“In His Steps: When We Suffer” (I Peter 2:19-23 sermon)

Cheryl & I love to read and watch the old Agatha Christie detective stories, so last year we each read her autodbiography. In it Mrs. Christie tells of a teacher at her girls school growing up. She said she couldn’t remember her name, but that one day in class, in the middle of the math lesson that day, this teacher suddenly said: “All of you … every one of you — will pass through a time when you will face despair. If you never face despair, you will never have … known a Christian life. To be a Christian you must face and accept the life that Christ faced and lived; you must enjoy things as He enjoyed things; be as happy as He was at the marriage at Cana, know the peace and happiness that it means to be in harmony with God and with God’s will. But you must also know, as He did, what it means to be alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, to feel that all your friends have forsaken you, that those you love and trusted have turned away from you, and that God Himself has forsaken you. Hold on then to the belief that that is not the end. If you love, you will suffer …” and she said that suffering part of of a real Christian life. (Agatha Christie, An Autobiography, p. 150)

There is a lot of truth in what that teacher said. If we are really following Jesus, then we will face times, like He did, when we will suffer. Last week we saw that in EVERY area of our lives, we are to “trace the pattern” that Jesus left as an example for us. That is a general principle that applies to every area of life. But this command comes in the context of suffering (:19-20) and in the next verses he shows us just what Christ’s example WAS which we are to imitate when we are persecuted or suffer for righteousness:

:21 “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps,
:22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;”

How can we follow Christ’s example when we suffer as Christians?

I. Maintain a holy lifestyle
:22 “Who committed no sin, nor was any deceit in His mouth …”.

This is the first way we need to imitate the Lord: live a life that honors God, and does not bring suffering or punishment upon ourselves by our own sin or disobedience. This verse tells us that Jesus never sinned; He never deceived anyone. Whatever suffering He endured, was ONLY unjust suffering, which He took upon Himself for us. Jesus did NOTHING sinful or foolish that deserved or called down suffering upon Himself.

So Peter tells us here that we are to follow Jesus’ example: live in such a holy and godly way that the only suffering we have is for Jesus’ sake, not anything that we brought upon ourselves by our poor choices or behavior.

Let’s be honest: much of the suffering that many of us experience in life, has nothing to do with our relationship with Christ. Many of us will admit that quite a bit of the suffering we have endured, we have brought upon ourselves. And there’s no reward with God for that. Verse 20 here says: “For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience?” In other words, there is no reward for us with God when we do thoughtless, foolish, inconsiderate things — and then suffer for it. And honestly, a lot of the things that happen to us, we do bring upon ourselves.

— I know a lot of you have heard that I cut my finger pretty badly a week ago Friday. It has been pretty painful, and kept me from going to the gym to swim my laps in the pool. But the truth is, I had only myself to blame. I had gotten some new weedeater line, and wound it on a new spool, and needed to cut it. But instead of going to the garage to get some snips, or getting some scissors out of a drawer, like I should have done, I saw one of Cheryl’s steak knives across the room, and thought I’d just grab that and use it real quick. But the line was harder to cut than I thought, and I had to pull it so hard that when it cut the line, it came back into my hand and cut my finger. We couldn’t get it to stop bleeding, so we had to go to the Urgent Care clinic here. You know the first thing I said when I did that? “Stupid.” It was just stupid. I KNEW better than that; I KNEW that was not the right thing to do. It was just a foolish mistake. All the pain and inconvenience I have experienced the last couple of weeks, I just brought upon myself.

— And a lot of the suffering we undergo in life is like that. We don’t need to wonder “why God allows this;” we bring it upon ourselves by our sin or foolish choices. Retired pastor Joe McKeever, who spoke in our church in Louisiana a couple of times, wrote in his blog in January, 2010:
“Drunk and speeding and going around a curve on a country road, Edward slammed his car into a tree. Doctors told me he was lucky to be alive, that he had broken almost every bone in his body. The woman in the car with him was killed. When he recovered to the point where he could speak, Edward said to me, “Brother Joe, why did God do this?” I said, “He didn’t, my friend. You did this all by yourself without any help from Him.”

There are a lot of things like that in life. If we are honest, we will admit that much of the suffering we endure in life, we have brought upon ourselves.

Sometimes even what we claim as “suffering for Jesus” isn’t really for “Jesus” as much as it is our own selfishness or thoughtlessness: like the young man who played Christian music in his car as loud as he could, to be “a witness” to everyone on the street in town. He said that while he was driving that day, a man looked over at him with a scowl on his face, but the young man said he just “rejoiced”, because he knew he was just “suffering for Jesus.” Well, I don’t think he was “persecuted for Jesus” as much as he was persecuted for being thoughtless and annoying!

