• The Explore the Bible lesson for Oct. 23 focuses on 1 Peter 4:12-19.
In this life, we will suffer. There is no way around it. For one thing, we will suffer in certain ways simply because we are human. We will suffer physical, psychological and relational ailments and disabilities simply because we are human.
We will suffer prejudice at the hands of others who gain satisfaction from subjecting others to their control. Some will suffer as victims of war or famine or disease, to which all humans are subject.
On the other hand, there is suffering we experience, not just because we are human, but specifically because we are followers of Christ. We should exercise great caution in associating normal human suffering with suffering related to our faith. Others may be misled into thinking the God we are serving finds pleasure in bringing undo pain into the lives of those who trust him.
Suffering specific to believers
In the text we are studying this week, Peter is referring to the kind of suffering we will endure specifically because of our faith. Peter was one well-associated with the suffering of those who follow Christ. History tells us that Peter, as predicted by Christ himself, would someday suffer a similar fate as that of Jesus.
It is extremely important, when reading the letters of the New Testament, to remember they were addressed specifically to believers.
No promise of health and wealth
There are too many today who promise that following Christ will lead to a life of financial and physical prosperity. There is nothing in the Bible that promises such, although such a promise is very popular in a time of great wealth and prosperity in our nation.
Those who promise health and wealth as a result of following Jesus might find their message not as welcome among those in the Third World or those in places where following Christ can threaten one’s livelihood as well as their very lives.
Call to willingly sacrifice
Peter assumes in this text that following Christ and suffering for choosing to do so will go hand in hand. The unbelieving world will not appreciate having its power and wealth challenged in the name of faith. Uncounted millions of believers since the time of Christ have paid with their jobs, their families, their homes and their very lives for choosing their faithfulness to Jesus over unquestioned obedience to any one government.
A more modern illustration of this would be the way both Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt only promised the people of England and the United States the opportunity to sacrifice their lives for the sake of freedom. They did not promise prosperity but sacrifice. Their candidness and honesty helped win World War II.
Today, politicians have no chance of getting elected unless they promise prosperity to voters who are faithful to their causes. They are rarely able to deliver on those promises. However, can you imagine a presidential candidate being elected these days who did not at least promise a more prosperous future, whether they were able to deliver it or not?
Pick up your cross and follow Jesus
The call of Christ on our lives is a call to die to self, to bear our own cross and to suffer as Christ suffered. Peter makes it clear that only by “sharing in Christ’s sufferings” will we also share in the eternal glory that also is the promise of God to those who faithfully follow.
In today’s world, to lose financially is a source of humiliation. In the kingdom, to suffer loss for the cause of Christ is a source of future glory.
Where is our primary citizenship?
One of the greatest challenges our American culture faces today is that we believe increasing prosperity to be a right, almost an entitlement of being born an American citizen. We can believe that if we choose, although we are more often than not going to be disappointed.
So it is that we, more often than not, will find ourselves in a tug-of-war between what it means to be a follower of Jesus and a patriotic American. It takes courage to confess that the two are not always one and the same.
The higher call on Christians is to be a follower of Christ, first, and a patriot, second, if at all. Anyone who has studied Baptist history knows that those who plowed the way for us did so, often times, at the cost of their very lives. They were willing to put following Christ at all costs above the cost of being patriotic.
If there ever were a time to take the first-century words of Peter more seriously than today, it would be hard to know when that might have been.
Those who choose to follow Jesus would do well to stop and count the cost. If it doesn’t cost us anything to follow Jesus, can we honestly say we’re following Jesus at all?
Glen Schmucker is a hospice and pediatric hospital chaplain in Fort Worth.