Everyone is going to suffer at some point in this life. Suffering takes many forms; physical, psychological, spiritual. Suffering is relative to the individual. What is "suffering" for one person may not be "suffering" for someone else. Suffering is personal. Suffering will be present in life at some point. This is God's sovereign determination; to allow suffering in life at certain times. God does not always heal or deliver. Suffering serves God's purposes. God can bring good even from times of suffering. We might not always know what God's purpose or plan is when we suffering, we might not see how He can bring "good" from suffering. But we can be sure that even when we or others suffer, God is still on the throne, God still has a righteous plan, and He is working redemptively even during times of suffering.
It's important to trust God even when we suffer. And it's important that what we do suffer is for the right reasons and not because of personal sin. When we suffer as a consequence of our sinful choices, we suffer unnecessarily. The consequence of sin is just and it does have disciplinary value. Suffering as a consequence of sin is something we bring on ourselves and we have no basis to question why it occurs. But even when suffer for righteousness sake, we need to trust in the Lord and His mercy and motive. We need to respond to suffering in a righteous God glorifying way. It is A Right Response to Suffering that we will consider in this study.
First, a right response to suffering doesn't think suffering is strange. Peter states, "“Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; . . ." Peter speaks to these "beloved" brethren and encourages them that the "fiery trial" or incident of suffering should not be thought of as "strange." "Strange" (Greek xenidzo) means an unexpected house guest, to be shocked or surprised by the arrival of someone unexpected, to be surprised by an uninvited person at your door. In other words, in this fallen sinful world we should expect the uninvited intrusions of suffering. This is par for the course in this fallen world. Fiery trials will intrude in our life. You can count on it!
This implies we should live with a readiness for suffering. It doesn't mean we live with a fearful paranoia of a "What's going to happen next?" mentality. It doesn't mean we should diminish joy thinking if something good happens to us then it's only a matter of time before something bad will also happen to us. It simply means we should walk with a healthy awareness and expectation that this life is characterized by times of trials and when trials do come, we need to be ready to respond in the right way. It simply means to be aware of the reality in which we live and to walk aware of your surroundings.
Paul exhorted his readers to "See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise" (Eph. 5:15). The word "circumspectly" (Greek akribos) means carefully, perfectly, diligently. The idea is to walk with our head on a swivel and awareness of our surroundings. When we walk through the dark alleys of life we need to be aware that lurking in the dark doorways are elements that want to rob and harm us. A fool walks through life unaware of the dangers around him. That is because a fool walks without God (e.g. Psalm 14). But the Christian's comfort is that as we walk through the dark alleyways of life we belong to the Father in heaven and He watches over His children, Jesus is with us, and the Holy Spirit our Body Guard leads us, has our back, and even if a punch is landed or an injury incurred, the Spirit has the balm needed to bring healing.
Second, a right response to suffering is joyful because trials are an opportunity to know Christ in a deeper way. Peter continues, " 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." Joy isn't happiness that depends on the happenings of life. Joy is a deep settled assurance that no matter what befalls us, God is in control and He can bring good from suffering. Suffering is an opportunity for us to "partake" in (Greek koinoneo) or communicate with, commune with, share in, partner with Jesus. Suffering helps us to understand and know Jesus better and on a deeper level of spirituality. When we suffer it causes us to get our priorities in order and look forward all the more for the coming of Jesus. And when Jesus does return, those who have suffered will have all the more reason to rejoice. Come Lord Jesus!
Third, a right response to suffering understands there is blessing in suffering. " 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." There is a blessing ("blessed" - Greek makarios) or a supreme blessing, to be fortunate, to be well off, a benefit when we are "reproached" (Greek oneidizo) or railed at, chided, taunted, reviled, because of Jesus. When people clench their teeth and act in hateful ways toward us because of our relationship with Jesus, there is a blessing at hand. And that blessing will be that "the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you." When we suffer the Holy Spirit is with us and empowers us by coming "upon" us. Suffering is often the circumstance in which the Holy Spirit comes upon people in His Pentecostal power (compare John 14:15-18; and Acts 1:4-5, 8 and Acts 2 ff.). We see this throughout the Book of Acts (e.g. Acts 4, 7, 8, 12, 14, 16, etc.). When we suffer we need the Holy Spirit's comfort and support. He is our Comforter. Suffering presents the perfect circumstance for the Holy Spirit to reveal His reality and power. Others may blaspheme God, but we who know Him and experience His tangible presence in suffering will glorify Him. Hallelujah!!!
Fourth, a right suffering is not the consequence of sin. Peter states, " But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters." When we sin and suffer the consequences that is not righteous suffering. Those who break God's law in principle or otherwise will receive just consequence in their life. That is nothing for anyone to take credit for. In the world today people choose to live contrary to God's righteous ways and suffer as a result. That is nothing to be proud of. For that people should be ashamed.
