Ready Faith

| 1 Peter 3:13-16; 4:1-2

The Point:  Suffering brings opportunities to point to Jesus.

Zealous for the Good:  1 Peter 3:13-14.

[13]  Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? [14]  But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,  [ESV]

[13-14]  “Peter concluded verse 12 by promising that the Lord’s favor is on the righteous, but he will punish evildoers. He drew an inference from verse 12 in verse 13. It follows, therefore, that no one can ultimately harm those who are zealous in doing good. The promise of the heavenly inheritance guarantees that the distresses of this life do not constitute the last word. Verse 14 restates the thesis of verse 13. Believers may be distressed by persecution now, but in actuality they are blessed by God Himself and will enjoy the eschatological reward. Since no one can ultimately harm believers and since they live under God’s blessing, they are exhorted in verse 15 not to fear. Those who have God’s promise of blessing realize that any pain in this life is short-lived. Instead of fearing what unbelievers might do, believers are to set apart Christ as Lord in their hearts and to respond to those who ask them about their endtime hope with humility and the fear of the Lord. Their good conduct will be the basis for the eschatological shame of their opponents since the latter did not respond to goodness when observing it. Peter only wanted to be sure [17] that believers suffer for doing what is good instead of deserving censure because of evil behavior. The word now connects verse 13 with verse 12. Peter had just affirmed in verse 12 that the Lord will look with favor on the righteous, but He sets His face against those who practice evil. He speaks here of the final judgment, where those who live righteously will be rewarded and the wicked will be judged. A rhetorical question is employed to stimulate the thinking of Peter’s readers. Who will inflict harm upon believers if they pursue what is good? Some commentators understand Peter to speak of this life, so the meaning is that people will ordinarily treat believers well if they practice righteousness. The logical connection between verses 12 and 13 suggests that this interpretation is incorrect. The point of the rhetorical question is that no one will harm believers ultimately on the day of judgment, for God [as 3:10-12 teaches] will reward them for their faithfulness. The link with the previous verses is also indicated in the last clause of the verse, if you are zealous for what is good. Godly behavior is also described as doing good in 3:11, which summarizes all that is required in 3:8-12. The word translated zealous demonstrates an ardent pursuit of virtue, even in the face of persecution. Peter was not promising, then, that believers would escape rejection and harm in this world. Some understand Peter to say that usually the righteous will escape harm but occasionally they will encounter suffering. This view should be rejected, for Peter did not suggest that sufferings are rare. Suffering stalks the believer until this present evil age comes to an end. Instead, Peter assured believers that nothing can ultimately harm them if they continue to walk in God’s paths, that the pain inflicted on them now is only temporary, and that they will be vindicated by God on the last day. The thought is quite similar to Romans 8:31: What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Paul was scarcely saying that believers face no opposition. His point was that no one can ultimately and finally triumph over believers since God will vindicate them on the last day. The conjunction but introducing verse 14 does not provide a contrast but a clarification of verse 13. The suffering of Christians might suggest that the assertion in verse 13 is false. Believers can be harmed, even killed, by opponents. Peter, however, did not conceive of the suffering of believers as contradicting the claim of verse 13. Those who suffer for the sake of righteousness, those who endure opposition because of their zeal for what is good, are blessed. The blessing comes from God Himself, showing that believers are beneficiaries when they are afflicted. In what sense are they blessed? Peter hardly could have meant that sufferings are themselves pleasant, for then, obviously, they would not be sufferings. He was almost certainly drawing on the Jesus tradition here, for Jesus Himself taught in Matthew 5:10-12 that those who suffer are blessed because of the eschatological reward they will received. The train of thought is as follows: No one will be able to harm believers on the future day if they are zealous for good. Indeed, even present suffering is not a sign of punishment but of God’s blessing both now and especially in the future, in the day when He rewards His people with eternal life. Peter’s even if you should suffer does not mean that a believer’s suffering is unusual or unexpected. Rather Peter means that suffering, though not a constant experience in the Christian life, is always a threat and could erupt at any time. Peter was not teaching that suffering is rare, only that it is not perpetual. The suffering envisioned is for righteousness’ sake and hence excludes trouble that comes because of ignorance or sin. Righteousness is another way of describing the good for which believers are zealous in 3:13. Peter now draws two implications from the fact that suffering is an indication of God’s blessing. One implication is found in verse 14 and the second implication in verse 15. These two implications are the main point of the text and are expressed as imperatives. Since believers are blessed by God when they suffer, they should not fear nor be troubled by what unbelievers can do to them. The admonition fits with Peter’s emphasis on only fearing God. Fear of human beings, even of those who persecute, is forbidden. The reason fear is prohibited relates back to verses 13 and 14. Since no one can ultimately harm believers and since even their suffering is a sign of God’s blessing, then it follows that they should not fear what others can do to them. Instead, they are to trust in the Lord, believing that He will vindicate His own.”  [Schreiner, pp. 168-173]

Honor Christ the Lord as Holy:  1 Peter 3:15-16.

