Honor Christ as Lord, Even if you Suffer
Passage: 1 Peter 3:13–3:17
Honor Christ as Lord, Even if You Suffer
Have you ever suffered for the fact that you were a Christian? I mean, you had to go through some kind of hardship because you identified yourself with Christ. Have you ever experienced that? I remember a time in seminary when I could have suffered for the fact that I was a Christian. A Chinese gentleman had visited our church a couple of times, and he wanted to know more about the Christian faith. One of the pastors at church asked me to talk more with him, so I set up a meeting at the McDonald’s near church. As we sat down to talk, another couple also sat down near us. They looked like smart, nice people, and I could tell that they could overhear our conversation. And at that moment, a thought crossed my mind. What if those two people hear me talking about Christ and think I am a freak? What if they think I am trying to indoctrinate this man and tear him away from his culture? What if they say something to me when they leave, or call me names? I was so afraid of those strangers and what they might do to me that, to my shame, I didn’t speak as freely about Christ as I should have. I was more concerned with the things that were important to me than with clearly speaking the truth with this man who wanted to know more about Christianity. I feared those people more than I feared God.
In that moment, if I had remembered this passage from 1 Peter, then I might have acted differently. In this morning’s text, Peter addresses the issue of suffering as a Christian and how we should respond when such suffering arises in our own lives. In particular, these verses help us see how we can not fear others but honor Christ as Lord, even if that means we suffer for it. If you have your Bible, I invite you to open up to 1 Peter 3, and we’ll be looking at vv13-17. But before we do that, I want to take a moment to remind us where this passage fits in the big picture of Peter’s letter.
3.13 marks a transition of sorts in Peter’s letter. Prior to 3.13, Peter addressed the issue of suffering, but it was almost always in the context of other topics. For example, he spoke about suffering, but in the context of servants and masters. The theme was mixed in with other topics. Beginning in v13, however, that changes. The remainder of the letter is focused almost exclusively on suffering as a Christian. Over ten times from now to the end, Peter addresses the reality of believers suffering for righteousness, or suffering for their faith. Just skim through the rest of the letter, starting in 3.13. Peter’s focus is very narrow.
Now, Peter has this narrow focus because he wants to prepare his readers to suffer as Christians. Peter knows that such suffering is difficult to endure; it raises a number of perplexing questions for the believer. Questions like – if God’s Word is true, then why do I suffer for doing what that Word tells me to do? Or questions like – if Christ really does possess all authority on heaven and on earth, then why are we suffering for following him? You see the difficulties these believers will soon face? When you do what is right, what honors the Lord, and you are worse off for it – that is a difficult situation to understand. Peter writes to prepare his readers for those kinds of moments.
But how does he do that? How does Peter prepare us to suffer for righteousness? He does two things. First, Peter teaches us how to think rightly about suffering for righteousness. We’ll see this in vv13-14a. If we can learn to think rightly about suffering, then we will be equipped to respond rightly to suffering, or even to the prospect of suffering, like in my example from earlier. And that is what Peter addresses in vv14b-16 – the right response to suffering for righteousness. Peter prepares us by teaching us how to think rightly about suffering so that we might respond rightly.
Thinking Rightly about Suffering
Peter’s first step in preparation is to teach us how to think rightly about suffering as a Christian. He makes two points here that teach us how to think rightly. First, suffering in the here and now cannot ultimately harm the believer. Look at v13. Peter asks a rhetorical question, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” It could be that Peter is simply speaking proverbial. You know, generally speaking, if you do what is right, then no one will harm you. But I don’t think he’s speaking proverbially, because so much of the letter deals with the reality that Christians will suffer for doing good. I don’t think this is a statement of proverbial wisdom.
What does Peter mean with his rhetorical question? He’s taking an eternal perspective on present sufferings. If you hope in Christ and are therefore zealous for what is good, then no one can ultimately harm you. They may mock you and beat you and kill you in the present, but they cannot get at you on the last day. We’ve seen this already in Peter’s letter. If you are zealous for what is good, it shows that your hope is in Christ and the sure salvation he brings. And no amount of present suffering can touch that reality. That’s Peter’s point in v13. As Christians, we must learn to view present suffering through the lens of eternal realities. When viewed through that lens, nothing can ultimately harm us. It might be awful in the present – painful, difficult, hard to bear. But it cannot ultimately harm us because we are hidden in Christ, who will finally save us on the last day.
