Good morning, church. Please go with me to the book of 1 Peter, chapter 3, starting in v.8.
Before we really get started today, I want to take a moment to recognize some men in our church who spent this entire week living out the passage I’m about to preach. Gator and Mike, and brother Les, one of our community partners, this week, went with me and relief workers from our denomination to Lake Charles, where there is a massive recovery effort underway in the aftermath of hurricane Laura, which ripped through the entire Western portion of our state last week. I’ve been doing disaster relief work now for about eight years, and apart from Katrina, I don’t think I’ve seen anything to compare with what we just left in Lake Charles. The city looks like a bomb went off at the city center and was large enough to destroy a 30 mile radius. There is untold suffering there, with thousands of people evacuated or without power and water, homes destroyed, property lost.
Gator and Mike spent the week in a wet heat, the index well over 100 degrees the whole time, clearing trees and tarping roofs. The last property that we worked on, we went to pray for the homeowner, and he paraphrased Jesus’ words, that “God sends hurricanes on the just and the unjust.” His point was that everyone in our broken world suffers. The difference is why you’re suffering, and how you face it.
We’ve been in a series through 1 Peter for a number of weeks now, a letter from the apostle Peter to the exiles, refugees fleeing persecution and destruction in Jerusalem, people who have lost most everything and are suffering. For the past few weeks, we’ve looked at several passages related to suffering, specifically suffering under injustice—under unjust governments, as slaves, and those who are mistreated by their very family, the people who are meant to love them most. He writes, because Christ suffered, we can have hope in Jesus in the midst of our suffering. We are able to live out the Christian life, even when everything in our lives is broken and in chaos, because Christ didn’t live his life in luxury or peace, but he came into our brokenness, suffered, even died for our sake.
This week and next week, we are going to unpack some difficult questions: why does God allow his children to suffer? And what should be our response, as Christians, to suffering? As we follow Christ, where does he lead us, and why? I think of the parable we call the good samaritan. When you see suffering on the other side of the road, do you avoid it, walk by on the other side? Or do you cross over into suffering, knowing it will be costly and time consuming, knowing it will make you unclean?
Read with me in 1 Peter 3:8-17. [1 Peter 3:8-17] This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly. Lord God, I pray you would show us your truth in your word today, because we know your truth will set us free. Amen.
My first point from the text today is this: It’s better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. It’s better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
In many ways, this is the capstone statement for the first three chapters of this letter. This is the interpretational key, the idea to which Peter has been building. It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. There is so much here—joy, pain, wisdom; I hope I am able to do this passage some sort of justice. I’ll start by confronting a few false teachings associated with this passage.
This is perhaps the most common in our tradition: just because you’re suffering, it doesn’t mean you’re following Christ. It is possible to suffer for your own bad decisions. Even if you claim to be doing what you’re doing in Jesus’ name, it’s possible to suffer from your own bad decisions. I hear constantly from people in our faith tradition, even from the pulpit, “if you aren’t suffering, it’s because you’re not following Christ radically enough,” and I really wish people would stop equating radicalism, equating suffering with obedience to Christ, because we are not meant as Christians to seek out suffering—we are meant to seek Christ, in joy and in suffering; both.
Pastors encourage people to give more and more money until they’re destitute, to be more and more aggressive with evangelism, more and more tactless and offensive with the truths of our faith, meshing religion with culture and politics more and more, until the people around them hate them. I knew several people in seminary who expressly sought out suffering and persecution, who had it as their goal to die because of the message they preached, or to live a life of poverty just for the sake of being extreme. Who defended their faith, not with gentleness and respect as v.15 urges, but in order to win an argument and prove how clever they are.
It is possible to suffer for your own bad decisions. Just because you’re suffering doesn’t mean you’re following Jesus, and just because people hate you doesn’t mean you’re doing good. The Bible doesn’t teach that we should seek persecution—it says we should live at peace with everyone as far as it depends upon us—and it doesn’t tell us to seek out suffering, but to enjoy the good days and gifts God brings to us.
There is another false teaching, alive and well in churches today, that if you do good, if you live a good life, if you’re moral, if you give to the church, if you follow Jesus, you will be spared suffering. False; that’s a lie. I’m not here to preach a reprieve from your suffering, but rather hope and joy in the midst of it. Other religions will tell you stories of men and women who were godly enough to escape suffering—Christianity tells the true story of a God who entered into human suffering willingly so that we could have hope in the midst of it, so that he could redeem the world and wipe every tear, put it back to rights in the end.