[15]  but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, [16]  having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.  [ESV]

[15-16]  “Peter in verse 15 states the second implication from verses 13-14. Negatively, believers are to refrain from fear. Positively, they are to honor Christ the Lord as holy in their hearts. Peter exhorted his readers to continue to treat Christ as the holy one, fearing Him instead of those who are harming them. Christ is already Lord in any case, but believers demonstrate and acknowledge His lordship in their lives by honoring His name. The place where Christ is to be set apart as Lord is in your hearts. We should not understand the heart as our inner and private lives, which are inaccessible to others. The heart is the origin of human behavior, and from it flows everything people do. Hence, setting apart Christ as Lord in the heart is not merely a private reality but will be evident to all when believers suffer for their faith. The inner and outer life are inseparable, for what happens within will inevitably be displayed to all, especially when one suffers. Believers are to be ready constantly to respond to those who ask about their faith. The text envisions informal circumstances when believers are asked spontaneously about their faith. This interpretation is supported by the words to anyone who asks you, suggesting that believers respond to a wide variety of people. The exhortation here is instructive, for Peter assumed that believers have solid intellectual grounds for believing the gospel. The truth of the gospel is a public truth that can be defended in the public arena. This does not mean, of course, that every Christian is to be a highly skilled apologist for the faith. It does mean that every believer should grasp the essentials of the faith and should have the ability to explain to others why they think the Christian faith is true. Interestingly enough Peter used the word hope rather than ‘faith’ here. Hope was a central word for Peter, focusing on the eschatological inheritance that awaits believers [1:3]. The implication is that unbelievers will recognize by the way believers respond to difficulties that their hope is in God rather than in pleasant earthly circumstances. The phrase hope that is in you is parallel to in your hearts, focusing attention on the inner life from which outward actions flow. The New Testament does not separate the inner from the outer, the private from the public, for whatever is on the inside is manifested on the outside. Here the hope that animates believers will become so evident that unbelievers will ask for an explanation. When believers encounter a hostile world and are challenged concerning their faith, the temptation to respond harshly increases. Defending a position could easily be transmuted into attacking one’s opponents. Hence, Peter added that the defense must be made with gentleness and respect. The word translated respect is the word for ‘fear’. Fear in 1 Peter is always directed toward God. Furthermore, gentleness or ‘humility’ also becomes a reality when creatures consider themselves in relation to God. Those who fear God and live in humility will treat their opponents with dignity and refrain from lashing out against them. What Peter emphasized, however, is the relation with God that enables believers to respond appropriately to unbelievers. Verse 15 blends right into verse 16, being joined by a participle. Verse 16 provides another piece of evidence that suggest that gentleness and respect in verse 15 focus on the relationship of believers to God. When Peter spoke of a good conscience, he referred to the relationship of believers to God. They live in God’s presence in all they do, and hence they must not resort to revenge, anger, or sin when they are called upon to defend their hope. Why should believers live in fear and humility before God and maintain a good conscience? Peter’s answer is given in a purpose clause: so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. We receive further evidence that the primary form of persecution in 1 Peter was not physical but social. The situation addressed is when you are slandered. Unbelievers are those who speak maliciously about Christians. Formal court cases are not envisioned here but negative verbal attacks in the public square. The latter, of course, can lead to the former, and when verbal opposition ratchets up, physical violence may not be far behind. What unbelievers criticize, shockingly, is the good behavior of believers. The word for behavior was a favorite of Peter’s, often designating the kind of conduct that is pleasing to God. That the behavior in view is distinctively Christian is clear by the prepositional phrase in Christ. Peter continued to emphasize that the conduct of believers is related to the Lord, where all conduct is in the sphere of Christ. Further, Christians should only be abused for their good conduct. Believers are to live righteously so that those who abuse their good conduct will be put to shame. Peter’s focus here was on the end time, the day of judgment. Three pieces of evidence support this interpretation. First, the verb put to shame in 2:6 refers to the last day, and though the term does not always refer to the future, it often bears this meaning [Rom. 5:5; 9:33; 10:11; 1 Cor. 1:27]. Second, and most important, believers are already abused and criticized for their good behavior in Christ. It is difficult to see how more good behavior would suddenly lead unbelievers to feel ashamed. Some non-Christians are persuaded, despite the godly conduct of Christians, that they are troublemakers. Peter called on believers to continue to live righteously when threatened. Peter probably had in view unbelievers who are hardened toward believers, who have made up their minds that Christians are socially dangerous. Hence, he exhorted his readers to continue to please God and live in a godly fashion, so that on the day of judgment unbelievers will recognize that they were mistaken all along. Third, the language of 2:12 is parallel to 3:16 in a number of respects: the call to good conduct, the maligning by unbelievers, and the need to continue to live righteously when oppressed. We have seen that there are good reasons to think in 1 Peter 2:12 that the righteous conduct of believers will lead some unbelievers to salvation to the glory of God, and that some would respond with repentance is not denied here. But Peter emphasizes another truth in this verse. Some unbelievers refuse to acknowledge the goodness of the lives of believers. On the last day, however, they will be put to shame by God Himself and will be compelled to acknowledge that believers lived righteously. First Peter 2:12 and 3:16 do not contradict each other. They contemplate different responses to the godly lives of believers: some unbelievers will see their good conduct and glorify God by believing the gospel [2:12], but others refuse to believe and will only admit the goodness of believers on the day that God judges them.”  [Schreiner, pp. 173-179]

Live for the Will of God:  1 Peter 4:1-2.

