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Doing Good Even if it Hurts

Published: 3 weeks ago- 8 January 2023

SERMON MANUSCRIPT

INTRODUCTION

In his book, Resurrection Life in a World of Suffering, Don Carson tells this pretty sobering story:

“Quite a number of years ago, I knew a man in a church in England who had a privileged background. He was brought up in a Christian home with three older sisters… From the beginning of his life he replicated the Christian commitments well exemplified in his parents… As a young man, he studied at the University of Edinburgh to become a medical doctor. He led the local campus ministry group. He married the right girl from the right Christian home.

He eventually became a missionary in North Africa. When I first met him, he had left North Africa and moved to Cambridge, England, where he practised medicine while pursuing specialist training in public health. Doubtless his missionary experience and his fair knowledge of Scripture assured that it wasn’t long before he became an elder in the church…

And then out of the blue he announced that he was leaving his wife and two children and taking up with his nurse. No one saw it coming. We’ll call him John. The pastor and others spoke with him. John’s attitude at this time was, dominantly, “Why are you picking on me? I don’t see that I’m doing anything wrong.” To make a long story short, John divorced his wife and moved up north with his nurse…

About a year later, I was riding in a car with the pastor, heading to a conference. I asked him, “So what went wrong with John? What didn’t we see? How do you explain what happened?” He replied, “Don, I’m convinced that John just wasn’t a Christian.” I said, “Come again? He was a missionary in North Africa “complete with leprosy, heat, flies, self-sacrifice. All of that Christian experience-not a Christian? He knew the creeds, he was a Christian leader, an elder in the church-what do you mean, not a Christian? On what basis do you say that?”

The pastor said, “I have gone over his life again and again, and I cannot find any significant place in his life where his faith cost him anything. He grew up as an eager-to-please kid, made a profession of faith, and was feted by his family. He became a doctor-oh, everybody cheered. He fell in love with a charming young woman. Everybody cheered again. Married her. Excellent. They went to Africa as missionaries-more approval. He served in a leprosarium-cheers for the self-sacrifice. When they returned to their country, they found a good church, and he was appointed an elder-more approbation. “At no point,” said my friend the pastor, “can I find any place in his life where he made a decision to do something difficult, a decision taken not because he wanted to, but because it was right, a decision he didn’t “want to take because he knew that it was going to cost him something. He just went along, and at every point he did what he wanted to do, and he was cheered for his choices. And so when he found this pretty nurse, he did what he always did-he did what he wanted to do. And now he is the one who is surprised because nobody is cheering.”.1

It’s a sobering story, isn’t it? But it’s an important one for us to hear as we begin a new year.

PURPOSE

Over the next two weeks, we’re jumping back into 1 Peter. Throughout his letter, Peter continually calls the church to do good because of our salvation in Christ. But as Peter calls the church to live for the glory of God-he needs to address one glaringly obvious question: how do you keep doing good, even if it hurts?

You see it’s easy to do good when it leads to an applause, isn’t it? (We heard that in poor John’s story). It’s easy when our version of ‘the good’ aligns with all those around us-and they cheer us on! But how will we go, this year, when doing good leads to no applause? How will we go, this year, when doing good leads to funny looks, being ignored, left out, slandered, threatened, or even physically harmed? How will you go? Will you compromise and to take the path of least resistance or will you continue to live for the glory of God, even if it hurts?

Well Peter, knowing (from his own experience) how hard this all is, writes to encourage and convince the church to keep doing good, keep loving the good, desiring the good, pursing the good, giving up the bad for what is good-even if it causes you pain. So, today, as we look at 1 Peter 3, we’re going to consider this very thing: How do we keep doing good, this year, in a new year-even if it hurts?

1. REDEFINE ‘BLESSED’ (V13-14)

How do we keep doing good-even if it hurts? Well, first, we need to expand our definition of what it means to be ‘blessed’.

If you were to open up Instagram and type in hashtag “blessed”, you’ll probably find around 145 million posts. New dog #blessed. Holiday at the beach #blessed. New car #blessed. Good coffee #blessed.

Now, all of these things are a blessing from God, but in verses 13-14, Peter wants to expand our view of #blessed. Take a look:

“Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. (1 Peter 3:13-14 NIV)

Notice how much wider Peter’s view is of what it means to be ‘blessed’. Even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Now in 1 Peter, to be ‘blessed’ is to be favoured by God. It is to have the eyes of the Lord upon you (3:12a). It is to have the ears of the Lord attentive to your prayers (3:12b). It is to have the triune God of grace watching over you.

