Better to Suffer - 1 Peter 3:13-17

In general, sinners suffer, not saints. (So don’t sin!) But in a fallen world, sometimes saints suffer. When that happens, saints are tempted to turn to sin to get them out of suffering. Instead, God calls saints to suffer in a saintly way, not in a sinful way, because it is better to suffer than to sin. The example of Jesus shows why it’s better to suffer than to sin, which isn’t something that sin-prone hearts find easy to believe.

When sin causes a glitch in the way the world is meant to be so that saints experience the suffering that is meant to accompany sin, it’s easy to give in to fear and start to make fear-based decisions to make that suffering go away. Apart from faith, fear can turn suffering saints into sinners, and so Peter’s first exhortation is not to fear or be troubled when suffering comes. Instead, he calls on saints to honor Christ as holy, which means setting your heart on “faith” instead of “fear”. In faith, don’t hide your hope, and don’t mumble excuses when people ask questions about why you live the way you live. Be ready to boldly tell the truth that Jesus is Lord of your life, and that no amount of suffering can knock Him off the throne. But don’t use your opportunity to bear witness for Jesus as an opportunity to get verbal vengeance for the suffering you’ve experienced. When you give an account of your hope, speak like a hopeful person offering hope to others, and not like a rude and bitter crank who’s had it up to here with pagans and their persecutions. They may have taken away your comfort, your reputation, and your standing in society, but that’s no reason to hand over your good conscience, too! Defending your hope graciously demonstrates that your joy is out of reach of their slander. Your gentle answer blunts the sharp edge of their criticism.

Peter wants you to avoid suffering if you can, and so he counsels you to do good and speak respectfully, but when you cannot avoid suffering, you must avoid sin, both as a cause of suffering and in response to suffering. And so he states outright that it is better so suffer for doing good than for doing evil. It seems at times that sinning will bring suffering to an end, but Peter urges you to turn away from that sort of thinking. Instead, he uses the example of Jesus to prove that it is better to suffer than to sin. He points out that when faced with a choice between suffering and sin, it is God’s will that you suffer. Since disregarding God’s will incurs God’s judgment, it is better to suffer than to sin by rejecting God’s will. Peter also points to the benefits of Christ’s suffering. Not only did Jesus endure suffering, but He accomplished great things through His suffering: He reconciled us to God by atoning for our unrighteousness. He achieved victory over angels, authorities, and powers, shattering Satan’s grip on humanity and defeating the demonic forces of evil. Since suffering can be used by God to reconcile sinners to Himself and overthrow His and your enemies, it is better to suffer than to sin. Suffering also preserves your good conscience. Choosing to sin instead of suffer might save your skin temporarily, but your body is doomed anyway. But if you choose to sin, then when you stand before God to give an account of your actions, your conscience will condemn you for your selfish and cowardly decision. Temporary physical safety or social approval is dust on the scales compared to the glory of a good conscience before God, so it’s better to suffer than to sin.

Finally, Peter reminds you that resurrection, vindication, and exaltation are the rewards of suffering. God will correct all injustice done to His saints by raising them from the dead, and publicly exhibiting you as innocent. Not only that, He will also reward you by seating you with Christ in the place of authority, highly exalted over your persecutors in majesty and honor. Sin covers you with shame. Suffering for righteousness’ sake covers you with glory. The example of Jesus shows you that it is better to suffer than to sin.

God is fully aware that in this fallen world, saints sometimes suffer, even when they haven’t sinned, but He still says not to be afraid. He hasn’t forgotten about justice, and he hasn’t forgotten about you. So in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, follow in His steps through suffering, and He will bring you to God.

Posted on Wednesday, September 28, 2016 by CJ Bowen