I wonder if you had the opportunity to ask God one question, what you would ask him.
I would guess once we get past the funny kind of questions like did Adam have a bellybutton to the more serious ones, we would find that many if not most of the questions people would ask God would have something to do with suffering.
And to a certain extent you know it is easy to understand that.
It is easy to understand why we as people have so many questions about the suffering we experience throughout our lives.
You can understand how when someone has seemingly random things happening to them like getting cancer or having a child die, you can understand how it could sometimes feel like the lights were going out in their life and because of the pain all that stuff about God that seemed so clear and easy wouldn’t seem so clear and easy anymore.
Or maybe what can be even more confusing, when someone does the right thing, he steps out in obedience and his life becomes much harder and much more difficult as a result.
You sit down with the wife of a missionary who after years and years of living with lepers in India, preaching the gospel was burned to death along with two of his children by angry Hindu mob or you sit down with a pastor who gives years and years of his life to faithfully shepherding and caring for a group of people who at the end of the day turn on him, firing him basically, asking for his resignation and to a certain extent you can understand why people like that have questions about the suffering in this world.
We probably all have questions like that sometimes.
On the other hand though, without minimizing the pain and confusion that comes with suffering, it is not like this a subject God hasn’t talked about. To a certain extent you can understand why people have questions about subjects like this, on the other hand though, this is a subject God has written about extensively.
One of the places he has done so is in the book of 1 Peter.
If we look carefully at what this book is about we will discover that it is a book about suffering.
And more pointedly a specific kind of suffering, suffering for doing what God wants, whether it is simply what often happens when you obey God and people get upset or a more focused kind of suffering, when you are persecuted just because you are a Christian.
One of the things you do as you study a passage of Scripture for the first time is to read through it, looking for repeated words and repeated ideas to discover the theme and I want you to listen to a number of passages from 1 Peter and show you how this theme of suffering for righteousness sake keeps coming up over and over and over again.
1 Peter 1:6, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials.”
1 Peter 2:12, “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers.”
1 Peter 2:19, “For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose.”
1 Peter 3:13, “And who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed.”
1 Peter 4:1, “Therefore since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose…”
1 Peter 4:12, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing as though some strange thing were happening to you.”
1 Peter 4:19, “Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.”
1 Peter 5:8ff, “Your adversary the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.”
It would be difficult reading those passages in Peter’s letter not to see that this is a letter about how God wants us to respond to suffering.
And you know historically, looking at the historical setting that makes sense. It was not easy to be a believer in Peter’s day, for one thing there was the more minor forms of suffering that Christians regularly experienced such as insults, intimidations, grumblings, threats, and unreasonable people.
And then beyond that there was a much more severe form of suffering, intense persecution that many of these believers had faced or would face; they were after all living in the days of Nero, the Roman emperor who set fire to Rome and then later blamed the Christians for it, which sparked a wave of violent attacks against the church, we’re talking Christians being lit on fire, hunted down like dogs.
It was not definitely easy to be a Christian in Peter’s day, the world seemed to be set up against God and against those who followed him and so Peter writes this letter to suffering Christians to help them understand how to deal with that.
It’s about being victorious in the midst of suffering.
In fact, if we wanted to summarize the theme of this letter in the form of one key question, we might say Peter writes to answer:
How do we live for God in a world that is against Him and us as a result?