What is God accomplishing in my suffering and in your suffering? It’s a question Pastor John set out to answer from 1 Peter 4:12–19, a very important text we all need to understand and return to in times of personal suffering. I’ll read that text now, 1 Peter 4:12–19, and then we will hear from Pastor John. The apostle Peter writes,
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.
To explain, here’s Pastor John.
I’m going to talk about why Christians suffer and how they can rise above it. But the same truth applies whether or not the suffering is coming from inside, from a disease, from a broken clutch — you name it. Whatever is tending to tempt you to be angry at people and God, that is (under God’s sovereignty) an opportunity of testing to prove and refine your faith, just as much as if you’ve been hit in the face by a person who hated you because you were a Christian. So the point is, while the text deals explicitly (most of it) with persecution, the principle — under God’s loving sovereignty over our lives and how we handle that — is the same as when the suffering comes from another source.
Keep on Rejoicing
The command is there: keep on rejoicing “to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ” (1 Peter 4:13 NASB). I think any suffering in obedience to and in union with Christ is sharing in the sufferings of Christ — even if it’s a hangnail, alright? If you are walking in the path of obedience with Jesus, and you get a stubbed toe, he cares — and it is suffering with him. And it tends to make you murmur and be angry, and therefore, it’s a big deal — not as big as if you were going to die, but it’s the same principle.
“God loves us so much that he will spare us nothing to get out of us what he really hates.”
This text doesn’t just say rejoice in spite of but because of suffering. That’s jolting. This is not a little piece of advice this morning from the power of positive thinking. “Let’s make the best of it.” “Let’s rise above it.” “Let’s be heroic.” “Let’s have some mind over matter here.” That’s not the point. The point is, you’re being called to do something that is so abnormal and so countercultural and so against human nature, it is supernatural and you can’t do it. And it isn’t for your honor. When it happens, it’s because “the Spirit of glory and of God” has come upon you and enabled you (1 Peter 4:14). And that’s true in those little tough things day by day, and that’s true in the big dangerous things. You can’t do it, but God can. And he gets the glory.
Aliens and exiles are what we’re reading about here, and how they respond to suffering. “Count it all joy,” James said, “when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). I mean, maybe he should have said, “Count it a little joy,” or maybe, “Someway, down the line, joy will come from it.” But why this massive “Count it all joy”? How do you handle that?
There’s only one way that I know of that can be not stupid or not foolish. One reason: God — there’s a God. We’ve been reading Jeremiah these weeks, and it’s just one chapter after another about how God reigns over Moab and Edom and Syria and Babylon. He reigns. That’s Jeremiah’s command and his belief and his message to us. And if there’s a God, and if he’s sovereign, and if he rules Satan and suffering and me, and causes kingdoms to go up and go down, and if he reigns over all the nations, and over all circumstances, and over my cars, and my children, and my wife, and my marriage, and my job, and my sickness, and this church, and he’s good, then it’s not stupid to say count it all joy; he loves you. Well, it’s not easy; but it’s there: keep on rejoicing because the suffering is not a surprise, but a plan.
Trust Your Maker
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you [or among you] to test you [it’s purposeful], as though something strange were happening to you. (1 Peter 4:12)
It isn’t strange. It isn’t absurd. It isn’t meaningless. You don’t tear your hair out and say, “There’s no point” — if you believe in God. You’ll see how it has a point: “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19).
It is according to the will of God when we suffer; God wills it — even when Satan may be the immediate cause of it. We know that from the book of Job; we know it from 2 Corinthians 12:7–10, where the thorn in the flesh was what? A minister of Satan. Doing what? Humbling Paul and making him holy, so that he would love the glory of Jesus Christ because Christ was overruling Satan’s minister, and turning Satan into a means of Paul’s holiness. That’s the kind of God we have.
“Everybody’s imperfect. But there’ll be no imperfect people in heaven.”
God reigns over Satan, over suffering. And therefore, it’s okay to resist your suffering in prayer and pray against it and ask God to remove it, like Paul did. And sometimes he does, miraculously and wonderfully. And sometimes he doesn’t for holy and wise purposes because he loves us. But his sovereignty is not called into question by the immediate causality of sin and Satan. So many passages of Scripture show that God is overruling these things constantly for our great good.
When I Fall, I Shall Rise
Look at 1 Peter 4:17: “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God . . .” Do you see the purposefulness in suffering now? This is God’s judgment upon the church:
For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us [Christians whom God loves with all of his heart and gave his Son to die for], what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?
So, the judgment of God is moving through the earth. And it begins with churches; the judgment of God comes upon churches. Why? Because he hates us? Not at all. But because he loves us so much, he will not spare us anything to get out of us what he hates. It’s not because he hates us. When a church or a Christian goes through times of darkness and trial, it’s because he loves us so much that he will spare us nothing to get out of us what he really hates — namely, sin.
And we are to count it — under the ashes, under the shadow, under the frown — joy. Not the kind of joy that heel-clicks and leaps in that moment, but that says, as Micah 7:8 says,
Rejoice not over me, O my enemy;
when I fall, I shall rise.
He who has brought me into this darkness will plead my cause and vindicate me in time. So much has to be burned up within us. We’re all imperfect; everybody’s imperfect. But there’ll be no imperfect people in heaven. And a lot of God’s process of getting us ready for heaven is to burn the hell out of us.
Solzhenitsyn, the novelist, was in prison years ago in Siberia. He wasn’t a Christian yet. He was suffering, and Boris Kornfeld, a Jewish doctor, was sitting with him one night. He was also in prison, and Boris had become a Christian. And he talked late into one night with Solzhenitsyn, and gave his testimony about how he, as a Jewish doctor, had become a Christian. And then he was beaten to death in his bed that same night. And Solzhenitsyn wrote,
His last words lay upon me as an inheritance. . . . It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. . . . Bless you, prison, for having been in my life!
Isn’t that amazing?
The judgment of God moves through the world. It’ll come to a crescendo one of these days, but it’s moving through the world. It’s moving on churches — hundreds, thousands of churches coming under the judgment of God. When it moves in a church, it’s meant for purity because he loves us.
And when it moves on the world, it has one of two effects: either it awakens — like it did for Solzhenitsyn — or it condemns and destroys, if it is resisted and does not bring people to repentance.
But for the people of God, “the apple of his eye” (Deuteronomy 32:10; Zechariah 2:8), it refines; it purifies.