The passage begins with, “Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly.”
This morning I decided to do something that used to be a very common practice among Christians. I closed my eyes, opened my Bible and placed my finger on the open page to see where God would direct me today. I opened my eyes and this is the passage that my finger had fallen on: “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (1 Peter 4:14) Then I read the full passage and was struck with how directly it speaks to us today.
The passage begins with, “Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly.” Some scholars see these verses as referring to an actual persecution. Others see it as Peter’s way of heightening the suffering motif of the Gospels. In fact, they clearly have something in common.
The people of the early Church experienced persecutions quite regularly. It was really dangerous to be a Christian in those early days. In fact, Christians are experiencing persecutions all around the world today, even here at home. Worse yet, Christians have been guilty of persecuting other Christians in the past. These were not acts in accord with the Law of God, but acts founded in the egos of men and women. There are many kinds of persecutions, of course. There are the bloody kinds, and then there are the more subtle kinds that are a part of our post-modern, relativistic times. For example, Christianity is under attack today in many western countries, including our own, by a politicized atheism that attempts to define religion and religious believers as antique, and no longer relevant. There are continuous efforts to remove all references to God from the public square. There are even laws being passed that mandate that Christians must go against their religiously formed consciences and submit to the laws of the state. This is not new, of course. Sophocles wrote about this kind of madness in his “Antigone,” and Robert Bolt wrote about it in his marvelous play about Thomas More, “A Man for All Seasons.”
As Christians we know that to submit to anything less than the Law of God, for any reason, is dangerous to our eternal souls. History, both ancient and modern, has shown us that when men and women have denied God and submitted to lesser laws in order to save themselves from the immediate effects of suffering, in time they have inevitably become victims of those very same man-made laws. They inevitably found themselves living in cultures of death and destruction. Peter tells us then, “But whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed but glorify God because of the name…As a result, those who suffer in accord with God’s will hand their souls over to a faithful creator as they do good.” (1 Peter 4:16,19) If we must suffer for the name of Christ, we can do so joyfully. We can continue, even in our suffering, to do good, even to those who persecute us. “But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-28,36) In doing this we will be, like those early Christians Peter is addressing, signs of contradiction in a chaotic world. We will participate in Christ’s suffering and in doing so, we will participate in the salvation of the world. Thanks be to God.