41. What about Suffering?

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 41. Q.3. What about Suffering?

Rom 8:20,21 (JBP)   The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in

Concerns & Questions:  A regular question or series of questions that arise include: Why is there suffering? Why did God make a world with so much suffering? Why doesn’t He step in to remove it? If He is good and loving and all powerful why doesn’t He step in and act on our behalf? But what is ‘suffering’? A dictionary definition is ‘undergoing pain, distress or hardship’.

Sources of Suffering: The first step is to identify the causes of ‘suffering’ as we have defined it.  Let’s try and pin down the main causes:

  1. Inflicted by others: Pain caused by others may have at least three sources. First, the list of violent acts that the human race shows it is capable of, is long and distressing and runs from individual violence (verbal or physical) that can include beating, abuse, rape, torture, to corporate violence that can include war, genocide, oppression, and terrorism. View the whole world and these things constitute the vast majority of the world’s suffering. Second, perhaps to this we should add the things that we don’t do for one another that we should do, such as caring for the weak, providing for the needy, and that covers not only the large number of refugees from war zones, but also simply the plight of individuals who have not been coping with life generally. Third, there are the hurts, pains etc. imposed on us by the negligence of other people, i.e. accidents causes by lack of care.
  2. Self-Inflicted: this is an area where we are even less comfortable. This is where, living contrary to the design of God for His world, we take on lifestyles that are harmful – over-eating, excessive alcohol or drug use, unrestrained sexual lifestyles that are accompanied by diseases, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, criminal acts, and stress and anxiety from too much self-effort. Choice of attitude, approach to life, and inability to cope with the pressures that the modern world sometimes brings, are maybe the primary ways we cause harm and suffering to ourselves. As above, we should perhaps add pain caused by accidents which are in turn caused by our carelessness or negligence, and maybe we should even include our misuse of the world that causes environmental problems with global warming etc.

These first two are the suffering caused by humanity itself in individual or corporate recognizable acts.

  1. The Breakdown of the World: The fact is that we suffer a variety of other things that cause pain, suffering, even death, things that can be identified as the world mis-functioning, or not functioning as it was originally designed to function (which we’ll consider shortly). This list includes

– illnesses and that may be viral, genetic misfunction or cell breakdown. (look up ‘disease’ in Wikipedia)

– climatic causes – hurricanes, tornadoes, floods from excessive rainfall,

– earth upheavals – volcanoes, moving tectonic plate movement causing earthquakes and tsunamis.

(Note in passing that the Sin of mankind, according to one doctor, causes diseases and releases spiritual forces that cause harm. See more in the next study.)

Where is God? The questions that we suggested above might be rationalised to a) Why did God make the world like this? and b) Why doesn’t He step in to help us?

God’s Design & the Fall: Without the Bible, without God, the atheist is just left with a horrible world and indeed various atheists have described it as such. You can only blame God if you believe there is a God, but the atheist will say to us, “This God that you say you believe in, why….?” and so it is legitimate to ask what does the Bible say about all this?

From the beginning, if you are going to blame a God who exists, we are told that this God created this world – by fiat in a split second or over seven periods of time or by long-period evolution is irrelevant; it is down to Him! But here is the most important thing: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Gen 1:31) There is no room there for saying that any of the things in the three groups above existed. It was a perfect world. So how come the difference between that and the descriptions in the three groups above? The answer is found in Gen 3 in what we refer to as ‘the Fall’ that might be summarized as mankind choosing to ignore or disregard God and live how they decide to live. The consequence of that is ALL the things listed in those three groups above. Do you see why identifying those three groups are so important.

I so often define ‘Sin’ as “self-centred, godlessness that results in unrighteous self-destructive acts” Unrighteous simply means actions that are contrary to God’s design. The Adam and Eve picture of Gen 3 shows them acting in an entirely self-centred way that excluded God from the equation and resulted in them doing something that opened the door to a whole way of living that was godless, hard, and self-harming. They typify what the whole of mankind is like. They and the world (and us) were not as it had been, no longer perfect, but broken, dysfunctional.

But Why? But why did God make us like this? Hold on, what was the alternative? It all hinges on this thing called free-will. Most people don’t realize how much we exercise ‘free-will’, the will to choose at any moment what we will do: when to get up in the morning, what to eat for breakfast, when to leave for work, how to travel to work, how to perform our work, how to respond to people or circumstances, when to enter into or break off a relationship, how to respond when we see a person in need, how to respond to a rebuff, when and how to write a song, a novel or some poetry, or paint a picture, or create a sculpture. Literally everything we do involves us exercising this ability to choose. We each have tremendous potential for being amazing people, in caring or in courage, in creativity and in construction, the potential of being self-less, godly, beautiful people who can be a blessing to the rest of mankind and to God. However, on the other side we can, as we saw above, be utterly self-centred and godless, harming ourselves, harming others and harming the earth, and we grieve God.

