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Finding Purpose in Suffering

Letters of Peter              September 22, 2002


Scripture Reading: Isaiah 35


ILLUS: The suicide bombing on the No. 4 bus traveling Allenby Street in Tel Aviv this Thursday that killed 5 and wounded 40. Amil Chen, the owner of the bookstore near where the bus blew up was mortified and speechless to see a beating heart lying naked on the sidewalk amidst the carnage from the bus passengers and the broken glass of his storefront. It has just been blown out of someone's chest and lay there alone still holding on to life as long as possible. But its beats became slower and further apart as it became apparent that there was no one to whom it belonged any longer. Then the rescue workers came and bagged it in plastic.

Suffering can be like that naked heart alone on the sidewalk when it seems there is nothing left to hold on to in a world torn apart by sin.

The nature of suffering can leave you lifeless and heartless – or it can turn you to God.

God has placed us in a difficult position to live as his people in an opposing world.

Being different, separate, submissive and having a perspective that sees far beyond what the present world offers has the disadvantage of setting apart the people of God for persecution and suffering.

The people of the world have difficulty understanding, accepting and trusting whatever is different from the way they have always known things to be.

And people inherently try to destroy whatever does not conform to their expectation or exposes the insecurity they experience even within things familiar.

They are easily threatened by the assurance of the people of God because what their lives propose is the reality of a living God to which we are all accountable by faith.

It is not easy for people to trust beyond themselves, and so they react out of frustration, but perhaps also as a means of testing the truth.

And that is where the people of God will shine in their willingness to prove faith and trust in the existence and goodness of God.

They are and must be willing to pay the price of truth. And that price comes in many denominations of currency. 

Big Question:

What does suffering accomplish for us as Christians? Is it merely something we endure as part of the cost of following Christ, or does it have real value in our journey toward godliness? In other words, when it comes, does it bankrupt us or pay dividends? How can we understand suffering as part of what God allows for our good? Can we suffer vicariously, that is, for others past or future?

I.       Cycle One

          A.      Narrative (1Pet. 1:6-12)

The people of God are affirmed as those who have been given a new birth of hope through the resurrection of Jesus (1:3).

It is this joy which is to sustain them (1:6) even in the suffering of grief through trials of all kinds because they know the end from the beginning.

They are not to lose sight of the purpose of these trials which is to further perfect the faith from which their hope is born (1:7).

And the highest perfection of that faith is the result of glory, honor and praise for Jesus (1:8-9) when the fullness of his gift of salvation is revealed.

The people of God are hereby taken through suffering to glory in a divine progression of insight into God's purpose of faith perfection.

They are reminded of the prophets who served them well in this (1:10) when they spoke from Christ about Christ and his own journey of suffering to glory (1:11).

As the prophets looked ahead through circumstances in their own ministries to the present people of God (1:12), and even as the angels look ahead to what shall yet be revealed, the people of God must also be willing to see through their circumstances toward the refinement of faith that only God can superintend.

          B.      Implication

Suffering trials helps us to refine faith.

          C.      Illustration

          D.      Application

II.      Cycle Two

          A.      Narrative (1Pet. 2:18-25)

Not only are the people of God affirmed by their perspective on suffering's outcome, they are affirmed by their outlook on suffering's process.

The institution of slavery here is assumed as part of the world condition, and within that institution are some masters who are good and some who are harsh (2:18).

Unjust suffering from harsh masters is proposed as endurable because the believing slave is conscious of God (2:19).

In addition, being conscious of God entails not deserving the punishment one might receive (2:20).

To suffer unjustly is part of the Christian's calling because he is conforming to the likeness of Christ who suffered unjustly for him (2:21).

But it is not just the fact of unjust suffering the Christian is to follow; it is the attitude of Christ he is to have in the midst of it (2:22).

This attitude is defined specifically as one that does not retaliate against suffering but trusts God's judgment (2:23) regarding it.

The Christian, being reminded of Christ's death for sin, is reminded of his own participation in dying to sin.

His attitude is to be healed by the very wounds of Christ himself (2:24) as he turns toward Christ's ministry to his soul even more desperately in the injustice he suffers (2:25).

Unjust suffering is a lesson in trusting God, and the people of God are affirmed by how they endure it.

          B.      Implication

Suffering injustice helps us to trust God.

          C.      Illustration

          D.      Application

III.    Cycle Three

          A.      Narrative (1Pet. 3:8-4:2)

The theme of suffering injustice with grace continues beyond attitude.

