We are in Year A of the lectionary and coming up on the Third Sunday of Easter. The epistle for this season is 1 Peter and I sat down to read it through. Many of you have likely read it or at least have seen verses picked here and there from the letter, it is very quotable. One of Peter’s themes is perseverance through suffering and so we often find that 1 Peter is cited as evidence that “Suffering is God’s plan for us.”
1 Peter 1:6 In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7 so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Rejoice when you suffer! That is the lesson we find here, because if you are suffering it is God’s to test and refine our faith! And, having come through such suffering we will offer “praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is reveled” in our lives. Except when that is not the reason for our suffering….
What is missing from the use of such verses is context. Peter is encouraging a community that is suffering for their faith. In fact, he is very pointed about suffering as, well, punishment for doing wrong.
1 Pet. 2:19 For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval.
This is a more nuanced few of suffering than I often come across is Christian admonitions. Far too often I have read and heard Christians and their pastors encourage one another by saying that “we suffer for Christ” and “if you are enduring hardship, you must be doing something right because Satan is working so hard against you!” Yes, perhaps, or maybe you are simply doing something wrong? For example, it is not really suffering for your faith if you are an obnoxious jerk in your office, who also happens to be a Christian, and your colleagues complain to the boss that you are creating a difficult place to work. That is not suffering for your faith, that is not persecution, that is you doing wrong and being a jerk. As Peter says,
1 Pet. 4 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker.
If I were providing a new English paraphrase, I might render the last phrase as “or even as a social media troll.” But you get the point. Peter is clear. We may and many do suffering “in the name of Christ” and if that is the source of your suffering be encouraged. Know that you are, in some small way (1 Peter 4:13), sharing Christ’s suffering. But we are called to live holy lives and suffering can and does come about when we are simply being wrong headed, sinful, and a cad. Instead, Peter says, we should
1 Pet. 3:16 Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.