Read 1 Peter 4:12 – 5:11
Peter said that Paul’s teachings were sometimes hard to understand. Sometimes we have to wonder if the pot wasn’t calling the kettle black.
Peter the fisherman and Paul the highly educated Pharisee both give us some food for thought that is high in fiber.
We have spent a little time on the topic of who Jesus preached to when his body was dead and he was in the spirit, but Peter now gives us something to chew on concerning suffering. Perhaps the food analogy is not the best. He gives us a large dose of medicine about suffering.
Suffering is surely one of those topics that becomes difficult to agree upon. Why do we suffer?
Does the answer, “because we live in a fallen world” really satisfy our appetite here?
It could, maybe it should, but seldom is it enough for the biblical scholar and surely of little value to anyone without faith in God and life in Christ.
Πειρασμός (pi-ras-mos’) is the word in question. It means an experiment, a trial, or a test. Perhaps in the context of this pericope, it means a painful trial.
The word suffering seems to work well but today suffering can sometimes contain new connotations such as “arbitrary.”
When we stick to experiment, trial, or test in our understanding, we infer someone or something is in control or administering the test or experiment.
The problem with so much of this topic that we label “suffering” is the stuff that becomes attached to it.
Sometimes that is unavoidable.
We are told that God disciplines those whom he loves—that includes us. We are loved with an everlasting love. Should not our discipline likewise be everlasting?
But what does that discipline that comes with love look like? Sometimes it looks like the same things that we call suffering. And that conjures up images of a mean God.
But we know that God not only loves us but is love. God is love.
Even when humankind did not love God very much, he loved us.
He still loves us.
So why does he let us suffer?
Now we can chew on Peter’s letter. Peter asks why we are surprised at trials and suffering. Why do we act like it is something that came out of left field?
At one time we went with the flow. Life was about good times as the world defines them and self gratification. Yes, there was illness and death and things that we couldn’t explain, but we might have felt bad for a while and then it was back to gratifying ourselves.
And then came grace. Then came a way out of our sin. Then came this promise of new life in Christ. Then came this crazy good thing called eternal life.
It all came to us because of God’s great love for us. He made a way.
That way is Jesus.
He is the way, the truth, and the life. If we want to live in harmony with God, we follow the way that is Jesus.
He is Lord. He is Master. He is Savior.
He is going the way that the Father has given him, and by the way, that way is not the same direction that the world is going.
If we are following Jesus, we are no longer just going with the flow. It is not that we are against the world but that the world has rebelled against God.
We follow the One who knows the way.
I have been driving around all week with Rock the Boat by the Hughes Corporation and Against the Wind by Bob Seger competing for time in my mental playlist.
For we have rocked the boat and are running against the wind as far as the world is concerned and if the world tries to exact some sort of price or pain or consequence from us, then we rejoice.
We should celebrate.
Why? Peter says that he who suffers in the body is done with sin.
The Message puts it this way.
Since Jesus went through everything you’re going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want.
Sometimes we suffer because we say that we follow Jesus but we still try to follow the ways of the world.
We don’t want to rock the boat, do we?
We follow Jesus and if the boat starts rocking, then the boat starts rocking. If we are running against the wind, then we keep on running against the wind.
Neither to intentionally create strife, but both out of faithfulness to our Master.
Sometimes because we are faithful to our Master we will have trials, even painful trials in the world.
This is the sort of suffering that we will welcome.
Let’s jump to the Gospel of Matthew for a moment—to the baptism of Jesus.
John agreed to baptize Jesus so that everything about his ministry—one that was about to be propelled to full speed—would be right with God. Jesus was baptized and the Spirit of God came and rested upon him.
Visualize that moment for a moment. Use the image of the dove if you need it, but get a mental picture of the Spirit of God resting upon Jesus.
Save that image.
Now think of a time when you know that you have been picked on, persecuted, treated terribly because you followed Jesus when the easy thing would have been to have gone with the flow—to have just gone along.
Think of how you felt when those—perhaps even those that you called friends—ostracized you or criticized you or were just outright mean to you.
Now take this image of the Spirit of God resting on Jesus after his baptism and put yourself in the place of Jesus.
Visualize the Spirit and the glory of God resting on you.
When you suffer because you faithfully follow Jesus, then you should rejoice. Know that:
· Jesus suffered first and far more than we do.
· Jesus knows suffering. He knows what you are going through.
· It is temporary—for a time—for a time is coming when there will be no more suffering.
· The Spirit and Glory of God rest upon you.
That is suffering because we follow Jesus and we should not be surprised when it happens to us.
If someone is persecuting me—even if it is just emotional persecution—and they are doing this because I follow Jesus; I will be happy.
Not only has someone accused me of being a Christian, but they found enough evidence to convict me.
I am going to rejoice in my conviction.
Now there is other suffering in the world. There is suffering that Forrest Gump explains better than I do.
Stupid is a stupid does.
If you get drunk or high and shoot yourself in the foot, it will hurt. It will probably hurt a lot. It might not hurt until the drugs wear off, but there is some hurt coming your way. You are going to suffer.
