GOD’S GIFTS TO HIS CHILDREN
2 Peter 1:1-2
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
October 20, 2013
Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
-- 2 Peter 1:1-2, ESV
Introductory lines in New Testament epistles are relatively uniform and often overlooked when studying these books of the Bible. Usually the human author identifies himself, his original audience, and offers a blessing to all who read these words of God. Simon Peter’s second epistle is no exception and it uses exceptional words. They are chosen to convey not only the facts behind the background of this letter, but also the vital gifts that God gives to His children.
A Calling in His Kingdom
By calling attention to himself at the beginning of this book, Simon Peter brings attention to our calling from God. More important than the names “Simeon Peter” (his given name in Hebrew and Aramaic combined with Jesus’ nickname that sticks to this day) are the titles of “servant” and “apostle.” These terms represent the combined calling that God gave to Simon Peter as a distinct gift. And as it is with all gifts, God gives them to His children so that we can glorify God and build up His church.
“Servant” could better be translated slave or bondservant. It speaks of a slave who serves his master out of absolute mandate and voluntary love. This is the general calling that God gives to every one of His true children. I fear that since slavery is such a repulsive notion to the modern mind, and rightly so, that this concept of being a bondservant of the Lord has fallen on hard times, too. Modern, nominalist Christianity has been reduced to ritual and formula for those who think they are getting fire insurance from Hell. But if a profession of faith made does not result in submission of self to the Lordship of Christ, the gift of salvation has neither been given nor received. The call to salvation, a distinct gift from God, is always accompanied by the call to be a servant of God, a servant in Christ’s kingdom, a servant in a local church. Simon Peter served in these capacities distinctly, realizing that a call from God to salvation and service is a great gift to be embraced with joy and determination. God has given you this gift, this calling, if you are one of His children.
And, there is more to this calling. Not only did Simon Peter receive the general call to be a “servant,” he also received from God a specific call to be an “apostle.” I think “apostle” in Simon Peter’s case could be better spelled “Apostle” in this text. An “apostle” is a commissioned messenger, and in general all Christians are given the Great Commission to spread the gospel in their own circles, country, and world. Simon Peter certainly did this for the Lord, but the Lord also gave him a specific calling to be an authoritative “Apostle” in the fledgling church. “Apostles” provided exemplary Christ-like leadership for the foundation of the church. They composed her marching orders which eventually came to be known as The New Testament. You too, child of God, have a specific calling within the church from God. God has gifted you, in some certain way, as a leader or member to build up the body of Christ. Be careful how you discern and use this precious gift from God. If you are not helping to build up, start. If you seem to be tearing down, stop. Go to prayer and get some advice to help you discover your specific calling and start using this gift to give your life to Christ and His church in ever greater ways.
God has given to all of His children these great gifts of a general and a specific calling. But behind this call to service is the call to salvation. God gives this call to be sure. But what most people, even many Christians, do not realize, is that God not only gives the effectual call to salvation, He gives the faith to believe it and receive it.
The Faith to Believe
Simon Peter identifies his original audience as other Christians “who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours.” Some translations call it a “precious faith.” There are all kinds of faith: hypocritical faith, nominal faith, superficial faith; but, there is only one faith that saves, the faith that comes by grace alone in “the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” alone. The lone source of this saving faith is God, who gives it to His chosen children.
This means that, if you are saved, you did not conjure up your own faith and give it to God. You did not simply make a good decision, walk an aisle, pray a prayer, ask Jesus into your heart, or do anything on your own to decide for yourself to believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. You “obtained” your faith, like every other true Christian, as a gift from God. This is what John meant when he quoted Jesus saying, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (ref. John 15:16). This is what Luke meant when he recorded the spread of the gospel by writing “God has granted repentance [the flip side of faith] that leads to life” (ref. Acts 11:18) and “As many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (ref. Acts 13:48). This is what Paul meant when he wrote the strongest theological statement in the Bible, “By grace are you saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God” (ref. Ephesians 2:8). And that’s what Simon Peter meant when he noted that we became children of God when we “obtained a faith” (some translations read “received faith”) that saves. Salvation is a gift God gives to His children, and so is the faith it takes to receive so great a salvation.
