“God’s Missional Community – A Price worth paying” (John MacDiarmid)

Message Preached at Poole Christian Fellowship on Sunday 23rd March 2014

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Reference: 1 Peter 4 v 12-19

The subject matter of this talk can be summed up in one word: “suffering”. In every chapter in 1 Peter the apostle talks about the subject of suffering. Clearly he wanted his readers to know that it was a part of their experience as disciples of Jesus, even as he talks about their joy as Christians. It is true that the believers to whom Peter was writing were experiencing persecution and moving towards a time of intense political persecution under Nero. This is something that many believers around the world today know only too well, and we know very little of. But it does not follow that this passage does not apply to us. Every Christian is under pressure as a believer that they would not experience if they were not followers of Jesus.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

Three questions emerge from our passage:

 1. What is happening?

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you

The fact is that what is happening to them is perfectly normal. The day we become Christians we become an object of the enemy’s close attention. All the forces of hell are aimed at you trying to get you to renounce your decision to follow Jesus, and to be unproductive.  This means that we are in a situation of warfare, conflict and opposition. It is simply what happens when you become a Christian. So we have great passages like the Ephesians 6 passage that we know so well. This is not a cause to be gloomy or defeatist. Paul, when he talked about the battles he faced did it in the context of an overwhelming thankfulness for God’s deliverance in it. So he wrote:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

But, we have to accept that these battle are real. The testimony of the apostles, or the Psalmists throughout the ages and of church history, is that although you are on the winning side, the conflict is real.

But he still comments that, paradoxically, as we experience this opposition, we are in fact under the anointing of God, and are blessed. As Jesus said “rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward”. And as James said: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial”. We are sharing with the sufferings of Jesus, and we will also share in his glory. And to encourage us, Paul writes:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

2. Why is it happening?

The word “judgement” may seem a surprising one to use here. Judgement, we often believe, is to do with unbelievers. But judgement is in fact to do with redemptive purification. God is making us more like Jesus. In John 15 Jesus talks about the gardener who prunes every fruitful branch to make it even more fruitful. And in 2 Corinthians 1 Paul talks about his severe suffering as causing him to rely on God.

When under pressure, God is at work in our lives.

3. What should I do?

So here is the key question. Under pressure – how should I respond to the situation? Peter spells it out:

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

Suffering is a necessary part of our Christian experience. God is at work in it. So what do I do?

  1. Commit myself to God. What does this mean? Recognise the inevitability of suffering. Not easy. This is not to do with happiness, but it is to do with an acknowledgement that God is at work in our lives for our wellbeing. Read and stand on the word of God and its promises.
  2. Continue to do good. “Keep calm and carry on” was a good wartime motto – but it works for us in spiritual warfare. As far as is possible, God wants us to carry on with our lives, doing all the good things that he wants us to do, trusting him for the future.

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

There is pain in the life of following Jesus, there is a price to be paid…but it’s a price worth paying:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

John MacDiarmid

March 2014