Happy Friday, and welcome back to the podcast. I hope your Thanksgiving was full. We end this holiday week on the podcast with an email from a young man named Payton. Payton writes this: “Pastor John, hello! Thank you for your Look at the Book video series. I used them to prepare a recent lesson I taught on 1 Peter 3:8–22. Later on I found your exegesis of 1 Peter 4:15 very helpful to understand the role of suffering in the Christian life.
“One of your four conclusions was this: ‘Don’t prioritize the value of suffering above the value of doing good.’ I think that’s a relevant word in this age, when getting hated or deleted online is a badge of accomplishment. You draw out a powerful application from this text as for why. But I’m failing to connect this point of application to the text itself. Can you elaborate on what you mean by this conclusion and how Peter is conveying this message to his readers? Also, how might we apply this in our daily walk as we battle unjust suffering? Thank you!”
Okay. Let’s get everybody up to speed. Here’s the context of 1 Peter 4:13–16:
Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. (1 Peter 4:13–16)
Not All Suffering Is Equal
What arrested my attention in that text that Payton is referring to is how obvious it is that we ought not to suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or a meddler. In fact, it seems so obvious that you wonder, “Why did Peter feel the need to write, ‘Let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler’?” He certainly did not mean, “It’s okay if you murder and steal and do evil and meddle — just don’t get caught and suffer for it.” That’s not what he meant.
So why did Peter say that? Why didn’t he just say, “Don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t do evil, don’t meddle,” instead of saying, “Don’t suffer for it”? Well, evidently — because of Peter’s teaching on the necessity and value of suffering in this book, especially in 1 Peter 1, where suffering functions like fire, to burn away the dross out of the gold of our faith (1 Peter 1:6–7) — some people were saying that any suffering is good, even if it’s suffering for doing bad things. It’s good for you.
Now, there are two other texts in 1 Peter that make me think that. They confirm I’m on the right track when I guess that might be what’s going on here. For example, in 1 Peter 2:19–20, he says, “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?” Now, why would Peter have to say that? “What credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure?” It sounds like somebody is saying there’s some credit in that. There’s some credit in suffering, even if you got beaten because you sinned. And Peter’s saying, “What? There’s no credit in that.”
Or here’s another text pointing in the same direction. First Peter 3:17 says, “It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:17). Well, how obvious is that? Maybe not so obvious if somebody hears Peter saying, “It’s better to be on the receiving end of injustice than to be on the giving end of injustice,” which is in fact what he’s saying. That might be a little hard for people to swallow.
Four Lessons on Suffering
So I circled back to 1 Peter 4:15 when I was working on that Look at the Book session — where it says, “Let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler” — and I drew out four lessons that Payton is zeroing in on here.
1. It is not a matter of indifference whether you suffer for doing good or suffer for doing evil. Anyone who says that suffering for evil does as much good for you as suffering for good is not paying attention to the apostle’s teaching. That was my first lesson.
2. There’s no credit, no honor, that comes from suffering for sin.
3. Injustice against you is better than your doing the injustice.
4. Don’t prioritize the value of suffering above the value of doing good.
“There’s no credit, no honor, that comes from suffering for sin.”
This last one is what Payton is asking about when he says, “Can you elaborate on what you mean by this conclusion and how Peter is conveying this message to his readers?” Well, the way Peter is conveying the thought — “Don’t prioritize the value of suffering above the value of doing good” — is by the imperatives that run right through this entire letter: “Do good,” “Love,” “Be holy” (1 Peter 1:15, 1:22, 2:15, 3:6, 3:11, etc.). That’s what we are to pursue: do good; love; be holy — not suffering. Suffering is not to be sought. Doing good is to be sought. Suffering will come, but it’s not the goal; love is the goal. Suffering is the price of love, but it’s not the aim of love. So don’t go looking for trouble. Don’t seek to suffer. Don’t seek to be persecuted; seek to love at any cost, including persecution or suffering.
Do as Much Good as You Can
And then Payton’s last question is, “How might we apply this in our daily walk as we battle unjust suffering?” Well, the way it applies to battling against unjust suffering — indeed, against natural suffering like disease or calamity — is that it directs our attention outward to others, not inward to ourselves. If we said, “Seek suffering for righteousness’ sake”, the focus would be on the pain we experience, not the blessing others experience. The focus would be on our heroic ability to endure suffering, not the lowly path of serving others. There’s a huge difference between the crusade to attract criticism and the crusade to do as much good as you can and leave the persecution to God — leave it to be what he makes of it.
“Do good, and hope for a good reception for your good, but if suffering comes, you’re blessed.”
Peter says, “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it” (1 Peter 3:10). So, do good; pursue peace. And then he follows that with these words. “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled” (1 Peter 3:13–14).
In other words, do good, and hope for a good reception for your good, but if suffering comes, you’re blessed. There’s a great difference between this approach to life than if you were to say that suffering is the main thing, and so let’s seek it. No. Love is the main thing, so let’s do it.