You're rejoicing in that you are sharing in the sufferings of Christ.
That is, you're being drawn into a deeper fellowship with the Savior as God the Father turns up the heat and you begin to reflect the image of Christ and take a look at his life. Suffering, ridicule, hunger, temptation, misunderstanding, accusation, grief, weeping, betrayal, rejection, crucifixion. The Christian life is not a life that seeks safety at all costs. As Christians, we don't go out looking for trouble.
We're not intentionally seeking conflict or danger. But, the Christian life can be marked by suffering. That's because following Christ might lead you to experience the same things Jesus experienced. Jesus suffered and friend, you might suffer with him. You need to be prepared for that and God's Word seeks to help you. Welcome to Wisdom for the Heart.
Today, Stephen has an important lesson for you entitled, The Fire Storms Are Coming. Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to his friend and in it, he said, the art of life is the avoiding of pain. The art of life is the avoiding of pain.
It might sound intelligent, but biblically speaking, nothing could be further from the truth. The art of life is not avoiding pain. The art of life is learning how to respond to pain. Just think about your first experience with suffering.
It happened so long ago, you don't remember it. Listen to the way one of my favorite authors, Philip Yancey, described it. Your world is dark, safe, secure. You're bathed in a warm liquid, cushioned. You do nothing for yourself. You're fed automatically. And a murmuring heartbeat nearby assures you that something larger than you fills all your needs.
What a fine life it is. Then one day you feel a tug, then another, stronger, harder. The walls seem to be falling in on you. Those soft cushions are now pulsating and beating against you, crushing you, pushing you. Your body's bent in half, your limbs twisted, wrenched. You're falling upside down. And for the first time in your life, you feel pain, even more pressure, almost too intense to bear. Your head is being squeezed, and you're pushed harder and harder, and the pain and the noise and the pressure you hurt all over. You begin to hear the faint sounds of crying and groaning and screaming, louder and louder, and an awful fear rushes in on you. Your world is collapsing. You're sure it's the end of whatever there is. But then you see a piercing, blinding light, rough hands pull at you, everything suddenly grows bright and cold, and then you feel a painful slap. And you respond with a cry of anguish while everyone around you begins to laugh and cheer.
Congratulations, he writes, you've just been born. Your life after birth began with suffering and pain. And it's not over, is it?
That's not all there is. In fact, while every human being on the planet experiences similar avenues of suffering, disease, financial hard times, disappointment, abuse, loss, the believer is to expect a unique and additional layer of suffering, even more intense. I found it interesting last week to read a news release that Americans traveling to North Korea were encouraged to first draft their will and prepare funeral arrangements. Imagine living with that kind of expectation that the world you're entering has such an undercurrent of hostility and hatred for you as a citizen of this country.
You'd better have your affairs in order because you just might not come back. Have you ever thought about the fact that the New Testament actually encourages that kind of perspective? You are entering a hostile world because you are a citizen of heaven, get ready to suffer, make sure your affairs are in order. The issue for the Christian is never how to protect yourself from persecution. To insulate yourself from suffering, the issue for the Christian is not developing the art of avoiding, but responding. As the world as we have been studying is hurtling toward the end of human history as we know it, as the church awaits the coming of Jesus, the hatred of the world and every generation may intensify. For Peter and the first century church, widespread official state-sponsored suffering was yet to occur.
It's about a decade away when Nero burns Rome and blames the Christian and it erupts. But Peter senses it's coming and wants to prepare them and us. So take your copy of the New Testament, go back to the first letter of Peter. We're in chapter 4 and we've arrived at verse 12 where Peter gives the believer three ways to respond to suffering. First, he commands the Christian to stop being surprised.
Notice verse 12, Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you when it comes upon you for testing. Don't be surprised, really. It's kind of interesting, the word he uses is the idea of being astonished. In fact, not just astonished, but to be in this constant bewildered state of surprise with the attitude of I can't believe that's happening. Where did that come from?
This can't be happening to me. Peter is essentially saying, look, don't get knocked off your feet, not so much by the fiery ordeal. He starts out by talking about the fact that it comes without warning. That's how it usually arrives, suddenly, unexpectedly. In fact, Peter counters the normal reaction that we all have as Christians whenever we unexpectedly suffer.
