Robert Wurtz II
For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. (1 Peter 2:20 NKJV)
In the ancient world, unlike Romans Citizens, Roman slaves were subject to corporal punishment, torture, or the death penalty without the benefit of due process. This is the context of our passage. In the first portion of the verse, Peter makes a clear distinction between justly suffering from one’s own faults and suffering wrongfully. When a slave did wrong, their owner often responded by beating the slave for their error. However, there were times when slaves (and even people like Paul) were beaten for no good reason. When that happened, Peter informs us that it is as an offering to the Lord when we take the beating patiently.
In modern times legalized slavery such as the Romans experienced does not exist in the Western world, but the principle contained in this verse can still be applied. People still respond to bad behavior. God still responds to good behavior. Understand that there are times when we suffer (at the hands of others) as a consequence of our own bad choices or behavior. In those situations, we have no one to blame but ourselves. People are simply reacting to your bad behavior or choices. However, there are times when we are wrongfully accused or are simply mistreated for no good reason. If we accept that treatment with patience, God accepts it as an offering of sorts.
The most challenging part of our passage is making a distinction between the suffering that we deserve and that suffering that we don’t deserve. Sometimes people behave in ways that are completely unacceptable to others. Rather than change their ways, they keep on doing it. These people are known to psychologists as sociopaths. Some are warped enough to pretend that their behavior isn’t bad at all, but (in their mind) the problem is with everyone else. They will blame everyone including Satan himself for what they call “attacks of the enemy.”
It doesn’t matter who the person is (or who they think they are) who is acting out, bad behavior is going to solicit a negative response from the people who are subject to the bad behavior. It is common sense that there is only so much abuse someone can dish out before people start responding against it. The sociopath type, devoid of conscience, never sees the error of his/her ways. They paint themselves as the victim. Again, when they abuse people and the abused respond back, the sociopath types reckon it as persecution (or something similar). Nevertheless, it’s not persecution. It’s not abuse. It’s not mistreatment. What it is — is that people will not go on putting up with bad behavior forever. What happens? The sociopath type either changes or there are consequences.
As Christians, we don’t move in an “eye for an eye” mindset. However, neither are we commanded to subject ourselves to perpetual mistreatment. If we treat people in a way we would not want to be treated –sooner or later there is going to be a backlash. And when the backlash comes, what will the response be? Will the perpetrator(s) get angry and bitter because people no longer tolerate their abusiveness? Will they accuse their victims of rebellion or some other cynical trait? Our passage challenges people who are “suffering at the hands of others” to ask themselves whether or not they deserve the treatment they are receiving. People are patient, but they will not allow bad behavior to go unchecked forever.
In my fifth grade class, way back in the 70s, we had a misbehaving student who was forever acting out. On one particular day, our teacher had had enough and she put her head down on her desk and started to weep loudly. Upon seeing and hearing her, the bad-mannered student ran frantically up to her desk shouting, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry.” The teacher raised her head and with blood-shot eyes growled out words that are forever etched into my consciousness. “Cody, I don’t want to hear ‘I’m sorry!’… I just want you to stop it!” He had no idea until that moment that his bad behavior had him hanging by a thread.
Some people go through life oblivious to how their bad behavior is affecting people until something tragic happens to open their eyes. For Cody, it was when the teacher broke down and wept. He didn’t blame the Devil. He didn’t blame any of us who looked on. He didn’t get bitter at the teacher. In that moment, he realized that he was the problem. If the problem was going to be resolved, Cody was going to have to change. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? Seeing her tears had the effect of a thousand beatings and detentions. At a young age, he learned that there is a limit to how far people can tolerate bad behavior. So when people “put their head down on the desk” (so to speak) it’s not the time to blame everyone else. While there is still hope… it’s time to stop it… whatever the “it” might be.
Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. (Revelation 3:2 ESV)