Exegesis of 1 Peter 3:13-17: Verse 17
3:17, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”
The substantiation of a Christian’s good conscience is in our good behavior in Christ. This is the condition which 3:17 reinforces, that it is always better for a believer to suffer for doing good than for doing evil (cf. 2:19-20).
It is widely recognized that the “it is better to… than to…” formula is proverbial, stemming from OT wisdom literature. The proverbial wisdom laid out in this verse was common to the larger Greco-Roman cultural context in that day, but Peter has demonstrated that a Christocentric understanding of this general moral principle radically alters the ground and purpose for suffering righteously while enduring injustice.
It is this unjust suffering, combined with the believer’s righteous life, reasonable hope in Christ and gentle, reverent attitude which create a powerful witness that God may have ordained as a means leading to salvation for someone. The hoti clause of verse 18 shows that such suffering is Christ-like. “Just as Christ endured unjust suffering for our salvation, Peter reasons, so we are blessed by God if we endure unjust suffering for the salvation of others.” (29) Clearly, such suffering is much better than suffering for wrong-doing, especially when it is instrumental in leading others to hope in Christ.
The missiological and eschatological senses of kataisxunthosin in verse 16 are reinforced in verse 17 as well, in that it is better to suffer now for doing good to the missiological end that some might be saved through such a witness, than it is to suffer finally for wrong-doing under the eschatological judgment of God. This rendering also reinforces the need for responding with gentleness and reverence before our enemies when suffering, remembering that we are far better off than our oppressors – and would be no better off apart from the grace of God.
The optative mood of pasxoite completes the inclusio from 13-14b, finishing the application of his earlier exhortation to righteous living under the circumstances of slander and suffering.
(29) Wayne A. Grudem, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: 1 Peter, An Introduction and Commentary. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 162.