Suffering for Righteousness' Sake

1 Peter 3:14‑4:7  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 10
In the first chapter we are reminded that the believer may suffer under the chastening of God for the trial of his faith. In the second chapter we further learn that he may be called to suffer for conscience' sake (2:19). This portion of the Epistle has the great theme of suffering for righteousness' sake.
The Christian is viewed as following in the steps of Christ (2:21), and, so doing, he walks as a stranger and a pilgrim through this world; he abstains from the fleshly lusts that war against the soul; he refrains from speaking guile; he avoids evil and does good; he seeks peace. Thus walking, according to the government of God, he will be in favor of the Lord, and escape in large measure the troubles that men bring upon themselves through their evil ways. Nevertheless, in an evil world the Christian may have to suffer for righteousness' sake, clearly indicating that the government of God will not always be fully manifest until righteousness will reign in the millennial days. The devil is not yet banished from the world, and evil still prevails, so that, while the pursuit of righteousness will ever meet with the favor of God, it may entail opposition from man if, by doing right, the Christian interferes with the interests of the men of the world.
PE 3:14{(V. 14). If, then, we are called upon to suffer for righteousness' sake, we are not to bemoan our lot, but rather rejoice, even as Paul and Silas, when persecuted at Philippi, could at midnight sing praises to God, though unjustly cast into prison because they had crossed the interests of some evilly disposed men. There is, however, the danger of yielding to an unrighteous course through fear of consequences. We are therefore warned against the fear of man, and being troubled by the dread of what may happen if we do right.
PE 3:15{(V. 15). Our safeguard against yielding to unrighteousness will be found in sanctifying the Lord in our hearts. By giving the Lord His rightful place in our hearts, we shall be conscious of the presence of the Lord to support us in the presence of men. We shall thus not only escape the temptation to yield to what we know to be wrong in order to escape trouble, but we shall be enabled to render a positive testimony to the truth, giving a reason for our hope with meekness and fear. Acting in a spirit of meekness we shall not offend by seeking to assert ourselves and our opinions; acting in fear before God we shall be bold to maintain the truth. While we are not to be afraid of man's fear (verse 14), it becomes us to walk in the holy fear of God.
PE 3:16{(V. 16). Moreover, to suffer for righteousness' sake, and witness a good conscience before men, demands "a good conscience" before God and men. If with a bad conscience we attempt to stand before the enemy, it will only be to court shame and defeat. With a conscience void of offense we shall, by our consistent Christian conduct, put to shame those who falsely accuse us.
PE 3:17-18{(Vv. 17, 18). It is clear, then, that believers may have to suffer for well-doing, but, even so, let us remember it is "the will of God". The evilly-disposed will of man may cause the suffering, but the will of God allows the suffering. Our concern should be to learn God's mind in the suffering, remembering that it is better to suffer for "well doing" than for "evil doing". If we fail and do wrong, it is surely right that we suffer for it, rather than that it should be passed over. There can, however, be no excuse for the Christian doing wrong, and having to suffer, seeing that "Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit". Being brought to God, justified from all our sins, it is our privilege to live a new life in the Spirit, and thus do good, even though at times we may have to suffer for "well doing".
PE 3:19-20{(Vv. 19, 20). In order to sustain these Jewish believers in their special sufferings, the apostle draws a parallel between their day and the days before the flood. Christ was not personally present then, yet He preached to men by the Spirit of God through Noah (Gen. 6:33And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. (Genesis 6:3); 2 Peter 2:55And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; (2 Peter 2:5)). To-day Christ is no longer present on earth, but the Holy Spirit has come, and the Gospel is being preached by the servants of the Lord (Acts 1:88But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1:8)). In Noah's day the great mass was disobedient to the preaching, and their spirits are now in prison awaiting the yet greater judgment of the dead. So too the great mass of the Jewish nation entirely rejected the preaching of Christ by the Spirit (Acts 7:51-5351Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. 52Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: 53Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it. (Acts 7:51‑53)). In the days before the flood, it was the time of "the long-suffering of God", in which God waited to bless men before the judgment fell; so the present time is the day of God's grace that precedes the coming judgment.
In the days of the flood a few were saved from the judgment that came upon the world; so to-day a remnant is saved from the governmental judgment that has overwhelmed the nation of Israel, and the yet greater judgment that is coming upon the living and the dead (4:5).
The few who escaped the judgment in Noah's day were saved "through water". The whole world of Noah's day was under the judgment of death by the deluge. Noah, and those with him, escaped the judgment by passing through the waters of judgment. Christ has passed through death and is risen, and the believer is clear of judgment as having passed through the judgment in the Person of his substitute. Noah came into a new world, free of judgment so Christ is risen and beyond judgment, and the believer's conscience is relieved of all dread of the judgment he deserves by seeing that he is as clear of all his sins before God, and of their judgment, as Christ Himself.
PE 3:21{(V. 21). This separation from a guilty world, and escape from judgment in passing through the waters of judgment, is clearly set forth in picture in the story of the flood. Further, the apostle tells us that these great truths are also set forth in figure in baptism. We have, then, in this passage the picture in the flood, the figure in baptism, and the fact in the death and resurrection of Christ. In baptism we pass through the water, and thus in figure are separated from the world under judgment, to come into a new sphere beyond judgment. Alluding to the ceremonial washing under the law, the apostle warns us that, in his reference to baptism, he is not using it as a figure of the outward ceremonial cleansing of the body by Levitical washings, but as a figure of the death of Christ by which we obtain a good conscience before God.
