Self-Inflicted Suffering

15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And

“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. 1 Peter 4:15-19 ESV

As a student of human nature, Peter felt the need to address the topic of self-inflicted suffering. He knew from his own experience that not all suffering was for righteousness’ sake. His three-part denial of Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest had resulted in a period of prolonged emotional suffering. The shame and humiliation he bore for having denied the one very whom he had confessed to being the Messiah had left him devastated and demoralized. And he did not want his brothers and sisters in Christ to confuse suffering for the sake of sin with suffering for the sake of righteousness. That’s why he told them:

…remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time here as “temporary residents.” – 1 Peter 1:17 NLT

The whole point of Peter’s letter was to encourage godly living among those who were privileged to be called the sons and daughters of God. He had been very clear regarding his expectation of their behavior.

God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. – 1 Peter 2:21 NLT

To do good was to emulate the character of Christ Himself. It was to live as Christ lived. And that kind of selfless, obedient, and righteous lifestyle would result in suffering. It wasn’t a matter of if, but of when. Those who followed Christ would experience the same resistance and rejection that He did. Their attempts to spread the gospel of the kingdom and demonstrate its power through their own reconciled lives would be met with hatred and hostility. But Peter reminded them, “if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you” (1 Peter 2L20 NLT).

Suffering was inevitable. But Peter wanted his readers to know that there were two different causes for suffering and they were not to be confused. Living for Christ was a sure-fire way to experience suffering. The world hated Him and it would hate His own. But Peter reminded the recipients of his letter “if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats” (1 Peter 3:14 NLT). Righteous suffering in this life would be graciously rewarded in the next one.

But every minute of every day, believers are faced with the constant decision to choose right or wrong. They must decide whether they will live in the flesh or according to the power of the Holy Spirit. They can choose to live in obedience to God and suffer the rejection and ridicule of the world, or they can choose to compromise their convictions and live according to their old sinful nature. But that decision will also result in suffering.

Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong! – 1 Peter 3:17 NLT

Sinful decisions always produce sinful consequences. But when believers choose to live in disobedience to God’s will, their choices result in God’s loving discipline.

“My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline,
    and don’t give up when he corrects you.
For the Lord disciplines those he loves,
    and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” – Hebrews 12:5-6 NLT

After quoting from the Old Testament book of Proverbs, the author of Hebrews went on to explain, “If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all” (Hebrews 12:8 NLT). The loving discipline of God can be painful but it is a reminder of His love. Yet Peter would prefer that his believing friends avoid that kind of painful discipline by staying away from such things as “murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs” (1 Peter 4:15 NLT).

It is not clear why Peter chose to list these four particular sins. But each of them reflects a decision to do harm to another individual. They are inherently selfish sins that show no care or concern for the other person. Peter seems to be describing four different ways of life: That of a murderer, a thief, a troublemaker, or a meddler. These four ungodly pursuits stand in stark contrast to the life of a Christian. Those who practice such behavior deserver to suffer and bring shame upon themselves – even among the unbelieving world. “But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian” (1 Peter 4:16 NLT). A murderer will not only suffer the penalty for his crime but he will have to endure the added pain of public shame. He will get what he deserves.

But while a Christian might suffer for doing what is good, he will have no reason to be ashamed. He can hold his head high because he is doing the will of his Heavenly Father. He is following in the footsteps of Jesus.

One of the things Peter wants his readers to understand is that their suffering is relegated to this life. As long as they live in this world, they will be “temporary residents and foreigners” (1 Peter 2:11 NLT), and they will experience the unpleasant reality of living as strangers in a strange land. But their eternal future will be suffering-free. Paul gave a similar admonition to the believers in Corinth.

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 NLT

And Paul told the believers in Rome the very same thing.

And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. – Romans 8:17-18 NLT

And Jesus told His disciples, “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18 NLT). For the believer, the future holds no judgment or suffering. Yet, for all those who refuse to accept Jesus as their Savior, the future is one of judgment and eternal suffering. That is why Peter states, “what terrible fate awaits those who have never obeyed God’s Good News” (1 Peter 4:17 NLT).

Peter understood the reality of God’s coming judgment against sinful mankind. He alluded to the fact that we live in a time of judgment. As Jesus stated, mankind lives under the righteous wrath of God and already stands judged and condemned by Him. Their only hope is to be found in Jesus. But rather than turning to Him in faith, they were turning their hatred of Him on His followers. It was just as Jesus had said it would be.

