#10 in a series on 1 Peter…
By Aaron Wilson
Suffering always seems to catch us off guard. It feels like a sucker punch. We lie on our back staring at the banana peel we slipped on while traveling the straight and narrow and think, “Man, I wonder how that got there?!”
Peter calls us to a more intentional and observant life. He writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you…as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 1:4). According to Peter, suffering is to be expected. The question he poses in his first epistle isn’t, “Will I suffer as a Christian?” It’s “How can I suffer faithfully?”
What Is Suffering Exactly?
As we ask this question, we should recognize there are at least three kinds of suffering the Bible describes. The first is common suffering—witnessing the curse on the world and in our bodies. Whether it’s experiencing a natural disaster, receiving an unwanted medical diagnosis, or simply stubbing our little toe, every human experiences these sad reminders that we live in a fallen world. Common suffering is well documented in books of the Bible such as Ecclesiastes.
The second kind of suffering is brought on as a result of sin and is sometimes referred to as worldly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10). Worldly sorrow is not true remorse; It’s the “sorry I got caught” attitude. Peter says of this kind of suffering, “What credit is it?” The resolution for worldly sorrow is rather straightforward: believe in the gospel and repent of sin. Peter doesn’t allocate much of his letter to addressing this issue.
Instead, Peter is concerned about a third type of suffering, one that is unique to Christians. It involves being persecuted for the sake of professing Jesus and suffering for doing good in His name.
Too often we view our response to this kind of suffering as a passive act. We try to avoid persecution if possible and only bear through it if necessary. For Peter though, “hanging on and pushing through” is just a stripped-down version of this grand spiritual act.
For this disciple, suffering well is one of the most action-packed, purposefully minded, sanctifying actions a Christian can engage in. He lists no less than sixteen different commands by which to actively engage persecution for the sake of Christ (and that’s just in his first letter alone!). These commands are sprinkled throughout the five chapters of his book, but they are primarily centered around these three themes:
Renew Your Vision (Form an Eternal Perspective)
Psalm 112:7 says of the believer, “he is not afraid of bad news.” Echoing this sentiment, Peter writes, “do not fear anything that is frightening” (3:6). Doesn’t this advice sound contradictory on the surface? After all, if we can’t be afraid of bad news, what are we supposed to do with it? Peter’s answer is to fix our eyes on our future dwelling. Over and over again he admonishes us to remember we are but exiles and that a future restoration is coming which will make sense of our present suffering. It’s why this letter’s promises are so often forged in the future tense. Peter reserves some of the last words of his epistle with this promise, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (5:10). Christians who have their hope set on their future state will not be shaken when they find their present circumstances difficult (1:4, 23-24).
Renew Your Mind (Think Rightly)
If we’re not to be surprised by trials, we’ve got to be anticipating and processing them in a right manner. This is why Peter fills his letter with commands such as, “arm yourself with right thinking” (4:1), “prepare your mind for action” (1:13), and “be sober-minded” (4:7). The main way we do this is by remembering Jesus and modeling his approach to suffering. 1 Peter 2:19-25 paints a wonderful picture of Jesus as the Suffering Servant. In light of this, Peter says, “so, being mindful of God, endure sorrows while suffering unjustly.” When we’re mindful of God, our disgust at suffering can mysteriously turn into praise. Note the apostles (Peter included) who after being beaten, were “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name [of Jesus]” (Acts 5:41).
Renew Your Heart (Pour Into Others)
To appropriately respond to suffering we must think internally, but serve outwardly. It’s why Peter commands Christians to love one another earnestly “above all” (4:7). What do suffering and serving have to do with one another? The answer is Jesus! His suffering was the greatest act of service and love the world would ever know. A willing death spurred on by love infused purpose into His pain. In a counterintuitive manner, suffering doesn’t drain us of the resources we need to live life abundantly; it actually serves as a catalyst to ignite our faith to action when we anchor it to His story.
So for Peter, suffering is synonymous with living a life of faith. This disciple who was rebuked as Satan for telling Jesus not to talk about suffering became one of the Bible’s greatest spokespersons on the subject. He who was frightened to suffer the ridicule of a teenage girl, would later die for his faith and instruct others to “stand firm” (5:13). What made the difference? A right view of Jesus! If the thought of suffering for the sake of Christ feels daunting, look to Jesus (the one who tells us not to worry) and follow His instructions in 1 Peter. When you do, you might just find that something strange is happening to you.