Living Hope

Living Hope For Those Who Hurt - 1 Peter 3:13 - 4:19

Have you ever had a really bad day? You know, one where when you come home all you can do is plop yourself down and exhale. While you may have had a bad day, I’ll bet your worst bad day wasn’t as bad as the diver in the following story:

            Next time you have a bad day at work, think of this guy. Rob is a commercial saturation        diver for Global Divers in Louisiana. He performs underwater repairs on offshore drilling         rigs. Below is an e-mail he sent to his sister. She then sent it to radio station 103.2-FM in    Ft. Wayne, Indiana, which was sponsoring a worst job experience contest. Needless to    say, she won.

            Hi Sue, just another note from your bottom-dwelling brother. Last week I had a bad day      at the office. I know you've been feeling down lately at work, so I thought I would share   my dilemma with you to make you realize it's not so bad after all. Before I can tell you      what happened to me, I first must bore you with a few technicalities of my job.

            As you know, my office lies at the bottom of the sea. I wear a suit to the office. It's a wet      suit. This time of year the water is quite cool, so what we do to keep warm is this: we       have a diesel-powered industrial water heater. This $20,000 piece of equipment sucks the         water out of the sea. It heats it to a delightful temperature. It then pumps it down to the     diver through a garden hose, which is taped to the air hose.

            Now this sounds like a pretty good plan, and I've used it several times with no             complaints. What I do, when I get to the bottom and start working, is take the hose and      stuff it down the back of my wet suit. This floods my whole suit with warm water. It's       like working in a Jacuzzi.

            Everything was going well, until all of a sudden, my rear end started to itch. So, of             course, I scratched it. This only made things worse.

            Within a few seconds, it started to burn. I pulled the hose out from my back, but the             damage was done. In agony, I realized what had happened.

            The hot water machine had sucked up a jellyfish and pumped it into my suit. When I             scratched what I thought was an itch, I was actually grinding the jellyfish into myself.

            I informed the dive supervisor of my dilemma over the communicator. His instructions     were unclear because he and five other divers were all laughing hysterically. Needless to     say, I aborted the dive. I was instructed to make three agonizing in-water decompression            stops, totalling thirty-five minutes, before I could reach the surface to begin my chamber      dry decompression.

            When I arrived at the surface and climbed out of the water, the medic, with tears of             laughter running down his face, handed me a tube of cream and told me to rub it onto the           affected area as soon as I got into the chamber. The cream put the fire out, but it took two            days before I could sit down again.

            So, next time you're having a bad day at work, think about how much worse it would be        if you had a jellyfish shoved down your pants. Now repeat to yourself, "I love my job, I    love my job, I love my job."

            Now, whenever you have a bad day, ask yourself: Is this a jellyfish bad day?[2]

God is the Creator and He created this environment with the capacity for love to exist. Since love to be true it requires freedom to love (or not love) there is an option for people to do evil. Our first parents Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and therefore the flood gates of sin and evil entered this world and creation. Evil exists because of freedom and self determination and the capacity to decide. Suffering is caused by evil choices. God risks evil for the sake of love. That is why evil and suffering exist.

You may have had similar questions about evil to that of Habakkuk. It isn’t wrong to ask God, to question God, if it is done in humility and reverence. And as the above excerpt hopefully demonstrates, there is a response to the question of why God allows evil.

WHY DOES GOD ALLOW SUFFERING?

 

Evil causes suffering. Why does God allow suffering? And why does God allow the righteous to suffer? These questions come on the heels of and are closely linked to the preceding questions about evil.

SUFFERING DOES NOT MEAN GOD HAS FORSAKEN THE SUFFERER

Suffering doesn't mean God has forsaken the sufferer. Some people say, "God has abandoned you, that's why you're suffering." Or, "It's because you don't have enough faith that God hasn't healed you." Such comments are usually packaged in an authoritative tone such as, "The Lord gave me a word about you." But God does not contradict Himself. The Bible tells us that God will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Furthermore, it is the faith that Jesus gives us that enables healing to occur (Mark 9:24; Acts 3:16). Faith is not something we manufacture from within, but a gift from God (Romans 10:17; 12:3,6; Ephesians 2:8-9). The witness of Scripture is that sometimes it is God's will for you to suffer, and in such cases God is still for you.

