0727-2014 message by Pastor Rich Doebler

1 Peter 1:5-7 5 …through faith [you] are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

A couple weeks ago while listening to Pastor Fred speak, I began to wonder about something. He said: “Jesus had to suffer. Dying in our place was not enough! He had to suffer.”

And my gut level reaction was “Why?” Why wouldn’t a quick, painless, sacrificial death have been enough? What was the need to suffer?

I’m not going to answer those questions today. Those of you attending the Wednesday class on the Apostle’s Creed may remember we discussed some of this when we studied the phrase: “he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was cruicified, dead, and buried.”

Instead of answering those questions now, I want to think about suffering in general. What does God say about it? Why is suffering part of the human experience? Why is life so hard?

Remember the saying from Job, which says “man is born to trouble”? The larger context says: 6 For hardship does not spring from the soil, nor does trouble sprout from the ground. 7 Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward. (This wasn’t something Job said. It was what one of his comforters said—Eliphaz, the Temanite—in Job 5:7, NIV)

Another version (CEV) says: 6 Our suffering isn’t caused by the failure of crops; 7 it’s all part of life, like sparks shooting skyward.

It’s all part of life. Suffering is as natural as sparks going up from a fire. So what kinds of suffering can we expect in life? We think first of physical pain and suffering, but the truth is suffering comes in many forms.

I know someone who became consumed by fears she was dying of an unknown kidney disease—even though doctors repeatedly assured her she was the picture of health. Her worry and irrational anxieties led to compulsive behaviors—and to suffering perhaps worse than if she were really sick.
   God didn’t cause her suffering. Random events of life didn’t bring it on. Nor did the bad behavior of other people. She brought the suffering on herself—simply by allowing the devil to gain a foothold in her mind. It wasn’t bacteria that attacked her; it was a spiritual attack! The problem was in her head and heart—but her suffering was still real.

Suffering comes in many forms. As if physical pain were not enough (sickness, injury, abuse), on a fallen planet rampant with sin and brokenness, you will face major disappointments, sadness, even tragedies (defeat, loss, failure, rejection, injustice).

How many of you regularly watch or read the news? It’s difficult to find any good news, isn’t it? How many of you have quit watching because you don’t want to hear all the bad news? Every day there is more bad news: Planes that disappear—or are shot down or crash; hurricanes or floods or fires destroying hundreds of homes; wars and rumors of wars; Israel and Palestine; 800+ killed in Gaza Strip; another 1,700 killed this week in the war between Syria and the Islamic State; there’s terrorism; drug and gang wars; 50,000 children from Central America coming to our border to escape violence and poverty. Just a few of the stories from this week!

Beyond physical pain or material loss, suffering comes in other forms. Inner, emotional pain, for example, [despair, depression, anxiety, doubts and fears] can be worse than visible, physical injuries. Suffering can come as mental anguish or deep heartache; some suffer with spiritual pains—their souls are tormented.)

So we ask, “Why?” Why does God permit us to suffer? What’s the point?

And if sin has so ruined this world that we are “born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward,” how should we respond? How should we view suffering? Can anything good come from it?

If this world is temporary in the grand scheme of things (and ultimately inconsequential)…if eternity is permanent and most important—then why couldn’t we skip all the troubles in this life and just go straight to glory?

If you’d like to study the question further on your own, I can recommend books I’ve read that helped me:

  • Disappointment with God by Phillip Yancey
  • Where Is God When It Hurts? by Phillip Yancey
  • The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
  • Affliction by Edith Schaeffer

God actually has a lot to say about suffering and the human condition. In fact, before Jesus suffered on the cross, he first suffered by becoming human. Being made flesh meant he had to suffer—to experience pain, hunger, thirst, temptations…rejection, opposition.

For now, let’s zero in on a few verses in one short NT letter. It was written by Peter, the apostle, who saw Jesus hauled away to be beaten and crucified. Later Peter himself was beaten for his faith in Jesus and eventually crucified (legend says upside down).