That leads into v14 and Peter’s second point on how to think rightly about suffering. In v14, Peter clarifies what he just said the previous verse. The reality is that believers do suffer in this present life, and that suffering is harmful in the moment. How can v13 be true, since suffering does at times bring harm? V14 is the clarification – suffering for righteousness leads to God’s blessing. In v14, Peter almost certainly has in mind Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 5, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” That’s where Peter gets this point. Those who suffer for righteousness are blessed, and if blessed, then not ultimately harmed.
But why does suffering for righteousness bring blessing? Why is that the case? Here’s why. When we suffer for righteousness, it reveals that our hope is in God and not in the temporary comforts of this world. If you are willing to suffer for doing God says in his Word, then that reveals your hope in him. You believe his Word to be true, regardless of circumstances. And that harvest of that hope is the kingdom of God, salvation. That’s how suffering for righteousness is a blessing – because it reveals that our hope is in Christ, and all who hope in Christ will be saved.
Now look down at v17 in your Bible. In v17, Peter makes essentially the same point he is making here in v14. Look at what he writes, “For it is better suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” That’s basically the same point as v14. At times, it is God’s will for his people to suffer for doing good, but even in those moments, such suffering is better than suffering for evil. Why? Because as v14 has said, suffering for righteousness leads to blessing.
From these verses, we see how to think rightly about suffering. Suffering cannot ultimately harm us, if we are zealous for what is good. In fact, far from harming us, suffering for righteousness actually reveals that we are blessed. This is how God’s people must think when they suffer for righteousness. As we move into the next section of the passage, we have to keep these two points firmly in mind, or else the right response to suffering will make absolutely no sense. Keep these points in mind – suffering cannot ultimately harm the believer, and in the end, suffering for righteousness leads to God’s blessing.
The Christian Response to Suffering
Now, we’re ready to see the right response to suffering as a Christian. This is really the heart of the passage in vv14b-16. In these verses, Peter calls for three responses when suffer for doing good. Let’s look at each one.
First, Peter tells believers to not fear those who persecute you. Look at the last part of v14 – “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled.” In other words, don’t fear what people might do to you. If you fear what people might do to you, then you will turn back from doing good. You will turn back from righteousness. That’s Peter’s point here. If we are afraid of what people might do to us if we are faithful to Christ, then we are more likely to be unfaithful. You see? The fear of others will keep us from doing what is good and righteous. Peter says don’t fear those who might hurt you.
Now, why is it possible to live without fear of those who might harm you? Because of what Peter said in v13 – because they cannot ultimately harm you! Those who persecute you cannot do you any eternal harm. To be sure, they may hurt you in this present life, and we shouldn’t minimize that possibility. If you lose friends or job or status, that can be hurtful and come with long-reaching ramifications. All over the world right now, there are Christians being imprisoned, tortured, and killed for following Christ. They are suffering painfully for righteousness’ sake. That’s a level of difficulty I cannot even fathom as a Christian. But what Peter is saying is that even in the midst of that kind of pain, the believer can live without fear. Why? Because no matter what they do here, they cannot ultimately hurt us. Remember Peter’s words from chapter 1 – believers have an inheritance that is kept in heaven for us, that no one can touch. No matter how deep the hurt and suffering now, our eternal inheritance is sure. Therefore, have no fear of them.
At this point, we need to stop and offer a word of clarification about this response. You can’t just tell yourself “Don’t fear others” and expect the fear to go away. That’s not realistic, nor is it Peter’s point. Peter’s counsel in this verse only makes sense if you value your heavenly inheritance more than the things of this life. This response only makes sense if the eternal is more valuable to you than the earthly. If the heavenly inheritance is not your highest treasure, then Peter’s words seem empty and hollow. If you most precious treasures are the things of this world, then you will always fear people more than Christ. You will fear people because they can take those treasures from you. Is your reputation your highest treasure? Then you will fear people and shrink back from righteousness. People can ruin your reputation, so why risk it? Is your job or your livelihood your highest treasure? Then you will fear people and shrink back from honoring Christ. You might lose that job or your livelihood, and then what will you do? Is your life your greatest treasure? Then you will fear people and never give a second thought to what Christ might be calling you to as his follower. What if he calls me to something that is risky, something that might threaten my health or well-being? People can take your life, so why risk it? If you most precious treasures are the things of this world, then you will always fear people more than Christ.
But if your greatest treasure is that heavenly inheritance, and if you are convinced that there is nothing anyone can ever do to threaten it, then you can live without fearing others. You will live without fear of what people might do to you, because you’ll know there is no way they can ultimately harm you. If you want the fearlessness of v14, then you must treasure your inheritance with Christ more than the things of this world.