But where is God in all this? More questions. If God allowed us to be this sort of creature – capable of incredible good and incredible bad (evil)  – has He created it like this and then walked away? Definitely not! There are three things we should note about God in this:

  1. He feels: It is clear from the picture of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus (Jn 11) that he feels for us. It is clear when God was speaking to Moses at the burning bush that He felt for His people (Ex 3:7). God does not hold Himself aloof from people, He feels for the young parents who have just lost their new-born baby, He feels for the woman who cannot conceive, He feels for all of us who anguish. Jesus allowed his compassion to motivate him (see Mt 9:36, 14:14, 15:32, 20:34) and told of his Father’s compassion in one of the best known parables (see Lk 15:20).
  2. He involves Himself: The Bible is full of God who intervenes on behalf of mankind. After the exclusion from the Garden at the end of Gen 3, God did not just leave mankind to it; there are instances again and again and again of God who was interacting with people (Gen 5:24, Gen 12:1, Gen 3 etc. etc.) to reveal Himself and be revealed through them. Jesus is the peak of God’s intervention in the affairs of mankind, described by John as God (Jn 1:1), Creator with the Father (Jn 1:3), yet who came from heaven (Jn 6:38) to dwell in flesh (Jn 1:14) to reveal the Father and die as a sacrifice for our sin. In his ministry, through Jesus we see, The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor,” (Mt 11;5) or, as Peter summarised it, he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil.” (Acts 10:38) This was God NOT accepting the status quo of the fallen world but intervening in it to change it – as He still does today. (For His sovereign will see the next study) Today, by the presence and work of His Holy Spirit, the Lord provides all the grace we need to handle this world.
  3. He has a new end goal: The present world is not the end goal of God. Yes, He has given us free will, yes He gives us space to exercise it, yes He works to bring redemption here on earth, but none of these are the end goal. There will come a time, the Bible declares, when He will bring an end to this present existence and establish for the redeemed, who throughout history have responded to Him, a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 3:12, 21:1,2). Not only will there be a new place in which the redeemed may live and enjoy their God, but there will also be a Final Judgement where all will stand before God to account for their lives and those who have rejected Him will be rejected for the new heaven and new earth (Rev 20:12-15) and destroyed. Justice will be seen to be done for every wrong and every injustice seen in history.


– there are clear and obvious causes of suffering.

– most of it is down to the effects of the sinfulness of mankind, resulting from wrong use of free will.

– God doesn’t stand outside our suffering but feels with us and often intervenes to alleviate it.

– all wrongs and injustices involving suffering will be held to account at the end.

– this world of suffering is not the end but a world without “death or mourning or crying or pain” (Rev 21:4)  is the ultimate destiny of all who will respond to His call.

May that be the ultimate experience of each of us.

42. Suffering for the Church

Meditations in Colossians: 42. Suffering for the Church

Col 1:24   Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.

And so the strange, even alien, phrases continue to appear before us in Paul’s writings, phrases and concepts we are so often happy to pass by with little thought. From the great and glorious paragraphs about the gospel, salvation and the wonder of Christ, for a moment it seems, we fall back to see Paul himself again. There has been much pure doctrine in the verses we have considered but every now and then Paul himself comes to the fore: We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,” (v.3) and we have heard of your faith,” (v,4) andwe have not stopped praying for you,” (v.9) and “This is the gospel….and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.” (v.23) and then finally our present verse. Paul’s letter contain a lot of doctrine but also a lot of personal expression.

So he starts this verse with, “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you.” The truth is that the Gospel never comes easily. Paul’s focus there is on what was “suffered for you.”  Someone had suffered to get the Gospel to them there in Colosse and that person had been Epaphras (v.7). He had obviously brought the Gospel to them, established believers and then came under attack from the heresies of the day, so he returned to Paul in Rome (probably)  for him to write this letter countering so much of the heretical teaching that had been going on. It is a battle to bring the Gospel and a battle to hold on to the truths of it. Beyond this we don’t know what Epaphras went through. We do know that it would have cost time and energy to travel so slowly from place to place, often on foot, often by sea with its perils in the Mediterranean.

When we come to the middle part of the verse we come across an idea or concept that is alien to many of us: “and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions.” Taking the latter part first, there is implied that for Christ to bring the Gospel to his world – whether in the single body during his earthly ministry, or his wider body, the church, throughout history – he (and we) will suffer afflictions. Now an affliction is simply something imposed on us from outside of us. A missionary in Africa or Asia might be afflicted with malaria. They may also be afflicted with persecution. Now I believe we may also stretch the word ‘affliction’ to include things we impose on ourselves by taking up the call to go with the Gospel, so we may speak of sacrifice of family ties, and home comforts, and the affliction of loneliness, misunderstanding and so on. These things are part of the package that goes with the Gospel being shared around the world.

