Sermons

Joyfully Entrusting Ourselves to a Faithful Creator

February 9, 2014 Speaker: Jeff Breeding Series: 1 Peter: Sojourners and Strangers

Passage: 1 Peter 4:12–4:19

Joyfully Entrusting Ourselves to a Faithful Creator

We’ve now entered the final section of 1 Peter. We’ve moved from the opening of the letter, where Peter reminded his readers of their identity as elect exiles, chosen by God for a salvation ready to be revealed on the last day. We’ve worked our way through the body of the letter, where Peter instructed his readers what it would look like for them to live as God’s elect exiles in the world – honorable conduct, suffering as Christ suffered, pursuing holiness in all things. And now, we’ve come to the closing of the letter, where Peter will give his final instructions concerning the Christian life. You can see the transition to the final section in v12, where Peter uses the word Beloved. That’s the same word he used in 2.11 when he began the body of the letter. Now, Peter uses the term once more, this time to signal that the letter has entered its closing section.

And with this final section, Peter returns to the pressing issue of the letter – how can these beleaguered, afflicted Christians endure suffering for the name of Christ? That’s the question that I think prompted Peter to write this letter in the first place. How can believers endure suffering for Christ? Remember, Peter writes as an apostle with authority, but he also writes as a pastor, full of concern for these people. He loves them, and he wants to prepare them for what will certainly come as they continue to follow Christ. Peter is no fool; he knows full well what following Christ brings – hardship and trials, at least in this life. He’s experienced those things himself. And now as a pastor, he writes to prepare these people to endure the same sort of hardship.

Now, over last several weeks, we’ve heard a number of sermons on suffering for Christ. It has been Peter’s consistent theme since the middle of chapter 3. There were other truths interspersed, but over and over again, Peter has brought this issue of suffering for Christ to our attention. Why is that? Why has Peter been so dogged in this focus? From our perspective, it might seem overdone or even unnecessary. If we’re honest, we don’t normally think about our own Christian lives in the context of suffering for Jesus. So to read such continued emphasis strikes us as strange. Aren’t there other things Peter could talk about, we might be asking ourselves at this point? 

But maybe it’s not 1 Peter that’s strange. Maybe it’s our experience that is actually abnormal. I mean, if you look through the NT, the normal Christian experience is suffering for Christ. Christ himself suffered. The apostles suffered. The church at Jerusalem suffered. The history of the church down through the ages continues the trend. From the early church to the Reformers to the early Baptists in England, the narrative of church history is that believers suffer for the name of Christ. All of that leads me to conclude that it’s not 1 Peter that is strange; it’s my experience that is strange.

Here’s why I bring this up. I know that many of us desire to live more for the glory of God, more for the name of Christ, more for the good of the lost. I know that is the desire of many, many people in this room. I know that because you’ve expressed it to me on numerous different occasions. I love sitting down for coffee with someone and hearing them passionately say, “I want to live for Christ and his glory, not for myself.” Those moments make this pastor exceedingly happy!

But what we need to see from 1 Peter is that if we want to live for Christ, then we must be prepared to suffer for Christ. There is no other way around it. If we want God to be more glorified in our lives and in our church, then we must be ready and equipped to suffer hardship for that glory. And this is true not just of 1 Peter, but the entire NT. Philippians 3.10 – do you want to know the power of Christ’s resurrection? Then be ready to share in his sufferings. 2 Timothy 1.8 – do you want to be prepared for faithful ministry? Then share in suffering for the gospel. 2 Corinthians 1.5 – do you want to abundantly experience comfort through Christ? Then share abundantly in his sufferings. Do you see what I mean? It’s all over the NT. If we want to live for Christ, and I mean really live for him, then we must be prepared to suffer for his name. So, I know that we have heard many sermons on this issue over the last several weeks, but I think it is because God, in his grace, is trying to get our attention. He’s at least trying to get my attention. He longs for us to see that lives that impact the world for Christ are lives ready to suffer for Christ.

Now, armed with that realization, let’s go back to 1 Peter 4. Peter’s primary aim is to help these believers endure suffering for Christ. And here’s how he accomplishes that aim. In vv12-19, Peter unravels our normal way of thinking about suffering so that we see it not as a negative thing, but an indication that God is actually at work in our lives. Let me put it this way. Far from questioning God’s purposes, suffering for Christ reveals that God is preparing his people for the last day by producing genuine faith in their lives now. In light of this, believers can joyfully entrust themselves to God while continuing to live for his will. That’s what Peter is doing in this text. 

