Peter advice to those who suffer

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Presbyterian Church
March 19, 2023
1 Peter 4:12-19

Sermon taped at Mayberry Church on Friday, March 17, 2023

Before reading scripture:

We’re down to the final two sermons from Peter’s first epistle. Our passage starts out with Peter telling his audience not to be surprised at the fiery ordeal they face. As I’ve pointed out all along, these Christians lived on the margin of society and faced persecution. Once again, Peter encourages them (and us) to stand tall when suffering for righteous reasons.  

Read 1 Peter 4:12-19

Suffering today 

There’s plenty of bad news about suffering in this world. There are wars in Ukraine, Syria, and in the horn of Africa. Think of all the innocent people caught up in the violence. Some countries treat their own people horribly, such as North Korea. Those who disagree with leaders in many countries find themselves in hot water. Other countries treat minorities terrible, especially Myanmar but when you really consider it, it’s true of many nations and own record isn’t great. 

Then there are natural disasters. From floods in California to earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, there’s plenty of suffering to go around. Children are born with birth defects or addicted to illicit drugs. Banks fail. As the technology sector of our economy entrenches, employees find themselves without a job. Fruit trees prematurely bloomed, followed by a freeze and the harvest might not be as good as in previous years. Farmers will be hurt, and we’ll miss having good fruit.  People get sick and die. 

If we want to hear about suffering, we don’t have to go far. Sometimes it might feel as if God’s off on vacation.

But what if we turned this around? The Message translation begins our passage this way: 

Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.[1]

Two (or maybe three) kinds of suffering 

From the way Peter begins this section, we can assume Christians in Asia Minor were surprised at their situation. The “fiery ordeal” Peter speaks about isn’t a natural disaster or even a war. They’re facing persecution because of their faith in Jesus Christ and for that, Peter tells them to rejoice, to be glad. I suggest it’s easier said than done, but we should consider what Peter is saying.

Peter also distinguishes between two different reasons for suffering. We suffer because of our own actions, and we may suffer because of our affiliation with Jesus. It’s obvious that Peter is not addressing innocent suffering here, such as a natural disaster or even wars which are beyond our control and affect everyone nearby. 

I wonder, however, if some in the intended community to which this letter was written had a criminal background. If so, did they think their suffering unjustified. Maybe they thought by coming to Christ, who forgives sins, they should be immune from the consequences of their actions. Going back to the beginning, the church has always been a haven that embraces the guilty. After all, Jesus certainly didn’t have a problem eating and hanging out with well-known sinners. 

But embracing Christ and being free from the eternal consequences of your sin doesn’t mean that the state won’t demand payment. Earlier in this letter, Peter encouraged everyone to honor the state,[2] so those guilty of murder, stealing, or other criminal behavior should expect punishment and not consider such punishment as noble or done on Christ’s behalf.    

Suffering for Jesus

But there were also those genuinely suffering on Christ’s behalf and they, Peter says, will be blessed. It’s not a disgrace to face persecution as a Christian; instead, we should count it as an honor for we are following in our Lord’s footsteps. 

I’ve always felt Americans who claim persecution trivialized their situations. However, I admit, there are Christians in America persecuted or suffering for their belief in Jesus. Sometimes, such persecution is carried out by the church. The one persecuted stands against what’s going on and suffered the consequences. 

Two that immediately comes to mind are Beth Moore and Russell Moore (they’re not related to each other). Beth led a revival in women’s ministry. Russell, in charge of ethics and social witness within his denomination, called those in power to a higher standard. Russell lost his job for standing up for what he felt was right. Beth lost her publisher.[3] So, while we may not be in danger of martyrdom, we can still suffer for our beliefs if we take seriously Jesus’ teachings. 

God’s pending judgment

In verse 17, Peter returns to another familiar theme of his letter, Christ’s return and judgment. Here Peter emphasizes that God is still in control. The way he says this, “that God is bringing about this judgment,” sounds harsh to our ears. Is this God’s will? 

We think of judgment as harsh, but if we hear it from the ears of those experiencing injustice, we’ll see that such a view reminds them that God is in charge. Their persecutors may think they’re in control, but they’re only fooling themselves. Furthermore, this serves as a reminder to us. If we think we can run roughshod over others, we may get away with it for the time being, but sooner or later we will be held accountable for our actions. 

Carrying on this line of thought, Peter reminds his readers that if it is hard for the righteous to be saved, it’s going to be worst for the ungodly and sinners. Peter’s view here is that we’re all going to be judged. Certainly, Peter knows our salvation is through Jesus Christ, not through our own actions, but he wants to encourage his readers by reminding them that those who flaunt God’s decrees will be in for a rude awakening. Peter then ends this passage with a call for his readers to accept their suffering while embracing their faithful Creator and continuing to do what is right. 

Pure Heathen Mischief

Martin Clark served as judge in Patrick County for many years. He’s also a published novelist. I love his story about getting published. It took him fifteen years to find someone to publish his first book. After many failed attempts, he told God that if the book was published, he’d give all the profits back to his local church. He kept his promise.[4]

Unjust suffering

In his second book, Plain Heathen Mischief, Joel King is the defrocked pastor of Roanoke’s First Baptist Church. After doing six months in prison for an inappropriate relationship with a minor, his wife divorces him. Everything falls in around him, even though he wasn’t guilty of the crime. 