The issue of suffering and how it relates to the will of God is often misinterpreted. When such misinterpretations are applied to real life the result is compounded pain and suffering for the recipients. At the very least such careless counsel leads to frustrated faith and confusion about the nature of God. Such counselors should take note of God's reaction to those who misrepresent Him. Remember Moses? He misrepresented God to the people, and he was barred from the Promised Land (Numbers 20). It's important that we rightly divide the word as it was given by God (II Timothy 2:15; 3

The apostle Paul was a victim of such accusations. His detractors used his trials to attack his apostolic authority. When you read Paul's second letter to the Corinthians Paul is likely addressing such catcalls as, "Hey Paul, God is against you, that's why He's letting all these trials come to you. He's beating you through the whips and stoning you through the stones of men! If He's for you, why hasn't He healed your thorn?!" ( II Corinthians 11-12).

SOMETIMES SUFFERING IS GOD’S WILL

Sometimes suffering is God's will. To interpret suffering as a rejection by God compounds pain and robs one of a possible blessing. God never guarantees a believer will be free from suffering. Quite the contrary, Jesus said we could expect trouble in this world:

  • John 16:33 - “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” 

The apostle Peter stated there is a suffering that is according to the will of God:

  • 1 Peter 4:19 – “Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.” 

Paul said those who desire to live godly lives would be persecuted:

  • 2 Timothy 3:12 – “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” 

Paul wrote personally of a "thorn in the flesh" that God chose to leave in place (II Corinthians 12:7-10). Trophimus was "left in Miletus sick" (II Timothy 4:20, emphasis mine). Whose faith was not enough in these situations? Was God judging people in these situations? These are only a few of the proof texts that indicate believers will suffer, either at the hands of men or even in physical illness.

BECAUSE GOD ALLOWS SUFFERING DOESN’T MEAN GOD ENJOYS SUFFERING

Because God allows suffering doesn't mean God enjoys suffering. But even though God wills or allows suffering in the lives of believers, we should not draw a conclusion which pictures God as enjoying the suffering inflicted on people. God takes no joy in the suffering of people. Through Jeremiah the Lord's feelings are stated:

  • Lamentations 3:31-33 – “For the Lord will not cast off forever.32 Though He causes grief, Yet He will show compassion According to the multitude of His mercies.33 For He does not afflict willingly, Nor grieve the children of men.” 

 The Living Bible translates verse 33, "For He does not enjoy afflicting men and causing sorrow."

IF GOD DOESN’T ENJOY SUFFERING THEN WHY DOES HE ALLOW IT?

If God dislikes suffering, why does He allow it, even will it? To answer that question we need to understand the root and result of suffering. First, the root of suffering is sin. Sin in its most basic form is PLANETARY and PERSONAL. Personal sin is disobeying God. This is the sin that leads a person to hell and eternal separation from God in isolation and darkness. Personal sin is what we need to repent of and seek forgiveness for from God. But sin is also planetary meaning it impacted the creation itself. Suffering entered the Creation when Adam took Satan's alternative advice and disobeyed God (Genesis 3; Romans 5). Humankind became separated relationally, spiritually, from God by willful sin. But the material aspect of God's Creation was impacted too. Which leads secondly, to the result of suffering, death.

The material Creation of God literally groans under the weight of sin's infection. Paul wrote:

  • Romans 8:18-25 – “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope;21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.23 Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.24 For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” 

Because our bodies are a part of God's Creation wracked by planetary sin, they groan too. From the time you are born and throughout your life, cells die in your body. From the point of birth to approximately age 25, your body produces more cells than are dying and so you grow and develop in a good way. But at age 25 your body turns a corner and no longer produces more enough cells to replace the dying cells. At age 25, for all intents and purposes, you begin the slow process of death. Your rate of cell replenishing is in the deficit from that point on.

GOOD NEWS

The good news is that in Christ, a glorious provision has been given! In chapter 15 of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians Paul explains that sin and death have been dealt a fatal blow at the cross and resurrection of Christ.

  • 1 Corinthians 15:54 – “So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 

But it is important to recognize that Paul is speaking in terms of the future in regards to receiving our "immortal bodies" (15:54). We can be saved now by faith, but we will not receive our heavenly immortal bodies until later. While the outcome is secure, there still remains some time in the game to play. In Christ we have an insurmountable lead, but the game is not yet over. The victory is as good as ours, but we still have a few minutes to play out. And while we play, we need to keep these soiled uniforms on, or bodies that are wracked by planetary sin and breaking down. 

