1 Peter: Walking the sacred ground of suffering

This is the seventh in a series on 1 Peter. The series begins here.

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Although Peter’s letter was written to Christians who faced torture and death for their faith, much of the encouragement and hope we find here can speak to any type of suffering. Our lives encounter many sorts of suffering … not only physical and verbal attacks from outward opponents, as some of the early Christians were experiencing, but deeply personal and private mental anguish, physical battles, broken relationships, the ongoing war between the old nature and the Spirit within, financial crises, grief… every one of us can add our own dark days to this list.

I’ve started this post a half dozen times, scrapped it, started again. Peter has so much to say about the suffering that is part of our pilgrimage, and every person who is reading his letter today will find the Spirit speaking to them in different ways. I can’t begin to reflect on everything he has to say, and I can’t begin to presume to know what kind of suffering you are going through … and so, I found it difficult to … begin.

As Peter spoke to you, did you focus on the rewards waiting, after faith has held through suffering? Or were the most prominent passages for you today the verses on how God’s people should respond to undeserved treatment? Perhaps uppermost in your mind was the tangled and ugly conflict at your workplace, as you read about the example Christ set for His followers, or maybe your thoughts are filled with the pain your church is living through as some of today’s winnowing issues cause division and hurt.

As I’ve read 1 Peter, two things have come into sharper focus for me.

 

“Suffering is walking on sacred ground.”

I read those words somewhere else during my sojourn in 1 Peter. They’ve stayed with me, an echo of Peter’s words.

Somehow, suffering deepens and strengthens our relationship to Christ. Of course, if one’s heart is not “set on pilgrimage” (as the psalmist says), then suffering can be responded to with bitterness and hardening against God. But Peter assures us that suffering cements our partnership with our Lord. We learn even more of God’s power and grace. We’re purified and strengthened. Peter talks about suffering leading us to a place where we’re “done with sin.” (Wow!) And gives us the promise that “the glorious Spirit of God rests on you.”

Our natural inclination is to shrink back and look for detours around the terrifying, discouraging, and hostile terrain along our pilgrimage home.

But it’s sacred ground, where God pulls us ever closer.

 

The one way to respond to persecution 

Even if your life is being threatened because you bear the name of Christ, says Peter, don’t worry or be afraid of the threats.

Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way (3:14-16).

Isn’t that an interesting juxtaposition? Faced with real opposition and danger, what do we do?

Worship Christ as Lord of our lives!

That’s certainly counter-culture.

This is the one thing to hold on to, no matter what suffering we experience: Worship Christ. Give Him place as Lord. Focus on Him. Know His promises and hold onto them. Arm yourself with the same attitudes He has. Give yourself to the mind of Christ (4:1).

Instead of worrying and being afraid, worship Christ as Lord of your life.

Peter sums it all up in 4:19. Walk on the sacred ground of suffering. Keep on doing what is right.

And trust your lives to the God who created you, because he will never fail you.”  

 

Amen.

Suffering: Between Eden and Eternity

Have you figured it out? Can you tell me why there is so much suffering on this earth? Even those who God has named His children go through terrible times of pain and grief. Why? Why? WHY? Does God bring suffering? Is it punishment or testing or discipline? Do we suffer because we aren’t good enough, wise enough, or in prayer enough? Or does trouble come because we are God’s children and Satan is at war with God? Is all this suffering caused by the enemy who constantly seeks to destroy what God creates?

We were created to live in unspoiled and utter intimacy with God, and that is still His plan. The paradise in Eden began with that intimacy between God and His creation, and now God’s people are promised a life with Him, a life where all tears, death, sorrow, crying, and pain will be gone forever (Rev. 21:4). But between Eden and eternity, between Genesis and Revelation, is the story of the whole human race and each individual life on this earth. And it’s a story of thorns and thistles and pain and tears.

Scripture does not answer all our questions about suffering and pain. In fact, it answers very few. Some passages read as though pain may be the discipline God uses to transform us into what He means us to be. Other passages might indicate it’s punishment or judgment on sin. Some arguments are made that it is the result of evil in a fallen world … And here we are, back to the same questions posed in the first paragraph.  And so we go ‘round and ‘round, asking Why? Who? What if? Why does God…? Why doesn’t God …?

I think we ask the wrong questions.

We will never be able to answer some of those questions about our lives. God’s thinking, ways, and plans are so far beyond our ability to comprehend that trying to understand, dissect, and define what God might be thinking could even push up against idolatry. Are we presuming that our intellect is able to understand God?

Yet there are things we can know because God does give us very clear, definite statements about what’s going on in this thorny, painful world.

* Jesus puts it bluntly: “In this world, you will always have trouble.” There you have it. “But,” He says, “I am stronger than anything the world can throw at you.” (John 16:33)

* Jesus is alive and with us now. God lives with us, right where we are, in every circumstance, in every moment. (John 14:23; 1 John 4:13; Matthew 28:20; Psalm 139:7-10)

* His plan is to change each child of God, to give us new hearts and new character and new lives, no matter what is going on in the earthly realm in which we live. (2 Corinthians 3:18 and 5:17; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 1:6)

* Those who have been given new life and a new relationship with God are now His ambassadors on earth; we’re part of God’s work in bringing people back to Himself. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

* He works for our good in everything—and that includes suffering and tears. (Romans 8:28)

* He promises us all kinds of resources: power, strength, armor, refreshment, wisdom, comfort, guidance—everything, in fact, that we need to live a life devoted to Him. (2 Peter 1:3-4 and hundreds of other verses)

* We look forward to going home, where we will live in unspoiled and utter intimacy with God the Father and Creator in a place without tears and pain. (Hebrews 13:14; Revelation 21:4)

This is our story between Eden and eternity. The whys in our lives will always be mystery. The necessary question we must ask ourselves is, Are we believe-living His promises that enable us to live beyond?