“Suffering To Bless”           1 Peter 3:8-17                                             July 17, 2011

 

SCRIPTURE INTRO:  We’re studying 1 Peter this summer.

The theme of this letter is Christian suffering. 

   How as a Christian, you can live in such a way that the troubles, pains,

   and sorrows that inevitably come, don’t crush you, but make you better.

 

First part of the letter, Peter lays the groundwork by telling us who we are

   in Christ.  God’s elect, a kingdom of priests, the church of the living God,

   strangers and aliens in this world.

 

Second part of the letter, tells us how we are to live consistent with who we are.

   This has a direct bearing on how we deal with the sufferings and trials of life.

 

 


 

INTRO:  This summer I’m trying to finish a home-improvement project—

   Will and I are painting the outside of our house. 

   I had a plan.  I had a schedule.  It was going to be finished by now.

But I discovered to my dismay that in window after window the glazing

   was cracked and curling and falling out.  Sometimes so much would come out

   that there was nothing left to hold the pane in place.

I thought—I don’t have time for this.  I don’t want to deal with this.

   I’ve got to fix this quick.  I have get this painting done. 

 

So went to Lowes, started looking, and saw two products. 

   There was a tube and a tub.  Tube said quick, easy, cover with latex paint.

   Tub said, allow to cure 7-14 days, prime with oil based primer before latex paint.

I thought, I’m a tube man.  Put it in the caulking gun, squeeze it out, I’m done.

   It was a disaster.  Stuff all over the place, goopy, thick.

 

So I got on YouTube, and sure enough, a short video by pro window glazer. 

   He said:  You can’t use the stuff in the tube, the real glazing putty in tub.

You have to get a stiff, angled putty knife like this.

   You kneed the glazing, you apply it like this, scrape and smooth it to this angle.

   And so I began, and it took a long time.  Didn’t look too good at first.

But then the more I did it, the more I got the hang of it. 

   It started to look better and better.  And finally, when I got to the last few

   windows I thought:  OK, I don’t like this but it’s not bad if I do say so myself!

 

Christian suffering is like that window glazing. 

You have your plans, your hopes, your expectations—

   for your business, for your marriage, your children, your retirement, your life . . .

   And then suffering comes—things in your life start to crack, curl, and fall apart.

And that’s the very last thing you want. 

   You say:  No, this can’t be happening.  This isn’t what I want.

 

I’m sure human nature is the same the world over, but it seems that as Americans,

   we are especially bothered by suffering.  The first thing we want to know is:

How can I avoid it.  And if I can’t avoid it—How can I quickly get out of it,

   fix it, alleviate it, remove it.  Or even, if all else fails, how can I numb it. 

 

But Peter says:  No, I’m not going to give you answers to any of those questions.

   I’m going to answer the question you should be asking about your suffering—

   How do I do it right?  How do I get good at it?

Suffering is experienced as a weight.  That’s the very language people use.

   They say:  I feel weighed down.  This is heavy on my mind.

   Suffering is a weight that you carry.  Can sometimes even see in countenance. 

It can become all-consuming, even for Christians.

   It can become your identity, not the fact Jesus loves you. 

It can overshadow all the facts and evidences of God’s grace and goodness in life.

   So that you become fatalistic, dark, and bleak.

 

At its worst, when you are suffering, you can give yourself an excuse to sin.

   I’m hurting.  I’m struggling.  So I give myself permission to sin.

I have an excuse to be bitter.  I have an excuse to be rude.

   I have an excuse to numb my pain in ungodly ways. 

 

Way Peter addresses this is that he doesn’t say—suffering isn’t heavy.

   There’s no weight on you.  There’s no pressure.  You shouldn’t be struggling.

Just buck up and get over it.  Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.  Move on.

   He doesn’t say:  Real Christians don’t suffer. 

   If you had enough faith.  If you loved God more.

No, he says that when Christians suffer it’s real, it’s weighty.

   We’re not going to disregard it or discredit it—

   We’re going to outweigh it with heavier things. 

 

Imagine an old timey scale. 

Your suffering on one side weighing it down.  Then you start to add wonderful

   things to the other side of the scale.  What happens?

