Divine Blessings Amid Suffering

First Peter 2:19–25 is part of the lectionary readings for the fourth Sunday of Easter, May 3rd. In this passage, the author encouraged Christians to rejoice, even when they suffered as the Messiah did and for His glory.

Peter regarded his readers as pilgrims in the world. “Aliens” (1 Pet. 2:11) refers to permanent resident foreigners in a land. They would have had no legal status or rights where they were sojourning. “Strangers” denotes those who dwelt temporarily in an area. When taken together, these two terms stress the truth that even though believers dwell in the world, they do not belong to it.

Because Christians are temporary residents on earth, they are not to live as the unsaved do. Believers are to abstain from “sinful desires.” This phrase might also be rendered as “lusts of the flesh.” These destructive impulses constantly wage war against the soul.

We cannot resist the evil, narcissistic impulses of the sinful nature in our own strength. We might want to do good, but apart from God’s help, we will ultimately fail in our efforts. It is only when we are led by the Spirit that we can say no to fleshly lusts (Gal 5:16–18).

In Peter’s day, it was common for the unsaved to accuse believers of wrongdoing. Opponents of the faith claimed that Christians were traitors to the emperor, propagators of unlawful customs, troublemakers, and disrespecters of pagan deities venerated by the masses (John 19:12; Acts 16:20–21; 17:6–7; 19:23–27).

Peter encouraged the Christians living in the Roman province of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) to be so upright in their behavior that when the heathen carefully observed what they did, it would be clear that God’s people behaved in ways that were beneficial to society. The apostle was specifically referring to virtues that the culture, in general, would deem to be valuable (1 Pet 2:12).

Then, in the day when God visits, the unsaved would give Him glory. There are three primary views concerning the time of divine visitation mentioned in verse 12.

The above could refer to (1) the second coming of Christ, (2) an occasion of judgment and punishment, or (3) the moment of a person’s conversion. Peter may have hoped that as antagonists watched believers conduct their lives, the agitators would repent of their sin and trust in the Messiah for salvation.

Peter urged believers to properly submit to every authority that God placed over them (v. 13). Of course, there might be times when it was appropriate for Jesus’ followers to practice civil disobedience. In this regard, Peter was a prime example (Acts 4:19; 5:29).

If believers are directed by the government to do something they consider unbiblical, then they must make the hard choice to respectfully disobey. They will to be ready to accept the difficult consequences of their decision.

Peter stressed that obeying all human authorities was important for both earthly and spiritual reasons. Christians were to submit because it helped maintain order in society, fulfilled the will of God, and brought Him glory.

Believers were to obey the king, or emperor, who was the highest human authority in the Roman Empire. They were also to submit to governors (such as legates, proconsuls, and procurators), whom the emperor dispatched to punish criminals and to praise law-abiding citizens (1 Pet 2:14).

Paul intimated that all human rulers have been established by God in their positions of authority (Rom 13:1–7). Therefore, obeying the government, in a way, was equivalent to heeding the Lord. Even if the state rulers were wicked, the institution itself was not evil, and so believers were to submit appropriately to the governing authorities.

Peter was urging his readers to maintain a godly testimony before the unsaved. It was God’s will that His children do good by obeying the law and performing beneficial deeds within their communities.

Such a consistent witness might silence the baseless accusations that the unsaved made against believers and commend the gospel to the unregenerate. Admittedly, Christians could not stop others from spreading malicious rumors. Yet, Jesus’ followers could demonstrate by their lives that all such talk was foolish, since it was based on ignorant speculation (1 Pet 2:15).

The apostle did not want to imply that his readers were to live in slavish fear of the state. After all, through faith in the Son, they had been freed from sin, selfish desires, and Satan.

Peter, however, cautioned against using one’s Christ-centered, spiritual liberty to justify sinning or to cover up evil deeds (such as rebellion against the state). God’s children were to live as His bondservants, which included behaving virtuously and obeying earthly authorities (v. 16).

Furthermore, the apostle directed Christians to respect their fellow human beings, as well as show kindness and compassion to other believers. Alongside revering the Creator, Jesus’ followers were to honor those holding positions of governmental authority (v. 17).

In most instances, the recipients of Peter’s letter would have had little problem submitting to a distant emperor in Rome. It was much harder, however, to yield to authorities closer to home who were harsh and evil.

The above would have been especially true for believers who were slaves of cruel, unbelieving masters. In the first century AD, slavery was a basic part of Roman society. Indeed, at least one-third of all people in the Roman Empire were slaves, and some historians put the percentage at over one-half.

Most slaves served in private homes as laborers, and they performed such duties as cooking, cleaning, and farming. A minority served as tutors, physicians, artisans, and managers of households. More skilled and better educated slaves generally enjoyed superior food, clothing, and shelter than their unskilled and uneducated counterparts.

