“Do Not Be Surprised” 1 Peter 4:12-19 August 14, 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.
The theme verses of the letter are chapter 1 verse 6 and 7:
“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in
all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which
perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory
and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
There it is: Suffering, grief, trials—refined by fire—praise, glory and honor.
In the second half of the letter, Peter makes the point over and over,
that this refining doesn’t happen automatically.
Suffering doesn’t automatically make you a better person or a better Christian.
There is a role you have to play in the refining process.
INTRO: I recently saw a crude bumper sticker that I haven’t seen in a long time.
I think this bumper sticker first appeared about 20 years ago.
And then, thankfully, it disappeared. But you still see it occasionally.
It’s just two words. I’m not going to say the first word but you’ll know it.
Well, maybe I will say it. In the King James Version.
Even though it’s crude, that bumper sticker is a very accurate summary
of the way many people view their suffering.
There is theology bound up in that short phrase.
You could preach a secular sermon on that bumper sticker.
There are two points in this sermon for you note-takers.
Point 1: What is your suffering? What are the troubles, griefs, and losses of life?
Dung. Your suffering is worthless. It has no value.
It’s actually less than worthless. It stinks It’s repugnant, detrimental.
It’s also random. It just happens. It’s senseless. Bad luck.
Being in wrong place at wrong time. Unpredictable and often unavoidable.
Lots of people believe that. They might not say it that bluntly.
Might not put it on the bumper of their car.
Around other people they might prefer to put on a brave face
and say something that sounds a little more positive.
But in the solitude of their thoughts,
when they are honest with themselves they say: This is stinking bad luck.
Point 2: How should you respond to your worthless, random suffering?
You can try to arrange your life to avoid suffering.
You can try to plan for every contingency.
Do all you can to head it off if you see it coming.
And when that doesn’t work and dung happens anyway you have some options . . .
You can go into a depressive funk.
You can shake your fist and rage at the universe.
You can lie to yourself that something good will happen, cloud has silver lining.
You can numb your pain in the ways that work for you.
But it doesn’t really matter what you do,
because it’s not going to make any difference.
Aren’t you glad you’re a Christian?
Aren’t you know and worship the Creator God who is sovereign over all.
Nothing just happens. Even the hairs on your head are numbered.
Aren’t you glad that you have a suffering Savior.
Christ’s sufferings weren’t stinking bad luck—
they were the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan for your life and happiness.
Because of your connection to him, then your suffering is part of God’s plan too.
Sometimes you need to step back and look at the big picture.
As a Christian, not only is your definition of suffering completely different
from the world—your response to it must be as well.
That’s what Peter says in these verses.
He’s said so much about suffering in this letter.
He’s gone so deep and looked at it from so many angles.
And he’s not done yet, but like any good writer, he gives us a helpful summary.
He reaches all the way back to chapter one, back to the theme verse and says:
OK, bottom line, this is what it is, and this is how you are to respond.
Two points for your note-takers.
This time I’m serious. This is the real sermon. Not the bumper sticker sermon.
But I’m going to use the same points.
1. What is your suffering? What are the troubles, griefs, and losses of your life?
2. How should you respond to your suffering?
Going to see that as a Christian, those two things have to go together.
If you understand and believe the first, then you have to respond in a certain way.
Before I go any farther, I want to give credit where credit is due.
I listened to a great sermon on these verses by Dr. Tim Keller
of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.
Going to pass on a number of his excellent thoughts to you.
MP#1 What is your suffering?
Peter names it with one word—fire.
Your suffering is not dung, it’s fire.
I like the New International Version because it’s so readable.
But sometimes I wish it was a more literal translation.
Because when Peter says:
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering.
He uses just one Greek word. Purosis.
Purosis is fire that purifies. A refiner’s fire.
We don’t have a single word for it in the English language.
We have to add an adjective.
But, this is where the English word “pure” comes from.
Peter says your suffering is a fire. A fire that purifies. A refiner’s fire.
