May 3, 2020
If you have not heard it yet, you will. It is only a matter of time. While political parties are fighting, as if a certain party or certain governmental leaders are responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak, the fact remains that an unseen enemy – a virus invisible to the human eye – has brought the deaths of almost a quarter million people worldwide, and over 67,000 in the U.S. Some have been family members and friends of our church. But those deaths, of course, cannot be laid at the feet of any president or governor. So at whose feet do we lay them? It seems someone must be held ultimately responsible.
I know – everyone has an opinion. Everyone is an expert – or expected to be an expert. Whether it’s the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control, a couple of doctors in California or social media, or your spouse – everyone can spout an opinion on the crisis. We can argue the merits of social distancing, face masks, sanitizers, disinfectants, actual death rates, quarantine, stay-at-home orders, closing churches, closing businesses, forcing millions out of work, shuttering the economy.
In the end, we can all agree, this has been an international crisis. Who is responsible – because we have to blame someone. A lab in China? A bat? An open market in China? The Chinese government? The World Health Organization? President Trump? Undoubtedly many of you have an opinion. After all, the buck must stop somewhere.
And so, I would suggest, it is only a matter of time before the blame is ultimately laid at the feet of God. Already asked, or inevitably to be asked, looking for someone to blame, the Christian is asked – if your God is all good and all powerful – sovereign, as you say – how in the world did this happen?
Further, that question could be posed at the bedside of not only hundreds of thousands of COVID patients, but millions of cancer patients, heart disease patients. It could be asked by families of victims of school shootings, freak accidents, or drug overdoses. Name your evil. Where is your God in the midst of such brokenness?
If the question is asked at all. You see, for many in our secular society, God has become irrelevant. A myth of days gone by. We’ve outgrown Him. And yet, we can’t handle a virus. We can’t get the highest governmental leaders in our land and experts, the real experts, to agree on much. And so the question remains – why such chaos and brokenness?
Well, the simple answer is, we live in broken world. Things do not work the way they’re supposed to. In the beginning, God created a perfect world. A beautiful world – without disease and demons and death, accidents and sin. No political parties – can you imagine? It was good – all very good. But then, the only ones of His created order – the only ones created in His image willfully sinned, and plunged this world into chaos and brokenness. Into cancer and viruses, persecution and opposition, worldwide idolatry and sinful rebellion. And so we blame God, or ignore Him altogether.
Who’s at fault? Is this God’s fault, or a result of natural processes, or is this the result of our rebellion, and the consequent curse? It’s been interesting to watch things unfold on the news in daily press briefings, on whatever daily podcast happens to be yours, or on social media. The extreme opinions are fascinating. Perhaps the most intriguing and irritating to me has been the suggestion we paint our doorframes with red paint or a red marker so the virus would pass over our homes. Wow. And yet, that idea points to several thoughts. One, is God is ultimately responsible. Or two, He intends to pass over His people, if only we would signify ourselves as such. Three is, well, three is we have no idea how to interpret the Scripture.
You see, inherent in that idea is God intends to deliver His people from all harm – seen and unseen – human and viral – sickness and death. And there are, of course, those hucksters out there who teach that – prosperity for all – although it flies in the face of Scripture. You do understand, there have been Christians among those quarter million dead. Christians die in freak accidents, they get sick, cancer and heart disease – and the record is currently 100 percent, they all die. And so, maybe you’re struggling today. With quarantine, with viruses, disease, cancer and death. I believe God has a word for us today in our ongoing study of I Peter. I Peter 4:12-19 reads…
He could have left that last part out, right? Suffer according to the will of God? Where is God, some may be asking? Maybe you’re asking. Right in the middle of it. And according to this text, He is present with His people in a special way – when we face challenges of every kind.
Yes, I know – I’ve been teaching through this book since September. I know Peter is writing to believers in Asia Minor – modern-day Turkey – who are facing opposition, persecution because of their faith in Jesus. And that, without doubt, is the primary application. But principally, any time we are facing challenge because we live in a broken world – whether it’s opposition, or disease or virus or death – any time we face those challenges as committed followers of Jesus Christ – it is proof the Holy Spirit of God and of glory is resting on us. How we respond in the midst of crises is proof of the presence of the Spirit. So, it is for our testing, and our good.
