When We Suffer

Wednesday, February 22, 2017, 9:44 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song “He Keeps Me Singing.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read 1 Peter 4:12-19 (NASB).

The Fiery Ordeal (vv. 12-14)

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; 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. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

So many people today are presenting the Christian life as all fun and games, and as though it is all about us and our pleasure and enjoyment, instead of it being about us living to God for his honor, glory and praise. Thus, when trials do come their way, they are not prepared for them, and will often see their trials as an annoyance and as an interruption to their lives rather than them seeing their trials as God’s way of refining us, purifying us, maturing us and making us holy, and conforming us to the image of Christ. Trials are hard, no matter what, don’t get me wrong, but if we have the right perspective as to why they come our way, then we will know to reach out to God in our trials, to lean on his grace to help us in our time of need, and to listen to him to hear what we are supposed to learn through our difficulties.

There are different reasons why we go through such difficulties, though. If we are in Christ Jesus by faith in him, our trials are God’s divine discipline in our lives either to mature us and prune us so we will be more fruitful, or they will be there to correct and rebuke us when we are going astray, in order that we might be led back to God. Either way, the purpose is to make us holy and to conform us into the image of Christ.

Trials also come in many different forms. One of the ways in which we are called to suffer as Christians is to suffer persecution for the name of Jesus and for the sake of his gospel. When we stand for what is righteous and against what is evil, we are not going to win the “most popular” contest among the people of this world, and not even among many who also profess to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. In fact, the closer we walk with our Lord, and the more we shun evil, worldliness, and obsession with self-pleasure, the more we will be isolated from those around us, because we won’t “fit in,” and many people won’t want to be around us.

I am not speaking here, though, of joining a monastery and completely removing ourselves from the world, but when we walk in holiness, which means to be separate (unlike, different) from the world, because we are becoming like Jesus, we are going to stand out like a sore thumb among many groups of people, including among worldly Christians. And, we will be reviled, mocked, falsely accused, abused, mistreated and called “crazy,” or considered “abnormal.” Those people in our lives who are concerned about us may even try to pressure or persuade us into “rejoining the human race” by encouraging us to be more like the world and less like one who truly lives in this world as a stranger (alien). But, we are supposed to live as though this is not our permanent home, as though we are just travelers here for a time. Yet, we just don’t get to see this lifestyle emulated to us very much.

At any rate, we are encouraged here to rejoice in our sufferings, and that is a tall order. Yet, it works! Our natural inclination is to be sad, to hurt emotionally, as well as physically, and to lament our suffering. There is no shame in tears, though. I cry many of them myself. But, in the power of the Spirit of God within us we need to rise above our suffering, and we need to count it all joy to suffer for the name of Christ, and we need to put on love, mercy, compassion, kindness, and perseverance, and not let our suffering get the best of us. Satan likes it when we suffer, because his hope is that we will retreat, and that we will give up, and that we will stop serving our Lord, but we must NEVER give up! We need to just keep singing, and keep praising our Lord, and keep following him wherever he leads us, and keep on sharing Christ and his gospel of salvation in order that many will be saved.

Misdirected Suffering (vv. 15-16)

Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.

Not everyone suffers for doing good, though. Not even every Christian suffers for righteousness’ sake. As stated earlier, God disciplines us sometimes because we are wandering far from him, and in order to bring us back to him. He allows us to go through suffering when we are sinning against him so that we will look to him, so we will forsake our sins, and so we will walk in his righteousness and holiness. We need these trials, at times, in order to bring us to our senses for when we get dull of hearing and we begin to go our own stubborn way again. God disciplines us for our good that we may share in his holiness. “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (See: Heb. 12:1-11).

Judging God’s Household (vv. 17-19)

For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner? Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.

Judgment, in this context, is “the execution of judgment as displayed in the infliction of punishment” (biblehub.com). These words were spoken to Christians: “But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world” (1 Co. 11:31-32). The purpose of God’s judgment (divine discipline and correction) on his church, his house, the body of Christ, once again, is not to condemn us but to lovingly correct us, prune us, train us, and mature us in Christ, and to make us holy.

As far as what is meant by “It is with difficulty that the righteous is saved,” what comes to mind is the passage of scripture where it says: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Matt. 7:13). What this means, I believe, is that salvation from sin involves much more than just an intellectual or emotional acknowledgment as to what Jesus did for us. It is also not a one-time experience in our lives, then we live our lives, and then we go to heaven when we die. Coming to faith in Jesus Christ involves dying with Christ to sin and being resurrected with Christ to newness of life. It also involves walking in the Spirit and no longer according to our sinful flesh. For, if we walk (conduct our lives) according to our sinful flesh, we will die in our sins. Yet, if by the Spirit we are putting to death the deeds of the flesh, we will live with Christ for eternity (See: Lu. 9:23-25; Ro. 8:1-14; 1 Jn. 1:6).

So, we should not despise suffering or God’s judgment (divine discipline) on our lives, because suffering is for our good, and, if trained by it, it produces in us much spiritual fruit for God’s eternal kingdom. It humbles us, purifies us, grows us up in Christ, refines us, and it teaches us reliance upon God and not on ourselves. So, although painful when it comes, we need to see God’s hand in it in using it to conform us into the image of Christ.

He Keeps Me Singing / Luther B. Bridgers

There’s within my heart a melody
Jesus whispers sweet and low:
Fear not, I am with thee, peace, be still,
In all of life’s ebb and flow.

All my life was wrecked by sin and strife,
Discord filled my heart with pain;
Jesus swept across the broken strings,
Stirred the slumbering chords again.

Though sometimes he leads through waters deep,
Trials fall across the way,
Though sometimes the path seems rough and steep,
See his footprints all the way.

Feasting on the riches of his grace,
Resting neath his sheltering wing,
Always looking on his smiling face,
That is why I shout and sing.

Soon he’s coming back to welcome me
Far beyond the starry sky;
I shall wing my flight to worlds unknown;
I shall reign with him on high.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,
Sweetest name I know,
Fills my every longing,
Keeps me singing as I go.

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