The suffering doesn’t disappear.  It’s still sitting there for all to see—

   but at some point, the scale tips, and the heaviest thing in your life is no longer

   your suffering—instead you feel the weight of glorious realities.

 

Peter wants us to learn individually and corporately, as a church body,

   how to outweigh our suffering so that it is no longer the heaviest thing in life.

   When you do that, suffering itself can be full of purpose and meaning.

So what are these glorious realities that counterbalance your suffering?

   Peter mentions four.  I’ll give them to you as we go.

 

But first, I want to give credit where credit is due.

   Sermon on this passage by Mark Driscoll, Pastor of Mars Hill Church, Seattle.

   I’m going to pass on many of his insights to you.

 

MP#1  The first counterweight to suffering is Christian fellowship.

   You must participate in the fellowship of believers. 

Some Christians don’t seek fellowship until they are suffering.

They are superficially connected to the church, until things fall apart.

   Then they run to the church and say:  Help!  I need support.  I need friends.

   And, of course, we respond and try to help and are glad they’re asking.

 

But what’s missing?  History.  Intimacy. 

That is only built up over time—months, even years—of regular worship

   and fellowship together.

   You can’t rush in an expect it, after years of superficial connection to body.

Fellowship is a spiritual discipline.  It’s just as hard as praying and reading Bible.

   It’s deliberately committing regular time to participate in the life and rhythm

   of the church so you get to know members of the body and they get to know you.  So you have a history with them.

 

Then when you suffer, Christians know you. 

   They can console you and walk with you in your loneliness and need.

   And so you can do the same for them. 

Look at verse 8 again.  Here it is.

   “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic,

   love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.”

 

When you use fellowship as a counterweight to suffering,

   it makes you a better, more loving Christian and it makes us a better church.

How?  It causes you to focus on the things that really matter.

   That’s what Peter means by living in harmony.  Literally, unity of mind.

Unity of mind is not that we agree about everything. 

   May have significant disagreements about a number of things—

   politics, education of our children, even points of theology.

But through suffering in fellowship, you see more clearly what is really important.

 

Jesus Christ.  Grace.  The Cross.  Forgiveness.  Sanctification.  Heaven.

   Suffering clarifies the things of first importance and of secondary importance.

You sometimes see this on an ordinary level in families. 

   There are tensions, barely talk to each other, never get together on holidays.  

   Then there is a tragedy, an untimely death let’s say of a young nephew.

Everybody comes together, bonds are reaffirmed.  In face of death people realize

   that the things that separated them weren’t so important.

It can happen on an even deeper level among Christians.

   Through suffering, greatest spiritual realities are affirmed.

   Forced not to talk about superficial things, but about deep, wonderful things.

Remember once someone in this church was suffering. 

   She looked at me and said:  Andrew, I have to know the answer to this question.

   What can I count on?  What can I be sure of? 

I realized, I can’t answer this sister with things of secondary importance.

   I can’t say:  Your marriage, your health, your children.  

 

When suffering counterbalanced by fellowship,

   Peter says it leads to sympathy, brotherly love, and compassion.

This is so convicting, but so important. 

   Suffering in the body of Christ is used by the Spirit to make us less self-centered.

   It makes us more focused on other people.

Not just in our feelings, but in tangible ways, expressions of kindness.

   That’s what compassion is.  Makes us more like Christ.

This is true for both the person suffering and those who are comforting him.

   Suffering Christians learn greater sympathy for others,

   and those helping them learn it too. 

 

And then Peter says it leads to humility.  That means, willing to learn.

   You know you don’t know everything.  Teach me something here, Lord.

There are some of you, when you suffer, your first instinct is to hide, to pull back.

   Instead of coming to the body and saying, Help me, you pull back.

   Perhaps out of privacy, or shame, or fear you will be a burden.

Listen, you are a great gift to your church.

 

You teach us.  As we love you and serve you, we learn from you.

   God teaches you things in your suffering.  You might not feel that at the time.

   You might not even be able to articulate it.

But as we serve you, as you allow us to sympathize with you—

   you teach us what God is teaching you.

When it is our turn, we remember your example. 

   You might not think you are a good example.  But you are. 

 

Suffering will come.  It will weigh you down. 

