Well, this is it. This is the last sermon on 1 Peter. Because it’s taken us so long to get through this relatively short letter, it seems like a good idea to wrap everything up with a simple, summary sermon. That’s what I mean to do this morning. In particular, I mean to answer the four main questions of 1 Peter: 1) Why were Peter’s readers suffering, 2) What were they to do about it, 3) How were they able to do what God required, and 4) What would happen to Peter’s readers if they do obey?
One remarkable part of this letter is that those same questions and the same answers apply to you and I (and all of God’s people) today. Let’s pray, therefore, that God would help us to see both these questions and answers plainly in the text and that they would provide comfort, direction, strength, and hope in our time of need.
WHY AM I SUFFERING LIKE THIS?
One burning question for Peter’s readers, once again, was why they were suffering as they were. God is Lord of all, his offer of salvation is an offer not just of forgiveness, but also of reconciliation and adoption into his family, and God has promised that everything he does for his people is for their good. Why, then, were they facing such persistent fiery trials? God’s promises seemed, on the surface at least, to contradict their present experience. In this letter Peter gives his readers several reasons why a loving, promise-fulfilling, sovereign God would allow such difficulties. I’ve divided his reasons into two categories: 1) direct causes, and 2) divine reasons.
Direct Causes of their Suffering
There is, of course, a difference between the thing that directly causes something and the reason behind it. For instance, while sitting at a traffic stop the car directly behind me might crash into my bumper. In this situation, the direct cause of my bumper’s dent is the car behind me. However, the reason the car hit me was because the driver of the car behind him was not paying attention and drove him into me.
In 1 Peter, there are four explicitly stated direct causes for Christian suffering. First we’ll look at them and then we’ll look at the reasons behind them.
God’s people were suffering because of the sins of others. There were some who rejected Jesus as the Christ (2:6-8) and so rejected those who accepted Jesus as the Christ. There were some within the government who used their power to oppress Christians (2:13-7). There were some who used their superior social standing to abuse their Christian servants (2:18-20). There were husbands who disobeyed God and made their Christian wives suffer (3:1-6). There were even some within the church who did evil and caused other Christians to suffer (3:8-9). And some people made Christians suffer simply because they could not stand being in the presence of righteousness (3:13-17).
God’s people were also made to suffer because of their own sins (2:20; 3:17; 4:3). Some of Peter’s readers, evidentially, were still giving themselves over to the lusts of their flesh and were suffering because of it. That’s what sin does; it promises blessing but always, eventually results in suffering.
They suffered because the devil is real and continually working to destroy God, his work, and his people (5:8-9). He has real power to make Christians suffer. Indeed, he is constantly prowling around like a roaring lion seeking to devour Christians.
They suffered at the hand of God. It is true that the sins of others, our own sins, and the devil are the direct causes of much Christian suffering. However, it is absolutely essential for us to recognize that ultimately all of our suffering is under the sovereign rule of God. There is no suffering in 1 Peter that is outside of God’s control.
In 1 Peter 3:17, for instance, Peter wrote, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” Likewise, in 4:19 we read, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” We find the same basic principal in 1:6-7 as well. Again, the simple fact is this: Peter wants his readers to clearly understand that Christians suffer according to the will of God.
The question is, then, why would God will the suffering of his children. Or, what are the divine reasons for allowing the sins of others, our own sins, and the work of the devil to cause us to suffer? As we will see in a minute, God is sovereign over all Christian suffering. That is, whatever the direct cause of our suffering, God is using it to accomplish his good purposes
Divine Reasons for their Suffering
Many people hate the idea that God would allow the kinds of suffering that Christians face. Entire systems of theology have been devised in order to remove any connection between God and suffering. I admit it is, at times, a hard doctrine to swallow. And yet, the bible is so clear on this point that I don’t know how we take Scripture seriously and miss the fact that suffering is a tool of God’s to accomplish his purposes. Indeed, as Peter states in clearest and most emphatic terms, God used suffering to accomplish the greatest act of love and mercy in the history of the universe-the crucifixion of his Son for the sins of the world. Given how clear the bible is on that point, it should not surprise us to find that God uses suffering for all kinds of other good purposes as well. Indeed, in 1 Peter we see many such reasons.
- According to 1:3-5, Peter’s readers were suffering as a reminder that ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises is only experienced in the new heavens and new earth.
- In 1:6-9 we see that God allows his people to endure various trials “so that the tested genuineness of [their] faith…may be found to result in praise and glory and honor.”.
