The Bible has a lot of suffering in it. In fact there is so much suffering in the Bible that it is hard to understand why we ignore it so much of the time or think that it is really odd when we have to endure hardships.
Suffering is godly. No one suffered as much as Jesus Christ. You might be tempted to think that His suffering was the crown of thorns He was forced to wear or the nails that nailed His body to the cross. Maybe it was the beating or the spear thrust into His side but in reality there are others who have endured physical death on behalf of others.
The greatest suffering Christ endured was spiritual separation from God the Father when he descended into hell to pay the penalty for our sins. Shortly before dying He cried from the cross, “My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me?” The wages of sin is death and He paid the ultimate penalty of spiritual death that we might have eternal life.
For as long as there have been Christ followers there has been suffering. The Bible plainly teaches that those who love God and follow Him will suffer in this life. I am fully aware that at some level that is not the most inspiring thing you have ever heard but the fact remains that suffering happens.
Our goal today is to view if from a biblical perspective. More importantly we will view it from Christ’s perspective as translated for us by Simon Peter. Peter is writing about the kind of suffering that happens when we suffer because of our faith in Christ. While his words apply to all suffering in many ways, contextually he was addressing those who were suffering for their faith.
Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.
So be happy when you are insulted for being a Christian, for then the glorious Spirit of God rests upon you. If you suffer, however, it must not be for murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs. But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name! For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household. And if judgment begins with us, what terrible fate awaits those who have never obeyed God’s Good News? And also, “If the righteous are barely saved, what will happen to godless sinners?”
So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.” 1 Peter 4:12-19
The Psalmist wrote these words:
“For I endure insults for your sake; humiliation is written all over my face. Even my own brothers pretend they don’t know me; they treat me like a stranger. Passion for your house has consumed me, and the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” Psalm 69:7-9
“For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.” Phil. 1:29
“He chose to share the oppression of God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward.” Heb. 11:25-26
The Christ-followers Peter was writing to had already experienced persecution and trial, (1 Peter 1:6-7 and 3:13-17,) but in this section of the epistle Peter refers to even greater trials that were to fall on them. He had in mind the dreadful persecution under Nero, A.D.64, where in the Roman capital Christians were burned alive to illuminate his gardens at night.
It is very important for us to realize that the action of suffering as Christians is inevitable; it is our reaction that is more important. How should we react when called upon to suffer for Christ's sake, and what is the secret of victory in the midst of suffering? Peter gives seven words of advice to sufferers:
1. Don’t Look so Surprised!
Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. 1 Peter 4:12
There is something that everyone in this room needs to understand and get deep inside of their heads. Life is full of ups and downs. Some of them are minor setbacks and some of them push us to the limits of our coping capacity. Being a Christ-follower does not insulate you from suffering. I know this goes against a lot of today’s popular teaching from some pretty well television preachers.
It is easy to preach that God doesn’t ever want you to be sick and always wants you to have money flowing from your pockets. In fact, you will draw unbelievably large crowds with that kind of talk. It is wrong. It is heresy and about as far from what the Bible teaches as anything I have ever heard. Paul says, “Don’t be surprised!”
In Psalms 66 we read these words, “10 You have tested us, O God; you have purified us like silver.” Psalm 66:10
“There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. 7 These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” 1 Peter 1:7
Suffering is something that God uses to work godliness into our lives. He may not plan for us to have bad things happen but He will use them to shape us and mold us into His image.
2. Rejoice that you are privileged to suffer for and with Christ!
“Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world. So be happy when you are insulted for being a Christian...” 1 Peter 4:13-14a
From the worldly point of view or on the natural level it would seem to be strange advice, but Christians are a spiritual people and when they suffer they are to let their suffering be an occasion for giving evidence of the supernatural nature of their faith. This is why Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount that those who were persecuted would be blessed.
Peter and John actually rejoiced in their sufferings in Acts 5:41-42
“...They called in the apostles and had them flogged. Then they ordered them never again to speak in the name of Jesus, and they let them go. The apostles left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus.”
“And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.” Romans 8:17-18.
Now is the time of suffering; later on will be the time of glory. But how is it possible to rejoice in the midst of suffering? How can you and I find a way to rejoice when we are going through tough times? Paul wrote about that as well.
3. Rest in the Spirit
“for then the glorious Spirit of God rests upon you.” 1 Peter 4:14b
The most important word in verse 14 is the word "for". It introduces the incredible truth that when a Christian suffers because of his love for the Lord, "the Spirit of God" rests on him. The word "spirit" should be spelt with a capital "S", for the reference is to the Holy Spirit Who is the active agent in the Godhead and who gives us special grace in our times of trial and testing to enable us to glorify God.
“Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit” Eph. 5:18
Let me give you an illustration right from the Bible of how this works. It is one of the most moving stories of the Bible.
“The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!” Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died.” Acts 7:54-60
This young man, follower of Christ, was the first of millions of martyrs that have lost their lives because of their faith. I thing that would qualify as suffering and yet here is the model. Here the Spirit of God rises up within him to make him Christ like in his response.
4. No Shame (Get your head up!)
“If you suffer, however, it must not be for murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs. But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name!” 1 Peter 4:15-16
This is what verses 15 and 16 tell us. It is a shameful thing to "suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody", but it is not a matter of shame for anyone to suffer out of loyalty to Jesus Christ. He suffered great shame for us all, and if we, out of love for Him and because of our faithfulness to Him, are called upon to suffer, we are only identifying our¬selves with Him as His followers.
There is no shame in this, indeed, what a privilege it is if we are called upon to suffer for the Lord! Such suffering glorifies God when it is patiently endured. Peter says it is a privilege!
5. Let suffering focus and break your heart for lost people
“For the time has come for judgment and it must begin with God’s household. And if judgment begins with us, what terrible fate awaits those who have never obeyed God’s Good News? And also, “If the righteous are barely saved, what will happen to godless sinners?” 1 Peter 4:17-18 This means that "these sufferings in Christians are the initial stages of God's judgment of sinful men. If God permits such drastic means for the purification of His own children, what can one say about the suffering and the remorse that the unsaved will experience?"
This is serious stuff! It dawned on me the other day how close I am to fifty years of age. Some of you have crossed that threshold and some of you can’t imagine being that old. What I am amazed at is how fast time goes by. I know I have heard older people say that all my life and passed it off as something older people are just supposed to say. I am reflecting these days on my life and my ministry, not as a pastor, but as an individual Christ-follower. How many days do I have left to impact the world around me? What is it that I am supposed to be doing that really matters and will matter to God in the long run?
I want to care more about lost people. That would be people who don’t know Christ and His salvation.
Do you have any compassion for the vast number of people who are without God, without Christ, without hope, without Heaven? Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus and reminded them of what it was like for them before they came to know Christ:
“In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope.” Ephesians 2:12
As Christ-followers, we may be called upon to suffer now, but think of what those who are not Christians will be called upon to suffer when this whole thing winds up. What is it that you and I need to do differently with our lives to make a difference in the lives of those who are around us?
6. Health, Wealth and Godly Suffering: It Could be His Will!
“So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right...” 1 Peter 4:19a
There are some who say that Christians should not suffer, that they should not accept physical suffering and that it is always God's will to heal and to deliver. We should never question the ability of God to heal and to deliver however suffering can be His will for us.
God uses suffering to sanctify us to Himself. This means we are separated for His use and service and we are surrendered to His will no matter what that might be.
It is an amazing thing when you realize that it was God who picked out the crucifixion of Christ. It was God the Father who planned it and allowed it to happen. He allowed His own Son to endure it so that we might be experience salvation and have eternal life.
“God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation.” Hebrews 2:10
Nobody likes suffering or nobody likes a crucifixion, especially if you are the one on the cross. Even Jesus asked for His cup of suffering to not happen if it were possible but in the end He leaves us a model of how to endure suffering. He accepts the reality of it and goes through it without one word of complaint. He talks to God the Father during His crucifixion. He remember those around Him and takes care of them.
In America, Christians pray for the burden of suffering to be lifted from their backs. In the rest of the world Christians pray for stronger backs so they can bear their suffering. It’s why we look away from the bag lady on the street and to the displays in store windows. Why we prefer going to the movies instead of to hospitals and nursing homes. Dave Dravecky in When You Can’t Come Back.
Max Lucado tells a story in a book called “It’s Not About Me” about a friend of his who had cancer. Some well intentioned Christians had told him ‘If you have faith, then you will be healed”. But, no healing came, only a crisis in faith in that man’s life. Max suggested another answer to him, “It’s not about you”, I told him. “Your hospital room is a showcase for your Maker. Your faith in the face in suffering cranks up the volume of God’s song.” (I Not About You, pg.126)
7. Trust and Obey for there is no other way!
“...keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.” 1 Peter 4:19b
C. S. Lewis describes the role of suffering in the life of the believer as “soul-making.” It is the shaping of the Christian with the hammer and chisel of adversity. Lewis also said “God whispers to us in our pleasures; speaks in our consciences; but shouts in our pains.”
We do not want to be in pain or suffering but let us today resolve to be like our Lord.
Let us embrace our crosses and not run from them.