These great Bible verses and this great biblical truth do not negate the equal truth that “whoever believes in Him will have everlasting life” (ref. John 3:16) and “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (ref. Romans 10:13). Neither do they in any way relive us of the responsibility and privilege to “go into all the world and proclaim the gospel” (ref. Mark 16:15). God gives the gift of belief to believers and through believers gives the gift of belief to others who come to believe.
Simply put, this means if you have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that has saved your eternal soul, you received it as as gift from your loving, heavenly Father. You can get other kinds of faith from clever con men coaxing you to come forward and make an outward decision, or from the bane of peer pressure as it often plays out in the Bible Belt, or from an understandable immature need to please parents, pastors, or people in a church. But you can only get precious, spiritual, saving faith as a gift from God, which He gives to His children.
Abundant Grace and Peace
So, are you a servant of Jesus Christ? If so, God gave you this calling. And He gave you this calling because He first gave you saving faith. And, if He gave you saving faith, it is not because of anything particularly good in you, but because of something great in Him -- namely, “grace.”
“Grace you and peace,” writes Simon Peter. But where do “grace” and the “peace” it gives come from? “From God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Here we find the foundation of our saving faith and call to service from God. By grace we receive faith. In faith we serve the Lord. God’s children who evidence these gifts have the right to peace with God, the comfort and assurance of knowing your are right with God now and will live with Him forever.
“Grace” and “peace” are also the gifts that keep on giving. They can be “multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” Do you want to understand grace better and experience the constant benefits of receiving and giving grace? Do you want a deeper level of peace with God and to see this peace rule and reign in our hearts? The open your Bible, and open up your mind and heart, and study the word of God.
Look at all of the sound doctrine offered in this short introductory text. We get a glimpse of the triunity of God and definite statements on the deity of Jesus Christ. We are taught that faith is saving when it imputes the righteousness of Jesus Christ to true believers. We see the great pillars of the Great Reformation doctrines of grace alone, faith alone, and Christ alone (and we take these a doctrines based on Scripture alone, for the glory of God alone). What glorious doctrines are shown in just a few short verses of God’s holy word!
I read somewhere that a Jewish man was asked to pray at one of the prayer breakfasts in Washington, D.C. It was attended mostly by evangelical Christians who were surprised when his opening line was, “Lord, I pray that Jews would come to know Jesus Christ.” Then he continued, “And I pray that Muslims would come to know Jesus Christ.” Then he closed, “And Lord, I pray that Christians would come to know Jesus Christ!”
All of us, and I mean us Christians, need to know “Our God and Savior Jesus Christ” much, much better. We need to know better who He is, how He works, what He gives, and what He expects of us. We need the knowledge to praise Him for His wonderful gift of grace, that leads to the gift of faith, that leads to the gift of giving our lives back to Him in general and specific service. And when we understand and do these things, “grace and peace” will abound in our lives, in the life of our church, and in the lives of others who need to know Him. Praise God for His gifts. Let us use them for His glory.
A SUMMARY OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
1 Peter 5:6-14
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
October 13, 2013
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it. She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son. Greet one another with the kiss of love.
Peace to all of you who are in Christ.
-- 1 Peter 5:6-14, ESV
We now reach the conclusion of a book of the Bible, inspired by the Holy Spirit and informed by the personality of the imminent Apostle Peter, about the Christian life. These last verses form a perfect summary of the major themes already discussed. They provide a thorough check-up for Christians, so that we may examine our lives to see if we are running within the parameters set forth in the Christian faith. And, they provide a pathway for those who wish to enter in and enjoy the “peace” found only “in Christ.” Let’s go.
