Suffering for being a Christian seems to be the theme of our passage today. It is not an easy topic to address in the culture we live in. It is not easy to address because there is a massive disconnect between the suffering we experience in America and the suffering that the biblical audience experienced or even the suffering that Christians have experienced all over the world.
Nevertheless, it is no secret that being a Christian in America is becoming increasingly more difficult as the years go on. No one is being tortured, beheaded or arrested simply for being a Christian in America right now and it is hard to imagine that there will ever be a day when that will happen here; but it is not impossible.
The kind of suffering we experience in America for being Christians is typically pretty light compared with the rest of the world and with our biblical audience, but it is still difficult to experience. I am fairly certain that most of us have experienced some kind of relational, educational or vocational suffering because of our faith. Most of us have probably felt the pain of the loss of relationship with a loved one, or the fear of crossing some lines in our educational system, or the pressure to comply in some vocational situation, simply because we do not want to give into the temptation of compromising our biblical convictions.
Personally, I have experienced some of this with a few family members and people who used to be close friends. I have experienced the pressure of helping some of our kids think through some really heavy topics as they navigate the school system. And even in my vocation as a minister, I have experienced seasons where I have taken a stance on something that was a non-negotiable issue in Scripture and have been blasted by other ministers for being too rigid or too legalistic.
What are we to do when we begin to suffer for our faith? What are we to do when a relative or a friend flips us the bird and walks away because we will not compromise our biblical convictions? How do we handle the ever-increasing hostility towards the gospel in our culture? Look at how Peter answers this question…
1 PETER 4:12 – 19…
12Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” 19Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
1: EXPECT TO SUFFER (V. 12)
Peter says it this way in verse 12 when he says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” The perplexing thing about suffering is that it almost always catches us off guard. It feels strange. It feels out of place. We never expected that friend or that family member to go off their rocker like that. It is surprising when someone unleashes their hatred on us through social media or in the school cafeteria or in the work-place hallway, right?
We just do not expect to suffer for our faith, partly because we live in America but also partly because deep down inside, we all have a tendency to buy into a prosperity gospel that says that because we belong to God, we will never experience hardship. It is easy to buy into the idea that if we do right and if we trust in Christ then the result will be his protection over us, and we will not have to suffer.
The problem with that kind of thinking is that it distorts the grand narrative of the Bible where God’s people did often suffer for their faith. Think of Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego in the fire or Daniel in the lion’s den or Paul being beaten or John being banished to the Island of Patmos. We should expect to suffer for our faith.
We should expect to suffer for our faith because it seems like suffering is a tool in the hand of our Sovereign God that is meant to test or purify or strengthen our faith (1 Pet. 1:7; 4:1 – 2, 12). Whenever I go through intense seasons of suffering, I try to remember that Jesus suffered for my faith. Jesus suffered so that I could have the opportunity to trust him, and he wasn’t surprised at all by the suffering he experienced at the cross; he expected it and so should we.
Have you ever experienced an intense season of suffering for Christ and then come out the other side of that season stronger in your faith, with a clearer picture of Christ at the cross, a more resolute understanding of the power of the empty tomb and greater hope in the promise of heaven?
When you survey the work of the crucified, risen and returning Savior in the midst of suffering for him, don’t you feel a little bit of joy welling up inside of you because you know that the last chapter has not yet been read yet? I think this is why Peter says that we should not only expect suffering, but we should rejoice when we suffer for Christ.
2: REJOICE WHEN YOU SUFFER (V. 13)
Peter says it this way in verse 13 when he says, “…rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. Rejoicing in the midst of suffering for Christ is not the same as the happiness you feel when your circumstances get better. Rejoicing in the midst of suffering for Christ is the overwhelming sense of pure joy even in the presence of deep grief over the circumstances of your pain.
This kind of joy, in the midst of suffering, can only be found as you and I share in Christ’s sufferings while looking forward to his return in glory. This is what it means to not only be filled with joy in the midst of suffering but to also be blessed in the midst of suffering and this is why Peter also says that we should be blessed when we suffer.
3: BE BLESSED WHEN YOU SUFFER (V. 14)
Peter says it this way in verse 14 when he says, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” We should not only expect to suffer for the sake of Christ, but we should also rejoice when we suffer by looking to the crucified, risen and returning Savior and when we do this, we will find ourselves realizing just how blessed we really are.
It has been my experience, that when suffering comes into the life of a believer, we usually begin to question God. We wonder if we did something wrong or if God has forsaken us. It is difficult to say “I am blessed” in the midst of suffering. But this is precisely what Peter says here; we are blessed when we suffer insults for the name of Christ.
In a sense Peter says we can rest assured that we have the Spirit of God resting upon us if we suffer for the name of Christ. Suffering for the name of Christ is not the mark of a curse it is the mark of the blessing of the cross, the empty tomb and the hope of Heaven. Now I do not know about you, but that kind of assurance leads me to want to glorify God in the midst of suffering. When I survey the blessing of suffering through the lens of the gospel, I am motivated to glorify God.
