For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps.
“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (verses 19-23)
There is so much injustice in the world. There is so much suffering that results.
For most of us, the trauma isn’t anywhere close to the severity experienced by those we see in the news – Ukrainians and Israelis and Palestinians, plus so many others.
But each of us, at different times in different ways to different extents, experience suffering. This passage is for us.
Peter is speaking specifically into the circumstance of slaves. We recoil at the thought, but some of these early believers had to live that reality. So, Peter talks to them about hardship and pain. If they’ve brought it on themselves, through disobedience or rebellion, he says there’s no virtue or merit – they’re simply getting what they’ve earned. But, if they suffer unjustly, having only done good, and if they bear up under it, enduring patiently, then they are to be commended – indeed, the Lord himself takes notice and (borrowing a concept from Psalm 56:8) stores their tears in his bottle.
A helpful word to those seeking to live faithfully for the Lord while enduring slavery.
But Peter is thinking more broadly yet, for he knows that the whole church to whom he is writing is undergoing persecution and trial.In chapter 4 he broadens the scope and writes generally: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).
I want to broaden it out further yet to all of us who encounter hardships, trials, pain, and suffering, from whatever source, as we follow Jesus our Lord. Keep engaging in the good works of the Kingdom, even when suffering is the result, remembering that Jesus himself suffered for our sake. Follow his example. Press on. Endure. Patiently. Without bitterness, anger, resentment, or retaliation. Instead, put yourself firmly in the hands of the Lord.
I think of the example of Corrie and Betsie ten Boom, suffering the horrific injustice of the Nazi concentration camps because they had provided secretive shelter and protection for persecuted Jews. Betsie, whose health was fragile to begin with, grew increasingly weak under the forced labour and hellish conditions. Eventually, failing, she was carted away to the hospital ward where she would soon die; but as she went, with faltering voice, she whispered these last words to her sister:
“ … must tell people what we have learned here. We must tell them that there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still. They will listen to us, Corrie, because we have been here.”
She could have embraced bitterness. But she entrusted herself “to him who judges justly.” She pressed on to the end, and through her witness, Jesus himself shines.
May we, too, in all our trials, simply trust him.
Lord Jesus, I want to fix my eyes on you, in every circumstance – you who are the author and perfecter of faith. You chose joy, facing the cross. You endured, despising the shame. Strengthen me – like Betsie ten Boom, following your own example – that I not grow weary and lose heart.
Reflect: Is there a current hardship (or one recently passed) that you can put into the Lord’s hands? What does he speak to you from this passage? How can you entrust it all to him?