Lesson Ten – The Blessings in Suffering

Blessings in Suffering

Lesson Text:  I Pet. 4:12-19 

Introduction

Peter has brought us back to the beginning of this letter in this text.  After presenting a joyous scene for faithful Christians in I Pet. 1:3-5, he revealed the real life of fallen man “in Christ.”  Adam and Eve experienced the beginning of mankind’s fall after they got the capability for knowing good and evil (Gen. 3:16-19).   Because they did not keep God’s covenant, “the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the One who subjected it in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from the bondage of decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”  Rom. 8:20, 21.   Peter explained how God will bring this about in II Pet. 3:10-13.  The present children of God have had our “selves” liberated from sin and death but we have not been liberated from what it means to be “in Adam.” The scene: “Though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”  I Pet. 1:6.

Is suffering what a Christian’s life is all about?  No, what life is all about for God’s children is the joy that comes from legitimate suffering.  Even though Peter gave us the joyous picture of a Christian’s life first, in our daily lives we generally expect to experience suffering before joy.  Parents are quick to point this out to our children.  “You must study hard and for long hours in order to rejoice after the test.”  After their school days are finished, the same principle may be repeated; “You must go to work if you expect to have money.”

Suffering is painful.  Who likes pain?  We cause our children pain and tell them it is because we love them.  God is the Father of our spirits and He has told us the same thing over and over again in all the scriptures.  Please carefully read Heb. 12:1-14.  This is the spiritual context for this lesson.  Christians, who do not maintain a “proven faith” in this scripture, will surely have a difficult time maintaining faith in the blessings in suffering.  Peter wrote both letters to prepare the recipients for their encounter with false teachers and preachers.  False preachers and teachers loudly proclaim “accept Jesus” and your suffering will be over.  The message of some less vocal preachers is “just get baptized and attend my Sunday worship service.  “The devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  I Pet. 5:8.  The roaring lion may be the preacher behind the pulpit assuring his flock they are “saved by grace.”  Grace gives Christians peace so we can rejoice in the hope of sharing in God’s glory (Rom. 5:1, 2).  Faith in God’s glory motivates sons of God to “rejoice in our suffering,” because this is our training ground to attain satisfaction for our innate need for glory.  See Rom. 5:3-5.

Lesson

In the text for this lesson, Peter is preaching this same refrain that parents often repeat; however, he combines suffering with joy – “so that you may be overjoyed.”  After repeating what he had written in I Pet. 1:6 in the first verse of the text for this text, he wrote; “But rejoice that you participate in the suffering of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.”  NIV. I Pet. 4:13.  The KJV does a better job of following the Greek text.  “But rejoice (Gr. chaira, see Rom. 12:15 for the emotional factor) inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s suffering; that, when His glory shall be revealed (apokalupsis, an uncovering), ye may be glad (chaira) also with exceeding joy (Gr. agalliao – means ‘jump with joy’).”

Participate and partakers has been translated, respectively, from the same Greek word as “participation in the body of Christ,” which happens while breaking the bread in the Lord’s Supper (Gr. koinoneo, I Cor. 10:16).  Christians rejoice at the same time we suffer.  Is this not a paradox?  No, not really.  Some secular students suffer during their study periods so they can rejoice after the test.  However, some students enjoy studying.  They discipline themselves to engage in joyous suffering.  They are overjoyed when they master the subject.  Some people dislike going to work, but they go so they can get their reward on “pay day.”  Christians view our work as an opportunity to meet challenges and become equal to them – even when our superior is harsh.  “But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.”  I Pet. 2:20.  This is legitimate suffering.