So, Peter is saying that you are #blessed if you are teased or bullied at school for following Jesus. Peter is saying that you are #blessed if you’re threatened, or even fired, for refusing to do the wrong thing at work. Peter is saying that you are #blessed if you are excluded or marginalised for not participating in the sin of the world around you. Peter is saying that you are #blessed when doing good costs you.

All of us, whoever you are, whatever life-stage you’re in, our God has his eyes watching, his ears listing, and his heart beating for us-whenever one of us is rejected, slandered, threatened, or even harmed for living out the righteous life of Christ.

How do we keep doing good, loving good, enjoying the good-even if it hurts? We need to expand our view of #blessed.

2. FEAR THE RIGHT THING (V14-17).

How do we keep doing good-even if it hurts? Well, second, we need to fear the right thing.

I’m not sure how you respond when you’re being threatened by something, but I range between two alternatives: attack or retreat.

When I was a kid, our farm would often be plagued by thousands upon thousands of small rodents. And quite frequently, my brother would threaten to chase me with these small disgusting creatures. How would I respond? I’d either run away as fast as I could. Or, I’d slap the rodent to ground and kill it.

You see fear can make us do funny things: fear can drive us to either attack or retreat. But here in verses 14-17, Peter carves out a different path for when we’re being threatened. Take a look:

“Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:13-17 NIV)

Peter’s calling us to fear the right thing. We shouldn’t fear people, no, we should revere Christ as Lord in our hearts. Peter’s saying that we should respect Christ, admire Christ, think highly of Christ, cherish Christ, prize Christ, hold Christ in awe, idolize Christ, put Christ on a pedestal, love Christ-ultimately fear Christ. And more than that, Peter says that we should be open to gently speaking about him.

When Peter says in verse 15, “give the reason for the hope that you have”, he has in mind the ‘living hope’ of salvation that he’s mentioned throughout his letter. So, when someone asks: “Why are you doing this?” or “Why didn’t you do that?” or “How come you won’t agree with us?”… Don’t attack, don’t retreat, fear Christ and gently speak about the glorious reality that our God-Father, Son, and Spirit-has shown us great mercy, given us a future, and brought us out of darkness and into his light.

You might say that:

  • “Hey I can’t do that because Jesus means everything to me.”
  • “I didn’t do that because Jesus saved me and offers me a better way to live”
  • “I know it might not make sense but I don’t agree with you, simply because of Jesus”.
  • I know you’re frustrated with me, but I had to do this because of my religion. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus lived and died for me, so I now live for him.

How do we keep doing good-even if it hurts? Well, we fear the right thing. We revere Christ the Lord.

3. HOPE IN CHRIST’S VICTORY (V18-22)

How do we keep doing good-even if it hurts? Well, finally, we hope in Christ’s victory.

So far, you might be thinking to yourself “Seriously Peter!?”. “Peter, how on earth can you say all this?” Coming from the guy who denied Jesus’ three times?” “Coming from the guy who sat by a cozy fire as Jesus’ was whipped and flogged?” “Seriously?”. How can you truly say: “It’s better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil”? Seriously Peter, you of all people!?

Well, notice that Peter doesn’t point us to his own example, but to Christ’s. Here in verses 18-22, Peter wants to motivate, encourage, and spur us on to keep doing good-even when it hurts-by reminding us that Christ has also suffered and is now victorious. And as we work through each clause, even the hard ones about Noah and baptism-you’ll find that this is actually one of the most encouraging declarations of the gospel. Take a look at the text:

  • For Christ” – That is, the person who fulfilled the Old Testament expectation to save. Here Peter reminds us that Jesus suffered as the chosen one.
  • also suffered” – That is, Christ did not just die. But he also suffered pain. Here Peter connects our suffering to Christ’s suffering-he also suffered, like you.
  • once for sins” – That is, Christ suffered for the sake of sin. Here Peter reminds us that Christ’s suffering was a sin offering. Much like the Old Testament sacrifices, Christ suffered to answer for sin.
  • the righteous for the unrighteous” – That is, Christ suffered for us, in our place. Here, Peter reminds us that Christ suffered unjustly, the good were substituted for the bad.
  • to bring you to God”. – That is, Christ suffered so that you might know God and have favour with God. Here Peter reminds us that the goal of all Christ’s suffering was that we might be united with God forever with an eternal inheritance.
  • On the one hand, He was put to death in the body” – That is, Christ died in human flesh at the hands of human flesh. Here Peter reminds us that Christ suffered and died bodily.
  • But, on the other, He was made alive by the Spirit” – That is, Christ was made alive by the power of the Spirit. Peter’s saying that even though Jesus died bodily, he was raised bodily…

(And this is where things get interesting… )

  • After being made alive, he went… “ That is, in Christ’s full bodily resurrected state, Christ went… somewhere…
  • And proclaimed to the imprisoned spirits… “ – That is, Christ proclaimed or ‘announced’ or ‘declared’… something… to spirits… who were imprisoned or ‘guarded’ or ‘restricted’.

