Persecution & Suffering: 45

1 Peter 4:12-14 says, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”

We can see from this passage that it is through our sufferings that we can most closely identify with Him. God’s presence with us and within us is somehow made more real and substantial when we suffer for Him and because of Him. This is a blessing and a cause for joy.

In some way, we experience Jesus’ glory when we suffer for Him. Even more significantly, we will share His future glory when He returns. This is a cause for great rejoicing now and will be a cause for even greater joy when He returns. Peter tells us that this suffering is to be expected. It is normal. We should not be surprised at it. It will come and it will be severe if we are truly following Him. This is a test of our faith. How we respond to it matters. This is part of our seemingly upside-down Kingdom. Rejoice at these fiery ordeals!

Persecution & Suffering: 44

In 1 Peter 4:1-2, Peter tells us, “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.  As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.”

What Peter has in view here is our identification with Christ. He is our forerunner. He is our model. He denied His own desires, comfort, will, and safety, in order to obey God’s purposes in all these areas. He did not live for sin but for the heavenly Father.

Sin is anything we think, do, say, or fail to do, think or say that is different from the Father’s will. Jesus said what the Father told Him to say and nothing else. He did what the Father guided Him to do and nothing else. In so doing, He perfectly fulfilled the Father’s will in and through His life. He reflected the Father.

All this was achieved through Jesus’ suffering. We are called to suffer in the same way, denying ourselves, taking up our “cross” daily, and following Him and His example (Luke 9:23). Thus, in a sense, our sanctification, our being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29), and our being guided into the good works that God prepared beforehand for us to walk in (Ephesians 2:10), are all accomplished through the means of suffering.

Persecution & Suffering: 43

In 1 Peter 3:13-17, Peter asks, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?   But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.’  But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”

In this passage, Peter says we are always to look for opportunities to share the message of the Kingdom, and to do so in a gentle and respectful manner. We are to constantly model irreproachably good behavior. We are to be fearless in the face of threats and attacks. He notes that sometimes it is God’s will for us to suffer for doing what is right. When that happens, we are blessed.

I am reminded of David’s behavior toward King Saul. David fearlessly persisted in his exemplary behavior in general and toward Saul in particular. Saul continued to pursue David, seeking to kill him, but in the end, David was blessed. The difficulties were used to test and to prepare David to be greatly blessed and used by the Lord.

Persecution & Suffering: 42

1 Peter 2:19-23 says, “For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.  For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.”

Twice in this passage we are told that we find favor with God if we suffer unjustly and we patiently endure it. If we do not patiently endure it, presumably there is no benefit. Peter points to Jesus as our example in this. He didn’t complain or threaten or retaliate. Instead He entrusted Himself to God, knowing that in the end, the Father would make everything right.

Enduring unjust suffering, then, is an opportunity to demonstrate Christ-likeness and to please God. This is truly good news. This is yet another example of how short-term difficulty results in long-term blessing. This is the sort of situation that is indeed a cause for rejoicing.

Finally, note that this kind of suffering is essential for us to fulfill our calling. In fact, Peter tells us this is central to our calling, it was for this very purpose, that we would follow Christ’s example in how to suffer well.

Persecution & Suffering: 41

Glory results from suffering. It will bring glory to God and to us when Jesus returns. In 1 Peter 1:6-7 it says, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

Our greatest purpose in life is to glorify God. Since suffering for Him accomplishes that, it is a valuable thing. It glorifies Him because it demonstrates the genuineness of our faith and His worthiness to suffer for. He is worth it.

As followers of Christ we rightly give significant attention to worship. Worship is anything that shows the worthiness of God. I value suffering for doing God’s will as a tremendous form of worship that will not be available to me in eternity. Therefore, I need to take the opportunity now while I have it.

Finally, we will share in that praise, glory, and honor on that day and for eternity. As Jim Elliot famously said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Persecution & Suffering: 40

In James 5:10-11, James tells us: “Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”

Job is an example of someone who suffered tremendously, losing everything he owned, his family, and his health, in a most tragic and severe fashion. Then, even his wife and closest friends turned against him despite his righteousness and positive response. In his case, however, the Lord provided comfort and relief during the years of his remaining life upon earth.

The older I get, the more I appreciate the character qualities of patience and perseverance. When I was young, I used to assume that patience and perseverance were a given. Now I respect the character and strength they represent. Patience and perseverance are the responses the Lord is looking for from us when we undergo suffering. These are the qualities He rewards with blessing, compassion, and mercy.

The good news is that each one of us is guaranteed this relief, blessing, compassion and mercy in full measure and forever. We may not see it in this lifetime, but we will definitely reap the rewards in eternity and for eternity.

Persecution & Suffering: 39

James 1:2-5 says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces [endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

We see here that the many kinds of difficulties we face have some common results. First, we need to recognize them as tests of our faith. These tests produce a variety of wonderful results. We gain endurance, which perfects us in many other ways, completing our character development. These difficulties then, are what the Lord uses to conform us to the image of Christ.

It is for this reason that James exhorts us to consider it all joy when we face these difficulties. God is developing His character in us, preparing us in every way to be with Him forever in glory. The trials are God’s gift to us.

Persecution & Suffering: 38

In Hebrews 12:4-11, the author says, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.’  Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?  If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.  Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!   They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.   No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

Do you want God’s holiness and righteousness? Do you want His peace? Do you want to be strengthened and trained? If so, then you want God’s discipline. These are all benefits of God’s discipline. When He gives painful discipline, it is evident that we are His children.

Our response is to be that we submit to the discipline, that we respect our Father in heaven for providing it, and that we learn and grow from it. We are to endure it and be grateful for it. God is giving it to us for our own good. He is a good Father and is doing it for our blessing. In this case, the saying is true: “No pain, no gain.”

Persecution & Suffering: 37

Hebrews 11:32-38 says, “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.  Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection.  Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.”

Hebrews 11 is called the “hall of faith.” It is interesting that in this list of heroes of the faith, the common factor is not whether their story had a happy ending on earth or not. The common factor is that they all experienced severe trials. In some cases, as in the verses up to women receiving back their dead by resurrection, God miraculously delivered them for His glory. In the verses after that, for some reason, He chose not to deliver them, also for His glory.

You see, God’s great power is demonstrated in the cases where He provided miraculous relief. His worthiness, however, is demonstrated in the cases where people were ready and willing to pay any price for His sake, and they do so. His true greatness is what explains their willing sacrifice.

One of the best ways, then, to show forth God’s glory is for us to face extreme trials. He is glorified through that either way, as long as we remain faithful in the suffering. The other wonderful news is that we then receive eternal reward and joy in His presence. It is truly a “can’t lose” scenario.

Persecution & Suffering: 36

Hebrews 11:17-19 tells us, “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’  Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.”

The entire chapter is full of examples like this. Of course, we know that at the last moment, God stopped Abraham, and provided a substitute sacrifice. Abraham didn’t know that, however. He trusted that God was good, even though God’s command seemed cruel and heartless and senseless. He was obeying God despite the fact that God’s guidance seemed ridiculous. He assumed it was a test of His love for God, and he was correct.

Jesus said the greatest commandment was to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) He also said, “If you love me, keep my commands.” Thus, our love is demonstrated by our obedience. If we love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, then we will obey Him no matter what the cost. It is no test for the Lord to ask things of us that cost us nothing. The test is in His instructions when obedience will result in pain and loss. He often tests us in these ways. Will we obey?