Christian Suffering: God’s plan and our attitude towards suffering
From the first century to the present, the things that remain constant apart from God’s faithfulness to his people are their social discrimination, physical violence, and psychological torture. Across the globe, in every century, the faithful ones of Jesus have been objects of hatred and scorn for others. But the history of the church proves that “the gates of Hades” could never defeat the church (cf. Matt 16:18) or discourage the faithful disciples of the Lord from bearing Christian testimony to all. Luke’s story of the birth, origin, and growth of the Spirit-empowered church is a testimony to its victory march from Jerusalem to Rome despite all odds.
Jesus was always aware of suffering as a lot for the disciples. His high priestly prayer for his disciples in John 17:14 & 16 recognises some essential truths concerning the disciples. Firstly, “the world has hated them” because they have the Father’s word with them. Secondly, “they are not of the world,” just as Jesus is not “of the world.” The disciples must not expect an end, unlike their master. In Luke 23:31, Jesus relates his followers’ impending suffering to his suffering despite being found guiltless in Pilate’s court (Lk 23:14), saying, “if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” Hence, Jesus prays that they may be protected from the evil one (Jn. 16:15).
Peter probably had learned very well the lesson Jesus taught. Encouraging his non-Jewish audience, suffering for their faith, scattered across Asia Minor, he encourages them to rejoice for their momentous suffering will prove the “genuineness of your[their] faith.” It will produce “praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Pt 1:6-7). Their suffering for the sake of faith has eschatological value in fulfilling God’s purpose through their election. The salvation of their souls will ultimately glorify God when they would withstand every trial to receive the eternal inheritance the Father has kept for them (1 Pt 1:4, 9).
However, in 1 Peter 2:20-25, the apostle teaches that suffering for doing good alone glorifies God. It is unjustly suffering that makes them co-sufferers with Christ, who has left a model of suffering before them to imitate. For Peter, their attitude towards suffering must be defined by the great recognition that to this, they were “called.” Thus, they must follow in the steps of Christ. Suffering is integral to their Christain call in this world. They are blessed when they suffer for doing what is right (3:14). It is neither a coincidence nor an accident but ideally in the knowledge of God for them. Peter says, “it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil” (3:17).
So, Peter urges them to live fearlessly and revere Christ as the Lord in their hearts (1 Pt 3:14-15). They must submit to the authorities for the Lord’s sake (2:13) but conduct themselves in a Lord-Slave relationship with Christ (2:16). Amidst suffering for the sake of faith, their freedom to express their mind freely is indicative of their ultimate submission to Christ, the Lord. In other words, a Christian response to unjust suffering under the authorities of this world is guided by one’s submission to the ultimate will of the Lord and not by unfavorable circumstances.
As a result, it is characterized by “gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience” (3:15-16) since a Christian attitude is modeled after the example known in Christ Jesus. Such a lifestyle is apologetic by nature. It silences those who speak maliciously against them (3:16). So, the practice of Christian apologetics is twofold: (i) a constant readiness to give oral answers to those who seek answers from you (3:15) and (ii) a Christlike lifestyle lived as slaves of Christ under Jesus’ Lordship (2:16; 3:16).
The Christians today who suffer unjustly for the sake of their faith must recognize it as an integral part of their calling as the children of God. So they can rejoice in it. The Scripture teaches them to model Christ amidst suffering and learn to live as free citizens in the world. Instead of being intimidated by the situations, knowing that Jesus intercedes for God’s protection over us, they must allow him to reign
in their hearts. They may rejoice in their trials because if it is in God’s will, it not only produces praise, glory, and honor to God in the last days but in the present time, their right conduct will silence their slanderers.
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