Here is a truth that is hard to swallow: Living for Christ will involve suffering!
Peter puts this truth into perspective in his first letter. First he spoke of a a Christ-centred hope (1:3-2:10), then he taught his readers how to live with a Christ-centred hope (2:11-4:11). In the final section of his letter, Peter wants to ensure that his readers understand what it means to suffer under a Christ-centred hope (4:12-5:11).
1 Peter 4:12-19 is helpful in considering what it means to be resilient when suffering. Six times in a few verses suffering is mentioned.
Notice that it is not suffering in general – it is not about sickness, poverty or injury, it is not about the pressures of School or University or Work deadlines, it is not about grief that is felt when a loved one is dying.
The suffering here is the kind of suffering a believer endures when standing firm in faith. The hard truth is that – Living for Christ will involve suffering.
And to prepare his readers, what he does is describe some trials and then offer some benefits.
‘Do not be surprised at the painful trail you are suffering as though something strange were happening to you’ (1 Peter 4:12)
This is all about expectations. If you are not mentally prepared for tough stuff, then how will you cope when that hard stuff hits? We are far more likely to succeed at something hard, if we recognise up front that it won’t be easy.
If Jesus suffered at the hands of those he came to save, then his followers shouldn’t be surprised that the same thing might happen to them. As you talk about your faith presumably you do that so that others might be saved – so don’t be surprised if this may be a painful exercise. The whole language of ‘trial’ should help Christians see that there is a purpose – it is to strengthen, it is to prepare – it will help you persevere when things get harder.
Next Peter says something surprising:
‘Rejoice that you participant in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed’ (1 Peter 4:13)
If I was listening to the World, I would think that this was a typo. ‘Rejoice that you participant in the sufferings of Christ’ – That is such a counter-cultural idea!
How is it possible to find anything good in something that is always bad? You can’t, but that is the lie our world tells. It is possible that in suffering, there is joy.
Don’t confuse what it means to be ‘overjoyed’ with the secular view of ‘happiness’. Here ‘joy’ and ‘happiness’ are not the same thing. When anyone suffers there is little reason to be happy about it. Calling upon someone to ‘just be happy’ ignores the reality of a bad situation. To ‘rejoice in suffering’, however, looks beyond the immediate circumstance and comforts the Christian to look into a certain future.
Look at the cross – great, unimaginable suffering – but one that delivers great unending joy. Suffering for the Christian, is not a threat, it is a promise – but with that promise comes the reality that your suffering in Christ shows that you belong to him. Believers who suffer for Christ have hope – which is realised when his glory is revealed and they will be overjoyed.
For more in this Series:
Resilient in Suffering
If you are going to live for Christ, are you willing to make a stand?
Living for Christ will involve Suffering!
Strategies for Resilience in Suffering
Suffering and Judgement
How does a Christian become more resilient in suffering?