Here is the truth from this passage, listen: since the fall, when sin entered into the world, suffering in this world is a given. We don’t have to seek it out—we can’t avoid it! We will all, at one point or another, face suffering in our lives. Like the man said as we cleared out his destroyed home, God sends hurricanes on the just and the unjust. There is joy and hope in Christ, and in life there are good days and good things—but there is always suffering. You need your worldview, your religion, your life philosophy to be one that can make it through a hurricane without falling down or coming apart. You need to know, in this life, how to weather suffering.
V.17 should tell us, even if you do good in this world, you will suffer, and in fact your suffering may even be God’s will—and this is the topic for next week’s sermon—not that God wanted or caused suffering in the world, but we in our sin caused suffering in the world, and it is often God’s desire that Christians, his children, bear the suffering of the world so that others would be spared that suffering. We see this most clearly in Christ, the Son, who suffered and died on a cross so that you and I might be spared eternal suffering because of our sins.
It’s better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. Our sin is what has caused the suffering in the world. Suffering does not come from God. We’ve created it, we perpetuate it. We are responsible for it. But your sin does not always cause you, yourself to suffer. Oftentimes people suffer in your place. If you steal or hustle someone, for example, that sin benefits you, but causes suffering for the person from whom you stole. And when we suffer death and loss, or the brokenness of creation itself with natural disasters, we suffer from the sins of Adam, the collective sins of mankind as a whole. We have all sinned, and we have all been sinned against, and so we suffer.
We do so much in our lives to avoid suffering, and it’s all useless, a chasing after the wind. You can shore up wealth and status to make sure you never experience hunger, or injustice, or violence, and you will still experience death and loss, and because of that you will suffer. Or you can go from city to city, bottle to bottle, trying to escape suffering, but it will never be enough, and because of that you will suffer. You can spend your days in the church, doing good for other people, walking alongside them in their sin and brokenness. If you follow Jesus, you will follow him eventually to a cross, and because of that you will suffer. And Peter writes, it’s better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
This is not what we like to hear. We like to think that the good life, the easy life, is just around the corner. Buy this, drink that, do good, and you can live the good life, but that’s a lie. Peter is not offering a false hope, a distraction here. He’s telling you, you’re going to suffer in life. And when you do, it’s better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
I mentioned this a few weeks ago, when I was teaching, I gained a ton of weight, weight that I have since then been trying to lose without resorting to crazy surgical options. Losing weight isn’t healthy for everyone, but for me, it wasn’t a beach body thing, my doctors told me I needed to lose weight, or I would be facing a slew of health problems—and I’ve seen firsthand the eventual suffering of not minding your weight. And this is what I’ve realized in this weight loss effort: losing weight is terrible. It’s awful. To quote Parks and Rec, I know jogging will make you healthy, but at what cost? Magazines in the grocery store know this, they’re all about weight loss secrets and fad diets to help people avoid suffering in this. Let me tell you now, there are no weight loss secrets besides this one—losing weight is awful. You can try to sugarcoat it or find a way around it, but you won’t. Truth time: endorphin rushes aren’t that great. Any every vegetable that’s supposed to taste like meat doesn’t.
And I’m not selling gym memberships, my point is this: there are many things in life that are this way. You’re faced with two options: you can either suffer doing something good for yourself and the people around you, or you can suffer doing something bad for yourself and the people around you. Which will you choose?
I know many of you struggle with addiction and sobriety, and I’ll tell you straight up: getting clean and sober is going to cause you to suffer. You’ll suffer DT’s, suffer through cravings, you’ll have to admit you have made mistakes, lose your reputation, lose your friends, suffer the indignities of making amends and living a life you always thought was boring. But I’ll tell you, continuing with addiction and drunkenness will also lead to suffering—a loss of dignity, stability, loss of family, loss of relationships, loss of self. You’ll suffer either way. Which will you choose?
Maintaining close friendships, strong marriages, and strong family ties are this way as well. To have close relationships, you’ll need to confess your sins, forgive people when they hurt you, set up appropriate boundaries, serve people who will take you for granted. Lose the fight to win over the other person. It will cost time, money, energy, emotion, and in the end you’ll suffer loss. But what is life without friends or family? Suffering loneliness, insecurity, isolation.
In being a member of a church, in choosing to have faith in God, in confessing sin, in living a disciplined Christian life, in working for a living, in caring for aging or sick family, in all of these situations where there is suffering on both sides, and you’re left with a choice to suffer for doing good or suffer for doing evil, Peter says it’s better to suffer for doing good, because even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, v.14, you will be blessed, meaning you will have the Lord alongside you, and the longer I’m a Christian, those more I suffer, the more I find that having Christ with me is worth everything.
