Sunday, January 23, 2022

“To Suffer for Doing Good” [Matt's Messages]

“To Suffer for Doing Good”
As Foreigners and Exiles - The Message of 1 Peter
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
January 23, 2022 :: 1 Peter 3:17-22

This is the exact same passage as we looked at last time I got to preach, and I said back then that this is hardest passage in all of 1 Peter to interpret and it’s one of the hardest passages in the whole Bible to understand.

The great theologian Martin Luther once said about it, “This is a strange text and certainly a more obscure passage than any other passage in the New Testament. I still do not know for sure what the apostle means.”

If every paragraph in the Bible was this difficult to interpret, I would probably give up trying to understand it at all. Thankfully, most of the Bible is not this tricky. Most of the Bible is much more clear and straightforward.

At the same time, even the tricky parts are the Word of God. Even the parts of the Bible that make us scratch our heads were given to us by the Holy Spirit. And we are blessed if we study them and apply them to our lives.

So I’m not going to have all of the answers to all of the questions, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t get what God wants to say to us today.

It does mean that we are not going to focus so much on the part that is hard to understand but on the part that is actually hard to do.

The title for this message is taken right out of verse 17, talking about what is sometimes the will of God for our lives as followers of Christ: 

“To Suffer For Doing Good.”

That is not hard to interpret, but it is hard to live, isn’t it? Nobody in their right mind likes to suffer. But it’s even harder to suffer for doing good.

Yet that’s been what Peter has been beating the drum about all along, hasn’t he?

That’s what Peter wants us to do because we’ve read his letter.

To do good...even if it means we suffer for it.

What’s our key memory verse? 

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:11-12, NIV 2011).

And we are supposed to abstain from sinful desires and live good lives doing good deeds even though the people around us accuse us of doing bad. We live that reputation down, and we do good deeds instead.

Peter keeps using this one word over and over again. We learned it last time, “agathopoiuntas” – good-deed-doing.

He used it in chapter 2, verse 15. “[I]t is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.”

He used it in chapter 2, verse 20. “[I]f you should suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.” 

He used it in chapter 3, verse 6. “[D]o what is right [agathopoiountas] and do not give way to fear.”

And he said in chapter 3, verses 13 and 14, “Who his going to harm you if are eager to do good [agathou]. But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.”

And now chapter 3, verse 17, “It is better if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good [agathopoiountas] than for doing evil [kakopoiountas – doing bad].”

The point of this whole passage, 3:17-22, is that God wants us to do good even when it hurts.

Even when people want to hurt us because we are doing good.

Now, I wish that wasn’t a thing, but it most certainly is.

In fact, Peter says that it is sometimes God’s will. It’s part of God’s plan not only that some of us get covid or cancer or in a car wreck, but that some of us get persecuted and oppressed and treated unjustly even for doing good.

I think this morning of our sisters and brothers that serve at the Pregnancy Resource Clinic. I’m guessing– correct me if I’m wrong–but not everybody in State College loves what you’re doing, am I right? You’re doing good work in Jesus’ name, but I’ll bet you get some pushback from some people in the community.

The Apostle Peter says keep up the good work.

What kind of good deeds does Peter envision for you and me? In chapter 2 and the first part of chapter 3, he talked about submission to human authorities and respecting human authorities even though they are often bad themselves. 

How are we doing at that? What have we been posting about on social media? And how have we been posting? Are we following chapter 2, verse 17 with every push of the share button? “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.” Share.

In chapter 3, Peter talked about repaying evil with good and insult with blessing, bearing up under unjust suffering. #BlessThemBack. How are we doing at that? 

Peter says that we should be ready to share the reason why we are hopeful even when people are furious at us. Even when they hate us, as Christians, we have hope. How are we doing at that as we are now almost a month into 2022?

How are we doing at living as foreigners and exiles, citizens of the kingdom to come as we live in the kingdom of right now? Waiting for the kingdom to come.

I’ll tell you right now that, most of the time, we are not going feel like it. Most of the time, we will not feel like doing good if it means suffering as a result. That’s not natural. That’s not normal.

We will naturally want it to get easier. We will feel like quitting.