Are you going to do it right?  Are you investing in body?

   For those of you who are suffering.  Don’t neglect the fellowship.

   Don’t see yourself as a burden.  Blessing bigger than you can imagine.

MP#2  The second counterweight to suffering is the cross of Christ.

   You must remember and glory in the cross.

Verses 9-11

   “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing . . .

What is Peter alluding to?  The crucifixion. 

Just a few verses before this Peter said:

   “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate. 

   When he suffered, he made no threats.”

So he’s talking about Jesus’ suffering.  How he did it.  How he did it right.

 

And then Peter says: 

    . . . because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.  For, ‘Whoever would

   love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech.

   He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it.’”

Jesus suffering on the cross is now your great calling, your example.

   As you remember that, and even glory in it, the suffering of Jesus

   becomes a counterweight to your suffering.

 

I heard an interesting story this week.  Maybe some of you have heard it.

Some time after the tornado, a Cullman resident found a large silver cross in yard.

   This cross had been quite beautiful, but it was twisted and mangled.

The person who found it figured it had come from one of the damaged churches.

   So he started asking around and found out that sure enough, it was from

   Christ Lutheran, which was completely destroyed.

And it wasn’t just any cross.  It was their processional cross.

   The Lutheran worship service starts with an opening hymn, and as the 

   congregation is singing, the pastor and choir process in, following a cross

   on a staff, that is being carried by one of the worship leaders.

It was that cross.  The Lutherans put it on a new staff, this bent and mangled cross,

   carried it in procession at worship service next Lord’s Day at temporary location. 

 

The person who told me this story was there at that service.

   Afterwards asked the pastor, are you going to have the cross repaired?

What do you think he said?  You know what he said.  Of course not.

   Because this cross is now doubly symbolic.

First and foremost of the sufferings of Jesus for our salvation—

   but now symbolic of the sufferings of this congregation.

And the honor, the sweetly painful honor, of experiencing in our suffering,

   in our loss, a tiny fraction of the sufferings of Jesus.

Let me tell you another story about the cross. 

Some of you have read it in Corrie ten Boom’s book, The Hiding Place.

   I hesitate to read, because it’s such a graphic description of cruelty, but it’s lovely.

Corrie and her sister Betsie were in the Nazi concentration camp for hiding Jews.

   Betsie died, Corrie survived and wrote their story.

 

“Sometimes I would (open) the Bible . . . with hands that shook, so mysterious had it become to me.  It was new; it had just been written.  I marveled sometimes that the ink was dry . . . I had read a thousand times the story of Jesus’ arrest—how soldiers had slapped Him, laughed at Him, flogged Him.  Now such happenings had faces and voices.

 

Fridays—the recurrent humiliation of medical inspection.  The hospital corridor in which we waited was unheated and a fall chill had settled into the walls.  Still we were forbidden even to wrap ourselves in our own arms, but had to maintain our erect, hands-at-sides position as we filed slowly past a phalanx of grinning guards.

 

How there could have been any pleasure in the sight of these stick-thin legs and hunger-bloated stomachs I could not imagine.  Surely there is no more wretched sight than the human body unloved and uncared for.  Nor could I see the necessity for the complete undressing: when we finally reached the examining room a doctor looked down each throat, another—a dentist presumably—at our teeth, a third in between each finger.  And that was all.  We trooped again down the long, cold corridor and picked up our X-marked dresses at the door.

 

But it was one of these mornings while we were waiting, shivering in the corridor, that yet another page in the Bible leapt into life for me.  He hung naked on the cross . . . The paintings, the carved crucifixes showed at least a scrap of cloth.  But this, I suddenly knew, was the respect and reverence of the artist.  But oh—at the time itself, on that other Friday morning—there had been no reverence.  No more than I saw in the faces around us now.

 

“Betsie, they took His clothes too.” 

Ahead of me I heard a little gasp. “Oh, Corrie.  And I never thanked Him.”

 

Don’t forget that Peter wrote this letter with a specific suffering in mind.

   He was particularly concerned that Christians know how to handle suffering

   inflicted on them by other people.  That’s often the bitter of all suffering, isn’t it?

When you are doing your best, being faithful and honest.