[1]  Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, [2]  so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.  [ESV]

[4:1-2]  “At first sight, it might seem that Peter is presenting a general truth: bodily suffering inhibits sin. Accordingly, Christians should not regret suffering, since suffering will advance their sanctification. Yet it seems clear that this cannot be Peter’s meaning. An immediate difficulty for this interpretation is that Peter does not begin with suffering in general, but with Christ’s suffering. Christians are to have the same insight, the same perception that Christ had. Are we to suppose that Peter is telling us that Christ embraced suffering to avoid sinning? Did the Lord seek the sanctifying power of suffering? Further, the forms of the Greek verbs tell against this interpretation. The verbs suffered and has suffered have a form that describes a definite event, not an ongoing process. The same form is used in 3:18 to describe the once-for-all suffering of Christ on the cross. This phrase in 4:1 does not describe an ongoing process, but rather a new situation. Peter is speaking of one act of suffering that results in a situation where sin is stopped or finished. What, then, is the suffered in the flesh that Peter has in view? Surely, in the case of Christ, it is His suffering for sins once on the cross [3:18]. The result was that sin was done away. He was finished with it. Peter does not mean, of course, that Jesus was sinning, and that the cross put a stop to it. He affirms that Jesus did no sin [2:22]. But although Jesus did no sin, He bore our sins in His own body to the tree [2:24]. The burden of our sin was on Him; He carried it up to Calvary. But there it ended. His death finished His involvement with our sin. Peter applies this principle to us. We are to arm ourselves with a thought that is decisive for our new manner of life. Christ’s mortal suffering ended His conquest of sin and ushered in His resurrection life. Peter has already shown the connection with us: Jesus bore our sins in His body on the tree so that we, having died to sins, might live to righteousness [2:24]. In that passage, too, Peter spoke of an event in the past that marks the end of sin and the beginning of a life of righteousness. When Christ died to sin in our place we died to sin, just as when he rose, we were given new birth [1:3]. Our decisive suffering in the body is that death which we share with Christ who suffered in the body for us. Baptism marks our union with Christ in His death and resurrection [3:21]. It is nothing less than death that separates us from a life of sin. When Peter encourages us to arm ourselves with this thought, he is saying in his way what Paul, too, tells us in Romans 6:8-12. The decisive death to sin that is marked by baptism ushers in a new time of life. For the Christian the rest of his life begins with the faith that unites him to Christ. having died to sin, he is alive to God; the rest of his life is no longer to be shaped by the desires of sin, but by the will of God. Peter is not teaching that the Christian is now perfect, and that sin is no longer a problem for him. Indeed, he writes to urge Christians to forsake sin. Yet there is a decisive difference. They have died to sin and have gained the freedom to live according to the will of God. Their lives are different. Peter shows the difference by a vivid contrast. There are two ways of life. One is determined by the will of God. The other is marked out by being driven by human passions as seen in the lives of the Gentiles [3:3]. The two ways of life cannot be blended; no one can serve two masters. Those who have been given new life through Christ will look with fear and revulsion at the lifestyle that once swept them along with the crowd. Equally, those living in the licentious fast lane will look with scorn and contempt at the pious life of born again Christian.”  [Clowney, pp. 169-172]

Questions for Discussion:

1.         Peter equates doing good with righteousness. What do you think he means by these terms? What does it mean for you to live this way in your world? What kind of blessing from God will you receive if you suffer for living a good and righteous life?

2.         In verses 14 and 15 Peter gives two implications, in the form of commands, from his teaching in verse 13 and the first half of verse 14. What are these two commands? What would it mean in your life to obey these two commands as you encounter opposition for seeking to live a righteous life?

3.         Are you always prepared to give a reason for your hope? If not, what do you need to do in order to be prepared?

4.         What are the two ways of life given in 4:2? Note the connection in this passage between doing good, righteousness, good behavior in Christ, and living according to the will of God. Think about how the conflict between these two ways of living is the cause of the opposition in today’s world towards believers who are seeking to live according to the will of God. The current conflict over same-sex marriage is a prime example of this conflict.


The Message of 1 Peter, Edmund Clowney, Inter Varsity.

1 Peter, Karen Jobes, BENT, Baker.

1, 2 Peter, Jude, Thomas Schreiner, NAC, B & H Publishers.