 

Rejoice Because God Is at Work in Your Life

There are three points in this text that prepare believers to endure suffering for Christ.  First point – rejoice because God is at work in your life. We see this in vv12-14. The passage begins with Peter telling his readers, “Don’t be surprised when trials come upon you.” Often whenever believers face trials for the faith, the temptation is to think there is something wrong, or something strange as Peter says in v12. But Peter reminds us that trials are no cause for surprise. There is nothing strange about believers suffering for Christ. The reason it’s not surprising is because this is how God works in his people. Notice v12, Peter says that trials come upon you to test you. In other words, the trials are not pointless; they have a purpose. And the purpose comes from God, who ordains the trials for the good of his people.

Remember back in chapter 1, Peter made a similar point. He said that believers are grieved by trials now, but the outcome of those trials is genuine, tested faith that brings glory to God on the last day. Remember that? He’s making the same point here, but with a different perspective. Don’t be surprised at trials, but remember that God uses them to produce genuine faith in his people.

Then, in v13, Peter tells his readers how they should respond to suffering for Christ. Instead of being surprised, they should rejoice! Now rejoice in trials may sound strange, but it is quite common in the NT. Think of that well known passage in James, where he says count it all joy when you encounter various trials. Think of Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians, where he says that our afflictions now are preparing us for eternal glory. So, it may seem strange to us to rejoice in trials, but it’s not strange to the NT!

Now, before we go on, let me offer a word of caution here. When the Bible says rejoice in suffering for Christ, that doesn’t mean the trial is easy. It is still difficult, and it is ok for believers to express how difficult the trial might be. And it also shouldn’t keep us from asking God for the trial to end. Remember Jesus in the Garden? He prayed for the suffering to pass, even while entrusting himself to the Father’s will. Remember Paul and his thorn in the flesh? Three times he asked God to take it away, even though God intended it for his good. So, rejoicing in trials does not mean pretending like things are easy, and it shouldn’t keep us from asking God for relief, even while submitting ourselves to his will.

But we’re still faced with the key question of this text. Why can believers rejoice in suffering for Christ? If trials are hard, then why can we rejoice? Because suffering for Christ reveals that God is at work in us, and in that, we rejoice. Peter points out two ways in which suffering for Christ reveals how God is at work. Let’s look more closely at each one, so that we might learn to rejoice in suffering.

First way God is at work – suffering for Christ reveals our connection with Christ. Look at v13. Peter writes, “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings.” When believers suffer for Christ, it reveals their union with Jesus. Christ suffered for his people, and he calls those who follow him to walk that same road. If anyone would come after me, let him take up his cross and follow me. To follow Christ is to suffer with him. So, when we share in his sufferings, it reveals that we are united to him, that we are his followers. And in that union with Christ, we rejoice. It’s the union or connection with Christ that produces the joy. And if we rejoice now, when life is full of hardship and suffering, then we will rejoice even more on the last day, when Christ is revealed as the Lord of all the earth. That’s Peter’s point at the end of v13, where he says, “that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” We rejoice in suffering for Christ now, and that is a sign that we will rejoice even more when he returns.

Let’s say that you claim to be a follower of Christ, but a situation arises where you might have to face suffering for his name. You have two choices. You can rejoice that you have the opportunity to show the world your connection with Jesus. Or, you can shrink back from identifying with Christ because you don’t want to suffer for his name. If you take the second option – if you shrink back – that reveals the true state of your heart. It reveals that the Suffering Christ is not your Lord.

But let’s say you take the first option. You identify with Christ, you embrace the hardship that comes with being his follower. At that moment, you can rejoice! Why? Because you’re strong enough to endure suffering? No. Because you’re smart enough to follow Jesus? No. So, why rejoice? Because suffering for Christ reveals your connection with him. And if you are united with him now, then you will rejoice even more when he returns on the last day. So, that’s the first way that God is at work in our suffering – it reveals our connection with the suffering Christ.

Second way God is at work – suffering for Christ reveals the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Look at v14 – “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” This is a further reason to rejoice – when you are insulted for Christ, you are actually blessed! Why should we consider an insult a blessing? Because it reveals the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. That’s what that phrase means at the end of the verse. It is only by the power of the Spirit that a person is able to endure being insulted for Christ. That is not something we can endure on our own. So, when we endure insults for Christ, it reveals the presence of the Spirit, working in our lives, enabling us to endure. And if the Spirit is working presently in us, then we have great hope that he will continue working until the last day.

