Suffering as a Christian and for Being One

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12–13 ESV)

Suffering as a Christian

Don’t be surprised

“Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you.” (1 Peter 4:12)

Peter hits on our first response to trials. Shock. What? This isn’t what I was expecting. This wasn’t part of my plan. The Greek word here for surprise is used for the unexpected guest who shows up on our doorstep. What do we say when an old out-of-town friend suddenly shows up at the house? What are you doing here? Isn’t that how we easily feel when we enter a trial? Trial, what are you doing here? Pain, what are you doing on my doorstep?

None of us plan for suffering. We make our plans for success, happiness, pleasure, etc. So when trials show up on our doorstep, we think they must have the wrong address. Pain, you probably meant to go to my neighbor’s house. We want to slam the door. Why are we surprised? We imagine we are still living in the Garden of Eden or we mistakenly think this is the new heaven and new earth.

Everything between the Garden of Eden and the new heaven and new earth, we should expect hardship. Why? Sin. Not all suffering is the result of our sin, but all suffering is the result of sin in the world. Live in the Midwest, it’s going to snow. Live in Chicago, it’s going to be windy. Live in a sinful world, it’s going to hurt. Peter says, “Don’t be surprised.”

Suffering, like a refiner’s fire, tests us

“Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you.” (1 Peter 4:12)

Fire is an often-used metaphor in Scripture to describe our trials. Not in the sense of destroying us, but refining and purifying us. The fiery trial. It’s the same word used in Luke 4 to describe Jesus’ three fiery trials/temptations in the wilderness. The temptation to not trust God to meet his needs (turn stone to bread), the temptation to dethrone God (bow to Satan), and the temptation to test God (throw himself from the temple wall). How were these fiery and testing? They revealed Jesus’ character and absolute commitment to the Father’s will. Our trials do the same for us; they reveal what’s in our hearts.

If you could have seen in my heart during my daughter Madeline’s recent emergency health situation, you would have seen faith alongside confusion, worry, and fear. I remember going out to get us some food and seeing people at the restaurant relaxed and laughing. So carefree. I thought, don’t they realize what’s going on with my daughter? Have you ever felt that way? I kind of resented their happiness.

Where did all that come from? Inside me. Did the trial produce it? No. The trial revealed it.

We are tested in our trials. The testing reveals the realities and the impurities. These are things we have to confess and repent. I remember one thing I said in particular last week out of angry frustration. I wish I hadn’t said that. Where did it come from? The trial? No. Me.

Rejoice…in how this trial will make future glory even more wonderful

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12-13)

Is there anything more counterintuitive in a trial than to rejoice? Most Christians scratch their heads at James 1 when it says, “Count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds.” (James 1:2) What? Joy? Here, rejoice? This is especially hard when we suffer because of evil or injustice. How can I be happy about that?

Peter points us to the sufferings of Jesus and makes the extraordinary statement that our sufferings are a way of sharing in the sufferings of Jesus. That doesn’t mean our sufferings contribute to redemption or that spiritually we are on the cross with Jesus. What it means is that any suffering endured by faith and for God’s glory is the same kind of suffering Jesus endured on the cross. We share in his suffering in that God’s will takes us down the Calvary road too. We carry our cross. We pray in our Gethsemanes, not my will, but yours be done. We share in the experience of suffering. His was far worse and his saved the world.

Yet, we can relate in a small way to him. Here is the greater truth—he can relate to us. I had an experience during Madeline’s hospitalization that surprised me. We were at St. Anthony’s here in Crown Point. It’s a Catholic hospital. I was cruising through the foyer there, and my heart was very heavy. There’s a big crucifix there. I’m not a fan of crosses showing Jesus on them (for reasons I’ll not get into here). However, that artistic expression of Jesus’ suffering reminded me of the truth that Jesus understands what I’m going through. He never had a biological daughter, and he never was in a hospital, but the experience of trusting God in the midst of a trial or hurting for someone you love, he knows that even better than me. My suffering in a small way helped me relate to him. His suffering in a big way helps him relate to me.

So what about this rejoicing? Here is Hebrews 12:2, “Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Peter says the same thing here. These hurts and trials cause us to long even more. For what? A glory yet to be revealed when Jesus returns. We are not in the Garden of Eden. We are not yet on the new earth. All these pains here make us long for there. They make the fullness of our salvation even sweeter when Jesus returns. Today’s pains remind us of tomorrow’s gain.

Since we know what is coming is so much better, we can rejoice in our trials knowing they whisper to us, it won’t always be like this. For that, I can rejoice.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2015 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

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