Sometimes we don’t feel like doing good even when it does not hurt. Right? We often feel like doing bad. We have evil desires within us that we need to fight! “Abstain from sinful desires which wage war against your soul.”

But when it gets hard, then we really don’t feel like doing good. And that’s why Peter is writing to these elect exiles, to this beloved family of foreigners. 

He wants to encourage them to keeping on doing the right things even when they suffer for doing good.

And his argument proceeds in three big steps. Here’s number one.


Look again at verse 17.

“It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”

Everybody is going to suffer some in this life, and Peter says that it is much better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

We said last time that on one level, that’s obvious. If you suffer for doing evil, then you’ve kind of asked for it. “Do bad, get bad.” But on another level, it’s not obvious. If you’re doing good, how could it be good to suffer for it? “

"Do good, get bad?” It kind of makes you wonder if you’re really doing it right. And it makes you wonder if it’s really worth it. I mean, at least if you suffer for doing bad, you at least got to enjoy doing bad first.

But Peter says that it’s better to suffer for doing good. In fact, he’s just said in 3:14 that if you do, you are “blessed.”

How is that for a thought?! That is a distinctively Christian thought. You don’t get that in other philosophies in the world.

You are blessed if you suffer for doing good.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me [Our Lord said]. 
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:3-12).

Oh yes, it is much better to suffer for doing good!

And we know that especially because it’s the way that Jesus lived.


Look at verse 18.

“It is suffer for doing good than for doing evil. [v.18] For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”

That’s what we focused on last time. Remember? The greatest blessing that ever came to us came from the worst injustice, the greatest miscarriage of justice ever.

Jesus Christ the Holy One died for sins once for all the RIGHTEOUS for the unrighteous.

Talk about unjust suffering?! Talk about suffering for doing good?!

And doing good through suffering.  This is how we were saved.

Now, here’s where it gets a little weird. Second half of verse 18.

“He [Christ] was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.”

Here’s where it gets really tricky. Every phrase here has trickiness to it.

The biggest questions are:

1. Who are these spirits in prison?
2. When did Christ go preach “to the spirits in prison?”
3. And what did Christ preach “to the spirits in prison?”

There are 3 major interpretations in the history of the church, and I’m really not sure which one of them is right, if any off them.

There about 40 variations on those 3 major interpretations. And one scholar has calculated there are actually 180 different combinations of various details coming together here.

I don’t know what you have been taught. I can see all three of the major interpretations being right, and I can also see all three of them being wrong.

Passages like this are good at keeping us humble.

One leading interpretation with a lot going for it says that the spirits are fallen angels that sinned before the flood in the book of Genesis and that Jesus Christ, after His resurrection, went to where they are forever held in prison and preached to them His victory over sin, death, and their boss Satan.

The words in verse 19 translated, “through whom” can actually also be translated, “after which.” So after the resurrection, Jesus would have proclaimed to these disobedient demonic spirits their ultimate demise.

People who adopt that interpretation point out historical parallels in the extra-biblical book 1 Enoch which the Apostle Peter quotes directly in his second letter, 2 Peter.

I won’t get into the weeds of this, but let me point out to you how this interpretation fits Peter’s bigger point.

Jesus was put to death in the body, yes, suffering–unimaginable suffering–for doing good and doing good through His suffering, but that was not the end.

Jesus was defeating death and demons on the Cross and when made alive by (or in) the Spirit, He got to proclaim it over all of the demons!

To suffer for doing good is exactly how Jesus won and saved us.

A second major interpretation says that these spirits are human spirits of disobedient humans from the days of Noah kept in prison in “Sheol,” Hebrew for the place of the dead, also sometimes called “Hades” in Greek. And in this interpretation, Jesus Christ–between His death and His resurrection (so basically on the Holy Saturday between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, our Lord)–descended to the place of the dead and preached the good news of His victory to those sinful humans.

Now, that doesn’t mean He was giving them a second chance. Just like in the first interpretation with the permanently fallen angels, Jesus would be proclaiming His vindication and victory to those who had irrevocably rejected Him. And there are a lot of passages like that in the book of Revelation. This is the interpretation that jives the most with John’s Revelation.

And it also fits with the phrase in the Apostle’s Creed, “He descended to the dead.”

Not to suffer there but to announce His victory and the reversal of the great injustice.