(And this is where things get really interesting… )

  • “To those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. That is, Christ went somewhere and proclaimed something… to imprisoned spirits… who are the disobedient from the time of Noah.

And… we’ll jump out of the text there…

If you didn’t know, these are some of the most widely debated verses in the New Testament. They raise all sorts of questions-Where did Christ go? When did Christ go? Who did Christ go to? What did Christ proclaim to them? You see, no one’s really sure about what’s going on-and this week I’ve added my name to the list. So, for what it’s worth, here are the three most common views you’ll find:

  • View 1: Christ descended to hell. This view suggests that Jesus’ went to hell, between his death and resurrection, to speak to the spirits of the people from Noah’s time. This view was held by Clement of Alexandria in the 2nd Century AD.2 This view is often used to help make sense of how Old Testament people are saved in Christ.
  • But the problem with this view is that the word for “prison” in verse 19 doesn’t actually refer to a location, such as an underworld, or abyss, or hell. Rather, it probably refers more to a state of being: that the spirits are restrained spirits.
  • View 2: Christ preached through Noah. This view suggests that Jesus’ went and preached through Noah, before his incarnation (through the power of the Holy Spirit), to speak to the people about salvation and judgement. This view was held by the likes of Augustine in the 4th Century AD and later adopted by Calvin. For Augustine, at least, he didn’t like ‘View 1’ because it could suggest that people could be saved in death, kinda like a ‘purgatory’ of sorts. So, by combining 1 Peter 1:10-11 (How the Spirit of Christ spoke through the prophets) and 2 Peter 2:5 (that Noah was a preacher of righteousness), some conclude that Jesus, by the Spirit, preached through Noah (just like all the prophets). But, the problem with this view is that you need to couch it in the context of Peter’s argument. You see, I’m not sure why Christ preaching through Noah is an encouragement for Peter’s readers. And, I’m also not sure why Peter would reflect on something Christ did so far in the past, when he seems to be recounting Christ’s present work.
  • View 3: Jesus proclaimed victory in his ascension. This view suggests that doesn’t go anywhere, but up! Christ dies, is made alive, and ascends. And as he ascends, he proclaims victory over all God’s enemies, especially those evil spirits from the time of Noah. Now, this view is the most commonly held view today, one of which I’m more convinced of. The fact that the text says that Christ “went” in verse 20 and says “having gone into heaven” in verse 22, makes me think that this is one continuous action. Christ suffered, died, rose, went up to heaven, proclaiming to the spirits on the way… But there is one looming problem with this view, and it’s that it leans less on the Biblical data, and more on the non-Biblical data of a book called First Enoch.
  • First Enoch was kinda like a fable, or a comic book, about Enoch’s life (the Great-Grandson of Noah as recorded in Genesis 6). And it tells the story, in chapter 12-16, of these fallen angels, who sleep with human women, produce children called “giants”, and out of their bodies come “evil spirits”. These evil spirits, then teach people to do acts of shame, injustice, and sin. They corrupt the people of the world, which leads to a cosmic flood. A cosmic flood which was a proclamation from God about coming judgement.3
  • Now some people suggest that Peter is riffing-off this story. That just as the evil spirits were condemned by the proclamation of a flood in 1 Enoch, so too are all the authorities, powers, and spirits condemned by the proclamation of Christ in his ascension. 1 Enoch, spirits were condemned by the announcement of a flood. 1 Peter, spirits are condemned by the proclamation of Christ in his ascension to the throne.4 In other words, Peter is using the story of Noah, through the lens of 1 Enoch, as a type of analogy or parallel.

Now, that may all sound confusing, but the point is that Peter is using the story of Noah to make us hope in Christ’s victory. And Peter continues to use the story of Noah in verses 20-21 (let’s jump back into the text):

  • In [the ark] only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water… “ Peter continues the story of Noah. He reminds his readers that by stepping into the ark, only a few were saved from the waters of judgement. Only a few were saved, but they were saved none-the-less…

(And this is where is gets difficult again!)