If you are completely sober and shoot yourself in the foot, it will hurt.
We don’t celebrate this suffering. This is not suffering because you follow Jesus. This is suffering because you did something stupid.
We all make our share of what we might call stupid mistakes. We haven’t all stood in water and picked up an electric fence twice in the same day, but we have our share of experiences that we might label stupid.
Hopefully, we learn from them and don’t repeat them. They are grist for the mill. They are ground up in the substance that makes up our lives and we move on, hopefully a bit wiser.
But we don’t ask God why we have to suffer for shooting ourselves in the foot. That answer is simple—free will.
If we insist on going down a foolish path, God explained the consequences. The Proverbs are full of actions and consequences. But God leaves our free will intact.
Then comes all of the stuff in the middle. There is suffering—painful trials we experience because we follow Jesus—on one end and stupid stuff on the other.
In the middle are the things that don’t really fit either classification. They are the headache that comes with a cold. They are the physical deformities of a child or the car that swerves into oncoming traffic and kills people who were otherwise living godly and abundant lives.
They are the hardships caused because jobs were lost due to corporate relocation or a product becoming obsolete. They are cancer and diabetes and tumors and sickness without explanation.
They are the propensity for alcoholism or over eating or anxiety or depression.
They are the pains that come with childbirth.
They are the consequences of living in a fallen world. These things are afflictions that require healing.
We need to be healed.
That healing comes from Jesus. By his wounds we are healed.
In his suffering and sacrifice we are healed.
Many times that healing is manifested in the here and now, but always in that part of eternal life that lies beyond what we know here, we are healed by the blood of Jesus.
The Spirit and glory of God rest upon us when we suffer for the name of Jesus. Often the Spirit of God comes and heals us from the afflictions of this fallen world so that we may bring glory to God in that testimony.
And sometimes we continue with a thorn in our side. Paul said God wouldn’t take his away so he wouldn’t become conceited and that he would know God’s strength in his own weakness.
We need to understand that this is a personal testimony by Paul and not designed to be a midrash on suffering.
Not everything we suffer is something given by God so that we remain weak and must rely upon him. Paul acknowledged that his propensity was to become conceited because of everything the Lord was doing through him and he needed something to keep him on track.
He needed something to keep him grounded.
Could we have similar experiences? I am sure we could, but let’s not extrapolate this testimony into a theology of suffering.
In fact this same Paul would tell his protégé to take a little wine for his stomach instead of considering every little discomfort to be suffering at the hand of God.
So what do we say about this suffering—the painful trials that we know—that are in this in-between category?
They are the pains that come with childbirth.
This is the nature of living in a world that is broken, fallen, and incomplete.
This answer may not satisfy our intellectual appetite on the matter of suffering, but it is as close as we are likely to get until we no longer look through a glass darkly and the full mystery of God is revealed to us.
The good news is that the mystery of God has been revealed in Christ Jesus.
Jesus is the answer.
Jesus is the way.
Jesus is the truth.
Jesus is the life.
Jesus is Lord.
Jesus is our Master.
We follow Jesus.
We suffer along the way: Some because we follow, some because we made some pitiful mistakes, and some because we live in this broken world.
The problem that we have with suffering is not trying to figure out exactly why we have suffering; but that we seldom seek the answer to the question, “How will I respond to suffering?” with the same vigor.
How will I respond to suffering? How should I respond?
Let’s see what Peter talks about in his letter. We could try these on for size:
· Be faithful—fully committed to our God
· Continue to do good even if you suffer for it.
· For those with gifts and authority entrusted to them, shepherd the others.
· Be eager for service not prestige.
· Be a good example. What better example of faithfulness to God than one who continues to do good, serve others, and live to bring glory to God instead of hungering for money. In today’s world the opposite of this is so bad that whenever somebody gets hurt, one of the first things they ask is “Who is going to pay me for my suffering?”
· Show reverence to your elders.
· Be humble.
· Resist that old nature that thrived on selfish pride.
· Live fully without carrying around a bucket load of anxiety. God will take that from you.
· Realize that you still live in an imperfect world—in many ways it is a war zone. The enemy is on the prowl looking for weakness in your lines. Shore up your defenses knowing that your brothers and sisters in Christ are doing the same all over the world.
· Stand firm in the faith!
· Know that whatever you suffer is temporary. It will end.
· The Chief Shepherd—that’s Jesus—will come with a crown of glory for you.
In the here and now, the Spirit and the glory of God rest upon us when we suffer for following Jesus.
In a time to come, Jesus will come with our rewards for following him even while we suffered through our mistakes, because we lived in a broken world, and especially for staying the course he set for us.
Take two images with you into the world.
The first is the image of the Spirit and glory of God resting upon you as you suffer because you follow Jesus.
The second is the image of Jesus ready to embrace you, to reward you, and to keep you with him forever.
As we face suffering in this world, bring those images to the forefront of your mind.
Trust God even in our most painful trials for his Spirit rests upon us and one day he will richly reward us.
His Spirit rests upon us and he will richly reward us!
Do you like the challenges that Peter offers? Read more in Jesus visits hell or I see dead people.