You see how this interpretation fits with Peter’s main point? 

The un-justice will be un-done. And we will be saved!

To suffer for doing good is exactly how Jesus won His victory and saved us!

The third major interpretation is also quite ancient, but it’s a little different from the other two. This is the one I came to adopt twenty years ago when I preached 1 Peter the first time. I’m probably a little less confident in it these days, but it still makes sense to me. Let me share it with you. See what you think.

In this interpretation, the spirits are also human spirits the ones who disobeyed back in the days of Noah, Genesis chapter 6.

But the time when Christ preached to them was back then in Genesis chapter 6. Christ preached to them by the Holy Spirit. See how you could get that in verses 18 and 19?

“He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom [the Spirit] also he went and preached to the spirits [who are now] in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.”

So they are in prison now because they disobeyed then, but Christ was preaching to them then BY THE SPIRIT through Noah when Noah was preaching to them about the judgment to come.

Do you see how that would work?

It kind of sounds like chapter 1, verse 11 that we read this fall. When it said that the “Spirit of Christ” was speaking through the Old Testament prophets. And it draws on what Peter says about Noah in his second letter, when he calls him “a preacher [same word for “preaching”] of righteousness [doing right]” (2 Peter 2:5).

Christ was preaching by the Spirit through Noah in the days of Noah while God was being so incredibly patient. And he was preaching the judgment to come on sin and salvation to all who would come into the ark with him and be rescued.

Now this interpretation has problems, too, but think about the parallels between Noah’s situation and the situation of the readers of Peter’s letter:

Noah was trying to do good, and he was suffering for it. The people around Noah were evil and ungodly, and they weren’t listening. And I’m sure that Noah often felt like giving up. I’m sure he felt alone. Noah and his family were such a small minority in a great big sea of ungodliness.

They were “foreigners and exiles,” so to speak. They were probably persecuted. They were probably laughed at and insulted for trusting God and building a mammoth boat. The Christians to whom Peter was writing were receiving insult and evil and perhaps ridicule, as well. I’m sure they often felt like giving up.

And I’m sure that Noah often felt like giving up.

But he kept on doing good, and he was saved. V.20

“In it [the ark] only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water..." Noah, Mrs. Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japehth, and Mrs. Shem, Mrs. Ham and Mrs. Japheth. Just 8 people were saved.

But eight people were saved through water. They made it by coming into the ark.

Now, see where Peter goes next. He is intent on connecting this to our salvation. V.21

“...and this water [of judgment] symbolizes baptism that now saves you also–not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.”

This verse is also difficult to interpret. [Not nearly as difficult as verses 19 and 20!] But try to follow his train of thought.

“and this water [of death that was safely traversed by the people in the ark] symbolizes baptism that now saves you also...”

He’s saying that the waters which Noah’s ark went through were symbolic. I think he means like foreshadowing or typology. They pointed to something greater that was somehow like them.

The waters were like baptism. We know that that is also a symbol of salvation. But it is such a symbol that you can use the symbol itself to refer to the actual thing.

I think that’s what Peter means when he says that “baptism now saves you.” He doesn’t mean that getting dunked confers salvation like some kind of magic trick. He means that baptism pictures that salvation so perfectly that you can use it as shorthand for your salvation itself.

That’s why he immediately explains his statement to eliminate the wrong ideas about it. V.21, “baptism that now saves you–NOT the removal of dirt from the body.” Not an external washing. Not the physical rite itself. Don’t get the wrong idea. “But the pledge of a good conscience toward God.” Or [the Greek here is hard to translate, it could also be translated...] “The prayer for a good conscience from God.”

Water baptism therefore is a heart thing. It ultimately points to the heart of the one being baptized. Either it says, “In my baptism I now thank You for my salvation and I pledge to live out of it with a good conscience, doing good.” or it’s says, “In my baptism I now picture my asking You for salvation, a cleansing of my conscience, forgiveness of my sins.” Either way, baptism is a heart thing symbolized by going down into the waters of death in Christ and coming back out safe in Christ.

You see how that’s like the ark? Everybody went into the water in Genesis 6. But only 8 people came out of it alive. Only those who had come into the Ark were saved.

And that’s a picture of what baptism pictures.

