Suffering Graciously?!

1 Peter 2:19-25

April 12th & 13th


            Christ’s death and resurrection changes everything. Last week we heard how it changes our relationship not just with God, but also with each other. We are called to “Love one another deeply, and the strength for this comes from the one who loves us deeply.    Today, we see how it changes how we look at and deal with suffering.   In particular the suffering that happens, through no fault of your own.  “But if you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God’ (1 Peter 2:20).   In many ways   imploring the people of God to be “being gracious in suffering” is difficult, and one of those “easy for you to say” kind of statements.   In other words people and preachers can easily wax “poetic” about suffering especially if one isn’t experiencing a great deal of it at the time.   In this situation the topic of suffering can come across in a detached overly simplistic kind of way.  To listen to a person who themselves has gone through a particular trial, is a lot easier, then someone who merely has a thought on the subject.      Today’s insights on suffering, and how to live with it and respond to it,  do not do so in a detached sort of way.  Rather,  the topic is addressed by Peter in a personal, flesh and blood kind of  way.  Through the gift of the Spirit, we are confronted with the one is the ultimate good, and he suffered for it.  It is because of Jesus, we can repeat and encourage with all sincerity, that when you and I suffer and endure, it is a gracious thing before God.  God, through the gift of the Spirit, connects us to a flesh and blood human who was and is like us in every way, yet without sin.  Suffering is a gracious thing when seen in relationship to him.      Jesus and his death and resurrection, while not taking away suffering, certainly changes its hold upon us. 

The why of suffering can be a dicey one to discuss.  In many ways, while we know where it comes from, there are a lot more questions then answers.  .  In the adult information class study we spend some time talking about suffering and some of the reasons behind it.  Without oversimplifying it, I think the insights are helpful.   For example, some suffering comes form our own dumb choices.  Eating a half gallon of ice cream in one sitting, probably brings about momentary suffering within hours of your last spoonful.  Peter suffered, because he denied his Savior.  It says after hearing the rooster crow he wept bitterly.  Suffering can result from our own dumb choices.   Some suffering comes as a result of other peoples sinful choices.  How many citizens have been negatively affected by tyrannical dictatorships of Hitler, Stalin, Sadam, and the like.  Some suffering, well virtually all suffering, comes from a sin stained world.  When Adam and Eve fell into sin, the world fell into sin. Romans 8:22 “Says the whole world has been groaning in the pains of child birth up to the present time”.   Natural disasters occur and bring about suffering.  Suffering  can also come from the evil one, Satan himself.  . John 10:10 says “The Theif comes only to  steal, kill and  destroy.  Other scripture says he roams the earth seeking someone to devour.  You can see examples of this in the demon possessed, and in some of the horrid events of the world.  There are some crimes that are so heinous, you can’t help but think the devil and his minions are certainly behind it.  He is a liar, like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.  In John 6 Jesus says to his disciples.  In this world you will have trouble, you will suffer, but take heart I have overcome the world. 

            In today’s reading from Peter God was addressing slaves or household servants.  These slaves in some parts of the Roman world made up of 1/3rd of the population.   Many of them became Christian, and Peter is addressing their specific circumstance.  What is their calling when they suffer even after they have done good?  He says it is a good and gracious thing in the sight of God for you to endure it.  Now remember this is everyday life, this is living out the faith in their setting.  Settings, that probably were not going to change any time soon.   Note here he is not condoning this relationship between servant or slave, he is simply addressing a situation as is.  Being gracious in suffering and taking it to the world  is different and unusual.     For when we are attacked, we want to attack back.  When we are wronged, revenge seems to be the order of the day.  Who wouldn’t understand this?   Certainly unfair treatment should be addressed in the civil realm; one sees Apostle Paul appealing to Roman authorities when he is unfairly treated in the book of Acts.  We look at his text, and say one should merely take it.  In the sight of God, this “taking it or enduring it” is not worthless but rather a gracious thing. 

            Yet, Peter in this reading does not stop by saying it is a gracious thing.   He then gives us Jesus both as an example, and more importantly as a substitute.        To bear up, to do the gracious thing, does not happen on our own can but happens following in his steps.   To follow in Jesus steps is first of all to receive the gifts he offers, forgiveness, life and salvation.  For he committed no sin, he suffered; he was threatened and did not respond as he journeyed to Calvary.  It is there he bore our sins in his body.  He is the good shepherd, who laid himself by the gate of the sheep, who suffered so that the sheep would be protected.  Our Gospel reading says that this Good Shepherd   is the one who has called his suffering ones with his own voice.  He is the one who protects us from Satan himself how wants to come and rob us of our faith.  By his wounds you and I are healed.   Suffering while still suffering, is very different when seen in connection to Jesus. 

            Biblical history is sprinkled with those who suffered for good.  In the book of Daniel we see that Daniel himself regularly prayed three times a day, and though a document was sent you by King Nebechnezzer himself to stop him of this activity, he continued.  He was the right thing and where did it get him?  It got him into a lions den.  Yet, God saw him through, and caused him to be protected in some terrible circumstances.   In the book of Acts the first Martyr, Stephen was stoned for confessing the faith.  He did good, he told the world who Jesus was, and look where it got him. 

            On a less dramatic front, we’ve all heard the phrase “no good deed goes unpunished.”  And while it is not good to continually play the victim, there are times when no playing is involved.     How does one bear up when we rightly confront someone for their behavior and they are shot down?  How does one bear up when we take less pay or a position because it affects our family life or even our faith life?   Confirm ands how to you bear up, when because of your faith you sense that “you’re missing” out on what others are doing.  How does one bear up when one stands up for the truth that Jesus alone is the way to heaven, and ridicule and bewilderment still follows.  How do we bear up when we do all that we can for a relative or a good friend, but it is only received as “meddling”.  In James 1 it says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you now that the testing of your faith develops perseverance or this from 1 Peter 1 “In 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 your faith of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire, may prove genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”   The key to bearing up is not to look at ones inner strength, but to trust the one who serves not only as our example, but as our substitute.  He is the one who when suffering on Calvary, did not toss us  to the side.  For it is “By his wounds you have been healed”.  Our suffering cannot be disconnected from the Shepherd who loves us and gave himself for us. 

Suffering takes on a whole new look with the living Jesus on our side.  So go ahead and suffer, even if it means unjustly, for in Jesus it is a gracious thing.  Amen.