Background Scripture: 1 Peter 4:12-19
Quote of the Week:
The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.
Leonardo da Vinci
I took one look at the title to the lesson and it took me back to the days of choir in school and church. It would seem that then, as well as now, with many of the reality shows that air today, there should be a show that is called "So you think you can sing" (At least that would be what I would call it about my singing background - yes, I thought I could at one point, but then my voice changed and alas, not so much anymore). In reality, there are many people that seem to be able to sing (and many that can't). However, this lesson is not about singing as with our voice in a song, but experiencing joy in life. There are some people that seem to be more joyful by nature and others that seem to despise joyfulness in life (their own or others!).
There are plenty of reasons that we have to be joyful, but we seem to be easily distracted towards the things that can steal joy from our lives. Certainly there are some people that you and I know that have had to deal with intense circumstances in which it is nearly impossible to have joy. We tend to forget the persecution that the original recipients of this letter were under. In every chapter of 1 Peter, Peter speaks about suffering and persecution of the church. While we may feel some sense of persecution today, it doesn't even come close to what these people dealt with, yet they were encouraged to find joy.
If these recipients were encouraged to find joy in the midst of their circumstances, wouldn't you think that we should be able to do the same? Unfortunately, there are many around us (maybe even ourselves) that choose to focus on the negative in their lives. They spend much of their time focused on trying to foolishly change things and people, only to end up despondent. There comes a point in all of our lives, when we realize that we can not control a situation or person, and instead of beating our heads against a wall, we are instead called to find something in the situation or person, to be joyful about. Rather than taking steps towards solving issues, or simply learning how to appropriately manage what has transpired, some will focus on their own disappointments and the "should haves", which only serve to keep the presence of real joy from being able to show up in any manner whatsoever.
This passage begins by saying that we should not be surprised when you face 'fiery ordeals'. Are you surprised by the trials that you face in life? Sometimes, we seem to have bought into (and sold) the rose garden Christianity. While we wouldn't say it, we often think that the bad things that happen to others would never happen to us. Surely you've watched the news and have seen reports about something extremely unusual occurring in a good neighborhood and have heard those interviewed say that they "never thought it would happen here"? We seem to expect bad news elsewhere, but when it hits home, it's a different story.
This passage is not so much about tragedy that befalls us, but trials that a believer may face due to being a Christian. As this lesson is being written, there are news stories of persecution of Christian believers from around the world, specifically in Iraq, where a group of militants are going around and intimidating and killing Christians. There are children who have been beheaded. As if that is not unsociable enough, their little heads were placed on sticks that were then stuck in the ground at a local park, as a means to 'warn other Christians'. Mother's are being raped and fathers are being killed. This is nothing short of a mass genocide against Christians. Lest you think this is a new sort of evil, it is reminiscent of what Nero had done to believers during his reign. He took the tortured bodies of believers, had them placed in tar, then impaled on poles, stuck in the ground and then lit ablaze. This served as a lighted path to the coliseums. As Solomon said in Ecclesiastes there is nothing new under the sun. We are shocked (and rightly so) when we see acts of barbarism resurface in our 'modern' and cultured world. We have somehow come to believe that the human soul and mind have been enlightened and that heinous acts of the past, will not be used again. If only this were true. Today we are engulfed with the sinister behavior of people that transcends time. We are living in a world that has sex trafficking taking place within the US; wars in multiple countries; genocides happening across the globe and evil occurring at every corner. We do not live in a peaceful world and we do not live in a world void of horrific tragedy and trials. So how is it that we are surprised when we face difficulties in our simple, everyday lives? For most readers of this lesson, persecution is a foreign concept.
On a completely different end of the spectrum is where most American Christians fall. While we don't usually fear for our lives, we do experience different issues (we tend to call them trials) when we take a stand for our faith. These trials may pale in comparison to the fear of loss of our lives, but they may cause us to face obstacles that we wouldn't normally face, if we just gave in to the perceived 'norm' of the world. We may face challenges with other people in the workplace or in your neighborhood or those who you are involved with in other activities outside the house. Not many of us like to be ostracized from others, we all like to fit in. But for arguments sake, let's imagine that you have to give in to what the popular consensus of our culture is. Ask yourself these questions: What would I do? Would I speak out for what I believe at the risk of being isolated and thought of as weird or extreme or the new word for this generation, intolerant? Or would I just 'keep the peace' and disagree internally?
