Submit in Suffering?!

Posted: January 11, 2010 in 1 Peter

1 Peter 2:11-25, “Submit in Suffering?!”
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If you’re like me, sometimes you might ask yourself the question: “Why in blazes does the Bible talk so much about suffering? I don’t like talking about it, why should the Bible?” The fact is that Christians DO suffer. I praise God that through Jesus Christ we can experience a victorious life filled with His blessing – but much of that victory is experienced in the midst of trials and tribulations. And praise God that His word doesn’t shy away from those topics…this is real life, and the Bible makes no bones about it.

Peter knew much about suffering – he had experienced persecutions often, from virtually the very moment of Jesus’ resurrection. And he knew from 1st hand experience how to handle those times…which is exactly what he’s writing about at the end of Chapter 2. Last time, Peter wrote of the glorious blessings we experience as being made the children of God – how God called us to Himself & bestowed glorious privileges on us by His grace in Jesus Christ. As the subject of the letter turns to suffering, Peter uses that as a “jumping off” point to instruct us on how to handle it: when you suffer, conduct yourselves as the people of God through godly submission.

1 Peter 2:11-25 (NKJV)
11 Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, 12 having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.

A. As the people of God, we’re engaged in a war on two fronts. One is the unseen external war against powers & principalities, for which we need to be clothed with the spiritual armor of God (Eph 6)… The other is the internal war against our old nature & desire for old “fleshly lusts” – those old practices & temptations that we did prior to coming to Christ, those things that our old man engaged in. Don’t think the old lusts are a big deal? Peter does! Those old lusts & desires “war against the soul…” Sometimes we’d like to think that one day we’ll just outgrow them – that we’d become so mature in Christ that nothing would ever tempt us. It’s a nice thought, but it’s not Biblical.  Paul continually struggled against his flesh, and thought of it as a war (Rom 7:23)…his only deliverance (like ours) is found in Christ Jesus alone! [] So, how do we fight that war against those lusts? Continue on…

B. 1st, don’t do them. Don’t engage in them. “Abstain” from them – flee the temptations if you must (like Joseph…). Do whatever it takes to not give in to the old way of indulging your flesh. You belong to the Lord Jesus now (you were redeemed with His precious blood & you are now part of a chosen generation, royal priesthood, holy nation, people of God); you have every reason NOT to do those old sinful things any longer! …

C. 2nd, “Do” something else – conduct yourselves honorably. KJV says “having your conversation honest”…the English usage of the word has changed since the 1600’s. At the time “conversation” referred to “conduct”; not speech alone. In fact, it’s when our faith is expressed in speech alone that the problem that Peter refers to arises! Our doctrine has got to move from our heads to our hands as we put it into practice; otherwise, who does it benefit? It’s interesting to note that when the Lord Jesus spoke about building our house on the rock, He defined it by action – “whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them…” (Matt 7:24). On the night He was arrested, Jesus even goes so far as to say that our actions are the evidence of our love for God – John 14:21 He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” [] Our conduct matters!

D. Note the result of honorable conduct: it’s a witness to those around us. The early church was accused of all sorts of evil (including cannibalism due to the “body & the blood,” rampant sexual parties due to “love feasts,” etc.); Peter was exhorting them to give the world something else to look at – to disprove the rumors via action. As the world would look for evidence of evil among the church, they were to be surprised by something completely different: good works. … This is almost exactly what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount (and undoubtedly what Peter was thinking of) – Matthew 5:14-16 (14) “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. (15) Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. (16) Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. []
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– What are some ways to maintain honorable conduct? Through godly submission…
13 Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.

A. 1st area of submission: the government. “Every ordinance” doesn’t necessarily mean “every law” – there are some countries in which Christianity itself is outlawed, and we’re certainly not to deny our faith. It’s really a reference to the government itself. Christians are supposed to be submitted to whatever government they serve within & render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s (which in some cases, is a vote). The idea here is that Christians ought not to be subversive or trouble-makers; on the contrary – we ought to be model citizens, submitted to our government in the process of submitting to our God.

B. Government has an ordained purpose from God (whether or not they live up to it is another question) – “the punishment of evildoers & …praise of those who do good.” Paul wrote much the same thing in Romans 13:1-7. Some institution has to fulfill that role to maintain public order – otherwise we’d be faced with anarchy, which is completely unbiblical (God is not a God of confusion). Until the day that the Lord Jesus reigns physically upon the earth, God has ordained human government (imperfect as it is), and Christians ought to be the 1st to submit themselves to it.

