Enduring Unjust Suffering
Topic: English Passage: 1 Peter 2:20-23
If we were studying First Peter in a classroom setting, now would probably be a good time for a quiz. But since this isn’t a formal classroom, I want to start this morning with a brief review of where we are.
We began First Peter in April of this year, right around the beginning of the COVID-19 situation. And ever since then, I have been reminding you that First Peter was written by the Apostle Peter to a group of Gentile Christians who, to one degree or another, were suffering. Some of that was part of the general suffering in this cursed world, and some of that was part of the persecution that comes from following Christ.
Well, in that context, there are two major themes in this letter. Peter wanted his readers to have hope and to walk in holiness. Those are the major themes of this letter: hope and holiness.
Before our church starts studying Mark next year as part of our Family Life Groups, you might want to go back and read First Peter again in order to see how these themes are being emphasized.
Peter starts the letter with a reminder of the eternal inheritance that Christians have waiting for them because of the grace and love that is in Christ Jesus. We have the highest privilege any person can have.
And having that privileged position and that future hope, Peter then moves into the call for a holy life. Our destiny is set apart from this world, and our lives right now should be set apart as well. We don’t belong to this world; we belong to Christ. He ransomed us.
First Peter 1:21 remind us that our faith and our hope are in God. That hope that we have should be visible. It should be visible in the way we love one another. It should be visible in the way we desire God’s word. And it should be visible in the way we conduct ourselves in this world.
We are God’s holy nation. Just like Israel was called to be distinct from the surrounding pagan nations, we are called to be distinct from this world. We don’t pursue what they pursue. We pursue the glory of God. And our desire is that many more would join us in that pursuit. We want them to glorify God on the day of visitation. That’s the wording from chapter 2 verse 12.
After setting up the big picture for his readers, Peter then gets very practical. We don’t have to guess at what it means to glorify God in this world. In chapter 2, verse 13, Peter talks about how we should respond to the governing authorities. In verse 18 he addresses slaves. In chapter 3, he talks directly to wives and then to husbands.
Again, all of this is in the context of difficulty and suffering. It’s in the context if living next to unbelievers. And the overarching idea here is that an honorable life, and attractive life, is a life of submission and respect. It’s a life of humility and patience.
That’s what we’ve been seeing so far with respect to earthly masters, whether that be political leaders, parents, or the leadership at your job. God calls you to submit and to show respect to those in authority over you, even when those authorities are abusing the power they’ve been given.
We all recognize that that kind of response is not easy or automatic. No one likes to take orders, much less when they’re coming from someone who isn’t honoring God. One of the responses we have could be, “Well I know I’m supposed to submit to their leadership, but they are supposed to treat me with grace and kindness. And until my parents, or my boss, starts honoring Gon on their end, I’m not going to submit.”
Well, that kind of response is understandable; it’s just not biblical. Those in authority are responsible for how they treat those in their care, but a leader’s kindness isn’t a condition to the command to submit. And we talked about that last week.
Verse 18 says to submit and to respect your masters even if they are unjust, even if they are crooked or perverse. Obviously that doesn’t mean we obey them if they tell us to sin, but it means that even if they’re being sinful, harsh, or negligent, we still need to respond with submission and respect. That’s the response that demonstrates we are different than the rest of the world.
Now, again, I recognize that’s not easy. We all do. And so did Peter. That’s why he said we need to endure. We need to persevere. We need to hang in there even though it hurts.
How do you do that? How do motivate yourself to do that, and how do you motivate others? That’s what we’re going to look at today. As we continue our study in this passage, today we are going to see three keys to endurance in suffering. This is where your mind needs to go. Again, they are three keys to endurance in suffering.
Let’s pick up our study in verse 20, and this is where we find the first key. Look at verse 20—For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
The first key to endurance and perseverance in difficult times is the desire to please God. The desire to please God.
Verse 20 starts with a rhetorical question. What credit is it? What credit is it you’re enduring some kind of punishment for your own sin? The answer should be obvious. There’s no credit there. God doesn’t commend that. You are getting a punishment you deserve.
On the other hand, Peter says, if you’re doing good—if you’re pursuing holiness—and yet you are suffering for it, but you are enduring, Peter says “this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” That pleases God.