- Similarly, in 2:1-12 we see that God’s people suffered in order to demonstrate, by their faithfulness in their suffering, that they were the chosen people of God. They suffered to give them assurance of their salvation (4:12-15).
- They were suffering for doing good in order to “put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (2:13-17).
- They were suffering to show the grace of God to the unjust (2:18-20).
- Their suffering was to be a living example of Jesus’ faithfulness in suffering and a witness to the redeeming power of his death and resurrection (2:21-24).
- God used their suffering to save the disobedient (3:1-2).
- They suffered, according to 3:13-14, in order to receive certain blessings from God.
- They were made to suffer in in order to gain the opportunity to give the reason for their hope to the surprised, watching, unbelieving world (3:15-17).
- God allowed them to suffer, Peter wrote (in 4:1-11), in order to show that sin was already being killed in them, to kill the sin that remained in them, and to fill them with righteousness. They suffered because it is a tool of God’s for the sanctification of his people.
- They suffered as an expression of God’s favorable judgment on them (4:17-19). As counterintuitive as it may sound, God, at times, allows his people to suffer as a means of demonstrating his saving and sustaining power.
- And, ultimately, they suffered in order to have a unique opportunity to glorify God (4:16).
The direct causes of Christian suffering mentioned by Peter are the sins of others, our own sins, and the devil, all under the control and for the countless and exclusively good purposes of God. Knowing these things doesn’t make our suffering go away, but it does encourage us to know that none of it is in vain.
WHAT AM I TO DO ABOUT IT?
Given the fact that suffering will be a part of the Christian’s life until we are in heaven, what are we to do about it? For Peter there is a highest answer, a next highest answer, and then a bunch of subservient answers.
The highest answer for Peter is that God’s people ought to respond to our suffering-all of it-by trusting in God. Specifically, we are to trust in the good purposes of God that we just heard. As I mentioned last week, this entire letter is based on Peter’s belief in the unimpeachable trustworthiness of God. Every command, principle, praise, and reason that Peter offers is entirely contingent upon God’s unique ability to bare the hope of his people in any and every situation.
What do we do when we are in a season of suffering? We place all our hope in God because “he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). What does Peter tell you to do when life is hard? “Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Peter 1:13). What are God’s people to do when we are persecuted for our faith in Jesus? We must make sure our faith and hope (1:21) are entirely in God to deliver us. How should Christians respond when tragedy strikes? We ought to “entrust [our] souls to a faithful Creator…” (4:19). When we suffer, we must hope in God.
The next highest answer is that God’s people ought to respond by looking to suffer in such a way that points to the saving power of Jesus’ suffering. When our hope is entirely in God we are freed from fear and the need for earthly justice and therefore freed to endure mistreatment like Jesus did as a means of glorifying God and displaying the gospel’s power. All of that is the main point of my favorite passage in 1 Peter.
1 Peter 2:21-24 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. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 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. 24 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.
When you suffer, hope in God and do whatever is most consistent with the nature and effect of Jesus’ suffering.
With those two things in mind, and always first, Peter calls his readers to respond to their suffering in a number of other ways as well.
- Remember the gospel and rejoice in your salvation. “Rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9; 18-20; 2:21-25; 3:18). Peter wanted his readers to remember the gospel and therein understand that their suffering didn’t change their salvation one bit.
- Be sober-minded and self-controlled (1:13; 4:7; 5:8). We ought not be surprised when trials come (4:12). We ought not panic or despair. We ought to remember God’s promises and think clearly about his commands.
- Be holy, pure, and good (1:14-16; 2:1, 11-12; 2:20; 3:3-6, 13-14; 4:1-3, 15). Suffering tends to rattle loose sins of selfishness and pride. Suffering faithfully, however, means running to holiness, not sin.
- Fear God (1:17; 2:17), but no one and nothing else (3:14; 5:7). Suffering also tends to reveal things (other than God) that we’ve placed our hope in. What’s more, it also tends to reveal the inadequacy of those things to bare our hope…and that causes fear. Christians, however, must fight against those things.
- Pursue greater love and unity within the church (1:22; 3:8; 4:8-10; 5:9). One of the reasons Satan loves to cause suffering is because it’s often so divisive. To honor God in our suffering, however, we need to respond in love and unity.
- Pursue spiritual growth (2:2-3). Again, there’s a pattern here. Suffering tends to make people close up and shut down. The thought of growing in Christ when life is hard is largely a foreign concept. We fight just to hold fast to what we believe, not excel. Again though, Peter calls his readers to something different.
- Remember your identity in Jesus (2:9-10). Who you are in Christ does not change regardless of the circumstances around you (good or bad). And knowing who you are in Christ is the most significant ballast you have when suffering comes your way.
