“Welcome to the ministry!” I said this recently to a younger man who had encountered a challenge in the Lord’s work. It was both tongue in cheek and sincere. The Christian ministry can be very challenging at times: deep disappointment at unfulfilled expectations, profound heartache because of wandering sheep, and deep distress at apostasy from the faith. But such heartaches are not reserved for pastors or missionaries. No, every Christian will face times of sadness and sorrow, hardship and heartache, and even mountains of misery.
Because of our proximity to a sin-cursed world, we suffer. We suffer because of disease and disorder in our world, arising from the disobedience of our first parents. We also suffer because of our own disobedience—our anger, our impatience, our harsh words, our giving in to the various sinful desires of our flesh, our refusal to forgive and the resultant bitterness. All of these, and more, produce a self-destructive sorrow to our souls, which in turn sours relationships and sap our lives of joy. And, in addition to societal and self-inflicted suffering, there is a third, and often the most painful cause, of sufferings. I am speaking of what I will call “third party” suffering—that is, the suffering that arises when you are not directly involved in a matter, and yet you suffer. You are not to blame, but you get the blame. You are not at fault, but you feel the heat and the hurt. We call this injustice.
Peter wrote about this in the second chapter of his first epistle. There, he addressed those who had been wronged by others without cause—those who, despite “doing good,” were treated wrongly (see 2:15; 3:17; 4:19).
Peter was aware that his readers (scattered believers in what is today Turkey) were living righteously, yet they were being treated unrighteously. They were practicing justice but were being treated unjustly. What should they do? Peter told them: Be mindful of God.
In the immediate context, Peter exhorts faithful Christians who are being mistreated by their employers to “do good.” “Well, Peter”, some might respond, “that is all well and good. But we need a sufficient motivation.” So he gives it: “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly” (2:18–19). There it is! Being “mindful of God.” That is how we endure injustice. That is how we continue to “do good.” That is how we remain joyful in perseverance. That is how we guard our hearts against bitterness. That is how we develop and demonstrate a disposition of hope that is so unmistakable that others will ask us, “Why?” (3:15). This is all a matter of the mind—a mind that is full of God.
The word translated “mindful” in the ESV could be translated “conscience.” The meaning is, “having consciousness of anything.” It speaks of being aware of something in the forefront of our thoughts; of a compelling thought and motivation. The word appears again in 1 Peter 3:16, 21. Peter wants his readers to be determined to livecoram Deo—“before the face of God.” When suffering at the hands of others, we should aim to have a clear and clean conscience before the Lord. For, in the end, having his approval is our goal (2 Corinthians 5:9).
Being “mindful of God,” of course, implies that you have a mind that can do so—that is, a mind that has been renewed by the Spirit of God at the new birth (1 Corinthians 2:14–16). Then, and only then, are we able to think God’s thoughts after him (Romans 12:1–2; Ephesians 4:23). And his thoughts are wonderful toward us (Psalm 139:17–18)! We need to keep that in mind. When the heartache mounts, when wrongs multiply, when the betrayal bludgeons, then remember God. Remember that “if God is for us, who [really] can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). As I read that portion of Romans to a beleaguered older saint recently, she wept tears of joy. Life has been hard on her, yet being mindful of her loving Lord has enabled her, in Peter’s words, to endure sorrows.
If you are reading this and do not know this Saviour, if you do not have a mind that is able to remember God, then listen to this good news: Jesus Christ, God’s Son, died for suffering sinners like you. He died for those who realise that they have offended holy God and who accept that they deserve his wrath. But those for whom Jesus died also realise that Jesus both can and will forgive them of their sins. And he can do this because he lived a perfectly sinless life in the place of all who will ask him for salvation. When he rose from the dead, the Father was declaring Jesus’ vindication as Lord of lords and King of kings and therefore the Saviour of saviours. Ask God for a mind to believe this.
Peter believed this. He was mindful of this. He wanted everyone to be mindful of this! And to that end, he closes his second chapter reminding his readers that Jesus suffered unjustly—the just for the unjust. In other words, Christian, if you are being mistreated, you are in good company. And, as Jesus entrusted himself to the one who judges justly (v. 23), so, being mindful of God, must we.