Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to the kind and gentle but also to the overbearing. For one is approved if, mindful of God, he endures pain while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it, you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God's approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted 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 Guardian of your souls.
If you are a Christian this morning, God has called you to endure unjust suffering without bitterness or revenge or the desire to hurt back. That's what I want to talk about this morning—not returning evil for evil, but doing good to those who hurt you and let you down.
Two Reasons for This Message
There are at least two reasons I feel the need for this word today.
Justifying Anger by the Wrongs Done to Us
One is this: it seems to me a lot of people today, Christians included, justify their anger and their critical spirit by the wrongs that have been done to them. In other words, there are lots of people who, if you point out to them that they seem to be unduly angry or bitter or critical or slanderous of others, immediately tell you about how badly they have been treated or how they've been let down or how they've been hurt.
There appears to be an automatic and deeply rooted sense that if I've been mistreated or let down or hurt, then the other person deserves to be shown up and brought to justice, and paid back, and therefore I have the right to make sure that happens and I can use criticism or slander or put-downs or threats or grudges to make sure they get their comeuppance. And it seems to me that less and less do I hear people say, "Yes, I have been unjustly hurt, let down, mistreated; and yes, they deserve to be shown up and brought to justice and rebuked; but no, I will not be bitter, I will not retaliate, I will not criticize or slander; I will return good for evil and I will bless rather than curse.
I think we need to recover this deep biblical teaching that God has called Christians to endure unjust suffering without bitterness or revenge or the desire to hurt back. That's the first reason I bring this message this morning.
I want to say from the outset that this is not merely a rule to be kept, but a miracle to be experienced, and grace to be received.
My Own Need to Grow in This Grace
The other reason I focus on this grace this morning is that I am desperately in need of growing in this grace—and I think I am pretty normal at this point. I use the word desperately without exaggeration. The desperation is there more or less depending on varying circumstances, but it is there more and more, it seems, as I get older. I do not think that I can survive and thrive as father, husband, pastor, or crusader for truth and righteousness, if I do not grow in this grace, and if the people around me don't show me this grace.
It would be very hard for me to overstate how strongly I feel about this right now in my life and the life of our church and the life of the evangelical movement around the world. Marriages, parenting, friendships, employment stability, ministry in the church (of every kind!), perseverance in fighting for social righteousness—surviving and hanging in for the long haul of effectiveness depends more on this grace than most people realize. I know beyond the shadow of doubt that my family and my ministry at Bethlehem and my role in movements beyond this church radically hang on whether I and those near me experience the miracle in our lives of not returning hurt for hurt.
So I hope you join me in taking this very seriously as we look at God's Word together. He is calling for nothing less than a death to what we are by nature and a new life radically different from the way we were born (cf. v. 24).
The Nature of Our Calling as Christians
Start with me at verse 19 to see the nature of our calling as Christians:
One is approved if, mindful of God, he endures pain [the word implies mental anguish and grief, not physical] while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it, you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it [these two words are not in the text] you take it patiently, you have God's approval. For to this you have been called . . .
Please let this sink in! When you do RIGHT, you will suffer. When you do RIGHT, you will be criticized. When you do RIGHT, things won't necessarily get better. When you do RIGHT, someone will say a hurtful thing. When you do RIGHT, people will not even notice and there will be no appreciation.
Yet there are so many of us who act as though such abuse of us when we have done right is absolutely intolerable. This is wrong. I've been violated. Any decent person wouldn't respond to me that way. The least they could do is notice . . . And there arises this overwhelming emotional force inside of us that we have a right and a DUTY to set this thing straight, and make sure that the words come back on their own head, point out their flaws, and get vindicated. Because we've done RIGHT!
How many of us live in the liberating knowledge that it is our calling—our CALLING, our vocation!—to be misunderstood, criticized, ignored, and hurt for doing what is right, and not to return hurt for hurt?
The Calling of All Christians
Now, lest anyone think that this teaching here relates only to servants and masters, look with me at 1 Peter 3:8–9.
Finally, all of you [not just servants], have unity of spirit, sympathy, love of the brethren, a tender heart and a humble mind. Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling; but on the contrary bless, for to this you have been called . . .
This calling belongs to every person in this room who trusts Jesus. Verse 21 (chapter 2) shows why: "For to this you have been called [you were called to be hurt for doing right and to bear it without bitterness or revenge], because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps."
Two Things Were Happening When Jesus Suffered
What this verse says is that two things—not just one thing, but two things—were happening when Jesus suffered. One is found in the words, "Christ suffered for you." When Christ suffered—more than any of us have suffered—he was standing in your place. He was bearing your sins so that your condemnation became his and he took it away from you. So the sufferings of your life in Christ are NOT condemnation for sin, they are discipline for holiness (1 Peter 1:6–7; Hebrews 12:3–11). The sufferings of Christians are not divine condemnation. That is precisely what Christ bore "for us" (1 Peter 2:24; Galatians 3:13). And that's why our sufferings come just as often from doing what's right as from doing what's wrong. It is not divine condemnation; it is divine CALLING!