WE SUFFER BECAUSE GOD LOVES US

To understand this leads us to also understand that, we suffer because God loves us. "What?!" some of you are saying. You may even be adding, "That's ridiculous! You've lost me now." Well, hear me out. When a game ends, the statistics go into the books and the result is permanent. In the same way, when death is literally "swallowed up in victory" and thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15) there will be no more opportunity for salvation. God's love for humankind is such that He desires none to perish:

  • 2 Peter 3:9 – “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” 

God offers salvation to all (John 3:16) and His love for us is unmatched (Romans 5:8; 8:32). The price of God's loving, patient prolonging of the final judgment is the temporary continuation of a world, as is, wracked with the painful planetary effects of sin. If we have to encounter suffering temporarily because God is waiting on the eternal salvation of others, then that is the price that must be paid. This is true love as Paul was inspired to describe it:

  • 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a – “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.8 Love never fails.” 

Yes, sometimes God will heal the afflicted, but sometimes He will not. In both cases He will always pour out His love and grace on the trusting soul. Whatever God chooses, understand that God is for you, even when you suffer. This is what Paul was inspired to write in Romans where it states:

  • Romans 8:31-39 – “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?36 As it is written: 1 “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

JOSEPH, AN EXAMPLE OF SUFFERING FOR LOVES SAKE

The life of Joseph illustrates this in Genesis 37-50. Joseph was a favored son envied by his brothers. Envy birthed treachery and Joseph found himself narrowly escaping murder, thrown in a dark pit, and then sold into slavery. Years later the Divine plan moved Joseph to a prominent position in an Egyptian jailer's home. But when Joseph resisted the adulterous advances of the jailer's wife, her false accusations compounded Joseph's suffering by imprisonment. Patiently Joseph trusted in the Lord and faithfully God exalted this humble servant. Established as pharaoh's head man, Joseph found himself in just the right position to save his entire family. In the larger picture the messianic line was preserved through the long-suffering of Joseph. Joseph endured emotional and physical hardship in this scenario. His comforting words to his once jealous and now repentant brothers capture the purpose behind suffering, "But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive" (50:20). God allows suffering because He loves us.

WHAT GOOD CAN COME FROM SUFFERING?

1 Peter 3:13-17 – “And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good?14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.”15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;16 having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.17 For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” 

“But even if you should suffer for righteousness sake, you are blessed.” In what sense does suffering bring a blessing? That seems to be a bit of a contradiction to the view of most people. Few see any benefit from suffering. But there is a blessing there. And when we understand that God can bring a blessing from suffering, it gives us hope when we are in the midst of suffering. Let’s see. What blessings flow from suffering?

SUFFERING, EXTREMITIES AND OPPORTUNITIES

But you say, "I'm suffering and I can't take it anymore. I'm at the end of myself." In a way, that's right where God wants you to be. Someone has said, "Man's extremities are God's opportunities." God has not left us hopelessly alone, but He allows us to get to the end of ourselves. He picks us up where we leave off. And the sooner we leave off, the sooner He'll pick up. To learn this is to be blessed. God has given us a promise to bring "good" from all things as it states in the book of Romans:

  • Romans 8:28 – “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” 

What possible benefits does suffering bring? Again, let’s see.

THE BENEFIT OF SUFFERING

What good can God bring from suffering? The Bible tells us He can bring tremendous blessing from suffering.

First, Suffering can help us have a deeper understanding of Jesus. To experience suffering enables us to empathize with our LORD. When we experience suffering, we can learn His perspective of sin and why He was willing to die to deal with it. The Bible tells us this when it says:

  • 1 Peter 2:21-25 – “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:22 “Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”;23 who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;24 who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.25 For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” 
  • John 16:33 - “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” 

Second, Suffering can provide an opportunity to witness about God's living hope. A blessing in suffering? Yes. Suffering can become a blessing as we testify of God's support in suffering and give Him glory. Peter writes:

  • 1 Peter 3:14-17 – “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.”15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;16 having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.17 For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” 

The heart of the world is oftentimes opened when it sees suffering and this creates great opportunity to witness to the sustaining and sufficient grace of God in the believer’s life. Suffering gives an opportunity to share the “reason for the hope that is in you.”

