The communion of suffering

“But resist him, (our adversary who inflicts suffering) in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world” [1 Peter 5:9]

The verse above in Peter has a message when read alone, though the fullness of it can be readily understood only in the passage from which it is taken. Just some of what can be gleaned from the previous eight verses of which 5:9 is a summation:

As to suffering:

  • One elder (Peter), a literal witness to Christ’s sufferings exhorting other elders who are among one another (their is a basis here of unity and equality despite him not literally being among them) It is this basis from which he exhorts those scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. [1 Peter 1:1, 5:1]
  • In these verses he talks specifically to the elders who are called to shepherd others in these areas as those who are among them and how to be examples for these saints. (This is so no undue suffering will occur outside of what God has decreed for each person) We all know how much suffering ensues when a shepherd or “leader” serves for sordid gain or because they want to lord it over other saints. [1 Peter 5:2, 3]
  • Peter then speaks of the need for the younger men to be subject to the local elders but quickly adds, ALL OF YOU clothe yourselves with humility. Young men can be self-confident in difficult situations and they must learn to follow the example of those more experienced in battle with the adversaries. Ever wonder why so many young people are busy starting their own self-made “ministries.” They mean well, but think they can do it better or more efficiently than those who have gone before them. [1 Peter 5:5]
  • Then Peter offers a warning: BE SOBER IN SPIRIT, BE ON THE ALERT! Why? Because their adversary, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Have you ever really taken the time to think deeply about these words? Satan is out to kill people, not just to tempt them to do evil. [1 Peter 5:8]
  • Then…..RESIST HIM, firm in your faith, knowing the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.

The picture in this chapter above is of a universal ekklesia, headed up by a Chief Shepherd who has flocks of younger and older members in various locales, the older being tasked with looking after the younger in these places. The picture is one of family, where despite all being equal in Christ, members have differing responsibilities (such as each casting their personal anxieties upon God, verse 7) and yet each is subject one to another. The picture is one of continual warfare in this life- warfare against their adversary the devil, not against one another regardless of where their brothers and sisters reside.

The picture in this chapter shows the working relationship and attitude of the saints one to another in the midst of God’s call for them to suffer in this book of 1 Peter. The word suffering is referred to often and speaks to among other things:

  • [1 Peter 1:6] Distressed by various trials…..as a means to test their faith
  • [1:14] Do not be conformed to the former lusts…..suffering in ignorance
  • [1:18] But with precious blood…..solemn reminder of the cost of suffering to redeem them
  • [2:4] And coming to Him…..sharing His suffering by being rejected of men
  • [2:18] Be submissive to masters…..even willing to suffer unjustly and unreasonably

= “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example to follow in his steps……” How? By taking matters into His own hands? No, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously…..[1 Peter 2:21-23] What will result from following His example in practice?…..so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. For by His stripes we were healed? Healed from what?

As God has promised, all Christians suffer, though few suffer as God intends them to. Their are a variety of reasons for this, some of which I will explain below.

1. Many people today equate the healing spoken of in the verse above to physical healing. Although their is nothing wrong with finding physical healing in the atonement, the time for this particular healing has not yet occurred. We may have immediately received spiritual healing and restoration upon immediately being born again, but we have yet to receive the new bodies that are promised us at the day of Christ’s return, the day of redemption. The very fact that we will still die physically is proof that physical healing is not guaranteed this side of heaven. The only way that could ring true was if we could avoid death itself, something we have not been promised in Christ. The good news is better yet, as we won’t be replacing these sin tainted shells with new ones but with entirely heavenly ones. Awesome.

Our suffering along these lines occurs when some other professing Christian promises us something God hasn’t promised and doesn’t seem to deliver. When we question others why this is, often we are blamed for not having enough faith or failing to prove our faith through some specific action. WE HAVE SUFFERED NEEDLESSLY BECAUSE WE HAVE BELIEVED A LIE.

2. Christians are supposed to suffer in the context of their family relationships- not merely marriage relationships but among their brothers and sisters in Christ. We are individually and corporately called to share one another’s joys and sufferings, not just the pain therein, but the remedy of those pains to the degree that we are able. Due to what can only be noted as neglect of daily fellowship among the saints we rarely know the specifics of a family members suffering and as a result we don’t aid others as we are commanded by God. WE SUFFER BECAUSE WE FAIL TO FELLOWSHIP FROM DAY TO DAY AS GOD COMMANDS WHEREIN WE ARE TRANSPARENT AND ACCOUNTABLE.

3. Furthermore, many of us are hesitant to open up and burden others with our sufferings or struggles with sin. WE SUFFER BECAUSE WE FAIL TO OPEN UP ABOUT OUR SUFFERINGS TO THOSE WHO ARE COMMANDED TO CARE AND HELP REMEDY OUR SUFFERINGS.

4. Many of the people that attempt to help us offer remedies outside of what God allows such as worldly solutions which complicate and even multiply the problems. WE SUFFER BECAUSE WE DON’T STAY WITHIN THE BOUNDS GOD HAS PROVIDED FOR US AND WHICH STEM FROM HIM.

