Blessed in Suffering
Do a quick search of #Blessed on any social media platform and you are bound to get blasted with pictures of beautiful places, attractive people, new cars, cute puppies, marriage proposals, sports victories, job promotions… personal triumphs and successes, wealth and abundance. Truly, James 1:17 reminds us that every good gift and every perfect gift is from above coming to us from God our Father. So, we are right to view all the good things in our life as gifts of blessing from him and give thanks to him as a result. Yet, a people that views blessing merely in terms of abundance, power, and popularity or even as a happy feeling coming from the result of circumstances may very well struggle with the promises of blessing given to us by God in the New Testament. They will also be ill-equipped to find peace and comfort in the midst of suffering. After all, if #Blessed means getting handed keys to a new spacious house, what do you say to the family struggling to pay rent on their crowded two-bedroom apartment? #NotBlessed? If #Blessed means personal triumphs and successes, what do you say to the Christian missionary or church planter who sees their life’s work come to nothing due to forces outside of their control? #Cursed? If #Blessed means proposing to the housewife equivalent of a super-model top chef, how do you comfort the husband holding his wife’s hand in the hospital as she clings to life through physically debilitating cancer treatments? #Unfavored?
Suffer for Righteousness’ Sake = Blessed?!?
Praise Jesus, the good news the New Testament offers is a much deeper understanding of what it means to be blessed than any Instagrammable moment ever offers. The good news is that we can be truly blessed in any and all circumstances, even in the worst imaginable, if we are in Christ, clinging to him and treasuring him above all earthly treasures.
In the letter of 1 Peter, the Apostle Peter is writing to a church that is experiencing persecution, and he is fortifying their faith to withstand intensifying persecution ahead. Peter doesn’t encourage these Christians to seek persecution or hardship as if to earn God’s favor through some form of religious self-flagellation. Quite the opposite. Peter spends considerable time at the beginning of his letter reminding Christians that they are already accepted by God through faith in what Christ has accomplished for their salvation (1 Peter 1:3-9).
Peter, then, calls upon Christians to do good and conduct themselves honorably among the Gentiles (1 Peter 1:12-17). In other words, as those saved by grace, Christians are called upon to be good citizens, good employees and employers, good husbands and wives. Facing hardship as a result of your own sinful behavior does not mean that you are suffering unjustly (1 Peter 1:20). You may simply be living with the consequences of your own decisions. However, in 1 Peter 3:13, Peter reminds us with a rhetorical question that if you are zealous for what is good the normative response of people is not to bring you harm.
While many people may leave Christians alone to do their good deeds the gospel is naturally offensive to all who do not put their faith in Jesus. The gospel forces us to acknowledge our own sinfulness and need for a Savior in order to be reconciled to a holy God. To many this is unwelcomed news. Therefore, the gospel itself will bring hostility against those who faithfully proclaim it. Peter is well aware of this because he himself had been imprisoned for his faith in Christ, and he is writing to a persecuted church. Therefore, he continues in 3:14, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.” To a #Blessed culture this statement is oxymoronic nonsense. But to those who suffer, especially to those who suffer unjustly for their faith, this promise gives beautiful hope. In fact, it is a reminder that our blessedness before God is not determined by fickle circumstances. Our blessedness in Christ is secure and is even to some degree increased through suffering. How can this be?!
How Suffering Increases Blessedness
Our Joy Increases in the Joy of Others
In 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 Paul told the Thessalonians, “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.” Paul’s joy increased in the joy of others treasuring Jesus. Simple enough, but what does this have to do with suffering? Peter raises the issue of evangelism right in the middle of the context of suffering for righteousness’ sake. In 3:15, he tells the persecuted church to always be prepared to make a defense for the hope that is in them. Certainly, many will reject the gospel and harden their hearts to its message. That is the very occasion for the church’s suffering in 1 Peter. However, it may also be that Jesus would use the suffering of Christians to bring people to a knowledge of the gospel and faith in Jesus Christ. Suffering is the very means by which evangelism occurs when the Christian who suffers continues to treasure Jesus despite their unjust circumstances. Jesus is not a genie that we worship only when he gives us what we want. He is worthy of our worship and praise in any and all circumstances. This treasuring of Jesus even in the midst of suffering magnifies the beauty of the gospel to a watching world and may bring many to know and treasure Jesus and so increase the joy and blessedness of those who suffer.
Suffering Provides an Opportunity for Deep Fellowship with Jesus
After calling Christians to willingly suffer for righteousness’ sake, Peter proclaims the reason we can do so, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18).” Jesus has gone before us in suffering. The only righteous human to ever live, the only one who never had to suffer, willingly entered into our broken world to suffer on our behalf in order to reconcile us to God! Now, as we follow our Lord, suffering is an opportunity to know him in his sufferings, to know him at the very heart of the gospel. Jesus has walked the path of suffering and promises to be with us as we too suffer for righteousness’ sake. Peter later proclaims, “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you (1 Peter 4:13–14).” Blessing comes to us in the midst of suffering because it comes in the form of God himself with his people!
In fact, when viewed in light of an eternity without suffering, we only have this one short life to “share Christ’s sufferings.” We have the opportunity to know Jesus in a special way in this life through suffering that we will not have the opportunity to in eternity. Yet, we will carry that intimacy with Jesus with us into eternity if we willingly, dependently, and faithfully endure suffering now for the sake of Christ. No wonder suffering will cause us to “rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed!” No #Blessed moment, however worthy of celebration, will ever be able to compete with the blessing of receiving Jesus Christ himself, the hope of glory. Therefore, we need not avoid suffering or fear it. Instead, we enter into suffering with Jesus who has gone before us, with the Holy Spirit who comforts us in the midst of it, and with our Father who cares for his children as they hurt. Suffering will never be easy to endure but that is exactly the point. We need God the most in the midst of suffering and it is there that he has freely given us himself so that we may be truly blessed.
“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” - 1 Peter 3:13–18
To dive deeper into 1 Peter 1:13-17 check out Pastor Tim Cain's sermon Suffering for Doing Good.
To dive deeper into the topic of blessed in suffering check out Pastor Tim Cain's sermon Rejoicing in Suffering?