Righteous Suffering – 1 Peter 3:13-22

Read the Passage: 1 Peter 3:13-22

A Perspective (3:13–17)

In 1 Pet. 3:13–14 Peter begins to unfold to his readers a proper perspective on suffering. Keep in mind the fact that this was not an academic discussion for the apostle’s readers, as they were experiencing severe suffering at the hands of the authorities. Many of these believers had lost friends, family, and material possessions. In 1 Pet. 3:13 Peter asks the rhetorical question, “And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good?” The implied answer, of course, is “No one” (see Paul’s teaching at Rom. 8:38–39). Moreover, Peter notes, “Even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed” (1 Pet. 3:14). He then quotes Isa. 8:12 in support of this notion. Note that the apostle does not say that if you suffer for righteousness you will be blessed; rather, he says that suffering for righteousness is itself the blessing.

In 1 Pet. 3:15–16 Peter gives his readers specific instructions on how to prepare for suffering. First, he says to “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts” (1 Pet. 3:15). This means to place Jesus at the center of your being. Second, Peter instructs his readers to “be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15). The apostle then discusses three ways in which this can be done. First, he writes, do this “with meekness and fear” (1 Pet. 3:16a)—that is, have a Christ-like spirit; second, do this by “having a good conscience” (1 Pet. 3:16b)—that is, by not acting immorally; and third, do this by causing evildoers to be self-accused when they “defame [believers] as evildoers” (1 Pet. 3:16c; cf. 1 Pet. 2:11–12). Peter’s encouragement here is to defend one’s faith by demonstrating its validity in real life.

An Example (3:17–20)

In 1 Pet. 3:17 Peter reveals one of the most startling facts in Scripture as he writes, “It is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” While most people would agree that suffering for doing evil can be helpful, here Peter claims that unjust suffering is actually “better” (1 Pet. 3:17), if it is the will of God (cf. Phil. 1:29; 1 Pet. 4:19). This perspective helps explain why the apostles rejoiced when they were beaten because “they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Jesus’ name” (Acts 5:41). In 1 Pet. 3:18 Peter seeks to encourage his readers in regard to suffering by pointing out that Christ himself suffered unjustly and good resulted—namely our salvation (cf. 1 Pet. 3:21–25). The parallel between believers’ suffering and Christ’s suffering is obvious, and ought to be a sufficient example to encourage Christians in the midst of trials.

1 Pet. 3:19–20 is widely recognized as one of the most difficult passages to interpret in the entire New Testament. While there are many different interpretations of these verses, it seems that Peter is referring to the so-called “descent into Hades” when Christ went to the grave in between his death and resurrection to declare His victory, made possible via His substitutionary atonement, over sin and death (cf. Eph. 4:9–10; Col. 2:14–15). Those whom Jesus preached to were likely the fallen angels, or demons, whom God had cast into Hades on account of this sin of cohabiting with human women in Gen. 6:1–4 (cf. 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). Regardless of the proper interpretation of these verses, the apostle draws a parallel between Noah’s family that was saved in the ark of wood from the flood waters and believers who are saved through the ark of Christ from the water of the world.

A Picture (3:21–22)

In continuing his exhortation from 1 Pet. 3:17–20, Peter here mentions the antitype of baptism. In the Bible an antitype is an earthy expression of a spiritual reality. The baptism that Peter references here is not primarily water baptism, for he clearly says he is not referring to “the removal of the filth of the flesh” (1 Pet. 3:21). What Peter is referring to is believers’ immersion into Christ. Of course, the church pictures a Christian’s unity with Jesus via water baptism. Peter’s entire teaching in this passage is as follows: Noah’s family was saved in the midst of God’s judgment upon the world by being in the wooden ark. Likewise, believers are saved from God’s judgment upon the world by being in the ark of Christ. By way of application, Peter’s readers could learn that times of suffering can be occasions for great spiritual triumphs.

Application Questions:

  1. What is your opinion of suffering? What is your reaction to suffering? How does the concept of suffering fit in with modern Christianity?
  2. How can suffering be a blessing? What has been your experience in regard to past or present suffering? Is Peter implying that God causes men to suffer?
  3. Are you able to give a defense of your faith in both words and actions? As the lost world watches your life, do they see the hope of the gospel?
  4. What is your interpretation of the obscure event that Peter refers to in 1 Pet. 3:19–20? What is Peter’s intent in referencing this ambiguous event?
  5. How can we best counsel and comfort fellow believers in the midst of trials and suffering? What has helped you to suffer well in the past?
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