The Christian Life is a Submissive Life
“Humble yourselves.” Peter begins his parting words by putting emphasis on the recurring theme of humility, or submission. Christians are to humbly submit to government (ref. 2:13-17), employers (ref. 2:18-25), family roles (ref. 3:1-7), church leaders (ref. 5:1-5), and to one another (ref. 5:5). This time, however, he puts away the pea shooter and pulls out the canon. This time, we are commanded to humbly submit to “the mighty hand of God.”
On one “hand,” it is the sovereign providence of God that has placed you in the country, vocation, family, and church you are in; therefore, you show your humility before God by gladly submitting to the various authorities He has placed in your life, for your good and His ultimate glory. I realize this can seem chafing and unfair at times for some of us, but whenever you think you’ve got a better plan than God then you’ve missed the mark from the start. But for those willing to embrace the call of the cross there is a crown. God will “exalt you,” literally lift you up, a term found 21 times in the New Testament, generally used to speak of Christ (ref. John 12:32; Acts 5:31), but also of Christians, of people who demonstrate the true, Christ-like character of humble, submissive, obedient faith (ref. Matthew 23:12; James 4:10). On one “hand,” submit to God and you will be raised up with Him in Heaven.
On the other “hand,” as you submit to God your faithful obedience, God also wants you to surrender to Him your problems, your pain, your “anxieties.” The command is to literally “cast” them, like a person placing a heavy load on an animal to carry. The Christian life, the submissive life, is a hard life, and often our principles can cause us pain. Ironically, taking this hand of God can be harder than taking the other. I can freely and joyfully give to God my obedience, but I find it hard to give Him my problems. I want to fix them. I want to change them. I want to manage them. But, as I am finally learning, I cannot. And if I keep on trying to carry them myself, I will break down. I’ve got to, you’ve got to, we’ve got to give them to God to carry until He can unload them whenever and wherever they belong (ref. also Matthew 11:28-30).
The Christian Life is a Serious Life
“Be sober-minded.” In other words, be serious about the Christian life, for it is a battlefield not a ball field, and there is a ruthless enemy. And when you get wounded by the aforementioned anxieties, he will sound the attack (like “a roaring lion”). He is “the devil,” he is real, and his intent is to kill your Christian faith and testimony. He wants you to drop out of church. He wants you to shut your Bible and keep it closed. He wants you to give up on praying. He wants nominal Christians who really aren’t saved to give up the pursuit of Christ and he wants true Christians to be silenced in their witness for Christ.
Take your enemy, take your friends in Christ, take your Christian life seriously and “resist him, firm in your faith.” How did our Lord Jesus Christ resist the devil when He was on earth? With fasting, prayers, and an expertise in the word of God (ref. Matthew 4:1-11). Jesus also engaged in regular public and private worship, fellowship with believers, and in evangelism and ministry. His was a serious life, not devoid of fun and laughter nor rest and recreation, but a life totally committed to God. I think when it comes to real, saving, biblical Christianity, there is only a choice between total commitment and no commitment at all. The Christian life is a serious life.
The Christian Life is a Suffering Life
The good news is that Jesus saves! The bad news is that if Jesus has saved you, and you are demonstrating it with a submissive and serious Christian life, then you will have to suffer (ref. 1:6-7, 3:13-17, 4:1, 4:12-19). You will face spiritual warfare and attack, as previously discussed. And, friends will hurt you even more than enemies (ref. Judas Iscariot). For two thousand years, “the same kinds of suffering” has been shared by true Christians living the true Christian life.
The only real good news I can share with you about this bad news is that this suffering for the cause of Christ is only for “a little while.” But then again, I cannot tell you how long this little while may last. In some ways, it is a momentary pain that results in immediate earthly gain, as we experience God’s hand to “restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish” our faith for Him on earth. For others, it is a lifetime of submission and serious suffering that finds relief only in the passing from this life to the next, where we live in God’s “dominion, forever and ever. Amen.”
