Being surprised or scared can be a horrible feeling right? Even when the surprise is a good surprise, there are some people that hate to be surprised! Do you know anyone who makes you promise that you will not throw them a surprise birthday party? Why? When you are in a groove, a routine, and something interrupts you, it can feel like a loss of control. We hate that.
In our next passage in 1st Peter, he says that Christians are people that should not be surprised about something. Take a look at 1 Peter 4:12-19.
In verse 12 Peter is once again addressing his Christian friends who are being persecuted for their choice to follow Jesus. He says, “Do not be surprised about it, as if something strange were happening.”
Imagine being persecuted because you are a follower of Jesus. Our normal viewpoint is that following Jesus is normal and good. To be persecuted, to be shunned, to endure physical bodily harm simply because we are followers of Jesus sounds crazy. If that happened to me here in Lancaster, I would be very surprised. I wouldn’t expect it. It would feel like my life is out of control.
But here Peter is saying to these Christians, “Don’t be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering as though something strange is happening to you.” I want to say, “Peter, what are you talking about? Don’t be surprised at pain and suffering? If they are not surprised, then how should they react? Are you saying they should expect it, as if it is normal? No way! They definitely SHOULD be surprised. That pain and suffering is wrong, it shouldn’t be happening.”
From our vantage point living in a time and place where there is no persecution for our faith, of course we would think that persecution is surprising and strange. But those Christians were not living in our time and place.
And what is more, I suspect that Peter is concerned that if those Christians become surprised at the suffering, and they think it is strange, they will miss the opportunity to have the right attitude about it. If they think pain and suffering for Christ is strange, they will likely have the wrong attitude about the persecution.
In my own life, and when I have interacted with people going through difficult situations, I have seen that often times when we are suffering, we hate it, we want it to be done, and can easily become bitter and angry and lose heart. We often look for someone to blame, and we get stuck on that. It is very, very easy to have the wrong attitude about suffering.
So Peter tells them not to be surprised, and he goes on in verse 13 to explain to them the right attitude they should have about their sufferings. And what he says is truly a shocker: they should rejoice that they participate in the sufferings of Christ! And thus they will be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
But he doesn’t stop there. He says in verse 14 that if they are insulted for Christ, they are blessed, and God’s Spirit rests on them.
Rejoice. Be overjoyed. You are blessed. Huh?
That’s the kind of language that we normally reserve for good things. Birthday parties. Even surprise parties. The blessing of new children, weddings, baptisms, new jobs, raises, new houses, a vacation. You name it. When really good things happen to us, we rejoice! We are overjoyed, and we say that we are blessed.
The hashtag “Blessed” was a thing that was overused and is oftentimes still used when people post on social media about something good that happened in their life. But Peter isn’t talking about any of that good stuff. He is talking about painful trials. Suffering. Participating in the sufferings of Christ, he calls it. Why does Peter call suffering, “good stuff”?
Christians, Peter says, look at suffering differently. Very differently. For Christians, painful trials are not strange, they are cause for rejoicing! For Christians, suffering is not surprising or unexpected, it is cause to say “I am blessed!”
Just let that soak in.
We are so used to our comfy society, and we try so, so hard to avoid pain of any kind, that what Peter is saying might have us ripping out this page of the Bible. I get it, I am not a fan of pain. When things don’t go our way we can be quick to say “God, why are you doing this to me?”, and we generally don’t look at ourselves, that we might be the cause of our pain. Or we point to others as the cause, and then we get angry, hurt and bitter.
But read through this passage by Peter again, and what you will find is that there is nothing like that described here as the way to handle suffering and persecution. What Peter does say, instead, is that Christians will have a change in perspective about their pain. No blame, anger or bitterness, but rejoicing in the pain. But how?
