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TEXT: I Peter 4:12-19
SUBJECT: I Peter #14: Why We Suffer
If you spend much time witnessing to unbelievers, it won't be long until you meet this objection: Why do bad things happen to good people? I call it an 'objection' and not a 'question', because most people who say it are not looking for an answer, but for an excuse--a reason to justify their unbelief.
They say, 'If God is all powerful, He could prevent bad things from happening to good people, and if He is all loving, He would'. But, since He obviously does not keep bad things from happening to good people, He must be lacking in either power or love or both. Or, maybe there's no God at all. Some unbelievers are more articulate than others, but nearly all of them eventually fall back on this argument against the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
How would you answer them?
The most common answer is the one given by my hero, CS Lewis. He says that suffering comes from the abuse of human free will. If God has made us persons--and not robots--we must be free to choose, and some people will choose evil over good, hating and hurting their neighbors over loving and caring for them.
There's a lot of truth in this, of course: the gifts of God can be--and often are--abused. The hand that can reach out to give can also be closed to punch. Minds that might cure cancer and set on designing nuclear weapons. The goodness of God can be put to an evil use.
The problem with this view, however, is that it doesn't explain the suffering brought about by non-human agencies. The earthquake and tidal wave don't kill because they're evil, but because they're earthquakes and tidal waves!
A second view was held by a great many people in the New Testament; formally, it's called the theology of retribution, the belief that people suffer because they did something wrong. Most people today call it Karma. The Jews felt this way about the eighteen men who died when the Tower of Siloam collapsed, and, looking at a man born blind, the disciples of Jesus wondered--
Who sinned, this man or his parents?
This view is a serious misapplication of what the Bible teaches about justice. With the Second Coming of Christ, complete, perfect justice will be done. at that time, all saints will be rewarded and all sinners punished. Until that time, however, things are in a muddle!
If you read Psalm 73, for example, you'll see the good guy suffering and bad guy prospering. The same is true of Job and his 'friends' and, of course, the Rich Man and Lazarus.
Karma is no answer to the Problem of Evil; in fact, it's worse than no answer, it's a wicked answer!
The true answer is the one nobody likes: Why do bad things happen to good people? We don't know. We know that God loves us and that He's in charge of all things, but why He allows--or decrees--hard working people to lose their jobs or fit people to get cancer or young healthy couples have babies with birth defects, we don't know!
And we don't need to know. If you read the Book of Job, you'll find a suffering saint demanding answers of God. But at the end of his story, you see the answer is God Himself, whose--
Ways are past finding out.
When suffering unjustly, therefore, we must resist the temptation to ask, 'Why me?' and to live instead by blinded Pharisee's plea--
Lord, what would you have me to do?
SUFFERING AND SUFFERING
This brings us to vv.12-19 of I Peter. Like most of the rest of the book, the theme here is suffering, the suffering God's people were going through at the time, and the far worse suffering that was soon to come.
Before he tells us what to do when we suffer, Peter draws a distinction between suffering and suffering. The suffering he has in mind is not the kind you bring down on yourself because you're doing something wrong, v.15--
But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people's matters,
Because he himself fell into gross and shameful sin, Peter is realistic about the Christian life. He doesn't believe in the sins of sinners (which are really bad) and the sins of saints (which aren't). He knows that we're subject to the very same temptations as our non-Christian neighbors, and sometimes we give into them.
Some Christians in the First Century--and now--have committed murder and are living their last days on Death Row. Some of them were jealous husbands; some were hotheads; some were stupid kids who fell in with the wrong crowd...
...and, in Peter's time, a good many of them were Jewish patriots who thought God would use revolutionary violence to deliver Israel from its masters in Rome. The world was teeming with men like Barabbas--or Ben-Hur in those days, and some of them were Christians!
Others were guilty of lesser crimes, like theft, and, I imagine a great many of them were always getting themselves in a pickle for meddling in the affairs of other people.
I'm sure Peter feels for these people, and knows God will work their sins together for good, but they're not the people he has in mind here! He won't allow stupid or angry or nosy Christians strike the martyr's pose, and think of themselves as suffering for Christ's sake, when, in fact, they're suffering justly for their own faults.
These people are, v.14--
Reproached for the name of Christ.
In other words, they're not suffering because they're Christians who sin, but because they're Christians! They're suffering because they're speaking up for Christ and because they're living better lives than the Pagans and Jews all around them.
This is the kind of suffering Peter has in mind here, and, of course, this is not the first time he brings it up. In fact, the whole Epistle centers on this very thing: suffering because your life is something like Christ's.
Peter assumes that everyone who lives like Christ, will, also like Christ, suffer--not to the same extent, of course, but suffer nonetheless. How does he want us to respond to it?
DON'T BE SURPRISED
The first thing he says is, 'Don't be surprised', v.12-
Beloved, do not think it strange considering the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you.
Before we get to the body of this command, I ought to say something about Peter's approach. There's no Vince Lombardi in the man! If you're not old enough to recognize that name, let me put it this way: There's no drill sergeant telling us to 'Suck it up'.
Peter had first hand experience with suffering. Along with John, he was the first Apostle to be beaten and humiliated by the Rulers of Israel. He received forty stripes save one and knew they hurt!