In this theology of suffering, the people of God have been brought from future perspective to present attitude and now to proper behavior.

They are reminded that not all suffering comes from those outside the church since they must live together in harmony as brothers (3:8) which means not repaying evil and insult in kind.

They are called not only to suffer injustice if necessary (2:21) but also to give blessing while enduring it (3:9).

To give blessing is also to receive it in the form of a happy and peaceful life through God's attentiveness and favor (3:10-12).

They are encouraged that it is not likely they will suffer for doing good (3:13), but if that should be the case, they are blessed even then because they will have no reason to fear those who persecute them (3:14).

Their purpose is to promote Christ by word (3:15) and example (3:17), being above reproach (3:16).

The end result is to follow the example of Christ in being willing to die (suffer) for sin as one who is righteous (3:18).

Since he suffered vicariously for others (once for the possibility of all) to bring them to God, so must his people be willing to suffer in order to bring others to God (4:1).

But there is another benefit spoken of here, and that is not just that others will be brought to forgiveness of sin, but that the Christian himself might take further steps in being set apart from sin beyond forgiveness to an even greater obedience (behavior).

Suffering righteously has a way of setting kingdom priorities in the will of God (4:2).

It is taking another step forward in the life of the Spirit (4:18).

So the people of God are affirmed as those who are willing to be like Christ in suffering for others to bring them to salvation even as they are willing to suffer to make progress in their own by overcoming sin.

          B.      Implication

Suffering for others helps us to overcome sin.

          C.      Illustration

          D.      Application

IV.    Cycle Four


          A.      Narrative (1Pet. 4:12-19; 5:10)

Perhaps here at the end of this theology of suffering in Peter is the greatest test of all.

The people of God are sustained in their suffering, or possibility of suffering, by the mandate of a future perspective, present attitude and proper behavior in the purpose of God.

But further refinement is possible, and that is to have actual joy (4:13) in the suffering of their painful trials (4:12).

This is not just a passable attitude but a proactive attitude, because in suffering for Christ, the people of God are identifying with him.

And the more they identify with him, the more they will reveal him to the world.

In their sufferings (4:13) they identify with his glory (4:13-14), his Spirit (4:14), his name (4:16), his refinement as part of his family (4:17), his deliverance from the fate of those who are not part of his family (4:17-18), and his will (4:19).

In accordance with his will they are reminded that their sufferings are not something strange to his purpose (4:12) that should cause them shame (4:16).

Instead, God's purpose is to lead them into overabundant joy (4:13) that continues to drive their positive behavior (4:19) until Christ's glory is revealed to them – the ultimate identification.

They are comforted in knowing that whatever they endure will not be long in light of eternity, and will all be possible in light of his grace (5:10).

So in the end, the people of God are affirmed in their suffering by their joyful identification with Christ which reveals him to the world even as he reveals himself to them.

          B.      Implication

Suffering joyfully helps us to promote Christ.

          C.      Illustration

          D.      Application


Suffering works God's program to discover the serious from the frivolent, the commited from the curious, the enduring from the fleeting, the lasting from the limited.

I am reminded of Jesus' parable of the sower in Matt. 13.

To be sure, the sower is God and the seed that is sown is the faith that he plants in the soil of our hearts.

But the environment of this soil is the world we live in.

And we know that this world has birds of bondage that will scavenge this seed before it takes root.

It has the rocks of resentment that limit the opportunity for this seed to take sufficient root.

It has the thorns of our own wrong thinking that choke the seedlings even if they do take root.

And, of course, we have the godliness of good soil that produces a multiplied crop.

The seed is the same. The difference is the soil of suffering in which we all live. The difference is what we have learned about farming the soil of suffering in this world of sin.

Everyone in this world is allotted a parcel of ground, some better and some worse, to produce a crop.

Some will have to work that ground more diligently than others, but it will produce. It really does not matter how much it produces.

He promised that if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, it can move mountains.

All God asks is that you work the ground so faith can grow.

He will provide the sun and the rain.

Will you turn the soil of your suffering into a productive crop of righteousness?

Big Answer:

What does suffering accomplish for us as Christians?

Suffering trials helps us to refine faith.

Suffering injustice helps us to trust God.

Suffering for others helps us to overcome sin.

Suffering joyfully helps us to promote Christ.

Timeless Truth:

The semester of suffering is in the classroom of godliness.

The 'school of hard knocks'. (Prov. 20:30)

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