Three of us from Faith Church are once again in training for a marathon. On Sept 30th, we will run 26.2 miles. That will be a painful day. But what most people don’t realize is that a marathon of 26 miles can only happen after much training. Our training plan is 18 weeks long, and by the end of the marathon, we will have run nearly 600 miles in those 18 weeks. For the last month or so, we have been saying that we are basically hungry, tired and sore all the time. My knees ache. My feet hurt. My muscles are just worn out. You might think, then why do you put yourself through that? It is a very good question, because I hate pain.
But there is something weird that happens, and it is unexpected. On the day of the marathon, after I have run about 21 or 22 miles, and all the way until mile 26.1, I am thinking this is stupid and dumb and I am never putting myself through this pain again. And then I see the finish line, and I cross it, and something comes over me, and I think this is the greatest thing ever, and I love it and I’m definitely going to run a marathon again. You know what I doing at that moment? Rejoicing through the pain. But how? My body still hurts. In fact it hurts bad. But you know what? My attitude has changed.
It’s all about attitude and perspective. Peter is telling them to have a new perspective, a new outlook. See pain as blessing. He says in verse 13 that it will mean extra joy when Jesus’ glory is revealed, which is another way of talking about some day in the future when they meet Jesus face to face. And further, in verse 14, they are blessed because, Peter says, God’s Spirit rests on them! That is amazing. Not only do they get the joy of going through what Jesus went through, and so identifying with him like that, they also are blessed because God’s Spirit is on them.
When you are facing suffering, a change of perspective will allow you to see the pain as joy and blessing.
But not all suffering should lead to rejoicing. Peter is quick to say in verse 15 that there is some suffering that does not qualify as rejoicing. That is suffering for doing wrong. He lists a couple sins in verse 15. If you suffer consequences for poor behavior, that is not good suffering. When we are suffering, it can be hard to be honest with ourselves. When we suffer we can think that is all bad and painful and want it to stop, and that can mess with our heads. We can start to think that it wasn’t our fault. We can start to blame others. We can start to say that we are being attacked by the devil. There are all sorts of things we can do to have the wrong attitude about suffering.
Peter says, don’t do that. Be honest with yourself about your suffering. Own what is yours to own about a situation, about a circumstance, about why there is suffering going on. Be honest and own it. That requires a lot of humility and maturity. It is hard to swallow your pride and say, “I messed up.”
But, as he says in verse 16, if you suffering because of your faith in Christ, now that is a whole new thing. That is good suffering. And you can and should rejoice!
But the thing is that when we are suffering for Christ, it is still suffering, still hurts, still stings, whether physically, emotionally, or relationally. If we are suffering for Christ, if people are making fun of us for praying at meals, for going to Bible study, for reading our Bibles, for going to church, for talking about Jesus, you name it, then there is one simple thing we can do to make the pain go away.
Just stop following Jesus. Or more likely, we can hide the fact that we are following Jesus.
Think about it, if you were one of these early Christians who used to participate in wild partying, just like we heard about in an earlier post about verses 3-4, and you have stopped that partying, your old friends might not like the new you, and they might heap abuse on you. That would not feel good, and depending on long the abuse lasted and how awful it was, the easiest thing to do to make the abuse stop would be for you to go back to your old ways.
A Christian would feel shame from their old friends. And in that culture that was a big deal. Scholars tell us that the Ancient Near East was an honor and shame culture. What that means is that saving face was a huge part of their society. People would go to great lengths to save face, including lying.
When Peter says, in verse 16, “do not be ashamed,” he is using honor and shame language that would have spoken deeply to his friends. I think it speaks to us too.
Have you ever been ashamed of Jesus? For me the most obvious time in my life when I struggled with being ashamed of Jesus was in 9th grade in high school. I had gone to a private Christian all my life up to that point, and 9th grade was my first year in public school. I remember that gradually I stopped wearing my Christian school apparel. I stopped telling people I had previously gone to a Christian. I stopped telling them my dad worked at the Bible College. He was just a professor. I didn’t want to feel shame. I became way more concerned about what other kids in school thought, than what God thought.
