It will happen to the best, and the worst. Life does not exist without it.
17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. – 1 Peter 3:17-22 ESV
Suffering, a part of life
It is a known fact that many people seek out God when they are suffering. They look for an answer that they just cannot grasp by themselves. That inner desire that says I can’t do it, I need help. Most individuals will enter into a dialog with God before they will talk to anybody else. There pride, shame and embarrassment builds up a separation with those around them.
Many of us may have even come to know Jesus through some sufferings and trials in our life. The reality is that when Jesus reveals himself, it is not long until we realize that the suffering does not instantly evaporate. Our desire for a rescue does not seem to evolve in the timely fashion that we expect. The strange things is that many have an encounter with God in these situations, find out suffering is not eliminated, and figure God is not the answer and they go on their way seeking the true fix. Then there are others of us that come seeking rescue and stick around even after we realize suffering is still going to happen.
We have come to an understanding that this world is broken, and there will be turmoil, tragedies, trials, pain and suffering, until Jesus returns and sets things right, regardless of whether we have a relationship with Jesus or not. Being a Christian does not mean suffering is eliminated. The big topic in debates is about whether God is loving, caring and why does he allow suffering to happen. Or does he?
What are some of your thoughts about God’s interactions during times of suffering? Is suffering experienced as a Christian a punishment? Is it an example of where God backs away and does not care?
There are many stories of suffering in the bible. They are in the Old Testament and on into the New Testament. It gets easy for us to be judgmental towards others when they are suffering. We can quietly think in our mind the situations people are going through are consequences for poor judgement, sinning, rebellion. But let us pause and read some scripture to let the fog be lifted.
What are some quick examples of suffering in the bible by righteous individuals?
17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
Can we make any sense of that statement? It says that it is better to suffer for doing good than for suffering for doing evil. The scriptures indicate that it is better to suffer when we do right.
Why would we ever suffer for doing right?
The scripture right in front of us indicates that we can receive suffering for doing good because it is God’s will. Meaning God makes us suffer even when we do good things. This thought is so obscure. This goes against the basic concepts of God is love and that He would never hurt anyone that loves him. If we are aware that God just might want us to suffer, why would we want anything to do with him?
Sometimes it is God’s will that we suffer for doing what is right. This is not an easy thing to hear. We need help with this. We need understanding and we need encouragement and hope, if God is going to will that we suffer for doing what is right.
So in verse 18 Peter begins this paragraph by saying, “For Christ also suffered once for sins . . . ” The word “for” shows us that Peter is beginning to explain why it is sometimes God’s will for us to suffer for doing what is right. So the paragraph begins as an explanation or a reason for the call to suffer as a Christian for doing what is right.
Now look at the connection between this paragraph and how he opens chapter 4.
1 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. – 1 Peter 4:1-2 ESV
The New Living Translation puts it in other words:
1 So then, since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had, and be ready to suffer, too. For if you have suffered physically for Christ, you have finished with sin. 2 You won’t spend the rest of your lives chasing your own desires, but you will be anxious to do the will of God. – 1 Peter 4:1-2 NLT
The point that Peter wants to make clear, because he states it more than once is: get ready to suffer for doing what is right, if that should be God’s will. Between these two calls to suffer is verses 18–22. So the main point of these verses is to help us get ready to suffer with Jesus for doing what is right, not for doing what is wrong. For all the puzzling things in these verses we must not forget this main point—Peter’s intention in this text is to help us arm ourselves with the faith to suffer for the sake of Christ and his kingdom.
We are not the standard
We are insulated in our times that we don’t understand all of history and the world as much as we think. We are fortunate enough to have the ability to live in America. To have freedom. We don’t fully grasp how good we got it, but maybe a little insight into this letter from Peter will let us be just a bit more grateful to our God.
America is only about 5% in size of the world. Another interesting thing to understand the history of America is only about 5% of the last 6,000 years. To fully understand the letter and grasp the reality of the audience he was writing to we need to understand that most of the world and most of history, begin a Christian has not been safe.
Think about the book of Acts and the believers were told to go share the Good News. It was not as easy as sharing your faith in the grocery store line. Evangelism for them meant that they could not make any promises to people that things would go better for them on earth, but that if they believed what was offered, they would be risking their lives. And the strangest thing happened, the church exploded!!! Thousands were converted.
Today it is normal in most places to suffer for being Christians. To be safe and respected is the exception, not the rule. It is normal not abnormal for Christians to be hated. We see this on the headlines and on the news nightly. Jesus did tell us in Matthew 24:9 –
9Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. – Matthew 24:9 NIV
We watch the evening news, read the paper or read the internet news about Christians suffering horrifically. Tortured, maimed, and killed. The times have not changed much. Later we get more clarity from Peter:
12Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. – 1 Peter 4:12
If we recall how the letter opened, it explained that we are aliens and exiles here and that it is NOT surprising, and not abnormal when the cultural powers that be revile Christianity. Now in between these two warnings, Peter gives us some ways to strengthen us for when that happens.