   And you get meanness, cruelty, deception, betrayal, mockery by other people.

 

Peter says:  Remember the cross.  Remember you were God’s enemy.

   And instead of destroying you in your rebellion, he sent his Son to suffer

   the penalty for your sin.  His suffering means your suffering can be redeemed.

It takes time to work that in and apply it.

But as you do, it becomes a glorious counterweight to your suffering.

MP#3  The third counterweight to suffering is God’s love

Do you believe God loves you?  At all times?

 

It’s easy to believe God loves you on the day you get married.

   It’s harder on the day you are divorced.

It’s easy to believe God loves you on the day your baby is born.

   It’s harder on the day you bury your child.

It’s easy to believe God loves you when you get a job or get a raise.

   It’s harder when you are demoted or fired.

It’s easy when you’re healthy.  It’s hard when you’re sick.

   It’s easy when you’re winning.  It’s hard when you’re losing.

 

It’s in the suffering times you have to give special attention to the love of God.

   You have to listen to the many ways he assures you of his love.

The more you listen, the more tangible his love will become to you,

   and the weightier it will become. 

I knew a man whose wife had a powerful memory about personal matters.

   She harbored negative words spoken by him, comments made long ago. 

Honestly, the types of things that she should have forgotten, that most would forget.

   Just two people rubbing each other the wrong way. 

   But she kept them, and would brood on them at times, and it colored marriage.

His response was to deal with her graciously and express and speak of his

   love for her until her heart was full and the cloud had passed.

   He spoke, but she had to listen and believe his assurances of love.

 

How does God tell you he loves you when you are suffering?

   Some very interesting ways. 

He says:  “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous.”

   I see you.  It may seem to you that God doesn’t see you.

   That the things that have happened are random. 

But what does God say:  My eyes are on righteous.  Those who are in Christ.

   That’s a comfort when you are suffering.  It’s also a gentle warning.

   Don’t use your suffering as an excuse to sin.  The Lord is watching you

 

And “His ears are attentive to their prayers.”  I hear you. 

May not seem like it.  Prayers may seems like hitting ceiling.

   But here it is in black and white.  God’s promise. 

   I’m attentive to your groans and cries.

His eyes are on you.  His ears are attentive to you.

Knowing that doesn’t fix everything.  It’s not a quick fix to your suffering.

   But if you believe it, it’s a comfort in your loneliness and fear.

The Lord doesn’t stop there.  He keeps speaking his love until your heart is full.

   “But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

 

One thing that sometimes makes suffering heavy is the feeling injustice has won. 

   If your suffering is caused by another person.  And that person seems to be

   just doing fine, and you are not, that’s a terrible weight.

God wants you to be assured that he will deal with your enemies.

   In this life or in the next, he will deal with them.

   Those are strong words of love to you. 

Believe them and let them be a counterweight to the injustice you are suffering.

 

And then the Lord says something else to affirm his love.

   And like many true words of love, they’re gently challenging. 

“Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 

   But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. 

He’s saying:  Suffering is not the worst thing that can happen to you.

 

The worst thing is to be someone who doesn’t know God.

   To be someone who doesn’t talk to God.

Answer this question for yourself:

   Would you rather be suffering and know the eyes of the Lord are on you?

   Or, would you rather be happy and carefree with the face of Lord set against you? 

There are far worse things than suffering—

   To be an enemy of God.  To be going to hell.

 

He ends this affirmation of love by saying: 

   “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.”

They who?  Unbelievers.  Don’t fear.  Believe me.  Listen to me.

   I love you.  I see you.  I hear you.  I will uphold your cause. 

In your Bible footnotes you will see that “Do not fear what they fear” is a quote

   from Isaiah 8.  God said it to Isaiah when terrible things were happening.

 

If you are going to suffer right, have to read and claim and listen to and believe

   the affirmations and promises of God’s love until they become weighty.

Are you doing that?  If you aren’t, why don’t you write verse 12-14 on a card.

   Read it before you go to bed, and when you wake up. 

MP#4  The fourth counterweight to suffering is your witness

This is a great weight that changes everything. 

   I’ve titled this sermon “Suffering To Bless” with this fourth weight in mind. 

