The great Apostle Peter once wrote, “Therefore, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19). Clearly Peter understood two very important things: when we do the will of God suffering may come (contrary to the whole health and wealth narrative), and God is faithful in the midst of suffering. Consider the following six reflections on why the church—or I—might suffer.
First, suffering may come to test us, to see what we are made of, and this with a view toward praising God. First Peter 1:6-7 states, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Secondly, suffering may come to purify us, that we may walk with the Holy Spirit. First Peter 4:1-2 tells us that as “Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” Strong echoes of the Apostle Paul’s exhortation from Galatians 5:16 to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” are embedded in Peter’s words.
Thirdly, suffering may come to us to deepen our trust of God. As referenced above, 1 Peter 4:19 finds Peter declaring that those who suffer should “entrust their souls to a faithful Creator.” Suffering presents opportunity for our faith to be stretched in ways that grow us and mature us.
Fourthly, suffering may come to us to enhance our joy. First Peter 4:13 states, “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s suffering, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” The fact is that mature believers who suffer do indeed find joy in the midst of their pain, and this is a remarkable thing to observe or experience. Those lacking the mind of Christ, however, see suffering as the end of themselves and allow bitterness to consume them.
Fifthly, suffering may come to sharpen our understanding of truth and our capacity to love. Peter declares, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:14-17). Anyone can lash out in defensiveness because of pain. But when believers in Christ respond to suffering by “doing good,” and do so in a way that displays the “reason for the hope” we have, there is a near mystical presentation of Christlikeness that no one can take away from the one suffering, and that serves as a marvelous signpost to the world pointing to that which is transcendent.
Lastly, suffering may come to help us be like Jesus. First Peter 2:21 finds the Apostle Peter declaring, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” These are difficult words, and remarkable words. Our Savior suffered, of course. To join him in his suffering is a sign of discipleship; a message quite contrary to the cheap and easy-believism of our age.