Because the second thing that was happening when Christ suffered was that he gave us an example of how we were to live. He died for you in order that you might suffer like him. Then the example is spelled out in verses 22–23:
22) He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. [The point of that is to show us that he was doing what was RIGHT. He did not deserve to suffer. He deserved it less than anybody in the history of the world deserved it.] 23) When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten . . .
So this is our calling, Peter says. Not to hurt back. And not to plan to hurt back. And not to seethe with bitterness because you're not allowed to hurt back. So you can see this is not a simple rule to keep. This is a miracle to be experienced. It's a grace to be received. And it is the only way that many marriages can survive and flourish. Spouses can hurt each other worse than anybody else. And how many are consumed day and night with indignation and "justified" self-pity and numbing frustration that they are doing RIGHT and all they get is pain.
Where Does This Miracle Come From?
So where does this miracle come from? How does the grace get channeled to us? First, let me give the overarching answer of the text, and then see how it works out in experience.
"Mindful of God"
The overarching answer is found in verse 19: "One is approved if, mindful of God [or conscious of God], he endures pain while suffering unjustly."
The miracle happens—the grace comes—when we are conscious of God. It comes by reckoning with God. Including God in the equation of your relationship. Thinking about God. Looking to God as a third party who is really present. Taking God as seriously as we take the offense against us. The source of this miracle is GOD!
But let's be more specific. What are we to think when we think of God in such situations of unjust hurt? What are we to believe about God?
"He Trusted to Him Who Judges Justly"
The answer is given in verse 23: "When he [Jesus] was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly." Let's get the translation straight. The NIV and the NASB go beyond the text when they say "he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly." The text does not have "himself." The RSV is right to say that Jesus simply "trusted [or: handed over] to him who judges justly."
That is, he handed over to God the whole situation including himself and those abusing him and the hurt done and all the factors that made it a horrendous outrage of injustice that the most innocent man who ever lived should suffer so much. He trusted it all into God's hands as the one who would settle the matter justly someday. He 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 they don't know what they do (Luke 23:34)."
Your Calling Today
This is your calling this morning. It's not merely a rule to be followed. It's a miracle to be experienced. A grace to be received. It's a promise to be believed. Do you believe, do you trust, that God sees every wrong done to you, that he knows every hurt, that he assesses motives and circumstances with perfect accuracy, that he is impeccably righteous and takes no bribes, and that he will settle all accounts with perfect justice? This is what it means to be "conscious of God" in the midst of unjust pain.
If you believe this—if God is this real to you—then you will hand it over to God, and though nobody in the world may understand where your peace and joy and freedom to love is coming from, you know. The answer is God. And sooner or later they will know.
Two Illustrations of How This Works
Let me close with two illustrations of how this works in two kinds of situations.
When the Good You Do Goes Unnoticed
The first is the hurt you experience when the good that you do is not noticed or not appreciated, especially by those who mean the most to you. Parents who never say (or never said), "Good job," no matter how hard the kid tries. Children who never thank mom for hundreds of rides and meals and launderings. Or husbands and wives who long ago stopped looking each other in the eyes and saying: "I love you. Thanks for all you do."
How do you survive and thrive when all your love disappears in a black hole of silence?
The answer is God. Jesus said (in Matthew 6:4, 6, 18), "Your Father who sees in secret will reward you." So you go to your room and you say to your Father in heaven, "Father, of all the audiences in the universe that I might want to notice the efforts of my love, you are the most important. I believe you have seen all. You write it in a book. You will reward me far more than any human could. I thank you. I love you. I need you. Keep yourself more real to me than my closest friend. Give me the grace now to be done with self-pity and all anger and to go forward in love to everyone." The answer is to be "conscious of God" (1 Peter 2:19).
When the Good You Do Is Rejected
The other illustration is the hurt you experience when the good you do is rejected, or twisted, or criticized, or persecuted. Someone lies about you and you lose your job with no justification at all. You confide in someone and bare your soul, and it comes back in your face as a criticism and rejection. Or like Karen Sorenson, you sit down for the first time prayerfully and non-violently in front of an abortion mill in Fargo and you get sent to do nine months in the Bismarck State Penitentiary for peacefully trying to save the lives of unborn children.
How do you survive and thrive and go on loving when your deep judicial sense cries out: NO! It isn't right. This can't be tolerated. It is not fair.
The answer again is God. Paul said in Romans 12:19–20, "Beloved do not avenge yourselves, but give place to wrath. For it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' No, 'if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink.'"
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. He will settle all accounts more fairly than we ever could. Lay it down. Let it go. This is your calling.
It all boils down to this. Remember God. Be conscious of God. Trust God. He will remember and reward you for every good forgotten by everyone else. He will avenge you for every injustice overlooked by men. So you are free. I send you out as free men and free women and free children. Leave behind in this room the yoke of self-pity and the yoke bitterness. God is there in every relationship. Remember him. Be conscious of him. Hand it over to him. Trust him.