Rejoicing In Affliction
Scripture: 1 Peter 1:1– 5:14
Rejoicing In Affliction1 Peter 1-5
Sunday, June 24, 2001
Pastor Randy Smith
If you've been out of town the past few weeks, we began a series entitled "Distinctives of a New Testament Church." We examined Scriptural traits that should characterize a church seeking to honor the Lord. My objective is to see if we are corporately (as a church), and individually (since the church is not the building, but the individual people) living out these traits.
Two weeks ago the sermon was entitled: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Joy. The joy for those in Christ Jesus is having all your sins forgiven. We have been set free from the shackles of guilt and condemnation and are empowered to live a life pleasing to our Creator. The Scriptures say that we are no longer a slave to sin, but are now a slave to righteousness. The debt has been paid, the bondage released, the Holy Spirit implanted in our hearts. Jesus said, "These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full" (Jn. 15:11). Our joy comes from God; we pursue our joy in Him. But since we don't live in a vacuum, our joy overflows by pursuing Him in the activities that bring Him glory such as prayer, evangelism, righteous living, financial giving, fellowship and ministry.
Last week the sermon was entitled: We Are Family. We conducted an inductive study of Titus 2 and discovered that we as God's children have a responsibility to obey our heavenly Father through the roles and responsibilities that He has outlined for us in the Scriptures. We covered many points of application. For instance, older people are a value to the church. They have the ability through wisdom and godliness to instruct the younger. We also learned specific character traits that should identify us based on our age and gender. We learned that all these roles and responsibilities are ultimately for the purpose of adorning the gospel.
Allow me now to introduce the third characteristic of a New Testament church. The sermon is entitled "Rejoicing in Affliction." Think for a moment. When have you ever heard those two words, rejoice and affliction , in the same sentence? It appears to be a contradiction! How are we expected to rejoice in affliction?
A wise preacher once commented, "If you want an audience, preach to hurting people." Simply because we concur with Job that "Man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward." In my short tenure at Grace Tabernacle, I've already experienced many of you who are currently dealing with extreme physical, emotional, social and spiritual difficulties. And for the rest of you, I am confident that if I had the ability to crawl inside of your heart, I would discover some difficulty that is bringing you pain this morning. Maybe you have played the "life would be so much better if ______ never existed" game.
Well I'm here this morning to bring you encouragement from God's Word. Based upon God's promises in His Word, you have the ability (and command) to rejoice in your affliction, regardless of what the world or your feelings might be telling you. This counsel is radical. It is not spoken from many pulpits today, but I invite you as Bereans of the Word to examine the Scriptures for yourself to discern God's will on the topic of suffering. For that reason, I have intentionally saturated this message with Scripture. Please write down these verse references and meditate on them throughout this week.
If you are experiencing hardship, I trust the letter of First Peter will encourage you as it did fellow believers living in the first century.
The "bad guy's" name was Nero. Nero was the fifth Roman emperor who reigned from A.D. 54-68. He is recorded as killing his mother, two of his chief advisors and many others who imposed a threat to his fortune. His private life was a scandal. He indulged in the most evil forms of pleasure. Nero is primarily remembered for his savage attack on the church. A fire in A.D. 64 destroyed a large portion of Rome. Although questions still loom as to whether Nero ordered the fire to purge those unfit for his kingdom, there was no doubt that all fingers pointed the blame at Nero. Instead of accepting the blame, Nero used the Christians as a scapegoat. His false witness opened the door for some of the worst atrocities that ever faced the church. The Roman secular historian Tacitus is quoted as saying, "Their (the Christians) death was made a matter of sport. They were covered in wild beast's skins and torn to pieces by dogs or were fastened to crosses and set on fire in order to serve as torches by night." Eventually both Paul and Peter would suffer martyrdom under Nero.
