I have been working diligently to complete my New Testament Daily Bible Study book: STRENGTH FOR TODAY, the companion edition of the Daily Devotional that I wrote two years ago which was based on the Old Testament. Every once in a while, I am going to share one of these messages with my readers so you can get a kind of "pre-publication" flavor of the new book. Here is one I wrote last week from the book of I Peter, chapter 4.
Peter continues to develop the theme of Why Christian’s Suffer in this chapter, a theme that pervades the entire letter. It is an important biblical teaching. Each time a believer finds himself in the middle of some trial, going through a time of grief and suffering, he invariably asks: “Why is this happening to me?” It is OK to ask that question—yea, it is imperative to ask it, for we must differentiate between suffering for good (called persecution) and suffering for evil, the result of making foolish and stupid mistakes. Peter would have his readers evaluate their lives to know and understand that crucial difference.
He begins by once again reminding the Jewish Christians of the Dispersion that their suffering is nothing new. He uses the example of Christ, as he did earlier when he said: “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow in His steps” (2:21). Here in chapter four he writes: “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind.” In other words, be prepared mentally for the fact that as Christ suffered, so must those who are His followers likewise suffer. Paul put in this way in II Tim. 3:12, “Yea, and all who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” The only Christians who experience no animosity or resentment or persecution from this world are those who never identify with Him or publicly take a stand for His name.
It is interesting that Peter says to these Christians: “we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles (unsaved)—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, orgies (drinking parties), abominable idolatries” (vs. 3). Peter reminds them of their past unsaved, sinful, worldly lifestyle, concluding they had “spent enough time” in their life acting that way. The list of sins he uses reminds us of Paul’s catalogue of sins in Romans 1:29-31. It is important that every believer remember what their life used to be like before they came to Christ. When we are saved, everything changes.
And how does the unsaved world react when a Christian makes such a sudden change? Not well. “In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation” (vs.4). How true! They wonder why you no longer “run with them” and go to their drinking parties where all kinds of lewd behavior goes on. And THAT is where the persecution comes in. They resent the fact that you no longer associate with their sinful lifestyle, and label you as some kind of “holier than thou” religious extremist.
Peter now gives his readers a good reason to live for the Lord, and be faithful to Him, even if it involves some suffering. “The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all, have fervent love for one another, for love will cover a multitude of sins” (vs. 7-8). Yes, the Lord is coming soon. We are exhorted here to be serious and watchful. We are exhorted to love one another, as this is the testimony that will lead others to Christ.
Knowing why the world hates us so gives us a biblical perspective on Christian suffering. “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you” (vs. 12). Don’t be shocked when your former “friends” and even your family turn against you. Unbelievers rejected Jesus, and they will reject you too. But instead of wallowing in self-pity or “thinking it strange” and unfair what is happening, rejoice in that you are counted worthy to suffer for Jesus’ sake. “If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified” (vs. 14).
Make sure you aren’t suffering because of your own sinful actions or stupid mistakes! But if you find yourself being resented and rejected by this world, remember this passage here in I Peter 4, and the promise of God who said: “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.”