Peter’s Letter: “Christianity: The Un-Pleasant Truth"
Scripture Reading: I Peter 4:12-19
The apostle begins our reading in verse 12 saying, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” Literally Peter says we should not be surprised by the “fiery trial” when it comes upon us. This is an un-pleasant truth. Fiery, painful and all together unpleasant things can and probably will happen in the lives of those who desire to be followers of Jesus Christ.
If the apostle is trying to persuade his readers of the joy that comes in knowing Jesus Christ and living your life for him, then he’s not doing a very good job. We don’t like suffering and for good reason: it doesn’t fit! Even though some will say that it is only natural there is suffering in this world – survival of the fittest, evolutionary advancement of the strong over the weak, and so forth – we still know in our gut that suffering is not the way it’s supposed to be.
Suffering – and in particular human suffering – is one of the reasons many people give for why they don’t believe in God. If God is “all good” and “all powerful” than why doesn’t God do something about all the suffering in the world? If God allows suffering than God is not good. If God doesn’t take away suffering, then he is not all powerful. Since there is suffering, then the God of Christianity does not exist. How do you answer the person who rejects God on the basis that they or others have suffered so much?
How do you respond to those who accuse God of not being all good and all powerful? What advice does Peter give in Chapter 3:15?The suffering we experience in this world will never triumph over us when our anchor is in Jesus Christ who is our glory. Even when we lose (by the world’s reckoning) we win (by Christ’s good work in us). The biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation does not reveal an easy life for those who are called by God in Jesus Christ to live in his Kingdom of truth and grace. Christianity is not an invitation to a life of wealth and success.
Who comes to your mind when you think of those in the Bible who were called by God and then suffered for that calling?
What kind of suffering is not praise-worthy?
“Glory” is a prominent word in our reading for today. The word is used in verses 13 and 14 and it is there again in verse 16, “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise (literally: glorify) God that you bear that name.” Glory is the presence of God, an awareness of God’s weightiness and joy in living and knowing a God-conscious life. Glory is the heart of doxology and Christians are called to a life of doxology, a life of praise.
In verse 12 Peter says we will face “painful trials” which is literally a “trial by fire”. Fire can be destructive and it can be a means of purification. Wayne Grudem writes, “The image of a refiner’s fire suggests that such suffering purifies and strengthens Christians.” For what are we purified?
The un-pleasant truth leads to a surprising result. In spite of the threat of fiery trials in this life, we win. We are encouraged to persevere in living the Christian life. In a hyper-active and sensitive world, let the Church be a voice of calm and hope. In this world we do not need to fear the suffering which may come our way because we live for the Kingdom of God and not for the powers (political, economic, social) of this world. Let’s also resolve to be a Church that doesn’t sell-out the gospel of Jesus Christ for something shallow and trendy. We don’t need a human centered, feel good gospel which lies to us and says that Christians will not suffer. Peter, the apostle of Jesus Christ, tells us that we are blessed to be identified with Christ. Therefore, we commit ourselves to our Creator and continue to do good. Amen.