God's Purpose in Suffering
I Peter 4:12-19
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.
God has a divine purpose for the family. God has a divine purpose for friendships. God has a purpose for us even in the workplace tomorrow morning. One of the hardest ways that we discover the purpose of God is through suffering and through trials. We quote Romans 8:28,
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
We know that God has something planned through the suffering, but we still might wonder why He allows the suffering. No matter how great the suffering, God is always at work. The Book of I Peter tells of some principles that we can apply in our lives when trials overwhelm us. Peter was a fiery apostle of Jesus Christ. He was given a second chance after denying Christ, and he was used mightily on the day of Pentecost to preach a message where over three thousand people were saved and baptized. After those first moments in church history, there were some tremendous times of trials and difficulties that came upon the Christians of the early church. The Roman Empire was very unfriendly to Christianity. As those early Christians began to fan out around the world, they found persecution in every city and in every situation. It is recorded in history that there were Christians burned at the stake every night in Rome. We, as Christians, go through little problems and call it suffering. In our eyes, sometimes inconveniences become our trials. Suffering as the early Christians suffered is a far cry from the inconveniences we face today. When those times of trial do come our way, how can we know that God is still doing something in our lives?
Our Expectation of Suffering
Every Christian should expect some suffering. We should realize that it is a part of life according to the Word of God. I Peter 4:12 says,
“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you.”
This passage is speaking specifically about suffering for the faith of Jesus Christ. Suffering was common for the early Christians. The early Christians certainly suffered for their faith, and the more America moves away from God, the more Christians will be persecuted for their convictions. At the beginning of recorded history, Job stated in the midst of his trials:
“But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10)
If you study the history of God’s people, there have been trials and persecutions. Suffering is common for all who live for Christ. Anyone who will truly stand up for Christ will suffer persecution.
“Yea and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”(II Timothy 3:12)
There are some churches that will make it sound like "getting” Jesus means no more problems. God’s true and holy Word says that you can expect some trials if you intend to live for Jesus Christ.
Our Example in Suffering
If we are going to find God’s purpose during suffering, we must keep our eyes on Jesus Christ.
” But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.” (I Peter 4:13-14)
Our natural response to a trial or persecution will not be to praise the Lord. Yet James said,
“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.” (James 1:2)
How can we keep a positive spirit during suffering? How can we truly rejoice? First of all, Christ suffered for us.
“But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings.” (I Peter 4:13a)
It is through suffering that we get a glimpse and understanding for what Jesus did when He died for us on the cross. We serve a Savior who knows what rejection felt like, who knows what pain felt like, who knows what it was like to be separated from His Father because His body bore the sins of the entire world. Jesus Christ was not a man who became God; Jesus Christ was the eternally preexistent Son of God. Jesus Christ is our example in suffering. Secondly, we can rejoice because we have victory because of His resurrection. The word "revealed” in verse 13 is in reference to that day when Jesus Christ shall be revealed to the world. It is then that we will be glad we were faithful to Him.
“Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations.” (I Peter 1:6)
Peter said that you could still rejoice when you go through seasons of suffering. Dr. Curtis Hutson was a dear friend and mentor in my life. I was able to go hear Dr. Hutson preach his final message in North Carolina. There were about two thousand pastors that gathered in the auditorium that evening. Dr. Hutson, who just a few years prior was such a picture of health and vitality, was helped from his chair and brought to the pulpit. He weighed less than 100 pounds, and had to hold on to the pulpit just to keep from falling. He preached a powerful message entitled, “Things That Are Different Are Not the Same.” The thing that I remember the most about that night was the fact that Dr. Hutson, with his body filled with cancer, sang the old-time chorus, “I ’m on the Winning Side.” It talks of wandering in sin, but then coming to trust in Christ as Savior. His testimony in song during his trial is something I will never forget. If you are in Christ today you are on the winning side. Helen Keller once said, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” No one can overcome suffering unless he has the hope of eternal life because he has realized what Christ has done for him. Our example when we are going through suffering is none other than the Savior, Jesus Christ.
Our Experience in Suffering
What is it that God wants us to experience during trials? What does He want to teach us? How does He want us to become a stronger, more mature people in our faith?
“If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.” (I Peter 4:14)
During trials we experience the presence of God. At these times we humble ourselves before God and admit that we need His presence. When adversity comes into our lives, we usually want God to do a removal job, but He desires to do an improving job. In Hebrews chapter 4, He says that He will give us grace to help in times of infirmity.
“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
God will not always change your circumstance, though He has the power to. He would rather change you.
The answer to our trials is not changing addresses, but changing our hearts. Remember that when you get to the end of your rope, Jesus will still be there. Some people try to climb up that rope by manipulating and trying to maintain their pride. It is not until suffering comes that we can really be humbled enough to learn what God wants to teach us in our lives. Through our trials, we are also able to express the praise of God.
“Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.” (I Peter 4:16)
God says that when you suffer as a Christian, He wants to receive the glory. One of the purposes of the trial that you are experiencing is that people can see that you are going forward for God in your life, and you are doing it through the strength of the Spirit of God. Anyone can be faithful during the good times, but it takes someone with a real walk with God to be faithful during the difficult times. Many of you will recall the tragedy at Columbine High School a few years ago. The tragedy at Columbine seemed to be the pinnacle point of all the shootings in public schools across the country. This seemed to help focus the attention of the nation on the problem. One student, Cassie Bernel, became the focal point of the news reports during the week of the shooting. While preaching in Denver, I met many of the teenagers that knew Cassie Bernel. They said that before Cassie became a Christian she was one of the roughest, wildest teenagers in the entire school. Her parents, as a last resort, sent her to a Christian camp. By the fourth night of that camp she accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior. The students said that when she came back she was a different girl. She carried her Bible to school and began to witness. The tragic day of the shootings, one of the young gunmen came to Cassie Bernel and pointed his gun at her head. He said, “Are you a Christian?” She replied, “Yes, I am a Christian.” She proceeded to try to tell him about Jesus Christ. The gunman took her life, but God had a purpose even in that tragedy. Unsaved teenagers around Denver and the country began to hear Cassie's story and get saved. Christians have become more burdened about our public schools. In the darkness of the night God had a light ready to flicker. God is not playing a game with you when suffering happens; God has a purpose and a plan. God wants to draw you closer to Himself so that through your faithfulness in the trial He can receive honor and glory. Maybe you have had some trials in your life. Maybe some unexpected problems came along. You are realizing that you cannot handle things alone –you need God’s help. Turn to Him. Expect these trials to come as you are serving the Lord. Learn from His example. His goodness and love are waiting to be experienced through the trying of your faith.