Paul spoke of the things he suffered in the course of his ministry in an amazingly open outpouring: “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” (2 Cor 11:23-28) His life and ministry may have been exceptional but these are the sort of things he refers to when he says, “I fill up in my flesh.” i.e. these are the things I have physically experienced. Read back over those verses above and see that so much of it involved physical struggles.

Modern sharing the Gospel across the world is mild by comparison. In the past when I have traveled abroad I was away from my family for up to three weeks (in a day before Skype or e-mails provided a link). In the middle of the night in Hong Kong, I suddenly became aware of the thousands of miles of rock between me and my wife as I imagined her on the other side of the globe. Sitting on a plane for ten to thirteen hours is tedious and tiring but nothing like the endeavours of Paul and his fellow apostles. When I first went east, I suffered culture shock, a relatively minor shock to the system. And then I came across some missionaries in preparation. One couple were about to make their way to Outer Mongolia where the nearest Westerners would be over five hundred miles away. As I encountered these and other similar missionaries getting ready for a life of privation, I recognized that I was in the company of a different brand of people. These were those who were giving up their lives, giving up their families, giving up their careers, to go and take the good news of Jesus to peoples who had never yet heard, and all they looked forward to was affliction! These are mighty people!

Paul finishes the verses with, “Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”   Christ is in the business of growing his body so that his Father’s kingdom may be expanded and the world blessed and his Father honoured. These afflictions come and are experienced that this end may be achieved. Jesus himself was misunderstood, reviled and rejected and then crucified. These were his afflictions  while he was on earth in a single body. Since then his body has received beatings and burnings, impositions and imprisonments, derision and death, and so even today in varying measures around the world, it continues. It is the cost of sharing and maintaining the Gospel.

34. Heirs of God

Meditations in Romans : 34:  Heirs of God

Rom 8:16,17   The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

I largely find, as I look around and listen to what I hear in church, an absence of the awareness of being God’s children. Indeed I believe some Christians would almost feel it presumptuous to call themselves children of God, but that is the clear teaching of Scripture and, even more, in the verse we finished on in the previous meditation, Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit Himself testifies or confirms with our own spirit that that is what we are, so if we deny it, we deny what the Spirit within is trying to tell us – You are God’s child! We covered that already when we noted the words, you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (8:15) Every time we feel inclined to turn to God in prayer, it is the Holy Spirit reminding us of the relationship we have with the Father.

Now this is important to follow through because of where Paul next takes us: “Now if we are children…”   He’s not saying ‘if’ in any derogatory, challenging way; he’s saying, “Now because we are children of God…” Accept it: you ARE a child of God if you are a Christian. The apostle John was strong on this: “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” (Jn 1:12) and, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1)

So, OK, let’s move on, “Because we are children of God…. we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.”  An heir is simply someone who has received an ‘estate’ (however extensive or small that may be). The ‘estate’ is simply whatever is being left by the deceased. We receive the property or rights or whatever, being left to us by the person who has died. It wasn’t ours beforehand, but it is now. It has been left to us and it now belongs to us. Now there is something significant in the words of this verse. Note: heirs OF God, co-heirs WITH Christ. God has left this to us and we share the ‘this’ with Christ.  This is where most of us come unstuck, because we’ve heard the teaching – you are an heir – but we are left wondering, “What is it I’ve been left?”

Well, let’s take a step back again: we are now children of God, “sons of God” (8:14) and we said previously that whenever in the New Testament there is this sort of wording, it harps back to the Old Testament concept of the eldest son who took over the father’s business and carried it on. What have we inherited? The Father’s business! What is the Father’s ‘business’? Is it not to love the world and draw it back to Himself? I am sure that God, being the Almighty Being that He is, does billions of things in the rest of Creation, but as far as this planet is concerned, the Bible reveals to us that God is always at work (Jn 5:17) and Jesus did what he saw his Father doing (Jn 5:19) and now draws us into doing the same things (Jn 14:12). How can we do that, we ask in panic, and the answer is, by the Spirit he has put within us – HE is the one who does it using us as the vessels through which to move.

But then Paul has a further thought and it is as if he then says, “Look, you’ve got to be whole hearted in all this. I mean when you came to Christ you totally surrendered yourself and gave up your will to God’s will, and that means to all of it. So when it comes to sharing in the Father’s ‘business’ it means taking all that that involves, the bad as well as the good or, if you like, the bad to ensure we get the good as well.” Hence he writes, “if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” i.e. if we want to share in God’s business, sharing in Jesus’ ministry, we have got to realise that because we live in a fallen world and contend with an enemy, and have to cope with others who are not where we are, it is sometimes going to get rough!

