“For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.” 1 Peter 3:18
To get a feel for verse 18, you may want to read the bit before it in 1 Peter 3. The theme is suffering, and especially suffering for doing good. Peter challenges anyone following Jesus to always “take the high road”, not just once but over and over again. He talks about never returning evil for evil, but instead blessing those who curse us. He says we should never insult those who insult us.
That is terribly difficult to me because it seems so unfair. As a Christian I know I’m supposed to try never to insult, mock, or hate anyone, ever, because these are God’s children. And I’m pretty good at not going out of my way to do anyone else any harm. UNLESS. Unless, I feel like they’ve gone out of their way to somehow harm me (or those I love).
I have occasional road rage when another car/truck seems to be out to sabotage my drive that day. When I’m in a hurry and someone else is taking their sweet time, going under the speed limit and so forth, it feels like a personal attack. I always imagine their sinister conspiracy to slow me down or make me late (and sometimes it might be true). Their “selfishness” infuriates me, and I usually say scraggly things to myself about them.
It’s similar in competitive situations, like church volleyball lately. I come to games with excitement because I like seeing the teammates and playing, and sometimes anxiousness because I want to do a good job. That’s all.
But the moment I feel like someone on the other team is minimizing or taunting me, or if they smack of an arrogance that says “prepare to be crushed because I’m superior to you,” then something flips on inside of me and it feels like my mission is to spike the ball in his/her face. I have a strong urge to put those people in their places, and say, “Get off me and my teammates.”
In both of those situations, I tell myself that it’s not my fault, that I was just going about my good, sweet business and these people infringed on my rights, or set out to hurt me. So my reactions to them are justified, since I’m just standing up for myself. Even when I take it too far and really want to get them back or make them hurt for how they hurt me. It was still on them.
But 1 Peter 3:18 gets at how wrong that is. Peter says we have control over our reactions to anything and everything, even when we are totally in the right and evil is being perpetrated against us. And if we’re following Jesus as an example, he knew what it is to suffer evil without deserving it whatsoever. His way is to be willing to suffer unfairly, and return that evil with good, because it might just rescue the very ones that are harming us. He endured the blows that my sinfulness dealt to him, to bring me to God. And the same for you. It makes no rational, earthly sense, but to God there is no greater act that we can ever do, than to sacrifice of ourselves for the sake of another, even those who are doing us evil.
That means in the car, or on the court, my job is not to put everybody back in their places, or teach them how to drive, or hate them for their selfishness, or beat them down to satisfy my own honor. My job is to see an occasion to repay evil with good, with prayer, with love, with forgiveness and blessing. To be a part of God’s work to rescue others, and God’s continuing work to rescue me.