Shortly before his death however, Peter, in writing from Rome, knew that the worldwide persecution incited by Nero was about to come to those he discipled in the northern regions of Asia Minor. His letter (1 Peter) served to forewarn them of the growing opposition and provide encouragement as to the God-honoring way to handle suffering. And though Peter's message is geared around suffering for the sake of righteousness, I trust that you will still find great application for any trial that has come into your life. The outline is listed in your bulletin: The Model of Suffering, Our Reasons for Suffering, and Thanksgiving for Suffering. You will also see in your notes that each of the three main points contains three subpoints.
1. THE MODEL OF SUFFERING
Let's begin with "The Model of Suffering." The Greek word for "suffer" occurs 41 times in the New Testament, 11 of them are found in 1 Peter alone (a short 5-chapter epistle). But instead of dealing with suffering merely in a pragmatic way, Peter always points us to the model of Jesus Christ, the supreme example of suffering. As Christians (or "little Christs"), we are called to emulate His life, follow His example, and keep our eyes on Him for instruction and direction. So before we deal with our own personal sufferings, Peter reminds us of the sufferings of Christ. First of all, Christ's sufferings were foretold.
Sufferings Foretold (1:11)
1 Peter 1:10-11 say, "As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would cometo you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ (Holy Spirit) within them was indicating as He (Holy Spirit) predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow." The sufferings of Christ should never have taken the early church by surprise; it was always part of God's ordained plan. They were called; they were predicted throughout the Old Testament. "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning" (Psm. 22:1). "Many are the afflictions of the righteous; But the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken" (Psm. 34:19-20). "He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed" (Isa. 53:3ff.). "And I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him, like the bitter weeping over a first-born" (Zech. 12:10). Why the sufferings? According to verse 11 in chapter 1, the sufferings of Christ were the path to glory. "As He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow."
Sufferings Undeserved (2:22-23)
Not only were the sufferings of Christ predicted, they were also undeserved. In speaking of Jesus, "(He) committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously" (1 Pet. 2:22-23). Without a doubt, the Scriptures testify to the fact that Christ lived a sinless life, a necessity, if He were to be the substitute and sacrifice for our sins. Even Pilate exclaimed in John 19, "I find no guilt (in this man)." And though Christ's death was an act of injustice to the greatest degree, His response to such suffering was a surprise to the greatest degree. "And while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously."
How would you have responded as you hung in innocence in excruciating pain naked on the cross, back exposed from the scourging, deserted by your closest friends? Based on the responses I've heard when people get their car nicked from an errant shopping cart, I can only imagine. Even celebrated Jewish martyrs told their executioners in plain terms the fate that awaited them at the hands of God.
We would expect these responses from one who depends on himself, but not one who trusts in the sovereign control of God. Jesus entrusted (committed, handed over) the entire situation to God, knowing that God would ultimately right all wrongs. Anger was not displayed, nor withheld (both demonstrate self-dependence). Rather trust in God's plan through righteous conduct was exhibited. Jesus Himself said in Luke 6, "Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." And as you know, some of Christ's only words from the cross, "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do" (Lk. 23:34).
Sufferings Validated (3:18)
Did Christ suffer in vain? Why did Christ have to suffer? 1 Peter 3:18 says, "For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit." Christ's divinely appointed sufferings were never an end unto themselves. Rather, God chose to use Christ's sufferings to accomplish His purposes. Just as Noah had to persevere through the flood to see the rainbow and Joseph, slavery in Egypt, to save his countrymen, Jesus had a cross before Him. He had a feat that must be accomplished in order to achieve salvation for the world. Were Christ's sufferings in vain? Absolutely not, for on that day He died for the sins of mankind once and for all.