“The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. – John 15:19 NLT

The world is “judging” God’s people. That is what Peter means when he writes, “the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household” (1 Peter 4:17 NLT). The sinful are judging the righteous. But the day is coming when the Righteous One will judge the sinful. All those who have refused to accept the gracious gift of salvation made possible through the sacrificial death of Jesus will face the Great White Throne Judgment and an eternity marked by suffering and pain.

Peter paraphrases Psalm 11:31 in an attempt to illustrate the difficulty with which the believer must navigate from this life to the next. It will not be easy. We are “barely saved” in the sense that our future glorification is preceded by suffering and pain in this life. Again, Peter’s emphasis is on present suffering and future glorification. This is exactly what Jesus was referring to in His Sermon on the Mount.

“For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” – Matthew 7:14 ESV

Peter is unsparing in his disclosure that this life will not be easy for the follower of Christ. It will be marked by pain and suffering. But we are to remember that all our suffering takes place this side of glory. For us, eternity is suffering and judgment-free.

“He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. ‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes,’ and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:3-4 BSB

So, that is why Peter was able to provide his readers with the following words of encouragement.

So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you. – 1 Peter 4:19 NLT

You can suffer now or you can suffer later. For the believer, the choice is a simple one. It makes much more sense to suffer the momentary light afflictions of this life, knowing that there will be no more pain, suffering, or judgment in the life to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

He Will Reign

In that day, declares the Lord,
    I will assemble the lame
and gather those who have been driven away
    and those whom I have afflicted;
and the lame I will make the remnant,
    and those who were cast off, a strong nation;
and the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion
    from this time forth and forevermore.

And you, O tower of the flock,
    hill of the daughter of Zion,
to you shall it come,
    the former dominion shall come,
    kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem. – Micah 4:6-8 ESV

Guided by the Spirit of God, Micah provides the people of Judah with a prophetic glimpse into the future of their nation. Yet, the events he describes remain unfulfilled even in our day. They entail a period of time that he refers to as the “latter days” or what is oftentimes called the end times. Jesus spoke to His disciples about this future event, warning them that it would include a time of great tribulation, to be followed by His own return to earth at the Second Coming.

“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” – Matthew 24:21-22 ESV

The Tribulation will last seven long years but will be “cut short” by Christ’s return. And Jesus describes the momentous nature of His return.

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” – Matthew 24:29-31 ESV

There are a great number of events that will take place when Christ returns, including the Battle of Armageddon and the Great White Throne Judgment. And all of these things will be tied to Christ’s role as the victorious King who returns to claim His throne.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’” – Matthew 25:31-34 ESV

And Micah adds another vital detail to the future narrative that portrays Christ gathering His scattered flock from the four corners of the earth. Along with His role as the conquering King who defeats the enemies of God, He will serve as the Good Shepherd who gathers the lost sheep of Israel and restores them to a right relationship with God.

“In that coming day,” says the Lord,
“I will gather together those who are lame,
    those who have been exiles,
    and those whom I have filled with grief.
Those who are weak will survive as a remnant;
    those who were exiles will become a strong nation.
Then I, the Lord, will rule from Jerusalem
    as their king forever.” – Micah 4:6 NLT

The prophet, Ezekiel, also wrote about this coming day, recording the promise made by God that He would one day seek for and save His scattered sheep. This promise would be fulfilled through His Son, the Shepherd and Savior of Israel.

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel and by the rivers and in all the places where people live. Yes, I will give them good pastureland on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in the lush pastures of the hills. I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes—feed them justice!” – Ezekiel 34:11-16 NLT

Ezekiel also records God’s plan to fulfill the promise He had made to David to raise up one of his sons and establish his kingdom and throne forever (1 Chronicles 17:11-12).

“I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be a prince among my people. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Ezekiel 34:23 NLT

God is not promising to resurrect King David himself but is revealing His intention to raise up a descendant of David, another man after His own heart, who will rule and reign from David’s throne in Jerusalem. This is a clear reference to Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of David, the God-man who will rule in perfect, sinless righteousness over the regathered and restored nation of Israel.

Ezekiel goes on to describe how this “offspring” of David will lead the people of Israel into a period of peace, prosperity, and perfect obedience to God during His 1,000-year reign on earth, what is often referred to as the Millennial Kingdom.

“Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

“My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” – Ezekiel 37:21-27 ESV

And Micah makes it clear that these events will all take place in city of Jerusalem, the very same city that was fated to suffer defeat and destruction at the hands of the Babylonians. God was going to judge the nation and its capital city for the centuries of rebellion and unfaithfulness that had taken place within its walls. Ever since the days of Solomon, the kings of Israel had proven to be unreliable leaders who failed to follow the righteous example of King David. They had led the people astray, seeking to serve other gods and placing their hope in the alliances they made with foreign powers. But while God had plans to put a temporary end to David’s dynasty, He also had a plan to restore it. And though He intended to destroy the city of David, He would one day reestablish it as the home of Israel’s King.

As for you, Jerusalem,
    the citadel of God’s people,
your royal might and power
    will come back to you again.
The kingship will be restored
    to my precious Jerusalem. – Micah 4:8 NLT

The prophet, Isaiah, predicted the two-fold nature of Christ’s advent. He came to earth the first time, born as an innocent baby in a manger, in order to die for the sins of mankind. But in His second advent, He will come as the King of kings and Lord of lords, and His reign will bring righteousness and justice to the world.

For a child is born to us,
    a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
    And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
    will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen! – Isaiah 9:6-7 NLT

God predicted the fall of Jerusalem and its occurrence is a historical fact. But God also predicted the Second Coming of His Son and the restoration of the people of Israel. He has yet to break a single promise He has made. So, we can rest assured that these events, while still unfulfilled, will take place. God has a plan and we can trust Him to bring it to pass – down to the last detail.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Tangible, Testifying Faith.

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. – 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 ESV

For Paul, the issue was first, always and only Christ. Ever since his conversion on the road to Damascus, he had made it his life’s mission to carry the message of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone to the world. Here he refers to Jesus Christ as the foundation, the solid rock on which men and women are to build the rest of their lives. It is belief in the gospel message of salvation through Jesus that provides the bedrock upon which a truly worthy life can be built. It is likely that Paul had in mind the parable that Jesus had told:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. – Matthew 7:24-27 ESV

Our faith in Jesus has a starting point and an ending point. It begins when we place our faith in Him, but it does not stop there. We are to build our lives with Jesus as the foundation. Paul boldly claimed to have helped lay the proper foundation by preaching Christ and Him crucified. He had given the believers in Corinth the truth regarding salvation through Christ and Him alone, and they had received it. Now it was time for them to do something with their faith. They were to build on it. Their faith was to produce fruit – tangible, visible, measurable fruit. Whatever they built would be discernible to all those around them. The value of the construction materials they used would be apparent to all. Speaking metaphorically, Paul says that some would use gold, silver, and precious stones – objects of worth and beauty. But others would choose to use wood, hay, and straw – materials with little value or staying power. The second group illustrates those who cut corners and refuse to invest adequately, either out of laziness or a lack of concern. Their faith means so little to them that they refuse to invest the time and resources it deserves. James describes these two groups well.

So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” – James 2:17-18 NLT

Our fundamental, foundational faith in Christ is to be built upon through a life of good deeds. And those acts are to be visible to all those around us. James refers to them as good deeds. They are to impact others. They can be seen and experienced by others. And one day, they will be judged by God. Paul reminds us, “each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done” (1 Corinthians 3:13 ESV). In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul wrote, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV). The Greek word Paul uses is βῆμα (bēma). It refers to “the official seat of a judge” (“G968 – bēma – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). The “day” to which Paul refers is that day when all believers will stand before the judgment seat of Christ – the Bema Seat. On that day, we will have our works judged, all those things we have done since coming to faith in Christ. This is not a judgment to determine righteousness. We will stand before Him fully forgiven and completely righteous because of His death for us on the cross. But each person’s works will be judged as to their value and worth and they will “receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” 

What we do with our faith in Christ is essential. What we build upon our faith in Christ is to have lasting value. If we take our faith in Christ and build a life that is marked by selfishness, greed, materialism, hate, bigotry, pride, and hypocrisy, others will see it and one day Christ will expose and judge us for it. Those worthless works will be burned up. They will be proven to be of no eternal value because they were done in the flesh, not the power of the Spirit of God. But if we build a life that is marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-conrol, others will be able to see it and Christ will one day reward us for it. Those deeds are the fruit of the Spirit. They will last. They will survive the fire of God’s judgment because they are like gold, silver and precious stones – priceless and eternal.

What we build upon our faith in Christ is extremely important. It reveals a lot about us. It shows the condition of our heart and the priorities of our life. Our salvation provides us with a solid and secure foundation. We have the assurance of our eternal security. We no longer have to worry about future condemnation or fear death. But that should motivate us to live lives that are worthy of our calling. We should desire that our behavior reflects our status as God’s children and our possession of God’s Spirit. Our faith must become tangible and discernible, testifying to the change that has taken place within us.