When we began this series, I mentioned that First Peter deals with some topics that Americans don't always immediately relate to. Peter talks about suffering and persecution—a topic that we neither know about nor like to talk about. Yet, as we go through these chapters, we will have to address the issue of how to deal with opposition.
In today's text, Peter also talks about some subjects that we might, at first glance, find both uncomfortable and irrelevant to our culture. In this passage Peter instructs slaves how to relate to their masters. Some may find it irrelevant, because slavery was abolished long, long ago. And some may find it uncomfortable, because it raises some questions that critics have often used against Christianity and the Bible. There are those who say that this passage, since it does not explicitly condemn slavery, therefore implicitly condones slavery. I addressed this topic in the Ephesians series, so I won't go into lengthy detail here, but I do want to speak briefly to the issue.
One third of the people in the Roman world were slaves. This amounts to 60,000,000 people. Slavery was factored into every aspect of the world economy; it was impossible then to conceive of the idea of life without it.
The biblical writers introduced a new idea into the mix: the idea of human dignity. Christian teachers had the radical belief that each person has value, that each life is worth something. Therefore, the New Testament writers challenged slave owners to treat their slaves with dignity and respect. They also challenged slaves to treat their masters with respect and to do their work wholeheartedly.
In this epistle, Peter doesn't speak to masters. He speaks to slaves, because they were the ones in his audience. He encourages slaves to treat their masters with respect and to do their best to stand up under mistreatment. He's not condoning slavery. He's acknowledging the reality of the institution and telling his audience how to deal with it. just as we do in a class in our church for people who have been divorced. We're not condoning divorce; we don't encourage couples to split up so they can join the class. Divorce is wrong, but by offering this class, we help those who have been through the pain of divorce to deal with the hurt and move on with their lives.
So don't let Peter's references to slavery prevent you from picking up the principles he teaches in this passage. He is teaching here how to deal with suffering and how to deal with mistreatment. From this, no one is exempt. We all suffer and we all experience mistreatment at some point in our lives. The degree of suffering differs from place to place and from generation to generation, but it is common to all of us. No matter where you live or when you live, you must learn how to endure suffering. That's what we will look at today.
Paul had said to Timothy, "Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (2 Tim. 2:3). Peter wrote, "Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh" (v. 18).
In today's lesson, Peter provides the "why" to these commands. There are three things I want you to notice, three important "why's" to endure suffering. First of all ...
Enduring suffering pleases God.
Peter writes, "For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God" (v. 19–20).
Do you know what I like about my family? They don't complain. When we've gone through hard times, they have hung in there with me. They accept the fact that sometimes life is hard, and they weather the storm with me. I never hear, "Maybe this idea of being a May is for the birds. It's too tough. I don't want to be a May anymore." When life gets tough and they endure it, as a father that pleases me.
Now, as a father, do you think I want my family to suffer? Well, yes and no. No, I don't want them to hurt. I don't enjoy seeing them do without. I don't like it when they have to make sacrifices. But ... I know that suffering develops character. This principle is true about life: No pain, no gain. I know that unless my children face some obstacles along the way, they will never have the opportunity to grow in character. So yes, it pleases me—not the suffering, but the endurance.
My youngest son came in the house last night, huffing and puffing, winded from a long run. Am I happy that he is out of breath? Am I pleased that his legs hurt and that his side aches? Of course not. I am pleased, however, that he takes his health seriously enough to push himself daily in order to be in better physical shape. It's not the suffering that pleases me; it's the endurance.
It's the same with God. The suffering part is inevitable. Every Christian and non-Christian in the world must endure it. But the willingness to endure suffering, to stay faithful to God during the process—that pleases the Father.
Let's zero in on one phrase: "if you suffer for doing good." Right before that, Peter says, "But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it?" (v. 19).Let me tell you what the Devil will do. He is the master of transference and projection. He is the ultimate spin doctor. When you suffer, he will do everything in his power to convince you that it is because of something you've done wrong. "You know, you're having financial problems because you don't spend enough time with your children. And the reason why you're sick is because you don't witness like you should. This suffering is all your own fault."
That's what the Devil will do. And let me tell you what else he will do: If he can spin it the other way, he will. "Hey, the only reason your boss writes you up for being late is that you're a believer. This isn't about your performance; it's about your faith." I've seen this happen many times in the workplace. Guys think they're being persecuted for their faith, but they're not. They're being "persecuted" for their arrogance. They'll say, "People don't like me because I'm holy," and they need to be told, "No, people don't like you because you're holier-than-thou."