- Submit to, honor, respect, and bless the authorities (even the bad ones causing your suffering) that God has placed over you (2:13-20; 3:1-2, 9-12; 5:5).
- Imitate Jesus (2:21-24; 4:1). Jesus provided us with the perfect picture of suffering faithfully.
- Be humble (3:8; 5:5, 6).
- Eagerly explain your hope in God to all who wonder (3:15-17).
- Pray (4:7).
- Rejoice that you are counted worthy of sharing in the sufferings and glory of Christ (4:13-14). Has this ever entered your mind? In your hardest suffering have you ever, like the disciples in Acts 5, rejoiced that God counted you worthy to suffer for the Name?
- Leaders must lead even more purposefully and sacrificially (5:1-4).
- Resist the devil as he seeks to cause your suffering (5:9)
- Glorify God in everything (4:11, 16). Above all, Peter’s charge to his suffering readers is not to protect and defend their honor or rights or even their lives. His ultimate charge is to suffer in such a way that points to the fact that you’ve tasted and seen that God is glorious above all things.
HOW AM I ABLE TO OBEY?
That’s quite a list. All of that is a tall order. It can seem absolutely overwhelming to consider hoping in God in an unwavering way, pointing people perfectly to Christ, and all of the rest when we suffer. How, then did Peter expect his readers to obey all of this? In short, he offers two answers: 1) Choose, and 2) Grace.
We miss an important part of Peter’s letter if we don’t understand and accept the simple fact that he means his readers to hear his words and choose to obey them. I think we often mistakenly act as if the sovereign grace of God on our lives cancels out the plain expectation of Scripture that all mankind is charged to hear God’s words and choose to obey them. You and I, having just clearly heard God’s expectations for us in our suffering must choose to ignore or obey. It really is that simple.
And yet, as we all know, we would never do so without God’s help. And yet again as we all know, God’s people are never without God’s help. We are always under grace. Peter expects his readers to obey by choosing to do so, and that we are able to do so only by the great grace of God.
This is such a significant and recurring theme in 1 Peter that we cannot miss it. When life is hard, Grace Church, choose to hope in God, point to the gospel, and obey all of God’s commands, but know that your desire and strength to do so are gifts from God.
1 Peter 1:13 …set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 2:10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
1 Peter 5:10 …after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
1 Peter 5:12 I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God.
God’s grace doesn’t cancel out your ability to obey, it enables it. To be a Christian is to be obedient. And to be obedient is to be under grace. That leads to the final, and most amazing question and answer in 1 Peter.
WHAT IS THE OUTCOME OF MY OBEDIENCE?
Anyone who has tried to follow Jesus, even under the grace of God and in the power of the Spirit, knows that it is not always easy. God never promised it would be. In fact, Jesus was clear that following him would be very hard. But God did promise that it would be worth it and Jesus was also clear that following him would lead to unimaginable blessings.
When you grow weary of doing good, then, remember what awaits all who persevere in hope and grace. That is, remember these promises of God for all who are in Jesus.
1 Peter 1:3-4 According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,
1 Peter 1:7 [Our perseverance will] result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 1:8-9 Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
1 Peter 5:1 [Through faithfulness in suffering you will be a] partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed…
1 Peter 5:4 [Especially for elders/leaders] And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
1 Peter 5:6 [We remain faithful so that] at the proper time [God] may exalt you…
1 Peter 5:10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
Every year thousands and thousands of Americans willingly and even eagerly chose to subject themselves to hours of harsh physical pain for a t-shirt, a medal, and 5 minutes of bragging rights. While at the same time countless professors of Christ jump ship at the first sign of discomfort (not even suffering) in spite of the fact that rewards beyond measure are offered to those who don’t.
1 Peter invites you to consider your life. Consider what motivates you. Consider what you’re giving yourself to. And then consider all of that in light of these promises of God for those who hope wholly in him in good times and bad. There is no comparison.
There you have it…1 Peter in 40 minutes. Why do you suffer? You suffer because of sin, Satan, and the sovereign grace of God, all for the perfect purposes of God. What should you do when suffering comes your way? Hope in God, point to the gospel, and obey God’s commands. How are we able to do what God requires? We do so by choosing to do so according to the grace of God. And finally, what will happen to those of us who do obey in grace-given faith? We will receive a reward that is entirely and eternally satisfying.
I trust that God has and will continue to use his word in your life to glorify him and strengthen you to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord and consistent with the salvation you’ve been given. In Jesus’ name, amen.