C. What happens when the king & governors are ungodly? What possible reason would a Christian have to submit to an ungodly government? Not because the people in the government are worthy (they’re not!); because GOD is worthy. We are to submit “to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake…” Ultimately, that’s our motivation for ANY submission – we serve the Lord Jesus, and thus we follow Him in whatever situation in which He places us. Joseph submitted to his Egyptian master – then to the prison warden – then to Pharaoh…not because any of them were godly (to a man, they were all pagans), but because Joseph simply desired to serve the Lord God.
__a. The ONE exception (to which Peter himself was an example – Acts 5:29) would be when the government clearly tells the Christian to do something contrary to the clear command of God. In that case, it is better to obey God rather than men; our 1st citizenship belongs to the Kingdom of God.
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15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— 16 as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.

A. Just to emphasize the point, Peter repeats it. It’s not just a good idea to answer our critics with good works & be submitted to the government; it’s the “will of God.” [] Amen to preaching sound doctrine – but doctrine alone won’t silence critics; action will. Doctrine when not followed by action is mere speaking…the proof someone actually believes the doctrine is when his/her actions change as a result.

B. Our action & good works are not the result of false legalism – as Christians, we’re “free.” Men or women never experience true freedom until they bow the knee to Christ Jesus. We may not realize it, but sin absolutely enslaves us & binds us to death & eternal suffering due to the righteous judgment of the law. In Christ, we are made free – and we want to be careful not to travel down the road of legalism & put ourselves again under a yoke of bondage (Gal 5:1). But our freedom is not without context; we are free to serve the Living God. Our liberty in Christ never gives us license to sin “as much as we want” – to do so is to despise the work of Christ & trample His blood underfoot. Our liberty in Christ ought to generate an attitude of gratefulness & love by which we serve God & desire to glorify Him through the power of the Holy Spirit.
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17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.

A. Honor all people – in the world & in the church. Why? Because even if they are evil, they are still made in the image of God & thus we honor them because we honor their Creator. [] Everyone is to be treated with respect…no matter their race, social status, where they live, or whatever. The Christian is to honor ALL.

B. Beyond the world, we’re to go even further with the church. Those in the church receive more than honor; they are to receive our love as well. One of the assurances that we are indeed in Christ is when we love our fellow brothers & sisters in Christ.

C. Just as we love the church, we also love God. That’s relatively easy for us to accept. Peter takes this a step further & pulls out a mainly OT concept as well – part of loving God is to properly “fear” Him. That doesn’t necessarily mean we shrink back in terror from the Lord (though falling on our face is certainly appropriate!), but someone who fears God reverences God, worships God, gives God the glory, honor, and respect that He deserves. God IS to be feared – if for no other reason than He is all-powerful & holds our eternal destiny in His hands. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge & wisdom – and it is wonderfully freeing as we serve Him.
__a. What makes this so utterly glorious is that our fear of God is joined with our love of God & our invitation from God for intimate communion & covenant. The same God of whom we rightly fear has also invited us through Jesus to come boldly before the throne of grace in our time of need & has given us the spirit of adoption by which we call Him “Abba, Father.” Awesome!

D. And again, if we fear God properly, then that ought to affect our attitudes & action towards our government. Because of our love & fear of God, we “honor the king” – or president, as it were. BTW – note that we aren’t to “fear the king”; just honor him. Reverent fear belongs to God alone. The worst the king could do in persecution is kill us – God alone has power over eternity. [] It’s interesting there’s no restriction on this – no clarifying statement. “Honor the king as long as he’s a nice guy… Honor the king if he implements policy you agree with… Honor the king as long as he’s a born-again Christian…” Nothing like that! We are to honor the king, period. Keep in mind that Peter was writing to a church ruled by the Roman Caesar Nero – if anyone had a good reason NOT to honor their king, this church did. Yet even though the Caesar was evil & pagan, the church was still told to give him honor. Honoring the king has nothing to do with the leader’s worth; it has everything to do with our fear of God.
__a. We live in a highly politicized time in American history…and for good reason. There are unspeakable evils being carried on in full view of our government & with its explicit endorsement (abortion being the worst). Christians have every right to be involved in these political struggles. BUT – when we are involved, are we honoring our governmental leaders? We can oppose their policies in such a way that still treats them with honor & respect. Despite what political party happens to be in charge (abortions didn’t exactly stop in a Republican administration either), Christians who are involved in political activity ought to take pains to do so in a way that is honoring to our national leaders – if for no other reason, out of our love & fear of our God. …
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18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh.

