Do you know who Joel Osteen is? He’s pastor at a huge Mega church. He wears nice suits. He has very pearly whites and a flashy smile.
He is also famous for teaching something called the Theology of Glory. The Theology of Glory is simply this: Become a Christian and God will give you a good life. In other words, the more and more you follow God…the more and more glorious your life will become. Here’s an example from his book: Your Best Life Right Now: 7 Steps to Living at your Full Potential.
God wants you to have a good life, a life filled with love, joy, peace, and fulfillment. That doesn’t mean it will always be easy, but it does mean that it will always be good.
That seems nice right? God wants us to have good things happen in this life. The implication? If, then, your life isn't so good, it's because you aren't believing hard enough.
I wonder what would happen if you preached that to Stephen-- the man who confessed Jesus as Savior until the Pharisees hurled stones at his head until he died. Or to the Apostle James who was put to death by King Herod, or to the Apostle Paul stoned, arrested, imprisoned, and banished for the sake of Jesus.
Did these guys have it wrong? Were the suffering because they didn't believe enough? Were they bad Christians?
Today’s message from 1 Peter 4:12-19 describes a much different picture of faith in Christ. It describes a picture where the People of God suffer just for being Christians!
1. Suffering isn't Surprising!
Take a look at 4:12, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
Notice that Peter writes it isn’t strange at all to suffer for being a Christian. In fact, we should expect it. Like I expect the drinking fountain to splash out cool H20 when I press the lever and not warm chocolate milk, so we should expect to suffer for the sake of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Why should we expect it? Consider Jesus. He himself suffered for his teachings. He told the Pharisees that they needed a Savior and they told him that he needed to shut up. He told them he came to save them and they came to crucify them. He said that He’d die for them and they said they’d kill Him for them.
Jesus and his message earned him suffering.
Should his followers expect anything less?
Should those early Christians expect anything less?
Should modern Christians expect anything less?
Should you expect anything less?
Maybe you do. Ask yourself:
- Did you think being a Christian meant life was nothing but roses?
- Did you think you'd make lots of money?
- Get lots of friends? Life would be without any problems?
- Have all kinds of connections?
- If you aren't experiencing incredible happiness, does that mean that you aren't a good Christian?
Not true. In fact, the opposite seems to be more likely. If you aren't experiencing hardship simply for being a Christian, then maybe you aren't making that fact known well enough! Because being a Christian means enduring suffering for being a Christian!
And it’s bad.
Christians in the Middle East being beheaded for the faith.
Christians in China being deported or throne into prison.
Christians in America being ridiculed and mock for ‘archaic’ belief in the Bible.
Suffering as a Christian isn’t surprising, but it is still suffering. Even terrible.
So…you might be thinking: “This is all terrible news. How can suffering be a good thing? How can Christianity be a good thing? Maybe I’ve still got time to change my allegiance and join a Buddhist meditation room instead!”
When we consider how Christians suffer for following Jesus, we might get sad. But Peter tells us to do the exact opposite. Look at verse 13. He says, “Rejoice!”
II. Suffering Isn't Saddening
Because at our Preschool, sometimes the little ones fall and scrape their knees. Sometimes there is a scratch; sometimes a little bit of blood; and sometimes the ever popular "invisible wound.”
But there is always tears.
In fact, never once has a child popped up with a smile and both arms in the air shouting, “I did it! I’m so happy. I’m suffering with an injury!”
But this is exactly what God is telling us to do in response to suffering for Jesus. 1 Peter 4:13 says, “Rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ…"
Weird? Not so much. Peter isn’t a sadist. In fact, he gives four wonderful reasons to rejoice in suffering:
1) The Glory Revelation is Coming!
Verse 13 says that suffering happens So that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. That glory is nothing else than that glorious moment when we become a member of God’s incredible kingdom in heaven.
Why is that so important?
As bad as suffering might get, whether it’s insults, lost friends on Facebook, frowns from your coworkers, prison, physical harm or even death…
…what is that compared to eternal glory in heaven?
The answer? Worth it.
· What are a few angry glances from people compared to the eternal loving smile of your Father in heaven?
· What are a few uneasy feelings compared to the constant peace of forgiveness from God?
· What are a few bad names compared to the name of “MY CHILD” spoken by God himself?
· What are a few broken bones compared to the healing glory of your Divine brother’s love?
Suffering on earth reminds us of how glorious life will be without suffering in heaven! It fixes our eyes on Jesus not on trying to build up wealth on earth. In doing so, it strengthens our faith and our grip on eternal, forever riches in heaven!
2) The Spirit of the Lord is on You
Peter tells us a second reason to rejoice in suffering. Check out verse 14, “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”
How do Atheists feel about God? They hate him. How about people who love doing their sins? They hate him.
If people hate you for your faith in God, understand this awesome truth: That means God is in you! Your faith is real.
Think about what would happen if you walked into an NC State bar with a UNC hat on? You’d get jeered out of there!
Think about what happens when you have Jesus, whom the sinner hates, on your side? You suffer!
But this is great news. Because it means that the Lord is in you! It means that the Spirit of God is with you. If you are faithfully suffering for Jesus, that means you are in faith and have saving faith! Your friends, your coworkers, your family, the world does not hate you, but they hate God! And, if you had to choose which side to be on, wouldn’t you want to be on the side of the Almighty? The only One who matters? The only One who will judge on Judgment Day?
3) You Bear Christ’s Name
Thirdly, Peter writes, If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.
If you are a UNC Tarheel fan, you might suffer this past weekend. They kind of got clobbered by ECU. But, if you are Tarheel faithful, you will grin and bear it. Happy to be an alumni, willing to be a part of the club, even if you have to take your licks in doing so.
If you suffer for Christ as a Christian, don’t focus on the sadness of being insulted; instead praise God that you are a part of Christ's team! Thank the Lord that your sins have been removed; you have been called by Christ; you have been baptized into his name; you are together with the LORD almighty.
You are a Christian. You are Christ’s. You bear his Name before your Father in heaven.
That means you are saved!
4) God will Judge the Enemies of Christ.
And thank the Lord. Because what will it be like for those against Christ? Which is our final reason for rejoicing during suffering. Take a look at the final verses from our text: It is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; 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?”
Truth is, when you think of judgment, even as a Christian, who knows Jesus died for you and took away your sins, it’s still hard. Hard to truly believe that Jesus died for our sins. Tough to trust that God is in fact faithful to his word of forgiveness. With prayers and thanks to God, we ask Him to hold us in faith and keep us trusting in God for salvation.
But what will unbelievers do? What will all those who persecute and destroy the church of God do at that time? Will they persecute God? Will they destroy Him? Will they mock Him?
Or will they come face to face with their Maker? Will they have to confront the Almighty fiery eyed hatred of the One they have been against? Won’t God our Lord avenge us? Won’t God the Lord avenge himself?
Go back to that Osteen quote. Joel says, “God wants you to have a good life.” But as we look at the suffering being a Christian leads to in this life, we realize that isn’t true.
Because God doesn’t just want you to have a good life on this earth…
…he wants you to spend a blessed eternity forever in heaven with him!
Peter concludes his text this way: So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
Because suffering for God isn’t so bad. It’s a blessing. A blessing that reminds us of heaven. A blessing that shows we have the Spirit of Christ and Christ’s name on us. A blessing that means we will not face the full wrath of God in heaven.
A blessing that shows that God loves us.