Follow me for a moment. We say things, we don't say them in church or in your ABF or Bible study group, but we think them, you know, I wonder if God's aware that this is happening. And so we talk to him as if he isn't, as if we're informing him of something that came so unexpectedly to us, it must have surprised him. We wonder, maybe we've made God mad and he's kicked us out of the flock and these are the first signs. We wonder if we haven't been good enough or disciplined enough or sinless enough. We don't deserve anything.
From now on, expect hard times and the devil and the kingdom of darkness loves those unexpected moments and will send those flaming arrows that can reach our hearts and our minds that essentially say, you are getting what you deserve. Who do you think you are anyway? You're not worthy of God's love and grace.
Let me encourage you to respond by saying you're right. I'm not worthy of his love. In fact, I've never been worthy of his love. When did we become worthy? So admit it, but I belong to the worthy one and because of him I am now one of his, you notice how Peter writes it? Beloved.
In fact, you ought to go and circle that first word in the text for encouragement. Peter isn't telling people who don't belong to God that they should, you know, expect a truckload of trouble. This is to the beloved. Okay, then these must be Christians whom God doesn't like as much as other Christians.
No, they are his beloved. Maybe these are Christians who have lost their privilege to special treatment from God because they don't have as much faith as others. They didn't get up in the morning and say the ten things in the mirror they were supposed to say that sent positive messages to the universe and they get it back and this is their fault and they really ought to work on their positive spirit. Or maybe they missed their devotions three mornings in a row or maybe missed a church service or two in a row.
And because of that, no. We are equally securely at conversion in Christ and it never changes. We are his beloved. You're well loved by the Father. In fact, there wasn't anyone more clearly loved by God the Father than God the Son. In fact, when he became invested fully in ministry and he was baptized by John the Baptizer, the Spirit of God descended in the form of a dove as the clouds parted and this booming voice was heard from heaven that God the Father is saying, announcing, this is my beloved Son. Same word.
He thinks about you like he thinks about his own son. Beloved. Which is why the disciples' minds were completely blown away when Jesus announces about ten chapters later in Matthew's Gospel. At chapter 13, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things.
Who's leading you there? The will of God. And you're going to suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes. And I love the reaction.
This is how we would have reacted. Peter took him aside, began to rebuke him saying, God forbid it, Lord. This shall never happen to you. I mean, what do you mean you're going to suffer?
You're the beloved. God isn't going to treat the beloved that way. God's beloved don't suffer, they prosper. Peter never got over that shock to his practical theology.
In fact, it helps set him up. This unprepared, unexpected news of suffering and leading to his denial. Suffering is not an accident.
It is an appointment. It is not something independent of God's design. It is intertwined with God's design. And Peter's writing to us to register this kind of perspective. Okay, you're thinking, well, I'm with you so far. You know, we're 15 minutes or so in. Okay, I'm not going to be surprised. Unprepared, you know, it's not an accident, but certainly it's something that if we do anticipate it, and it is from God, then it isn't going to hurt that much. And it isn't going to last that long.
Notice Peter's vocabulary. Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal. That sounds painful.
That sounds difficult, and it is. See, nowhere in this letter, and this is the third time Peter's referred to suffering, does Peter downplay or diminish the impact of any kind of suffering on the heart and the mind and the life of the believer. I mean, right here, look at how he calls it. He calls it a fiery ordeal. You could translate it, a painful trial. It has to do with the purification by process of fire.
We use the same vocabulary, by the way, today. Maybe Peter was the one that started it. We talk about so many suffering, and we say, man, they're really going through the fire. Wow, the heat's been turned up in their lives.
They've walked right into a firestorm. That's the language of the apostle Peter. In fact, the word he uses actually refers to the refiner's crucible.
Notice the text, this has come upon you for testing. That's the idea behind his use of this image of being tested, that is, not being tested and if you get an F, you get kicked out of the class, but tested in the sense of purified. You see, in Peter's day, a first century goldsmith would work at refining the gold ore in his crucible. The only way to separate the gold from unwanted impurities would be to turn up the heat and then turn it up even more with just the right heat, the impurities would rise to the surface and he would skim them away. I have read that a skilled goldsmith back in Peter's generation would continue to add more and more and more heat until he could see his reflection on the surface of that liquid gold.