Second response – instead of fearing people, set apart Christ as Lord in your heart. In other words, don’t fear people, but fear Christ with a holy reverence. Look at v15, where Peter writes, “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.” A better translation might be, “In your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord”, or “Honor Christ as Lord.” Use your life and your actions to demonstrate that Christ is your Lord, that you live under his authority, even if you must suffer for that allegiance.
Peter’s words here come from Isaiah 8, so if we look back at that text, then we can better understand Peter’s point. In Isaiah 8, the southern kingdom of Judah is threatened by two rival kingdoms that want to overthrow Judah’s king, Ahaz. In response, the people, particularly Ahaz, are afraid. So the Lord provides a sign to remind Judah that God’s word always proves faithful. The people of Judah must trust in the Lord, and only in the Lord. They must not fear what others might do to them. If they will trust in the Lord, he will be a source of protection for them. The connection with Peter’s context is clear. Just as Judah was tempted to fear those who might hurt them, so too the believers in Peter’s day were tempted to fear. But Isaiah’s counsel to the nation of Judah still holds true – do not fear anyone but the Lord! Trust in him. Honor him as your king and sovereign. Give your allegiance to him. And he will be a source of protection for you, even in the midst of suffering.
Now, let’s back up and consider the key phrase – set apart Christ as Lord in your hearts. That’s the key to this point. What does that phrase mean exactly? It means to live under Christ’s authority; to live with Christ as our Lord. When we fear other people, we make them the authority in our lives. If we’re convinced they might hurt us, then we won’t do anything that might risk suffering. We let them set the agenda for how we will live. But when we honor Christ as Lord, he sets the agenda for our lives. We seek to honor him with our actions, even if it means we suffer for it. Why? Because our fear and our reverence and our honor go to him alone. Instead of fearing what others might do to us, we seek to honor Christ with our actions.
Now, here’s what I think we need to see this morning. This suffering for righteousness is a major component of how Christ is glorified. That’s what stood out to me this week as I studied and prayed through this passage. We all want Christ to be glorified in our lives, right? Yes, we do. The application of Peter’s point here is that this often happens through our suffering for Christ’s lordship. When we suffer for following Christ’s authority, it reveals the worth or the value of his lordship.
Think of it like this. Sometimes, Christ’s lordship results in blessing for his people. We follow Christ’s word, we do what is right, and we are blessed. But Peter has in mind other instances, when Christ’s lordship leads to suffering. You do what is right, you honor Christ as Lord, and you suffer for it. Peter has in mind those moments. What we need to see is that often, it is those moments of suffering for Christ that testify more powerfully to his lordship. How does the world know Christ is glorious and worthy and valuable and to be treasured above all things? Because they see Christ’s people suffer for him. Because they see believers treasure Christ above all things.
Too often, we have the wrong mindset when it comes to honoring Christ in the world. We think, “If God would only prosper Christians more, like he’s done in the past, then everyone would see the value and worth of Christ!” But that’s not actually the case. Many times, Christ’s value and worth are seen not when his people prosper, but when they suffer and continue to do what is pleasing to him. When people beat Christians and still they praise Christ, in that moment, Christ appears glorious and worthy and valuable beyond all possible explanation.
This past week, January 9th marked the 58th anniversary of the martyrdom of Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, and Roger Youderian. You probably know the story. It’s been told in the book Through Gates of Splendor and in the film The End of the Spear. These men and their families were missionaries to Ecuador. They risked their lives to reach a previously unreached tribe in the Ecuadorian jungle. And they didn’t just risk their lives; they lost them. All five men were killed by the tribe they went to evangelize. Now, if we could go back 58 years, before their martyrdom, and ask, “How could these missionaries make the greatest impact for Christ?” we would probably answer by saying, “Through a prosperous and growing ministry!” But that’s not what happened. Those five men made the greatest impact for Christ by suffering for him. Hundreds, probably thousands, of Christians have given their lives to missionary service because of the testimony of those men. And that means even more thousands have heard of Christ and trusted in his gospel because of those five men. But they never personally saw one person from that tribe evangelized! Yet, their impact for Christ’s kingdom is beyond measure. The worth of Christ was seen not so much in a fruitful ministry for Jim, Nate, Pete, Ed, and Roger, but in their willingness to suffer and even die in obedience to Christ as their Lord.
