid of REJECTION, because we’re accepted by God.
- We’re not afraid of PAIN, because Jesus enduring much worse for our sake.
- We’re not afraid of SICKNESS, because the worst that can happen is we DIE.
- We’re not afraid of , because Jesus has beaten it
- We’re not afraid of LOSING FAMILY, because we’ll spend eternity with our SPIRITUAL FAMILY. Those in Christ
- We’re not afraid of POVERTY, because we have a RICH INHERITANCE waiting for us
Do not fear what THEY fear, says Peter. They’re all things THE WORLD fears. Those who don’t know Jesus.
Instead, he says, v15.
15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.
Set apart comes from the word to MAKE HOLY. To exalt. To make special. Put him NUMBER ONE. Set him apart as LORD. As BOSS. Nothing comes before him. Everything is decided, and defined, IN RESPECT TO HIM. He’s the centre of your Universe, not YOU.
Is that the way YOU approach things? “How can I make Jesus LORD in this decision? How do I SHOW that?”
And with those two attitudes in place, Peter moves on to THE PRACTICALITIES. V15 again
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
With a life where you continue to do good despite suffering. A life lived without FEAR. A life where you’re committing yourself to your faithful Creator, and setting apart Christ as Lord. It’s a life people NOTICE.
And WHEN they ask how you can react the way you do. BE READY TO ANSWER. Know why and how you’re doing it. Know what Jesus has done for you. Know how to explain that to someone else.
And then Peter goes on to say “Do it with GENTLENESS AND RESPECT.” Don’t Bible bash someone. Don’t be so full-on, they won’t want to talk to you again. That they cross to the other side of the street when they see you coming. Trust God to do his work. In HIS timing. Be gentle and respectful.
It’s the VERY METHOD the Jesus all about life campaign wants quiet Christians to be using.
ONE way to talk about what Jesus has done/ is to do it the way Peter does in v18. In v17 he says again it’s better, if it’s God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. In other words sometimes God’s PLAN FOR YOU is to suffer because you’re a Christian. And then in v18 he gives a REASON for what he says in v17. Have a look. Why is it sometimes God’s plan for you to suffer though you’ve done nothing wrong?
18 For (Because) Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to in the body but made alive by the Spirit,
Because that’s EXACTLY WHAT Jesus ENDURED. Suffering to though he did nothing wrong. Jesus LOVED YOU TO .
And it was God’s plan because he died FOR ALL. IN PLACE of all. The righteous INSTEAD of the UNRIGHTEOUS. So we could come to God. Guilty, but forgiven.
There was a PURPOSE to the suffering.
And, even though he SUFFERED. THAT WASN’T the end. God had a BIGGER plan. He moved THROUGH . And was MADE ALIVE by the Spirit.
And that’s exactly what you can be saying when someone asks, “Why is this happening to you? I thought God was supposed to look after you Christians. I thought he was supposed to love you.”
And your answer could be something like, “I don’t know exactly why it’s happening. But I know Jesus went through worse than me. And he did it because he LOVED me. And God PLANNED it that way because he wants to deal with the mess the world’s in COMPLETELY AND FINALLY.
And it wasn’t the end for Jesus. And I know it won’t be the end for ME EITHER.”
That’s being ready with an answer that’s giving a reason for the hope that’s in you.
And Peter’s words here aren’t simply theoretical teaching he read in a book somewhere. He’d LIVED this sort of response to suffering. Flip over to Acts 3. He heals the lame man in Jesus’ name. Then he gives the reason for the hope he’s got. V13.
13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a er be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the . We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.
Into ch 4 we see the priests and temple guards don’t like that sort of message, so they arrest Peter and John, and throw them in jail. But look at v4 of Ch 4.
4 But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.
Isn’t that exactly the way Peter describes it in his letter? 2:11-12
12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Peter speaks up against the high priest and the Sanhedrin. The very group of people who’d been responsible for Jesus’ about two months earlier. V12.
12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
And look at the response from the Sanhedrin.
13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.
