|The Passion of a Christian (1Pet. 4:1-19)|
In the next few months Christians all over the world will be thinking about the ‘passion of Christ’, while we do that let us also remember and pray for thousands who following in the steps of Christ have suffered. Bible has a lot to talk about Christian Suffering, let us see what Peter had to say about it in a letter that he wrote to Christians who were undergoing suffering for what they believed and practiced.
The Nature of Christian Suffering
Peter begins with the acknowledgement that suffering is always painful (vs. 12) the pain of it is not reduced for Christians, God in the suffering of Christ knows that suffering is painful. the suffering of Christ too was not reduced because it was the Son of God that was suffering, nor was he given any special kind of allowance to not to fill the agony of the pain that he had to go through. When it hurts it hurts in the same way as it hurts to any other normal person.
Our suffering may be of various kinds, it may be an insult for the name of Christ (vs.14) or physical persecution for the sake of Christ (Mt. 5:11-12), or may have to pay the price in various forms for being loyal to Christ. However, suffering that comes due to our own sin is not Christian suffering (vs.15). We should not blame God for it, or take credit for it as suffering for Christ, but it should lead us to repentance, in such cases forgiveness is offered but we may have to live with the consequences of our sins and mistakes which may cause us to suffer.
Suffering for Christ or because of Christ is to partake in His suffering (vs.13; 2 Cor. 4:10). Christ Suffered for the sake of the Church, when we suffer for the sake of the gospel and the Church, we continue the legacy of the suffering of Christ. (Col. 1:24). Christ suffered because who He was and what He did, we too will suffer because who we are and what we do, the world would treat us the same way as it treated Christ. (Jn.17:14).
Suffering is endured in the power of the Holy Spirit (vs.14) the power given to the church on the day of Pentecost included the power to suffer (acts 1:8) Paul prayed for such an endurance through the Spirit to the church (Col. 1:11). He gives thanks to God for the Thessalonians who in spite of severe suffering, welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. (1 Thess. 1:6).
Suffering has a noble place in God’s economy (vs. 14; Heb.12:4-7, 10-11) when we suffer we share in the blessing and the glory that the name of Christ represents. When we suffer, we suffer in the palms of our heavenly father where He keeps and preserves us in the midst of suffering. Through suffering God perfects our character. Christian suffering is never minus God’s love, God also suffers with us when we suffer and is able to sympathize with us through Jesus Christ.
Christian Perspective of Suffering
Peter exhorts the believers saying, ‘do not be surprised about it as though something strange was happening to you (vs. 12). Righteous people have always suffered in the unrighteous world. Christ also suffered so we too will suffer. We are not to be surprised because suffering is expected in a Christian’s life, it is part of it. (Vs.12). Jesus had told his disciples in advance about it (Jn. 15:19-20; Mt. 5:10-12).
One who lives like Christ and passionately commits himself to do the will of God in his life, will suffer as Christ suffered, because there is moral conflict between the ways of Christ and the ways of the world. The Faith and lifestyle of a true Christian exposes the sinfulness of the world, hence Christians can become the target of the hate of the sinful world just as Christ had become.
Suffering though inevitable, must be faced joyfully (vs.13). Paul and Silas suffered it joyfully (Acts 16:25). Peter and John considered it as an honor to suffer for Christ and were delighted about it (Acts 5:41).
The pain and agony that involves in suffering may not be reduced for Christians, but God can give them a new perspective of looking at suffering, God can transform their mind to look at suffering from a divine perspective. Hence Peter says, “Do not be ashamed or frightened because of suffering but praise God for it” (vs.16; 3:14). that which was intended by Satan to discourage and weaken the faith of the Christians and scatter them out of their united fold becomes the very cause of their strength, courage, growth and unity.