So, far from being surprised as trials, believers should rejoice because it reveals that God is actually at work in their lives. Trials reveal that God is shaping his people now for what will be revealed on the last day. The key to applying this point, I think, is learning to see suffering from God’s perspective. From our perspective, suffering is to be avoided at all costs and gives us no reason to rejoice. Why would we rejoice when things are hard? But if we can learn to see suffering from God’s point of view, then we will rejoice. We will begin to recognize that trials reveal God’s active, ongoing presence in our lives. They reveal how God is preparing for the last day. So, this passage encourages all of us to train ourselves to see suffering for Christ from God’s perspective – as evidence of God’s ongoing work in our lives, and thus a reason to rejoice.

 

Don’t Be Ashamed of Christ, but Recognize the Opportunity to Glorify God

That brings us to our second point in Peter’s preparation – don’t be ashamed of Christ, but recognize the opportunity to glorify God. We see this in vv15-16. In v15, Peter gives his readers a warning, one that he has issued before back in chapter 2. He warns them that they must be sure to suffer as Christians. If you suffer because you murder or steal or meddle or generally stir up evil, then you shouldn’t rejoice. You should repent! I think that is the point of v15.

Then, in v16, Peter tells his readers to not be ashamed of suffering as Christians. This is one of the few instances in the NT where the term Christian is used. It signifies that these people were publicly identified as followers of Christ. Peter says that if you suffer for that name, you shouldn’t be ashamed. This is the great temptation, I think, for us, as we seek to follow Christ. It’s the temptation to be ashamed of being identified with Jesus and his gospel. Sure, we like to be identified with Jesus when people are talking about his teaching on loving your neighbor and turning the other cheek. In those moments, many people are willing to embrace the name Christian. But what about those moments when identifying yourself as a Christian means ridicule? Remember Jesus is the one who said broad is the way that leads to destruction, but narrow and hard is the way that leads to life. Jesus is the one who said if your eye causes you to sin tear it out. Jesus is the one who said I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father expect through me, regardless of how faithfully they follow their own religion. Identifying with that Jesus, the biblical Jesus, will often bring ridicule. And the temptation in those moments is to be ashamed of the name Christian.

But what Peter wants us to see is that suffering as a follower of Christ actually provides you with a unique opportunity to glorify God. It might work like this. Let’s say someone finds out that you are a Christian. At first, they thinks that fine and great, to each his own and everything. But then they find out that you believe only those who repent of their sins and trust in Christ alone will enter into heaven. Now, you’ve become one of “those” Christians, the crazy ones. And so, they insult you and mock you. They might even say you’re not really living according to Jesus’ teachings, that you’re distorting Jesus’ words. Now you’re suffering because of that name Christian.

You’re faced with two choices at that moment. You can either be ashamed, and by that, I mean make apology for what Jesus said or decide that you won’t let people know any more that you’re a Christian. Or, you can seize the opportunity to glorify God by not returning evil for evil. Let me give you an example of what I mean. One summer in seminary, a non-Christian group showed up on campus to protest our seminary’s views regarding gender and sexuality. They brought TV stations with them, and it seemed part of their goal was to really make Christians look bad. They came to insult us, in other words. Well, two of my classmates went to the store and bought a bunch of cold water bottles. It was a hot summer day. And then they came back to campus and handed out the water to the protesters. Now, did any protesters become believers? No, though we prayed for that. But did my classmates bring glory to God? Yes, and in a unique way. When reviled for Christ, they were not ashamed, but glorified God by continuing to do good. That’s something of what Peter has in mind at this point. When we suffer for Christ, we shouldn’t be ashamed. We should think, “This is a great opportunity to glorify God and testify to the power of the gospel.” So, part of the way we endure suffering for Christ is to recognize the unique opportunity it provides to glorify God.

 

Understand God’s Purpose in His People’s Suffering

That brings us to the third point in Peter’s preparation – understand God’s purpose in his people’s suffering. We see this in vv17-18. In these two verses, Peter explains why God’s people suffer in the first place. Why does God work through trials and suffering? Why doesn’t he do it some other, less difficult, way? These verses answer that question. And here’s Peter’s point. Christians suffer in this life because God’s judgment begins with his people, and his purpose is to purify them. Look at v17. Household of God refers to the church, God’s people. And judgment is not God’s wrath or destruction, but his purifying fire that produces genuine faith in his people.

Now in v17, Peter is most likely alluding to a passage from Malachi 3. In that text, the Lord comes to his temple – his household – as a purifying fire. His purpose is to refine his people like gold so that their offerings to him will be acceptable. You can see how that passage has influenced Peter’s thinking about suffering. Just as God promised in Malachi to purify his people, so also God works now to purify his church. And he does it through suffering.

Now, if this is how God saves his own people, then what will become of those who do not obey the gospel? They will face God’s wrath and judgment, where the purpose will not be purification but punishment for sin. That’s the point of the question in v17 and the proverb in v18. If God’s own people are saved through hardship and difficulty, then what will become of the wicked? They will face God’s justice.