5. First and foremost, we suffer from a failure to regularly seek God for revelation ourselves by abiding in and with Him, therefore having an undue reliance upon other men and even other Christians for what we are supposed to believe and live out. WE SUFFER DUE TO A FAILURE TO SEEK GOD FOR OURSELVES.

Remember where we started in this study? …..knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world….

The point Paul makes goes much deeper than just a recognition that others suffer too. If that’s all you have gleaned herein than you have missed the main point. Paul is saying that their are others who share the same faith that you do, who serve the same Lord the way you do and care about you the same way Jesus Himself does. These people are family and want you to know that they too understand your plight and they too are perservering through it as you are.

Have you ever noticed how many times Paul the apostle shares his longing to come fellowship with various saints, and how he’s constantly telling of his responsibilities, burdens and even those who he regularly associates with during his service to the body? Even the sickness of a saint is not overlooked as if the whole body needed to know. It’s like he’s a glue that’s constantly speaking of the needs of those he meets, the opportunities and responsibilities this presents to others as if they are one big family? That’s because they are!

Paul understood something very few of us ever grasp very deeply. It’s not the songs we sing, it’s not the meals we share or the excitement of meeting a new brother or sister for the first time that really molds the body of Christ. Rather, it is our identification through suffering, the very path Jesus traversed for us that we might reciprocate it that bonds and unites the body as one. That is what Jesus wants us to see and the reason Paul was willing to exemplify this by “dying daily.” When you recognize this, you will be able to see and understand why the apostle Peter was confident in saying:

…..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.

“Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” [1 Peter 4:1,19]

 

-the end

 

The communication of suffering

“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba Father!”

“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may be glorified with Him.” [Romans 8:14-17]

I divided the two sections of verses on purpose. For there is a key in the first that opens and makes possible the second.

The key of course that opens all possibilities as Christians is our intimacy with God through Jesus Christ. To a great extent,  the degree that we cultivate our relationship with other people is the degree that we are able and willing to trust them. It is the very same with Him whom we call Our Father. Therefore, the manner we perceive suffering in this life and our willingness to accept and embrace it lies primarily with the degree that “we know Him.”

WHY WE SUFFER

With little exception, most every human being alive has asked themselves this question. For to be human is to know pain and to be inflicted with the pangs of death itself. For the seeds of death are the pains we all share, the pains most attempt to escape in one manner or another.

The question above can have many obvious answers. We can suffer in a variety of ways: physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually- all for a variety of different reasons. Without delving into those answers here, I simply want to differentiate here between the sufferings we bring upon ourselves and those God allows in our lives.

THE BLAME GAME

It’s easy to blame God when we suffer, we’ve all done this, and must stop doing it. Many of the sufferings we share are our own doing, such as when we suffer consequences from things we choose to do in excess. At other times we might associate with people we know aren’t good for us or disobey God by spending time dating someone who doesn’t love God the way we do. In a hundred different ways and more do we bring pain and heartache into our own lives. This may be due to ignorance or simply being naïve or immature, though often our suffering is directly tied to disobedience- knowing the right thing to do and not doing it. (James 4:17)

This study is primarily directed toward suffering that seems “unexplainable” in human terms- suffering that is not purposefully caused by our own doing. I want to suggest that despite how tempting it is to ask the question above about why we suffer, wisdom suggests we replace it with another one.

WHAT CAN I LEARN FROM MY SUFFERING?

When our focus is upon why we suffer, we no doubt will look to blame God, others or some situation for why our circumstances are what they are. Sometimes we do this in anger, sometimes peacefully, though both are attempts to silence the pain, to find some reason for why we suffer. At heart, such a question is selfish in nature as if this shouldn’t be happening to us, isn’t fair or is out of order in God’s economy for a Christian. Are any of these even true?

OF FIRST IMPORTANCE

“For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me” [Philippians 1:29, 30]

Like it or not, God calls Christians to suffer, suffering is part of the Christian life, and an important one at that. Granted, the sufferings above primarily refer to the conflicts with having been associated with Christ in a society and world where He wasn’t welcome. Paul was persecuted specifically due to his stand for Christ and the gospel itself which contradicted the religions of that day. Despite this, God also allows other forms of suffering as well, such as physical suffering for reasons He knows are necessary and that cater to individual Christians specific needs or God’s purposes through them. Don’t be fooled or deceived by those that would teach you otherwise.

“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; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep of rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exaltation.”

 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” [1 Peter 4:12-14]

I divided the two sections of verses on purpose. For their is a key in the first that opens and makes possible the second. That key of course in acceptance, combined with a willingness to share in suffering with Christ.

