In the men's last study of 1 Peter, we looked at 2:11 through 3:12. 1 Peter 2:19-25 summarize Peter's teaching on one of our fundamental Christian rights - suffering:
For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Lest we think that Peter is being unfair or exaggerating to make a point, consider the words of Christ: "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you " (Mt 5:11,12). Peter, as an Apostle of Christ, Christ and one who suffered much, understood that it is both our right and privilege to share in the sufferings of Christ. He was persecuted for righteousness' sake. He was beaten for proclaiming the truth about who He was and what He came to do. He had false charges brought against Him by worthless men (Mark 14:56). Christ suffered greatly, and He told us that we must expect to suffer likewise.
Why should we rejoice in suffering?
Before throwing our hands up in the air and thinking, "Well, if God ordained it, then I'll endure it," let us consider what God accomplishes through suffering. If we understand the concept of suffering properly (that is, as Scripture presents it), then we will be able to truly glorify God and rejoice in our suffering. While Paul was imprisoned in Rome (about 60 AD), he wrote the letter to the Philippian Christians. Right after explaining the trial he was enduring because of his imprisonment, he has this to say to the Philippians: "It has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake" (Phil 1:29). One nuance of this verse that many English translations do not capture is the meaning of the word "granted." In the Greek, this word is derived from the word charis - grace. Paul is in fact telling the Philippians that God has been gracious in granting them suffering as an undeserved favor to them.
Peter and Paul both describe suffering as a "gracious" thing, so we will look at just a few reasons why we can find blessing in suffering.
1. Through suffering, we imitate Christ
Returning to 1 Peter, we read, "For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps" (1 Peter 2:21).
2. Suffering proves our faith
Peter explains that trials serve to prove the genuineness of our faith: "In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet 1:6b,7). We do not need trials to prove our faith to God - He is the one who grants faith to all His elect, and He knows all things. However, trials can serve to prove our faith to ourselves - trials remind us that we can only live in absolute reliance on Christ.
James also describes trials as "testing" us: "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (Jas 1:2-4). A test yields a result, and the testing of our faith proves it by revealing it to be genuine. If we come through a trial with steadfastness and trust, we prove the genuineness of our faith.
3. Suffering sanctifies us
Returning 1 James 1:2-4, we find that suffering results in steadfastness, and steadfastness, because it knits our hearts to Christ, leads to our sanctification. In his letter to the Romans, Paul says this about suffering: "More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Romans 5:3-5). Suffering is the instrument through which God works to sanctify us and ultimately strengthen our faith.
Encouragement in the midst of suffering
"No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." (1 Cor 10:13). In the Greek, the word for temptation can also be translated as trial. So we have a promise from God that He will never give us a trial that is too great for us to bear. He will never let one of His children suffocate under the oppressive weight of despair without providing some way of escape. This is an encouraging word! If you think that God has given you more than you can bear, then you do not know just how much, by God's grace, you can handle. He will graciously give you trials, but He will also graciously give you everything you need to endure; and when He sees fit, He will bring the trial to an end.