That was wrong. But how about you? How do you feel shame for being a Christian?
Sometimes there are people in our world who loudly say they are Christians, and then maybe don’t act the way that Christ actually acted. That can cause shame for us because we may think, “I don’t want to declare I am a Christian, if that poor example of Jesus is what people think when they think of the name ‘Christian’.” There were certainly people like that in Jesus’ day; the Pharisees, for example. But Jesus’ followers were still to follow his ways and let it be known that they were living their lives because of their desire to follow Jesus. He didn’t tell the disciples to not follow God just because others were hypocrites about it. Instead he said, “follow me.”
Peter says we should praise God that we bear the name “Christian.” We should wear that label with pride. Of course we don’t actually wear “Christian” as a written label, such as a logo on a hat or shirt or flag. There is another, but still very physical, visible way we show we are Christians. We show we are genuine followers of Jesus by how we live our lives, and a huge way we can do that is to rejoice in the midst of suffering. I have watched many people in my church rejoice and faithfully praise God, even as they have battled difficult health and life situations. That has been amazing.
When people think of the word Christian, they should think, “Those are the people who rejoice in suffering.”
We Christians have a different perspective about our pain! We praise God, Peter says, that we bear the name Christian. And Jesus Christ had a different perspective about suffering. He said, “Blessed are you when men persecute you because of me. So rejoice.” When we rejoice in suffering, we carry Jesus’ name, we are Christians.
But just as Peter says that we praise God that we bear that name, he goes on to say in verse 17, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God.” I read that and I thought that I don’t like that sound of that. Judgment? In the family of God? What does he mean? Peter, in verse 17, is connecting back to verse 12. Peter is now rounding out a thought he started then. Look back and 12 where he says, don’t be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering.
Peter is literally using a word picture here of a trial by fire. It’s no joke. Fire purifies. But even more, a trial by fire is a test. Like walking on hot coals. Can you handle it? Would you do it? Will you pass the test? Or will you chicken out? The persecution those Christians endured, Peter says, is a test. And would they pass the test by remaining faithful?
In verse 17, then, he hearkens back to verse 12. It is time for judgment to begin with the family of God. By tying the two verses together, we get the idea that as these Christians were going through persecution, it was a kind of trial by fire to see if they were going to remain faithful to God or not. How would they handle the fiery trial? They were literally being tried and tested first. It began with them. And the testing would continue with everyone else, including those who do not follow the Gospel.
Peter quotes a proverb to support his view. In other words, he is using Proverbs 11:31 to say, “if you, the faithful follower of Jesus, are going through difficult trial, imagine how much more difficult it will be for the ungodly and sinner?” In verse 19, Peter’s conclusion is this: when you suffer for God, commit yourself to him, because he is faithful, and thus you though you are suffering, you can and should choose to do good.
We Christians have a different perspective about our pain. We need to be known for joy in the midst of suffering, and for doing good.
We Christians view things differently.
We rejoice in suffering.
We’re unashamed about Jesus.
When we suffer, we respond by doing good.
When we are feeling like we have been treated wrongly, we rejoice and we serve others! It would be very easy to succumb to bitterness, or wallow in self-pity, but Peter says that when we are persecuted, we choose to do good.
When you are feeling shame, choose to volunteer and serve others! Peter’s advice here is genius. He knows that when those Christians were being persecuted, it would be so easy for them to be self-focused and get stuck in a mindset of “how bad they have it”. But what does he tell them to do? Rejoice, be unashamed, and do good.
When you get bad news about your health, think about how you can volunteer at the clinic.
When you lose your job, think about how you might serve the homeless and those in need of food and clothing. Maybe you’ll have some time on unemployment where you can volunteer at a food bank or shelter!
When you have a relationship go bad, call up the person you know who struggles with loneliness and encourage them. Invite them over for coffee, or take them out for lunch.
We Christians think about suffering differently! Our heart and focus needs to be on Jesus and on others, as we look for ways to rejoice and serve.