Suffering for Doing Good

Text: I Peter 3:13-22

Study Questions:

  1. How can we be happy while suffering?
  2. How can I sanctify Christ in my heart?
  3. Why must we keep a good conscience?
  4. Why did Christ suffer?
  5. Who are the spirits in prison?
  6. When did Christ preach to them?
  7. How many were saved as a result?
  8. How did the water save Noah and his family?
  9. What corresponds to the flood? How?

Who can harm you? (I Peter 3:13-14)

Given that God watches the righteous and hears their prayers (I Peter 3:12), Peter raises the question: Who can harm you (Isaiah 50:9; 51:12)? God promises protection to the righteous. He is able to guard our hearts and minds (Philippians 4:4-7). He will protect us from Satan (II Thessalonians 3:3) by limiting what Satan can do (I Corinthians 10:13; Jude 24-25). Thus, we return to Peter’s initial point: we are protected by the power of God (I Peter 1:5).

However, God hasn’t promised us complete protection from all harm (II Timothy 3:12). David was harmed by close friends, but he recognized that God remained with him (Psalms 41:9-10). The mistake Job’s friends made was that they were certain that Job must have sinned and incurred God’s anger. It was the only explanation they could come up with to explain the evils that befell Job, but they were wrong (Job 42:7). Or consider the apostle Paul who suffered much for the cause of Christ (II Corinthians 11:23-27). Ultimately, we must consider the Son of God. Though he was without sin, he suffered a cruel death at the hands of evil men.

Hardships cause some to turn bitter, it causes the faith of some to grow cold, and it causes some to blame their God but for those who remain true, it helps them to remain focused on the real goal – heaven! (II Corinthians 4:16-18). This is why trials can bring joy (James 1:2-4; Matthew 5:10). Trials give us hope (Romans 5:3-4), and they shape us and perfect us (I Peter 1:6-7).

We are not to fear or be intimidated by the wicked (Isaiah 8:12-13; John 14:1; Psalms 23:4; 27:1; 64:1; 91:1-10).

Be ready to defend (I Peter 3:15-16)

Instead of fear, we are to regard God as holy within our hearts (Isaiah 8:13). There will be times on earth when people will mock the people of God for doing what is right, but like the prophets of old, God expects us to display unabashed courage to others (Psalms 46:1-3; Ezekiel 3:4-11; Jeremiah 1:17-19). Neither Ezekiel nor Jeremiah is told that he will convince the people he talks to; actually, they are both told the opposite. In the same way, I doubt the early Christians were always able to persuade their persecutors. It isn't the convincing that is important, but the attitude that I don't have to make an apology for living righteously and following after God. When I am asked why I am a Christian, I can politely but firmly explain the core of my belief. We have to teach gently (II Timothy 2:23-26; Colossians 4:6). But it also must be done with reverence toward God, which means we must teach His truth accurately. This gives God honor.

To make a good defense, we have to demonstrate that we live by the rules we are advocating (Psalms 37:5-6). Paul acted holy and honestly toward the brethren (Romans 9:1; Titus 2:7-8; Hebrews 13:18; I Corinthians 1:12). All he did was above board and honest. We too must show that any evil that is being claimed about us cannot be accurate (I Peter 2:12).

Suffer for doing what is right (I Peter 3:17)

If we must suffer, it should be for doing what is right (I Peter 1:19-20). Suffering is not desirable, but at times God deems it to be necessary. We are even warned that living righteously will bring about persecution (II Timothy 3:12). And Peter already discussed that trials prove our faith (I Peter 1:6-9).

Christ is our example (I Peter 3:18)

Our Lord, Jesus, died a cruel death on the cross. He did not die because of any crime that he committed. He died because he was righteous, and he allowed it to happen for the sake of the unrighteous. By his great sacrifice, we have been freed from sin (Romans 6:17-23). Through this sacrifice, Jesus has brought us close to our God, the Father (Ephesians 2:16-18). In a sense, we too were dead, but we are now alive (Romans 6:4; I Peter 4:6).

Notice the phrase “once for all.” Only one perfect sacrifice was required for all time (Hebrews 7:27; Romans 6:10).

The saving of men during the Flood (I Peter 3:19-20)

These verses are often misunderstood because of the assumptions people make about what is not said. Let us ask these questions about these verses and see if it does not shed greater light on their meaning.

First, who are we talking about? The subject of the verse is "He." The "He" refers back to Christ who was discussed in I Peter 3:18.

Second, what did Christ do? He preached, or proclaimed, to the spirits in prison. This leads us to another question. Who were these spirits in prison? It is answered in I Peter 3:20. The spirits in prison were the disobedient people who lived during the days while Noah was building the ark.
So how did Christ do this preaching? This is answered by the "in which" or "by whom" at the start of the verse. The phrase refers back to what was last mentioned in I Peter 3:18. We were made alive in the Spirit and by that same means, Christ preached to the spirits in prison. Take careful note that this verse does not say that Jesus directly preached to the spirits in prison. That proclamation was done through the Spirit.