And when he could see his reflection, he knew it was pure. God doesn't waste the heat and the suffering, neither should we, like Jesus who learned obedience through the things he suffered. Don't be surprised when the world brings on suffering, but don't be surprised that God has a purpose for it. It's easy to forget that the world and the devil and the darkness and the enemy of the gospel, they seem to throw wood on the fire every time they get near us and they love to turn on the heat. Just remember, Peter is effectively informing us that God is the one controlling the thermostat.
He has his hand on the dial. The heat will never get any hotter than he desires. He's going to burn off impurities and allow the image of Christ to be reflected in your life and in mine. Now Peter gives us another response of the believer to suffering. First, don't be surprised by suffering.
Then secondly, don't think it's strange when you suffer. Notice again, Beloved, 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. The word translated strange thing is a close cousin to the word he used in the word surprise.
This one here, in fact, gives us our English word xenophobia. That is a phobia, a fear of strangers. Peter is saying suffering for the believer isn't an encounter with a stranger. So start recognizing it when it shows up. Learn to recognize trials, not as strangers to avoid, but as tutors from which we learn. The truth is God sends firestorms in our lives regularly, varying degree.
Let me give you two or three reasons why. First of all, to straighten us up. It gets us our attention back in the right order. It turns us around. It refocuses our perspective that becomes too earthbound.
C.S. Lewis wrote in his book entitled The Problem of Pain, this lengthy quote worth reading. He said, I am progressing along the path of life in my ordinary, contentedly fallen condition, absorbed in a merry meeting with my friends or a bit of work that tickles my vanity, a holiday or a new book, when suddenly a stab of pain threatens a serious disease or a headline in the newspaper threatens us all with destruction and sends the whole pack of cards tumbling down. At first I'm overwhelmed and all my little happinesses look like broken toys. And slowly, reluctantly, bit by bit, I remind myself that all these toys were never intended to possess my heart, that my true good is in another world and my only real treasure is Christ. Then, by God's grace, I succeed for a day or two and become a person consciously dependent on God and drawing my strength from the right source.
But the moment the threat is removed, my whole nature leaps back to the toys. Isn't that true? That's why trials are not strangers along that journey.
They are companions. Because we so easily forget the wisdom and vision we gleaned in the valley. Is it any wonder that suffering regularly knocks on our door? God uses, secondly, firestorms not only to straighten us up, but to stand us up. Trials don't simply correct you, they construct you. God doesn't intend to destroy your faith.
I'm going to turn up the heat until he gives up. Not to destroy, but to develop. This happens to be Paul's approach to pain and pressure. He writes in Romans 5-3, not only this, we also exult in our tribulations.
That language is going to appear, by the way, in 1 Peter. Knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance, proven character, and hope. So we're thanking God because instead of destroying us, it's obvious he is developing us.
He has intentionality to the heat and the pressure. He wants us to stand tall in perseverance and character and hope. And you say, yes Lord, give that to me. Teach me those things and God essentially says, I will, get ready. The trial is going to show up and it's going to show up when you least expect it. Don't treat it like a stranger and send it away.
Welcome it. It's a tutor sent directly from me to develop perseverance and proven character and deeper, richer, confident hope. Third, God uses firestorms to straighten us up and to stand us up.
He also uses firestorms to stir us up. That's the point Peter is taking us to here. The third point, don't be surprised by suffering. Don't think it's strange when you suffer. Thirdly, keep on rejoicing when you do suffer. Notice verse 13. But 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. There's that word again. Maybe you're thinking, okay look Stephen, it's one thing to try not to be surprised with unexpected suffering. It's one thing to welcome it and learn from it, but rejoice? Now you've gone too far. And frankly, it sounds like Peter has.
Are we supposed to paste on phony smiles? And when we come to the Bible study or the church service, we're going to say things like, well you know God's in control and this isn't that big of a deal. It doesn't really bother me. I know he's on the throne. There are nuances of truth in there, but you get my point. Now Peter's already referred to it as a fiery ordeal, a painful trial. If he can call it that, so can you.
