- Psalm 119:153-160
- 1 Peter 4:12-19
Dear friends in the Lord Jesus Christ
Just a few questions to the children: hands up if you love going to the dentist!
Why do you think we usually don’t like going to the dentist? Is it perhaps because we dislike the trip to the dentist? Or the furniture in the waiting room? Or are dentists unfriendly people? Or may it’s the needles? Or perhaps because we don’t like having numb lips and tung? Or may it be the drills and other sharp dental instruments? Or is it because we don’t like pain!
If we don’t like pain, why do we go to the dentist? Only because Mom and Dad wants to see us having pain? Why then, do they themselves go?
It is for our good. It might not look like it, but the fact that parents take their children go to the dentist, is because they love their children. And while sitting in the dental chair we might not think so, later on we understand that we have healthy teeth because of our parent’s loved for us.
The Christian life is not an escape from trials
A dangerous branch of modern day theology is the so-called “Prosperity Theology.” It claims that “health and wealth” are the automatic divine right of all Bible-believing Christians because in the Atonement of Christ is included, not just the removal of sin, but also the removal of sickness and poverty. Jesus Christ also atoned for the “sin” of material poverty. If one’s life does show signs of material hardship, one actually lives with untoned sins. The only tool to force God to grant prosperity is to use prayer as a tool to bind God to our bucketlist.
Prosperity “theologians” have no understanding of the doctrine of the biblical necessity of suffering; in fact, there is just a gaping absence of a doctrine of suffering.
One of the basic tenures of this “theology” is that, if you give your money to God, God will bless you with more money. It agrees with the New Thought movement which teaches that human beings are responsible their own happiness, health, and situations in life, and that applying mental energy in the appropriate direction is sufficient to cure any ills. To give this idea a Christian colour, something which sounds like biblical teaching became very popular, and it goes like this, “God helps those who help themselves.” In a recent survey in America almost 90% of Christians believed that this phrase actually comes form the Bible. If this phrase was true, the Biblical teaching of justification by faith alone is joke. If prosperity gospel is true, grace is obsolete, God is not sovereign, and man is the measure everything in and around him.
Our passage today confirms Biblical teaching found all the way through the Bible.
Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; (1 Peter 4:12, NKJV)
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. (James 1:2–3, NKJV)
Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— (2 Corinthians 11:25–27, NKJV)
Elsewhere he writes:
… it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. (Philippians 1:13–14, NKJV)
He was imprisoned when he wrote these words and yet he rejoices that his chains became the confidence of others to put their lives on the line for the Gospel too. His sufferings were good for the Gospel cause.
What do property teachers say about this? Was there some hidden sin in Paul causing his suffering? Was his prayer life wanting?
The difference between punishment and refinement
We don’t like pain and suffering; no one does. But we cannot escape the reality of it. But there is something we need to be very clear about. The pain and suffering which became part and parcel of our existence as children of Adam and Eve are not the same thing as the trials mentioned in our verse.
When sin entered this fallen word the punishment on sin included painful childbearing, disturbed marriage relationships, cursed ground calling for painful toil all the days of our life, thorns and thistles, pest, weeds, and death, for we will return to the dust from which were created. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
Between sinful man and an angry and holy God stands the Cross of Jesus Christ. That’s is what was promised that day when God announced the consequences of man’s rebellion, “He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15) The Cross is where the enmity between man and Satan was settled in the Person of Christ, the second Adam.
In Him God’s justice and righteousness were met. In Him the gates of paradise are now wide open and God’s relationship with fallen man is restored, so that those who in Him alone find forgiveness and restoration are no longer punished for their trespasses. The astonishing aspect of Christ’s righteousness is that all our past sin, but also our future sin, is already atoned for. Our trespasses, sins and rebellion were transferred onto Him when He took it and nailed it to the Cross. If He is your Saviour even future sins are not punished, because His atonement was complete. Listen to these verses:
He [Christ], because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, blameless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. (Hebrews 7:23–27, NKJV)
In Christ sin is atoned, punishment came to an end, guilt is removed and sinners receive the right to be called children of God. When trials meet the Christian, he does not blame God for punishing him, for his punishment was met in Christ. The Christian asks, “What are you teaching me, Lord? Teach me the purpose of this refinement?” Trials are not punishment, they are a sign that God treats us like true children by disciplining us. This is possible because for the Christian suffering is not something unusual, but something necessary. Charles Spurgeon wrote: “There is no greater mercy that I know of on earth than good health, except it, is sickness, and that has often been a greater mercy to me than health.”
The Bible is however clear that those who keep rebelling against God by rejecting his offer of grace in Jesus Christ, live under the judgment of God. Unrepentant sinners, although enjoying the common grace of God which He bestows on all of the human race—He gives rain over sinners as well as the righteous—life’s setbacks of pain and suffering are merely a precursor to the ultimate and eternal punishment of hell. Such a sinner can rightfully ask God when calamity strikes, “Why do You keep on punishing me.”
Our unity with Christ
Peter continues in 1 Peter 4:
… rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. (1 Peter 4:13, NKJV)
What should the first reaction of the Christian be when trials and suffering comes his way? This happens because I belong to Christ. I can only belong to Christ if I am united with Him, so that what He did on the cross for me, by faith is mine; but it also means that we now walk in unity with Christ: his sufferings are mine.
that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death… (Philippians 3:10, NKJV)
This was one of the first lessons of discipleship. On the Mountain Jesus called his disciples to Him and taught them:
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11–12, NKJV)
What we don’t understand is that not only do we share in Christ’s gift of righteousness and suffering, but we share in his glory. “You will be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” Be insulted for the Name of Christ is a sign of “the Spirit of glory and of God resting” on us (1 Peter 4:14). If we suffer “as a Christian” we should “not be ashamed, but praise God that we bear that name.” (1Peter 4:17) The name “Christian” indicates our unity with Christ. It means “Christ-partakers”, or “those who are in Christ”. And this is exactly why this world hates Christians: it hated Christ and still does.
We don’t need to go looking for trouble in the world; just tell people you are a Christian and it will evoke all sort of negative reactions. Should we be surprised? Peter said, “Do not be surprised.” Prosperity “theology” followers will be.
Not all who call themselves Christians within the safety of church walls are Christians. The Bible is therefore clear that the trials we endure serve as purification of the Church of Jesus Christ:
For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17)
This is a very sobering verse. In fact, it is divisive in the true sense of the word. God’s judgement will bring division. This is the message of the Scriptures, running like a golden thread through it. That’s the point of the Cross. That gives meaning to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Whosoever trusts Christ for salvation does not have reason to fear the day of judgement, but we understand the meaning of “hardness” to be saved in the light of the trials and persecution of the Christ of Jesus Christ, not in terms of the measure of our own effort to work our way into heaven.
The question is, “What will become of the ungodly and the sinner.” (1 Peter 4:18) Let’s just think about the question. What plausible answer do we have other than our total reliance on the righteousness of Christ?
We close with the words of our reading: If you are suffering, remember it is in accordance with the will of God. And because it is so, commit yourself to your “faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (1Peter 4:19) He’s your Creator, there is no other God, and He calls you to love Him with everything you have. Trust Him, He is with you in your trials, not because He hates you, but because He is preparing you for eternity. He is waiting to receive his children in his eternal home when all of this is over and done with.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 15 July 2018