A. 2nd area of submission: servants with their masters… It’s always troubling for some when they read the New Testament & see so many references to masters & slaves. But we need to remember the culture at the time. In the Roman empire, there were HUGE numbers of slaves – by some estimates, up to 50% of the empire were comprised of slaves. For the New Testament to be written with no instructions regarding slaves & masters would have been unthinkable – it would have ignored the majority of the individuals within the early church. The church was a very unique entity within the empire in that slaves & their masters were placed on the same level. There were many fellowships where slaves were the pastors & elders, while their masters served under them – and then reverted back to their “normal” status upon returning home. Doctrinally speaking, the Bible makes it perfectly clear that in Christ there is zero difference between Jew/Gentile, male/female, slave/free (Gal 3:28). Nowhere in the Bible do we see God endorsing worldly slavery; we only see the Bible acknowledging the cultural reality of it.

B. What about here? Is Peter upholding slavery here & endorsing it? Not at all! The proper mode of conduct for Christian slaves was not to be belligerent & disruptive to the masters they served, but rather to submit themselves to them as an outworking of their fear of God. (Just as with honoring the king…)

C. So when should the servant submit? Only to masters who are nice? No – they are always to submit to their masters; even when their masters are not worth submitting to at all. “not only to the good & gentle, but also to the harsh…” It would have been rather easy for a Christian slave to submit to those masters who were kind & loving Christians (perhaps like Philemon), but when the rubber really met the road was when the master was harsh. Apparently there were many slave owners who despised their slaves’ faith in the Lord, but still kept them around because they were their best workers. Their godly submission gave the servants continual opportunities to witness to their masters about the Lord Jesus.

D. What about us? Does this still apply today? Yes – (1) for every Christian who’s still enslaved around the world. (And don’t fool yourself…there are many!) (2) For all of us that find ourselves in service – whether to our employers, or to our school, etc. Ultimately, we’re all supposed to submit to one another as believers in Christ (Eph 5:21), and this applies directly to us.
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19 For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. 20 For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.

A. There is something about our suffering that can be glorifying to God – but notice it’s not merely suffering itself. If someone suffers consequences for doing wrong things, that’s to be expected…why wouldn’t we suffer consequences? [] On the contrary, godly suffering is when we suffer for doing good; not sin. …

B. Note the other qualification: our suffering is commendable to God when we receive it in a godly fashion – in patience. Those who suffer & whine about it incessantly don’t gain anything…there’s no spiritual benefit to it. It’s when we suffer with patience that we begin to understand the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings (Phil 3:10)… Peter seems to imply that there’s a reward (a commendation) that awaits those who suffer patiently. What it is exactly, we don’t know…perhaps it’s something to be received at the Judgment Seat of Christ in eternity – perhaps it’s simply a closer walk with Christ Jesus now.
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21 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 22 “Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”;

A. Quoting Isaiah 53:9 (LXX)…the whole chapter speaks of the Messiah’s physical & spiritual suffering – all to which Peter was a 1st hand witness.

B. Jesus suffered immensely – yet through it all, Christ was absolutely sinless! It wasn’t for His sin that He hung on the cross; it was for OUR sin that Jesus endured the cross & despised the shame. Our sin transgressed the law of God – our sin was rebellion & enmity against our Creator – our sin brought the wage of death…and Jesus paid that price for us when He suffered there, died, and rose again on the 3rd day.
__a. His suffering serves as an example to us, but be careful about thinking that the only reason Jesus hung on the cross was to be an example. (Wiersbe) “We are not saved by following Christ’s example, because each of us would stumble over 1 Peter 2:22: “who did no sin.” Sinners need a Saviour, not an Example.” We find many examples in Christ Jesus, but He is 1st and primarily our Lord, God, and Savior!

