Sunday, December 18, 2016

"Suffering for doing good leads to faith … leads to peace!"

Day #354

Scripture Reading:  I Peter 4 - 5 ...

Suffering and trials have a purpose in the lives of believers.  Peter began this letter by addressing "God's elect, strangers in the world" (1:1).  He then went on to praise God for "new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade - kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time" (1:3-5).  This is what we who believe in Jesus Christ HAVE!  

Peter believed!  So he went on to say, "In this (in the "new birth into a living hope") you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed" (1:6-8).

We needed to go back to Chapter 1 in order to understand these last two chapters in Peter's first letter.  Peter talked about suffering for doing good at the end of Chapter 3, and now he goes on to explain further the benefit of trials and suffering in our lives as believers.  "Therefore, since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.  As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God" (4:1-2).  Do you hear what he is saying?  Suffering pulls us away from the temptation to find our hope, our joy and our peace only or chiefly in the things of this world!

God gives us joy in the blessings He gives in this world, as long as we recognize that these come from Him.  Sharing love with family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ and enjoying God's creation while giving Him glory are a taste of heaven ... but there's more.  Peter says you need to "arm yourself" with the attitude of Jesus, who was willing to suffer because He knew of the glory of heaven!  When you know of the glory of heaven you have no desire to indulge the sinful nature in the things of earth!!  Other people wonder why you don't join them (4:4), because their ONLY hope is in what they can see and experience NOW!  They have nothing else to hold onto and when we point out the emptiness of their lives it makes them angry.  "But they will have to account to HIM who is ready to judge the living and the dead" (4:5).

Peter says, "The end of all things is near" (4:7) ... and it WAS ... and it IS!  In his second letter Peter says, "With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day" (II Peter 3:8). We can see evil building all around us - all part of God's plan.  We are called to be light and the only way to do that is to be different than the world.  God is not saying that we should WANT to suffer or that we should ENJOY suffering, but rather that we should ENDURE suffering while trusting in God to be with us and to use it for our good.  Suffering pulls us away from desiring to remain in this world.  We have a reason for being here that exceeds our own comfort and ease:  Serving others!!  Our lives are to be lived "so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.  To HIM be the glory and the power for ever and ever.  Amen!" (4:11).

So "do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering ... but rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed" (4:12).  There it is!  God's truth concerning suffering ... God is at work in the midst of it, for your good and for His glory.  "If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you" (4:14).  "If you suffer as a Christian do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name" (4:16).

God's judgment will come, but we who are in Christ have forgiveness and life through faith in Him!  "So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good" (4:16).  We need to remind ourselves of this truth every day and especially when facing suffering through persecution of any kind.  When people reject you, ridicule you or worse for being a follower of Jesus, you follow in a train of those who have lived by faith before you ... "Now faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see!" (11:1).
Peter closes his letter by calling the elders, the overseers of the churches, to watch over them, to care for them, to protect them.  He calls them to serve humbly, trusting in their Savior and Lord to lift them up and to give them all they need to fulfill their calling.  He wants to encourage them to persevere as they trust in the Lord:  "And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away" (5:4).  Remember, God cares for YOU, so humble yourself before Him, "be self-controlled and alert” (5:8) ... resist the temptations of the devil, the world and your own flesh and stand firm in your faith "because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of suffering" (5:9).

Do not give up, do not give in, but keep on for the Lord!  "And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  To HIM be the power for ever and ever. Amen!" (5:10-11).  And finally, "Peace to all of you who are in Christ" (5:14).  Living as a Christian and suffering for doing good points us to our "living hope" that is stored up for us in heaven, and gives us all we need to live by faith and to find the peace that we have been searching for!

"O Lord, my God, I thank You for Your constant grace, for Your presence and power at work in my life, and for the sure and certain hope of eternal life. Thank You, Father, for the peace I have through Jesus.  Help me to follow His example, to have the same attitude He had, even as He went to the cross ... being willing to suffer for His name’s sake. To YOU be the power and the glory forever! In Jesus' name, Amen"

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