Life is not easy. You may feel like things are going along pretty well and then suddenly, like the flip of a switch, life changes,
- You get a troubling call from a Doctor
- You are told the company is downsizing and you are left out
- Someone you thought was your friend turns on you
- There is an accident
- Someone you love dies
- You are arrested
- Your spouse says they don’t love you anymore
These are trials in life. Peter was writing to a group of people who were relatively new believers. They had trusted Christ as their Lord and Savior in the belief that He would (as He promised) give them new life. However, now they were facing trials and many of those trials were because of their faith. They were confused and maybe a bit disillusioned.
Peter responds with words that not only encouraged and instructed his friends, I hope they will also encourage and instruct us. Let’s look at what the text tells us.
12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.
Believers are not Shielded from Pain and Suffering
The first thing Peter tells us that that believers should not be surprised by trials and suffering.
Are you familiar with the term “bait and switch”? It is an act of fraud that businesses might use. You advertise a great price on an item but when people come to buy the item you tell them it is “sold out” and you strongly encourage the customer to buy the costlier product that is similar.
Sometimes the message of Christianity sounds like a “bait and switch” scam. Christianity is advertised as something that will solve all our problems and make life wonderful. Then when you sign on the dotted line you discover that it does not free us from difficulty in life and in some ways the difficulty actually increases!
The Bible never makes such claims. It tells us the truth.
There are two reasons suffering should not surprise us. First the Bible clearly warns us.
As we read the story of the Old Testament we are presented with the story of people who were severely tested in their faithfulness. Think of Joseph, David, Job and many others.
In the New Testament we are warned,
- Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)
- For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. [Matthew 5:11-12]
- “In the world you will have tribulation but take courage, for I have overcome the world”. (John 16:33)
- Paul described his ministry, “as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. [2 Cor. 6:4-10]
- Hebrews tells us to “endure hardship as discipline” (Hebrews 12:7)
- James tells us to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds . . . “(James 1:2)
The second reason we should not be surprised is because Jesus faced trials. Jesus told His disciples, “Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”[John 15:20] Trials are a part of being a follower of Christ.
Suffering Comes for Different Reasons
15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.
Note the condition Peter adds: “If you are insulted for the name of Christ . . . not as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.” Peter is telling us that not all suffering is godly suffering. Some suffering is the consequence of our own sinful acts. In other words, sometimes we suffer because we deserve it!
Unfortunately there are many people who may feel they are being persecuted for the gospel when in reality they are being persecuted because they are mean, intrusive, or obnoxious!
One author writes,
suffering in itself, although commanded and modeled by Jesus, is by no means always a token of faithful Christian discipleship. There are many reasons for this. Our suffering may be brought on by our own folly rather than noble decisions or actions. Ministers who molest children cannot plead the sanctity of their vocation to avoid a prison sentence. Or our suffering may be the result of false religious claims, not true ones. A theology professor who loses his job for teaching that is way off base may be getting his just deserts. Or our suffering may be the result of immaturity or bad judgment or self-righteousness. A youthful church staff member who is dismissed for upbraiding the congregation during Sunday morning worship could be serving as a courageous prophet—but she could also be giving in to petty anger, a rebellious spirit, and an unwillingness to trust the Lord of the church regarding matters for which she has no business condemning others.
Even Biblical suffering has different purposes according to Scripture.
- Some trials are meant to correct us
- Some are designed to deepen us. Just like dryness causes a plant to root deep for moisture, so in the time of trials we must deepen our faith.
- Some are given as platforms from which we can demonstrate faith. When we are faithful even though life is hard, the world listens more carefully. Job did nothing wrong but his faithfulness in suffering proved the validity of His faith.
- Some trials serve as a training ground for a future ministry (we learn compassion often by what we suffer). Think about how Joseph suffered for many years but God was using all those experiences to put him in a place where he could save his entire family during the famine in Egypt.
Much of the time we have no idea why we are going through difficult times. When hard times come the preliminary question needs to be: Have I caused or provoked this suffering by some sin or some sinful attitude? If we see some sin we should repent and work to correct the rebellious attitude. If we don’t see any problems, then our job is to entrust ourselves to the Lord in the confidence that He is using the trial for His good purpose that we don’t yet see.
We Can Rejoice When We Suffer for Being a Christian
13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
We are participating in the sufferings of Christ
- When we are overlooked for promotion or not hired because of our relationship with Christ
- When we are given a lower grade because we believe what the Bible says
- When we are excluded by peers because they don’t like our values
- When we endure hardships to proclaim the truth of God (like missionaries)
- When we are arrested for refusing to compromise what the Bible has clearly stated.
- When we are singled out for violence because of our faith (as in some of the school shootings)
- When we are going through a deep time of testing and we are working hard to remain faithful
- When we seek to faithfully endure the effects of sin’s corruption in our bodies.
Peter says we can and should rejoice for several reasons. First because, In our trial we are identified with Christ (13). The logic here is simple: when people treat us like they treated Christ it shows that they see Him in us. When we live for Christ we become a contrast to the ways of the world. We become sort of the “conscience” society. People sometimes feel guilty around us not because of anything we say but because of the lives we live. However, instead of dealing with their sin, they would rather attack us.
The disciples, we are told, rejoiced that they were considered worthy of suffering for the name of Christ. They considered it an honor to be so associated with Christ that others treated them as they treated Him.