Under Roman law, slaves were not considered legal persons. Additionally, slaves were not allowed to represent themselves in court, inherit property, or select a mate. Nevertheless, the law protected them against being cruelly treated by their masters.

There were two basic situations in which slaves obtained freedom. They could either be emancipated by their masters or they could purchase their freedom with funds they had accumulated over time. On some occasions, an owner might grant freedom to all the members of a household, while on other occasions, a freed slave might be forced to leave family members behind.

Peter reminded Christian slaves they were morally obligated to accept the authority of their masters and always show them proper respect. This would be easier to do when a master was kind and thoughtful, but much more difficult when a master was insensitive and cruel. Nevertheless, Peter directed Christian slaves to yield to their masters regardless of how they acted (v. 18).

Peter acknowledged the possibility that believers might have to suffer even when they were not guilty of doing anything wrong. The apostle encouraged his readers to keep their focus on the Lord during such challenging times.

Jesus’ followers would be better able to endure the pain, and their loyalty to the Christian faith would meet with God’s approval (v. 19). The Greek noun rendered “commendable” literally means “grace” or “favor.” As Jesus’ followers suffered for doing good, their virtuous disposition would have an attractive quality in the sight of the Lord.

Peter knew his readers were far from perfect. There were times when the authorities might punish them for misdeeds they had committed. If the master of Christian slaves beat them for some transgression, there would be no reason to offer praise, because nothing of eternal value was gained when the mistreatment occurred (v. 20).

At the time Peter wrote, the unsaved sometimes persecuted believers. Also, the apostle might have known about actual situations in which the masters of Christians who were slaves had punished them for doing good.

Peter said that God was pleased when his fellow believers patiently endured such undeserved suffering, just as Jesus had done. The apostle seemed to imply that the Lord would display His good pleasure by spiritually blessing His beleaguered people.

Peter might have recalled the words Jesus spoke, as recorded in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:10).

Peter, after instructing his readers in the proper way to bear unjust suffering, pointed them to the Savior. The Greek noun rendered “example” (1 Pet 2:21) refers to a specific model or pattern that one must copy. Jesus is the foremost role model of someone who patiently endured unwarranted punishment despite all the good He did for humanity (Isa 52:13–53:12).

Peter reminded his readers that the Father had not only called them to trust in His Son for salvation, but also to suffer as they followed him. After all, Jesus endured the wretchedness of the cross to free the lost from sin and offer them eternal life.

Despite facing the largest obstacle anybody has ever experienced—separation from God while hanging on the cross—the Son remained faithful to the Father. Although the cross brought great anguish and disgrace, the Savior kept in mind the glorious salvation He was making available to the unsaved (Heb 12:2). Seen in this light, suffering as a follower of Jesus is a welcomed privilege, not a despised embarrassment.

There are times when we might feel weary and lose heart because of unjust treatment. As we take inspiration from the Messiah, we can persevere no matter what obstacles wicked people may place in our way. Jesus is our supreme example.

Peter, by quoting from Isaiah 53:9, noted that Jesus never violated the will of God. Jesus was blameless in His words and above reproach in His conduct (1 Pet 2:22).

No one could rightly accuse Jesus of having ever sinned. Even when wronged by others, He refused to lie. Instead, He always chose to tell the truth.

During Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion, His opponents hurled disparaging remarks at Him. Yet, He did not verbally retaliate. Likewise, when they physically abused Him, He did not threaten to get even.

Throughout Jesus’ ordeal, He chose to entrust Himself to the Father. The Son realized that the Father is characterized by justice and in the end would vindicate the Lamb of God (v. 23; see Mark 15:3–5).

Peter said that the Messiah personally bore our sins in His body when He was nailed to the “tree” (1 Pet. 2:24) or cross. The apostle may have had in mind the scapegoat, an animal that carried the sins of God’s people into the wilderness on the day of Atonement (Lev 16:10).

In ancient societies, the body of an executed criminal was sometimes hung on a tree as an added insult or a public warning. Old Testament law encouraged same-day burials, since a person hung on a tree was considered to be accursed. By extension, it could be said that the Son was cursed because He hung on a wooden cross to redeem us from the law’s curse (Deut 21:22–23; Gal 3:13).

Peter, in noting that Jesus bore our sins, was not teaching that the Messiah became a sinner. Rather, as an offering for humanity’s transgressions, the Son became the object of the Father’s wrath and judgment for those trespasses. The Redeemer took the place of sinners on the cross as a substitute, bearing the punishment they deserved (2 Cor 5:21).

The consistent teaching of the New Testament is that Jesus was absolutely free from sin (Acts 3:14; Heb 7:26; 1 John 3:5). The Son delighted in God’s law and found joy in keeping it.

Hebrews 4:15 says that the Son was tempted “in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin.” People are enticed throughout their lives to be self-centered, indulge in self-pity, cut moral corners, love themselves more than others, and gratify their forbidden passions. Although Jesus experienced these kinds of temptations, He never succumbed to any of them.

