God’s Word for You
1 Peter 3:17 To suffer for doing good
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, April 29, 2022
17 It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (NIV)
Peter employs a type of grammar that tells us that what he proposes is very unlikely. While it might seem improbable that Christians will suffer for doing good, it isn’t impossible. In fact, if a Christian does suffer, it should be for doing good, and not evil. The evil that is ever done should be done to us, not by us.
There are perhaps three or four different ways to suffer for doing evil. The first is to suffer in this lifetime without any knowledge of God or faith in God. Such a person, a rank unbeliever, suffers without knowing it. He suffers all the indignities of the life of an animal in the fallen world, thinking all the while that he is no more than an animal or even less than one. He may wonder, “All have the same breath. Does man have any advantage over the animal?” (Ecclesiastes 3:19), because he sees only the swiftness of life and the permanent dust of death. He doesn’t believe in God, and he doesn’t believe there is such a thing as sin. For him, morality is to conform to his own will; to go against his desire is the only wrong he knows. Yet his unbelief doesn’t harm God. God continues to bless the world for the sake of his believers, the elect. “Morning by morning he dispenses his justice, and every new day he does not fail, yet the unrighteous know no shame” (Zephaniah 3:5).
A second kind of suffering is for a believer who falls into evil and suffers in this lifetime on account of some sin, some wickedness or indiscretion. Perhaps he has murdered, or fallen into some kind of public sin or disgrace. He might suffer prison, or the mental prison of guilt or shame, or loss. That man will bear the consequences of his sin. He may ask for forgiveness from God, and can know that he is forgiven, but he will pay the price for his wrongdoing in man’s eyes for the rest of his life. He will not know peace until he dies, but from that moment he can know the joy of heaven because of his faith. “At that time,” the Lord promises, “I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home” (Zephaniah 3:20).
The third kind of suffering for evil is the temporary suffering a believer may endure on account of his many daily sins. This is the guilt we all suffer on account of our trespasses. The perfect law of God puts our sins on display for us like a mirror. It makes me say, “I hate every wrong path” (Psalm 119:104), but then I see my footprints in those wrong paths, and I fear for my soul. I think that I am right with my Lord, I pray daily and I want to walk with him in his way, but I remain the naughty boy with mud on my shoes, proof that I wandered where I should not have been. If God’s word were not in my heart, if it were not my delight, “I would have perished in my affliction” (Psalm 119:92). This is the kind of suffering that can be endured, because the law terrifies my soul, but the gospel calls me back in forgiveness. I know that I am God’s child. The muddy shoes of my childish trespasses are washed clean by Christ. “It is God who makes my way perfect” (Psalm 18:32), not on account of me, but because he is loving and forgiving. He has rescued me.
The fourth kind of suffering for doing evil is the suffering an unbeliever will experience forever in hell. This kind of suffering is spiritual as well as physical. It is internal and external. It is momentarily painful, but each moment has a pain all its own, without rest; without respite, and these agonizing moments will march on relentlessly into eternity without end. This is the suffering described by Isaiah and Jesus: “Their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48; Isaiah 66:24). That suffering will be fearsome because of its relentless change. “It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him. Will not the Day of the Lord be darkness, not light—pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?” (Amos 5:19-20).
If we suffer for the other reason, which is for doing good or for simply having faith in Christ, we are blessed. “These light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:16). This kind of suffering is the cross we take up every day when we follow Jesus (Mark 8:34). It isn’t a cross of punishment, but of glory. It is not to be feared, nor is it for us to run to, but simply to pick it up and endure it, knowing that we have a goal at the end of bearing it that will be more delightful than anything we know in this life. And we will have it forever. This is the promise and the blessing of our Savior.
Pastor Timothy Smith