A THREE FOLD DOOR OF OPPORTUNITY (What God desires to communicate to us through our suffering)

1. Identify with Christ

Most Christians claim they want to know God more, but rarely think about the primary means He uses in bringing this to fruition. We all want to identify and associate with a miracle working Jesus, that’s just plain exciting and at times we see His hand in such. For the most part though, we have little considered how we can identify with Jesus in His trials, in His sufferings, contempt and even death despite His command that we partake of these very things. For when we contemplate what the cross of Christ really entails in our personal lives we must admit we have things backwards. Our shiny gold and silver crosses only shroud reality. The cross is and has always been the place of shame, contempt and death. Knowing Him is found in traversing the very same road He did…to the degree that we share the sufferings of Christ, not hesitantly, but purposefully.

2. Identify with others who suffer

Part of the manner we embrace the sufferings of Christ is to identify with others who share in the very same cross carrying life we do. Sadly, despite many of the things we do one with another as Christians, we fail miserably along these lines. The only way we can truly share our hurts and pains is to walk in a deliberate intimacy from day to day with other believers. This is so rare we might as well think it unusual when we see such in action. There is a reason God commands us to be encouraging one another day by day- lest we be hardened by deceit. We can’t hide who we really are and what we’re going through if we’re sharing life on a daily basis. The question for us is this: Am I willing to count the cost of being obedient to such a command and the benefits therein?

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of all mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all of our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation……” [2 Corinthians 1:3-8]

3. Testify before others

As an individual, we have the responsibility to walk faithfully before God and to live righteously and holy before this world’s people. People are watching, and we cannot possibly impart to others what we ourselves do not possess. We have a testimony and if that has any lasting effect upon others will be decided by the manner in which we deal with the tough times we face in life. Any one can claim Christ and walk around with a smile on their face. People in churches do this every week. What we really need is authenticity, real people with real problems and the confidence and trust in God to set things aright. This will impact people and get them thinking along spiritual lines.

Maybe more than ever, the young in the faith need older brothers and sisters they can look up to in these times. More than this, they need these to be willing to walk hand in hand with them, to renounce their own selfish worldly aims and plans and live like Jesus who’s heart settled for nothing less than His Father’s heart. Have you ever considered your brother’s and sister’s needs even as much as your own? How about more than your own?

IN addition to our individual witness before this world is our corporate testimony before this world and other Christians. I want to divide this up and share some thought on each below.

Our witness before other Christians

Until we get this witness correct, our witness to this world really won’t matter much. That’s because every Christian has a place in God’s ekklesia and if we exclude these in an attempt to be our own witness than we will both be the cause of division among the saints and a hindrance to fulfilling God’s will through His Ekklesia.

For example, every time a believer restricts the truth of God or expands the truth of God they hinder God’s will in the earth. When a man or men attempt to start their “own named ministry” they restrict God’s work in several ways. Not only do they purposefully divide the body into a segment of believers, they attempt to name what even Jesus doesn’t name. That’s an expansion of truth of the highest order! Christians need to witness and experience the power and provision of what Jesus Himself builds in local communities. We can partake in this, provided we follow His lead and don’t detract or add to what He desires to build. The next time you meet a professing believer consider anything, in fact everything outside of the box mentality to share with them. Where you fellowship, with whom, and with what matters little. What matters is whether Jesus is center stage and remains Himself, preeminent.

Step out and be counted as an individual. Then seek out the body for His fullest expression in Christ.

Our witness before this world

Success in our witness to the unbelieving world depends upon an entire reliance upon God for everything. Someone recently said that God’s provision always follows God’s will and I believe this. When we beg for money (from God’s people and the unbelieving world) we prove how little we really trust God and assume when the money comes in it must be God’s blessing our plans. How easily and quickly we are deceived.

In order to have a proper witness to this world, we must have a very clear view of what Jesus is building and seek to have our own house in order before reaching out to others. This begins with seeking God for truth ourselves and then aiding others in seeing as well. As the one’s, two’s and three’s congregate in time, we learn to allow God to work through others and into our own lives. Ultimately we shall lead others to the very places we ourselves have gone. Is your aim to pass along your responsibilities to serve to the religious professional in church? I certainly hope not. God’s calling you to lay down your life, your plans, your independence if you really want to know the Jesus who changes the heart as well as the hurting.

GOD SPEAKS THROUGH SUFFERING

In every pain, trial or difficulty, Jesus has provided specifically for that need. The problem isn’t that we suffer, its that we often suffer needlessly because we have failed to act upon what God has commanded- and this results in a lack of His promises being fulfilled in our individual and corporate lives. The very things in which we suffer are meant to be a road map which leads us into brighter paths for His people and for His name’s sake.

We only need to look upon or visit the remote places in this world to witness how these suffering saints have a zeal for truth and a passion for the lost that is unparalleled. We say we want to be like them, but our daily actions betray these thoughts and aspirations. If we really did, we would either move to those locations or at least attempt to identify with them by sharing their sufferings right where we find ourselves.

It isn’t hard to suffer, it’s God intent that we do. What’s hard is learning the reasons why and taking advantage of the opportunities He presents us with. Is this your heart, or are you still avoiding those things that make you most like Him?

 

-the end