Let us pick them up and carry them wherever Jesus leads us.
Let us draw closer to God and learn to be like Him.
Let us be better instead of bitter.
Let it make us grateful instead of hateful.
One of the most powerful prayers in the midst of suffering was uncovered from the horrors of Ravensbruck concentration camp. Ravensbruck was a concentration camp built in 1939 for women. Over 90,000 women and children perished in Ravensbruck, murdered by the Nazis.
Corrie Ten Boom, who wrote The Hiding Place, was imprisoned there too. The prayer, found in the clothing of a dead child, says: “O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all of the suffering they have inflicted upon us: Instead remember the fruits we have borne because of this suffering, our fellowship, our loyalty to one another, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart that has grown from this trouble. When our persecutors come to be judged by you, let all of these fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.”
Gerald L. Sittser writes:
"Two years ago, I wrote a book about suffering. I have received many letters from people who wanted to tell me their own stories of suffering. I have asked permission from a few to tell their stories to others. One woman, Mary, was in a terrible automobile accident when she was only five years old. Her grandmother, aunt, and only sibling-a younger brother-were killed. She, the only survivor, was trapped in that chamber of death for more than an hour before an emergency crew could get her out. It took her parents, who were touring Europe at the time, three days to get home. By the time they arrived, she had retreated into a cocoon of silence that lasted for nearly two years. Gradually, she emerged from her silence and returned to normal, or so it seemed.
Mary forgot the accident, but the memory of it did not forget her. She was married in her 20s and had a baby. When her little son reached the age of her brother at the time of his death, the memories flooded back. She had a nervous breakdown and was institutionalized. That experience set her on a journey of pain, healing, and redemption.
She was well on her way to emotional and spiritual health when she wrote to me. She concluded her letter by admitting the obvious: She would never have chosen what had happened to her. 'Let this cup pass from me,' she would have said to God. But she did not have a choice.
She came to realize over time that her suffering had a good effect. It served God’s redemptive purpose. She understood the tension in which Christians must live-- the tension between human weakness and God’s strength, life’s afflictions and God’s redemptive plan, catastrophic suffering (which she surely faced) and spiritual victory.
She was living what Paul wrote:
"We are often troubled, but not crushed; sometimes in doubt, but never in despair; there are many enemies, but we are never without a friend; and though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed. At all times we carry in our mortal bodies the death of Jesus, so that his life also may be seen in our bodies" (2 Cor. 4:8-10, TEV).
Mary embraced suffering so that God’s life could fill her up. It is a perspective she learned by living under the cross. Living Under the Cross. Discipleship Journal. Issue 110, Mar/Apr 1999
I know that there are some of you in this room that have experienced suffering. You have felt the pain and maybe are feeling it now and I hope today you can walk away viewing it a little differently than you have in the past.
Let me give you one more illustration from the word of God.
They called the apostles in and had them flogged... The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. - Acts 5:40-42
One of the most unusual and possibly confusing statements in the Bible is, "Out of them all the Lord delivered me" (2 Timothy 3:11, KJV). It was written by Paul about the events recorded in Acts 13-15. As Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel in Antioch, they had tremendous results. Acts 13:44 tells us, "Almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord." But the enemies of Christ stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and finally threw them out of town.
Acts 14:1-6 describes their next stop at Iconium, where they spoke boldly for Christ but were forced to leave when a murder plot was discovered. Paul and Barnabas escaped to Lystra but were followed by men from Antioch and Iconium, who stirred up the crowd against them. Acts 14:19 says, "They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead."
Some years later, when Paul wrote to Timothy about these persecutions, he said this in 2 Timothy 3:11: "But out of them all the Lord delivered me" (KJV). What? He escaped at Antioch and Iconium, but not at Lystra. There his enemies stoned him and left him for dead. But Paul doesn't say he was delivered two out of three times. He says, "Out of them all..."
If you're feeling a bit bruised and battered right now, remember that God sometimes delivers us through the stones, not from the stones. Our choice is to trust Him in every circumstance so that we can echo the triumphant testimony of the apostle Paul, "Out of them all the Lord delivered me."
There’s a simple little song written by Ruth Caye Jones and I used to hear it a lot when I was a child. It is a reminder for all of us that Christ-following is about the relationship. When you are in relationship with someone like Jesus you don’t need to be afraid you just need to hold on to that relationship. Here are the words:
“In times like these you need a Savior
In times like these you need an anchor;
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock!
In times like these you need the Bible,
In times like these O be not idle;
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock!
This Rock is Jesus, Yes, He's the One;
This Rock is Jesus, the only One!
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock!”