As Peter notes, when a believer sins and is accused of that sin and suffers for that sin, he is not to be considered patient for enduring that sin — he has suffered what is just (1 Pt. 2:20a).
But what about when one suffers unjustly? What if accusations are made against us that are misinformed, wrong, or even outright cruel and destructive? What if those accusations become legal issues and we are unjustly charged by the government and courts with violations of the law that we did not commit? How shall the believer respond then? Again, Peter is helpful:
“For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.” (1 Pt. 2:19–20)
But does that preclude any defense of oneself? If we are wrongly accused, is there no recourse at all? Is it wrong for a believer to defend himself? Is there liberty for a believer to seek righteousness from the court?
The account of the apostle Paul in the closing chapters of Acts addresses this very circumstance. The charges brought against Paul were clearly falsified, as even Festus acknowledged as he attempted to come up with a legitimate charge that might compel Caesar to hear Paul’s case: “For it seems absurd to me in sending a prisoner, not to indicate also the charges against him” (Acts 25:27).
What should Paul have done? Should he just continue to suffer and patiently endure? Or was there some godly recourse? The example of Paul indicates that the believer has some liberties when suffering unjustly. For in this circumstance, after already being falsely imprisoned for two years and facing more injustice from the court system, Paul appealed to Rome (25:11) — essentially appealing to a higher court. As a Roman citizen, this was Paul’s right and he exercised that right.
So here are some truths to remember when we are suffering unjustly:
- The government is responsible to punish evildoers and reward those who do good (Rom. 13:1-7), so it is appropriate for a believer to use the system established by the government to establish that he has not done evil. (Of course, if he has done evil and violated the law, then he should willingly endure the consequences of his sin.)
- It is a liberty for the believer to seek recourse through the government, but it is not a requirement for him to appeal. So, Paul appealed to Caesar and Rome, but he was not required to do so; he might have found some other compelling reason to endure the injustice for the sake of the gospel. So others might also have the freedom to appeal but find that their testimony might be most advanced by not taking advantage of their liberty.
- If appeals through the government are concluded and the believer still has not received justice, he is to endure that injustice with patience and not bitterness, anger, or vengeance (1 Pt. 2:19-20). This was the example that Christ has left for the believer to follow (1 Pt. 2:21-22).
- The believer should find his ultimate hope in God and not the government; whatever recourse he chooses to take should be an expression of his trust in God (1 Pt. 2:23).