This is not saying anything surprising. It’s a fact of spiritual life. Because we live in a sin-filled world and there is an enemy in the form of Satan, his demons and powers and principalities of darkness (Eph 6:12), there will be people who are against us just as there were people who were against Jesus and his disciples. This, unfortunately, (and we would prefer it was otherwise) is how it is living and ministering in a fallen world. Sometimes it gets difficult (to say the least!).

The apostle Paul was possibly the ultimate example of this. Listen to his testimony: “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” (2 Cor 11:23-27)

Now of course most of us are not called to do what he did but we may still suffer opposition at work or college or school or from neighbours, but whatever it is, the apostle Paul could go on a declare, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (8:18)  As his argument goes on, it does, we suggest, indicate that this glory to “be revealed in us” is actually in this lifetime but we will have to wait for the next meditation to consider that.

In the meantime, hold on to the thrust of verses 16 and 17: we ARE children of God and so we have inherited God’s ‘business’ which we share with Jesus, bringing His love and goodness into this fallen world to draw back to Him whoever will hear and respond. The wonder of it all is that we don’t do it on our own but we do it by Jesus’ leading and by the empowering of his Holy Spirit who he has put within us. Hallelujah!

8. Life Flow

Meditations in Romans : 8:  Life Flow

Rom 5:3-5  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us

Having started off with what we might call the fruits of justification – peace with God and access to His grace – this, says Paul, produces a rejoicing in us as we realise that we are entering into a personal relationship with God whereby we share in His Spirit and in His future. It also means that that rejoicing flows over into all areas and aspects of our lives and that includes the hard bit where we suffer as Christians. So, yes, His resources, His grace, are there available for us in every area of life and in every circumstance.

But actually, he goes on, we can rejoice in the difficult circumstances not only because of the power source we have within, but also because of the effect that such suffering will have upon us. He then embarks on a list of things that flow from one another.

Because we have this access to His grace, when suffering comes, His grace enables us to continue without wavering – that is what perseverance is. How often today do we watch people face a difficulty and then just give up? Young people, it seems, so often get married and then go through a difficult patch and give up on the marriage. Perseverance sees you through that time into better times without giving up. How often does a student find that the work was harder than they thought it was going to be and so give up the course?  How many inventors or writers or composers would fail to succeed in their work if they gave up the moment they hit a dry patch. No, perseverance is a key to success. I wonder how many “How to Succeed” manuals cover perseverance. When the enemy comes and opposes us, it is perseverance that sees us through.

But perseverance is also an ingredient in itself that goes to form that thing that we call character. If you look up a dictionary definition of ‘character’, you tend to find such things as, “pattern of behaviour or personality found in an individual, moral constitution, moral strength; reliability, self-discipline, fortitude, etc that produces a good reputation”. We also speak of ‘bad characters’ in a play or story or film, meaning disreputable, unreliable, dubious, and so on. The act of having to struggle with life and to fight your way through difficult circumstances brings about a change of being within you. There comes a steadfastness and reliability or unchangeableness. You learn to cope, you learn to press through and all these things bring about an inner strength that we call character. It isn’t much spoken about in today’s society because we prefer the easy, comfortable way, but such people give up easily. Not so Christians!

These things were exhibited in Paul himself when he wrote, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:12-14). Note the language! It is the language of an overcomer who is not going to give up but who is going to make effort to get where he knows God wants him to be. Is that us? Do we too press on, strain forward in our calling, or do we look for the easy way, the way that requires little or no effort. Even in writing these notes every morning I have to press on, for the temptation is always there not to bother. There are the key words the enemy uses, “Oh, I wouldn’t bother if I were you. It won’t matter. Give up. Stop all this straining and struggling. Surely the Christian life shouldn’t be like that.” Don’t listen to him!

Now when this character forms in us, this steadfastness, we find something else becoming clearer and clearer within us – hope. Hope in the Scriptural sense is a sure confidence, an assurance of what is coming. Hope is about what is still in the future, the goal that God has called us to, to become more like Jesus, to accomplish some particular task perhaps, to achieve the vision that He has put on our heart. As we persevere, so we find this strong steadfastness becoming established in us, character, and as that forms we have this growing sense that what we are aiming for WILL be achieved. That is hope.