The assumption Peter is making is that Christians want to please God. So, he’s encouraging us with the reminder that endurance and perseverance in the face of unjust suffering pleases God.
If you’re struggling with submitting to an unreasonable parent or teacher or boss at work, my question to you is: Do you want to please God? Do you want God to look favorably on your life?
In 2 Timothy 2, Paul says “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since him aim is to please the one who enlisted him.” I think we all understand that. Soldiers want to please their commanders. Athletes want to please their coach. That’s what drives them when things get difficult. And it’s what should drive us when it feels difficult to submit to an earthly master. This is going to please God.
If you’re a real Christian, you want to please God. That’s the desire of a regenerate heart. Second Corinthians 5:9 says, “We make it our aim to please Him.” We don’t do it perfectly, but that desire is there. We want to please God.
This is a very simple reminder you can give yourself or give to someone else when they are struggling. It’s like Peter is telling us, “I know this is difficult, but this pleases God. Hang in there. Don’t give up. This pleases God.” The desire to please God will help you endure for His glory.
A second key to endurance in difficult times is the commitment to follow Christ. The commitment to follow Christ. This is verse 21—For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
Enduring in suffering means you’re walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Jesus died to pay the price of our sins, but Peter’s focus in this particular verse is not so much on what His death accomplished in a salvific sense. His focus is on the fact that Jesus suffered when He didn’t deserve it. And those who follow Jesus will go through the same thing. That’s what it means to follow Jesus.
It is a contradiction in our lives when we say we follow Jesus, but then act like we refuse to suffer. Jesus calls us to suffer.
If you’re a Christian, this is part of what you signed up for. Yes, we have an eternal, glorious inheritance awaiting us, but this life brings pain. The pain is going to be worth the inheritance, but the reward hasn’t come yet. This life hurts. It’s difficult. It’s grueling.
If you weren’t made aware of that when you came to Christ, I’m sorry, but that was Jesus’ message to those who were going to follow Him. He said, “Whoever doesn’t take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me... In the world you will have tribulation.”
That’s why Peter says “To this you have been called.” You have been called to suffer for righteousness sake. That’s what Jesus did. He is our example.
That word “example” in the Greek was used for a piece of paper given to young students who were learning to write the letters of the alphabet. Basically, it was a tracing sheet, and the student would write on top of it.
Peter understands that suffering is a basic element of following Christ. And that is the absolute opposite message you’re going to get from a lot of the famous preachers on TV or on social media. This is not a message that sells. To follow Christ means you are willing to suffer.
Beyond that, you’re not just called to suffer. You’re called to endure in righteousness, even while you’re suffering. That’s the example of Jesus. Look at verses 22 and 23—He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
In terms of theology, these are verses that get used to talk about the sinlessness of Christ. And those of you who are members have affirmed this doctrine. Jesus never sinned. He did nothing to deserve death, and He never once dishonored God.
But as you consider this doctrine, you need to be aware of something very important. And I’m going to say this twice because it’s not an immediately clear doctrine. Jesus’ divinity meant Jesus couldn’t have sinned, but His divinity is not the reason He did not sin. Let that sink in for a moment, and then I’ll explain a little more. Since Jesus was divine, He could not have sinned. But His divinity was not the reason He did not sin.
Let me give you an analogy. Let’s say one of our high school boys decides to go up a rock-climbing wall. And it’s 50 feet tall. So, for safety reasons, they put a harness on him. That keeps him safe right. The harness keeps him from falling. It’s not pulling him up the wall, it’s just keeping him from falling. If that guy makes it to the top, do we say, “Oh, that’s not big deal, you don’t get any credit because you had a harness.” We don’t say that. The harness prevented him from falling, but the harness isn’t the reason he made it to the top. It’s not even the reason he didn’t fall. Do you understand what I’m saying?
In Jesus’ case, we never want to say, “Well, He’s God in human flesh, so His righteousness doesn’t really count. He could never have sinned.” We can’t say that, because Jesus’ righteousness has been credited to our account. He obeyed in our place. He took the place of sinful human beings. That means He obeyed the Father in the same way we are expected to obey. Do you get that?