The latter was probably true for “Silvanus” (Silas), the church meeting in “Bablyon” (Rome), John “Mark,” and Simon Peter himself. Maybe I’m bragging when I shouldn’t, maybe I’m just negative and pessimistic, or maybe I’m more fortunate and blessed than I realize, but I’ve been following Jesus now for three decades, and there has never been a time when it hasn’t hurt. Sometimes, to be sure, my own sin and stupidity have put me in a pickle. But most of the time, I have been hurt or persecuted or betrayed because I’ve simply tried to be a submissive and serious Christian, willing to suffer for the cause, truth, and glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
So if the Christian life is so hard, why do it?
The Christian Life is a Life of Grace, Love, and Peace
There are many reasons, and Simon Peter summarizes by listing three: “grace,” “love,” and “peace.”
Christians are saved and sustained by the free grace of God. God’s grace permits earthly suffering and promises “eternal glory.” I truly believe one is worth the other. If you are trusting in your own ingenuity or words to curry favor with God, you will one day quit when the going gets tough, or you will tough it out only to be shocked at the end when you are ushered into eternal perdition because you came before “the mighty hand of God” clothed in your own filthy rags rather than the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. The Christian life is the only life of grace.
Christians are saved and sustained by the love of God. “The kiss” may be only a symbolic Eastern greeting, but “love” is the heart of the Christian life. It is offered by grace, received through faith, and shared with one another so that other people may come to know God and know we are God’s children (ref. John 13:35). The Christian life is the only life that truly experiences and shares the love of God.
Christians are saved and sustained by the peace of God, and this “peace” is only found “in Christ.” You will never find peace in money, in sex, in entertainment, in success, and especially not in religion. The Christian life is the only lived not lived in constant unsettledness and open hostility with God. Through the grace of the gospel, the love of God offers peace. Christians embrace it, with submission, seriousness, suffering, and all.
Are there other attributes that are a part of the Christian life? Sure, but these sum it up pretty good. So let us ask God for the grace to submit to His Lordship in our lives. Let us ask God for love enough to put Him first, others above our own selves, and reach out to the lost. Let us ask God for peace, even in the midst of problems and pain, knowing that He knows and He does all things well. Let grace, love, and peace save us, let it sustain us here and now, and let it take us all the way home. This is the Christian life.
1 Peter 5:1-5
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
October 6, 2013
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
-- 1 Peter 5:1-5, ESV
In these five verses from Simon Peter to the church, he addresses pastors in the first four, then the whole congregation in the last verse. Essentially, he is telling pastors how to win a grand prize and how the congregation can help. Please, help your pastors win this prize, for much more than the prize is at stake!
Understand The Role and Responsibility of Pastors
This passages teaches two great points about church leadership. The leaders of the church should be plural and limited. They should be plural so that no one person has too much authority or responsibility. And, the leaders should be limited to men who meet the qualifications and are willing to serve as Elders, Pastors, or Bishops.
On the first point I will not take much time, since Simon Peter, almost in passing, address “elders,” not “elder.” In the many instances in which elders are addressed in the New Testament, they are alway addressed in plurality. With the exception perhaps of very small churches, a church is too dynamic an organism to be managed by one man. Furthermore, it is more difficult for the enemies of God (inside and outside the church) to target a team than it is to pick on one man. So, one man is not enough for the job. It requires a plurality.
Even more importantly, the office of leadership in the church is identified here and in other New testament passages in three interchangeable terms: elder, pastor (shepherd), and overseer (bishop). You won’t find “deacon” here, nor in any other New Testament text about church leadership. Deacons are not leaders, and the sorry state of affairs in most Southern Baptist Churches is a direct result of a violation of this scriptural principle. Committees are not listed as leaders anywhere either, and ditto. The head of the church is Jesus Christ, and under His lordship the church is led by elders (a good term for non-vocational, lay leaders in the leadership body), pastors (a good term for vocational, staff leaders, especially those who preach and teach), and bishops (a fine term that could refer to either, or someone in a position to supervise many pastors in a group of churches, though not one generally used in Baptist or congregational churches). A church led by deacons is headed for corruption. A church led by committees is headed for chaos. But a church led by duly qualified and called elders, pastors, and/or bishops is one that at least has the potential for doing the right things the right way.