We've all been mistreated by someone at some time in our lives. Maybe it's because we were right or maybe it's because we were wrong. Things aren't always that clear cut, but here's what you can do about it. Even if you brought some unjust treatment upon yourself, you can start doing right by accepting responsibility for your actions and moving forward. When you go through hard times, you can say, "God, I don't know how much of this is my fault, but I want to do right, and I'm going to endure what I have to endure, because I want to please you."
Here's a second reason to endure suffering.
Enduring suffering fulfills your calling.
"To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving an example, that you should follow in his steps" (v. 21). Like it or not, suffering is our heritage. It's a part of life, an inevitable and unavoidable part of life. Later in this letter, Peter says: "But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed" (3:14); "Therefore since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourself also with the same attitude" (4:1); "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering" (4:12).
Suffering is a part of life. Now, as I said earlier, everyone suffers. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. The big difference is in how you respond. If you endure the inevitable suffering that comes your way, you fulfill your calling as a follower of Jesus Christ.
At the same time, it fulfills your calling to obedience and evangelism. Simply put, when things are tough and we hang in there, we prove that we mean business. Enduring suffering proves that we take obedience and perseverance seriously. Now, this is not information that God needs. He already knows if you mean business. But it is information that you need from time to time. You need to be reminded how important following Christ is to you. And it is information that the world needs, as well. The world needs to see people who are willing to be faithful to Christ, no matter the cost, because it proves to them that Christianity really is all that it claims to be.
F. B. Meyer said, "The child of God is often called to suffer because there is nothing that will convince onlookers of the reality and power of true religion as suffering will do, when it is borne with Christian fortitude."
We're not called just to suffer. Everybody on the planet suffers. But as followers of Jesus Christ, we're called to endure suffering in a way that brings glory to God. How do we do it? This brings us to the next point.
Enduring suffering is a way of being like Jesus.
"To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving an example, that you should follow in his steps" (v. 21). Here's the example: "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly" (vv. 22–23). Peter explains how we are to respond to suffering by following the example of Christ, and interestingly they all have to do with the spoken word.
Speak no deceit. When people start talking about you, you will want to talk about them, and you'll probably find yourself tempted to twist the details in your favor. You often see this in political campaigns. Candidates sometimes have a way of presenting facts that don't quite tell the complete story. That might be politics as usual, but it can't be Christianity as usual. We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard. When you're suffering mistreatment at the hands of others, don't let there be deceit in your mouth.
Speak no insults. On Fox News recently I watched representatives of two groups being interviewed. They were on the same side, fighting the same war, so to speak, both involved in eliminating online predators of children. But they each had differing ideas as to how this should be accomplished. Here's the amazing part: They couldn't stop insulting each other. Here they were with an opportunity to trumpet an important cause in the national spotlight, and they were taking potshots at each other. Finally the moderator said something along the lines of "Hey, let's keep our eye on the ball here. Let's not turn this into a personal vendetta."
It's human nature that when someone insults you, you want to insult them back. But we don't live according to human nature, do we? We live according to the new nature we have been in Jesus Christ. And according to his nature, when we are insulted, we don't retaliate.
Speak no threats. Threats are usually a last resort, an attempt to intimidate others into backing off and leaving us alone. But most threats are not made from strength; they're made from weakness. We are most inclined to make threats when we really can't do anything about the situation.
We don't need to threaten people with revenge, because we serve a just God, and he has promised to settle the score his way. When vengeance is truly necessary, God will take vengeance. But we need to remember that he didn't take vengeance on us. He showed us mercy. Let's pray that everyone who stands against us today will experience not God's vengeance, but the very same mercy that has set us free.
All three of these deal with the spoken word, or, more clearly, the unspoken word. Jesus responded to suffering with silence, and it is a good example to follow. We want to get in the last word, and there is only one way to do it: Say nothing at all and trust God to take care of you. Endure the suffering you must endure, and endure it silently, and trust God to take care of you. Peter wrote, "For it is God's will that by doing good, you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men" (v. 15).
When you suffer, when you're criticized, ridiculed, mocked, and laughed at, just do what you're supposed to do and keep your mouth shut. Instead, trust God to take care of you. This is the best way—the only way—of getting in the last word.
This is how Jesus responded to suffering, and where did it take him? To complete success. By enduring suffering he fulfilled God's calling on his life and provided us with salvation. And if you are willing to endure suffering, you can fulfill God's calling on your life as well.