Suffering in 1 Peter 3:13-4:19
The theme or summary that sticks out to me most about this entire section of Scripture is unjust suffering. Peter seems to be encouraging all those who were being persecuted for righteousness and its various forms. He repeats the fact that you should be suffering for righteousness not for sinful choices. He also spends a lofty amount of time explaining the hope we have in the gospel as a means to comfort us in our suffering. This is mentioned in 1 Peter 3:18-22, where he talks about how Christ has forgiven our sins by dying for us. This is meant to motivate us to righteousness and enable us to perform all of the imperatives that Peter gives in the preceding and following verses.
I find it interesting that sometimes pastors misapply this text in our modern American context. They will use scenarios that talk about being made fun of at work, school, or social gatherings at the hands of the pagans. While that can be difficult and painful at times, I wonder if that is the totality of what Peter is saying here. Certainly there have been many places in the world throughout history where anti-Christian persecution from pagans was a serious threat, but I also believe Peter is talking about suffering in a much broader sense.
Suffering for righteousness can come on many levels. In this writing I am going to touch on two of the main ones in our American culture. The first one is in our homes. We can often experience much suffering when we try to live a Christian life around professing or un-professing loved ones who are not living for Christ. This can be experienced on multiple levels. It can be an unrepentant spouse who refuses to live a godly life and the consequences are extremely painful. It can be a rebellious child who sins against you in ways that cause massive devastation. Or it could be your parents who disown you, belittle you, or exasperate you. Often times, someone who is sincerely living for God will experience much opposition from those in their own family. The sad thing is the often times these loved ones profess to be believers.
The other place of suffering is surprisingly in the church. Perhaps it is easier to forgive those who blatantly deny Jesus Christ as Lord. It is much harder to forgive those who callously sin against you in the body of Christ. These situations are much harder to swallow and often the pain can be immense. I don’t think this text is only talking about those who live in a pagan society of extreme persecution for being a Christian. I think it is also talking about theocratic societies where being a “true Christian" can draw immense persecution. The Middle Ages were the most Christianized society in the entire history of Christendom, yet one of the most corrupt in terms of the gospel. The leadership of many churches was so bad that to live a true Christian life often got you tortured or killed.
John Huss, Wycliffe, and many others were burned as heretics by the Catholic Church for simply living an orthodox Christian life. On the Protestant side, the religious community in Geneva was responsible for executing a man who preached heresy. The Catholics and Protestants fought wars over baptism, communion, and various other doctrines. If you believed differently in that time you would be killed by none other than the “church.” Many others were kicked out of their church, exiled, and shunned by their communities for simply living the Christian life. So while I do think these passages apply to place like China and Indonesia, I also think they apply to the most Christianized cultures in the world as well.
As a society becomes more anti-Christian, it has a way of refining the church. I think the last verse in 4:17 is in reference to this very thing. Peter states that judgment must begin with the house of God. I think God will allow pagans to persecute Christians in order to refine and bring judgment as seen throughout the Old Testament with Israel. The church is no different. It will experience persecution eventually as our society turns more secular every day. However, the gospel gives us hope that although we are experiencing suffering from others, our God has justified us and stands in our defense.
December 2, 2011
Joel Gravely is originally from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He graduated from the University of South Alabama in 2006. After teaching school for a year, he moved to DC metro area to be a part of Covenant Life Church (Sovereign Grace Ministries). Part of that time was spent doing college ministry at the University of Maryland as well as helping out with an urban church plant near Washington, DC. He is now enrolled at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is working on his M. Div. in Pastoral Ministry.