Do Not Think It Strange

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It is written:

1 Peter 4:12-16-Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13  but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14  If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. 15  But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. 16  Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.

The Christian life is hard.

Think about it: we are following the Son of God Who was crucified for speaking the truth and upsetting the proverbial apple cart of demonic and human authority. We are the proclaimers, the heralds, of the Word of God which has the power to defeat sin and all of these spiritual powers. The message of the Cross still disarms the principalities and powers, and makes a spectacle of them (Colossians 2:15).

Therefore, we should not be surprised when we find ourselves being targeted by the world when we are trying to live a Christian life and be a follower of Jesus.

Writing of this passage in 1 Peter, Jobes points out some important lessons for us to consider.

“First, in 4: 12 Peter makes the startling claim that unjust suffering is not to come as a surprise. This thought runs counter to modern sensibilities that consider suffering and hard times to be an abnormal state of life that should be avoided if at all possible. And if they can’t be avoided, they should be dealt with expeditiously so that “normal” life can resume as quickly as possible. In some first-century Greek thought, however, consolation could be found in the knowledge that whatever the misfortune one encountered, “nothing unexpected has happened” (Holloway 2002). In this way of thinking, misfortune is more bearable if it is understood to be a normal part of the workings of the universe. Even today some clergy offer consolation for bereavement in the thought that death is simply a normal part of life and therefore to be taken in stride. Misfortune and death are certainly “normal” in the sense that they are universally experienced, but they are not normal when viewed from God’s intention in creation and his plan in redemption. The idea that normal life should always be harmonious and free from suffering, despite universal suffering and death, remains a lingering echo of life in Eden as God created it before the fall. It is also a longing for the time when there will be no more tears, suffering, pain, and death (Rev. 21: 4). From either the prefall or the eschatological perspective, suffering and death are abnormal. But Peter’s letter is pastoral, addressing the needs of people who live in this world, where evil, sin, and suffering are pressing realities of life. Therefore, such fiery trials are not to take Christians by surprise but are to be expected. Because evil and sin targeted the perfect human being, Jesus Christ, those who follow in his footsteps should not be surprised to find themselves also targets of the forces of evil and sin that came against Jesus. Christ’s suffering, rejection, and execution normalize suffering for the Christian in this world. But to suffer because one is a Christian is at the same time to be blessed, because it marks one as belonging to God’s obedient followers, upon whom his Spirit rests (4: 14). As Jesus himself taught, “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you” (Luke 6: 26 TNIV), for such universal acclaim suggests that one has in some way compromised the testimony of God’s truth in order to please. Peter’s statement that Christians should not be surprised when they are vilified and slandered because they are Christians must be properly framed by its sociopolitical setting. Peter was speaking in a time when Christian values and the resulting way of life contrasted markedly with Greco-Roman society. In that setting, one could hardly be an uncompromising Christian and remain unrecognized as such. Modern Western society has for many centuries been so largely shaped by the Judeo-Christian ethic that acceptable values of Christians and of unbelievers have not necessarily conflicted so sharply. From the time of Constantine to rather recently, at least a nominal Christian profession was socially acceptable and in many places even the social norm. Therefore, Western Christians may not be able to relate to the theme of suffering for Christ in 1 Peter, since most have not lived in a social situation similar to its original readers. But from that time until this, the church has always been persecuted in some part of the world, and some believers live with the daily threat of persecution for their faith. To them, 1 Peter is a precious letter of pastoral encouragement from the heart of an apostle, helping them understand their calling as followers of Christ. If suffering for Christ should be the believer’s experience, Peter reframes it as a reason not for bitterness or despair but for joy (4: 13). The thought that suffering produces joy is as strange as Peter’s earlier statement that those who suffer are “blessed” (3: 14). This does not mean that the believer should enjoy suffering per se, but undeserved suffering because of Christian faith is evidence of future eschatological deliverance, which will bring the ultimate joy a human being can experience. Society may judge the gospel to be irrelevant or even evil, but it is God’s judgment that ultimately will stand. The Christian who stands fast and suffers for the gospel is responding to an eternal reality that will outlast death and even history itself. The joy prompted by recognizing this is but a foretaste of the joy that Christians will experience when the glory of Christ is fully and universally revealed (4: 13) and their faith is vindicated at last. Peter consoles his readers that it is therefore better to stand by one’s faith now, even though it results in suffering, than to deny Christ for present relief only to suffer much worse in the coming judgment as one who has denied and rejected Christ. This thought is all the more poignant coming as it does from Peter, the disciple who denied Jesus three times the night he was arrested.” (Karen H. Jobes, 1 Peter (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 376-378 (Kindle Edition): Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic)

The Lord Jesus Himself warned us to prepare for such trials in our lives:

John 15:19-20-If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20  Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.

When we are living for Jesus, we can expect persecution to come. Peter tells us that we are blessed when this happens, as we are able to walk in the footsteps of the Lord Himself. Indeed, he reminds the Christians of their need to suffer for Jesus and not to be guilty of living in sin.

Like God’s people throughout the ages, we have a choice: we can rise to the challenges and stand for the right, or we can sink to the pressures of an unjust spirit that seeks our destruction.

I am reminded of the words of Erwin Lutzer regarding a great American patriot of years gone by.

“Surrender, sink, or swim to the shore. Sometimes heroes are made because of their courage; sometimes they are made by their circumstances. Sometimes a person volunteers to become a hero; sometimes a person becomes a hero because necessity demands it. During World War II, a 26-year-old lieutenant in the US Navy named John F. Kennedy was at the helm of a patrol boat that collided with a Japanese destroyer. The boat was damaged, and the crew was forced to swim three-and-a-half miles to a nearby island and set up camp. They were without supplies and terrified because of their proximity to the Japanese. A few days later, they ended up swimming to another island that offered minimal food and shelter. Kennedy, who would later become the thirty-fifth president of the US, had always been at home in the water. He swam to still another island in search of resources to sustain his crew. There, he found help that put him in contact with other Allied forces and thereby saved his comrades. On the morning of August 18, 1943, they returned safely to the US base at Rendova Island. Later, Kennedy was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal and a Purple Heart for his valor and the injuries he suffered. When asked how he became a hero, he answered, “It was involuntary. They sank my boat.” 1 When your boat is blown out of the water, you have a choice: allow yourself to be captured by the enemy, sink, or swim. If you refuse to surrender, you can disappear silently under the waves or muster the courage to swim to shore and become a hero. Perhaps a reluctant hero, to be sure, but a hero nonetheless. And through this courage, you can remain a faithful witness for Christ. This moment in history calls for heroes, reluctant or otherwise.” (Erwin W. Lutzer, No Reason to Hide: Standing for Christ in a Collapsing Culture, 16-17 (Kindle Edition): Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers)

Let us rise to the challenge and advance the cross of Jesus.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

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