As this process continues, we find also a greater awareness of God’s love within us, for we realise all of this is no accident, but a process that was initiated and empowered by God Himself and is one of the ways He is pouring His love into your life. As we wait for the vision to be fulfilled we realise that this love, His presence, is there sustaining us and encouraging us. In fact the whole process is part of His love and as we progress, as we develop, as we mature, we realise that all that is going on in us is a work of His love. How wonderful!

67. Assurance

Meditations in 1 Peter : 67: Assurance

1 Pet 5:10,11 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

And so we come to Peter’s closing comments in this letter about suffering. Again we must note that there is a context for these verses. There are distinct links from these verses to the ones that precede them. Verse 10 starts with “And”, suggesting a continuation of thought. There is the phrase, “after you have suffered a while” which links this with the previous thoughts about suffering. Previous chapters had more to say on suffering and persecution but the previous verses warning about Satan’s activities, had reminded us that, your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” Now what is important to note is that although we may resist the enemy, sufferings still come, and it is about this that Peter seeks to bring this final assurance: God WILL restore you! But there is much here to be understood.

First, note his description of the Lord: “the God of all grace.” In the context of what follows this must mean the God who provides all the grace you need. Grace as a provision of God for our daily lives is simply His ability conveyed to us to enable us to cope and overcome. But God doesn’t aimlessly provide this resource for us; He does it for a purpose: “who called you to his eternal glory in Christ.” Now this has at least two meanings. First it can mean God who called you to share in His eternal glory, or share in His very being. Now that is certainly true for He has made His home in us when He placed His Spirit within us. Remember Jesus said of the Spirit, “you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (Jn 14:17) and then Paul taught, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Cor 3:16) So God’s glory resides within us, but He is an ongoing resource to help us live out our relationship with Him.

But there lay be another meaning to this, “who called you to his eternal glory in Christ.” It also means who has called is to an eternal life with Him, which starts here today and continues on forever. So we are participators in a life that goes on and on, and while on this earth we need His continual resourcing to uphold us and maintain us against the enemies attacks that we have already referred to. For that glory to continue to shine in us, despite the things that come against us, we need His continual supply of grace.

That supply is necessary because of the suffering that is implied in,after you have suffered a little while.” Despite all that has been said so far in these recent meditations, we still may not take in the truth here: Christians DO suffer and they suffer persecution. Jesus warned the church in Smyrna, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Rev 2:10) Jesus KNEW this was going to happen and wasn’t going to stop it! It was coming as a test of their faith that would abound to God’s glory!  This does happen to Christians!

For the Christians that Peter was writing to, he was confident that, God … will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” They were going to come through this. Now we have to acknowledge that that isn’t always the outcome; there are sometimes martyrs. Stephen was stoned to death (Acts 7:59,60) and James was killed by Herod (Acts 12:2). It is not for us to say what the outcome of persecution will be. Our call, as Jesus said to the church in Smyrna is to “be faithful, even to the point of death.” If persecution comes and God brings us through it, we win. If we die and go to heaven, we win! This does require us to have a Biblical view of eternity and of death and heaven.

Peter then concludes, To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” When he says, “to him be…” he is saying, understand that He has this and so declare it and glorify Him with it. His is the power. God has the power, all power, for He is Almighty. There is no limitation to His power so if He so decrees, none can stand before Him. But, understand this: it is His power to use as His wisdom decrees. So sometimes He uses His power to bring us through the persecution here on earth, and sometimes He uses it to bring us to Him in heaven.

Why is Peter finishing with this? He finishes with it because he wants us to live at peace in the face of whatever comes our way, secure in the knowledge that the Lord is sovereign and He will move on our behalf in whatever way is best for us. We can rest secure in His love knowing that His wisdom is perfect and His power is sufficient to achieve whatever it is that He has on His heart to achieve through us! Whenever – and always! Hallelujah! Can we rest in that? May it be so!


56. Suffering Again (2)

Meditations in 1 Peter : 56: Suffering Again (2)

1 Pet 4:15-16 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

Righteous suffering or unrighteous suffering; that is what these two verses are about. Oh, not more on suffering and persecution, you might be thinking. I’m afraid yes, because that is what Peter does – he says more about it, more to help us. We said in the previous meditation that suffering and persecution are the ‘the elephant in the room’, being there in the background of Western Christianity, there but ignored mostly.  But for Peter it cannot be ignored for it is a very real element in the life of the early Church.

Back in chapter 2, speaking about slaves and the possibility of them suffering unjustly, he said something similar to what we now find here: For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it?” (2:19,20) i.e. it is good to bear up well under persecution when you have done no wrong, but if you are suffering because you have done wrong, there is no credit in that!

So now, in these present verses, he says something very similar. He sets up two groups of people and differentiates between them. The first group is made up of those who have done wrong: a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.” Each of these people interfere with and harm others, from a murderer at one end of the spectrum to a gossiping busybody upsetting people at the other end. Frankly, he implies, these people deserve trouble. There is nothing commendable about getting into trouble for doing wrong.

