6 Things to Teach Your People About Suffering
Suffering comes upon all of us ...
About two months ago, a large apartment building in a very poor part of our small city caught on fire and over 120 people were displaced. This had a massive effect on our city and the weight of the need came crashing down, as we mourned with those who had lost everything. When unexpected suffering comes rushing upon us, we are left with a common question: “God, why is this happening?” Is there hope amidst the suffering? Are your people prepared for when the fiery trial comes?
Our church just so happened to be walking through 1 Peter at the time. It was with heaviness that I opened 1 Peter 4:12-19, knowing that several families from the fire were sitting in our service. The truth that God offers us in his Word, as I taught that morning, is this: Suffering is not meaningless. Suffering is a tool used by God for our ultimate joy and his ultimate glory. Will you entrust your life to him? If you are a pastor, then you need to prepare your people for suffering. In 1 Peter 4:12-19, Peter gives us six realities that are important for us to communicate to our people so they will be ready when suffering comes.
1) Suffering proves our faith
Peter begins in 1 Peter 4:12 by encouraging these “beloved” christians to “not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon them to test them.” He had walked through this same idea in chapter one. Our faith’s genuineness is tested as gold is tested by fire, to see if it’s real. As Charles Spurgeon said, “Faith without suffering is like a diamond uncut, without which we could never see its true brilliance.” If I was the only man on earth and I asked my wife if she was devoted to me as her husband, her devotion might be genuine but it wouldn’t mean as much because it is not tested. When suffering comes upon us and we still say, “God, this fire hurts but I still trust in you,” then our faith becomes real in those moments. True faith is proven through the fires of trial because it is then when we need it the most. Encourage your people to allow suffering to prove the genuineness of their faith.
2) Suffering unites us with Christ
Peter says, “Don’t be surprised” but instead (4:13), “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s suffering that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” We follow a suffering savior and when we pick up our cross and follow him, we suffer as he suffered. But we unite with Christ in his glory as well as his suffering! We rejoice now so that we “may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” If we go through suffering in this life, grumbling the whole time (like Israel in the wilderness), then when we stand before Christ, we will be ashamed. But if instead, even in our brokenness and pain, we rejoice because our hope is in Christ, then our joy will be multiplied in that moment when we see him face to face. Encourage your people to experience union with Christ in their suffering and to rejoice, knowing that glory is coming.
3) Suffering provides the blessing of assurance
It is often in the deepest adversity that we feel the empowering presence of God and experience his strength.
Peter goes on: “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (4:14) When we suffer for the sake of Christ, we uniquely experience the blessing of God--that the fullness of his Spirit and his glory is dwelling in us. It is often in the deepest adversity that we feel the empowering presence of God and experience his strength. We are scared of what might happen if we obey Christ. But we can know that when we choose to be faithful, God will give us the strength to endure any suffering that comes because of it. Suffering Christians through the ages have baffled the world because there is a holy thread of faithfulness that shows that when suffering for Christ abounds, joy and hope abound too. God will use suffering to draw us closer to him. We will know we are his.
4) Suffering with hope glorifies God
Peter continues to say that we should not suffer because of sin in verse 15 but he says in verse 16: “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” If we undergo hardship, slander, shame, or persecution because we are living a faithful life, then we have a profound opportunity to glorify God. We will be tempted to feel ashamed when people make fun of us for living with God-honoring ambitions, but we need not be. Don’t give in to the temptation to complain or get angry or defensive. Allow your patience and godly character shine through. Honor God. Glorify Christ, whose name you bear. Some may look down on you but others may be drawn to Christ. Encourage your people to see that when they endure suffering because of their witness, God will use their suffering to glorify himself.
5) Suffering motivates us toward mission
Suffering should never be so big in our hearts that it distracts us from seeing that there are people around us who need Jesus or they will die in their sin.
Peter says in verses 17-18 that the fires of God’s judgment are purifying 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?” For Christians, the fires of judgment hurt, but they purify us. For those who have rejected Christ, it will destroy them. Suffering reminds us that sin hurts and it will destroy all who have not been covered by the blood of Jesus. Suffering should never be so big in our hearts that it distracts us from seeing that there are people around us who need Jesus or they will die in their sin. Encourage your people to let suffering motivate them to live with gospel urgency.
6) Suffering teaches us to trust in God
Verse 19 could be the sum of all Peter has been saying. “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” In this verse, we see two glorious truths about God: 1) God is completely sovereign over suffering. We suffer according to “God’s will.” But also, 2) God is unwaveringly faithful in suffering. He’s not just the creator. He is a faithful creator. He’s not just in control. He is good.
We also see how we must respond: we trust and obey. First, we entrust all we are to God. The word for “entrust” is a powerful one. It’s the same word Jesus uses on the cross when he says, “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.” In suffering, we say, “God, my life is hard. But my life is yours. Take it. All my plans, all my desires, all my life is yours. Use it for your glory.” And second, we choose to do what is right, no matter the cost. Peter says to entrust ourselves to a faithful creator, while doing good. We show our trust by doing what is right, even if it costs us much. But our great God is worth it. Encourage your people to let suffering teach them this. Our God is worth trusting and following, no matter what we go through.
Even suffering bows its knee to the sovereign purposes of our loving God.
Where joy is found...
Every time I have gone through suffering in my life, I believe God was asking me a simple question: “My child, do you trust me?” Our entire earthly existence could be understood as a training ground for learning to trust in God. By choosing to trust and obey, we find the secret to joy in the midst of suffering. It’s like the old hymn says, “Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey.” We need to prepare our own hearts for the fiery trial. And we need to prepare our people as well. Suffering is not meaningless. Suffering is a tool used by God for our ultimate joy and his ultimate glory. This life is not easy. But it is his. And even suffering bows its knee to the sovereign purposes of our loving God. Without a big view of God, how can we endure life’s suffering? Show your people Christ. He is good. He is trustworthy.