Consequently, he speaks to his suffering friends with understanding and compassion. He calls them--
That is, they're people he loves, saints in whose welfare he has a personal interest. And not only he, but these dear suffering Christians are the Beloved of God and of Christ. Peter wants them to remember that. Suffering has a way of isolating us, of making us think we're in it alone. We're not! We're in it with God and with Jesus!
Of God it is said--
In all of their afflictions, He was afflicted.
As for Jesus? Above any other man, He was--
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
Because Peter--and God in Christ--had suffered themselves, they know the trial they're in is a--
It's hard to think of anything that hurts worse than a burn. Even the little ones you get on the stove, not to mention the poor people who are caught in car or house fires! Peter compares the suffering they were going through to being burned. The imagery is not original with him. God Himself had warned and reassured His people with the words--
When you walk through the fire you shall not be burned...for I am the Lord your God.
Who can forget the magnificent story of the men in the fiery furnace, pushed into it by a vicious king, and joined by a Gracious King!
When we suffer, Peter--and the Lord-suffer with us. But he doesn't leave it there, with his sympathy. He goes on to tell us what to do (or rather, what not to do): Don't be surprised!
Why are we shocked when we suffer for Christ's sake? In the first place, it's because we haven't always been Christians--or, at least not public Christians. As long as we lived like everyone else, no one bothered us. Why should they?
We're also surprised because of the promises of God. Read the Bible and you'll find many verses that speak of God delivering His people. And we wonder why He's not doing that--for us. Sometimes we feel disappointed with God and wonder why He didn't come through on His Word. Then we read it again, and see that God rarely delivers us from our problems, but rather out of them! In other words, He lets us get into them so that He can get out of them. Psalm 34:19 is a good example--
Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers them out of them all.
And so, when you stand up for Christ--and people don't like it--don't be surprised. As long as the world is evil, it will prefer darkness to light--and that's why it hated Christ and is none too fond of us!
The second thing Peter wants us to do is...put up with it. Wrong! He wants us to--
Rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's suffering.
Peter doesn't say that suffering is good or that we ought to enjoy it and court more of it. No, what he wants us to rejoice in are two things:
Firstly, we're doing something right. We're not sharing in the suffering of fools, but in--
Suffering of Christ.
Conscience is overrated! The respect of the church is too. What really proves our commitment to Christ is suffering for His name's sake. Christian suffering is not uniform, but it is universal. If people are not laughing at you or avoiding you, you're not witnessing. If they don't think your life is stupid, it is not very Christian.
But suffering for Christ's sake means we're living as He did, to some degree.
Secondly, suffering for Christ's sake also means we will share in His glory. Jesus was not crowned King on the day He was born, but only after He--
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, buried...
on the third day rose again.
For His suffering, Jesus won a victory over sin, the world, and the devil, and was duly rewarded with a Victor's Crown. Peter--like Paul, and Jesus Himself--assures us that--
If we suffer with Him we will also be glorified with Him.
To have God's approval now and a Victor's crown in the world to come make us the most blessed of people--in this world and in the world to come.
Like Peter and John, we ought to be happy to be so honored as to suffer for Christ! When people are laughing at us (as they do here) or cutting off our heads (as they do in Saudi Arabia), they're blaspheming, but as we patiently and joyfully accept the suffering, we're glorifying God. We're showing the world that He's worth suffering for! That we count it a privilege to so honor Him, and not a necessary evil.
If you read the history of the Early Church, you'll see that very few of the martyrs looked scared or even in pain as they were being thrown to the lions or cut in half, or burned at the stake. Like Stephen, they often endured these things with faces shining like an angel's.
Suffering for Christ's sake is the lot of God's people in the First Century, and every other. Is God happy about the pain and embarrassment we suffer for Him? Of course not. His revealed will forbids the persecution of His People, and even good reason tells them they ought to let us be, and in fact, become Christians themselves.
But even though God does not will our suffering--in this way--He is putting it to good use. Our suffering, v.17 says, is a kind of--
Judgment on the house of God.
Not judgment in the sense of condemnation, or even of fatherly discipline, but rather, a kind of test He is putting us to, and not only us, but also our opponents. By God's grace, this is a test we will pass and they will fail. We will be saved through it all--
Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?
The will appear before the other Judgment of God, what Jesus calls--
The resurrection of condemnation.
The Church's critics and enemies are presently on the winnnig side. But on the day of judgment, the tide will turn, and they'll be exposed for the shabby, selfish, and hateful people they are.
Till then, we accept suffering, rejoice in it, love our enemies, and--
Commit our souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful creator.
No one in this room shrinks from suffering more than I do. I'm too sensitive to the slights of other people, I crave their approval too much, and I don't want to rock the boat.
God forgive me for this! And you, too, if you feel the same way. Jesus Christ is worth suffering for, and suffering for with--
A joy unspeakable and full of glory.
Think of the damned, who will suffer forever for their tawdry lusts, for their petty resentments, for their intellectual pride, for being one of the cool kids at school. They accept eternal suffering for nothing!
We accept temporary suffering for Christ! For God! For the Holy Spirit! For holiness! For the church! For the Kingdom! For the salvation of sinners!
These are the things worth suffering for! We need to remember this when tempted to pull back our witness and blend in with the world. We're suffering for the One whom the saints in glory celebrate in a never ending song--
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.
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