To redeem sinful people, Jesus had to remain personally free from sin. Also, for the sake of the lost, Jesus obeyed every divine commandment. Moreover, Jesus fulfilled the Lord’s specific will for Him. Because of Jesus’ perfect obedience and sinless life, He is qualified to be our all-sufficient Savior.

It was the Father’s intent that those who trust in the Son would “die to sins and live for righteousness” (1 Pet 2:24). The apostle was stressing the truth of the believer’s baptismal union with the Savior.

Through faith in the Son, believers are joined with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection. Also, because Jesus lives, they also live, but not for themselves. The Messiah has liberated them from sin’s power so that they might honor the Lord by serving others (Rom. 6:3–11).

Peter, by referring to Isaiah 53:5, said that believers are healed by the wounds others inflicted on the Son. The Greek noun translated “wounds” (1 Pet 2:24) refers to bruises and welts caused by being repeatedly whipped or beaten.

Based on the preceding verse, some imagine that physical healing is included in Jesus’ atonement (Matt 8:16–17). However, most specialists think that Peter was referring to spiritual healing. In this case, the apostle stressed that those who trust in the Son are delivered from their eternal maladies.

Peter, perhaps referring to Isaiah 53:6, declared that his readers had once been like straying sheep. These domesticated animals were important to the economy of ancient Israel. Their tendency to wander was an appropriate illustration of the sinner’s waywardness (1 Pet 2:25).

The apostle said that even though the recipients of his letter had once veered far from the Messiah, they had returned to Him when He redeemed them. He was their good Shepherd, the one who laid down His life for them (John 10:11, 14; Heb 13:20; 1 Pet 5:4; Rev 7:17). Jesus is also their Overseer. This means He looks out for their temporal and eternal welfare.

Key ideas to contemplate

Intense and prolonged periods of suffering are too difficult for us to handle by ourselves. In our seasons of deep and unrelenting distress, it is natural for us to feel alone, abandoned by friends, and perhaps forsaken by God. Yet, even then, our eternal Shepherd is ever-present to journey with us through the midst of the ordeal.

We can be encouraged by the knowledge that the Messiah also experienced great suffering. His agony in Gethsemane and His loneliness on the cross can be a source of strength for us when we face struggles. Because He endured the same kinds of trials we encounter and still triumphed, we can receive strength to overcome our ordeals.

1. Take the high road. Peter, who was well acquainted with suffering for Jesus’ sake, offered practical advice about surviving suffering and allowing it to deepen our relationship with the Lord. Repeatedly, the apostle emphasized the importance of taking the high road (so to speak). This idiom refers to shunning pettiness toward others and acting in ways that are characterized by virtue and decency.

2. Keep a clear conscience. Imagine a situation in which some agitators in our neighborhood take advantage of us or accuse us of things we did not do. Naturally, our first reaction might be to lash out at them in anger. We might ask ourselves, Who do they think they are to target us? What did we ever do to them?

We might secretly wonder if we should write an anonymous letter to everyone in the neighborhood, denouncing these antagonists. As if Peter knew this, he urged believers, instead, to keep a clear conscience. Rather than returning evil for evil, believers could pray for their enemies and even treat them with compassion.

3. Emphasize our hope in God. When we are called upon to speak up about the situation or the reasons we behave as we do, we should convey gentleness and respect, all the while emphasizing the hope the Spirit has placed within us. We also know not to be shocked when we experience suffering, especially when we consider what Jesus went through during His time of acute affliction.

4. Think and act differently. In the world, aggression is seen as a strength, while humility connotes weakness. Despite how pagan society regards these matters, believers are to think and act differently. For instance, being clothed with humility means seeing ourselves as God sees us and respecting others by loving them unconditionally. This remains true even in the midst of unjust suffering.

5. Take confidence in God’s triumph. How will we survive and even rejoice amid unjust suffering? We can take confidence that God will eventually triumph. Concededly, the victory might not take place immediately or dramatically. Yet, those who mistreat us will come to respect us, even though they might not say so. The truth will come out and God’s glory will be evident in the situation, probably in some way we did not expect.

Professor Dan Lioy (PhD, North-West University) holds several faculty appointments. He is the Senior Research Manager at South African Theological Seminary (in South Africa). Also, he is a professor of biblical theology at the Institute of Lutheran Theology (in South Dakota). Moreover, he is a dissertation advisor in the Leadership and Global Perspectives DMIN program at Portland Seminary (part of George Fox University in Oregon). Finally, he is a professor in the School of Continuing Theological Studies at North-West University (in South Africa). Professor Lioy is active in local church ministry, being dual rostered with the Evangelical Church Alliance and the North American Lutheran Church. He is widely published, including a number of academic monographs, peer-reviewed journal articles, and church resource products.

Leave a Reply