Earthly Suffering and God’s Steadfast Faithfulness

As followers of Christ, can’t we avoid suffering?  I think most every Christian has quietly or loudly asked this question?  And to that question, the Apostle Peter writes to us in 1 Peter 4:12-19.

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 

He begins with ‘dear friends.’  Your translation may say ‘beloved.’  This is the tone of this section dealing with suffering.  That in the midst of suffering, don’t forget that you are dearly loved by God.

Sometimes as parents, Heather and I are card carrying members of the ‘suck it up butter cup’ club. Or the ‘rub some dirt on it’ club.  And there is a time and place for such a response, and I won’t be relinquishing my card as a parent anytime soon, but that is not the tone that Peter is writing with here.  He is writing with great affection and love for those who are reading and listening to this letter.  He is writing to bring earthly comfort and an eternal perspective.

And the first thing Peter tells us is don’t be surprised when you hit suffering.  If you’re new to following Jesus, you might be thinking, no wait, I thought this was going to go better.  And it is, and it has.  But it doesn’t mean you’ll fly away from this broken, fallen world when you give your life to Jesus and be free from loss, suffering, or hardship.

Problems and trials are a part of life.  I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, but sometimes we can think that ‘hey, wait, I’m obeying Jesus, I shouldn’t have to walk through this now.’  And Peter says, no don’t be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you. 

The idea of ‘fiery ordeal’ refers to refining metals in fire.  And its purpose is to test you.  To refine out the impurities like our pride, or our self-reliance.  The suffering is not meaningless, pointless, or random.  There is a purpose behind it.  God is using it somehow in our lives.  We may not know what that is this side of Heaven, but we do know that God is God, and we can trust.

Recently, an 8 year old asked me, why did my grandma die?  All I could tell him was I don’t know.  I told him I’ve had the same question when friends of mine have died before I thought they should.  And so we don’t know the easy answer but we do know who our God is.  We know His nature and character, that He is all together good, loving, gracious, eternal, strong, unchanging, compassionate, true, and on and on.  And such understanding leads us to still trust in Him, in the midst of the suffering.

And in the midst of the suffering, we can rejoice.  Because we know that when His glory is revealed, in His second coming, we know that on that day, all our sufferings will be turned to joy.  John Wesley said this, “For the measure of glory answers the measure of suffering, and much more abundantly.”

And in the next few verses, Peter will give us reasons why we can rejoice even in the midst of suffering.  And why the measure of glory is far more abundant than the measure of suffering.

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. 

We will face persecution for our faith, whether on the job, school, or family.  We will encounter those who ridicule, exclude, or mock.  And when we are insulted, we are blessed.  The Spirit of God is resting on you.  This is a great consolation for us.  As John Piper said, “In great suffering on earth, there is great support from Heaven.”  What you are going through may be beyond you, but it is not beyond the grace of God.

15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 

So Peter is quick to clarify our suffering should not result from our sin.  So this is not us bringing pain upon ourselves through our own sinful choices.  And notice how alongside murderer and thief, is meddler.  Your translation may say busybody.  We all know it is wrong to murder and steal, but Peter reveals that it is evil when we are prone to gossip, slander, and spend all our time talking about other people’s problems and solutions when we are part of neither of them (a good word for small town USA, btw).

16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 

The word ‘Christian’ is only used 3 times in the New Testament, and the idea behind it meant little Christ.  It was a term used by those who rejected Jesus, and it was not a term of endearment.  It was meant to mock.  ‘Oh, look at you the little Christs’.  But the idea behind it is true.  Christians are to be ‘little Christs’.  People who seek to live and walk as Jesus lived and walked (1 John 2:6).  And in regards to suffering, to suffer in the same way that Jesus suffered.

When we share in His sufferings, we give evidence of our union or relationship with Christ.  Romans 8:17 says, Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.  So when we suffer as a Christian, one reason we can rejoice or praise God is that in that moment, we are identifying with our Savior, a Savior that promises that He has overcome the world, and that an eternal life of rest and glory await.

17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; 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?”

When Peter says it is hard for the righteous to be saved, he is saying that on our own, apart from the saving work of the cross and resurrection, apart from a rescuer and Savior, we would still be lost.  That we can’t save ourselves. If we were to be judged by our own merits alone, none would be saved.  The only thing that saves us is the righteousness of Christ given to us who trust in Him for salvation.

19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

When we suffer for being a Christ follower, it is a means by which we can bring God glory.  That through our words, attitudes, and way of life, we can still proclaim that He is good, that He has not forsaken us, and that He is who we trust in and cling to.

The NLT says verse 19 this way… “So if you are suffering according to God’s will, keep on doing what is right, and trust yourself to the God who made you, for He will never fail you.”

Peter reminds us at the end of this section that the God we serve is faithful.  He is fully trustworthy.  He is creator, and nothing is beyond His power or ability.  So as a result, we can trust Him.  We can continue to obey and do good, because the God we serve is forever good and eternally faithful.