4: GLORIFY GOD WHEN YOU SUFFER (VV. 15 – 16)
Peter says it this way in verses 15 – 16 when he says, “…let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.”Suffering can have a funny way of bringing out the worst us. When we get tested by a fiery trial, sometimes what oozes out of us is not so glorifying to God. We complain, we get angry, we get cynical, we pick fights, we play the pity party and sometimes we just sit in the corner of the room and pout.
But Peter reminds us that we are to glorify God when we suffer, especially when we suffer for his sake. To suffer for Christ and to allow that suffering to lead us to sins like murder, stealing, pot stirring, or any other evil practice would be shameful. But to suffer for Christ and to let that suffering lead us to glorify God in the crucified, risen and returning Savior, in this there can be no shame at all.
It is always important to ask if what I am thinking, saying and doing in the midst of suffering is actually glorifying to God. It is also important to ask if the suffering I am enduring is a form of God’s judgment that is meant to bring about some kind of cleansing or sanctification in my life.
5: EMBRACE JUDGMENT WHEN YOU SUFFER (VV. 17 – 18)
Peter says it this way in verses 17 – 18 when he says, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” We probably enjoy the topic of judgment just about as much as we enjoy the topic of suffering. But in these verses, Peter ties the two together as something that should be expected and even embraced in the life of a Christian.
When you read the story of Israel throughout the Old Testament you will find that suffering and judgment often go hand in hand. God uses suffering as a form of judgment that is meant to cleanse and transform his people; it is meant to root out any areas of sin in our lives and turn us back in repentance to our crucified, risen and returning Savior.
Spurgeon said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that strikes me against the Rock of Ages”.2 In other words, Spurgeon had learned the importance of examining his soul in the midst of suffering; he had learned to see God’s hand of judgment as a divine act of cleansing in his life. Sadly, as I examine my own soul, I find that I have a tendency to curse the waves of suffering rather than kiss them. But I am learning that when suffering comes into my life, God is working to cleanse my heart and soul of anything that I look to for comfort, control, acceptance or power.
At the end of the day our good Father used two small trees with 3 nails and a whip in the hands of his enemies to inflict the suffering of the cross on his very own Son when I should have been the one who received that punishment. The suffering I face now is a light and momentary affliction in comparison with the cross of Christ.
And not only that, but the suffering I face now is a light and momentary affliction in comparison with the eternal suffering of someone who dies without ever trusting in Christ.
I am humbled when I think about the grace of God in my life, the fact that he has opened my heart to him. Whenever I think about those who have yet to surrender to him and the future that lies before them if they never come to repentance, I am absolutely humbled.
What could be a better reminder to trust in God in the midst of suffering than the reminder that some people are headed towards eternal suffering in separation from God and that this was the crowd that I once was part of? We should embrace judgment when we suffer but we should also trust in God when we suffer.
6: TRUST GOD WHEN YOU SUFFER (V. 19)
Peter says it this way in verse 19 when he says, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” The funny thing about suffering is that it often exposes the things we put our trust in. Suffering can be chaotic. Suffering can be very lonely. Suffering can feel really helpless. Suffering can feel super hopeless.
When life feels chaotic, we long for peace and we try to control things. When we feel lonely, we long for comfort or acceptance and we try to find it through unhealthy relationships or numbing addictions. When we feel helpless, we long for power and we try to gain power in all sorts of sinful ways. When we feel hopeless, we long for a set of different circumstances and we try to change those circumstances by chasing sex, money, fame and accomplishments.
But the crazy reality in all of this is that God uses suffering to reveal those sinful and rebellious tendencies in our lives while also painting a picture of his own faithfulness towards us in the bloody cross, the empty tomb and the promise of Heaven. God uses suffering to bring us to himself through the life, death and resurrection of his only begotten Son. God uses suffering to deepen our trust in him as our faithful Creator. Are you trusting in God today in the midst of your suffering?
In conclusion I want to encourage you with this: If you have trusted in the work of our crucified, risen and returning Savior, then you can expect suffering, you can rejoice in the blessing of suffering, you can glorify God as he uses suffering to cleanse you of sinful patterns and deepen your trust in him.
As you experience suffering for the sake of Christ, I pray that the shadow of the bloody cross, the emptiness of the tomb and the hope of Heaven becomes bigger than your suffering, because then and only then will you experience the joy and the blessing and the cleansing and the deepening of your faith that suffering was designed to do.
What should you do when suffering comes into your life? At the end of the day, you can stand in the hallway of your own soul during those dark nights when suffering walks into the room and you can say “Welcome my slave… come and do what my Father has designed you to do!”
With this perspective I can practice 1 Peter 4:12 – 19. I can expect suffering, rejoice in suffering, be blessed in suffering, glorify God in suffering, embrace judgment while suffering and trust God amidst suffering.
This is not easy at all but if the same Father who designs the suffering also gives me his very own Spirit to endure suffering then I can say: “Welcome my slave! Come and do what my Father has designed you to do!” – Amen!
1 Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this paper are to the English Standard Version Bible, The New Classic Reference Edition (ESV) (Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, 2001).
2 David R. Helm, 1 – 2 Peter and Jude: Sharing Christ’s Sufferings (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2008), 153.