There’s a sermon illustration you can find in all the old sermon illustration books.
(Did you know there are sermon illustration books?)
And it goes like this: A man visited a silversmith’s shop.
Asked him what he was doing. He said, I’m purifying silver.
See, I put it in the crucible, put that over the fire.
As the silver melts, the impurities are separated and sink or burn away.
Well, said the man, how do you know when you are finished?
How do you know when the silver is pure?
Silversmith said: You look into the crucible.
When the last of the impurities are separated, the surface of the melted silver
becomes as shiny as a mirror, and you see your own face reflected.
That’s what the fire of suffering does. It creates a separation in you.
Things that in normal life are mixed up and bound together in your soul separated.
Your faith in Christ and your faith in other things.
Your allegiance to Christ and your allegiance to other things.
Those can exist together for a long time. Even years.
But when suffering comes, when you are in the Purosis, there is a separation.
And what happens? The fire reveals what is true and what is false.
You see what you are really made of. And hopefully, your faith is refined.
And in the end, the face reflected in the mirror of your faith is the face of Jesus.
You can’t learn to put more trust in Jesus unless you go through the fire.
You can’t be refined without heat.
How does this purifying work? The purifying fire does three things.
First, it shows you what you are really trusting. It shows you your true allegiances.
Everybody starts out in the Christian life saying: I trust in God.
I love God. I worship God. God is most important to me. God first.
The fact is that there are many other things besides God that you trust in.
And you have no idea how much you trust them until they are threatened.
You have no idea the strength of your allegiances, the hold they have on heart,
until circumstances threaten to take these things away or destroy them.
For example: Let’s say you are faced with a situation where you have to obey God,
tell the truth about something, stick up for what is right, not go with the crowd.
But you know, you know, that doing that will threaten, maybe destroy
your popularity, your standing with people who matter,
maybe it will hurt your career, maybe it will hurt you financially.
And you feel yourself being torn in two different directions.
What you know you ought to do and even want to do—
but you are terribly afraid of what you will lose if you do it.
Up to this point in your life, there hasn’t been any real conflict between the two.
You’ve been able to hang with this crowd, move ahead in this business,
pursue a certain standard of living—suddenly, there’s a separation.
You sense a pulling apart of your faith in Christ and your faith in your pleasure,
comfort, security, popularity, status, or whatever.
You’re in the purifying fire. It’s as if God is saying:
Now we’ll see what your faith is really made of.
Did you become a Christian to serve me, or to get me to serve you?
Second, the fire of suffering shows the worthlessness of your other trusts.
The refiner’s fire not only separates the precious metal from the impurities—
it destroys them, it burns away the dross.
Point is that the fire of suffering shows you how inadequate,
all the other things are that you trust besides God.
A person might not be willing to see that or admit it.
He might say—No, no, no—this will last forever, this will never let me down.
But the fact is that your very experience of having that thing shaken
is proof that it will not last, it will at some point be empty and worthless.
How many times has it happened that a person who trusts his money
faces financial disaster, and sees in that crisis that money can’t be trusted.
It’s the very thing that’s failing him.
Maybe he prays. O God, help me. Because his money can’t. It’s failing.
But when the financial crisis passes, goes right back to building his life on money.
The prophet Jeremiah makes this point in chapter 2:
They say to wood, “You are my father,” and to stone, “You gave me birth.” They have turned
their backs to me and not their faces; yet when they are in trouble, they say, “Come and save
us!” Where then are the gods you made for yourselves? Let them come if they can save you
when you are in trouble! For you have as many gods as you have towns, O Judah.
See, there’s a crisis. God help us. Come and save us.
God says: Where are the gods you made for yourself?
The purifying fire proves that they are worthless.
If you hold on to them, time will come—
might be in mid-life, it might be when you are bedridden and very old—
when they will not be there to help you any more.
When a person feels like his life is meaningless,
it’s because things he trusted in besides God have died.
Suffering can reveal that before it’s too late.