So can you. But he wants to take us deeper than simply expecting it and even welcoming it. Now he's talking about rejoicing when you're in the crucible, and you can only do that when you keep in mind his counsel. Notice how the verse began. To the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ.
This is what Greek scholars call an adverb of degree translated well here. That is, insofar or to the degree that you share in the suffering of Christ, you rejoice. In other words, every believer is going to suffer in a different way and to a different degree. It's a good thing to keep in mind.
There is a degree to your suffering that God has designed for each Christian and he knows why. You have your race to run. It isn't the race of the guy next to you or the gal behind you.
Your race is as unique as your thumbprint, designed by God to work in your life to develop you. And by the way, that kind of perspective will help you stop looking at other believers and then turning around to the delight of the enemy and to your own discouragement that will only grow more deeper and thinking things like, why is that Christian a row over so healthy and I'm heading into my seventh surgery? Why is that believer over there financially blessed and we've just lost everything? Why is that believer's spouse faithful and mine unfaithfully deserting? Why is that couple in our class blessed with children?
They just keep having them and we cannot conceive. Why is that man or woman in our fellowship given a smooth, clear, level highway and mine is one pothole after another, one U-turn after another? He isn't telling you to rejoice because you're simply suffering.
Oh God, thank you for bringing miserable things into my life. Now I can look even more spiritual. You're rejoicing in that you are sharing in the sufferings of Christ. That is, you're being drawn into a deeper fellowship with the Savior as God the Father turns up the heat and you begin to reflect the image of Christ and take a look at his life. Suffering, ridicule, hunger, temptation, misunderstanding, accusation, grief, weeping, betrayal, rejection, crucifixion.
Lord, I really want to be like you. Oh? We rejoice, however, as the Father turns up the heat and we find ourselves sharing, fellowshipping.
The word is koinonia in the text. Fellowshipping with his suffering, with your Savior. Notice how Peter also points us forward in the text. When Christ is revealed in all of his glory, you shall rejoice. This tense here indicates you're going to have this great burst of joy. It's going to sweep over you. When you see Jesus, it could be that he parts the clouds this afternoon and takes the church home.
It could be at your last breath and you open your eyes in immortality to the glory of Christ and his throne. And Peter adds here, we are going to rejoice with exaltation. That means jubilation. We will be bubbling over, you could render the word, bubbling over with shouts of delight.
It's going to be a lot of shouting and a lot of laughing and a lot of joy at the sight of him. Not rejoicing that, oh, I'm suffering. It just points you forward to the day when it's all over. And your rejoicing has this implication of uniqueness as well, by the way. You see how it's tied together? To the degree you suffer and share with Christ, you're going to rejoice and it'll be nuanced because of what you suffered.
Let me illustrate it this way. If you're old enough in the faith, you've heard the testimony of Joni Eareckson Tada, paralyzed now for some 40 years. According to John's revelation, the Father's house has streets of gold. One day, we're going to be walking down those streets of gold and we're going to be rejoicing about a lot of things, but she's going to be rejoicing about a lot of things too, but uniquely in that she is walking down those streets. Our brothers and sisters here who are having this service signed to them who cannot hear, one day we'll join the host of the redeemed around the throne of God as we sing worthy is the Lamb that was slain and we're going to be rejoicing over that. They're going to have that added uniqueness to their joy in that they will hear it.
That's what Peter means. In the meantime, it's going to be your decision and mine. Are you going to treat it like an unwelcome stranger or welcome it in as a teacher, a refiner as it were in the hand of God who's turning up the heat so that you reflect the image of Christ? Are you going to rejoice that right now in a unique way you get to live like Jesus, longing for, looking for that coming day when you will live with Jesus? If you're suffering today, I hope this lesson encouraged you. If things are going well for you, I hope this lesson has equipped you to be ready for the time when that may change. Either way, we want to hear about it. Write to us at Wisdom International, P.O.
Box 37297, Raleigh, North Carolina, 27627. And please consider including a gift when you write. The Ministry of Wisdom International is empowered by your prayer and enabled by your support. Join us back here next time for more Wisdom for the Hearts. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-19 00:26:46 / 2023-01-19 00:36:27 / 10