1 Peter 4:12-19
First Peter is a brief but mighty letter written by the Apostle Peter to believers in what is modern day Turkey. Peter begins this letter by addressing those who were chosen “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 1:2) Take a moment to reflect back on Ephesians 1:1-14. Apparently, those believers faced a great deal of persecution due to their faith and so Peter offered perspective to help them see how their suffering could be used to identify with Jesus, glorify him and endure until he returned.
There are many forms of suffering in our world. Some of us face dire mental or physical illnesses, others have to cope with great loss, while still others struggle to provide for their basic needs. The impact of the Fall is felt throughout our world, resulting in suffering on many levels. In this passage, Peter draws our attention to two causes of suffering.
Peter tells us in verse 15 that we can suffer due to our own sin nature. This self-inflicted suffering results from living contrary to God’s will. Peter gives examples of being a murderer, a thief, an evildoer or a meddler. Suffering that results from our own brokenness can be a great teacher if we are willing to learn the lessons, but Peter’s greatest concern has to do with our Christian witness. Self-inflicted suffering fails to bring glory to God in the eyes of a watching world.
On the other hand, we may suffer for our faith in Jesus. Peter tells us not to be surprised by such trials. They will occur and they will test the depth of our convictions. Fortunately, this type of suffering has value for our Christian walk. 1 Peter 4:14 says, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” It is in suffering for Christ that we can more clearly understand and identify with him. Peter goes so far as to rejoice as we share in Christ’s suffering.
Verse 16 places an important condition on those facing trials…we are to “suffer as a Christian.” What does this mean? Suffering as a Christian can mean both that the trial you face is a direct result of your obedience to Christ and that your response is in line with Jesus’ teaching. (vs. 17) Jesus gave us a powerful example of the latter through his crucifixion. He faced terrible suffering at the hand of the religious elite and Roman authorities. Jesus faced this worldly injustice and violence and allowed it to prove his complete submission to God. This is seen in his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
Jesus’ willingness to suffer in obedience to God’s will led to God’s glorification as Satan was defeated, death was destroyed, and humanity was offered a pathway back to God through the resurrected Christ. This is how suffering brings blessing. If we “suffer as a Christian,” then we can expect God to eventually redeem that pain as He accomplishes His purposes or justifies us upon Jesus’ return in the flesh.
STEP INTO THE UNCOMFORTABLE
Compared to countries like India, Iran or China, Christians in the United States enjoy many legal protections that keep us from suffering for our faith. Our hard won freedoms are to be celebrated, as we did this past Memorial Day. These freedoms, however, rob us of a powerful witnessing opportunity. Suffering as a Christian in our context looks different than it does in other parts of the world. To experience suffering as a Christian, we have to follow the example set by Jesus in Philippians 2:5-8. We must intentionally move towards the broken places in our world and make ourselves vulnerable - giving when others take, serving when others steal, forgiving hate-filled words and responding with grace and kindness. By moving in this direction, we testify to a different Kingdom reality and we acknowledge our true King and Lord.
At the beginning of his letter, Peter shares a powerful Trinitarian reality. He reminds us that God the Father knows us personally, that we are being formed in the image of Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit and that we are being equipped to obediently follow Jesus through every circumstance. If you are in a position today to “suffer as a Christian” may God renew your trust in Him, may you be responsive to the Spirit’s work and may you move forward in patient, fruitful obedience, keeping your eyes on Jesus.
Have you ever suffered “as a Christian?” Have you been blessed to see God redeem that suffering?
When was the last time you willingly walked into suffering so that the name of Jesus might be praised?
Read Philippians 2:5-8. What does this look like for you today as you follow in the footsteps of Jesus?
Dan joined the Cornerstone team in November 2018 as the Pastor of Missions. His focus is on empowering the church family to step beyond the boundaries of CCLB to declare the Good News, so that the Body of Christ might be established where it would not otherwise occur. In addition, Dan provides oversight for Cornerstone’s Care ministries.