  • And this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also… “ – Here in verse 21, Peter’s statement raises more questions: Does being baptised actually save people? Is Peter teaching baptismal regeneration? In short, the answer is no, and yes.
  • You see, you’ve got understand Peter’s analogy of Noah. In Genesis 6-7, Noah and his family were under threat by the world around them and God promised to send a flood to judge the world. So, getting into a boat was an expression of faith, of their complete dependence on God alone to save. Noah and his family expressed their faith by stepping into an ark which saved them. So, just as getting into the ark saved Noah, Peter reminds his readers that stepping into the waters of baptism saves Christians, in the sense that it is a clear sign and pledge that we’re looking to God alone to save.5 I mean Peter himself suggests that the baptism itself, doesn’t do anything… that the water itself, doesn’t do anything. That’s why he says:
  • Not the removal of dirt from the body, but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. -That is, baptism cannot cleanse the body, rather it’s a visible sign and pledge that God alone saves. It’s the declaration that I fear Christ. The baptism itself, doesn’t do anything salvific, because it all depends on Christ. As Peter declares:
  • It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,”

They were saved through water, so are you, in baptism, through Christ. You see, Peter, is using the story of Noah to help us consider Christ-to hope in Christ’s victory.6 And it’s no wonder… because the situation of Noah is similar to the situation of Peter’s readers.

  1. Noah and his family were a minority surrounded by hostile unbelievers; so are Peter’s readers.
  2. Noah was righteous in the midst of a wicked world; Peter’s readers are called to be the same.
  3. In the days of Noah, God waited patiently for the world to repent before bringing judgement; In the time of Peter’s readers, God is still waiting patiently, although the end is near.
  4. Noah was finally saved with a few others by God; Peter’s readers will also be saved by God in Christ.
  5. Noah was saved by entering into the ark through the water’s of judgement; Peter’s readers are saved by entering into Christ through the water’s of baptism, the pledge of allegiance to him.

Peter is using Noah’s story, his reader’s story, and Christ’s story, to remind us that the God who saved Noah is the same God who will save them. And so Peter continually points us to Christ! And even more so as he comes to culmination of his work, in verse 22:

  • who has gone into heaven” – That is, Christ was raised and ascended. Here Peter reminds us that suffering was not the end for Christ. He is not in the dirt or grave, but in the sky’s.
  • and is at God’s right hand” That is, Christ was raised to be with God. Here Peter reminds us that Christ now sits with God triumphantly in heaven.
  • with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.” That is, Christ has been exalted over all powers. He is now utterly supreme, with all things under his control.

Throughout every clause, Peter points us to Christ. His life, his suffering, his death, his resurrection, his ascension. And I hope by now, Peter’s outlandishly bold statements about ‘suffering’ should all make sense to you… Why is it “better” to suffer for doing good, than for doing evil? Why continue to do good, even when it hurts? It’s because Christ also suffered bodily for doing good, and was raised in victory. It’s as if Peter is saying: “Look how Christ’s bodily suffering was not the end… ” “Look how Christ, even though he died bodily, was raised by the Spirit”. “Look how Christ, has declared victory over all who are evil, even those who commit evil against you” “Look how Christ is now at God’s right hand in heaven… where… in a little while… you too will be”.

How do we keep doing good, loving the good, desiring the good-even if it hurts? Well, we hope, trust, depend on, receive, believe in our suffering but triumphant Christ.

CONCLUSION

This year, God wants each one of us to do good, even if it hurts. Whether it’s at work, school, or home… whether it’s among friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, or even our enemies-God wants us you and I to live such good lives, even when/if it results in pain. He wants us to do what is right even when you’d prefer to go another way. He wants us to please Christ, identify with Christ, speak boldly of Christ, align with Christ, pledge our allegiance with Christ in baptism, even if all the choices are costly.7 How do we keep doing the good-even if it hurts? We redefine ‘blessed’. Fear the right things. Hope in Christ’s suffering and victory.


1. Carson, Resurrection Life in a World of Suffering, 117-118.

2. Jobes, 1 Peter, 308.

3. Jobes, 1 Peter, 284-285.

4. Jobes, 1 Peter, 284-285.

5. Thank you to Gary Millar for helping with this from his own sermon on 1 Peter 3 at QTC in 2021.

6. Grudem, 160-161.

7. Carson, Resurrection Life in a World of Suffering, 118.