Peter wrote in the first century to God’s people who had been scattered throughout the Roman Empire. Many were trying to escape persecution and suffering at the hands of cruel authorities. Some had begun to wonder if God had abandoned them. Others wondered if following Jesus was worth it. Some were asking questions like those we’ve been asking about pain and suffering.

So, inspired by the Holy Spirit, Peter wrote words to reassure them that suffering was not only a normal part of life, it would also lead to something far better.

1 Peter 1:5-7 The theme of suffering continues throughout Peter’s letter. In chapter 4 you read:

1 Pet 4:1,12-13 1 Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin… 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.

Pay attention to three things in these passages:

1. God’s power protects you (1:5): “Through faith [you] are shielded by God’s power.” God’s power is activated by your faith.

  • Peter uses the same word here (phrouréō) that Paul uses in Phil 4:7 when he says that the “peace of God…will guard your hearts and minds.” It was a military word, used when stationing troops as a garrison, to guard the city gate from intruders. It was the ancient equivalent of “homeland security”—guarding against acts of terrorism.
  • Peter says—if you believe, if you put your faith and trust in God—God will protect you. Even if suffering (like terrorists trying to infiltrate your city gates) brings difficulties and pain, God will see you through. You’re protected so you can be prepared for eternity.

2. There’s reason to rejoice (1:6)—no matter what, we have reason to rejoice: “In all this you greatly rejoice…[even] while you…suffer grief.”

  • How can we rejoice while suffering? Because first, trials and suffering are temporary—they are ”now for a little while” (v 6). 2 Cor 4:17 (NLT) says: For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! That leads to a second reason to rejoice: glory!
  • (2) We can rejoice because we have something to look forward to! Our troubles produce for us “glory…[that] will last forever!” Peter says we will be “overjoyed when [Christ’s] glory is revealed” (4:13). It’s our “coming salvation” (v 5)—one day you’re going to be rescued out of this mess. Peter starts his letter by saying (NLT): “3 …we live with great expectation, 4 and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you…” We have great expectations in spite of our troubles!
  • (3) We can rejoice because God uses troubles to test our faith and to strengthen us. It’s like making tempered steel, which is stronger and more resilient because it goes through intense heat. If you want to make flexible springs, for instance, that will bend without breaking, you heat them higher temperatures to make steel tools. Do you want stronger faith? Faith that will bend without breaking? God has a process that will improve the strength of your faith. Which leads us to one last lesson…

3. Real faith is tested faith (1:7): trials come to prove the genuineness of your faith.
TEV: “6 …[The] trials you suffer 7 …prove that your faith is genuine.”

  • Faith is genuine only if it’s stood the test. Without being tested, faith is not proven! It’s not authentic faith until it’s been through the fire—refined, Peter says, like gold is purified in the fire—with all the impurities melted out, floating to the top of the molten gold, so they can be skimmed off.
  • Pain and suffering help us distinguish genuine faith from artificial or superficial faith. Without suffering and trials—without pain, problems, or trials—faith would never develop fully.
  • Suffering refines us by revealing flaws and defects in our character that need to be skimmed off. Impurities—like lethargy, apathy, cynicism—need to go. Without being tested, our faith would be anemic, weak, stunted, even careless.
  • Archaeologists have found first-century pottery shops with piles of broken pottery—clay pots that cracked when fired in the kiln. Those pots didn’t survive the test. But the archaeologists also found other pots that came through the fire without breaking. And stamped on the bottom of those pot was a word dokimos: “Approved.” It was like the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.”
    Dokimos—the word Peter used to speak of proven faith—faith tested through fire. It’s genuine faith. It’s the real deal. It’s not just superficial faith. It’s deep, authentic faith. It’s a trust in God that does not waver just because of suffering and trials.

Has your faith been tested? Proven genuine? When you go through tough times, remember:

  • God allows trials and tests so you—and your faith—can grow strong;
  • You can rejoice because better things are coming;
  • No matter what, God will protect you.

For an example of a grace-filled response by Christians in Egypt to modern-day persecution and suffering, click here.

Why is life so hard?