In the role of “elder,” the church leaders are responsible to bring the wisdom of the word of God to bear on the life and decisions of the church. In the role of “pastor” (literally one who shepherds sheep, and sheep is a unique and telling metaphor in itself, an animal that absolutely requires leadership), the church leaders feed the people on the word of God, lead them in the power of the Holy Spirit, and minister to their needs with love and grace. In the role of “overseer” (also bishop, one who gives oversight or supervision), the church leaders are given authority by God to lead His people and formulate plans for them to accomplish the manifold mission of the church. Believe me, this does not even sound easy, and it is far more difficult than it even sounds. The job goes from difficult to impossible when the people of the church do not understand, or refuse to comply with, these standards and offices for church leadership.
Hold Pastors Accountable for their Character and Conduct
While leadership is exclusively for pastors (or elders, or overseers) by the will of God, they serve at the will of the people, too, who are responsible for rightly calling them and holding them accountable for the way they fulfill their calling. Simon Peter does not write much about the qualifications for the job (Paul does in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1). He seems more concerned with how the job gets done.
Make sure your leaders serve “not under compulsion, but willingly.” In other words, don’t force or guilt anyone into a sacred leadership office, but make sure they are glad to do it. I am not always a happy pastor, but I am always a glad pastor. I am so glad to be able to study the word of God and be able to preach and teach. I am so glad to pray for you from afar or near and to counsel with you about your problems. I am so glad to plan and lead services with you, share meals with you, be a part of weddings and funerals with you, and all that goes into being a pastor. All good pastors I know feel the same way.
Never retain a pastor who is in it for “shameful gain” and does not serve “eagerly.” Prophets for profit are everywhere, especially on television. I know a few men who seemed to get into the ministry for the money, which tells you what complete losers they are for not being able to make more money outside church vocation than inside. Most pastors I know could be making a lot more money in non-church vocations than in the church, but love and calling make them eager to serve God by serving churches.
Finally, Simon Peter points out that the leaders, vocational and non-vocational, should never be “domineering” but always be “examples (again notice the plurality) to the flock.” You do not want pastors and elders who only tell you what to do. You want them to show you, and let it show in their lives, that they are prayers, students of the word, givers, witnesses, and courageous defenders of the Christian faith.
Now if you have pastors and elders doing what pastors and elders are supposed to do, you should thank God for them, continue to pray for them and hold them accountable, and then take a look at the prize they can win.
Look At What Your Pastors Can Win
The Bible says a lot about crowns. Limiting our discussion to the New Testament, we understand our Lord Jesus Christ wore a crown of thorns for us (ref. John 19:2) so that we may crown Him with many crowns (ref. Revelation 4:10). We also are told that there are crowns for true believers in Jesus Christ, including the crown of righteousness (ref. 2 Timothy 4:8) and the crown of life (ref. James 1:12; Revelation 2:10). Here in this text about pastors and elders, Simon Peter promises a “crown of glory” to be awarded by the Lord Jesus, our great and good Shepherd, to the faithful under-shepherds who have led and served His flock.
It is most probable that the talk of all of these crowns in Scripture is metaphorical for the general and great reward of Heaven for those who have trusted in Christ on earth. It is His imputed “righteousness,” acquired by faith, that gives us eternal “life” and brings us to “glory.” But what if God does grant some personal heavenly reward for meritorious or sacrificial service on earth? What if there is some audible “well done” uttered by God to those who have exercised their faith in a significant way here and now? What if pastors do get some grand prize from the Lord for the many sacrifices and sermons they have offered in this life? Will you help me gain this prize?
Help Your Pastors Win the Prize
Will you help the pastors and elders and bishops? Then submit to us and humble yourself before one another. I would never talk like this in a regular conversation, or in some other kind of address to the church. One of my all time favorite quotes is from the late Lady Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of England. She said, “If you have to tell someone that you are in charge, be assured that you are not.”