God does not wink at sin, for the wages of sin is death. Humans have offended God in the worst possible way. There must be a payment for sin, and a just God is given no other alternative then to demand recompense. In following the Mosaic tradition, there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood, for life is contained in the blood. In the Old Testament we read that animals, spotless animals, were placed on the altar to be sacrificed. They were killed and their blood dispersed, which demonstrated the need for cleansing and forgiveness. But in the New Testament we read that the blood of bulls and goats was never sufficient to take away sins. It was only a temporary means for God to pass over sin and point to the supreme sacrifice of His Son. Jesus Christ, the sinless Lamb of God, spilled His very own blood at Calvary for the purposes of redemption. The Just died for the unjust, so that when we have faith in Christ's work on the cross and repent, God promises to forgive all our sins, past, present and future. This is not because of our own righteous deeds, but because of the righteous deed of the Righteous One who sacrificed and suffered on our behalf.
Christ suffered for you. God has a glorious purpose in His suffering. God vindicated Christ's suffering by raising Him from the dead and seating Him at the place of honor. Through Christ's sufferings, He becomes our Savior, and our salvation is only complete when we acknowledge Him as Lord. As Lord, we follow Him wherever He goes and do whatever He says. We follow His example, even if it means suffering.
Now it gets fun. It's one thing to speak of Christ's sufferings; it's another thing to speak of our own.
"If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" (Jn. 15:19-20). As we continue, we will shortly discover that our righteous sufferings, like our Master's, are likewise foretold, undeserved and validated.
2. OUR REASONS FOR SUFFERING
Divine Calling (2:21)
1 Peter 2:21, "For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps." As followers of our Master, we are called (summoned by God) to emulate Christ in patient, righteous suffering. Following Christ, as one commentator mentioned, is not a matter of reenacting in detail the experience of the one followed. It is only to move in the same direction, toward the same goal, with the same attitude towards one's experiences, whatever they may be.
Now, allow me to be clear from the get-go; this principle of a call to suffer is not advocating a masochistic life, a life that seeks to bring suffering upon ourselves. We are called to pray for our deliverance from evil. Don't go home and sleep on a bed of nails.
This principle is neither promoting evil as good. Evil is evil, and we must call it evil. What is happening to Christians around the world is evil. What is often done to children and women in the forms of abuse is evil and should not be tolerated. All Peter is saying is that we patiently trust God and rejoice when He uses the evil others impose upon us because of our righteous desire to walk according to His will. Oswald Chambers said, "To choose to suffer means that there is something wrong; to choose God's will even if it means suffering is a very different thing. No healthy saint ever chooses suffering; he chooses God's will, as Jesus did, whether it means suffering or not." And since God is sovereign, He willingly allows suffering to come into our lives for our good and His glory. 1 Thessalonians 3:3, "So that no man may be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this." Acts 9:15-16, "But the Lord said to him, 'Go, for he (Apostle Paul) is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake.'" Colossians 1:24, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ's afflictions." (Col. 1:24).
Robert Murray McCheyne once said, "Some believers are very surprised when they are called to suffer. They thought they would do some great thing for God, but all God permits them to do is to suffer. Just suppose you could speak with those who have gone to be with the Lord... everyone has a different story, yet everyone has a tale of suffering. One was persecuted by family and friends...another was inflicted with pain and disease, neglected by the world...another was bereaved of children...another had all these afflictions. But you will notice that though the water was deep, they all have reached the other side. Not one of them blames God for the road He led them; 'Salvation' is their only cry. Are there any of you, dear children, murmuring at your lot? Do not sin against God. This is the way God leads all His redeemed ones. It's been said that God brings men into deep waters, not to drown them, but to cleanse them."
To realize the worth of the anchor, we need to feel the weight of the storm. There is a divine calling to suffer. You might say I want no portion of that cup! Then the Scriptures clearly declare that you have no portion in the Kingdom of God. Romans 8:16-17, "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him." Additionally in Philippians Paul said, "For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake" (Phil. 1:29).
Now that I've dropped a bomb on your lap, I want you to know that God loves His children so much that he allows the sufferings to accomplish special purposes in their lives. Though we often want suffering to disappear, God is more in the business of improving than removing. One of those purposes for suffering is divine testing. God has wise eternal plans that are more important than our comfort, namely our salvation.