If you are torn up and your peace ripped to shreds over something that
you’ve lost or almost lost—understand that unsettled feeling for what it is.
The refining fire is revealing the inadequacies of your other trusts.
Third, the refining fire of suffering shows God is at work in your life.
There are other word pictures for suffering in the Bible.
The trainer with the athlete.
The parent disciplining a child.
The vinedresser trimming the vine.
To the untrained eye, it looks like the vinedresser is destroying the vine.
All over the ground are branches with leaves on them, maybe even little
immature clusters of grapes. When he’s done, the vine looks like a stick.
But it’s all been done to enhance the productivity and beauty of the vine.
Parents, you know it’s impossible to turn your child into a mature young person
without them sometimes accusing you of cruelty.
It’s the case with all of these metaphors.
The person in charge, whether the trainer, or the parent, or the refiner or vinedresser
takes this thing that he cares for and understands—and he hurts it.
He burns it, he stretches it, he exercises it, he cuts it, he spanks it—
to the untrained eye it looks like he’s killing it—but he’s not.
He’s bringing out it’s beauty and greatness.
Does that mean if I pray: Lord, make me a better person.
Make me more wise and brave and loving, strengthen my faith,
make me more fruitful—if I pray that, will he answer by putting me in a furnace?
He might. Or he might choose a more gentle way.
Whatever he does, you are called to trust him and to see that whatever
he brings—it’s part of his work to sanctify you.
Is this how you understand suffering?
Do you think it is just stinking bad luck? Or do you understand that it is Purosis?
A refiner’s fire. A purifying fire, the work of a master goldsmith—
that separates the dross from the precious metal.
Brings us to the second point.
MP#2 How should you respond to your suffering?
Peter tells you how. He gives a series of very difficult commands.
First, do not be surprised, but rejoice. It’s a command. Do not be surprised.
Peter doesn’t say: Do not grieve. He does say to rejoice in Christ.
But that doesn’t mean—Be happy you are suffering. Rejoice because in pain.
It means rejoice that you are united to Jesus Christ.
Rejoice because the sufferings of Jesus were redemptive.
That after the cross came the crown.
That path from suffering to resurrection and glory is your path too.
You can rejoice in Christ and at the same time grieve deeply.
Grief will never harm you but surprise will.
Self-pity is a form of surprise.
Bitterness is a form of surprise.
This shouldn’t be happening to me. This can’t be right.
God shouldn’t be doing this. There must be some kind of mistake.
These are not my plans and surely God knows my plans.
That kind of surprise will throw you down.
Jesus grieved. He felt his suffering deeply.
When he was in the Garden of Gethsemane he didn’t say:
I’m just praising the Lord because I know God’s going to bring good out of this.
No, he was kneeling in the dust, groaning, sweating blood and said:
“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”
And, “If it is possible, take this cup from me.”
And he said to the disciples: “Could you not watch with me one hour?”
Deep expressions of grief and pain.
But he was not surprised. He understood that this is how God works.
So he was able to say: Not my will, but yours be done.
Remember how he prayed earlier in John 12.
“Now my heart is troubled and what shall I say? Father save me from this hour?
No. It was for this very reason I came to this hour.”
He knew God had a plan. The thing that will sink you is not the grief, surprise.
How do you get over the surprise, by understanding suffering.
Taking things just studied about purifying fire and pushing in deep.
Second command. Do not be ashamed, but praise God.
That sounds very much like the first command, but it’s more specific.
Peter is addressing a particular kind of suffering that is never far from his mind.
It’s when you suffer for being a Christian. When you are attacked, ridiculed.
When you suffer loss because of your faith and your stand.
He’s talking about the kind of situation that, honestly, we haven’t had to face
in America in 300 years, living in the land of religious freedom.
But Peter is addressing a reality for many believers through the ages.
I personally believe that it is important for us as American Christians to
read about and ponder the suffering of the persecuted church.