So Peter says, listen: there’s no reward for us when we do foolish or inconsiderate things, and suffer for it. Jesus made sure He committed “no sin, nor was there any deceit in His mouth.” He only suffered for righteousness. We are to “follow in His steps.” Imitate Him. Don’t bring suffering upon yourself by your own poor choices. Maintain your witness for Christ, and seek to be righteous and considerate and “above board” in every area of your life, so that when you DO suffer, it is truly “for the Lord,” and not for your own sin or foolishness or disobedience.

II. Do not take your own revenge
:23 “and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats,”

He says here in :23 that when you DO suffer for the cause of Christ, follow the example of Jesus, and do NOT strike back or take your own revenge against your persecutors.
The Bible repeatedly commands us NOT to take revenge on those who oppress us:
— Proverbs 20:22 says “Do not say, ‘I will repay evil.’”
— In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, Jesus said, “whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also … You have heard that it was said … ‘hate your enemy’ but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
— Romans 12:17 says “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.” That is pretty comprehensive: NEVER, to ANYONE, pay back evil for evil!
— Romans 12:19 goes on to say, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” Again He says, NEVER take your own revenge; leave that to GOD (which we’ll talk about here in just a minute.)

This was the example Jesus left us, that we are to follow. The Jews and Romans mocked him, but He didn’t curse them back. They beat Him and crucified Him, but He didn’t threaten them. He did not strike back.
One of the most famous examples of that is when they came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Matthew 26:50 says “they laid hands on Him and seized Him.” But in the struggle, one of Jesus’ disciples cut off the ear of one of the servants who was arresting Him. Jesus rebuked the disciple and told him to put up his sword. Luke 22 tells us that Jesus then healed the ear of that servant. Jesus didn’t say, “GOOD! He got what he deserved for coming after Me.” No, He did not strike back at His enemies.

This is the example that He left US, to “follow in His steps.” We are to follow His example, and determine NOT to strike back at our persecutors.

Now this is NOT the natural way of doing things, is it? Our immediate, natural, worldly, response is that whenever someone does something to hurt us, we will do something to get back at them in return:
— somebody hits you, you hit them back. “An eye for an eye”
— somebody talks about you, then you talk about them.
And so on. That’s just what people do, right? That is just “human nature.”
But the thing is, when we follow “human nature,” (or perhaps more accurately, our SIN nature!) It leads to more hurt and destruction — AND it makes us just like our enemies!

Many people love J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, about Sauron’s evil “ring of power” which came into the hands of the good guys. Some of those “good guys” wanted to try to turn that ring back against Sauron, and use it on him. But Tolkien said “You can’t fight the Enemy with his own Ring without turning into an Enemy.” He was talking about that mythical “ring of power” in his book — but that definitely applies to revenge, too. When you try to use the weapons of your enemy: hatred, or revenge, then YOU become consumed with hatred; then YOU become consumed with revenge — then YOU become like your enemy! That’s why Romans 12 goes on to say “do not be overcome by evil.” God’s saying, don’t give in to the temptation to return back what your enemy is doing to you. It will make you just like them! When we try to take revenge on our enemies, we become like our enemies. AND GOD DOES NOT WANT US TO BECOME LIKE OUR ENEMIES. HE WANTS US TO BECOME LIKE CHRIST! That’s His goal for us.

So God tells us here as Jesus’ disciples, that we are to show the world that we are different, by NOT striking back at our enemies. We are to follow “in His steps” and never take our own revenge.

III. Entrust Your situation to God

Now someone may say: “So, we aren’t to take our own revenge? We are just supposed to sit there and let them get away with it?” NO; that is not what he says at all. Our response here as we imitate Jesus is like the two sides of a coin. One side of the “coin” is that we will not take our own revenge. The other side of the coin is what we see here in :22 when it says that Jesus “kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.” Jesus did not take His own revenge, but then He entrusted His situation to His heavenly Father. He would let HIM deal with His enemies.

Again, we are called to “follow in His steps.” We are to “trace our lives” after His. So we are to respond to our enemies like Jesus did, with both “sides of the coin”:
— one side of this “coin” is: DON’T take your own revenge.
— the other side is: ENTRUST your situation to God. Give it to Him.

So it’s not that you are doing “nothing” about your enemy. You are purposefully and specifically giving them to GOD, and trusting HIM to take care of them for you. This makes it an act of faith for you: you are trusting that GOD will deal with this person or people for you, in His time and in His way. Entrust it to God. THAT is “the other side of the coin” in this situation.

We see this in virtually every passage in the Bible where it tells us not to take our own revenge; after it tells us NOT to take revenge, then it says BUT we are to entrust it to GOD instead:

— That Proverbs 20:22 that commanded us “Do not say ‘I will repay evil’” goes on to say: “Wait for the LORD, and HE will save you.”
— Romans 12 said “Never take your own revenge, beloved, BUT leave room for the wrath of God.” Entrust it to HIM!
— This is the main lesson of Psalm 37. I love the Psalms, and we are going to start a study through Psalms in prayer meeting this Wednesday night; I hope if you are not in choir, that you will join us in the Chapel at 6:30 this Wednesday.
One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 37, which I call the “meekness” Psalm. Biblical meekness is not “weakness;” Biblical “meekness” is responding to others with gentleness and restraint because you are trusting GOD to take care of your situation.

