1 Peter 4:12-19
October 28, 2012
Learn now under stress what you may need to know later in suffering.
I. Learn now to rejoice. (1 Peter 4:12-14)
II. Learn now to avoid sin. (1 Peter 4:15-18)
III. Learn now to trust God. (1 Peter 4:19)
Peter did not have our concept of stress - the daily pressure of life that comes from demands on our time, our emotions, our financial resources, or our spiritual integrity. On the other hand, he had a clear idea of suffering: of enduring pain from life’s circumstances: physical pain, mental anguish, emotional upheaval, or spiritual persecution. But it seems to me that the difference between stress and suffering is mostly a matter of degree. Let me give you some examples, and you decide whether this is stress, or suffering.
Okay, first situation: Work has been getting increasingly busy. You’re doing the work of two or even three people, working more and enjoying it less. And that's making things difficult at home: you don't have time for your wife or your kids; you can’t even keep up with the lawn. You feel like you're in over your head. Is this stress, or is it suffering?
Next: You've worked 22 years for the same company. You only know one kind of work, but you know it well. All of a sudden, your whole industry is on the ropes. There are cut-backs, there are lay-offs, and you find yourself out on the street. You’re sitting at a computer day after day, looking for a job that just doesn't seem to be there. Is this stress, or is this suffering?
You're a single mom struggling to hold a job, keep a house, raise the kids. You're a good worker, except for those days you have to take your kids to the doctor or pick them up at the game. You try to have friends but they don't have to come home to your mortgaged house, your growing piles of dirty laundry and unpaid bills. You’re lonelier than you’ve ever been. Stress, or suffering?
You're the pastor of a little home church; friends and neighbors have been coming, and many have believed in Jesus. You are starting to be known as one of those Christians. Then one day there is a knock at the door, and the secret police drag you off to prison You endure hardship, beatings, lack of food. You are in solitary confinement, and despite the comfort Jesus gives, you are tempted to despair. Stress, or suffering?
You're a teen-ager in high school. Mom and Dad expect you to live for Jesus, and you want to, but sometimes they just don't get it. Your friends are doing things you know are wrong, but you don't know whether to go along with them or stand up for what they call your parent's religion. You can’t think, and you're torn apart trying to live in a fractured world. Stress, or suffering?
You're a young grandmother, at 58. You haven't been feeling too well lately, and the doctor orders some tests. He finds cancer. Surgery, then chemotherapy. You’re sick to your stomach; your hair has fallen out; you’re bombarded by a grinding pain; you're a burden to your family, and the medical bills just keep piling up on the desk. Stress, or suffering?
You and your husband have always wanted children. You’d be a great mom, and he's always wanted someone to call him Daddy. But try as you might, no babies have ever come. You finally start going to the doctors: doctor after doctor, test after test, technique after technique. Finally, after years, you became pregnant. Only to lose the baby by miscarriage at nine weeks.
Stress, or suffering? Peter, in today’s passage, talks about suffering. But at times it’s hard to tell the difference. At times normal stress morphs into suffering. Some of us here are suffering - many of us are under stress. And my thought for us as we study this passage is: learn now under stress what you may need to know later in suffering. There are at least three things in this passage that we need to learn how to do. Things that are simple to state, difficult to live. But things that will help us in stress, and may be critical in suffering. So learn now under stress what you may need to know later in suffering.
I. Learn now to rejoice. (1 Peter 4:12-14)
First, and this is amazing: under stress or suffering, learn to rejoice. 1 Peter 4:12-14 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
The first thing Peter says is that suffering is a normal part of life. Suffering shouldn’t surprise us; stress shouldn’t surprise us. But our culture pushes suffering back behind the tube of the television, back behind the doors of the nursing home, back behind the walls of the hospital. Our culture impersonalizes suffering, or sanitizes it, so you don't meet it on the street.
But we need to be wise enough to realize that in every age, in every nation, in every culture, in every place in this fallen world, there is suffering. So we shouldn’t be surprised by suffering; as believers, know things about suffering the world can never comprehend. One of those things, Peter says, is that suffering, and even persecution, tests us. God explain this way back in Deuteronomy: “The Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.” Stress and suffering show us whether we are inclined to cling to God or turn from him.
Verse 13: “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” Peter remembers Christ’s words in Matthew 5: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Jesus uses the same Greek words Peter does: ‘blessed,’ ‘rejoice’ and ‘be glad.’ They agree that we can rejoice, even in suffering, even under stress.
And somehow we are to rejoice that by our suffering we share in Christ’s sufferings. The Greek word is koinonia. Rejoice that you participate - fellowship - in the sufferings of Christ. And Peter did rejoice: when the apostles were arrested and flogged for preaching Christ, Luke records that they left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.
This is not an isolated teaching. In Philippians 1 Paul says that “it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” And in 3:10 he his desire is to “know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” And perhaps most amazing of all, he says in Colossians 1:24 “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.”