Divine Testing (1:6-9; 4:12)
1 Peter 1: 6-7, "In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ." One reason God allows testing is to prove our faith. Peter draws this illustration from refining gold.
Like today, gold was one of the most durable and precious metals in the ancient world. However, when mined, gold is mixed with many impurities that must be removed. The only solution is to refine the gold through intense heat. As the heat increases, the unwanted impurities begin to separate and float to the top of the cauldron. Systematically, the goldsmith will scrape away the unwanted impurities, until only the pure substance of gold remains. Interestingly, the process is complete when the goldsmith can see his reflection in the metal. How appropriate! God refines us in the furnace of afflictions, "the refiners fire." Slowly the afflictions begin to burn off any unwanted elements which do not conform to the image of Christ. God's goal- to see the reflection of His Son in us!
Someone once said, "A clay pot sitting in the sun will always be a clay pot. It has to go through the white heat of the furnace to become porcelain." Elsewhere Peter says, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing , as though some strange thing were happening to you" (1 Pet. 4:12).
We are so quick to quote Romans 8:28, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good." However, we as humans don't define the nature of good, God does. Verse 29 must be included! "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He (Christ) might be the first-born among many brethren." In God's definition, "good" is anything that accomplishes His goal for our lives, namely conforming us into the image of His Son. We must define "good" with the same terminology. Misunderstanding this puts one in a position to blame God when something doesn't go "my way." God is trying to help you, and you think He's hurting you. I don't think any of us sitting here can say that when trials are properly received, they don't conform us deeper into the image of Christ. "Consider it all joy , my brethren, when you encounter various trials , knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (Jas. 1:2-4).
Just as the same boiling water softens a carrot and hardens an egg, affliction will either make us bitter or better; it will separate the true from counterfeit believers. True believers will grow in holiness as their faith is tested and persevere until the end, while the imposters will run for cover. It's easy to say you're a Christians when the going's good, but true faith is tested when God turns up the heat.
A fictitious story is told of a man who walked into a church. He pulled out a gun and said, "Who wants to take a bullet for Jesus?" He continued, "If you don't love the Lord, you're free to go." Many scurried for the doors including a couple elders. Within seconds only a few are left in the pews. The man put the gun away and sat down among them. He then preceded to say, "OK pastor the hypocrites are all gone, you may now begin your sermon."
Look at verse 7 again. God says your faith is more precious than gold. He cares about your soul. Gold will perish, but your soul is eternal! Is it not better to be tested now with the fire of affliction than later in the fires of hell? 1 Peter 1:8-9, "And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls." Divine calling brings forth divine testing, now!
Divine Cleansing (4:1-2)
Trials come upon us for divine testing, but also divine cleansing. 1 Peter 4:1-2, "Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God." One of the greatest struggles as a believer is combating the lusts of the flesh (our inner passions to live for self and sin). Daily we are in a war to put off our own desires, to walk in the Spirit and to live for the will of God. Believe it or not, afflictions help us to crucify the flesh and victoriously live for God's purposes.
In verse 2 Peter says, "He who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin." Now obviously we know that suffering won't make us sinless or that suffering mystically eradicates sin. What Peter is getting at is identifying one who suffered for doing right and still went on obeying God in spite of the sufferings. This demonstrates a heart that is more intent on obeying God than avoiding hardship. It shows a commitment to a lifestyle in which obedience is more important than pain at any cost. It shows that one has an attitude like Jesus toward certain principles related to sin. It shows that obedience to God's will is a number one priority.
3. THANKSGIVING FOR SUFFERING
Because of God's sovereign and wise purposes to bring suffering into our lives for our good, we likewise count it a blessing. When we look at how Jesus suffered, and God's wise plan for our suffering, naturally our response should be thanksgiving for such a blessing.