This is what we see in Psalm 37:
— It begins with :1 “Fret not because of evildoers”
— then :3 says “Trust in the Lord and do good.” THAT is perhaps the key verse of Psalm 37. DO NOT “fret” and “take things into your own hands” and try to get your own revenge on people. :9 says “evildoers will be cut off.” So if you strike back at your enemies, then YOU will also be punished by God, just like they are! So if someone harms you, do NOT take your own revenge. No, instead, He says YOU “trust in the Lord and do good.” You refrain from doing evil, and TRUST GOD to take care of your situation. Leave it to Him. “Trust in the Lord and do good.”

Some of us are in situations right now that this really applies to. You need to memorize that verse; put it on your makeup mirror or your refrigerator, or wherever, to help you remember to do what God wants you to do in your situation. DO NOT take that situation into your own hands. If you do, then you will just bring punishment on yourself. No, “trust in the Lord and do good” instead. That is what Jesus did, and that is what He wants you to do as well, as you “follow in His steps.”

There are a lot of situations in life where we need to just entrust something to God, and leave it there with Him. I appreciated the testimony Mrs. Paula shared with me after Mason & Lauryn’s wedding last weekend. Some of you know it was an outside wedding, and but for some days, there had been thunderstorms in the forecast for that evening. It could have been a big worry! But Paula said she got up Saturday morning, and with a big day ahead, she had her quiet time first thing, and during that prayer time she gave the weather to God and she said she just left it there, and went about all the business she had to do that day. And of course the rain did hold off, and it was a beautiful wedding.

But what Paula did with that rain is what some of us today need to do with some other situations in your life. Someone has hurt you, or lashed out at you; or is trying to undermine you — or whatever. God says DO NOT try to get back at them. If you do, then you will just become like them. And that is not His plan for you. He has BETTER plans for you — for you to become like Christ. So like Christ, you need to ENTRUST your situation — that person, those people — to God. Let HIM deal with them. Just like Paula left that rain with God, you just give them to GOD — and go about your business. Let it go. Really entrust it to God, and leave it there.

NOW, let me say this: I’m glad that God gave Paula the grace to give Him the weather and not think about it again the rest of the day. But sometimes what happens when we entrust something to God is that we “give it to Him” — but then after a while we take it right back again! We’ve all probably done this: we were worried about something, and quoted Philippians 4:6 “be anxious for nothing …” and we entrusted it to God — but then a few minutes we “take it back” and start worrying about it again! Or we decide to “let it go” with that enemy and give them to God — but then someone reminds us of what they did to us, and we start to “pick it back up” again and want to get revenge.

That’s why I think the language the Bible uses here in I Peter 2:23 is so good. It says that Jesus “KEPT entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.” He KEPT doing it. This is important. There is a real sense in which as Christians, we have to KEEP entrusting ourselves to God:

— we trust Him for the very first when we give our life to Him as our Lord & Savior. That’s how we BECOME a Christian in the first place: we realize we have sinned, but we learn that Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins, and we TRUST what He did to pay for our sins and make us right with God. So it is by TRUSTING Him that we are saved in the first place. If you’ve never done that, you should pray with me at the end of this message, and do it today!

But that first trust in Jesus as our Savior is not the “end” of our trusting Him. We have to learn to “keep entrusting Him” with different areas of our life, all through our Christian life. And sometimes, there comes something in our life that is so big and hard to deal with, that we just have to “keep entrusting” that thing to Him:
— our child is wayward; and we are tempted to worry about them, but every day we “keep entrusting them” to Him to bring them back.
— we’re tempted to worry about that thing that keeps us up at night; but we have to “keep entrusting” that thing to God; keep quoting Philippians 4:6; “keep entrusting” it to God.
— and the same thing can be true of our response to our enemies as well. Someone may have hurt you, or is trying to hurt you, and you try to entrust them to God; but they keep at it; or something happens; or someone reminds you about it — and you’re tempted to “pick it back up again” and get your own revenge. So like Jesus here, you have to “KEEP entrusting” yourself to God. KEEP reminding yourself that YOU don’t need to do anything about them; you give it to God and let HIM take care of it. You just need to leave it alone. “KEEP entrusting yourself to God.”

If you will really do that with your situation, it will be a great witness for the Lord to everyone who sees it — and most importantly, you will take a big step towards becoming like Christ, because that is what He did:

“while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.”

That’s what Jesus did; and that’s what He wants YOU to do, as you follow “In His Steps” when you suffer.

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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