“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…So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (1 Peter 4:12-19 NIV)
Perhaps we feel that 2020 has been a year in which we have suffered. The world has had to deal with a global pandemic. It has affected all of us in some way. But this really isn’t what Peter was writing about. We haven’t suffered because we are Christians, although some have tried to characterise some of what we have had to go through in this way. The restrictions we have had to live with have not been because we follow Jesus but simply because we are people.
Most believe Peter was writing around AD 65. Nero was the Roman emperor and his ‘madness’ was beginning to be seen in many ways. Rome had burned and Christians were his scapegoat. Intense persecution of Christians began under Nero which we believe resulted in the deaths of Peter as well as Paul. How does a Christian live through such a fiery trial?
The first thing Peter wrote, after telling the Christians not to be surprised, is that they should rejoice. Rejoice when they are suffering? Yes, but not simply because they get to suffer but because they are participating in the sufferings that Jesus went through. This allows us to be overjoyed in the midst of trials.
Suffering for being a Christian is not something to be ashamed of. In fact, if we are going to suffer let it be because we follow Jesus and not because we are criminals or have done something wrong. If we are insulted because we wear the name of Christ we are blessed. Such shows who we are following – “for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” If we suffer for being a Christian praise God that we wear his name and are recognised for it.
The instructions we find written to Christians undergoing severe persecution is so different from advice we may be given today. We’ve seen some of this in our current pandemic. When faced with restrictions many who call themselves Christians rebel against the government, even though they are not being persecuted for following Jesus. If we do have to face suffering for being a Christian, Peter writes that rather than rebel Christians “should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”
No matter what might happen to us we continue to live as disciples of Jesus. Even though bad things may be done to us we continue to do good, even to those who are persecuting us. Remember what Jesus said as he was being nailed to the cross: “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they do” – and the indication is that he said this over and over again.
Always doing good, continuing to forgive, continuing to bless others, despite what they do to us. This is how Jesus has called us to live for him even when we are persecuted. People need to see that being a Christian is not something we just claim but it is indeed who we are. We live transformed lives because of Jesus.
Image by kalhh from Pixabay
Readings for next week: 1 Peter & 2 Peter