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1 Peter 4:12-19: How to Handle Suffering Print E-mail
1 Peter
Sunday, 06 May 2007

John Hus believed that Christ was the rightful head of the Church and not the pope, a particularly unpopular idea in the 15th century.  Building on the movement that John Wyclif started, Hus fought for reform in his Church and spoke out against the abuses of the pope.  He was tried at the Council of Constance and condemned to death as a heretic for doctrines he did not believe or teach.  On the day of his execution, Hus was given one final chance to recant.  He replied: “God is my witness that the evidence against me is false.  I have never thought nor preached except with the one intention of winning men, if possible, from their sins.  In the truth of the gospel I have written, taught, and preached; today I will gladly die.”  1

Does that not sound so odd to us?  How could he say that he would gladly die?  How could he approach such suffering with joy?  And you want to know the amazing thing?  He is not alone.  Listen to this portion of a letter that was written by Karen Watson, a Southern Baptist Missionary to Iraq who died in 2004: “Dear Pastor Phil and Pastor Roger, you should only be opening this in the event of death.  When God calls there are no regrets.  I tried to share my heart with you as much as possible, my heart for the nations.  I wasn't called to a place; I was called to Him.  To obey was my objective, to suffer was expected, His glory my reward, His glory my reward . . . The missionary heart cares more than some think is wise, risks more than some think is safe, dreams more than some think is practical, expects more than some think is possible.  I was called not to comfort or to success but to obedience. . . There is no Joy outside of knowing Jesus and serving Him. I love you two and my church family.  In His care, Karen.”  2
 
Church History is filled with people gladly suffering for the sake of Christ.  More than 500 years separate these two individuals, but they both believed the same thing, namely that there is joy in suffering for Christ.  It seems that they were very aware of what the New Testament writers have to say about the fiery trials we must endure.  They had a biblical worldview that taught them how to handle such difficult suffering.  How can we have such a worldview? 

We can begin with 1 Peter.  Peter has already dealt with suffering numerous times in his letter (see 1:6, 2:19-25, 3:13-22, 4:1-6).  He once again approaches this subject in our passage this morning.  As we consider this text, I want to identify how we are to handle suffering as a Christian.  Some of what we will say has already been pointed out, but we need to see it again in light of the text.

First, do not be surprised, but rejoice in suffering (v. 12-13).

After his doxology in verse 11, Peter picks up again in verses 12-13.  Look at those verses with me.  Peter tells his readers to not be surprised by suffering.  If we are thinking and living biblically, then we will not consider suffering something strange.  Rather, we will see it as part of the refining process in being made into the image of Christ.  The suffering we face here identifies us with our Savior.  Thus, when He returns and His glory is revealed, we will be able to rejoice then even as we rejoice now.  Likewise, suffering here makes us long for that Day.  The less comfortable we are here, the more we will long for Heaven.  Thus, we can rejoice in suffering when we see that it prepares us for glory.

All this reminds me of a song by Andrew Peterson.  He writes about a poor little girl that he met in South America who does not have all the stuff and comforts that we have here in America.  He states in the bridge: “They say God blessed us with plenty, I say you’re blessed with poverty, cause you never stop to wonder whether earth is just a little better than the land of the free (referring to heaven).” 3  Suffering and difficulty prepare us for our true home as believers.  Thus, instead of being surprised by it, we should rejoice in it as we await the coming Day.

Second, do not suffer for evil, but for the Name of Christ (v. 14-15).

In verses 14 and 15, Peter distinguishes between two types of suffering, namely suffering for evil and suffering for Christ.  Look at those verses with me.  Peter wants to be clear: suffering for evil is no blessing.  We have to understand the difference between the consequences of sin and true suffering for the Name of Christ.  For example, if you cheat on your taxes so you can have more money to give to the Church and are caught, you cannot claim to be suffering for Christ.  Yet, if you are arrested for preaching the gospel or calling sin sin, then you are suffering for the Name of Christ.  Peter does not want us to excuse the consequences of sin that we face as some sort of suffering for Christ.  Rather, as he says elsewhere, we are to suffer for doing right.  It is those who suffer for the Name of Christ that have the promise of God’s Spirit resting upon them.  Thus, may we suffer for the Name of Christ and avoid all evil.

Third, do not be ashamed in suffering, but glorify God (v. 16).