This is a very encouraging word to us today. Yes, we can be troubled by this unseen enemy. We can be opposed, because we are followers of Jesus (then – not secular – very religious – today, God is irrelevant – come on, grow up) – because we bear the name Christian. We can, and should be opposed, because we do good. But Peter reminds us – it’s for our testing and good, and is proof the Holy Spirit is with us. In fact, I would say it like this. In our times of suffering, the weight of the glory of the Holy Spirit comes to us in special ways when we need Him most. He will come to you today, in a special way, in the midst of your challenge, if you submit to God’s glorious will for your life. If you trust Him.
Let me give you the outline of the text – but I don’t want this to be academic. I want you to understand – how we face suffering – certainly persecution – is evidence of the Spirit resting on us – and He is the Spirit of glory. The implication is, our suffering is glorious. How so? It tests us, proves us faithful by His Spirit so we can rejoice – we are a most blessed people. So there is no need to be ashamed, but we can glorify God as we are called, derisively, Christians. We will ultimately be saved and vindicated – so, brothers and sisters, who suffer according to the will of God, we can entrust our souls to our faithful Creator. Where is God? I want you to know, while our culture blames Him, or dismisses Him, He’s right here.
Back to the outline:
- Suffering is to be Expected (12)
- Suffering is for Rejoicing (13)
- Suffering is for Proving (14)
- Suffering is not for Evil (15)
- Suffering is for Glory (16)
- Suffering is for Judgment (17-18)
- Suffering is for Trust (for increasing our faith) (19)
It’s a great list. Seven points – we’ll go quickly. I don’t know why I say that – you can always turn me off or pause me whenever you want. But let’s look at these. Again – the direct application of this suffering is for the cause of Christ – because we are truly Christians. But I am suggesting the principles from the text extend to all kinds of suffering, to include the present suffering. Remember Romans 8? There, Paul told us we live in a broken, sin-cursed world. Even creation itself groans under the futility of the curse, waiting for the sons and daughters of God to be revealed.
And even we, living in mortal, broken, sin-cursed bodies, consider the sufferings of this present time unworthy of comparison to the glory to be revealed to us. And so we patiently wait, groaning within, eagerly awaiting our adoption as children of God – the redemption of these bodies.
So, back to I Peter. Suffering it to be expected. He starts with that term of affection – which signals we’re at a new section in the letter. He’s going to wrap things up over the next chapter and a half. But this isn’t just a transition word – hear him saying to us affectionately, Beloved. Loved ones. I know you’re suffering. But don’t be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you. You remember, our Lord promised it. Way back at the beginning of His ministry, He said:
10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.
12 “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Then, at the end of His ministry, at the Farewell Discourse in John, the night before the cross, He said, “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.”
It is to be expected for followers of Jesus – we’ve talked about this several times through the last few months. Peter now says it clearly – don’t be surprised when it comes, as though something strange were happening to you. I would say further, this highlights the dreadful and heretical nature the prosperity gospel. While promised health, wealth and prosperity – the truth is, when you say yes to Jesus and no to sin – you get opposition. It’s a package deal. And those so falsely promised will then face disappointment. Many will fall away – because they came to Christ with strings attached. Wrong motives. Wanting what false teachers promised. And when they got suffering – they walk away, proving they do not truly know Jesus.
But I say to you, my beloved, don’t be surprised. In fact, we see in this text – suffering is part of the will of God – for our testing. What does that mean? We saw that in chapter 1 – “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” It will prove the reality of your faith – and result in praise to Him, and you as you have been tested and proven faithful. Don’t be surprised – suffering is for our good.
And so Peter reminds us, instead of being surprised, suffering is for rejoicing. This is particularly hard for us – since almost everything we do is to avoid pain and sorrow and suffering. Everything we do is to procure the American dream of life, liberty, happiness, equality, justice and peace for all. So we have to work to get ourselves out of our ingrained cultural mindset, and understand that to the degree that we share in the sufferings of Christ, we can keep rejoicing. Those words don’t seem to go together. How? How can suffering produce joy?
Well, think of it, it proves the reality of our faith. It produces maturity. It punishes sin. It prompts the Spirit. It purifies the church. It makes proud the one who bears the name Christian. I’ve said it – suffering is for our good and His glory. (Job – Satan accused God. This was not a test for God. It tested Job, and matured him, and proved his faith. God knew those truly His would not wilt under the attacks of the evil one, would not waver under persecution, would not waffle under life in a broken world. Go ahead – test them, they will come forth as gold.)