Do not cease to do good because of suffering (vs. 19). Some may feel, ‘Why to be good and do good, if one has to suffer for it instead of getting rewarded or appreciated for it’? But a true goodness is not something that is practiced with the motives of receiving goodness in return, goodness is practiced out of the goodness one possesses. doing good should not depend upon what we would get in return but it should be the natural flow from us of the grace of God that accepted us while we were yet sinners and transformed us be like His Son Jesus Christ who went about doing good even when he received the Cross in return of it.
Jesus had taught to Peter that suffering for Christ is a blessing now having experienced that blessing Peter is teaching to the believers that are scattered and are going through suffering and trial of various kinds that there is blessing while you go through it and there is blessing even after it. (vs. 14, 3:14; mt. 5:10-12). When you suffer according to the will of God and for the sake of good that you are doing, commit yourself in the hands of your faithful creator (vs.19).
The ultimate goal of such a suffering
Should be ‘not my will but thy will be done’, that was Jesus’ approach to suffering. Ultimately your life is in the hands of God who made it, there is nothing impossible for Him, but your uttermost priority at that time is to accomplish the will of God and fulfill His purposes behind the situation that you are in.
The purpose of christian suffering
Suffering is not something to be sought or ran after, we are not to bring upon ourselves suffering deliberately therefore Peter says, ‘if’ or ‘when’ you suffer (vs.16). Suffering is not a day to day norm for Christians, but there will be times when you may have to suffer for Christ and when that happens how one should respond to it is what Peter is trying to tell his fellow believers. So one should not feel guilty for not suffering and the others should not look down upon others who are not suffering at that particular moment in time.
Suffering is a ‘trial’ it is a ‘test’ it is a measuring rod of our Christian maturity, it is a testing devise of the quality of our Christian life.(vs.16). When it comes God does not waste it but uses it to show us the quality of Christian life that we are living, how we have fared in a particular situation, these are times of revelations of our own self, these are circumstances that reveal who we really are, they reveal to us facets of our life that we would not have otherwise seen.
Suffering being a ‘trial’ also perfects and refines our character, Paul strengthens this point further in romans (rm. 5:3-4). Through trials our strengths are further strengthened and our weakness are revealed so that we can work on them and get stronger in those areas.
Suffering can bring glory to God provided it is faced and lived with in God’s way. Christians can make a mess of their suffering which ultimately may not bring glory to God. The whole purpose of Peter in writing to the suffering Christians was not about how to escape suffering but how to face it? If you take care of that God will take care of the suffering and the ones who cause it. (vs.14). Bible tells us that certain suffering is meant for the glory of God (Jn.11:4) certain suffering is to reveal the true nature and character of God (Job). Suffering of Christ also brought glory to God. (Jn. 17:4) and so our suffering too can bring glory to God.
Peter tells the suffering Christians that your suffering for doing good will establish a strong witness of Christian life and behaviour and will expose the cowardness and shallowness of their own behaviour that they will be ashamed of. (1 Pt.3:16). Suffering does no harm to a Christian instead it establishes their true identity, but it does a great harm to those who cause Christians to suffer.
Christian suffering produces joy
In the heart of the sufferer (vs.13). The intention of those who cause Christians to suffer is to bring sorrow in their life, but that purpose of theirs is defeated when the very cause that was meant to bring sorrow becomes a cause to make them joyful. It is the purpose for which they suffer brings them that joy, it is the privilege of suffering for Christ, who suffered for us brings them the joy and it is the Holy Spirit who produces such a joy in the midst of circumstances that are not so joyful.
Peter as well as Paul testify that through Christian suffering we partake of God’s glory (vs. 13; rms. 8:17-18). Suffering and glory are tied up, they are inseparable, that was the experience of Christ and that is how it would be for Christians who have suffered for Christ. The suffering that you go through for Christ will be compensated with His glory, investment in suffering in return gives you glory.
God can turn around suffering, which is painful, for his glory if we look at it from God’s perspective and face it in God’s way then it is assured that it will do no harm to the purposes of God in your life, for God is in control as we commit our ways to Him.Source: AIM Magazine, March 2012