I’m not telling you that I and other pastors and elders are in charge. But I am exegeting Scripture, I am explaining what this text means in its context. And in the context of pastors and people in 1 Peter 5:1-5, the members are exhorted to be submissive and humble towards the leaders of the church. This concurs with other New Testament teachings, like Hebrews 13:17, which says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
Does that mean church leaders are perfect? Far from it. Does it mean they always get it exactly right? Certainly not. What it does mean, however, is that if your pastors and elders are making leadership decisions based upon a reasonable interpretation of Scripture, in order to carry out the purposes of the church, in good faith and character, then you should submit to them and support them. Otherwise, you will find yourself in opposition not to your church leaders, but to God, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
Furthermore, you might cost me my prize!? But seriously, let me explain what it really at stake.
Realize What is Really at Stake
The problem in our dysfunctional world today is that dysfunctional churches are trying to reach dysfunctional people and doing a dysfunctional job of it. How can we reverse the trend? By functioning properly, according to the word of God. Not only should we say the right things (the gospel, biblical truth) with the right motives (love), but we should do it the right way (a scriptural view and practice of church leadership and membership). I fear a failure to do the latter can prevent the former from really getting off the ground.
Some prize is not what is really at stake here. All people who trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are getting the prize of Heaven. What is at stake is getting the prize of Heaven into people’s hearts now, before their end arrives. Churches that waste precious time and energy in leadership struggles seldom free their membership to do what Christians are really supposed to do. A tribe with too many chiefs and not enough Indians cannot fight the good fight, let alone win the war. Simon Peter, preaching to a church in a hostile world, understood this perfectly, which is why the Holy Spirit led him to choose these words in this epistle.
So, let’s do it right. Let’s all strive for the prize. And let us so order our affairs that this prize is shared with the world around us as well. For it is not just church leadership is at stake, lost souls are at stake, too.
WHEN BAD IS GOOD
1 Peter 4:12-19
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
September 29, 2013
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
-- 1 Peter 4:12-19, ESV
I don’t know if it is true today, but in the vernacular of my youth, bad meant good. The bad dude on the team was not the one fumbling the ball or making the error, he was the one scoring the touchdown or hitting the home run. The bad chick was not the ugly duckling in class, but the hot babe. So, bad really meant good.
Let me give you a word, a word Simon Peter used four times in this short text: suffering. Is suffering a bad word or a good word? What about physical suffering, the kind so many early Christians endured at the hands of the Roman empire? What about the emotional suffering of loss, betrayal, or being mocked or made fun of? What about the spiritual suffering when the attacks of our spiritual warfare target you (ref. 5:9)? Any or all of these things can make a person feel bad, very bad. But suffering, in this context, does not seem to be a bad thing. It is actually a very good thing. How can bad be good?
Suffering Puts You on the Good Side
Do you think the brave Allied soldiers who stormed the beach at Normandy on D-Day were surprised to find the Germans shooting at them? Are you surprised when you read the book of Job to find that Satan hated Job for being a good and godly man? Are you surprised when your favorite football team faces a fourth and one and the other team actually tries to stop them? No! This is what enemies do. They fire bullets, they harbor hatred, they get in your way, they throw “fiery trials” at you, if you are on the other side.
The other side, the good side, is God’s side. Suffering because you have sided with God, because by grace you have faith in Jesus Christ, because you have taken your position in the church and in the kingdom of God, is a good thing. Bad becomes good because it confirms you are in the right place at the right time doing what it right in the sight of God. God actually allows these sufferings, like He did in the days of Job, “to test you.” Tests are good, when you pass them. And you will, if you are a true follower of Jesus Christ.
Suffering Puts You in Good Company
Speaking of Jesus, if you were given a day to spend with any person, past or present, who would that person be? Who among us would not love to spend a day with Jesus? Well, you can, any day, when you “share Christ’s sufferings.”