When Peter says we share in the sufferings of Christ – as we’ve seen before, there’s nothing redemptive in our suffering. It does not produce our salvation – Christ’s work alone does that. But it proves our salvation and matures it. So, we share in the sufferings of Christ – meaning either, the same things He suffered when He was reviled and persecuted – or it could mean, we suffer because of Christ – it’s the sufferings that come from naming Christ. Both are true.
So to the degree that we are sharing in the sufferings of Christ – we can keep rejoicing, because we know that our rejoicing is simply a foretaste of the glory to be revealed at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Our joy will then be made complete. At the revelation of His glory, having been saved from our sin and consequent judgment, having been vindicated, having rejoiced in the proof of our salvation, we can rejoice exceedingly with exultation. So I say, whatever sufferings you are currently facing – opposition because of your faith, suffering because we live in a broken, sin-cursed world – rejoice. Because the best is yet to come at the revelation of Jesus Christ. All will be made right.
Which leads to the next one – suffering is for our proving. Proving what? Look closely at verse 14, “If you are reviled – just like Jesus was – for the name of Christ, you are blessed. Stop right there – Jesus said you are most blessed because you have the kingdom of heaven, because they so persecuted the prophets before you, because your reward in heaven is great. Peter no doubt had those words of Jesus in mind – he was there at the Sermon on the Mount.
But here, notice what he adds. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed – why? Because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. You see, you suffer because you name the name of Christ. You are a Christ follower. And so they revile you. But know this – you are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. This is what I meant when I said earlier – God is with us specially in our suffering. When you need Him most, He is there. Where is God – right in the midst of your suffering.
Now, that’s interesting for at least a couple of reasons. First, the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of glory – in the midst of our suffering. That doesn’t sound like glory, does it? And yet, when Jesus suffered on a Roman cross, it was the most glorious event of all history. When Judas left to betray Him, Jesus said, now is the Son of Man glorified. How so? It set in motion the events leading to the cross – the reason for which He had come – to redeem a people for Himself– at great cost.
So also, when we suffer, it is glorious because we are sharing in the sufferings of Christ. Again, we have to lose our cultural mindset which screams at us – pursue safety and security and pleasure and comfort at all costs. And Peter says no – pursue Christ – even though it will cost you – because there you will find greatest treasure. There you will be most blessed.
It’s also interesting because the implication is, when we suffer, it is then God’s Spirit of glory rests most clearly upon us. How else could we endure such suffering? Have you ever wondered, if I face suffering – real suffering – like the early church or my brothers and sisters around the world – like, deny Jesus or I’ll cut of your head – would I have what it takes to be faithful? I’m suggesting you would – because at times of greatest suffering, the Spirit of glory rests on you.
Corrie Ten Boom often wondered that about herself. She was a Dutch Christian who helped many Jews escape the Nazi holocaust, and herself spent time in a concentration camp at the age of 52. She tells the story of when she was little girl, she once asked her father, would I have what it takes to suffer for Christ. She said, “Daddy, I’m afraid I will never be strong enough to be a martyr for Jesus Christ.”
“Tell me,” her father wisely responded, “when you take a trip on a train from Harlem to Amsterdam, when do I give you the money for the ticket? Three weeks before?” “No daddy,” she replied, “you give me the money for a ticket just before we get on the train.” “That’s right,” he said. “And so it is with God’s strength. Our wise Father in heaven knows when you will need things, too. Today, you do not need the strength to be a martyr. But as soon as you are called upon for facing death for Jesus, He will supply the strength you need, just in time.”
“I took great comfort in my father’s advice,” Corrie told her audience that day. “Later, I had to suffer for Jesus in a Nazi concentration camp. He indeed gave me all the courage and power I needed.” She told that story in the midst of opening up I Peter 4:12 and following for her audience that day.
God will give you what you need, when you need it, to face the suffering He wills and calls you to. The Spirit of glory and of God will rest on you. Don’t worry, Jesus said, when you are brought before governors for being Christian – the Spirit will give you what to say.