When I was in college, I had a professor who liked to call tests ‘opportunities.’  We had quizzes every Friday in his class, and he would always come in and announce (as if we did not know): “Alright class, I got a little opportunity for you today.”  If I am honest, I have to admit that I never really liked that sentiment.  Yet, I do understand his point: a quiz is an opportunity for us to make a good grade (of course the opposite is true as well).  Peter tells us in verse 16 that suffering is an opportunity for us to glorify God.  Look at verse 16 with me.  When we are called to suffer, we should never be ashamed of Christ.  Rather, with the apostles, we should be honored that we would be counted worthy to suffer for such a Name (see Acts 5:41).  The only shame would be to deny our Savior or be unwilling to join ourselves with His suffering.

Let me challenge you with a question to ask yourself as you go through suffering: how can I glorify God through this suffering?  Instead of grumbling and complaining and feeling ashamed in suffering, we should be eagerly looking for ways to show the World that God is our treasure even though it costs us everything.  He is the pearl of great price and our relationship with Him through Christ should very clearly be seen as the most valuable thing we have.  It is only when we rejoice in our suffering that we can truly glorify God in it.  When I think of John Hus facing his death “gladly” for Christ, I can only conclude one thing: Hus must have valued God more than anything else, including life itself.  God was supremely valuable to Hus.  Thus, through horrible suffering, God was glorified.  As we face suffering in our lives, our prayer should be that God would be greatly glorified. 

Fourth, do not disobey the gospel to avoid suffering, but entrust your soul to a Faithful Creator (v.17-19).

Peter tells us that suffering will come to both believers and nonbelievers as a part of judgment.  Look at verses 17 and 18.  The judgment that comes to believers will be purifying.  The suffering of this life will burn off the impurities and prepare us for the coming glory (see v. 12, the fiery trial).  The prophets use the imagery of purifying fire to refer to the sanctification of God’s people (see Jeremiah 9:7, Zechariah 13:9, Malachi 3:1-5).  Peter is picking up on that idea here.  God will purify His people through fiery trials of suffering and judgment.  One might conclude at this point that it would be better not to obey the gospel.  Yet, Peter corrects such thinking by reminding us of the horrible judgment that unbelievers will face.  If our suffering is hard, how much more difficult will their suffering be?  Thus, we dare not try to avoid suffering by simply disobeying the gospel.

Yet, how do we make it through?  How do we persevere?  How do we rejoice even in the midst of suffering?  Peter answers in verse 19.  Look at that verse with me.  Peter tells us to entrust ourselves to God as we face suffering according to His will.  This is what Christ did at the cross.  Even in the face of His horrible suffering, Peter tells us that He continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly (2:23).  In our passage this morning, he calls us to do the same.  God is trustworthy.  He is a faithful Creator.  In other words, nothing that we are facing is not a part of His sovereign plan.  Suffering is never random or outside of God’s control.  Therefore, we can trust that He will see us through.  It will be difficult, it may even result in our death, but it will not be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ (see Romans 8:35-39).  Instead of disobeying the gospel in order to avoid suffering, we should entrust ourselves to our faithful Creator.

Verse 19 makes me think of the book of Job.  It is hard to think much about suffering and not think about Job.  Yet, have you ever thought about the story as a whole?  Job is this righteous man who undergoes terrible suffering for no apparent reason.  Sure, we know what is going on behind the scenes, but not Job.  He just has to suffer.  And then after numerous chapters of struggling with his friends, the Lord finally answers Job out of the whirlwind.  And what does He say?  Does He let him in on Satan’s challenge?  Does He explain to him why he had to suffer?  No, He reminds him that He is the faithful Creator.  He tells him that nothing is outside of His control, be it weather or animals or anything else.  And this is enough for Job.  Why?  Because Job trusts Him, he simply entrusts his soul to a faithful Creator while doing good.

Brothers and sisters, we too are called to suffer.  We are called to rejoice in our suffering for the Name of Christ to bring glory to God.  As we face these difficult days, may we do what Job and John Hus and Karen Watson did.  May we take our eyes off of this earth, off of current struggles, off of present circumstances, and fix them firmly on our faithful Creator.  We can trust Him.  We can trust Him.  He will never ask us to suffer more than He did in redeeming us.  May we faithfully handle suffering for the One who faithfully suffered in our place at Calvary.  To Him be all the glory.  Amen.

 1 Quoted in Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995), p. 232.
 2 Quoted at:
http://www.desiringgod.org/Blog/597_the_missionary_heart/.
 3 Taken from “The Land of the Free” which is a hidden track on the album Clear to Venus.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Sunday, 13 May 2007 )

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