Paul's suffering contributes in some way to what is lacking in the suffering of Christ. Amazing. He’s not saying that anything can be added to the work of Christ in salvation - that work is entirely sufficient and once-for-all. But the work of the Church involves suffering, as she brings the kingdom message of Christ’s rescue and reign to a hostile world. God’s people have to be willing to suffer for the cause. In this we identify with Christ. He suffered for us - but he gives us the privilege of suffering for him.
But as we suffer with Christ, we also look forward to the glory that follows after. Peter says: rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. Suffering is frequently linked in Scripture to joy at the revelation or second coming of Christ. Paul says in Romans 8:16 “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Rejoice in suffering and in stress, because your suffering and stress are nothing compared to the joy you will have in seeing the Lord face to face, spending eternity in his presence. I’ve mentioned several times how much I like the music of Indelible Grace; they clearly have this focus. They are working on a new album called Joy Beyond the Sorrow, and I’m looking forward to hearing one of the songs called ‘Until the Day Breaks’ which is about the bride waiting for the bridegroom: “For the light beyond the darkness, When the reign of sin is done; When the storm has ceased its raging, And the haven has been won; For the joy beyond the sorrow, Joy of the eternal year, for the resurrection splendor, She is waiting, waiting here!”
And finally, rejoice because in your suffering God places his Spirit on you in a special way. Peter says you are blessed because the spirit of Glory and of God rests on you. Yes, we look forward to the glory we will experience in heaven - we rejoice at the thought. But we also experience that glory now, though in a limited way, through the presence of the Spirit in our lives.
And when we suffer, or when we are under stress, the Spirit is especially with us. Christ calls Him the Helper or Comforter, who comes to be with you, to hold you up. The experience of Christians in all ages is that God makes his presence known in suffering. In the Soviet Union, prisoners emerging from the Gulag would often tell of an astonishing sense of God’s presence. One prisoner, a young poet, says she felt God as the eyes of a friend looking over her shoulder, as a warmth that cold could not touch, so that even in solitary confinement, she knew she was not abandoned, that he was sharing her suffering. God's Spirit is with you in a special way when you suffer.
So we can learn now, in the daily stress of our lives, to rejoice, and if the time comes when we truly suffer, we can rejoice. In suffering we identify with the suffering of our Lord. In suffering we look forward to the glory and health of heaven, and in suffering we know God the Holy Spirit in a special way.
II. Learn now to avoid sin. (1 Peter 4:15-18)
We need to learn to rejoice. But also we need to learn to avoid sin. Verses 15-18: But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
Peter says be very careful to avoid sin. And it is especially important that we learn this now, while under stress, because if we give in to sin it will, by natural consequence, lead to suffering.
I told John Goodfellow’s story last week: he wasted himself, through the pursuit of drugs, alcohol and sex. And it led to a moment, he says, when “my life passed before me in a series of explosive, empty episodes that appalled, overwhelmed, and terrified me. . . No one knew I was lying in a filthy room alone. No one cared. I had no friends I could call. My drinking was out of control. I couldn’t get enough drugs to satisfy my craving. And it was beyond me to show any care or concern for another human being.”
That’s the consequence of sin. But Peter says if you suffer it should not be as a murderer, or a thief, or evildoer or a meddler. He runs the gamut from sins you would consider outrageous, to sins you might not even acknowledge as sin. But you have no more right to lament your suffering if you suffer as an evil doer or a meddler than if you suffer for being a murderer or a thief. But Peter says, don't even be a meddler: The word means somebody who is looking into somebody else's business. Even meddling has its consequences; don't feel sorry for yourself if you suffer because of it. So if you are under stress, don't slide into sin because the consequence of that is suffering.
Verse 16: “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” This is the alternative. If you suffer for your faith, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. This implies that if we suffer because we have been sinning, we should be ashamed. If we suffer for faithfulness to Jesus, we should rejoice. I’ve experienced a little of the joy of being hated and misunderstood for trying to do the right thing over the past few years - and you do second guess yourself, but you have to try to do what is right.
And Peter says if you do, that glorifies God. You can be proud to wear the name Christian, one of only three times this word is used in the New Testament. A Christian is a ‘little Christ,’ one who represents Christ. Many years ago the old Chapel of the Air program promoted a prayer that included the phrase: let me represent you well. I don't remember the prayer or even the subject, but that phrase stuck with me, and has become a frequent part of my prayers: Let me represent you well. Let me be a good ambassador for Christ in my daily life and relationships. That's the kind of behavior Peter is calling for.
He completes the thought by reminding his readers of God's impending judgment. Verse 17: “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” The nature of this judgment appears to be to purify saints but to destroy the sinners. Peter is probably drawing on imagery in Ezekiel Chapter 9. See if you catch some of the phrases that Peter is using:
“And the LORD said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over the abominations that are committed in it.” 5And to the others he said in my hearing, “Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. 6Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were before the house.”
