#48 SUFFERING FOR CHRIST

Peter has, in his first letter, said quite a lot about suffering, particularly unjust suffering. In 4:12-19 he focuses on suffering that is caused by allegiance to Jesus Christ: suffering ‘because of the name of Christ’ [verse 14], suffering that is ‘as a Christian’ [verse 16].

The first thing he says is that such suffering should not surprise us. Suffering because of the name of Christ is not some strange, unexpected thing. Jesus himself actually told his followers to expect the same kind of suffering that he experienced during his three years of ministry:

‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you ... If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me’ [John 15:18-21].

Jesus identified the clear distinction between unbelievers and believers that is the cause of this hatred:

‘I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world’ [John 17:14].

But this clear distinction that generates the antagonism of unbelievers makes even that antagonism a cause of rejoicing, both now and in the future. Peter says several things to help us to view such suffering in a positive, even joyful, way:

To attract hatred because of the name of Christ, to share the same kind of rejection that he suffered, confirms our union with him and the certainty of our secure standing on the Day of judgement – that we will ‘be overjoyed when his glory is revealed’ [verse 13]. Therefore, even though we might be enduring a ‘painful trial’ now because of our faith in Christ, even that pain is a cause for rejoicing.

Similarly, to attract the world’s hatred because of the name of Christ confirms that ‘the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you’ [verse 14], and that therefore we are blessed. Although the world’s hatred is painful, its hatred actually confirms the Christian’s blessedness. Behind Peter’s comments are two significant truths:

[1] Paul taught that the indwelling Holy Spirit was God’s seal of ownership and guarantee of our salvation [2Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:13,14].

 [2] Jesus taught that the Holy Spirit within the believer convicts ‘the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment’ [John 16:8, read also verses 9-11]. The presence of believers in the world exposes the world’s unbelief and the world does not like it.

Suffering is never pleasant. However, when we suffer because of allegiance to Christ this should not cause us to feel ashamed. Rather, it should cause us to praise God that we bear that name [verse 16].

God’s judgment is inescapable. Even ‘the family of God’, ‘the righteous’, are saved only by the mercy and grace of God. Even they do not have any merit by which to save themselves. Those who are ‘the world’ – those who have not obeyed the Gospel, those who are still ungodly and unsaved sinners – have no means to escape the judgment. This, Peter says, is motivation to endure the suffering incurred because we have obeyed the will of God by obeying the Gospel and believing in the Lord Jesus Christ [verses 17-19].

With these strong words to encourage us when we suffer because of the name of Christ, Peter gives us two commands [verse 19]:

Commit yourselves to your faithful Creator. In other words, trust God. He is faithful. And he is your Creator. The suffering you are experiencing because of the name of Christ is not something out of his control. Nor is it something that questions or denies either his power or his love. As Paul has stated so powerfully in Romans 8:31-39, God is for us. Nothing that sets itself against us has any power or any authority to accuse us in God’s presence or to sever us from God. Nothing can separate us from his love.

Continue to do good. Remain faithful to the name of Christ. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Stand firm in the strength that God supplies.

As we read in the letter to the Hebrews:

‘... let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart’ [Hebrews 12:2-3].

© Rosemary Bardsley 2018