1 Peter 3.13-22
Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you;
yet 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. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.
For 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, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who 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 persons, were saved through water.
And 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, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
The author is telling his readers that their best protection against persecution is being good people, doing good to their neighbors. John Wesley put it this way, “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”
Yet, even if they do what is good and right, they still could be persecuted, for persecution, ridicule, bullying, and mistreatment are more about the people doing the persecuting – about their fear, anger, and hostility – than they are about the persons they persecute. But if that happens, this author says, it is better to suffer for what is right than for doing wrong. In fact, the Christians should not share in their persecutors fear, nor should they be intimidated by them. They should continue to sanctify Christ in their very hearts.
At times their persecution will give them opportunity to provide an answer; they should be ready for that. They should always be prepared to give an accounting for the hope they have – for their hope is in Christ. Yet, even then, they should do so with gentleness and reverence. Here is a point we sometimes forget, as Christians today. We are not always gentle and reverent, or even respectful, when we talk about our faith; this is especially true today, it seems, when we disagree within the church.
When Christians are rude, mean, judgmental of others, it does not reflect well on Christianity, or even on Christ. On the other hand, when we respond to unkindness with kindness, when we are loving and kind to all, the world notices. Our example in this, after all, is Jesus himself. Christ, who did not sin, suffered for our sins. He died in order to bring all of us to God.
There is a sentence then, at whose meaning we can only guess! Did Jesus go and preach to those lost souls from the beginning of time, so that they might take part in the afterlife with God? I do not know the answer, and neither do the commentators I consulted. It is a bit like the off-hand comment Paul makes about people being baptized for the dead. It does not quite make sense with our understanding, but leads one to think there was something they believed that we just don’t know.
He goes on to say that Noah’s family was saved through the water, that this prefigured our being saved in baptism. We are baptized, not to remove dirt, but in washing away sin and accepting God’s grace, and in the birth of the Spirit for our continued growth in Christ. For we are baptized into his death, with the death of our sinful selves, and into his resurrection, into life and hope and joy.