So then, how does Christ preach through the Spirit? Earlier Peter discussed the role of the prophets in our salvation (I Peter 1:10-12). These prophets spoke concerning our salvation, but they did not understand what was being revealed to them by the Spirit of Christ. This same Spirit is called the Holy Spirit in I Peter 1:12. The Spirit of Christ is another name for the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit sent by Christ from heaven. This is similar to the promise Jesus made to his disciples in John 14:16-18. By sending the Spirit, Jesus said he would come to the disciples. However, Peter is referring to an earlier sending of the Spirit by Jesus. The prophets during the time of the Old Testament were inspired by the same Spirit sent by Christ. In fact, all prophecy comes from God through the work of the Holy Spirit (II Peter 1:19-21).

But there is another way that the Holy Spirit can be seen as the Spirit of Christ. The message that the prophets brought was of the coming salvation of man through the sufferings of the Christ. It was a message about Jesus, and that message was brought by the Holy Spirit, who inspired the messengers. This viewpoint is brought out in the last phrase in Revelation 19:10: "For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophesy."

Yet, we haven't finished fully exploring how the Spirit brought Christ's message to the disobedient people who lived during the days of Noah. The Spirit did not speak directly to each person but had his message delivered by holy men of God. Who was the messenger during the days Noah was preparing the ark? It was Noah himself, a preacher of righteousness (II Peter 2:5). He spoke against the wickedness of his world, not just through words but by his very actions. Noah believed the warning of God. He built the ark in accordance to God's plan, and when he and his family stepped into the ark, he condemned the wickedness of the world by his actions (Hebrews 11:7).

I Peter 3:18-20 does not directly state where this proclamation to the spirits in prison took place. Some assume, that because I Peter 3:18 spoke of Jesus' death, the message was delivered by Jesus after his death when he spent three days in hades. This is one of the verses to which Roman Catholics appeal to justify their belief in purgatory. Reread the passage again and notice that these verses do not say this. In fact, such an assumption contradicts the plain teaching elsewhere in the Bible that our final destiny is determined by our lives in this world (I Peter 1:17; Hebrews 9:27). We will not receive a second chance after death.

If we understand that Noah was the messenger of the Spirit of Christ to the people of his day, then we understand that the proclamation went forth while Noah worked on the ark. When the message was delivered is stated in I Peter 3:20. The message was delivered while Noah prepared the ark when the longsuffering God waited for Noah to complete his task.

This leaves us one more question: Why are the disobedient referred to as spirits in prison? Some assume (there's that word again) that the prison is hades, but this is not necessarily so. The NASB’95 and the AMP distract from the meaning by adding “now” before “in prison,” but this is not in the original text. David prayed to God to deliver his spirit from prison in Psalm 142:6-7. He felt entrapped by the wicked people surrounding him and he wanted to be set free. In fact, sin itself is a prison. It brings people into captivity (Romans 7:23; II Timothy 3:6). The prison here is not the prison of physical death but the bondage of sin that chains each sinner. The people of Noah's day did not heed the message of salvation. They remained in their cells, imprisoned by their own disobedience to God.

Throughout the ages, the message of salvation through the death of Jesus Christ has been preached. The world in Noah's day was overflowing with evil. Yet, even at this low point in the history of mankind, God had salvation proclaimed to mankind. These spirits, imprisoned by their own sins, did not heed the message, but they had a chance. Only eight souls were saved from that wicked world. Yet today this same message is offered again - not of a future salvation but of a salvation already accomplished by the death of Jesus upon the cross. How many today will heed the warning?

The saving of men today (I Peter 3:21-22)

I Peter 3:20 proclaims that Noah was saved through water. At first this seems strange. It was the water that destroyed the world during the Flood. But if we think in this way, we have lost track of the goal. Noah was being saved from a world of sin and the water was the means God used to destroy sin.

Peter then says that we are saved in the same way. Further, Peter makes sure we understand that it is not a physical outward cleansing that brings salvation, it is the obedient heart responding to the call of God. The water isn’t the salvation, but the means God used to bring about salvation (Romans 6:3-7). Notice that though baptism Paul says that sin dies in a man, leaving him a new creature. Is it the water that does it? No, it is the medium through which God chooses to do His will. Just as water washed away the evil from the world, leaving a new world for Noah and his family, baptism washes away our sins ( Acts 22:16). It is the putting off of sin done by God through our faith in the working of God when we obey God (Colossians 2:11-13).

Thus, how are we saved? In much the same way Noah was saved. Noah wasn’t warned of the impending doom and then created his own method to save his family. He was given the method by God. He responded in faith by doing as God directed and as a consequence, he and his family were saved.

We are warned of impending doom as well (II Peter 3:9-14). We were given by God – not man – the means by which we can be saved. Our only choice, if we want to be saved, is to completely do as God directed. Only in complete obedience to God can we be saved (Ephesians 2:10).

Baptism is not about getting the outside of the body clean but about cleaning up the dirt of sin inside the heart. The Jews had a problem looking only at the physical and missing the spiritual implications. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also" (Matthew 23:25-26). Christians should not fall into the same trap. In obeying God's command to be baptized you are appealing to God to give you a clean conscience. This happens, not because of some property of the water, but by yielding to God's command you come into contact, so to speak, with the resurrected life of Christ.

Christ can accomplish this because he is now King. He has been given all authority (Matthew 28:18). He was made both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). All things are under His feet (Ephesians 1:20-22). All authorities are subject to Him (I Peter 3:22). He is now the ruler over the kings of the earth (Revelation 1:5). He has received the rod of iron (Revelation 2:26-27). He is King of kings and Lord of lords (I Timothy 6:14-15).

Print Friendly, PDF & Email