Edmund is the only member of the church to stand by him. Edmund is traveling west on business and offers Joel a ride to his sister’s home in Montana. It turns out that Edmund is also a conman. Along the way, he pitches an idea for Joel to quickly make a couple hundred thousand dollars. 

Joel doesn’t want to have anything to do with it. He wants to rebuild his life honestly. But once he gets to Montana, he finds his sister, whose husband recently left, struggling. Because of his record, nobody will hire him. The only job he can find is as a dishwasher. And then, he’s assigned to a crooked parole officer who demands that Joel not only pay his fine, but that he always bring extra cash in a blank envelope in which the parole officer pockets… Sinking and feeling trapped, Joel decides to take Edmund up on his offer.  

Suffering justly

Edmund and an attorney in Las Vegas are involved with a cleaning service that has access to huge homes whose occupants often spent months away. The plan is for these “cleaners,” to “borrow” jewelry from the homes and give it to Joel. Joel takes our insurance on the jewels, telling the agent he inherited the jewelry from his mother. Then, Edmund sets up a fake robbery. The jewelry is returned to the home from which it was “borrowed.” Joel files an insurance claim. When he gets a check, he splits the money with Edmund.   

Everything goes smooth until the FBI comes knocking. By the way, I should let you know that this book is funny and has lots of humorous twists and turns. It turns out some of the jewelry he insured was stolen (that is, stolen before it was re-stolen). These jewels belonged to a European museum. Joel is now an international criminal. 

Joel’s problem is that he kept trying to be in control and make it all work out. By trying to fix things, he gets in way over his head… Finally, he gives in, throws up his hands and confesses everything. Because he cooperates, he receives a light sentence in federal prison.

His sister drives him to Helena where he’s to meet the prison bus to take him to his new home. Joel seems happy as they drive through the mountains. This puzzles his sister. “Joel,” she says, “you’re going to jail. Today. You’re penniless. You’re divorced. You need to enlighten me as to why you’re so chipper.”[5]  

As I mentioned earlier, Joel wasn’t guilty when he was first sent to prison… Getting out, he thought he’d get back on his feet and everything would be alright and that he could handle things, but he learned otherwise. As he prepared to return to prison, this time for a crime he did commit, his suffering turns into joy. He no longer tries to control things. He gives up running. And he still has faith in his Savior. That alone is enough for him to be “chipper” as he prepares to pay the consequences.   

From suffering to rejoicing

Let your sufferings turn into joy! It sounds foolish, but we must remember that we have a Savior who turned the cross inside out, from a cruel instrument of the Empire’s power to the sign of salvation. As the Psalmist says:

“For God’s anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”[6]

How should we live when we’re caught in a cycle of suffering?  In these verses, Peter gives us three responses. First, and as we’ve seen with Joel, we’re to let our suffering give way to joy. Of course, it took him a while to get there, but we’re all hardheaded. Then there are two other ways. By suffering we participate in the suffering of Christ, and finally, we’re to entrust ourselves to the faithful Creator by doing good.[7]  

Suffering as a part of life

Suffering is a part of life. Jesus demonstrates this with his own life. When we suffer, we need to keep our eyes on him. And when others suffer, we need to take a lesson for Peter’s failures, who abandoned Jesus when he was arrested.[8] Unlike Peter, we should stay by those who need our presence, reminding them of God’s faithfulness. 

We might not be able to bring our suffering or the suffering of another to an end. But can change the way we handle it. We can entrust our unjust suffering we face to God as does the Psalmist:

Into your hands I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.[9] Amen.

[1] 1 Peter 4:12-13, The Message. 

[2] 1 Peter 2:13-14.  For my sermon on this text click here.

[3] Beth Moore has a new memoir out by a new publisher that I’ve yet to read. Russell Moore was removed from his position in the Southern Baptist Conference and now works for Christianity Today

[4] This was shared to me in when he sent me this book after I had reviewed his first book, The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living.

[5] Martin Clark, Plain Heathen Mischief (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2004), 393. 

[6] Psalms 30:5.

[7] Joel B. Green, First Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 159-160.

[8] Matthew 26:69-75, Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22:54-62, and John 18:15-18 and 25-27. 

[9] Psalm 31:5. See also Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 173. 

Late Winter Sunset, taken on March 17, 2023

9 Replies to “Peter advice to those who suffer”

  1. I was following along with Joel and Edmond, decided the story was sad and depressing–and then you pop in with “By the way, I should let you know that this book is funny.”

    Whew. Just in time!

    1. He is a humorous author–after all, the idea of stealing/borrowing jewelry that had already been stolen. What is surprising is that he was a former judge of the county where one of the churches is now located, but I read this book years before moving here.

    1. Did she read her memoir herself? I haven’t decided if I wanted to read or listen to it, but it’s definitely on my tbr list.

  2. Thank you Pastor Jeff, for reminding me to turn my sufferings to God and to give him all control over my life.
    Song: give it all to Jesus….🎶

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