Now, if you are not a Christian this morning, I want to plead with you to not let this moment pass without answering this question – what is your hope to endure that day of judgment? As we see in these verses, there is a final day coming. What is your hope to make it through that last day? If you’re hope is anything other than Christ, then it is a fool’s hope. Won’t you come to Christ this morning in repentance and faith? Yes, there is a day of judgment coming, but the Bible doesn’t preach only judgment. The Bible ultimately proclaims the unthinkable good news that if you will turn from your sin and trust in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, then you will be saved. God showed his love by sending his Son to die for sinners, sinners like all of us here in this room. So, won’t you come to Christ in faith this morning? Repent and believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. If you will, then you will have no reason to fear the last day, because you will be covered by the saving blood of Christ.

Now, as we consider v17, you might be thinking, “How is this encouraging to suffering Christians?” Peter is basically telling these people that part of their salvation is purification through trials. That’s not exactly what suffering Christians would want to hear. But again, think from God’s perspective. What is God’s purpose in allowing these trials? Not to harm us, but to purify us, to produce in us genuine faith. He’s working now to remove the impurities and forge a strong, tested faith. And what will be the end result of that tested faith? Final salvation when Christ returns. 

We can say, then, that suffering for Christ is God’s work of beginning the new creation in his people. Remember, the culmination of God’s plan of redemption is a new heaven and new earth, where Christ reigns over a redeemed people. In that new creation, there will be nothing impure or unclean or defiled. What is God doing in our lives now? Purifying us so that we might be ready for his glorious new creation. He’s preparing us now for his kingdom that will be fully established in the future.

In that sense, suffering for Christ shouldn’t lead us to question whether or not the Father loves us. It’s just the opposite. Suffering for Christ reveals that right now, God is in the process of saving us, producing in us genuine faith that will result in honor and glory on the last day. Through trials, God is refining you like gold. So, be encouraged and learn to see even your trials as evidence of God’s gracious salvation being worked out in your life now.

So, Peter has prepared his readers to persevere in the face of suffering. He’s told them to rejoice because God is at work in their lives. He’s told them to not be ashamed, but recognize the unique opportunity to glorify God through suffering. And he’s helped them understand God’s purpose in his people’s suffering. Now, in v19, Peter gives his closing exhortation. This verse wraps up the paragraph, but it also encapsulates essentially everything Peter has said throughout the letter concerning how we should respond to suffering. Look at v19: “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a Faithful Creator while doing good.” So, how should Christians live in light of the fiery trials that come upon them? They should entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

Note Peter’s description of God in v19. God is the Faithful Creator. This is why his people can entrust themselves to him. That word entrust means to commit something of value to another person for safekeeping. What gives believers confidence that God will keep safe their souls to the last day? For one thing, we have confidence because God is the Creator. Since he is the Creator, he is sovereign and powerful. If he made all things out of nothing, then he can certainly keep his people safe until the end. We don’t trust in ourselves to the make it to the end. We trust in the One who made all things and is thus able to keep us secure until the end.

And this Creator is Faithful. He keeps his promises. He accomplishes his purposes. He never fails in what he sets out to do. And what has he purposed to do for his people? Save them to the uttermost. That means nothing, not even the worst suffering now can stop his purposes. In fact, God’s faithfulness means that he is actually using the suffering to further his purposes! Don’t miss this. God doesn’t come in after the fact and bring good out of the trial. From the beginning, God purposes and plans the trial so that it brings about good for his people. His faithfulness is seen in his providential care for his people that ordains even suffering for our good and his glory.

So, since he is the Faithful Creator, we can entrust our souls to him. And that trust is evidenced in our continuing to do good. How can we testify to the fact that we trust the Creator with our lives? By continuing to live for him, by continuing to not return evil for evil, by continuing to bear the name of Christ, by continuing to pursue holiness. In all of those ways and many more, we show the world that our souls are entrusted to God, regardless of what we might endure in the here and now.

And as the last day approaches, we are confident that God will in fact keep us safe until the end. Suffering for Christ now shouldn’t lead us to question God’s care for his people. Rather, if we see things from God’s perspective, suffering for Christ actually reveals God’s goodness at work in our lives, even when things are difficult. The end of all things is at hand, and God’s work of making all things new has begun in us, his people. May we continue to entrust our lives to him by doing good, until the day when Christ returns.

More in 1 Peter: Sojourners and Strangers

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Stand Firm in God's Grace

February 23, 2014

Humble and Vigilant

February 16, 2014

Shepherding the Flock of God
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