Everyone dies, but only those who are dead in Christ will come out of it truly alive!

Now, don’t miss the big forest for the tricky trees. Do you see how this advances Peter’s main point?

To suffer for doing good is exactly how Jesus saved us. He was put to death in the body, and that brought us safely to God. Like the ark. His suffering saved us. If you are saved at all, this is how you were saved.

Are you saved? We are saved by grace through our faith in Jesus Christ and what He did for us on the Cross. Verse 18 again. “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” Have you been brought to God?

If you have never trusted Jesus Christ as your own Savior, I invite you to do so right now. He was put to death in the body for your sins. He suffered for doing good and by suffering He was doing good. He was saving you. And that’s what baptism pictures.

Have you been baptized? Some people treat baptism as optional, something only some people do if they really feel like it. That’s the exact opposite of how the Bible treats it. The Bible says that baptism is commanded by our Lord of all of His disciples. The Bible assumes baptism of all believers.

It’s super important! It’s not magic. There’s nothing in the water that cleanses us. Peter says, it’s not the  removal of dirt from the body. It’s not the rite or the ritual.

It’s what baptism pictures that saves us. It’s a symbol of what God has done and is doing in our hearts. But what a powerful symbol and what a symbol of power! Because it’s not just the suffering and death of Christ that is pictured, it is also the resurrection! Coming back out of the water. Coming back up to life. Go back to verse 21. 

“It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ[!]”

Not by what you or I have done or will do, but by what Jesus has done for us in dying and rising again. Now that is power!

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead...” (1 Peter 1:3).

You see what that means for suffering for doing good?

It means that it’s all worth it. It was worth it for Jesus, and it will be worth it for you and me forever.


And Jesus has shown us the way.

I’m sure that Jesus did not feel like doing good and suffering on the Cross.

Just like Noah didn’t feel like it.
Just like Peter’s readers didn’t feel like it.
Just like you and I often don’t feel like doing good and suffering for it.

But Jesus saw where it was all going.

Jesus saw how His suffering would bring us to God.
Jesus saw how His suffering would not be the end.
Jesus saw how His suffering would actually win the victory over sin, death, and Satan and his minions.

And Jesus saw that He would, on the third day, rise again.

And then be exalted forever. V.22.

“[Christ] has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand–with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.”

He won! He was vindicated. He triumphed. He stands in the place of ultimate blessing.

He is exalted above all, at God’s right hand (just like Psalm 110 predicted that we read the last summer) with angels, authorities and powers in submission to Him.

Jesus submitted to evil rulers and even died at their hands.

But now every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Suffering is the path to glory.

Especially suffering for doing good.

We don’t like it. 
We don’t have to like it.
We aren’t called to enjoy suffering.
We are called to do good. And to keep on doing good.
And sometimes to endure suffering for doing good.

But it is worth it, brothers and sisters.

Jesus knew it. It was predicted in the Old Testament. The Spirit of Christ was predicting “the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Peter 1:11).

The glories of being in heaven at God’s right hand–with angels, authorities, and powers in submission to Him. Crowned with every crown.

It was worth it for Jesus, and He says that it will be worth it for us, as well.

So let’s keep on doing good no matter what.


Previous Messages in This Series:

01. "Elect Exiles" 1 Peter 1:1-2
02. "A Living Hope" 1 Peter 1:3-7
03. "Angels Long To Look Into These Things" 1 Peter 1:8-12
04. "Be Holy In All You Do" 1 Peter 1:13-16
05. "Live Your Lives As Strangers Here In Reverent Fear" 1 Peter 1:17-21
06. "Love Each Other Deeply, From the Heart" 1 Peter 1:22-2:3
07. "But Now You Are..." 1 Peter 2:4-10
08. “As Foreigners And Exiles” 1 Peter 2:11-12
09. "Submit Yourselves For the Lord's Sake 1 Peter 2:13-17
10. "Follow In His Steps" 1 Peter 2:18-25
11. "Do What Is Right And Do Not Give Way To Fear" 1 Peter 3:1-7
12. "Inherit a Blessing" 1 Peter 3:8-12
13. "Even If You Should Suffer For What Is Right" 1 Peter 3:13-16
14. "To Bring You To God" 1 Peter 3:17-22 (esp. 18)