   Your suffering can give you a witness that is a blessing to other people.

When you realize that your suffering can actually be used by God to glorify him

   and lead people to Jesus, that can tip the scales and fill you with joy.

 

Let’s start with something I’ve already mentioned a few times—

   suffering can be an occasion for temptation.  Temptation is selfishness. 

Sometimes when people suffer, even Christians, it consumes them.

   All they see is their life.

   All the feel is their hurt.

   All they know is their need.

Suffering people can become the most selfish people of all.

   They feel that they have a right to be all-consumed.

 

If you are married to a person like that, or friends, or a fellow church member—

   it’s hard to know how to respond.  Because you know their story, it’s devastating. 

   You haven’t been hurt nearly as bad.  So, how can you really say anything?

Years ago, when I was a young minister, met an older minister whose identity

   was his mistreatment by a congregation he had served.  He often brought it up

   and it colored the way he saw himself and the church and the ministry.

   I knew he wasn’t handling it right, but what could I say?  I hadn’t suffered.

St Augustine and Martin Luther used a Latin phrase to describe sin:

Incurvatus in se.  Even if you’ve never had Latin (I haven’t) you can figure it out.

   Incurvatus—curved in on yourself.  Sin is me turning in on me.

 

Sometimes the most loving thing you can do for a suffering person is to gently say:

   You only talk about you.  Your only tears are for you.

You are missing a great opportunity God has given you.

   You might not be able to fix what has happened,

   but you can use it so that it’s not wasted.

So what is this great opportunity.  Verses 15-17

 

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”

Suffering Christians need to see that other people are suffering.

   Suffering Christians need to see that their suffering could give them credibility

   with other people who are suffering. 

Their suffering may be used by God to bear witness to the love of Christ

   to other people.  And if some of those other people are unbelievers—

   wouldn’t it be wonderful if they became Christians?

 

Peter says you should always being prepared to give an answer

   to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

He gives that instruction within the context of suffering. 

   Here’s what I think he’s telling us practically.

He’s saying, Yes, seek Christian fellowship.  It’s going to be with Christians that

   you are going to be prayed for and encouraged and challenged with truth.

 

But, don’t shut the unbelievers in your life out of your suffering.

Don’t hide it from them.  Your unbelieving co-workers, neighbors, extended family.

   How are you doing?  They ask you. 

   Well, you say:  Things aren’t so good now.  I’m hurting.  In a tough spot.

   What’s wrong?  I’ve had a financial blow, or I got this bad doctor’s report.

   What are you going to do?  How are you coping?

I’m reading Bible.  Praying.  I’m being encouraged by my church.

   Would you like me to tell you how the Lord is helping me get through this?

 

And they might cut the conversation off right there.  Might think you are a nut.

   Peter says there will be some who speak maliciously of you for faith in Christ.

But, he implies, there are going to be others who are interested.

   Will say:  Yes, tell me.  Because for me, church and religion doesn’t help at all.

And you say:  It’s not so much about church and religion, those just a means to end.

   It’s knowing that God loves me in Jesus Christ.  That Jesus died for my sins.

   And he had promised to be with me to the very end of the age.

 

John Piper wrote a booklet in 2006 after he was diagnosed with cancer.

   The title was:  Don’t Waste Your Cancer.

You can substitute any suffering for the word cancer: 

   your divorce, your bankruptcy, your untimely loss, your heavy grief.

   How do you waste it?  Incurvatus in se—me turning in on me.

How do you make the most of it? 

   By believing that your God is sovereign.

   That your suffering part of his perfect plan. 

And so you can speak openly about it to your non-Christian friends

   knowing that it will give you credibility that few other things will.

And wouldn’t it be wonderful, when you are in heaven one day,

   to bump into someone who says—Remember when you got cancer and how

   you told me about Jesus?  Well, that’s why I’m here today.

 

Is your suffering heavy?  You might not be able to fix it, get out of it, or change it.

   But you can outweigh it with glorious spiritual realities.

Start piling these on to the scale of your mind—

   the fellowship of believers, the cross of Christ, the love of God—

   and the powerful witness of your suffering—keep piling them on—

Until the scale tips, and you see that in Jesus, your suffering a path to blessing.