Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Suffering Because There Is Only One Way – 1 Peter 4:14-16

If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; 16 but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God. (NASB )

It’s hard to break these passages about suffering and persecution into small chunks because they all build on one another. Previously, Peter talked about fiery trials and now he is talking about being reviled or insulted. There seems to be a big difference between a fiery trial and someone insulting me. However, as any child knows, the constant verbal abuse hurts longer than a physical blow.

Why would someone insult me because of the name of Christ? What is there about Jesus that causes people to insult His followers?

The first thing is that Jesus made the very clear statement that He is the only way to God. John 14:6-7 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." (NIV) If a person belongs to a different faith, then my claim to follow Jesus is a statement that he will not go to heaven when he dies. The second thing is that Jesus’ statement declares that he doesn’t really know God. My faith is a statement that unless he renounces his faith and turns to Jesus, he will end up in hell. That is a very heavy thing to lay on a person who may have spent his whole life following a creed that either said his was the only way to God or that there were many ways. Even if his faith is to say there is no God, I have stated that he is wrong, dead wrong. His response will be essentially the same as child who has been insulted. He will respond with an insult or worse.

Understanding that the message of Jesus and the cross actually insults others helps me to accept the returned insults. How should I respond when others are offended by the Gospel? Look at Jesus’ response. Matt 15:12-14 Then the disciples came and said to him, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?" He answered, "Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit." (RSV) Jesus’ response is just as difficult to accept as the fact that only His followers will see God. He recognized that those who were offended by His message were not God’s children. He said to let them go. Ignore their insults. They are responding to the spirit that they follow (Satan.) I need to expect that they will insult me, not be surprised, and therefore not take it personal. In fact I should have a sense of sorrow for them. They are leading each other into a pit and that pit is an eternal one.

Did I get Jesus’ message wrong? Was He really as intolerant as it appears? Paul’s understanding expands on the message of the cross in 1 Cor 1:18-29. In this passage Paul affirms several things about Jesus’ message of salvation.

• To the blind, the ones who are perishing, the message is foolishness
• To the ones that are being saved, it is God’s power
• God will destroy and frustrate man’s wisdom that is contrary to the cross
• Man’s wisdom (that doesn’t agree with Jesus) is foolishness
• It was God’s wisdom to make sure that these can’t know Him by their own “wisdom”
   o Wise men
   o Scholars
   o Philosophers
• Those who believe Jesus will be saved even though it seems foolish
• Jesus is a stumbling block to Jews
• Jesus is foolishness to Gentiles
• Jesus is salvation for both Jews and Gentiles who accept that
   o God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom
   o God’s weakness is stronger than man’s strength
• God did this so that no one can boast before Him

That last point is important. Jesus takes away all the boasting about how good I am or that I have somehow earned the right to heaven, whether it is through endless reincarnations or living a good life. Only dependence upon Jesus’ gift of eternal life can get me into heaven. Only by knowing Jesus can I know God.

Back to suffering, it seems that Peter is addressing someone who may think that since they are suffering, they might as well have a good reason for it and therefore steal or make trouble for others. He clearly says that it is not a valid reason for suffering. Not being a troublemaker implies that when I’m insulted, I certainly should not retaliate. I need to learn how to let it go and not get into fruitless arguments with those who insult me.

On the other hand, I should not be ashamed to suffer as a Christian. Persecution and suffering generally causes poverty and oppression. It may mean that I am not able to care for my family as I should. To some, that would be a disgrace. If a person turns to Christ and his parents then ridicule or disown him; that would be a great embarrassment in some cultures. Parents accepting Christ may embarrass their children and the children may use that guilt to turn their parents from Jesus. Peter says that even in these circumstances, God’s Spirit and His glory rest on us. We need to remember that our comfort and our goal is to please our heavenly Father even when it may result in embarrassment on earth. This will bring praise to God.

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