Christ our Example
Why does Peter call on Christians to humbly endure unjust suffering? He gives at least three answers to that question. Continue reading . . .
We’ve been looking at 1 Peter 2:18-25 where Peter writes:
“Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 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. 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. 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. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:18-25).
Why does Peter call on Christians to humbly endure unjust suffering? He gives at least three answers to that question.
First, he goes so far as to say that this is our calling as Christians! That’s right, our calling! V. 21 says, “for to this you have been called.” To be hurt and treated unfairly and to be put upon and slandered and yet not to return evil for evil is part of our calling as the children of God.
Peter says it again with even greater force and clarity down in 3:9, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called that you may obtain a blessing.”
The one thing of which you may be assured, if you are a Christian, is that whatever you may suffer at the hands of others is not condemnation for sin; it is not judgment from God; it is not the wrath of your heavenly Father provoked by your failures. For that, Jesus suffered in your place. For that, he bore the guilt and punishment in his body on the cross. For that, he was “wounded” (v. 24).
The “example” (v. 21) that he set for us isn’t that because he suffered for our sins we also suffer for our sins or for the sins of others. His death was altogether unique. His suffering was with a view to satisfying divine wrath and fulfilling divine justice and holiness. His “example” is found in the way he chose to endure it all without trying to exact revenge on his persecutors. There was no complaint, no bitterness, no self-justification. Instead, he kept on trusting God to sustain him and vindicate him at the proper time. That is the example of his that we are to follow.
But if we have been “called” to suffer unjustly and to bear up under it without complaint, does that mean that God wills that his people endure unjust suffering? Yes! See 2:21; 3:17; 4:19.
Isn’t that precisely what Peter says Jesus did? He “suffered for you” (v. 21). He was “reviled” and even “bore our sins in his own body on the tree” (v. 24) in spite of the fact that “he committed no sin” nor ever spoke deceitfully (v. 22). Jesus is the preeminent example of someone who suffered unjustly and unfairly but refused to exact his own revenge.
But let me come back to the question I raised, namely, why would our loving heavenly Father will that we suffer unjustly and persevere in the midst of it? The first answer Peter gave is that this is our divine calling.
The second answer is found back in 1 Peter 2:9 and 2:12 and 2:15. And again especially here in 2:19 (“mindful of God”).
Here is the simple and straightforward answer: God often wills that we suffer for doing good precisely so that in our humble perseverance and our quiet and faithful endurance, people will be compelled to stop and notice and say: “Wow! Where does that come from? How does he do that? Why does she not defend herself? Why don’t you fight back? There’s something going on here that is above and beyond human nature. This person, this Christian, is energized and empowered by more than what I find present in my own heart. I wonder what it is? What is it about this God that he loves that could inspire such loyalty and humility?”
Bearing up under unjust, undeserved suffering shines a bright and breathtaking light on the grace of God and the glory of God and the value of God and the worthiness of God, that people who by nature ought to seek their own justice are happy to wait and let God sort it out. It demonstrates that there is something more important to us than our immediate physical comfort. It shows to the world that we value something above our own reputation. It reveals that when all the artificial human props are knocked out from under us the sustaining grace of God is enough.
What is it about God that is excellent that we are proclaiming when we respond as Peter tells us to? What is it concerning God, put on display in our lives, that shows him to be excellent and worthy of praise?
When you patiently endure and surrender your claim to comfort and respect you show that God is more precious to you than whatever comforts you might obtain by retaliating and getting even.
When you patiently endure and surrender your claim to vindication before men you show that God’s approval and opinion are more valuable than all the accolades of people on this earth.
When you patiently endure and surrender your claim to justice you demonstrate that the joy he provides and the pleasures he makes available are superior to anything this world might give us.
When you patiently endure and choose not to retaliate you declare that eternity with God is infinitely greater and more precious than a few moments of glory and vindication on this earth.
When you patiently endure and don’t seek your own justice you make it known that God’s justice is better and more righteous than human justice, so called, even if you have to wait until the final judgment to see it.
So what does Peter mean when he says we are “mindful of God” (v. 19) when we bear up in this way?
It means we care more about God’s reputation than our own. It means we are thinking of how he might be glorified rather than how we might be vindicated. It means that, like Jesus, we are so confident that God will cause justice to prevail that we don’t need to pursue it ourselves. It means that we are so conscious of his commitment to set things right in the end that we don’t need to set things right in the present.
This is precisely what Jesus did. Read v. 23 where it says that in spite of all he suffered “he continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly,” confident that God would settle the matter in righteousness at some future day. As Piper explains, Jesus said,
“‘I will not carry the burden of revenge, I will not carry the burden of sorting out motives, I will not carry the burden of self-pity; I will not carry the burden of bitterness; I will hand all that over to God who will settle it all in a perfectly just way and I will pray, Father, forgive them [because] they don't know what they do (Luke 23:34)” (Piper).
When you suffer for doing good, even as Jesus did, you need to be thinking deeply and intensely about the fact that God sees it all. He understands the motives of your oppressors. He understands your fears and doubts and struggles. And he will settle all accounts with perfect justice on the final day. This is what it means, at least in part, to be “conscious of God” when you endure unjust pain.
Now, let’s regroup. I said there are three reasons Peter gives why we should be willing to heed his counsel. The first is that this is what we’ve been called to. The second is that by bearing up in this way when it appears we ought to fight for ourselves we display the sufficiency and satisfaction of God’s grace and glory and he gets praised. We now come to the third reason.
Someone might well ask, “Why should I endure unjust suffering without trying to get even or making them pay for it?” The answer is because there is blessing and favor and reward from God if you do. Look at v. 19a – “For this is a gracious thing . . .” The word here translated “gracious thing” is simply the Greek word for “grace” (charis). Then look also at v. 20b – “this is a gracious thing in the sight of God,” again the word “grace” is used. Thus Peter is saying that favor from God and blessing from God come to those who so cherish him and treasure him above earthly vindication or more than being treated rightly in this life.
So when you suffer unjustly keep your mouth shut and maintain your smile and bless others for their efforts and then go home and go into your prayer closet and say: “Father, no one sees but you. And that’s enough for me. Guard my heart from self pity. Keep me from falling into bitterness. Protect my soul from anger and pride and resentment and let me be satisfied with your smiling approval. And enable me to trust that one day you will bring everything to light.”
“But Sam. You said that there is such a thing as justice. Am I not contributing to the perpetuation of injustice by responding this way?” No.
Paul said in Romans 12:19–20, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mind, 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.”
In other words, do what Jesus did. Hand it over to God. God sees it. And God judges justly. Nothing escapes his notice. Nothing falls from his memory. Justice will be served, but often times not in this lifetime. God will settle all accounts more fairly than we ever could on that final day. Lay it down. Let it go. This is your calling.
It comes down to this. Remember God. Be conscious of God. Trust God. Think about who God is and what he has promised to do. He will remember and reward you for every good forgotten by everyone else. He will avenge you for every injustice overlooked by men. Let go of self-pity and bitterness and resentment and give it up to God, just like Jesus did.
So remember, that when you endure unjust suffering "for the sake of conscience toward God," you are not saying justice doesn't matter. You are simply saying that God is the final judge and will settle accounts justly. My abuser will not have the last say. God will have the last say. This is why I don't need to. I defer to God. Do what Jesus did. Follow his example, and keep on entrusting yourself and everything in life, both the good and bad, to him who judges rightly.
Meditate on the sinlessness of Jesus, on the perfections of Jesus, on the righteousness of Jesus, on the innocence of Jesus. Then meditate on his sufferings. Think about how he responded. Thank him for the example he has set. And now go and do likewise.