Welcome to Becomning Closer! 

First Peter

Suffering for Christ

{4:1} Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with  the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.  {2} As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human  desires, but rather for the will of God. {3} For you have spent enough time in  the past doing what pagans choose to do‑‑living in debauchery, lust,  drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. {4} They think it  strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation,  and they heap abuse on you. {5} But they will have to give account to him who  is ready to judge the living and the dead. {6} For this is the reason the  gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be  judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in  regard to the spirit. {7} The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear  minded and self‑controlled so that you can pray. {8} Above all, love each  other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. {9} Offer  hospitality to one another without grumbling. {10} Each one should use  whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's  grace in its various forms. {11} If anyone speaks, he should do it as one  speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the  strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus  Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. {12} Dear  friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though  something strange were happening to you. {13} But rejoice that you participate  in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is  revealed. {14} If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are  blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. {15} If you suffer,  it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even  as a meddler. {16} However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed,  but praise God that you bear that name. {17} For it is time for judgment to  begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome  be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? {18} And, "If it is hard for  the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?"  {19} So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit  themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.  ‑‑ 1 Peter 4 (NIV)

On Suffering

  Why do Christians suffer for the cause of Christ?  We should concede the justice of suffering for our own sins;  we might accept the idea that we live in a fallen world, and the consequence of sin is suffering - and not just for the sinner.  But why should we suffer for being a Christian?

A number of ideas have been put forward.  Bruce White suggests that the main purpose of suffering - as a Christian or otherwise - is to force us to re-evaluate our priorities.  What a twentieth century, "management" phrase - "re-evaluate our priorities."   But an older view has it this way:

  "Wherever you are and wherever you turn, you will not find happiness until you turn to God.  Why are you so distressed when events do not turn out as you wish and hope?  Is there anyone on earth who enjoys everything as he wishes?  Neither you, nor I, nor anyone else on earth.  There is no one in the world without trouble or anxiety, be he King or Pope.  Whose, then, is the happiest lot?  Surely, he who is able to suffer for the love of God."  - Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, On Human Misery.

  You see his argument:  you're going to suffer anyway - surely you should then suffer for the love of God rather than the lusts of this world.  First and foremost it is the imitation of the Lord whom you have promised to imitate.  "Arm yourselves with the same attitude" says Peter.  Peter goes so far as to say that the man who suffers no longer lives his life for earthly desires, but for the love of God.  The argument may make more sense in English if we look first at verses 3-5.

  Take it as a history.  You become a Christian.  Suddenly, the drunken orgies, the all night carousing, the worship of sex, money and pride no longer are "good" but "bad."  Your friends are astonished; they know you like a "good time."  You've gone crazy; you are definitely "strange." 

  Strange you may be, but suffering certainly.  Being cut off from your friends is suffering, the suffering of loneliness.  It is an intense pressure, not limited to teenagers.  But - once you have suffered, you are cut off from that life.  You have passed your initiation test.  You now begin to see yourself as a stranger, an alien - a stranger in a strange land.

  There is a distressing aspect to this.  We often entice someone to become a Christian by telling them how wonderful it is.  But this is the "wonderful" of triumph, not of ease.  Christ himself counsels us  "anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple."  (Luke 14:27).  Count the cost!

  Verse 6 is somewhat puzzling.  Some hold he is referring to Christ's descent to the dead (1 Peter 3:19), and this is my opinion;  others hold that this is encouragement about those who are Christians who have died.  Perhaps it refers to those who were dead in sin.  Whichever theory you like, the result is the same.  All will be judged.

  Instructions - to the glory of God

  Now Peter switches to practical instruction.  He begins with the most general purpose virtue:  self control.  Self control, which is a fruit of the Spirit, is evidenced by being clear minded.  This is an interesting conception, especially to this century.

  You have met her (no offense, ladies).  Any particular unpleasant point of Scripture is met with something like, "well, I just feel that a kind and loving God would NEVER ... "  One never is certain:  she never thinks.  She "feels."  Her mind is a cloud;  we are cautioned (men and women) to be clear minded, for this is the basic method of self control.  Let the mind rule the emotions.  It clearly implies being intellectually prepared.  That's one very good reason for reading and studying the Scriptures!  It is the fount of self control.

  Verse 8 is subject to much misinterpretation, I believe.  It often is used to justify the cosmic bean counter theory of God.  You know it well.  Good deed bring brownie points;  they wipe out demerits caused by bad deeds.  At the end of your life we add them all up and if you have more brownie points than demerits, you get to heaven!  A great theory which suffers only the slight defect of being completely false.

  Peter's point is simply this.  Love each other deeply;  if you do, you will forgive freely.  And if you forgive, Christ forgives - forgives your debtor and forgives you!  Thus this deep love covers a multitude of sins.

  Next, there is the neglected virtue of hospitality.  Note the verb:  "offer."  Not be bullied into;  offer without grumbling. 

  Peter closes this section with the idea of "administering God's grace."  He closes with the key idea:  "To him (Jesus) be the glory..."  Do you know the name of the architect who designed the cathedral of Notre Dame?  No one else does either.  He did it to the glory of God.  His entire purpose was to glorify God.  So, if you speak, remember whose words you carry.  If you serve, do it in His strength.  If you do, God will be praised.  "We are made a channel, where His grace is poured .... for the glory of the Lord"  (Twila Paris).

  Suffering for the Glory of the Lord

  Peter now combines these two ideas:

  You are going to suffer for Christ

Do all things to the glory of Christ

  Therefore, suffer for the glory of Christ.

  It recalls the passage in the Sermon on the Mount:

  {11} "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say  all kinds of evil against you because of me. {12} Rejoice and be glad, because  great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the  prophets who were before you.    ‑‑ Matthew 5:11‑12 (NIV)

  And here Peter adds a practical note of warning:  Don't suffer as a meddler.  There is a temptation (I know it all too well) to "help" others.  C. S. Lewis painted such a person in a classic phrase:  "She lives for others.  You can always tell the 'others' by their hunted look."  If you are suffering as a meddler - now you have the word of warning!

  Peter closes this section with an interesting thought.  If we, the children of God, suffer as the children of God, how much more will the unbeliever suffer?  This raises these thoughts:

  1)  Sometimes we suffer for our sins, even as Christians.  Did you really expect the Lord to neglect the discipline of his children?  (Something about contemporary family life in this too!)  

2)  If those who are outside of Christ are to suffer so greatly in comparison to us, what are we doing to prevent it?

3)  The center of all Christian action is always "me" (see verse 17, ending statement).  As Franklin Roosevelt once quoted a Chinese Christian, "Lord, reform thy world - beginning with me."

Five points toward the enemy

  "So," concludes Peter - you are suffering for the cause of Christ;  therefore you should do two things:

            a)  commit yourself to God

            b)  continue to do good.

  A story comes out of the First World War.  David Beatty was an admiral in the British navy.  One day he made his reputation in the minds of that generation with one phrase.  The situation:  he was chasing elements of the German fleet.  In the exchange of fire, two of his six battlecruisers suddenly blew up.  Beatty's reaction:  "There seems to be something wrong with our ships today.  Turn five points (toward the enemy)."  He knew what he was there for.  His fleet had suffered greatly - but the enemy was in site.  We are in combat with Satan.  When we suffer, we should not run, but commit ourselves to God and continue to do good. 

Christian Witness     Home