When Peter says, "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts" the term "sanctify" (Greek hagiadzo) means to separate yourself from anything that would hinder God using you, and to separate yourself too God for His use. His reference to the heart here means to do this in your inner most being; at your core. Our core set of values and life principles involve sanctifying ourselves to God.

This sanctification is practically described by Peter here as "and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you." Christian we need to be informed. We need to know what we believe and how to share it with others. We need to study how to respond to opponents of Christ. We need to know how to share our faith in Jesus. The word "ready" (Greek hetoimos) means be prepared, be adjusted, be ready. The word "defense" Greek apologia) refers to an answer, a defense, a response that clears one of accusation, a reasoned response. It all boils down to us knowing what we believe and being ready to explain what we believe to others.

The manner in which we respond is just as important as the content we respond with. Peter advises, " with meekness and fear;16 having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed." "Meekness" (Greek prautes) is humility, strength under control. "Fear" (Greek phobos) here means respectfully, reverently. We should respond reverently in that we are aware we share in the sight of God. And we are respectful toward the one we are responding to even if they are disrespectful to us. We are to maintain a "good conscience" or speak in a way that we won't feel guilty or self-condemned. If we share truth but do it harshly we will be convicted for the manner in which we shared. If we share truth in love, we will have a clear, good conscience. Sharing like this also undercuts and disarms those who would pounce on us if we show any unChristlike behavior. An tactic of opponents is often to focus on a poor way of sharing something than the content of what is shared. When we share truth in unChristlike ways we open the door for people to disregard the truth and attack the unChristlike behavior.

When Peter comments, " For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil", he is acknowledging that even if we share and do everything right, we still may be attacked by opponents of the cross of Christ. In such cases it is still God's will for us to share and do good.

Third, Suffering can actually increase and purify our faith so we learn to trust God more. All that we learn about God and ourselves through suffering leads to a faith that is pure. Indeed, Peter wrote that the one who suffers, has ceased from sin,” and that is true if a person is truly suffering for Christ’s sake and not for some foolish sinful act. But even when suffering is the consequence of a sinful act, if a person repents and turns to the LORD, God can use it to glorify Himself and bring good from it. Peter wrote:

  • 1 Peter 1:6-7 – “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials,7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” 
  • 1 Peter 4:19 – “Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.” 

James was also inspired to teach this truth when he wrote:

  • James 1:2-8 – “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” 

Fourth, Suffering helps us understand ourselves. One of the most important spiritual lessons in our walk with the Lord is that to find ourselves, our purpose and fulfillment in life, we have to first be willing to lose ourselves. Jesus put it this way:

  • Matthew 16:24-25 – “Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.25 “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” 

Paul wrote:

  • Galatians 2:20 - “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” 

When we suffer we learn a lot about ourselves; our limitations, our priorities, what we really value in life, who and what we are really live for. Suffering seen in this light brings great profits.

Fifth, Suffering helps us realize the sufficiency of God's grace. We wouldn't know what God's grace is unless we encountered difficulties. When we suffering is drives us to call out to God for help. It is in such crisis that we discover God's grace. Paul explained:

  • 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 – “And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 

Grace for suffering only comes at the point of suffering. Therefore, it is only through the actual suffering that one can know for sure that God’s grace really is sufficient. The person who suffers has been given a great insight into not only themselves, but also the provision of God, (that is if they choose to accept it).

Sixth, Suffering helps us to look forward to the coming of Christ. When we are too comfortable in this world it prevents us from yearning for the next. When we suffering in this world it reminds us that this earth is not our home and we live for a better day. Paul wrote:

  • 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 – “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 

Suffering makes our future glory with the Lord that much sweeter and it causes us to look onward and upward rather than get preoccupied with the things of this world. 

WHO IS OUR EXAMPLE IN SUFFERING?

1 Peter 3:18-4:6 – “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit,19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison,20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.21 There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him. . . . Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,2 that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.3 For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.4 In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you.5 They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.6 For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” 

Jesus is our example in suffering. Peter writes," For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, . . ." No one ever suffered as much as Jesus did (see Isaiah 52:14). We will probably spend eternity trying to comprehend the depth of Christ’s suffering and He did it all for us (3:18). But it is in suffering that we are brought to a place of greater understanding as we experience a small portion of what Jesus experienced when He suffered. Only then can we begin to empathize with Him and learn to appreciate Him and know Him more.

