Some people mistakenly believe that being a Christian gives you a “get out of jail free card” when it comes to the trials of life. But adversity is a result of living in a fallen world, and believers aren’t immune from the pain of suffering. And in this chapter, Peter tells us that as Christians not only are we not to be surprised when facing persecution, we are to rejoice when we suffer for our faith.
“Therefore since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.” (vs. 1-2) No one knows more about suffering than Jesus. Not only did He suffer physically with beatings, torture and crucifixion, He also suffered the pain of betrayal, sorrow, and anguish. Yet He endured all of that willingly, obediently, and out of His love for us. And out of our love for Him and His gift of salvation, we also are to be willing and obedient in living to fulfill the will of God. No longer do we continue in our former lustful ways of the world, but instead pursue lives of holiness, following the example set by our Lord.
But leading such lives isn’t easy. There is tremendous pressure from the world around us to be the same as we were before we received Jesus as our Savior. “They are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you.” (v. 4) Those who aren’t followers of Jesus find it hard to understand why we would want to lead our life for anyone other than ourselves. They want us to do as they do. And when we don’t, we become targets of their ridicule and scorn.
But Peter tells us that those same unbelievers, “will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” (v. 5) One day they will stand before the throne of God and give an account of their lives to the Almighty, who will judge both the living and the dead. But until that time we are to, “be of sound judgement and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer” (v. 7) And we are called respond to those who persecute us the same way we respond to fellow believers….in love.
“Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” (v. 8) Here Peter isn’t telling us that loving others earns God’s forgiveness. We know that our sins are paid for by Jesus’ death on the cross, and forgiveness for sin comes only through trusting in Him. Instead it means that even Christians are sinners who fail and need forgiveness daily. And in remembering that we can love each when hurt, we can forgive each other when wronged, and build each other up when we fall. Because love makes it possible for us to be, “hospitable to one another without complaint”, and to use our God given gifts and talents to serve one another. All with the goal of leading others to the Lord, so “in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (v. 11)
Peter goes on to warn that trouble will indeed come into our lives, so we shouldn’t be taken by surprise when it does. “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.” (v. 12) Some people are thrown off guard when they suffer, thinking that since God is in complete control of all things, He should stop adversity from entering our lives. But God uses trials to test His people, to deepen our relationship with Him, and to display His glory to the world. Not all suffering is testing, but regardless for the reason God wants us to be steadfast and holy throughout it all.
And not only are we to expect trouble, we are to rejoice when we are persecuted for Christ’s sake, and find joy in the opportunity to share in His sufferings. “to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” ( v. 13) When we face persecution because of our faith in Jesus, we can find great joy knowing that one day Jesus will be revealed in all of His glory, and we too will be revealed as His very own. For Peter reminds us that, “if you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” (v. 14)
Suffering hurts. There are no two ways about it. And when we are knee deep in pain it can be hard to find the blessing. But when we are hated for following Jesus, we can comfort and joy knowing that God has chosen to glorify Himself through us, bless us, and love us. All because we belong to His Son!