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.