"For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil."
- 1 Peter 3:17 -
Peter would certainly know, wouldn't he? He did, in fact, experience suffering both for doing good and for doing evil. A quick comparison at what he suffered and why, and especially his response in each case, clearly shows him living the truth of this statement out in his daily walk.
Let's look first at his suffering due to his sin. Perhaps the most well-known recorded instance of sin in Peter's life is the account of his denial of Jesus as he waited to see the outcome of the trial. Even with Christ's warning shortly before, Peter fell headlong into Satan's trap and denied his relationship with Jesus three times. But what did he suffer then? The people did not take him up and hang him next to the Lord he denied. In fact, it doesn't seem like there were any physical consequences for Peter's sin. Rather, he felt such shame and guilt over what he had done that he went out and wept bitterly. He knew his words had separated him from His Lord, even at His Lord's most difficult hour. Oh, Peter certainly suffered for doing evil in this case.
Now consider what we see of Peter in the book of Acts. He endures prison, beatings, and the threat of death for his stand for the truth. He would eventually be killed, just as Jesus had told him he would be.The physical suffering he faced was real and very serious. Yet, what do we find him doing all throughout the book of Acts? Rejoicing and carrying on in the work that Jesus gave him to do! He may have been suffering physically at the hands of those who stood against the gospel, but his conscience was clear. He knew he was in right standing with his Lord, so he could endure whatever the world threw at him.
I believe if Peter were here today he would tell us that the physical consequences suffered for living righteously are minute in comparison to the spiritual consequences - both temporal and eternal - suffered for living in wickedness. In fact, that is exactly what he said in 1 Peter 3:17. And doesn't this match exactly what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1? Paul describes the suffering he faced as "light affliction" when viewed with eyes set on eternity. (And lest we forget what Paul is calling "light affliction" here, read 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 for an account of things he had suffered.)
Yes, when we have eyes set on eternity (Colossians 3:1-4; Hebrews 12:1-4), we will be able to view our suffering for righteousness' sake a cause for joy and catalyst to further work (Acts 5:40-42). And with eyes set on eternity we will see sin for what it truly is and what it does to our soul and to the Lord that we love (Hebrews 10:260-31). And this realization will makes us weep tears of sorrow every bit as much as Peter did.
Let us not suffer so needlessly but rather heed Peter's words. If we are to suffer, let it be for righteousness' sake. Let us gladly endure these light afflictions, turning from wickedness and setting our eyes on heaven and the rest promised there.