The judgment began at the house of God, the sanctuary. Those who grieved and mourned over sin were judged and were allowed to live. But those hardened toward God were judged and were executed. And the judgment started with the elders, those who were supposed to be faithful to him but were not.
So Peter uses this imagery from Ezekiel, and then he quotes Proverbs 11:31 “If the righteous is repaid on earth, how much more the wicked and the sinner!” We need to learn not to sin under stress, because the consequence of sin will be suffering, not the kind of suffering we can endure joyfully, but that which causes us to grieve and mourn. I just have to quote here from a commentary I've been using. Wayne Grudem says: “The fire of God's holiness is so intense that even the righteous feel pain in its discipline. The impious person and the sinner will find it to be a fire of eternal destruction.”
III. Learn now to trust God. (1 Peter 4:19)
So we need to learn under stress to avoid sin, so that we will not suffer the earthly consequences of sin, and so that we can represent Jesus well, suffering in a way that brings honor to the name ‘Christian.’ And finally, we need to learn now to trust in God. Verse 19: Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
This is the bottom line of the passage. Peter sums up here by saying the one thing you need to learn most of all, under stress and in suffering, is to yourself - literally your soul - to God. Remember Peter has been using the example of Christ's suffering throughout the letter. Now he says, when you suffer, commit your soul, commit yourself to God. I looked up where that word commit or entrust is used, and I found it in Luke 23:46, where Jesus on the cross says “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Isn't that incredible? Peter says "imitate Christ in suffering" and like Christ in suffering, turn yourself over to God. Entrust yourself to God, your faithful creator. That’s what Jesus did. And God is faithful, as we have seen in our worship this morning. He will always do what he has said, he never goes back on his word, and he always comes through. He’s the faithful creator - he is the one who made you and knows you. He knows what you need, what you can endure, he knows what he’s doing, and he is worthy of your trust.
It's like this - let's say you were the pilot of an airliner. As you're flying along, your co-pilot appears to have a heart attack. While he’s being cared for and you’re returning to the airport, you get an engine fire and your control systems begin to go wacky. You can’t do all that needs to be done. So you call on the intercom “Is there anyone with experience back there who can help fly the plane?’ And somebody walks in the cabin, sits in the copilot seat and starts doing what you’ve been too busy for. He says, ‘don't worry; I was the designer of this aircraft, and one of the test pilots. We’ll be fine.”
Peter says - entrust your life to the one who designed it, and the one who suffered before you on your behalf. There is a tremendous difference between our suffering and Christ's. In our suffering, possibly we can identify with the suffering of Christ, and be an example of his suffering to a watching world. But our suffering will not save anybody. You can’t pay for your sins through suffering; Jesus paid for your sins through his suffering. He bore your sins in his body on the cross that you might die to sin and live for righteousness.
And this makes it doubly, triply important that you trust in God. The penalty for sin is death - eternal separation from God. You cannot escape certain death by enduring suffering; you cannot escape certain death even by imitating Christ. The only way to escape death is to entrust yourself to God, to depend on God. I love the world depend, because in Latin it means to hang from, to be held up by. And that’s our situation with Christ. In sin, in stress or in suffering we can only hang from him, we can only depend and trust in him.
This is, by far, the most important thing you can learn now - entrust yourself to God turn yourself, and your life, and all your situation over to him, on a daily and hourly and even minute by minute basis. We need to learn now to rejoice in the Lord. We need to learn now under stress to avoid sin, but most of all we need to learn to trust in God, and to entrust ourselves to him.
I remember a time long ago when Gail and I got to practice this truth in an obvious way. We were waiting for Hannah to be born. She was significantly late and it was hard to be patient day after day. And we got in the habit of praying every night, and maybe every morning “Oh Lord God, we are trusting you for the birth of this baby We’re trusting your timing, we’re trusting in your care and concern, We’re trusting your sovereign hand on the situation. And so we consciously turn the situation over to you, and leave it in your hands. And of course, Hannah did eventually show up, and it was a wonderful birth, but in the meantime, we learned something about trust.
Do you have a situation in your life that you need to turn over to God? Think of the situations we opened with: you may be that single mom; you may be that unemployed father, that conflicted teen, that infertile couple, that sick grandmother. Or your situation may be very different from theirs. But Peter gives universal and comforting counsel to those under stress and suffering.
Right now, turn yourself over to a faithful creator, and to entrust yourself to him. Learn how to trust. Then, learn to avoid sin - cling to God in stress, not any false idol or imagined way out. Finally, try learning to rejoice even in times of stress and suffering, because the God who loves you is good and offers you joy beyond the sorrow.
I’d like to ask you to take a moment right now, and pray a prayer of trust in God, and turn over to him some specific situation in your life, or just your life. I’ll close in a minute and then the worship team will lead us in declaring this truth together.