Don’t be Surprised by Suffering
Don’t be surprised at fiery trials, Peter wrote in his first letter. Vance Havner said, “At the Nicene Council, an important church meeting in the 4th century A.D., of the 318 delegates attending, fewer than 12 had not lost an eye or lost a hand or did not limp on a leg lamed by torture for their Christian faith.”
The same man who once rebuked Jesus for talking about suffering on the cross encouraged followers of Jesus to stay in the fires of persecution. Peter tells us in chapter one of his first letter that our faith, which is more precious than gold, is tested by fire. In chapter 4 he repeats that theme, but adds that not only should we not run from our faith when the heat is turned up, we shouldn’t even be surprised by the opposition we face. Here’s the thing about being surprised by suffering. It’s often the first step toward being angry about suffering. Which can lead to being resentful towards God about our suffering. Which can lead to unbelief. What should we do then, Lord, when fiery trials come upon us? Peter tells us: rejoice! What? Why should we rejoice? Two reasons. One, we rejoice in trials because in them we share Christ’s suffering. Paul talked about that in Philippians 3 where he said all that he had attained as a proud Pharisee before he met Christ he counted as rubbish, as dung, after he met Christ and traded in his righteousness which was useless for faith in Christ and the righteousness of God in Christ “…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” As we share in Christ’s suffering because we belong to Christ, we are reminded of another reason to rejoice: Peter says “that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” We suffer with Christ because we will also be raised with Christ!
Don’t be surprised at suffering because you are a Christian. Irish missionary Amy Carmichael understood this when she opened an orphanage in southern India to rescue abandoned children in the lower caste, and many were young girls who had been forced into prostitution in the local Hindu temples. Amy Carmichael suffered greatly in her health because of the work, 55 years without a furlough. But what could have been most surprising and hurt her the most was the disrespect some missionaries in India showed her because they believed what she was doing, taking in little girls who had been prostitutes, was not something their supporters wanted to hear about. Amy Carmichael wrote a poem entitled. “No Scars?” Here’s an excerpt: Hast thou no wound? No wound, no scar? Yet, as the Master shall the servant be, And, pierced are the feet that follow Me; But thine are whole: can he have followed far, Who has no wounds nor scar?
Peter says if we are insulted for the name of Christ, we are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon us. Fox’s Book of Martyrs is one story after another of men and women who suffered persecution to the death because of their faith. One story is about a pastor in London in 1555 who was burned at the stake for his faith. Fox wrote, “When he was come to nigh the place, the officer, appointed to see the execution done, said to Mr. Saunders that he was one of them who marred the queen’s realm, but if he would recant, there was pardon for him. ‘Not I,’ replied the holy martyr, ‘but such as you have injured the realm. The blessed Gospel of Christ is what I hold; that do I believe, that have I taught, and that will I never revoke!’ Mr. Saunders then slowly moved towards the fire, sank to the earth and prayed; he then rose up, embraced the stake, and frequently said, ‘Welcome, thou cross of Christ! Welcome everlasting life,” as the flames consumed him.
Peter includes one qualifier about our suffering that is worth noting. Make sure, he says, that you are not suffering because of your sin. There’s no glory in that, no testimony, unless that suffering leads to repentance. Interesting that he includes the sin of being a “meddler” along with murderer, thief, and evildoer. Maybe he wanted to include one everyone could relate to! Paul’s admonition comes to mind where he wrote, “For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.” Sometimes those with too much time on their hands take to managing other peoples’ affairs, or at least trying to. Peter calls them out and reminds them that the suffering they experience when they meddle is deserved and will not bear good fruit.
Help us, Lord, to suffer well and for your glory.