The word Simon Peter uses for share is koinonia, the word for sweet, special Christian fellowship. Jesus Christ will never be more near, sweet, and special to you than those times you are called upon to suffer for His name. It could be minor, like peer pressure turning into poking fun; or, it could be major, like being martyred in the line of missionary service. It could be financial, like budgeting to give to offerings and charity, or turning down a more lucrative job in order to spend more time with family and church. There are a million was to suffer for Christ, for He suffered for us in a million and one.
Actually, when such suffering comes into our lives, we are told to “rejoice.” The bad pain of suffering is to give way to the good feelings of rejoicing and celebrating. We can do this because we know how the story is going to end, in the “glory” of God at the second coming of Jesus Christ. If you want to be in that company then, you have to embrace the willingness to suffer, now.
Suffering Provides for You Good Blessings
The bad times of suffering bring you good blessings. The word “blessed” here is the same one Jesus used in the Beatitudes, where God’s blessings are poured out upon the poor, the sad, the hungry, and the persecuted. Those are bad things which bring good blessings.
In contrast with the modern messages of cheap grace and the prosperity gospel, God did not save you to make you always happy, always healthy, and always wealthy. God saved you to resist the enemy, be different from the world, and give up things in this life in exchange for the rewards in the life to come. Inevitably this entails suffering, which feels bad, for the glory, which will be more than good.
Nothing on earth is worth the price of being blessed, of that inward sense of peace that comes from believing and obeying God. This is God’s present reward. And there are future ones, too. Scripture leads me to believe in eternal rewards, not only of the life that never ends, but of blessings in Heaven granted because of faithfulness on earth, faithfulness advanced in the face of suffering.
Suffering Provides for You Good Assurance
Part of the present blessedness available for believers is the assurance of salvation. This is also where suffering comes in. God, it seems, permits certain sufferings in order for “judgment to begin at the household of God.”
Let me illustrate with a stupid stunt pulled on a youth group many years ago, years before shootings started occurring in churches and other public places. Some masked men with guns invaded a sanctuary and guarded the doors. They told the students they were there for the Christians, and any non-Christians could leave. Many students left. Afterward, they pulled off their masks, put away their fake guns, opened their Bibles, and started the service. Again, this was dumber than dumb, but it does illustrate a point here.
Most people in the church do not belong to the church. Some hard core hypocrites stay for the duration until their cold hearts are carried out by six strong men. Most lost church members, however, filter out gradually, as soon a suffering comes into their lives. Christianity is priceless, but it is not cost-less. I think God permits suffering among church members as a kind of sifting and sorting, to identify who are the true believers.
So, if you have suffered because of your faithfulness to Christ (not because of your sin, which Simon Peter makes plain in this text), and you are actually closer to Christ, more committed to Christ’s church, then the bad days of suffering have brought your good assurance that you truly are of the faith. Assurance is a good thing.
Suffering Puts You in a Good Place
Where is the best place in the world to be? Some beautiful beach, a breathtaking mountain top, on a seat at the big game, or lying on your back while grandchildren jump on you? Those are some good places. But the best place to be in the whole world is “God’s will.” Joseph lived there, so did Paul, and you want to live there, too, if you are God’s child.
Therefore, suffering cannot be bad, for Christians who suffer are doing so “according to God’s will.” This belief in a benevolent God, a “faithful Creator” who allows suffering in the world has actually turned many people away from God. After all, if God is good, how can He allow bad things to happen?
Suffering happens because of the very good gift God gave to the apex of His creation, mankind. God gave us freedom, and good thing. With our freedom we all have made sinful choices, a bad thing. The result of these bad choices is a world in which much suffering takes place, another seemingly bad thing. But out of this suffering God works, God speaks, God redeems, God saves, not in spite of the suffering but because of the suffering. Most people are saved because of some story which involves human suffering. And, all people who are saved owe their salvation to the greatest moment of human and divine suffering ever perpetrated on this planet, the arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, otherwise known as the gospel.
The gospel, as you know, is good news. It is the ultimate good that came out of something bad. So come and live in God’s world, in God’s will, where even bad is good.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org