One of the major themes in 1 Peter is the exhortation to be faithful amidst suffering. Peter's audience (and all who would faithfully follow Christ as exiles in a hostile world) often find themselves on the receiving end of painful mistreatment for the sake of Christ.
But all this talk of persecution invites a question: why are Christians persecuted? What is it about Christianity that for two thousand years has consistently invited persecution? Peter’s letter seems to indicate that we suffer because of our holiness.
Notice 1 Peter 2:12—Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. Do you see what Peter is doing? He’s saying that when the world sees your honorable, holy conduct they will speak evil against you. Or look at 2:20—For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. Once again it is the believer’s holiness that encourages the world’s hostility.
Why is this? Because personal holiness is a form of rebuke, isn’t it? When Christians abstain from the things the world finds appealing, we’re rebuking them with our lives! That’s the point Peter is trying to make in 4:3-5—For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. (4) With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; (5) but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
This is what one writer calls suffering “the consequences of not sinning.”[i] It’s part of the battle for holiness. Some of you may have faced this many times in your lives following Jesus. Some of you may be facing it right now. The isolation you face when you say no to that extra drink, or when you refuse to drink altogether. The accusations of legalism when you won’t watch that popular movie or TV show because of its graphic sexual content. The mockery you face on campus when you won’t go to that party. Or the difficulty you have finding a significant other because you refuse to engage in premarital sex, what the Bible calls fornication. Peter isn’t going to lie to you, Christian. That sort of mistreatment is painful. It hurts. Exile is not easy.
But we persevere amidst persecution because we believe (we really believe) that it's worth it.
[i] Karen H. Jobes, 1 Peter, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 4.