That brings us to the third response from this passage. We should have no fear of others, but instead honor Christ as Lord in our lives. And now Peter tells us we should be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us. Look at the end of v15 – “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” This is part of what it means to set apart Christ as Lord – that you are ready to give a defense of his lordship over your life. As Christians, we have staked all our hopes on Christ as Lord and Savior. Our one and only hope is that Christ will shelter us on the day of God’s wrath and bring us safely into his heavenly kingdom. Yet, in the meantime, we suffer. We say Christ is our refuge and Savior, yet we endure hardship. Why, the world asks? And that’s the moment we must be prepared with the reason for our hope.
Note that Peter gives a word of caution here as well. Look at the end of v15 – “yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience.” Peter’s point is that we must defend our hope in the right way. God cares not just that we give a reason for our hope, but how we give that reason. There is a way to defend the lordship of Christ that actually dishonors God. If we are arrogant or condescending, we don’t represent Christ’s lordship. If Christ were our lord, then we would follow his word and do good to others; we would act with a spirit of humility and gentleness. We must always remember that in every encounter, our goal is not win arguments but honor Christ as Lord. Give a defense, but do so in such a way that reveals you have set apart Christ as Lord in your heart.
Note also the purpose for such gentleness and respect – “so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” I think Peter has in mind the last day, the day of God’s judgment. On that day, when Christ’s lordship is revealed visibly and can no longer be doubted, those who persecuted Christ’s people will be put to shame for having denied Jesus’ lordship. In other words, godly lives in the here and now will have a sense of vindication on the last day, when Christ is revealed as Lord.
Overall, then, what this third response means is that every believer should be able to explain and defend the Christian faith, particularly in relationship to Christ and the gospel. Every Christian, in some sense, is a theologian and an apologist for the faith. That doesn’t mean that we all have to be experts in apologetics or theology. But it does mean that every believer should be a student of Scripture and a student of truth. Every believer needs to prayerfully and consistently seek wisdom from God’s Word so that they might be ready to give a reason for the hope they have in Christ. Ask yourself, “Am I ready to give a reason for the hope I have in Christ?” If not, remedy that through prayerful, consistent study of God’s Word. Read, pray, think, and be ready to defend your hope in Christ.
How should we respond to suffering as a Christian? We should have no fear of what others might do to us. We should set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts so that we continue to do what pleases him, even if it means we suffer. And we should be ready to give a reason for our hope in Christ. That is the proper response to suffering for righteousness. Now, throughout the message, we’ve seen that those responses to suffering only make sense if we treasure Christ and his glory more than the things of this world. If we don’t treasure Christ and our heavenly inheritance above all things, then Peter’s words seem hollow.
I want to close this morning by asking you one final question. Do you treasure Christ like that? Do you treasure Christ so much that you can live without fear of what others might do to you, because you believe that they cannot ultimately harm you? Do you treasure Christ so much that you would gladly suffer the loss of all things in order to show the world how valuable Christ’s lordship truly is? That’s the important, sobering question – Do you treasure Christ like that? That is the only sure way to prepare for suffering – to treasure Christ so much that you can say with the apostle Paul, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” You hear it there? Having Christ as your greatest treasure prepares you and enables you to suffer for his sake, to suffer for his lordship.
Let me ask you again. Do you treasure Christ like that? I don’t, but I want to. And I think that deep in your soul, if you are a Christian this morning, you want to treasure Christ like that too. You want to be ready to suffer for him so that the world might see his worth. You know in your heart that the treasures of this world are fleeting and flimsy. You’ve tasted of those lesser fruits and still you are hungry. And I think that this morning, you want with every fiber of your being to treasure the Lord Jesus above all things. If that’s true, then join me in pleading with God that he might make Christ our greatest treasure. Ask God to unmask for you the flimsy glory of earthly treasures. Plead with him to wean you from those lesser fruits that will never satisfy. Ask him to make Christ your greatest treasure. And then as you wait for God to answer that prayer, pursue a deeper knowledge of Christ and deeper communion with Christ through his word, through prayer, and through the community of saints in the church. Pursue Christ every day in confident faith that God will use that pursuit to establish him as your greatest treasure, and thus prepare you to suffer for his glory.
Won’t join me in that prayer? Oh, if God were to answer that prayer in this church, the forces of darkness and the kingdoms of this world would shudder in terror, because there would be nothing they could do to harm us! I beg of you this morning, join me in pleading for God to do that work in our hearts and in this church, for the glory of Jesus Christ.