When we look at these verses we see the following Christlike examples:

1. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, " - Jesus was willing to suffer unjustly to bring people to God, so should we.

2. "being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,2 that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.3 For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.4 In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you." Jesus was willing to die physically knowing He would live again by the Spirit. Jesus had this hope. So should we. And just as Jesus was made alive in the Spirit, we will live if we rely on the Holy Spirit. Don't limit your world view and perspective on your circumstances to the physical world. Revive by seeing your life circumstances from the Spirit's perspective.

3. "for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin," - This is not a works righteousness comment. It simply means that those who suffer for righteousness come to a deeper understanding of what is and is not important. The person who has a terminal illness is forced to consider life from an eternal perspective. When we do good and suffer anyway, we see the reality of evil and the sustaining grace of Jesus. We also see more clearly from a Christlike perspective of life. This realization of reality brings us to a place in life that is more conducive to living a holy life because in light of death and eternity living for the things of this world is absurd!

4. "5 They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.6 For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.”  Jesus kept His eyes on the Father and the eternal destiny of people. We need to function and live in light of the eternal destiny of others.

In 1 Peter 3:19-22 Peter speaks of Jesus going and preaching to the “spirits in prison.” This refers to Jesus’ first ministerial act after His death on the cross. He descended into Hades (or OT – Sheol) where the Old Testament spirits of the dead were kept in one compartment for the unrighteous dead and another for the righteous dead (see Luke 16:16-21). He spent three days preaching there (Matthew 12:38-40) and then led the righteous heavenward (Isaiah 61:1-2; Matthew 27:52-53; Acts 2:22-24,27; Ephesians 4:9-12)

In 1 Peter 4 Peter states that since Jesus suffered in the flesh for us, we ought to be willing to follow His example. There is purification from sin that takes place for those who suffer rightly in Christ (4:1). This doesn’t mean that we suffer for our own sins in a sacrificial and atoning way, it means we learn about the consequence of sin in the world and learn to stay away from it, to hate sin just as God does. This is what Peter elaborates upon in the next few verses where he states we should no longer live on in the “flesh” or selfishly and in sin (4:2-6). Sin put our beloved Savior on the cross and that should cause us to hate sin.

WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO DO IN RESPONSE TO SUFFERING?

1 Peter 4:7-11 – “But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers.8 And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”9 Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.10 As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.11 If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” 

There are a number of things Peter mentions as helpful in the context of suffering. These should be mentioned before we get  to the most important response to suffering.

First, remember our present state of suffering is not eternal but temporary. Peter states, "But the end of all things is at hand." God has revealed in His word His plan. There is an end to this fallen world as we know it. It's easier to endure pain when you know it's not permanent. I can endure the dentist or go through surgery if I keep in mind it will all be over soon. We can persevere through suffering if we just keep in mind that "the end of all things is at hand." Paul referred to this as the Christians' "blessed hope" (Titus 2:13). It's blessed because it helps us endure to the end.

Second, pray seriously and watchfully in light of the temporariness of our suffering state. Peter continues, "therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers." Prayers are a declaration of dependence on God. We can't weather the storms of trial in our own strength. We need to tap into God's power by way of prayer. Prayer brings the peace of God that surpasses understanding (Phil. 4:6-7). When we keep our mind on God in prayer it settles and strengthens us (Isaiah 26:3).

The term "serious" comes from the Greek word sophreneo which means to be of sound mind, sane, be in your right mind, to exercise self control, curb your passions. An example of sophreneo might be not getting carried away with various conspiracy theories. There are numerous such theories floating around the Internet. Some go so far as to claim the earth isn't round but flat. Others are related to so many topics space does not allow to list them here. And the people who hold to such theories are very passionate about them. Peter's words doesn't instruct us not to investigate truth. They tell us to investigate truth in a sober self controlled way. There may be an element of truth in some of the "conspiracy" theories in the world today. But not all are true. Some are simply a means by people to manipulate and influence people in a direction they prefer. Some of these theories are meant to divert our attention from the real issues and problems. Some are disinformation. Some are genuine exposes on real clandestine cutthroat activities. As we wade through the proliferation of information we need to do so with prayer, levelheadedness, and the discernment provided by the Holy Spirit.