We are told to not be surprised when we encounter trials. Quite frankly, none of us want to face trials. We want everyone to have steady employment, adequate finances to meet their needs, good health and relationships that are always positive. However, if you look back over your life, when is that you have you grown the most spiritually? For most of us, it has occurred when we have experienced problems in life or when we have nowhere else to turn but to God. Many of us can look back and point to times of specific spiritual growth during events that we would never want to have experienced. In the end, we are thankful that we were drawn closer to God, even though we may wish it was able to happen without the negative issues. And we may never truly understand why things happened as they did, we just know that we found a way to accept it and grow in our maturity - both emotionally and spiritually.
Peter tells us that if we are insulted because of the name of Christ, then we are to be considered blessed, as the Spirit of glory and of God rests on us. If you recall the life of Christ, He was often falsely accused. Some said that he had mental illness and was demonically possessed. The religious people said that Christ was a blasphemer. However, Christ stayed the course, despite all of the problems that He faced and ultimately His glory was revealed. We are called to stay the course as well and realize that it is more important to seek God's favor, than to cower to the world.
Peter goes on to say that all suffering is not what we are called to seek. For example, suffering due to being a murderer or a thief or some other kind of criminal is not suffering to be lauded. Some people will look at the list of sins and excuse themselves, saying that they never did this or that. However, Peter continued to speak to suffering due to meddling. There are some people that seem to be focused on correcting others, and attempting to manipulate them to do what they want them to do. Often, this will backfire and cause suffering to the one who 'intended' to do good, but ended up overstepping their boundaries. In this case, the righteous suffering at the start may lead to suffering that is self inflicted.
We need to realize that we are called to take a stand. However, it is important that we take our stand on things that Christ would stand on. Some people and churches tend to try to tackle social issues and believe that their Christian job is to 'fix' society. While this may be a laudable passion, this is not where we are called to take our stand. Our focus should be on bringing others to Christ, and not on correcting behavior and instilling our morals on others (that's the job of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer). When we think of the life of Christ, He spent more time with the sinners, while it was the Pharisees and other religious people that Jesus had the biggest problem with, and oddly enough, had the biggest problem with him!
We also need to remember that suffering alone isn't a sign that you are in God's will. Believers are to live in a way as to be salt in the world. There are some people that have seen themselves as some pristine element that cannot touch the world. We think of some who have holed up in monasteries, but there are many people that are in churches who are of that same mindset. Salt is to preserve and to also provide somewhat of an irritant. If you are away from the world, can you be salt? We need to realize that others are watching us and assuming that the way we act is how a Christian should behave. We will all fail from time to time, but when we are unable to get up and move on from that failure or we are unable to forgive others, what are we showing the world? Some will think that if you sin, you are out of God's will forever (not true) while others can't forgive and are missing the essence of seeing God's forgiveness for a fallen humanity and the grace that is offered to all.
We are told that if we suffer as a Christian, we should not be ashamed. Rather, we should praise God that we bear His name. This could refer to suffering that we face due to taking a stand for Christ, or even the judgment that we face due to our sin. When we sin, we do see that God judges sin, but as children of God, we have been redeemed through the blood of Christ. Our sins are forgiven and our eternity is secure.
We are not to show a lost world that we are perfect (far from it actually), but we should strive to live our lives in obedience to God. The world is blessed when they see those who are able to stay focused on where God is leading them. However, even when we have sinned, the world needs to see that we can turn from our sin and be forgiven. It is often the response to sin (ours and others) that leads people to God.
When we model a sense of perfection as a believer, we are less relatable to the world. I believe that every person realizes that they have made mistakes in life, and some people have a very difficult time forgiving themselves for what they have done. The world needs to see that being a Christian is surrendering our lives to Christ, and picking ourselves up when we have fallen. It isn't about become 'gooder' ( I know - bad grammar), as we know that we can never be good enough to approach God. Sadly, the world sees believers as those who have it all together and come away thinking that behavior is the litmus test to being accepted by God. For those who rely upon their own goodness, they will face disappointment in that they were never 'good enough'. None of us are. Do people around you see that you are seeking God or do they just see you seeking good behavior? Our world is full of 'fake' - we have photo shopped everything and pictures with every conceivable filter used. What our world wants is 'real' - real people with issues and problems and hurts and they want to see a real God who loves us in spite of our sin not the absence of it. The people around you want you to be honest, open and vulnerable with them. Let's be willing to show the real dimpled and bruised us to those we come in contact with. If they want fake, they can pick up a magazine or turn on the tv - let's give the world what Jesus gave - transparency and love.
