Think It Not Strange: Fiery Trials & Testimony of Christ

be stillHave you been struggling with balancing the idea of suffering for Christ in persecution and living in such a way as to constantly be about the defense of yourself or your country? John Piper gave this message, “Think It Not Strange: Fiery Trials and the Testimony of Christ,” in January of 2016 to a large group of pastors and church leaders. Pastor John encourages us to be so prepared that we would not be ashamed at the coming sufferings and that we would “count it all joy.” This message is focused around 1 Peter 4:12-19.

In the midst of everything we see and anticipate, how should we respond?


 

Taken directly from Desiring God.

How Should We Respond to What Is Coming?

Now, how should we respond to the fact that suffering is coming and it is not strange, but necessary? Let’s walk through 1 Peter 4:12–19 one more time and notice the six responses that Peter calls for. That’s what this whole book is about. But this paragraph suffices to point the way.

But this time through, I am not going to take the six responses in the order that they come in the text. I’ve thought about them a long time. And I’ve watched how they relate to each other throughout the book, and I’ve tried to bore in to what they are really like in real human experience. And I’m going to give them to you in the order that they come about in the human soul (even though some of them are simultaneous) — the order of how each gives rise to the ones after. From the most foundational to the most ultimate.

1) Do Not Be Surprised

The first response Peter mentions is in 1 Peter 4:12 that we should not be surprised. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” We have seen the fact that the trials are coming. They are not strange. They are not surprising. They are necessary in God’s plan. They are his refining judgment. Now respond to this fact by not being surprised.

We lose our equilibrium in life when we are constantly surprised by painful things that come at us. This book ends with the words: “This is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it” (1 Peter 5:12). This is the opposite of losing your equilibrium, your stability, your firmness. Peter is helping us stand. Settle it, he is saying, it’s going to be hard. Life is hard, God is good, glory is coming. So the first thing — the foundational thing is: Settle it in your sober mind, and in your heart — suffering is not strange. That’s where we start. We start with truth. Revealed truth about God and the way he runs the world. He is telling us: I do it this way. So don’t be surprised.

2) Entrust Your Soul to a Faithful Creator

Second, entrust your soul to a faithful creator. Verse 19: “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. This word “entrust” (paratithesthosan) is the same word used in Luke 23:46 when Jesus cries out at the moment of his death, “Father, into your hands I commit (paratithemai) my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.” It’s the same reality we find in 1 Peter 2:23 which describes what Jesus was doing all through his suffering: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” So Jesus showed how to suffer without retaliation, even when being treated so unjustly. We entrust the justice of our cause, and we entrust our souls to a faithful creator.

And probably Peter uses the word “creator” here because this will probably be a moment in our lives when it feels like God is least in control, and Christianity has the least possibility of survival. And precisely at that moment, we look up from our weakness and helplessness and suffering and see: The one who cares for us is the creator of the universe.

3) Do Not Be Ashamed

Thirdly, our response is therefore, not to be ashamed. Verse 16: “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed.” Oh how the human ego hates to be shamed! Little embarrassments are horrible, and big public shame is almost unbearable. It has cause thousands of suicides.

And yet Christianity is founded on a shamed Christ. Back in 1 Peter 2:4, Peter describes the Christian life as “coming to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious.” We have come to a rejected Christ. Thrown out. Despised. Hated. Slandered. Spit on. Mocked. Stripped. Nailed like a piece of meat to pole. And taunted. This is our forerunner.1 Peter 2:21 says, “To this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” So objectively speaking, he was shamed, and we will be shamed. “Woe to you if all men speak well of you” (Luke 6:26). But subjectively what did Jesus do? What should we do. Hebrews 12:2 says, “For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame.” He despised the shame. Shame soaked Jesus like sheets of icy rain. And Jesus looked to the joy over the horizon, and he entrusted his soul to a faithful creator, and he looked shame in the eye, and said, “Shame, I despise you. I despise you so much I will not give you the least place in my soul, and I will not give you the least satisfaction of stopping me from suffering and dying for my people.”

This is what Peter is calling us to be in our day: unashamed of Christ! Unashamed of ridicule, sarcasm, mockery, snubbing, abandonment, suffering. Objectively shamed, and subjectively unashamed.

And surely this possible because of the fourth response Peter calls for, which seems to me simultaneous with being unashamed, namely,

4) Rejoice

The response of joy in our suffering. Verse 13: “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” Jesus said it. Luke said it. Paul said. James said it. It was an utterly pervasive teaching of the early church: the Christian response to suffering is joy.

  • Jesus: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11–12)
  • Luke: “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” (Acts 5:41)
  • Paul: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” (Romans 5:3–4)
  • James: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” (James 1:2–3)

This is probably my biggest burden for this conference and this time in our history. So I will probably be back here tomorrow evening. If there is someone in your church clamoring for you to show them from the Bible how they have a right to carry a gun to save themselves and their family from suffering and death, by all means spend ten cents of your labor on that. And then spend a million dollars on this. You don’t need the Bible or the Holy Spirit to persuade human beings to protect themselves. But to bring into being a church of people who rejoice when they are treated unjustly — that is a miracle that you should give your whole life to. Nothing is harder. Nothing more amazing. Nothing more beautiful. Our Savior was beautified at that horrible mount!

5) Overflow in Good Deeds

This is true especially when this heart of joy in suffering overflows in good deeds to those who don’t deserve it. Verse 19: “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” Suffering. Entrusting your soul to God. Unashamed. Rejoicing. Doing good. This is not a mere private morality of avoidance — not doing bad things. This is a public morality overflowing with good works that help other people.

Suffering. Truth. Trust. Joy. Love. Is it any wonder that in 1 Peter 3:15, the adversaries ask a reason for the hope that is you? You are suffering their mistreatment. You are not retaliating. You are not self-pitying and miserable and moping. You are rejoicing. And more than that you are returning good for evil (1 Peter 3:9)? How could they not ask, “What are you hoping in?”

6) Glorify God.

Finally, by God’s grace in the power of the Holy Spirit, God may be seen as glorious in eyes of the adversary. Verse 16: “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” If, when you suffer, you are not surprised and you trust God, and despise shame and rejoice in your suffering, and overflow in good deeds, and you show that your treasure is not in this world but is in God, you show that he is glorious — gloriously satisfying. And perhaps, by God’s mercy, 1 Peter 2:12 will come true: “. . . so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”

So whatever form the fiery trial takes — the rolling of eyes or the rolling of heads — God calls his blood-bought, eternally secure people not to be surprised, but to entrust our souls to him, to despise the shame, to rejoice, and to overflow with good deeds, and thus to show your treasure is not in this world but in the all-glorious God.

So the fiery ordeal that is coming upon you to test you is not strange. It is necessary. It is God’s refining judgment so that your faith may redound in praise and glory and honor. Therefore, in whatever trials come don’t be surprised, entrust your soul to your faithful Creator, don’t be ashamed of Christ, rejoice in hope, fill your life with good deeds. And show the world that God is gloriously satisfying.


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