Epistles: Suffering for the Faith (1 Peter 3:13-22)

Peter asks, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” (3:13). Unfortunately, some people persecute those who do good, so Peter adds, “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed” (verse 14). Persecution itself is not a blessing, but God rewards those who suffer unjustly.

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (verse 15). This verse — often quoted in evangelism training — is in a context of how we respond to persecution. When we are persecuted, we should not be ashamed of our faith, but be ready to explain it. The Greek word for “answer” is apologia, the word used for a defense in a court of law.

Though we may be treated roughly, we are to reply without anger: “But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (verses 15-16). Peter does not want Christians to give the enemy any excuse for their hatred. A gentle answer may reduce their anger by showing them that the gospel is not dangerous.

Peter summarizes by saying, “For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil” (verse 17). If God brings us to a point of suffering for following Christ, then it is better to suffer unjustly than to give the persecutors evidence against us.

The example of Jesus

Peter does not give enough information in verses 19-20 for us to be sure of what he means, and I will skip the lengthy (and inconclusive) debate on those verses.

Peter again turns to Jesus as the supreme example of suffering without retaliation. This leads to a digression. “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” (verse 18). We should be willing to suffer for doing good, because Christ suffered for us. Peter notes that although people killed Jesus’ body, they could not kill the Spirit (cf. Matthew 10:28).

Peter comments about Noah’s ark: “In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also” (verses 20-21). People were saved by the ark, not the water. The water of baptism symbolizes death — we symbolically go into death and rise out of it. Baptism saves us not by “the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God” (verse 21). Baptism symbolizes cleansing, but only spiritual cleansing saves us, for salvation requires that our sins be forgiven.

As a third picture, Peter says that baptism saves us “by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Christ’s resurrection is the power of life after death (see 1 Peter 1:3, 21). We are saved through a spiritual union with Christ, and baptism symbolizes that we have joined him in his crucifixion and resurrection (cf. Romans 6:3-4). The resurrection did not merely restore Jesus to human life — it gave him great glory. He “has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand — with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him” (1 Peter 3:22). For aliens and strangers in Asia Minor who were being harassed for their faith in Christ, it is good news to know that he has been exalted into glory, for those who follow him into suffering will also follow him into glory!

Author: Michael Morrison

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