But next, to be clear, suffering is not for evil. He’s said this many times in his letter. When you are mistreated, treated harshly for doing wrong, there is no credit, no glory in that. But, if when mistreated, you patiently endure it – this finds favor with God. So here in verse 15 he says, make sure you don’t suffer as murderer or a thief or an evildoer. Of course. We’re supposed to live beautiful lives before unbelievers – so even though they malign us, ridicule us, oppose, they will because of our good deeds, glorify God. So don’t suffer for evil. The last word is an interesting word – it only appears here in the NT. In fact, it doesn’t appear outside of Scripture either – that is, until Peter uses it. It seems he may have invented the word – maybe especially for Christians.
You see, the word troublesome meddler means to stick your nose into someone else’s affairs. To be a troubling busybody. Peter has said through this book – live good lives. Don’t be annoying – don’t concern yourself with other’s affairs. That doesn’t mean we don’t speak about that which is right and wrong. But it does mean, don’t go out of your way to be intrusive, meddling, sticking your nose in where it doesn’t belong. Be gentle, holy, gracious, kind.
But, verse 16, suffer for being a Christian – for such suffering is for God’s glory, and yours. If you suffer, make sure it’s because you’re called a Christian. Make sure it’s because you live like a Christian. We talked about this a few weeks ago – the word Christian was first used in Antioch in Acts 11 – the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. Then later, King Agrippa used is sarcastically when talking to Paul – you think you can convince me to be Christian, Paul. The word was negative – it was name-calling – oh, you’re one of those Christians.
And so here, Peter says, make sure if you suffer, it’s because you bear that name – you are named a follower of this Jesus whom they crucified – whom they called Christ. Yes, I am. And you may speak derisively, shamefully of that name, but I will bear it proudly, gloriously.
Remember in Acts 5, when the apostles were threatened and flogged for speaking of Jesus, and they were commanded not to preach in the name of Jesus anymore. We read, “So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they were considered worthy to suffer shame for the name. And every day in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” May we, too, rejoice that we suffer for the name, and keep right on sharing our faith in Christ.
Because you see, as we suffer, proving ourselves to be truly Christians, then we pass the test. Well, we are tested, with the idea we are proving the reality of genuine faith. And as a result, judgment is actually beginning with us. That’s what verses 17-18 say. They’re challenging verses at first glance, but taken in context, the meaning becomes clear.
Yes, it is true there is not judgment for the purpose of condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. When we are judged, the final word will be, we belong to Jesus. He paid the price for our sin. He has absorbed the wrath of God, paying the penalty that was against us. And yet, judgment begins with us – the house of God. This refers us back to chapter 2 – we are living stones, being built into a spiritual temple in which God dwells. Now, this is a concept of God judging His own people is clearly taught in the OT prophets – when judgment comes, it will come to the temple – to God’s people first. This is seen most clearly in Malachi 3:
1 “Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts.
2 “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.
3 “He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness.
The purpose of God’s testing and judgment of His people is for purification. Jesus speaks of the coming judgment when He will separate the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the tares. The point is, suffering is for our good – for God’s judgment is to begin with us, to separate the possessors from professors.
And so there is a word of warning for us. For you. If judgment begins with the house of God, the church, prove yourselves faithful, by the Spirit who rests on you. After all, Peter says, what will become of those who disobey the gospel? He argues from the lesser to the greater. If suffering is for our judgment, to prove us – what will happen to those who don’t obey the gospel? The implication is their judgment and suffering will be that much worse.
In verse 11, he quotes Proverbs 11 – if it is with difficulty that the righteous are saved – that is, through suffering proving the reality of faith – how much more difficult will it be for the godless man and the sinner? How much greater will be their suffering? A word of warning.
Verse 19, our last point and our conclusion. Therefore, if this true, as you suffer according to the will of God, entrust your souls to the faithful Creator as you do what is right. He’s been saying it – don’t do evil. Do good. And as you do, live as a Christian, you will suffer for it – but entrust yourself to the sovereign, good, powerful Creator.
So we see, suffering is for our faith – to increase our trust. When things are going well, how easy it is to forget God. God, I’ve got this. But when we suffer, the Spirit of God and of glory rests on us. And we then entrust ourselves to Him more fully. Because we know we need Him. You know that’s true. How many have said to me, in the midst of struggle – opposition because I’m a Christian, sickness and death because I live in a broken world – God met me sweetly. Specially. Don’t allow this crisis to drive you away – allow God to meet you as only He can.