Jesus’ obedience to the Father wasn’t an easy thing, just because He was God. Jesus obeyed the Father as a man, and we are called then to follow that example. If Jesus’ obedience was simply an extension of His divinity, Peter couldn’t say He was our example. We wouldn’t be able to do that. But Peter is saying we can. We can follow Christ’s example, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Peter is using words from Isaiah 53, which describe the suffering Messiah, and he’s holding it up as an example for us to follow.
Judas, Pilate, and the repentant thief next to Jesus all understood the Jesus had done nothing deserving of death. He was perfectly innocent. But still the punishment came.
He suffered. He was attacked by the Pharisees. He was arrested unlawfully. He was rushed through a mock trial. He was beaten by the soldiers. He was spit upon. He was whipped. He was forced to carry the cross as far as He could. Nails were driven through His hands and His feet. And the people laughed at Him.
Verse 23 says He was reviled. Those were the verbal attacks. But Jesus did not revile in return. He did not threaten them.
One of the moments in the crucifixion narrative that always stands out to me is found in John 18 when Jesus is being questioned by the High Priest. Jesus gets asked about His teachings, and He says, “I didn’t teach anything in secret. Ask anyone who has heard Me. They’ll tell you what My teaching was.”
Well, one of the Jewish leaders didn’t like that answer, so he punches Jesus in the face. Here’s how Jesus responds. He says, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?”
The God who created and sustains the universe got punched in the face by some self-righteous, self-exalting official. And Jesus responds with complete control. No retaliation whatsoever. He could have killed him that instant. He could have simply said, “You will burn in hell for eternity.” None of that happened.
And then, once Jesus is crucified, what does He do for the people? He prays for them. He says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. He said that as the soldiers were gambling for His clothing.
That’s the example we’re called to follow. We won’t do it perfectly, I know that. But do not, for a moment, think that following Christ means you won’t have to go through difficulties and serious pain. If you are sincerely committed to following Christ, and if you have a genuine desire to please God, you are ready to suffer for righteousness sake and to endure and persevere in the difficulties.
Let me share one final key to help you, and then we’ll be done. The first key to endurance in suffering was a desire to please God. The second key was a commitment to follow Christ. The final key for today is a heart to trust God. A heart to trust God.
Rather than just say, “Jesus did it, so should you.” Peter, lets us look into what Jesus was thinking while He was suffering. This is the end of verse 23. What was Jesus doing during all the pain?
Verse 23—When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
This goes back to what we were talking about in verse 19. This is what it means to be mindful of God. Jesus said, “Father, You have a perfect plan. I trust You even though this hurts.”
That wasn’t a one-time prayer. That was the ongoing expression of His heart. He continued entrusting Himself to the Father.
And Peter gives us a specific attribute of God that Jesus focused on. He continually entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly. He was focusing on the righteous judgment of God. God is going to fix all this. God is going to bring true justice.
We see another aspect of that in Hebrews 12:2 when it says that Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him. He was focusing on what was coming on the other side. He knew His Father would be perfectly faithful to His promises and perfectly faithful to bring justice.
Jesus was going to be exalted. He was going to be seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Justice would come.
And you and I need to do the same thing. Maybe you do work for a crooked boss. Maybe you do have a parent or a teacher who unjustly or harshly attacks you and belittles you. What do you do?
You keep submitting. You keep showing them respect. And you do it with a heart that trusts God. God will bring true justice. You don’t have to.
In fact, Paul says that exact thing in Romans 12. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them... Repay no one evil for evil... Never avenge yourself, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
It is only when you trust God and His perfect justice that you can be empowered to respond to an oppressor with patience and gentleness and submission.
It is that kind of other-worldly response that demonstrated the hope we have in Jesus Christ. It is that kind of response that lets people see the power and the love of Jesus. It is that kind of response, demonstrated in perseverance and endurance, that God will use to open people’s eyes to the truth of Jesus Christ.
Do you truly want to please God with your life? Are you truly committed to following Jesus? Do you have a heart that trusts in God?
If you do, then keep fighting to endure against unjust suffering.
Let’s pray together.