Legitimate suffering inherits a blessing, presently and eternally.  Legitimate suffering is life in a world subjected to decay by the One who created it all.  He did this because mankind broke His covenant and attained the endowment of knowing good and evil.  We have the capacity to be aware of what is good and what is evil; however, we need to learn to distinguish between good and evil thinking and behavior.  Christians do this in order to practice God’s righteousness revealed by Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:16, 17; 6:19-23).   We have become like Deity in our capacity to know – to be aware (Gen. 3:22).  Our dilemma is we must learn to discern and apply what is good and not evil in our daily lives (Heb. 5:14; Rom. 16:19).  Note the words, “learn and apply.”  Our struggle is with doing what we have learned is the good thing to do (Rom. 12:21; Jas. 4:17).  When we fail to do what we believe we ought to do we have a guilty conscience (Rom. 2:15).  Christians have the grace of justification by faith so that we have peace with God while we learn to “Hate what is evil; (and) cling to what is good.” Rom. 5:1; 12:9.

Learning happens in three stages:  Cognitive (to know) affective (to feel) and behavioral (good or evil).  Christians learn in our minds what is God’s will.  We decide to believe in our minds and place our faith in His kingdom in our hearts (Matt. 6:10).  We trust God is able to do what He promises; consequently, we are “able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.”  Rom. 12:2.  We make righteousness our practice; therefore, we are counted righteous as Jesus is righteous (I John 1:7; 3:7-10).

All three learning stages require joyous suffering.  We enjoy suffering for what we believe will give some degree of satisfaction for our God-given needs.  We suffer in our physical work for food because it satisfies our bodies’ need for food.  We suffer in our spiritual work to conform our hearts and minds to think and feel like Jesus Christ (Col. 1:27).  Parents believe suffering precedes learning.  Deeper learning; life learning happens during joyous suffering.  No suffering, no learning and no thinking, no learning.

Thinking appears to be painful for some people.  This may be because they are trying to force learning.  We may force our children to suffer through forced learning to pass the test.  This is not the way real life learning happens.  Christian learning is life, as in eternal life learning.  This learning always requires some degree of disciplined suffering.  It will be joyous suffering if we believe it will give us hope of satisfaction for one or more of our higher needs.  Christians have been born again to a living hope for our inheritance through the resurrection of Jesus (I Pet. 1:3).  When Jesus is revealed at the end of time our hope will be satisfied.  If our faith is proved genuine it will “result in praise, glory and honor.”  I Pet. 1:7.

Why is Peter spending so much time on this topic if the recipients knew these things and were firmly established in them?  See II Pet. 1:12.  He was preparing them for the onslaught of the devil and his false teachers and preachers.  Please refer to the introduction of the previous lesson for the historical context for this lesson.  Peter introduced the title of this lesson immediately following his rhetorical question; “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good.”  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.”  I Pet. 3:13, 14.

Let us read the text I Pet. 4:12-19 in the context of Hebrew 12:1-14.  The Hebrew text followed the recognition of the great people of faith from Abel to Christ in the 11th chapter.  Christians identify with these people.  The Hebrew Christians had joyously suffered when they were first enlightened (Heb. 10:32-34).  However, at the time they received the Hebrew epistle they had lost, or were losing, confidence in the reward (Heb. 10:35-39).  This is the historical context for reading Heb. 12:1-14.  Read the following text for this lesson and consider the comments in the spiritual context of Heb. 12:1-14.

4:12.  Christians do not consider suffering to be “something strange.”  We understand we need to “grow up in our salvation.”  I Pet. 2:2.

4:13.  Please review the comments on this scripture in the first two paragraphs of this lesson.

4:14.  Christians learn and grow up into the character and personality of Jesus Christ.  We do this by participating in His suffering because we face the same tribulations He suffered while on earth (Heb. 5:7-10).  Jesus suffered insults from the Pharisees and others as He preached the kingdom of God.  Christians participate in the same suffering when we preach the same kingdom in our personal and public evangelism.

4:15.  Legitimate suffering has value.  It is valuable for our spiritual growth now and the reward of our inheritance on Judgment Day.  Much of the suffering of the people in the world is brought upon them because of their willful sin.  The suffering as a result of the sins a person commits is not legitimate suffering.  Of course, if they are a Christian who has repented of their sin and ask God for forgiveness, their suffering as a result of the sin may be legitimate suffering.

