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Weekly Word

Entries in Blessings (1)

Tuesday
Jan082013

The Problem of Suffering I

As we continue through the book of 1 Peter, we are now at a point where Peter speaks to the area of suffering.  Many believers were encountering suffering on a personal basis and often throughout a whole region.  Eventually, Caesars such as Nero and Diocletian would promote a persecution against Christians throughout the whole Roman world.  Thus these words from Peter were timely. 

In our own day and age, we still see large parts of the earth where persecution of Christians is the norm.  Even in America, where we have been sheltered for so long, we see a growing animosity against believers, along with incidents of clear persecution.  Thus these words are timeless and we need to pay attention to what God is saying to us.  Let’s look at 1 Peter 3:13-17.

What Kind Of Person Harms Those Who Do Good?

In verse 9 we are told to not pay back wrong for wrong.  However, this brings up the area of when others repay my good with wrong.  No matter how right and good you try to do things, there will always be some who resent you for it.  What kind of person does evil to those who do good?  That is the question that Peter puts forth in verse 13.  The main intention is to remind them that only evil people who do not belong to God will do such things.  God is against those who do evil and has gone on record that he is going to judge them.  Thus we need to remind ourselves, when we are suffering from wrongs that others do to us, that they are not doing what is right and God is against them.  That may not make you feel better, but suffering tends to get in the head of an individual.  We can begin to question all manner of things, even God’s favor for us. 

Another aspect to this question is that the answer is not just an evil person, but is the fact that they are only a human.  They are NOT God, even if they do command the power of government like Caesar.  Even if the whole world worships him as a god, he is only human.  He will stand before the true God and give account for the evil he has done.  That is why Jesus reminded his followers in Matthew 10:28 that they should not fear those who can only kill their bodies.  Rather we need to fear God who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell.  When people persecute us we can be tempted to accept it as God’s punishment upon us, especially if it is ongoing.  We wonder where God’s blessing is and look for the reasons why we are so wretched to deserve this.  Thus in verse 14 Peter moves to another point.

The Righteous Who Suffer Are Blessed

How can God tell us that when we suffer for doing what is right we are blessed?  How can persecution be interpreted as blessings?  We so often only see blessings that are material.  However, we are missing the more important, eternal blessings.  In verse 12 Peter had told them that the Eyes of the Lord are on the righteous.  You are blessed because God is watching over you with affection and care.  Secondly, you are blessed because his ears are open to your prayers.  Now clearly the psalmist was not trying to say God literally has eyes and ears.  Yet, the One who created the eye and the light that makes it work did it so that we can “see” what he “sees.”  The same is true with ears.  As an aside, let me just say that even this point becomes moot in the light of Jesus and his incarnation.  God didn’t take on flesh so that he could see and hear, but so that we can understand that he has always seen and always heard.  So when you are suffering praise God that he sees your plight and pray to him with your petitions and your praises.

Lastly you are blessed because your trust in God puts you on His side.  Here Peter quotes from Isaiah 8 when he says do not be afraid...nor be troubled.  Now if you go back and read this whole chapter you will see that God speaks to both the Gentile nations and the people of Israel.  God is a sanctuary to those who trust Him, but He is a stumbling block to those who do not trust him.  So, whether you are an unbelieving heathen or a waffling Christian, you are going to either come to faith in Jesus or you will trip over him.  When God doesn’t do things our way it is easy to stumble in our faith.  But if we trust him we are blessed because those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.  God will bring them through every trial.

Those Who Suffer Should Do These Things

In verses 15-17 Peter lays out several things that we need to do especially when we are suffering for doing what is right.  The first is to set our heart and mind upon the Lord alone.  To “sanctify” means to set apart for a particular purpose.  We can’t make God holier or more sanctified.  But we can make our heart and mind a special place where God’s thoughts and his desires are set up as primary and special.  They are our sole focus.  This word is the same as is used in the Lord’s prayer: “hallowed be Thy name.”  The prayer is about God’s name (Jesus and all that he is) being set apart in the hearts and minds of people.  In Hebrews 12:1-2 we see this need again.  “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…”  If we are to run this race well we need to set our heart and minds upon the desires and thoughts of Jesus Christ.  If we are to run well we need to run in the footsteps of the only one who ran it perfectly, Jesus.

The next thing those who suffer need to do is to ready themselves to give reasons for their faith in Jesus.  Typically this verse is quoted to encourage people to study apologetics.  However the context goes beyond just defending the gospel.  This actually represents the suffering person going on the offensive.  When we do not pay back wrong for wrong it will open the door of the inquisitive.  We need to be ready to pour forth that inner communion of love and adoration of our savior to them.  We can only do this if we have been reading the Word, spending time in prayer, and meditating upon God’s Word and our life.  It is here that the Holy Spirit clarifies these things in our soul.  Why do you hope in Jesus?  Can you spend hours pouring forth why you hope in Jesus?  It is increasingly important in these days that we have a relationship with Jesus that is real and spiritual.  Peter also mentions the attitude we should go about giving those reasons.   Our attitude should first be meek.  This simply means to be gentle.  It doesn’t matter how strong you are.  Meekness is strength under control.  Sharing our hope in Christ should be done gently, but also in fear.  Not fear of people, but fear of the Lord.  I am representing him.  I need to have a healthy respect and speak out of pure motives rather than out of a hurt and embittered heart. 

Lastly we need to keep our conscience clear.  Improper motivations behind even good actions can cloud our conscience just as sure as if you through a clump of mud into your drinking water.  When we repent of impure motives and trust God that he forgives us and cleanses us from it, we will have a conscience that is clear.  Many believers today have a murky conscience.  Even when they repent they don’t fully trust the forgiveness of the Lord.  We need to stop such insanity.  Either God is a Truth teller or he is a liar.  But he is not both!

If we live through suffering in such a way it will cause some to be ashamed.  They will sense the guilt of their actions and perhaps repent.  But even if they do not “feel” ashamed, they are shamed nonetheless.  We need to keep the door open for the salvation of those who persecute us by responding in these ways.

Final Thoughts

It is better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.  When we suffer for doing evil, we deserve it.  We need to suck it up, repent, and learn.  But when we suffer for doing right, we take our place alongside God himself.  We are able to stand next to Jesus and all the other saints who suffered with him.  We have the joy of having a bond with Jesus that others will not understand.  We’ve been through the same fire that he went through.

Also, remember that God’s will is never just about suffering.  It is about the ends to which that suffering will take us.  We not only will have a place next to Jesus, but we will be like him because we have faithfully traveled the same path as him.

Lastly, suffering in this passage is based upon the choices of others.  We need to remember that God is greater than the choices of others.  And, even though we may be caused pain because of their choices, God has promised to overturn the evil others do to us.  Let us keep our faith in Jesus to the end!

Probs Suffering I Audio