Summary: How do we live in an unjust world?
Peter’s epistle begins in such a nice way. He tells of all these wonderful blessings we have, how we are such special people; then, just when we are feeling so great about the Christian life, he throws these water balloons at us, that splash us with sobering exhortations. Obey every authority. Are some unjust and harsh? All the better to submit to because it honors God. Are neighbors insulting you and treating you wickedly? Bless them.
These are tough admonitions, and take fair warning, he is not going to let up. Let’s look at this new text.
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? We can almost hear the readers saying the same thing we are thinking: “Peter, wake up to reality. A lot of people are going to harm us and take advantage of us if we do good.” But remember who Peter is. This is a disciple of Jesus Christ who witnessed the suffering of his master. This is an apostle who has already suffered for his Lord. We know that he has been thrown in jail at least once for the purpose of being executed. Peter knows persecution for the sake of doing good.
Yes, it is true that one can be unjustly ill-treated, but it is also true that Christians can be ill-treated because of acting by the standards of the world. If we curse those who curse us, more than likely we will experience further cursing. If our priority in life is our own welfare, we are more apt to come into conflict with others. But if we are eager to do good, we very often will find a change in the way others treat us. Note, Peter doesn’t merely say do good, he says eager to do good. The Greek word is zelotes, the word we get “zeal” from. We can go through the motions of doing good out of a sense of duty or as a strategy to manipulate. That kind of doing good will certainly lead to harm at some point. But if we possess an attitude by which we are eager to do good for others, then we are more likely to receive blessing back or at least avoid being ill-treated.
Nevertheless, as Peter himself can attest, there may be times when we are mistreated for doing good. 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right. It happens. What then? You are blessed. Count yourself blessed. Remember now, this is the guy who, the first time he was whipped for preaching the gospel, rejoiced that he had been counted worth of suffering disgrace for the Name [of Jesus] (Acts 5:41). And it’s no use turning to Jesus for another opinion. He said, Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness…Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad… (Matthew 5:10-12).
We might as well go ahead and bring in verse 17 while we are on the topic. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. We naturally think the opposite. We say that you shouldn’t complain if you are punished for doing something wrong. You are getting what you deserve. Peter says, as he did in 2:20, that we should see unjust treatment as a good thing.
Now, suffering from neighbors because of being a Christian is Peter’s context, but I daresay he would apply his principle to suffering in general. Whatever hits us in life, be it illness or accidents, hits us as followers of Christ, and we are distinguished from the world according to our response. We can grieve over suffering; we can mourn over our losses and be angry with injustice, but our attitude about what happens to us should be decidedly different from those without the hope that we have.
We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). We know that though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Corinthians 4:16,17). We know that God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).
This is Peter’s point. Thus he goes on in verse 14: “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. He is quoting from Isaiah 8:12, where God tells Isaiah not to be like the Israelites who fear earthly powers.
The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread, and he will be a sanctuary… (Isaiah 8:13,14). Isaiah is saying, “Don’t fear the world and don’t fear what the world fears. God should be our concern. He is the holy One. We as sinners should tremble before him. The best the world can do is kill us. He has control over our very souls. But if we do look to him, he will be our sanctuary who protects us.”