4:16.  Our worship to God in a climate controlled building on Sunday morning with the church assembled is a wonderful experience.  This worship is not a “living sacrifice” type of worship.  The joyous suffering is missing; therefore, the learning and development exercise is limited.  Christians in some nations do not enjoy this luxurious freedom.  The “church disassembled” continuously worship God by offering our bodies as living sacrifices.  This type of worship requires joyous suffering (Rom. 12:1, 2).  This is how faithful Christians grow up into our identity we received by grace (I Pet. 2:9, 10).  Please review Part II, Lesson six.

4:17.  Christians who will not join in Jesus’ evangelism of people who are lost, just as we were at one time, cannot have much appreciation for Jesus’ suffering on the cross for our sins.  Christians who are ashamed of being a Christian need to consider carefully Luke 9:23-26.  If we are so ashamed of Jesus now that we will not share our hope with our friends who are lost, we can expect Him to be ashamed of us on Judgment Day.  We must believe Jesus.

4:18.  This scripture contains a rhetorical question.  The recipients knew the answer.  The answer is found in all the scriptures about Judgment Day.  See my book entitled the Parables of Jesus, Part IV.  A sheep now will be a sheep on that Day.  A goat now will be a goat then (Matt. 25:31-46).  We are saved by grace from sin and death so we can grow up “to do good works.”  Eph. 1:10.  Our works will not save us from sin and death (Eph. 2:6-9).   Christians’ works are produced by our habits.  Our habits are the practices Jesus spoke of in Matt. 7:24.  Our practices flow from the teachings of the laws of life taught by Jesus Christ.

The laws of life describe the personality and character growth of children of God.  We learn in our minds who Jesus described as a happy son of God (Matt. 5:3-10).  However, to develop these emotional attitudes as our “selves,” that is, our identity, we must make them our practice.  This is the process of conforming to the image of Jesus.  It can only take place by joyous suffering.  We participate in the suffering program Jesus did while in Adam.  “Jesus suffered for you leaving you an example, that you should follow His steps.”  I Pet. 2:21.  Our rewards on Judgment Day will be given to us by grace (I Pet. 1:13).  The hope we have for all the innate needs of our “selves,” our inner man, our spirits that came from God, will be permanently and fully satisfied when we receive our inheritances.

The determination of who is a sheep or goat is being made by God right now (I Pet. 1:17).  Our deeds are the criteria for our Lord making this determination (John 5:28, 29; II Cor. 5:10).  However, the inheritance of God’s kingdom and the eternal life therein is the grace faithful Christians will be awarded.    This is the judgment of all born again members of the church.

 “About those who do not obey the gospel of God:”  “They will have to give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”  I Pet. 4:5.  “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”  Rev. 20:15.  “Where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’”  Mark 9:48.

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good works.  I Pet. 4:19

Therefore, since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.  I Pet. 4:1

Questions for Discussion

1.  Why does an explanation of the devastating and on-going heart rendering problems in the world demand an understanding of the first three chapters in the Bible?  Why does an explanation of why Christians need to suffer demand an understanding of the first three chapters in the Bible?

2.    Please explain how Christians can agree with Peter’s instruction about being joyous while suffering?  In what sense do school children often hear the same instructions?  What are the main things Christians are trying to learn in our suffering exercises because we are “in Adam, in Christ?”  Why is thinking a necessary part of learning for Christians?  What happens to Christians who want to let another person do their thinking about their spiritual lives?

3.  What is it that people dislike about suffering?  When will this thing we don’t like about suffering be acceptable – even for long periods of time?  How does the idea of participating in the suffering of Christ make suffering more acceptable?

4.    How is legitimate suffering different from another type of prominent suffering?

5.    Explain how the actual rewards faithful Christians will receive on Judgment Day are by grace; even though Christians’ personal judgment about whether we will be classified as goat or sheep will be based on our present behavior.

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