12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share in Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.1 Peter 4:12-13
8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 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. 11 To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.1 Peter 5:8-11
It has been so good these past few weeks to look at God’s faithfulness throughout the trials of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. This world can be a scary place sometimes, and we need to remember that God is in control – His sovereignty and power know no bounds! It is also important to remember that God’s faithfulness is not dependent upon our own faithfulness.
Through the examples of these young men, we have seen what one’s relationship with God should look like before, during, and following difficult times. Thankfully, most of us have not had to endure a fraction of the suffering that they did. We followed them from the beginning of their exile, their endurance of tyrannical leaders and near death experiences (through furnace and lions’ den). But where does that leave us?
I believe that the guidance we have in 1 Peter helps us to see how we are meant to live our lives in the face of the “various trials” (1 Peter 1:6) that will – or already have – come our way. Depending on what date you hold 1 Peter to, it was either written in the period right before or right after the Roman emperor Nero came into power. There is a saying that goes with Nero’s rule, particularly how he reacted during the Great Fire of Rome in 64ad: “Nero fiddled while Rome burned”. Whether or not he started that fire or played the fiddle, we will never know, but his persecution of the Church in Rome was wicked and terrible. King Nebuchadnezzar would have been proud.
Looking at Peter’s advice and encouragement to his original audience (and to us today through the Holy Spirit), we can pull out some principles that will help us to live out our faith in the midst of whatever trials may come our way.
1. Trials and Tribulations are Part of the Christian Life
Trials and tribulations are constants throughout Church history – from the time of Christ to the present. “…[A]ll who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…” (2 Timothy 3:12). Peter is trying to relay this in our first passage today. He is showing us that we can and should prepare so that we are not shocked when times of difficulty arise (4:12).
Many believers in the world at the time of Peter’s writing faced trials (5:9), and many around the world today face them as well. Are you? I think it is important to examine our lives to see: 1) whether or not we are suffering because of our faith, and 2) if we are suffering, is it for our faith and not situations of our own making. I do not think that suffering is something that we necessarily need to covet or invite, but we do not need to walk with Christ in such a way as to prevent it out of fear nor avoid it when it comes.
2. Our Trials Identify Us with Christ
So often Scripture perplexes us when it talks about rejoicing in the midst of suffering (James 1:2, Romans 5:3), but Peter helps us to see why we are rejoicing. We are not supposed to rejoice that we are experiencing misery – that would be crazy. We are not supposed to relish in the pain – again, nuts. We are supposed to rejoice because we get to be identified with Jesus and “share in [His] sufferings” (4:13).
Jesus Himself promised such treatment for being identified with Him:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”John 15:18
Oh, to be identified with Christ – to live for Him in such a way that the world looks at us and sees Him! That is, after all, what the word Christian means: little Christ. And it was meant as a slur to Christ-followers long before our people began to wear it as a badge of honor (Acts 11:26, 1 Peter 4:16).
3. These Trials are Not Meant to Be Faced Alone
If we are not careful, all this talk about trials and tribulations can scare us. That is not the intent of the Bible, and it is not my intent here. As we move to our second passage where we see the devil depicted as a “roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (5:8), we could be tempted to be afraid. I would definitely feel fear if I encountered a hungry lion! So, let me remind you of the words of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah:
“I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”John 16:33
In regard to encountering the devil, I do not want to downplay his strength and ferocity. I just want you to remember that there is a greater Lion.
I believe it is for this purpose that Peter begins this section with the command to be “sober-minded”. We need to keep our minds clear from all of the thoughts and desires that tend to take it captive (Romans 7:23, Colossians 2:8) and, instead, allow the Holy Spirit to rule in our hearts and minds and destroy the strongholds of the enemy, especially fear (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). In our sober-mindedness, we find ourselves able to “be watchful” so that we can “resist him” and remain “firm in [our] faith”. You cannot have one without the other.
The interesting thing about these commands is that all of them are plural. In Mississippi, we should have no problem with translating this because it is like Peter is saying, “Y’all be sober-minded; y’all be watchful; y’all stick together and resist him; and y’all be firm in your faith.” The Holy Spirit, through Peter, is reminding us that we are supposed to be part of a local church – a local expression of the body of Christ. There is no such thing as lone ranger Christianity. He designed us to work together like a human body with Him as the Leader and Head (Colossians 1:18). When we are walking with the greater Lion, the devil knows that he cannot lay a claw on Him.
4. All Trials and Tribulations are Temporary
Peter describes the length of time that our trials last as a “little while” (1:6, 5:10). I do not know about you, but I have never experienced a difficult time and thought of it as being short. Some Mondays seem two weeks long and some seasons of life seem never-ending. It is all about perspective. And that is exactly what Peter is trying to give us here.
He is wanting us to look at our trials with eternity in mind. At the end of this earthly “little while”, those who put their hope and trust in Christ will be “called…to His eternal glory”. When we are with Him in eternity, our final tear will be wiped away, death will no longer be a threat, and mourning, crying, and pain will have all surpassed their expiration date (Revelation 21:3-4). Just like a new mother forgets the excruciating hours of labor when she holds her child, we will forget the pains of our labor from this earth when we kneel at the feet of King Jesus with the rest of the saints around His throne!
Ultimately, that is what this whole study has been about – perspective. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were able to continue serving the Lord because He had never forsaken them in their whole relationship. Daniel could turn to prayer in the face of execution because He was constant in prayer. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah could walk confidently in the fiery furnace because their faith had been tested by fiery trials all along their journey with the Lord. And Daniel was able to faithfully continue going to the Lord in prayer rather than fearing the lions because the Lord had faithfully cared for him all of his long years.
It is supposed to be the same for us. If we look for this life to be fulfilling and never disappointing, we will be empty of everything except disappointment. But, if we look to Jesus as the “founder and perfecter of our faith” and long to be with Him, we can “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and…run with endurance the race set before us” (Hebrews 12:1-2). The “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” will outweigh the pain of any trial or temptation (Philippians 3:8). My prayer for you is that you examine your life. Are you living for Christ or for yourself? Do you want to please Him or yourself? I think that Jesus’ question in Luke 9:25 is a good place for some self-examination this morning: “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” May you see the surpassing worth of King Jesus and worship Him in the good times, cling to Him in the bad times, and be with Him for all time in eternity.