When I was a kid I wanted to be like Superman. He was my hero. I had the Superman pajamas with the cape, and I would wear them all the time. I would safety pin a towel around my neck and zoom around our yard like I was superman. He just seemed so cool to me. I watched Superman II so many times on Beta (if you remember what Beta is) that the tape wore out. I knew every word of the movie, and I still know a lot. Even today, my favorite song is the Superman Theme Song (as it is the ringtone on my phone). If I hear it on Pandora, I crank it up as loud as I can stand it.
We all had heroes when we were kids. Some of them were fake, like Superman, and some were real like a teacher, a parent, a policeman or a fireman, or even a friend. As we grow in our faith, Jesus hopefully becomes our greatest hero, not in the Superhero way, but in the “I want to be just like him” way. We desire to become greater in our holiness and devotion. Yet what we don’t often think about is how that comes about. To be like Jesus we must go through what Jesus went through. The writer of Hebrews wrote, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him,” (Heb 5.8-9, ESV). What the writer was saying was that in His suffering, Jesus comprehended what obedience was all about. Anyone can obey as long as things are going their way. But when things stop going well, and suffering enters the picture, will they stay on course and find out what obedience is really about? By this suffering Jesus was made perfect, not in the moral sense, but in the maturity sense. If that was what our hero went through, then is it not also necessary for us, who desire to be like Him, go through it too?
This is a two-part series where I am looking at Jesus’ response to suffering and our response to it. Initially, we ought to expect suffering as a Christian, but also then to exult in it.
What we see from Peter is that we are to expect suffering. Since Jesus is our hero, we want to be like Him, and He is our greatest and highest example of what we are to be, then we should expect to encounter the same reactions and walls that He faced. “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,” (1 Peter 4.12, ESV; italics mine). Expect these trials. They are the norm. To not be tried and to not suffer is not the norm. Christians in America have lived in a bubble for about 400 years. That bubble has burst. What we went through during that time is unprecedented. It was strange. The rest of the real world has been going through what we are just beginning to experience for thousands of years! We find it strange, but we shouldn’t. For the Christian, it should be strange when we don’t suffer.
We ought to be expecting it. I remember as a young boy playing peewee football. I was running down the line looking to make a great tackle on this other little kid. Out of nowhere a blocker shows up and levels me on my back. At practice, I had no problems leveling blockers, but I knew where they were and could see what was coming my way. This kid blindsided me and knocked me on my rear. That’s happening a lot in American Christianity. We are getting blindsided and knocked on our rears when we should be expecting the suffering.
But not only should we expect the suffering, but we should exult in our suffering. Exult is to find rare pleasure or joy in our circumstances. Peter wrote that rather than be surprised at our suffering, “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed,” (1 Peter 4.13, ESV). We are to rejoice insofar as we share Christ’s sufferings. That’s an interesting way of saying it, but what Peter is getting at is that we are to rejoice only when we suffer for Christ’s sake. Hence, he immediately wrote, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler,” (1 Peter 4.14-15, ESV). Being insulted for the name of Christ equals blessing. Suffering for being a murderer, thief, evildoer, and meddler receives no blessings. This doesn’t negate Paul’s instructions that we are to rejoice always or that we are to give thanks in and for everything. It simply means that we can’t rejoice for suffering in the same manner. In Acts 4, the church is praying because Peter and John were arrested, beaten, and released with a threat. At the end they rejoiced because they were counted worthy of suffering. That’s what Peter refers to when he tells us to rejoice when we suffer as Christ suffered.
If we suffer for doing our Christian duty we should count it a privilege to suffer. We can rejoice because we are becoming more like our Savior. But we cannot rejoice for going outside the bounds of our Christianity. We would probably all say that God has not called us to be murderers or thieves or evildoers, but many people don’t think twice about being meddlers. Solomon wrote, “Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears,” (Prov 26.17, ESV). I remember reading that a few years ago, and it has stopped me more times than not at meddling into people’s business. Many Christians tend to have no problem giving unsolicited advice, poking their noses into other people’s lives, and tattling on their coworkers or such. And then we are surprised when it all blows up in our faces. Then we excuse it with the idea that we were just doing our Christian duty, when in fact our Christian duty is to show by our lives and tell by our mouths the simple good news of Jesus.
So exult when you suffer for being a Christian. Once you step outside of that, there is no reward and no reason to rejoice, except in the fact that God is still sovereign. Next week, I will deal with exalting in our suffering and probably the most important of all, entrusting ourselves in our suffering.