Thursday, May 18, 2017

Suffering for the Right Reason (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 on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.” (1 Peter 4:14–16, NASB95)

As I read this passage a Bob Dylan song from 1979 came to my mind. This song seemed to come out of the blue from Mr. Dylan, gaining him coverage for professing that he had come to salvation in Jesus Christ. But its words struck a cord for many as they were challenged to think about who and what they serve from whatever position they are in. The first part of the song went as follows:

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes
Indeed you're gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody

You might be a rock 'n' roll addict prancing on the stage
You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage
You may be a business man or some high-degree thief
They may call you doctor or they may call you chief

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes you are
You're gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody

If you were to read through the rest of the stanzas of the song you would find that he took a broad brush and tried to include everybody regardless of their place or position, pointing to the truth that everyone ultimately is serving somebody, and those somebody’s are the devil and the Lord.

Today we read of people being put to death in parts of the world because they belong to Christ or at least bear the title of being “Christian.” In our own country we read of bakers, printers, doctors, public officials and others who are being drug into court and losing their possessions and their careers because they made the choice to act according to their conscience and stand for Christ. We even see our Vice President criticized because he places the priority and protection of his marriage over his work and work relationships.

I think Mr. Dylan’s song hit home with so many because it connected first with where they were in life and then it narrowed the focus of our actions to the desires of the one we choose to serve. And, in the world there are very real consequences to both. This is nothing new. Peter spoke of “fiery ordeals” in our service to Christ in the previous passage, and here in today’s passage he speaks about the blessing that comes from making those right choices. Of course, this blessing is not in the form that many would choose but it is a blessing nonetheless because we have done what is right and God’s Spirit will rest on us in the midst.

In this world people suffer just consequences for doing unjust things while other people suffer unjust consequences for doing just things. Peter points to the better path. It is far better to suffer for doing what it right than to suffer for having done wrong. As Christians, we are not to follow the path of the world. We are not to engage in the things that mark those who do not follow God. We are not to do the obvious things like murder and stealing, but we are also not to do the less obvious things like sticking our noses into situations to stir the pot of discontent. We are not to be law breakers and rabble rousers. This is not who we are.

Regardless of who we are and our place in life we are to let our light shine for Christ, and if this means that we suffer because of it then so be it. There may very well be people who revile us or who try to shred our character and vilify us, but this is not to be a determinant of our actions. Rather, living according to who Christ has made us to be and walking according to His example is to be our priority.

Peter wrote, “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” Every single believer receives the indwelling of the Holy Spirit at the moment of their salvation, but there are those times when things press in and we know that God is there because His Spirit makes His always present presence known in very tangible ways. But even when we don’t “feel it,” we still can move forward knowing it to be true nonetheless. It is as if before the world we wear not an outward scarlet letter of shame but a radiant presence of His peace. When someone asks how you can endure hardship or even face terminal cancer or persecution, you can answer that it is because of Christ in you and His powerful hand on your life. There is nothing the enemy can dish out that has not been filtered through God’s hand and is outside His ability to hold us strong.

I think for all of us who have struggled there are those moments when question creeps in, when we look to God and cry out for His help. In this we can know without a doubt that He hears our cries, that He is in full control, and that He will do what is good and right.

We are not to be ashamed of Him. The world may not see Him. The world may not listen to Him or follow His ways. The world may not even regard our actions in response to Him as acceptable, and the world may even hate us simply because of who we are. But God is bigger and more powerful than the world. The salvation we have in His Son is real. The presence of His Spirit is absolute and active. And, His Word is true and applicable to every aspect of our lives. What God has promised to do He will do, and in that we have great hope. There is nothing the world can do to steal this away.

Paul wrote in Romans, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35–39, NASB95)

Jesus has overcome, and in Him so will we. Quoting John 16:33 once again, we are reminded of the words of Jesus: “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NASB95)

We are instructed not to hide our identity for fear of man, but considering our identity we are to do what God has laid before us to do for His glory. Then, “if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.” (1 Peter 4:16, NASB95)

“Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11, NASB95) … “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24, NASB95)

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