Because—this is my second point for today—Christ turns suffering into hope. Christ turns suffering into hope. If you suffer for doing evil, suffering is all you have. You can try to forget it, try to move past it—self-medicate, self-help—but there’s no real hope for life beyond suffering. But if you suffer for doing good, Christ is with you in that, and he is able to turn your suffering into hope. V.15, talks about the hope that is in you, and the Psalm Peter quotes here is a psalm of hope in the midst of suffering.
In my life, God has given me many good days, for which I’m grateful, but I know something of suffering. I’ve lost family members and friends to death and estrangement, lost jobs, experienced sickness, addiction, and chronic pain. I also know, barring every other kind of tragedy, one day I’ll lose my parents and Annie hers. AJ will face sin in the world that we aren’t able to shield him from, and make mistakes we can’t correct. One of us will eventually lose the other, though I pray God will give us many more years together. How can I say, in the midst of all of that, that Christ turns suffering into hope?
JRR Tolkien coined a word for the way Christ brings hope into our suffering—eucatastrophe, or good destruction. He said it was a kind of joy that brings tears, a place where joy and sorrow meet; hitting rock bottom and discovering your being broken, your losing the fight, was your only hope all along. This effect was one of the main driving motivations for him to write his books; he wanted to picture eucatastrophe, to show how it could be possible for joy and sorrow to meet. And as a Christian, he pointed out that all of the best stories in which joy and sorrow meet are just fitting into the larger story of the gospel, where the reality of our sin, death, and brokenness meet the joy of the resurrection of Christ; because in his resurrection, in his turning back of death itself, we have hope that everything sad in our lives will one day come untrue.
If you suffer for doing evil, suffering is all you have. But if you suffer for doing good, Christ is able to redeem that suffering, and even in this life turn that suffering into hope. Hope that situations and people can change. Hope that God is strong enough to bear what we cannot. Hope that his peace is strong enough to mend our broken relationships. Hope that all of this work we’ve done to rid ourselves of sin will bear a joy that’s strong enough to make it worth it. Hope that Christ is even now bringing suffering to a close.
I asked the question earlier, what is the Christian response to suffering? The Christian response, when we ourselves suffer, is to hope in God to restore and redeem the world, a hope that is sure, because God has promised to restore us back to peace, and it is impossible for God to lie. And the Christian response when we see suffering in the world, in our city, among our friends, is to cross over, bear the cost, walk alongside those people who are suffering, and bring the hope of Christ with as—on our lips, in our hearts, with our hands—bring the hope of Christ, the hope of redemption, with us into suffering.
We saw so much suffering this week, so much damage in the midst of hurricane Laura. And in the end, we did very little to help. We cleared and tarped five houses in the four days we were there. Five, out of hundreds of thousands. We did very little to help. And even for those families we served, we weren’t able to turn their power on, or get them clean water in their homes again. We didn’t even fully repair their houses—tarps are a temporary fix at best. But we did show them, by clearing their lawns and keeping water out of their houses for a little while, we showed them that one day this storm will pass. We brought hope with us from house to house, hope for a fuller restoration in the future. And as we prayed with them and ministered to them during this time, we tried to show them that there is hope in Christ for all of the suffering they will face. Hope, not just to move on, but to be restored and made whole and right again.
And in our daily lives, when we see suffering—hundreds of people in our city without housing, without food, women being trafficked or otherwise used and abused for the pleasure of men, thousands facing job loss and health issues from the pandemic, friends and family members making decisions we know will cause them incredible pain, what’s our response as Christians?
We cross over the road, we go, and we suffer alongside, bringing with us—in our words and in our works—the hope of the gospel, the hope of Christ, that one day this world will not be broken and marred by sin. We cross over to suffer alongside them now, but also to point them toward the place joy and sorrow meet at the cross, and in his resurrection. Christ is even now making everything whole and right, showing us in what way he will redeem our world in the end. He is able to make you whole and right, even starting today, and he will be faithful to finish each and every work that he starts.
My invitation for today is this: I invite you to suffer. Choose to suffer for doing good instead of doing evil, because in suffering for doing good, Christ turns suffering into hope. Stop self-medicating, stop running, stop doing everything you can in life to avoid suffering and those who suffer. Look to the cross, where joy and sorrow meet, and begin to hope in the resurrection. Learn to suffer so well that you are able to cross over, coming alongside the people who suffer in our communities, bearing part of their burden for them and bringing a word of hope, so that they might experience the gospel in our churches in both word and deed.
The cross of our suffering servant who, in his sufferings, brought joy and peace enough to set the world right. Hope in him today.