Suffering for Christ

By Michael Fitzpatrick

A Reading from 1 Peter 3:13-22

13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; 16yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. 17For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. 18For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit, 19in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight people, were saved through water. 21And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you — not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.


Suffering is the human lot, it seems. My past few weeks have been mired in a battle with kidney stones, wicked little scruples that inflame the inner body with pain. I spent the night of the U.S. election in the emergency room receiving morphine intravenously. No one with rightly-ordered desires finds joy in the sufferings of this life.

Yet St. Peter tells us that it is a blessing to suffer for what is right. In doing so, we bear witness to the truth, an action that the Spirit often uses to draw others to Christ. He’s not celebrating just any kind of suffering; this letter is speaking to those who are persecuted because they choose to follow Jesus rather than the pattern of this world. We give praise for our suffering because Christ first suffered for us, “the righteous for the unrighteous,” that through his suffering we might be brought to God.

In setting ourselves on this hope, we must not divorce Christ’s resurrection from his suffering and death. Treasure the way St. Peter draws these together. First he speaks of our baptism in the context of Christ dying once for sins once for all, so that we can be “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit.” Later he writes that baptism saves us “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” who is now in heaven with all authority on and beyond the earth subject to him. We stand courageous in suffering because of Christ’s death for sins and victory over the powers, assuring us that God will have the final word.

Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, Calif., where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.

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Church of Bermuda, the Rt. Rev. Nicholas Dill
Christ the King Episcopal Church, Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.


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