You can make the right choices and do the right things and still walk into a season of suffering. Why is that? Because suffering comes as surely as the high-tide of the ocean.
“Suffering is the common thread in all our garments,” Charles Swindoll says.
Every person faces it. So what do we do? We may not be able to completely resolve the hardship we face in this life. And maybe we are not supposed to! We may not have all the answers as to “why” we go through what we do, but we can find hope in what the disciples wrote in response to their suffering.
The first disciples of Jesus did not have it easy.
They faced opposition from religious and political institutions. Their suffering was not merited by immoral or wrong decisions. And yet, they chose to have a resilient attitude toward their suffering.
In Acts 5:41, Luke records something shocking. After being beaten and flogged for no other reason than preaching the gospel of Jesus and doing good toward others, Peter and John leave “rejoicing.”
“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” Acts 5:41
How can this be? What did Peter and the others see in suffering that we are missing? Peter’s first letter has some insights that help make sense of this seemingly unfathomable response.
Here are some truths about suffering Peter wants us to know:
1) Suffering is not arbitrary since it produces greater faith.
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:6-9
Let’s be honest. Peter is the kind of guy that we probably would have an issue with since he seems to make light of such heavy issues! He treats suffering as something so insurmountable in comparison to the glorious thing God is doing in us through it. But maybe this is what Paul saw, too, when he wrote about how our “present sufferings” are not comparable to the future glory that awaits us (Romans 8:18).
Peter is not denying reality. He is pointing us to the greater reality of what the crucible of trials does to refine our faith.
Diamonds, among the most precious things, are made through a process of intense exposure to heat and pressure. The beauty of the stone and its purity cannot exist without this. Perhaps Peter was getting us to see that we are diamonds in the making. Our faith, which is “of greater worth than gold” (1 Peter 1:7), can wield suffering as its tool for refinement.
2) Suffering is tough, but we are too.
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 1 Peter 4:12-16
Historically speaking, the “fiery ordeal” Peter is referring to is when Christians in the latter part of the first century would be tied to stakes and burned alive to serve as candles at Emperor Nero’s dinner parties. While that is disturbing to think about, we can turn our attention toward their courage. Their “faith” was not something that was fickle or contingent on favorable circumstances. They knew that their “living hope” would lead them into God’s kingdom even if that meant marching through death (1 Peter 1:3-5).
If the early Christians could have indestructible courage to face their hardships, so can we.
We are never left alone to walk through the fire. The Holy Spirit is our ever-present help and companion through all that we endure.
3) Suffering is temporary, and relief is coming.
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 1 Peter 5:10
But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. 2 Peter 3:13
God, not suffering, has the final word. And the final word has not been spoken yet.
Suffering has an expiration date. Relief comes in waves in this life, but relief will have a climactic day when there is a new world ruled by righteousness. God holds our hearts steadfast until that great day. Therefore, we hang on in hope. And our faith grows as resilient as a diamond along the way!