Fifth, a right response to suffering seeks to glorify God. " Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter." When we do suffer for doing good or according to God's will our ambition and aim should be to be used in such a situation for the glory of God. We shouldn't feel sorry for ourselves but should be selfless and seek to proclaim and live in God's faithfulness and truth. When we suffer we shouldn't seek the sympathy of others by subtle insinuations that in some way God has let us down. No, instead we should seek the strength of God to endure as we draw close to Him. When we suffer we need to turn toward God not away from God, for it is in His arms that we will find what is needed to weather storms of suffering. And living that truth brings glory to God.
Sixth, a right response to suffering understands that Christians are held to a higher standard. Peter states, "For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 Now “If the righteous one is scarcely saved, 1 Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?” Christians know the truth of the gospel, know Who Jesus is, have access to God's word and revelation truth. Therefore Christians will be judged as to how they lived and applied all God's grace and resource.
What does Peter mean when he is inspired to say, "If the righteous are scarcely saved. . . ." I think it refers to Christians growing in their walk with the Lord being more aware of just how much their salvation depends on the grace of God. The closer we come to Jesus in our walk the more clearly we will be aware of our sin. As we walk and come closer to the Lord we have Isaiah 6 experiences where in the presence of God we cry out like Isaiah, "Woe is me for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips" (Isaiah 6:5). These are experiences where in HIs presence we become more acutely aware of our sinful thoughts, words and deeds. In such humbling times all we can do is fall before God in humble repentance and worship Him for is grace and love toward us. If you haven't experienced this as a Christian, trust me, if you continue with Him you will.
When you come close to God and His Holy presence, you can't help but be more aware of your utter sinfulness and ungodliness even with God's grace and the Holy Spirit helping you. This is not a fault of God but a fault of ours. We fail to avail ourselves of God's gracious provisions. But thankfully God is patient, longsuffering, merciful, gracious and loving toward us. From this humble perspective all the Christian can do is bow before Almighty God and be aware that we are "scarcely saved." We are "scarcely saved" not because God's grace is limited, (far from it!), but because we humans are so weak, limited, flawed, and spiritually dull that the only way we could ever be saved is by His grace and mercy. If that is the case with Christians, "Where will the ungodly and sinner appear?" how much harder will it be for those who suffer on their own? It is impossible to be saved apart for the gospel of God's grace.
Seventh, a right response to suffering commits itself to God and understands that sometimes it is God's will that we suffer. " Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.” We may not always understand God's plan or purpose in suffering, but we should always commit ourselves to the Lord. No matter what we should entrust our life and everything else to the Lord's will. We need to walk by faith and not be overwhelmed by the sight of suffering in our life (e.g. 2 Cor. 5:7).
The following poem by an unknown author puts suffering in perspective:
One day as I was fast asleep
I had this stirring dream;
I was caught up to be with God.
With angels it did seem.
And while up there, I met God’s saints
From many parts of the earth.
Now some were great and famous men.
And some of humble birth.
I talked to one great saint of God,
The first one I had met.
He told me how he died for Christ.
His words I can’t forget.
He lived, he said, in Bible days
And died at Nero’s stake.
“It was a joy to give my all
And burn for Jesus’ sake.”
“I was so glad to die for Christ.”
With humble words he said.
But as I listened to it all.
I bowed my guilty head.
Another man then gently spoke,
“Here is my story, friend.
“Twas cannibals that took my life,
Because I would not bend.
“I tried to tell those heathen souls
Of Christ who came to die.
They ate my flesh and drank my blood
But sent my soul on high
“Of course up here are millions more
With stories rare and true.
But friend, before I tell you more,
Let’s hear your story too.”
I am ashamed of how I’ve failed,
I’ve known no sacrifice.
I am ashamed of how I’ve failed,
I’ve paid such little price.
I’ve never even given funds
To send the gospel out,
I’ve lived a life of luxury
And never done without.
Those costly cars, those extra clothes
Seem needless now and vain;
The very thought of how I’ve lived
Now fills my heart with pain.
Just then it seemed that Jesus said,
“Take up My cross today;
I’ll give to you another chance
To work and give and pray.”
My guilty heart began to burn,
My nervous body shake.
Then I awoke with tear-filled eyes
With new resolves to make.
I told the Lord from that day forth
My best, my all I’d give
To win the lost in every place,
For this alone I live.
I told the Lord that from then on
I would not waste a dime;
That I would give myself to prayer
And really use my time.
That I would seek with all my heart
That power from above
To help me tell a heathen world
Of Jesus grace and love.
Suffering is a God ordained part of this life. God can use suffering instrumentally in our life and the lives of others. We need the right perspective on suffering so we can have a right response to suffering. How we respond to suffering determines whether we will enter heaven empty handed or with a love offering for our Lord. Are you suffering? Are you a chronic complainer about difficulties in life? Has your response to suffering brought a reproach to God? Or have you drawn closer to Jesus in your suffering and brought Him glory. A right response to suffering will help you answer those questions.