Now we may think that this is a very minor bit of teaching but I wonder how many times Christians are unwise or foolish in their speech or behaviour and were not being Christ-like, but then bemoan the fact that they have received opposition or censure? How many times have we spoken arrogantly into the world and then been surprised when we have received hostile reactions in return? This is, in fact, a very significant piece of teaching and Peter says similar things elsewhere. Do you remember back in chapter 3 he said, “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. (1 Pet 3:15,16)  That is a very significant teaching. Be ready with answers when you are questioned but make sure your answers come in gentleness and with respect so you give people no grounds to judge you, and if they do it will be them who are in the wrong, not you!  We really do need to think about these things when the scripture exhorts us to be salt and light. The way we do it is crucial!

But he moves on: “However” i.e. by contrast, if you get opposition and suffer simply for being a Christian, that is something else! “If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed.” The implication in the light of what has just gone is, shame on you if you do wrong when you say you are a Christian, but if you are living the Christ-life, full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14) and you then get opposition, you do not need to feel bad, you do not need to feel ashamed. You haven’t ‘let the side down’, you have just received opposition from the enemy which is opposition to goodness. As we saw previously, it happened to Jesus and so it will happen to us. When it does (as long as you have given no grounds for it) don’t feel ashamed or guilty or bad about it. People get upset when they are shown up.

When Stephen started his final speech it was recorded, “All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” (Acts 6:15) That was amazing. However, examine Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost and Stephen’s denunciations in chapter 7 and we find a distinct difference. Both men brought the truth and Peter saw tremendous fruit, but Stephen hit them in the face with their failure and gave them no time to think through the truth of what he was saying. His ‘in-your-face’ challenges simply stirred their unrighteous anger. Was he wise in doing it like that? Saul (who became Paul) stood there unmoved and it was only a direct encounter with Jesus that changed him. The account of Stephen is there in all its clarity, but is it there as a lesson on how not to do it, I wonder?

There is a difference between holding onto your beliefs in the face of challenge, and stuffing them down someone’s throat ungraciously. Peter’s earlier words about speaking with gentleness and respect, linked in with our verses above, should perhaps give us some grounds to think carefully and honestly. May we do that!


55. Suffering Again (1)

(We pick up again the studies from 1 Peter)

Meditations in 1 Peter : 55: Suffering Again (1)

1 Pet 4:12-14 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

There is a phrase that has crept into usage in recent days which is applicable here. It is reference to “the elephant in the room”. Essentially it means there is something massive in the background that is there but which we are ignoring. Persecution is like that in the Western world. In the Western world, in which I live and write, we know very little of real persecution. Yes, there have been cases of people being told that they will not wear a cross while at work and other silly things like that.

That is silly from both sides – silly from those who impose such mundane and petty strictures and silly from those who give credibility to such people by getting upset about it. Yes, there has been the nurse disciplined for praying over a patient, but again we are moving into the silly zone. Let’s recognise that there is a godless majority out there but the call to us to be salt and light means that we display goodness in such a manner that it takes the breath away! Goodness, when it is seen, won’t be just the occasional act but will be a way of life that creates envy!

All of these things are shown for their insignificance when you come across many places in the world where there is outright persecution of anyone deigning to be a Christian and, even more, seeking to share it. Persecution is alive and well throughout the world even if some of us in more liberal nations escape the brunt of it. For us it tends to be abuses of so-called tolerance in the name of political correctness; for them it means death or imprisonment.

It is like that now and it always has been. In the early centuries of the life of the Christian Church, persecutions came and went at the dictates of the current Roman emperor. Some were terrible, some less so. In Peter’s day it was alive and well. In fact he was on the rough end of it at one point (see Acts 12) and the belief that his life was ended in crucifixion also testifies to it. But he is a realist. He had heard his master speak on it and so now he sees it as part of life:do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” Wow! That’s a poke in the eye for self-concern. Someone today might say, “Stop crying. What do you expect?”   Yes, real persecution is painful. There is nothing romantic about persecution. When people were burnt at the stake that was painful! Yes, the grace of God was there for them to cope, but it was still painful and horrible!

Perhaps we need to remind ourselves of Jesus’ basic teaching: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Mt 5:11,12) i.e. where you are persecuted remember you are part of the great family of God that has always been opposed by unbelievers. And, If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: `No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (Jn 15:18-20) i.e. as Jesus’ servant they will hate you because they hated him.  It was part of the teaching of the early leaders. Paul and Barnabas taught, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22) and Paul warned Timothy, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim 3:12).

