Sunday, 20 March 2016

The Problem of Suffering: 1st Peter ~ Ganeida

One of the most vexed questions believers & non~believers alike have to wrestle with is: if God is good why does He allow….? We have all wrestled with why is this person healed but not that one?  Why does a cyclone devastate one house while the house next door is completely untouched? Why is this family, who desperately want children, unable to conceive while this one aborts their unwanted child?

There is a gross misunderstanding that being a Christian somehow exempts you from all pain & suffering in this world but Jesus is very clear:  I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” 

The word for trials in the Greek is thlipsis. It means pressure, affliction, distressing circumstances, distress of mind.

In the 2nd half of Peter’s  1st letter he addresses the problem of suffering. He uses a number of different Greek words.  There is peirasmos [4:12]: putting to the proof; paschō: to endure evil [V3:14/18 4:1/2] pathēma:[4:13] affliction; oneidizō [4:14]: reproach, revile. All of these will, & do, cause us trouble & distress.

In 3:7 Peter says it is better to suffer for doing good than for doing wrong.  Our minds argue that it is not right to suffer for doing good.  That is because we’ve forgotten the beginning.

 Genesis 1:31 Then God looked at all He had made & He saw that it was very good. The Hebrew word translated good is tov. Tov would be better rendered functional, operating perfectly in the manner in which it was intended. Men & women, plants & animals ~ everything was functioning exactly as it was intended to function.

We read how God set man in the garden & made him its custodian but man traded his glory for satan’s lies & was cast out of the garden. He traded what was functional & perfect for that which is broken & dysfunctional & so this world’s brokenness should not surprise us. The world is broken ~ & so are people.

Thus when Christ entered the world He entered a broken world & because the world is broken He too suffered [3:18]

Matthew 10:24 says "Students are not greater than their teacher, and slaves are not greater than their master” John 15:20 takes this to its logical conclusion in Jesus own words: Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you.” 

Paul calls this the *fellowship of His suffering* by which we are conformed to His death, dying to those things in this life that control us.

Paul is even blunter when he writes to his protégée, Timothy: Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 2Tim3:12

A Believer is meant to be a disciple of Christ’s.  A disciple in biblical times was tied to his Rabbi by a rope & followed so closely the Rabbi’s dust covered him. By the time His training was complete he was meant to be a perfect replica of his master. This is the picture Peter has in mind [4:1] when he says we are to have the same attitude to suffering that Christ had.  We are to have the mind of Christ in all things. 

We like it when we think of the blessings being in Christ brings us: His authority, His provision, His healing, yet we bulk at suffering with Him. However Peter points out there is a blessing in our suffering.

 Pauō 1 Peter 4:1 rendered finished means to desist or refrain. It is true.  When some great trouble assails us we are not tempted to engage in terrible sin unless we are desperately wicked.  Instead we are focused on the important things: the love of family & friends; our eternal destination; God’s faithfulness in our trouble. Other things, temporal things, fall away. It is a great reality check & causes us to be more anxious to do the will of God.

Now I want to be very clear about the will of God.  God is good.  He does not tempt & cannot Himself be tempted.  However it is the will of God that we should obey Him & inevitably in a broken & dysfunctional world this will create conflict.  We will be offered choices between taking the wide & easy path to destruction or following Christ through the narrow gate of obedience that leads to Life. God would rather we choose to suffer for righteousness’ sake than to follow satan, who is the god of this world, just to escape persecution.

Peter makes it very clear that we are not to be surprised if persecution happens.[4:12]  It is not something foreign or strange.  Our attitude makes a difference. Our sufferings, when they are not brought about by our own sin or foolishness, make us partners with Christ & proof of the Spirit of Christ being with us. We are to watch ourselves & take care that we don’t bring justified suffering upon ourselves by the way we live. Rather suffering for Christ is a privilege & eventually everyone will stand before God & give an account of themselves & their deeds. God will never fail His people!

Lastly, in chapter 5, Peter’s final words revert to proper authority so that there is order amongst God’s people. Leaders are to lead by example & servanthood.  Younger people are to respect the leaders. 

He points out that Asia Minor’s suffering is not unique; Christians all over the world are suffering the same things so they are not being especially persecuted. This is as true today as it was then. We are at war. Our adversary is raging like a lion.  This world is still controlled by satan until the moment Christ returns as Lord & King.

This is part of God’s grace for us, Peter says.  Do you find that strange?  Yet think.  We will be judged, not we ourselves for we are redeemed by the blood of Christ, but our works.  We will be rewarded.  There are crowns for those who overcome.  What sort of things do we overcome?  Sin.  Suffering.  Persecution. The ordinary & mundane ~ in other words we do our very best to excel in our Christian walk. We overcome the things that come against us whether they are of the flesh or of the soul or of the spirit.

 And for those that overcome: There is a crown of righteousness [2 Tim 4:8], a crown of boasting [1Thess 2:19], The crown of life [James 1:12] , one of Glory [1 Peter 5:4] & an incorruptible crown [1Cor 9:25].This is the challenge of every Christian in every age: to so abide in Christ that we willingly allow the Holy Spirit to change us into His likeness ~ whatever the cost!

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