PE 3:22{(V. 22). In the closing verse of the chapter we see how complete is the salvation that is ours by the death and resurrection of Christ. It is set forth in Christ as a Man in heaven set in the place of supreme power—the right hand of God—with every other power made subject to Him. Christ has been into death and judgment, and has so perfectly triumphed that no power in the universe can prevent His taking a place in glory.
In the early verses of chapter iv the apostle continues his theme of suffering for righteousness' sake. Enlarging upon the statement that it is better to suffer for well-doing than for wrongdoing, he draws a contrast between the Christian and the men of this world. He shows that the Christian is to have done with sin, and live the rest of his time to the will of God. Thus his life as a Christian will be a complete contrast to his past life when unconverted, as well as to the life that men are living in the world—the life dominated by sin, or the will of the flesh.
PE 4:1{(4:1). In order that the Christian may be strengthened to have done with sin, or the gratification of the will of the flesh, the apostle sets Christ before us as our perfect Example. Christ came into the world to do the will of God; and though He never had to meet sin within, as we have, yet He was tempted to the utmost by sin without every conceivable adverse power was arrayed against Him, the contradiction of sinners, the power of the devil, the claims of natural relationships, the ignorance of disciples, and at last the power of death, all brought to bear upon Christ in the endeavor to move Him from the path of perfect obedience to the will of the Father. He resisted every temptation, and chose death rather than disobedience, and that too when, as it has been said, "death had the character of wrath against sin and judgment. Bitter as the cup was, He drank it rather than not fulfill to the uttermost His Father's will and glorify Him". Suffering death rather than yielding to the principle of sin, He has by dying done with sin forever.
It is ever the great effort of the enemy to entrap believers into sin by tempting us to gratify the flesh in some form or other. He knows the particular form of gratification that will appeal to each one, and tempts us accordingly. To meet his temptations we are instructed to arm ourselves against sin by having the same mind as Christ—the mind to suffer rather than yield to sin. If we yield, the flesh does not suffer; on the contrary it is gratified: but we sin, and in due course suffer the governmental consequences of sinning. If we refuse to yield to sin, the flesh suffers, but we cease from sin, and live to the will of God, enjoying the blessedness of so doing.
PE 4:2{(V. 2). To cease from sin, however right, is only a negative virtue: the apostle therefore passes on to speak of the positive side of Christian life. Conversion divides the life here into two distinct periods: first, "the time past of our life"; secondly, "the rest of his time in the flesh". As to the time that is left, it is only consistent, as the apostle says, that we should no longer live to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. We arm ourselves against Satan by making up our minds to suffer rather than sin, and by setting our faces toward God with the desire to do His will.
PE 4:3{(V. 3). The time past of our life was marked by doing our own will, and the character of that will was shown by our walk. In the case of these Jewish believers they had walked according to the will of the Gentiles, committing the same excesses, clearly showing that the will of an unconverted Jew is the same as that of an unconverted Gentile.
PE 4:4{(V. 4). The men of the world wonder that believers abstain from the indulgences of the flesh, refusing to join with them in pouring their life into the sink of corruption, such as the world without God has become. Having no knowledge of God, nor of the desires and affections of the new nature, which make the lusts of the flesh repellent to the believer, they can only impute some evil motive as actuating those who refuse to join with them in their life of self-indulgence. So the devil, incapable of appreciating goodness, suggested to God that the piety of Job was not real—that he refrained from evil, not because he hated evil or loved God, but simply because he found it paid to refrain from excesses.
In the former chapter we learned that the world falsely imputes evil to the believer, and then condemns him for doing evil (3:16). Here the world condemns the believer because he refuses to do evil. Thus apart from what the believer may do, or not do, the fallen nature of man is convicted of being in opposition to all that is of God.
PE 4:5{(V. 5). Men may indulge the flesh and speak evil of those who fear God; but God is not indifferent to their godless lives, nor their treatment of His people. They will have to give an account to God, who is ready to judge the living as well as those who have already died.
PE 4:6{(V. 6). For this cause the Gospel was preached to those who are now dead, so that, on the one hand, judgment may take its course on those who, having been warned, refuse the Gospel and continue to live as regards men after the flesh, or, on the other hand, by receiving the Gospel they might be blessed, and, abandoning their old life, live as regards God, according to the Spirit. God proclaims grace but does not give up His government whereby evil is dealt with in righteousness. The verse does not imply that the Gospel was preached to men after they were dead. It was preached to living men who are now dead. There would be no sense in suggesting that dead men could live, either after the flesh's lusts, or in the power of the Spirit.
PE 4:7{(V. 7). In this verse the apostle sums up the Christian attitude to the world that he is passing through. It is a world of excess and riot in which men do their own wills, gratify their lusts, and speak evil of the Christian, who is made to suffer for righteousness' sake, who suffers patiently, and who suffers in the flesh rather than yield to sin. In the presence of the world's evil and his own suffering, the Christian is to remember that the end of all things is at hand. The end, with all that it involves, whether of judgment for the unconverted or blessing for the Christian, calls for sobriety and watchfulness with prayer, sobriety in view of the end to which all is leading, watchfulness as to all that is around, and prayer in relation to God.