But Peter comes with a very positive attitude, the same attitude as Jesus: “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed,” i.e. don’t get down about it but recognise and rejoice in the fact that you are sharing in the same experiences that Christ himself had. Even more than that, when you overcome (by his grace) and come through it, when he is revealed (either in it through you, or when he returns) you will have great joy. It’s tough while it lasts, but it will bring a harvest of joy eventually.

But he pushes this positive attitude even further: If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you,” i.e. when you suffer these insults and worse, you will find that God’s very presence will be there for you and you will experience His glory in the power of His Spirit.  The Lord will not leave you alone. As many have been able testify, when they walked through their darkest hours, the presence of God was the most real that they had ever experienced. This is the Lord who said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Heb 13:5 & Deut 31:6) and who makes good His promise, especially at times of pressure from the enemy in the form of persecution. He is there and His grace is sufficient. Hallelujah!


42. Be at Peace

Meditations in 1 Peter : 42 : Be at Peace

1 Pet 3:13-15 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. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.

The ways of life are very obvious when you think about it. For example, if you want a life of trouble and difficulty all you have to do is be nasty to people, cheat on them, lie to them, deceive them, be spiteful to them, steal from them, do your work badly, fail to pay your debts, borrow but never give back and so on. If you are a student you skip classes, never hand work in and be casual about your learning.  If you are married you be unfaithful to your partner and be unpleasant to your kids. Now all that is so obvious that you might wonder why any of us do any of these things. Surely we want a good life, a life without stress? So why do people act like this? Because of the stupidity of sin!

Peter is painting a very different picture. He is putting up some pointers to help us live the good life and has just used the Old Testament to act as a guide. He assumes we want a life that is peaceful and free from upset. OK, he says, Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” i.e. do good and that will stop most people from being nasty to you. People don’t feel threatened generally by goodness so they won’t attack you. If you constantly do good, you are not going to attract hostility and upset.

But Peter is a realist and he knows that in the world in which we live, although it is generally like that, there will be people so given over to the enemy that they will come against you: “But even if you should suffer for what is right.” This suffering means persecution and opposition from others; that is clear by what follows. Yes, as good as you may be there will be those along life’s way who will oppose you, just like they did Jesus for his goodness. But look what he goes on to say:But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.” How will you be blessed for suffering persecution?

He doesn’t say but perhaps he has in mind his master’s teaching: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Mt 5:10,11)  Yes, Jesus taught that you were blessed in such circumstances because it showed that you were a citizen of the kingdom of heaven and as such heaven will reward you. That reward may be a sense of peace that passes understanding or it may be a sense of the Father’s approval or it may be His blessing that brings further goodness into your life.

But then he seeks to reassure us: Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” This would appear to be a quote from Isaiah: “do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear.” (Isa 8:12,13) i.e. do not fear the plotting and scheming of people. The only one to ‘fear’ is God because He is all-seeing and all-mighty. We live, as children of God, under the watchful eye of our Father and He will provide for us and protect us: “I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip– he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you– the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm– he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” (Psa 121) That IS the truth. We would do well to memorise that psalm for it reminds us of the truth.

Then Peter takes the Old Testament teaching and brings it up to date: But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” The Old Testament was ‘fear the Lord’. The New Testament was ‘Jesus is Lord’. They are the same things expressed at different times with different levels of revelation. Today our submitting to God is expressed through our submission to His Son, our Saviour and Lord, Jesus Christ. So today, when we are facing opposition and wondering how we will cope, remember that Jesus is Lord and is seated at his Father’s right hand ruling in heaven over all things.(see Eph 1:22, 1 Pet 3:22, Rom 8:34, 1 Cor 15:25, Psa 110:1). Faith means we respond to these truths and the outworking of it will be peace. We will live in peace and live out peace. Yes, sometimes there will be opposition but Christ will be there and his grace will be sufficient as he works out all things for our good. Rejoice in this and be at peace in this! 

33. Opposition (2)

Meditations in 1 Peter : 33:  Coping with Opposition (2)

1 Pet 2:21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

This is the hard side of the Christian life, the side that most of us in the West prefer not to think about. We will in the next meditation go on to look in detail to how Christ acted but for now we must just focus on the fact that he suffered and we are also called to suffer for the Gospel. Remember Peter has just said about slaves, if you suffer for doing good….” This is not self-inflicted suffering; this is suffering because we are Christians.

Now to get balance we have to note that it isn’t always like that in life and there are also times in the New Testament when the church found favour with the world: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people.” (Acts 2:46,47). Indeed, it should be our purpose to win favour by our good lives, as Paul said a similar thing to the slaves in Colosse: “ Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” (Col 3:22).  Yet the truth also is that there will be times when the world around us will be hostile to us because we are Christians.

