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30 Suffering Surprise – Part 1

1 Peter 4:12-19

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,  what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” 19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

What do you do when the rug is ripped out from under you? Do you panic and protest or praise? Do you get angry at the Almighty and doubt the Lord’s love? Do you respond with resentment or rejoicing? Do you trust God to get you through the tough times or toss in the towel? Do you believe or become bitter? Peter suffered greatly as a servant of God, and his words of wisdom come from a walk that was shaped through the school of suffering.  God allowed suffering and conflict to carve and change the stubborn, impulsive, self-confident apostle into the steady, solid rock servant that Jesus spoke about in Mathew 16. Yet many Christians are surprised, even shocked when the trials and sufferings of Christ come into their lives. There is a popular theology today, promoted by prosperity preachers, that teaches that the sun always shines upon good Christians, that our grass is always green, and that suffering doesn’t come to those who serve the Savior. This is not the preaching of Peter who in chapter 3:13-18 teaches that Christians will suffer for doing good. The problem with prosperity preaching is that it offers us the hand of happiness when we really need the hope of holiness. These false teachers proclaim a pain free life for those who have proper faith, but even Abraham the father of faith faced affliction. Sure we like the idea that there is no difficulty or distress for those who walk in the will of God, but it’s not based on the bible, and to live life expecting a problem free path is to live in a lie.  So how do we gain a proper perspective on pain and make sense of suffering? Peter teaches us how to handle hardships and keep pain in a proper, heavenly perspective by:

  • Expecting Suffering

First mental and spiritual readiness for suffering is stressed in verse 12, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” Why do we view suffering as strange today, because we are not willing to submit to the truth and teaching of scripture. Our conversion does not exempt us from calamity. We should not be surprised when fiery trials come our way because we are in a spiritual battle against Satan, an adversary that loves to afflict. Christians have faced trials for their faith from the beginning of the church and will continue to until God takes us home to heaven. Yet often when we encounter the waves and tides of tribulation we tend to whine. When the trials come we are tempted to ask why me, when maybe the right question is, Why not me? For if suffering sanctifies and loosens sin’s grip on us, if it conforms us to Christ and causes others to see us differently. If it forces us to focus on the Father, driving us to dependency on Him, with an eternal expectation as we put our hope in heaven then why wouldn’t we embrace it as a necessary part of our growth? Because we are pursuing the perishable not the permanent, living for pleasure in the moment instead of the Master. What do you crave, what are you chasing is it contentment and convenience or conforming to Christ, change or comfort? You see suffering for the Savior only makes sense when it is seen through the perspective of eternity. Are you viewing life through the long lens of eternity or the tiny lens of time? Have you ever looked at the rocks in a fast flowing river? They may differ in color, size and physical characteristics but they all have one thing in common, they are all conformed by the current. The rigors of the river round their rough edges. Suffering can smooth our sharp edges, tribulation can transform our temperaments our tongues and even our thoughts.  Do you believe that God can bring beauty out of the buffeting storms of life? That problems in the hand of the Prince of peace can purify and perfect? That God can use groaning times to grow us? That rough times can refine and allow us to reflect His glory? Even though circumstances can be devastating, God uses them to conform our character, making us into patient people with humble hearts, so we are sensitive to His Spirit. Pain can be a productive potter if we have a proper perspective, but suffering will either mold you or make you miserable.  We may wish for life’s streams to be a clear and calm so we can live undisturbed, but God sees our rough edges and acts in grace to remove and refine us. As Peter talks about trials he uses the term fiery, referring to a furnace which is used to purge metal of impurities. The trial of a believer is like a refining process, the intent is to improve its value not destroy the metal. There are things you need to learn that can only be learned in the lean times, through the school of suffering. God knows what it takes to transform you, the question is do you trust Him in the trials? It’s not a matter of surrendering to suffering but submitting to the Savior who is sovereign over your suffering.  There is a story told about a black smith who had trusted Christ as his Savior. While he was working at his anvil he was confronted by an inquiring unbeliever. “Why is it you have so much trouble the man asked?”I have watched you since you became a Christian and you have had many problems. I thought when a person gave himself to God his troubles were over.” A smile came across the blacksmith’s face as he replied, “Do you see this piece of steel? I’m going to use it for the springs of a carriage. But first it needs to be heated. Then I hammer it, bend it, and shape it the way I want it. Sometimes, however, I find that the steel is too brittle to be used, so I have to throw it on the scrap heap. As scrap, the steel is worth just a few pennies, but as a carriage spring, it is very valuable. Ever since I began applying this idea to my life, I have been saying to God, ‘Lord, test me in any way You choose, but don’t throw me on the scrap heap.” When God in His grace saves us, it is for a special purpose, to live for Him so that others may see our good works, and glorify our Father, Matthew 5:16. So He uses the testing’s and trials of life to transform us.

  • Exulted through Suffering

Peter now calls us to praise in our pain why, because of the transformation potential that accompanies trials. Suffering and glory are twin truths woven into the fabric of faith, hardship and holiness go hand in hand. The glory of the Lord lies ahead but it runs through the refining road of suffering. We can’t have the crown without the cross. Suffering allows us to experience the glory, and Jesus gave a great illustration concerning this suffering in John 16:21. He reminded us that after a woman endures the pain and suffering of child birth, she forgets about the agony when her baby is born because the suffering is transformed into glory. It is the same baby that causes both pain and pleasure. The pleasure isn’t in the process but in the product.  Will your focus be on the brutality of the birth or the blessing of the baby?  We can have hope even in the hardships and heartaches of this life because one day the groaning’s will turn to glory. That which is breaking your heart right now will one day be a blessing. Because of His promise the saved don’t just surviving suffering, they singing in their suffering. Those who bless God in their trials are blessed by God through their trials. A proper perspective on suffering sees that everything we suffer for the sake of Christ is a privilege, not a penalty. So today don’t let suffering take you by surprise or stifle your song.