God is with you - Part 31
1 Peter 4v12-14
Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ
5th January 2018
1 Peter contains a great deal of teaching about suffering, injustice and persecution but 1 Peter 4v12-19 is the last passage in the letter that talks about these themes, and it sums up what Peter has written so far. We'll look at it this week and next. This week, we'll study verses 12-14:
1 Peter 4v12-14
Some of us were sold a false gospel when we first came to Christ. Some preachers are manipulative enough, or ignorant enough, to preach something like, "Come to Christ and all your problems will be solved". It's not true, as you probably know from your own experience. And it's deeply damaging, because it can result in Christians feeling unloved by God when they go through difficult periods of their lives.
Every, or almost every, Christian will experience a painful trial from time to time. And the worst mistake we can make is to imagine God has abandoned us, because life is so hard. God has not abandoned you. What's happening to you is not unusual. It's normal for a Christian to experience painful suffering.
Our Leader, our Saviour, our Example, our Lord, suffered the most unjust, most painful trials anyone ever had. Jesus Christ was completely without sin. He was utterly loving and utterly righteous. He only ever spoke the truth, and they nailed Him to a cross. God the Father called Jesus "my beloved son with whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3v17). If God allowed Jesus to suffer, why do we thing we won't suffer?
Peter witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus. He lived through the first persecution, when James the brother of John was beheaded with a sword, Stephen was stoned to death, and Paul (before he was saved) and his colleagues were rounding up Christians, imprisoning and killing them. Peter know a lot about painful trials.
We read in chapter 1 verse 2 that this letter was written to Christians living in what we now call northern Turkey. It's likely that some sort of persecution broke out there at that time, and the Christians were asking, "Hang on a minute, we're Christians, why are we being persecuted?" And Peter writes to say that that's normal.
The fact that in England we've had a couple of hundred years when we haven't been persecuted is very unusual. Thousands upon thousands of Christians have been imprisoned, tortured, killed, maimed, raped, made homeless or starved for Jesus. What makes us think that we're going to continue to get away without persecution?
And it's not just persecution by governments, or by extreme followers of other religions. We can be in a very painful trial for all kinds of reasons, including health reasons, family problems, church problems and depression. All sorts of things can cause us pain. Sometimes just our love for other people who are suffering can be a really painful trial.
Don't be surprised. Don't think something has gone wrong. This is normal. It was normal for Jesus. It was normal for the early church. It's normal for us all. It doesn't mean God doesn't love you.
1 Peter 4v13
Peter tells us not to be surprised but rather to rejoice. Many Christians don't understand this but, when we suffer for righteousness's sake, we participate in the sufferings of Christ.
How much do you want to identify with your Lord? Your Lord was often homeless and sometimes hungry. He was betrayed by his friends. He was falsely accused. He was tortured and executed. Do you want to identify with our Lord?
We will never suffer as He suffered but when we suffer for being a Christian, or for trying to live like a Christian, we're sharing a little bit in His suffering. When we're trying to do the right thing, so far as we understand what the right thing is, and we receive opposition or unkindness we are, a little bit, sharing in the sufferings of Christ.
Rejoice because if you're suffering because you're trying to be Christ-like, even if you're failing, there's something of Christ in you, and you're identifying more with your Saviour than you ever would if you never suffered.
And because we participate in the sufferings of Christ, we may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. The Lord who suffered more than we ever will, the Lord who leads us through these trials and out the other side, the Lord who holds on to us until we finally go to be with Him in glory, will be revealed to us. One day you will see Him face to face, and you will know that is was worth it.
Jesus said during the introduction to the Sermon on the mount, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven , for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you " (Matthew 5v11-12). If you're treated badly because you're a Christian, or because you're trying to live like a Christian, then you're blessed, because great is your reward in heaven.
Life on earth won't be much more that 100 years for most of us, and your painful trials will end. But if you endure painful trials: being lied about, spoken against, excluded, beaten up, or whatever happens to you, because you're trying, however imperfectly, to life the Christian life, then great is your reward in heaven. It's worth it. In the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You will be named with Elijah, Elisha and Isaiah as one of those who suffered for trying to live a godly life. And God is far more interested in how much reward you'll have in heaven than in making life comfortable for you on earth.
Hebrews 11v35 talks about God's people who were being tortured and refused to be released because they were looking for a better resurrection. We find that hard to imagine, but they understood that great is our reward in heaven.
1 Peter 4v14
You probably don't feel like it, but God sees how you behave when you're mistreated, when you're in great physical or emotional pain, when things aren't going the way you planned, when people say things you wish they wouldn't say. God sees how you respond. And the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
Paul wrote to Timothy, saying: "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 3v12). That's just the way it is.
Tragically, sometimes Christians persecute each other. In the Reformation, for example, thousands of Protestants and Catholics died because other Christians thought slightly differently from them, and thought they had the right to kill them for disagreeing about doctrine. When will we ever learn not to hurt each other? We read last time, "Above all, love each other deeply". God may ordain painful trials for your brother in Christ, but make sure they don't come though you.
We'll study verses 15-19 next time.