"Watchful" (Greek  nepho) means to abstain from wine, sober, discretion, watchfulness. The context would direct us to see this word in light of Peter's previously mentioned "lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries" (4:3). In light of the closeness of "the end of all things" we need to be on high alert. We can't afford to allow our senses to be diminished in any way by mood and mind altering worldly stuff like alcohol and drugs. We are in a dangerous time and need to be on the top of our game spiritually, mentally, and physically.

Third, be hospitable; use your resources (e.g. homes) to facilitate fellowship. Peter states, " Be hospitable to one another without grumbling." "Hospitable" (Greek philoxenos) means fond of guests, given to hospitality, inviting people into your home. We should be open and eager to have people to our homes. Christians should facilitate spending time with each other. We should seek to build relationships with other Christians. We shouldn't settle for spending an hour in church an d then run out without spending time with other Christians and getting to know them. Peter points these persecuted pilgrim Christians to friendship and relationship as a network of encouragement and resource of help and support during difficult times. Christian, in light of the times in which we live we need to open our homes and be spending time with one another.

And we should open our homes and be in fellowship "without grumbling" (Greek goggysmos). This means not grudging, not murmuring, not having a secret debate, or secret displeasure about interacting with people or having them in our homes. We should count it a blessed privilege to be used by God to interact with others by using our homes or getting together with them in some way. Don't grumble when people come to fellowship empty handed. Don't grumble when they track dirt into your home. Don't grumble when people are unappreciative or inconsiderate. Just cover it all with "a fervent love for one another." Be gracious. And for those who do come empty handed, or track dirt into homes, or aren't appreciative or considerate, repent! Show your love for those who host get togethers and fellowship by being considerate of their generosity. Both hosts and guests should show their love for each other.

Fourth, use your spiritual gifts during times of suffering. Peter writes, " As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." By God's grace we have received spiritual gifts to be used corporately in the body of Christ to strengthen the church as well as unite and strengthen the members of the church. We each have a responsibility to discover and use our spiritual gifts for the benefit of others (cf. Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12 and 14; Ephesians 4). This implies unity, working together, being other oriented, and leaning on each other in the church. This is essential to persevere through trials.

Fifth, rely on and share God's word. Peter says, " If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God." "Oracles" (Greek logion) means an utterance of God, a divine oracle, words from God. We need speak as God directs us to speak. The best way to assure we speak in line with what God would have us speak is to speak words from God's word or words that can be backed up by God's word. We should speak as the Spirit leads us. But the Spirit will provide a verification of what we speak in His word. Speak God's word!

Sixth, minister in the ability God provides. Peter comments, " If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, . . ." The word "ability" (Greek ischys from is ) means force, forcefulness, ability, might, power, strength. In other words, don't live and serve in yoru own strength but in the strength provided by the Lord. This would encompass the empowerment of the Holy Spirit (e.g. Acts 1:8 and Acts 2ff.). Do what God enables you to do. God's callings have His enablings. If you have it in your head to do something, make sure it is God who is directing you to do it. If the ability is not there, its not likely God has called you to do it.

Seventh, live to glorify God. Peter states, " that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen." In all we do we should purpose to bring God glory. We should aim at giving credit and praise to God and that what we do and the way we do it points to God. God gets the glory when His fingerprints are on what is done. Something done in mere human effort only reflects glory on God a bit. But something done that could clearly only have been done with God's intervention, that brings glory to God in a big way.

Eighth,  the most important response to suffering is LOVE. Finally Peter states, " And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” The most important thing to do in response to suffering is “have a fervent love for one another.” The word fervent” means a love that doesn’t give up, a love that is alive with hope! (Greek ektenes  to have an intent without ceasing, fervent.) [4]

           

When we understand that suffering can be used by God and that it isn’t pointless, it gives us a living hope to go through it. Perhaps this is your second chance to renew your commitment to Christ. Perhaps its time to reassess our lives in light of what Peter says about suffering. May we trust God and rely on His living hope as we inevitably go through trials in our lives. May we also share the living hope we have with those suffering who have yet to receive God’s living hope. May we offer ourselves to God in a way that if He chooses to allow suffering in our lives, the living hope, living in us, will bring glory to His name.


[2] A.E. Wilder Smith, Why Does God Allow It?, Box 8000, Costa Mesa, CA: The Word For Today Pub., 1980. p. 19-32

[4] Pilgrim Gospel Messenger, as quoted in Paul Lee Tans, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations, (Rockville, Maryland: Assurance Pub., P.O. Box 753, 1979) p. 1376