God's Blessings (3:14)
1 Peter 3:14, "But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled." Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John and an early church leader whose life ended when he refused to betray his Lord. Asked one last time to disavow his Christ, the old man replied, "Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How can I speak evil of my King who saved me?" Polycarp prayed, "Father of Your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received the knowledge of You, I bless You that You have counted me worthy of this day and hour, that I might be in the number of the martyrs. Among these may I be received before You today in a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as You have beforehand prepared and revealed." When he had offered up his amen and had finished his prayer, the men lit the fire and burned Polycarp alive.
Though we may never suffer martyrdom for our faith, there is no doubt that we will suffer for pursuing righteousness as a Christian. "And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Tim. 3:12). Ridicule, exclusion, unfair treatment, "uncool" reputations, fanaticism, judgmentalism, misunderstanding, etc. We are to count such experiences a blessing! "Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely , on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad , for (great) is your reward in heaven, for (In the same way) they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Mt. 5:11-12). In Acts 5 we read of the apostle's response to being flogged. "And they took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them to speak no more in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name " (Ac. 5:40-41).
This past week I conducted a funeral for a dear saint who lived to be 86. Part of her testimony went like this. "I have been thinking again, and I figure what happens to me doesn't matter at all, because I am in Your keeping. If you want to send me grief, You also send the power to turn my grief to joy. So I thank you for all the weakness, pain and joy that follows." It reminds me of Paul. The apostle said, "Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties for Christ's sake" (2 Cor. 12:10).
You may say, how, specifically how am I blessed? For starters, you are promised blessings in heaven!
Future Blessings (4:13)
1 Peter 4:13, "But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing ; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation." We all want to share in Christ's glory, but how seldom do we desire to have "fellowship with His sufferings" as Paul said in Philippians 3? Peter's point in this verse is clear. Suffering shows that we are indeed Christ's. Just as He passed from sufferings to glory, we must likewise emulate our Master. The road to future glory is always through present day sufferings. "And after they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, ' Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God '" (Ac. 14:21-22). And when we consider our future home with God, the day He will wipe every tear from our eyes, the temporary trials will be nothing when they are compared with the eternal rewards for our faithfulness and the eternal glory of heaven. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:17, "For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison."
Present Blessings (4:14)
In addition to the future blessings, there are also blessings here on earth! "If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed , because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you" (1 Pet. 4:14). What a great truth to know that when we suffer for righteousness, the Holy Spirit (which indwells all believers) rests upon us in a greater measure to strengthen, empower and provide peace. What a blessing!
That's one present blessing of suffering. Allow me to provide you some more. According to the Scriptures we are permitted to experience hardship to: strengthen our faith (1 Pet. 4), teach us patience (Rom. 5), comfort others (2 Cor. 1), receive personal discipline (Heb. 12), learn obedience (Heb. 5), keep us humble (2 Cor. 12), resist worldly desires (1 Pet. 4), and refine our character (Rom. 5).
"By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward" (Heb. 11:24-26).
He sat by the fire of seven-fold heat,
As He watched by the precious ore.
And closer He bent with a searching gaze
As He heated it more and more.
He knew He had ore that could stand the test
And He wanted the finest gold,
To mold as a crown for the King to wear,
Set with gems of price untold.
So He laid our gold in the burning fire,
Though we fain would have said Him, "Nay."
And He watched the dross that we had not seen,
As it melted and passed away.
And the gold grew brighter, and yet more bright
And our eyes were so dim with tears,
As we saw the fire, not the Master's hand,
And questioned with anxious fear.
Yet our gold shone out with a richer glow,
As it mirrored a Form above
That bent o'er the fire, though unseen by us
With a look of infinite love.
Can we think that it pleased His loving heart
To cause a moment of pain?
Ah, no, but He saw through the present cross
The bliss of eternal gain.
So He waited there with a watchful eye,
With a love that is strong and sure,
And His gold did not suffer a bit more heat
Than was needed to make it pure!