We should commit ourselves to do good and continue in that, regardless of whether or not we suffer. This is more about our attitude in life. If we are truly focused on a goal we are more likely to reach that goal. We can't make things happen simply by thinking that it will, but the converse is often true - if we believe we can't do something, we will often guarantee that to be the outcome.
Resolve to do what God has asked you to do, regardless of the outcome. You will find some people that will encourage you to do just about anything. There are some who will encourage you to follow God and others who will encourage you to do otherwise. Are you associating with those who will help you in your walk and honoring God or are you associating with those who will attempt to take you off course? Ensure that you have set your attitude on honoring God, despite your circumstances and despite the outcome. Please keep in mind that many people fall into the mindset that to 'have peace' you are not ever going to confront wrong. That is not true but it is also not biblical. When we see wrong happening around us, we need to stand up and be heard. We need to be the voice that says, "STOP - this is wrong!!!" Wouldn't it be great if the person who stands up for the gay person being bullied is a Christian? Or the single mom who has made some poor choices is defended in her moms group by a married bible study leader? Or the pregnant teenager is loved and showered with her needs by mother's of girls who have shunned her? I could go on and on. While we are not called to love sin, we are certainly not called to hate the sinner either. I get especially frustrated when I see believers lying and attacking another believer, and instead of speaking the truth and calling out the lie (in an honest and sincere way) those who know the truth (often another believer as well) keeps their mouth shut. They sooth their conscious by telling themselves that they are 'keeping the peace'. This absolutely maddens me! We have come to believe that the lack of conflict in our life is the equivalent of having peace and this is simply a lie. The absence of conflict simply means there is no conflict - but to have peace, means there will often be conflict involved. It can be a prerequisite to peace. Jesus was almost always involved in some type of conflict - that's what happens when we go against the status quo - it ticks people off. It challe
nges their way of doing things and perceiving issues and other people. We don't like to be challenged. But often times, it is in those moments of challenging a person and what they are buying into, that the real truth is revealed. I'm not abdicating mean spirited attacks but if you are placed in a position and know 'truth' and keep quiet…..in the end….you are actually lying as much as the one doing the speaking is!
Do you understand that you will have to face trials? I've heard some people who seem to believe that as long as they follow Christ and live a good life, they will not have to endure trials. However, we are not given any such guarantee. If you are not prepared for the trials that WILL come, you will find life even more difficult and the recovery time much longer in and after these trials.
Are you prepared to live your Christian life, despite the costs? Or are you looking at others and basing what you say and do on how they live, so as not to stick out? Are you loving like the world (only love those who love you)? Are you hospitable like the world (only help meet needs to those like you)? Are you grumbling like everyone else at school or at work (focused on the temporary aspect of your conditions)? Are you serving others like the world (or only those who serve you or pay you)? Do you forgive others like the world (only those who 'deserve' forgiveness)? Are you respectful of those whom you should respect (or do you want them to earn it based on your grading scale)? Does your speech resemble those you are around and are you truthful (or have you conveniently misrepresented the truth in order to make 'your' case)? Sometimes, the suffering we face is because we cave and assimilate to the negative behaviors and attitudes of those around us, because we don't want to be any different, whether it's at school or at work or in our neighborhoods or in the other places we frequent. Are you willing to take a stand to do what you know to be right, no matter the cost? Are you willing to stay the course?
Ultimately, suffering in your life will show the answer to the question of whom you serve. There are some who suffer and choose to promote themselves with a martyr's attitude (poor me), yet on the other hand, there are times when we can do nothing but be sorrowful for what we are dealing with. We will grieve loss and God understands this, but when we are dealing with normal everyday stuff and treat it as if it is the worst thing you can imagine, we are promoting ourselves and not God. We are to continue to live as God has called us and serve others. We have certainly been given a privilege to take a stand in life. It is a stand that we can live on and even potentially die on, but ultimately, we are called to please God.