Jesus laid out this teaching very clearly to his disciples: “But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.” (Lk  21:12-19).

Now there are some crucial points in this. First, note, “This will result in your being witness to them.” i.e. when you are hauled before authorities see this as an opportunity to testify to the Lord. Second, note the Lord’s provision: “I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.” Wow, that is positive!

Why will people oppose us? Listen again to Jesus’ teaching at the Last Supper: “I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: `No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name.” (Jn 1519-21). Ultimately all opposition we receive as Christians is because of Christ. The enemy is against him and against us as his representatives.

This teaching goes right back to the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you,” (Mt 5:10-12) yet there it is expanded to remind us that all of God’s servants throughout time have been opposed. But, says Jesus, you will be blessed when you are persecuted and we are to rejoice in such circumstances because (implied) it shows we are part of God’s family, doing God’s will.

The nature of this persecution is made even more clear in John’s Gospel: “So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (Jn 5:16-18) Jesus was ‘working’ on the Sabbath because his Father was working and that upset the religious ideas of some. Then we he associated himself with his Father that upset them even more.

Our call is to do the will of God as the Holy Spirit leads us. Sometimes that will upset people (see Acts 4). When we associate ourselves with our Lord that will sometimes also upset people. We are not to be purposely antagonistic but if our simple declarations spoken gently bring hostility simply because of the content – despite the delivery – then so be it!  That is our calling.  But remember it is a calling that brings the grace of God with it. He will enable and He will look after us. Those are His promises.

51. More on Patience

Meditations in James: 51:  More on Patience & Perseverance

Jas 5:10,11    Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

The temptation to give up is sometimes a very strong temptation. We have a poster which includes some of the following lines: “People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centred. Love them anyway….. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway…. People really need help but may attack you if you help them. Help people anyway….. Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you’ve got ANYWAY.”  Whoever originally wrote those words knew that sometimes life in this world is tough but we have to decide to keep on anyway. To give up is to let Sin and Satan win. To give up is to be trampled on and to lose wonderful possibilities of a better tomorrow.   When we’re tired, feeling jaded, worn out, and the enemy seems to jeer at us, he’s trying to get us to give up. It’s a strong temptation, but Paul wrote: No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it. (1 Cor 10:13 Message version) The words of that verse tell us a) our temptation is common to life, b) God won’t let you be pushed further  than you can cope with and c) He’ll be there to help you.

James has just said, You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near (v.8), the ‘too’ referring to the example of the farmers he had just spoken about as having to wait patiently for their harvests. In the face of unrighteous people or, even, of having to struggle with our own unrighteous attitudes or behaviour and sometimes failing, the temptation to just give up is often strong. Hence we need these words of encouragement: be patient and stand firm and now these words about the prophets. Look what James says.

“Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” The subject of his concern is having patience, waiting for God, or God’s grace, to turn up when we are suffering. If you want an example of how this worked out, he implies, look at the Old Testament prophets. He goes on,As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered.” In the teaching of the day, the prophets were revered for their loyalty and faithfulness to the Lord. Despite the opposition they received, they hung on in.  The reality is that despite what was thrown at them, they survived and were triumphant.

You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.” James then cites the particular example of Job who persevered in the face of lots of bad things happening to him.  Yes, the enemy afflicted him but the end of the story was God blessing him and restoring him to what he had known previously – in fact twice as prosperous as he had been before! (Job 42:10).

“The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.The fact that tough things happen in this world, doesn’t detract from the truth about God’s character. He is still full of compassion and mercy. He is still a God who feels for His people and is moved by the plight of His people.  Remember Moses’ first encounter with the Lord: The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them.” (Ex 3:7,8). Compassion is a heart moved by plight. God doesn’t stand afar off when we are going through tough times. No, He is right there and He feels and understands all we are going through and is there working to bring good through it (Rom 8:28). More than that He doesn’t assess every situation and say, “Oh well, they deserve it!” and leave us to it. No, He knows our frailty and despite our stupidity, so often, He comes and rescues us. It is an act of pure mercy. Not deserved but nevertheless given.

Yes, James knows that living in this world brings both opposition from other people and opposition from sin that we struggle with. He knows that we struggle with the temptation to give up, and so he encourages us to persevere, patiently waiting for the Lord to turn up and intervene. He cites working illustrations – farmers – and spiritual illustrations – Old Testament prophets. Having to wait and be patient is a familiar thing, a normal and natural thing in this Fallen World.  So his word comes: hang on! But it’s more than that; it is, hang on – because God WILL turn up, as surely as harvest does and as surely as He did for His prophets of old. So look up and look around. The Lord is coming for you in your situation!