For the recipients of 1 Peter a big part of their suffering had to do with injustice. We can read between the lines of this chapter to see that pagans in their communities were “speak[ing] against [them] as evildoers” (2:12), likely “insult[ing]” them (2:23) and producing something “painful” in their lives (2:19). They had every right to fight back, trade insult for insult, and stoop to the level of their slanderers. They were likely even tempted to do so.
Our suffering today comes from many places, including the misdeeds and maliciousness of others. People talk bad about us behind our backs at school and work. People even assassinate the character of others at church. Whether in word or by looks or even simply by exclusion, pain is produced in our lives that we do not deserve. How is a Christian supposed to respond faithfully to that sort of suffering?
Peter starts by reminding us that long before we were “rejected” and “insulted,” Jesus suffered the same treatment. Jesus became the proverbial cornerstone in this house of rejection for which we are the “living stones” (2:4-5).
The Messiah, too, suffered on your behalf, leaving behind a pattern for you, so that you should follow the way he walked. He committed no sin, nor was there any deceit in his mouth. When he was insulted, he didn’t insult in return, when he suffered, he didn’t threaten, but he gave himself up to the one who judges justly. (2:21-23)
In the face of injustice, Jesus relied on his Father to bring justice, he didn’t try to produce it himself.
Of utmost importance, though, is that we face the injustice that comes our way with the spirit of Jesus. Many people have noticed that few New Testament letters seem to echo Jesus as closely as 1 Peter. That is especially clear in today’s chapter. We must not give our offenders any reason to think they were right about us. We are to keep such good conduct, even in the face of injustice, that people are impressed with our virtue and maybe even begin to believe our God is real (2:12). It is our virtue that will “silence foolish and ignorant people” (2:15), not our well-crafted defenses nor by trading insult for insult. If all we do is take our licks when we do something wrong, there is nothing special about that. The higher calling is to “bear patiently” with unjust mistreatment (2:20). That is testimony to a special spirit.
In fact, Peter bottom lines it for us this way:
This, after all, is what came with the terms of your call. (2:21a)
Deep down at the core of what it means to be a Christian was the reality that following Jesus will inevitably bring rejection, injustice, and suffering. Maybe we were looking for the “get out of hell free” card, but it comes with the cost of discipleship.