First Mennonite Church
November 5, 2023
Suffering for Doing Right
Text: 1 Peter 3:8-22
In the section before our passage for today, Peter addresses the appropriateness of Christian relationships with the larger society and household relationships within the context and times of his readers. He pleads with slaves to obey their masters, something we are glad is no longer a reality within our context. Peter also calls on wives to submit to their husbands and for husbands to honor and seek the wellbeing of their wives.
Beginning in verse eight, Peter shifts his attention to the relationship within the church. Therefore, Peter declares that what follows is for “all of you,” which is a reference to all those he previously addressed. Therefore, what follows are instructions directed to everyone who is a member of God’s household: the young, the old, men and women, those in leadership positions, and those who are not. “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, Peter commands. To be like-minded means to live in harmony. This word has two very important definitions: a) peaceful coexistence, which implies despite differences, life goes on without conflict. b) a balanced arrangement of all the parts, which means every part within that whole nicely fits together in the whole. Every part plays an important role that gives beauty, strength, and identity to the whole. So, what Peter is commanding here, is for all of the church members to live in peace, despite any and all the difference there could be among them. It is a call to every member of the church to offer his or her gift to the benefit of all. And for the church, these are absolutely possible because the church follows Jesus, the Prince of Peace, who also made peace through his body (Ephesians 2:14, 15). The church is also a body where God has poured out gifts for its growth and ability to serve. In this body, every member is an indispensable part God has brought together.
Peter also commands the church to be sympathetic and compassionate with one another. The natural result of living in peace is having concern for the other. To be sympathetic literally means to feel with the other, which is also the meaning of being compassionate. How do we show that we share in the joy or pain with our fellow brothers and sisters? How do we “walk in the shoes” of our fellow sisters and brothers?
As Peter says, God has blessed us and has made us a blessing to one another, therefore, we cannot go tooth for a tooth or eye for an eye. We should not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. As he had reminded them in chapter two, verse 23 about Jesus: When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly (2:23).
But after Peter’s brief instruction about the believer’s relationship within the church, he goes back to the believer’s relationship with a hostile world. And again, let us remember that Peter’s original recipients were suffering abuse, violence, and dispossession from their pagan neighbors, not necessarily from the state. Their pain and suffering were nonetheless very severe. They did not have help from anyone outside their group but were at the mercy of their detractors and enemies.
In verse 13, Peter begins with a puzzling question: Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? The logical answer would be, “No one!” However, Peter knew by experience that for Jesus and for his followers that logic does not always apply. Christ did good only. In Acts of the Apostles, Peter said this about Jesus, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil because God was with him.” Yet, what is most astonishing about these words regarding Jesus is that Peter spoke them in light of his suffering. “They killed him by hanging him on a cross,” Peter says in verse 39.
Therefore, with full knowledge of that reality, Peter warned his readers that even when being eager to do good, there is still the possibility of suffering for it. But he commands them: “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
Peter stresses courage in the face of opposition. He calls them not to be afraid of their enemies’ threats nor to be intimidated by them. This seemingly unpresumptuous advice holds a profound and far-reaching truth, not only for those to whom Peter addresses his letters but to all Christians of all times. You see, at the very base, at the very foundation of the human need to worship an idol is fear. The fear that if the person does not worship the idol, something terrible would happen to him or her. Fear is always towards something people consider to have power over them. In that sense, idolatry is not only the worship of the wrong god but also the wrong object to be afraid of. We succumb and submit to what we fear. The one who fears not having enough becomes a slave to the penny and ends up being selfish.
Fear enslaves people. Fear makes people do or say things that are irrational. There are many who are promoters of fear. These fearmongers tell others what to do or not to do. If you do this, this will happen. If you vote this way, this, or that you will lose.
Peter’s advice “not to fear their threats and to not be frightened is a quote from Isaiah eight, where we read: This is what the Lord says to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people:
12 “Do not call conspiracy
everything this people calls a conspiracy;
do not fear what they fear,
and do not dread it.
13 The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
he is the one you are to fear,
he is the one you are to dread.
Also in Luke 12, Jesus said, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has the authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows (4-7).
Peter gives the same command: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.” To revere means to have a godly fear. We are to revere Christ in our hearts instead of falling prey to the things people are fearful about.
My dear brothers and sisters, I honestly believe that your greatest desire before God and the watching world is to always do what is good and right. Please take note of Peter’s warning about the possibility of suffering. It is not for believing the right doctrine or for embracing the right faith. Suffering could come for doing what is good, for doing what is just, or simply for doing the right thing. As we have heard, there are times when churches feed the poor, take care of the homeless, and take the side of the oppressed, the forces that prefer the status quo often make these churches their target of harassment and red-taping for their ministries. Oftentimes, the people who live close to these churches are the ones who come against these efforts. All of it is because they are afraid of the type of people that are being helped. They do not want the homeless, the poor and the needy in their neighborhoods. Let us be mindful that serving the Lord, doing what he did—going about doing good, praiseworthy as it is, can bring you trouble.
Let me close with Paul’s words to the Galatians: Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have the opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (6:9-10). Amen!
I want to address a question that verses 18-22 where we read:
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made a 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.[e] 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.
First, let me say that what Peter says here is very puzzling. Its meaning does not have much to do with the thrust of the instruction he gives to his readers and to us as well.
So, what Peter says here reveals that in the Spirit, Christ continued his triumphant journey and even went to proclaim to the spirits who disobeyed God before the flood. It is likely that 1 Peter is alluding here to an interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4 developed by Enoch and other apocryphal authors. These writers taught that the sons of God who intermarried with human women provoked humans to rebel against God and to attack each other. The violence unleashed by these evil powers prompted God to flood the world and imprison the rebellious angels. In 1 Peter, these disobedient angels are the imprisoned powers to whom Christ makes a proclamation. Some questions remain: when did Christ make these proclamations to these imprisoned spirits? Did he do it during those days he was in the grave that he descended to the place of the dead to proclaim to these spirits? Was it a proclamation of judgment or to give them an opportunity to repent? The author does not say. And, did Christ proclaim to these rebellious and imprisoned spirits when he ascended into heaven? Although we might never find answers to these questions, nonetheless, these are honest questions that arise when we read this passage.