That word ‘For’ that opens verse 18 should be in bold, capitalized and enlarged. “FOR Christ also suffered once for sins”
Throughout all of the New Testament the mindset of Christianity is: our Lord suffered and if we follow Him we will suffer. There is the very common saying, “carry your cross”, but rarely is it truly understood that you are actually taking a vicious, deadly instrument with you, symbolizing that you are acknowledging and accepting the opposition for following Christ.
If we were organizing a team to go evangelize, we would have a challenge when trying to logically explain and encourage the servants. The big question becomes:
Why would anyone become a Christian if what you could offer them was that things in this world would probably get worse for them and that their lives would be at risk?
The truth of the matter is we strive so hard to make heaven here on earth, but in reality the greatest human needs are not to live long on the earth and be comfortable. Our real human needs are how to have our sins forgiven and overcome our separation form God and live forever with happiness in his presence instead of living forever in misery in hell.
Our lives here on earth are a mere blip in time of eternity. Isn’t it foolish to invest in a blip of happiness and miss the eternal joy forever? The enemy will always come at us when we are down and tell us how God has abandoned us when we needed him the most. Let always remember that God has not abandoned us, but in reality has led the way! He has gone before us, leading into suffering.
Days of Noah
19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. – 1 Peter 3:19-22 NIV
This can be a very controversial bit of scripture when pulled out on its own, but we will keep intact with the contextual reference to suffering. The first clarification is that Jesus can transcend time. He can go backwards and forward in time, he is not bound by space and time. God was there with Adam, he has been with all the ones in between and he is with us today. No matter where we suffer, he is with us.
It is better to obey God and suffer than to disobey and be cast into the prison of verse 19. That is what happened to the spirits in Noah’s day. They thought it was foolish to heed the warning of God like Noah did. So they stayed comfortable and respectable until the rain started. This is again why people can be converted with a message that calls for suffering—it is a suffering that will keep them out of eternal prison.
I believe that more people are converted during times of suffering than of times of prosperity. When things are going good, we have things in control, we don’t need any help. Just look at us now!
21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. – 1 Peter 3:21-22 NIV
Peter uses the illustration of the great flood to symbolize the baptism. Peter was wise enough to know there would be questions about whether baptism is required, is it by immersion or sprinkling. Peter declares in verse 18 that Christ died for sins and brought us to God. In other words Christ saves us, but who is “us”? Those who are baptized. But for clarity he states:
21Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, – 1 Peter 3:21 NIV
Baptism is an outward expression of a spiritual, inward appeal to God for cleansing. In other words, baptism is a way of saying to God: “I trust you to apply the death of Jesus to me for my sins and to bring me through death and judgment into new and everlasting life through the resurrection of Jesus.”
Baptism may cleanse the body because it was by immersion. But that is not why he says it saves. It saves for one reason: it is an expression of faith. It is an appeal of faith. Paul said in Romans 10:13 that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Baptism is such a calling. It is an appeal to the Lord, not people, not to ourselves.
Some may ask, what does baptism have to do with suffering? Why is baptism put in the middle of these two warnings about suffering?
Do you view baptism as a view of suffering? Or just a new beginning?
When we come through the water of baptism, we have passed through death and judgment. We have been buried with Christ and we have risen with him. That is what water submersion represents. We have passed from death to life. Judgment is past. The suffering we are experiencing cannot be the condemnation of God. That has already been experienced for us by Christ. We have received that by faith and we have expressed our faith by baptism. It stands as a constant reminder that our worst suffering has been avoided. Christ took it for us. We will never have to come into judgment. There is now no condemnation. We have already died that death in Christ and been raised in him. Therefore our present suffering is not the wrath of God but the loving discipline of our Father and the preparation for glory.
Jesus still reigns
Peter closes this section by reminding us that Jesus did not just die and went away, and standing in the wings waiting for the signal to return. Christ is at the right hand of God ruling over all angels, authorities and powers.
22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. – 1 Peter 3:21-22 NIV
Remember this one thought with you in preparation for your suffering. No harassing, oppressing, deceiving, accusing demon is free to do as he pleases. All angels, authorities, powers, devils, evil spirits, demons, and Satan himself are subject to Jesus Christ.
Yes, we have free will, but we cannot do anything that God restrictions. We cannot trump him, we cannot overrule him. From time to time, we might know His will and decide to do things our own way, but it only happens if He allows it.
Let us be encouraged as we consciously understand pain and suffering is inevitable, it is only temporary and He allows it for His glory. Later we will get to the popular version by Peter where he reemphasizes this notion:
6 So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. 7 Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.
8 Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. 9 Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are. – 1 Peter 5:6-9 NLT
Don’t fall into the lie of the world when they say that suffering is optional in this life. It is not. The bible explains it over and over again that this world is broken and there will be suffering.
If we were going to make this statement anywhere near the truth, we would have to say that we have an option to suffer forever or not. We do know that suffering does not existing in heaven, and we know that there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth in hell (suffering). There is a choice, it is a decision to be made, but all of us will endure suffering in this world.
Let us realize that we will face situations in our life that clearly produce suffering. Relationships with others, physical challenges, poor decisions, by us and others. We will undergo pain, distress and hardships. We will suffer, it is inevitable, but it can be temporary.