Second, Suffering reveals the depth of our faith. When we are willing to suffer for the glory of God as Christ has suffered we reveal the true nature of our faith. We can claim to be or be able to do all kinds of things. We may say we are a good cook, that we have musical ability, that we can hit a major league fastball, that we are an artist, that we are a craftsman, that we are a good public speaker. You can claim anything. The proof is when you demonstrate your professed ability.
In the same way, anyone can say they are a follower of Christ. It is easy to say. The claim is tested when we are put in a position where it is going to cost us something (comfort, popularity, inconvenience, pain, or even our lives). When we endure suffering because of our faith in Him, we demonstrate that our claim to trust Him is valid and true. Romans 8:17 says if we suffer with Christ we will also be glorified with Him.
Third, We experience the strengthening of the Holy Spirit. Peter says, “14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”
In the times of suffering we often feel like we have been abandoned by God. In truth, He is closer to us than ever. The times of heartache are often the times when we discover the Lord in the most profound ways. We learn a new dependency. We discover His deep strength and sufficiency.
No one earns a degree without having to pass tests. These tests are designed to motivate us and to measure what we have learned. Trials do the same thing. They motivate us, deepen us, and reveal the true nature of our faith. He tests us so WE can see the depth of our faith (He already knows).
If we could talk to the saints of old we would discover that their greatest spiritual moments came while in the furnace of trial
- Abraham on Mount Moriah where he was told to offer his son in sacrifice
- Moses learning to depend upon God in the wilderness
- David trusting God while Saul was trying to kill him.
- Job’s faith in the horrible trials he experienced
- Elijah learning to hear the still small voice in a cave during his time of depression
- Hosea learning to trust through his wife’s adultery
- Esther when she had to face her fear in approaching King Xerxes.
- Stephen who saw Jesus most clearly at the trial that led to his stoning.
- Paul who said the thorn in his flesh taught Him that God’s grace was sufficient and that those times when he felt most helpless he actually discovered his greatest strength.
Think about going white water rafting. It is certainly enjoyable to float down the river with friends in a big raft. However, when the trip is over what is it you remember and cherish? It is the times that are most stressful and sometimes terrifying. It is when you were fighting with all your might to paddle through the rapids that threatened to capsize your raft. There is a sense of strength and confidence that comes from overcoming the rapids.
We know from experience that difficulty actually enhances our lives. We experience blessings in the hard times that we could not know apart from them.
We know that the suffering is temporary. Peter says we rejoice so “we will be overjoyed when his glory is revealed”. In other words we know the suffering is achieving some eternal purpose. People who believe that this life is all there is have a real problem with suffering. They feel they have been cheated. The Christian has a different perspective. We understand that the suffering of this life is preparing us for the glory of the next.
16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
Think about an amusement park. You get on the “death defying” roller coaster. It is scary during the ride but you are not really frightened for your life. Why?
It’s because you are strapped in and sometimes held in by a firm harness. You know that the track is kept up and that thousands have safely ridden the ride before you and come through it safely.
Peter is arguing that we should view the trials of life in the same way. Are they painful? Yes. Do they sometimes hurt? Yes. However, we do not despair because we know the One who oversees the trial. He will not let us be defeated. He will keep us safe through the storm and the trial . . . even if the trial leads to our death.
19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
There are three things we can say in conclusion. First, Be Prepared. We are living in a society that is becoming increasingly hostile to the ways of Christ. People don’t like the idea of a standard to truth that does not change. They don’t like the idea of ultimate accountability. They don’t like the notion of our need for a Savior. When we hold to Biblical standards we are called homophobes, hate-mongers, narrow-minded, empty-headed and much worse.
Are there Christians who are mean and insensitive? Yes. But they are the exception, not the rule. Some are putting all Christians into the “dangerous-extremist” category. Talk show host Rosie O’Donnell even said “Christians are much more dangerous than radical Islamic terrorists”. Ponder the implications of those words.
I believe we are going to increasingly be faced with choices that force us to choose between peace with the world and faithfulness to God. We need to be prepared to endure suffering and abuse in order to remain true to the gospel.
Commit yourselves to God. Peter tells us to commit ourselves to our faithful Creator. The key to surviving any difficult time is to realize that God is in control. He has a plan even when the world feels like it is out of control. In every difficult time we must ask the simple question: Do I trust my circumstances or do I trust the one who is Lord over the circumstances. If God is truly in control and he loves us . . . we should rest in Him.
It is the height of foolishness to wait until trials come to learn to walk with Christ. That is like waiting until there is a fire to put gas or water in the fire truck! We must be prepared for difficult times. We get prepared by learning to walk with God now. We prepare for difficult times by learning to trust Him in the good times.
Continue to do what is good. When people attack us it is always tempting to respond in kind. Harsh words are met with harsh words, intimidation with intimidation, aggression by aggression. God calls us to respond as Christ would respond. We are to meet hostility with grace, kindness, and a desire to show love. We must not let the conflict keep us from our mission: to share the gospel of Christ with those who are lost and in need.
Will this be easy? It will not be. Life is not easy. Jesus told followers to “count the cost” before they signed on as His followers. He warns us that following Him will make us targets of the Devil and the sinful world around us. God does not promise to shield us from heartache or pain. He promises that those who trust Him will find His strength in the tough times. Those who trust Him in the hard times will discover that He is more sufficient to meet our needs than we ever imagined He could be when the times were good.