It helps you understand the Bible better, and it helps you see your troubles
in a very different light. It’s been my practice for years to read biographies
of persecuted Christians. I have some favorites I’ve read numerous times.
And this is something that does surprise you, the various ways that persecuted
Christians struggle with being ashamed in their suffering.
I recently re-read a book called “Hearts of Fire.”
Eight stories of Christian women persecuted for their faith.
The most difficult story was of an Indonesian believer named Adel.
This happened in 2000. She and her husband and two children lived in a little
village with about 20 other families, and they were all Christians.
Their village was attacked and burned by Muslims.
Her little boy was killed before her eyes, hacked to death with machetes.
She was separated from husband, didn’t know if alive or dead.
She and her 12 year old daughter were captured and taken to Muslim village.
There were several months of very cruel captivity—horrible things.
Like her daughter being forced to undergo female circumcision.
Constant death threats if they did not convert to Islam.
Then her husband, who had escaped, showed up Indonesian government officials.
When the Muslim village leader realized that he would be accused of kidnapping
this woman and murder and other things, he pulled her aside and said—
If you go with your husband, I will kill these other Christian captives.
They all began to beg her: Please, listen to him, He’ll murder us.
So she told her husband in front of officials that she could not go with him.
He knew she was under duress, but couldn’t do anything about it.
When he left, the Muslim leader took her and gave her as a wife to a Muslim man.
She said: I’m already married and I’m a Christian. They ignored her.
So she was forced to live with this man, became pregnant and gave birth to child.
Eventually, she and her daughter were able to escape, along with this newborn.
But Adel was so ashamed, didn’t think she could go back to her husband.
She felt that somehow she had been unfaithful.
He discovered where she was and sent a letter:
Adel, you could have ten children by ten men and you would still be my wife.
Only God can separate us now. I love you.
They were reunited, but she continued to struggle with feelings of shame.
In time, began to realize that she had participated in the sufferings of Christ.
Doesn’t a story like that put some steel in your spine?
Doesn’t it put your sufferings in a different perspective?
And what if you have to make a hard decision or speak the truth and people criticize
you and you feel embarrassed. No, Peter says, praise God that you bear his name.
Thank God I’m a Christian. My faith is being proved true.
The last command: Obey, keep on obeying, and commit yourself to God.
Peter says it over and over. Obey the Gospel. Keep on doing good.
Don’t suffer as a lawbreaker.
When you suffer, it’s very easy to disobey.
Especially if you are surprised and think it’s bad luck.
It’s easy to stop praying. Easy to stop coming to church.
Easy to separate yourself from the body, stop serving people.
Easy to become self-absorbed, and brood in self-pity, and blame God.
Easy to get into escape sins. Something you know is wrong but you do it because
it takes some of the edge off your suffering. Becomes more and more enslaving.
You end up hurting yourself worse than the suffering itself could ever hurt you.
Charles Spurgeon said, An ounce of sin will hurt you more than a ton of suffering.
God puts you in the furnace to prove your faith is genuine and refine it.
If you respond to the furnace by turning to sin instead of to Christ—
and you get caught up in that, cling to it, refuse to give it up—
refuse to admit it, refuse to fight it—
What does that say about your faith? You lose assurance of your salvation.
For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will
the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the
righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
Sober, sober words. Yes, we believe in the eternal security of the elect.
Yes, we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.
Yes, our hope is in the finished work of Jesus on the cross.
And we also know that saving faith is proved genuine by obedience,
particularly obedience in suffering.
“Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
Where does the strength come from to obey?
“Commit yourself to your faithful Creator and continue to do good.”
Can you trust him? Yes you can, because our God suffered.
Jesus suffered socially—rejected and lonely.
Suffered physically and emotionally in ways we cannot imagine.
Suffered spiritually—alienation and judgment.
He’s the Creator, and he suffered to fulfill the will of God.
So you can go to him and say: Lord, I’m hurting.
I know you have a reason but I don’t like this and wish it wasn’t happening.
And he will say: I know. I know. Trust me.