Do not fear what they fear, says Peter, But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.
Peter and John are warned from preaching anymore. To which they respond (v19)
“Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. 20 For WE CANNOT HELP SPEAKING ABOUT WHAT WE HAVE SEEN AND HEARD.”
Jump over to ch 5. The apostles are STILL preaching in the temple. Crowds gather, miracles are done. The Sanhedrin, v17, are filled with jealousy. They throw the apostles in jail. But an angel opens the prison doors at night, and at daybreak (v21), they’re back in the temple preaching again.
When the Sanhedrin find out, they’re arrested again. V28
28 “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s .”
Peter and the other apostles respond. “We must obey God rather than men! That’s setting apart Christ as Lord!
Jump down to v40. The apostles are FLOGGED, and ordered not to speak in the name of Jesus, and released. And look at how the episode finishes. Does the flogging and warning WORK? V41.
41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.
And the gospel throughout Jerusalem, and then Judea, and then Samaria. And ultimately to the ends of the earth. Through the godly response of Christians to persecution and suffering. Through Christians setting apart in their hearts Christ as Lord, and always being prepared to give an answer to everyone for the hope they have.
Peter TAUGHT it, and Peter LIVED it.
So how did it work with John Bunyan? How did HIS suffering cause the gospel to advance? For Bunyan the key to setting apart Christ as Lord in his heart was to focus on the Word of God. That was the key. A biographer said this:
Prison proved for Bunyan to be a hallowed place of communion with God because his suffering unlocked the Word and the deepest fellowship with Christ he had ever known. (He quotes Bunyan)
I never had in all my life so great an inlet into the Word of God as now [in prison]. Those scriptures that I saw nothing in before were made in this place and state to shine upon me. Jesus Christ also was never more real and apparent than now. Here I have seen him and felt him indeed. . . I have had sweet sights of the forgiveness of my sins in this place, and of my being with Jesus in another world. . . I have seen things here that I am persuaded I shall never, while in this world, be able to express.
He especially cherished THE PROMISES OF GOD as the key for opening the door of heaven. “I tell thee, friend, there are some promises that the Lord hath helped me to lay hold of Jesus Christ through and by, that I would not have out of the Bible for as much gold and silver as can lie between York and London piled up to the stars.”
Charles Spurgeon described Bunyan like this:
“He had studied our Authorized Version . . . till his whole being was saturated with Scripture; and though his writings . . . continually make us feel and say, ‘Why, this man is a living Bible!’ him anywhere; and you will find that his is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak with out quoting a text, for his soul is full of the Word of God.”
And God used suffering and persecution as BLESSING. To turn Bunyan to himself. So Bunyan might set apart Christ as Lord. And proclaim Jesus to the world.
Without Bunyan’s persecution, imprisonment and suffering, the world probably wouldn’t have “Pilgrim’s Progress”, the most widely distributed book in the world other than the Bible.
George Whitefield said of The Pilgrim’s Progress,
“It smells of the prison. It was written when the author was confined in Bedford jail. And ministers never write or preach so well as when under the cross: the Spirit of Christ and of Glory then rests upon them.”
Let me finish with one of the greatest scenes in The Pilgrim’s Progress. Christian recalls in the dungeon of Doubting-castle that he has a key to the door. A key called PROMISE. And what’s significant is not only what the key is, but where it’s HIDDEN.
What a fool I have been, to lie like this in a stinking dungeon, when I could have just as well walked free. In my chest pocket I have a key called Promise that will, I am thoroughly persuaded, open any lock in Doubting-Castle.” “Then,” said Hopeful, “that is good news. My good brother, do immediately take it out of your chest pocket and try it.” Then Christian took the key from his chest and began to try the lock of the dungeon door; and as he turned the key, the bolt unlocked and the door flew open with ease, so that Christian and Hopeful immediately came out.
God’s promises hidden in our heart. That’s the key to responding to persecution the way God intends. And here’s one final PROMISE to hide in your heart. From 1 Peter 3.
14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts set apart 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.