C. Here’s the point about submission & suffering: if our Lord Jesus suffered when He didn’t deserve it, why would we expect to be any different? For those who would complain, “It isn’t fair!” – they would be right. Suffering ISN’T fair (which is generally why it’s called “suffering”), but if our Lord & Master who is far greater than us endured it, why would we (His servants) expect it to be any different with us? Thus when we endure suffering, we want to endure it as Jesus did. How did Jesus respond to His suffering? See vs. 23…
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23 who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;

A. 1st, He did not respond in-kind: He didn’t respond insult-for-insult, hatred-for-hatred, etc. Quite the opposite – when people were reviling Him & mocking His agony, Jesus responded by saying, “Father forgive them, for they do not what know they do.” (Luke 23:34)

B. 2nd, He committed Himself to God the Father: the world was not going to judge Him justly; only God alone would. And God judged Jesus perfectly – the sin Jesus bore in His flesh was condemned, and Jesus was shown to be perfectly righteous as He rose again to new life in the resurrection! But the point is that Jesus wasn’t trusting man or waiting upon the world to “do Him right”; Jesus’ trust was in His Heavenly Father.
__a. So with us; our trust & expectation is not in righteous judgment in the world; it’s in God alone…

C. Note this is all active; not passive. Jesus didn’t passively endure & pretend it didn’t happen. He never once pretended that it didn’t hurt, or didn’t grieve Him. Nor did He merely react in whatever emotion that happened to run through His mind. Do we dare believe that Judas’ betrayal didn’t hurt Him or anger Him? Do we think that Jesus merely didn’t have any words to say to Peter after Peter denied Him 3 times? Surely there were emotions running through Jesus’ mind that we could scarcely imagine! But Christ didn’t let His emotions passively rule His actions; Jesus actively responded to the sufferings He endured. How so? By doing the same things Peter instructed the church to do: (1) abstain from fleshly lusts, and (2) conduct Himself honorably so that unbelievers glorify God. …
__a. This is how the Lord Jesus serves as an example to us as we suffer through godly submission. We actively respond to our sufferings by abstaining from our earthly lusts & fleshly reactions, while at the same time we entrust ourselves to God, knowing that He is good, righteous, just, and will uphold us by His strength. …
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24 who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness— by whose stripes you were healed.

A. The result of Jesus’ suffering? Our healing! Talking here about penal substitution in another reference to Isaiah. Isaiah 53:4-5 (4) Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. (5) But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. [] Jesus did heal physically in response to this verse (Matt 8:17), but the primary application is our spiritual healing through His atoning work on the cross.

B. Our response to Jesus’ death & resurrection? He died for us; we live for Him!
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25 For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

A. Jesus is not only the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29), but He is also our Good Shepherd – the One who laid His life down for the sheep (John 10:11). He cares for us like no one else ever could – willingly giving His life so that we could be forgiven & brought into the sheepfold of God.

B. Jesus is our ultimate Overseer… The Gk is actually “ἐπίσκοπος” (~ episcopal) & often translated “Bishop” – but our modern usage can be misleading to Peter’s intent here. Christ Jesus is of course our spiritual head – the ultimate authority of the Church, but Peter isn’t so much referring to a spiritual position for Jesus as an administrative one. The original Greek word had a much broader meaning referring to a public officer who might have been over such things as law, morals, education, public safety, etc. (Barclay) “So, to call God the episkopos of our souls is to call him our Guardian, our Protector, our Guide, and our Director.”

C. There is no better example for us concerning why we ought to submit & suffer when necessary. We have the Lord Jesus!

Conclusion:
Conduct yourselves as the people of God through godly submission. Whether speaking to a citizen to his/her government, or servant to his/her master (employee to employer), or even family relationships (as we’ll see next week), godly patient submission is both a witness to those around us & a way of following in the footsteps of our Savior. …

Don’t be surprised when suffering comes – every single one of us experience it at some point. Whether it comes as the result of governmental persecution or interpersonal conflicts – or even simply as a result of living within a fallen world, we are guaranteed to walk through times of immense sufferings. How we respond to those sufferings is absolutely crucial. God forbid that we would lash out in anger or be ruled by the lusts of our flesh… Instead, we ought to conduct ourselves in such a way that people see us for who we are: the people of God – the servants of Christ Jesus who follow His example in entrusting everything to the Lord for God to deal with in His time & in His justice.

Some of you here today might need to spend some time in prayer reprioritizing those things. Maybe you’ve been responding to trials & sufferings in your flesh & you need to go before the Lord, ask for His forgiveness & help in dealing with these things as Christ would have you to do…

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