I want to study 1 Peter because I am convinced one of the biggest problems among believers today is an inadequate theology of suffering.
I am reminded of that when I spend time with people who have been influenced by the prosperity gospel which is enormously popular throughout the world and is based on an unbiblical view of suffering.
But more than that, I am often reminded of that as I spend time with people who haven’t. I am talking about orthodox, conservative believers. I have found that as we believers speak and more important think and make decisions, we often make decisions like it is our fundamental right to avoid suffering and that in fact if we just make the right decisions we can avoid suffering.
Like that is a possibility.
I have found that while some of us look very different than those who hold to the prosperity gospel, the basic worldview for many of us is not that much different than those who hold to the prosperity gospel. It is just that many of those who hold the prosperity gospel are in such a desperate position that they know they can’t avoid suffering on their own so they look to God for a miracle whereas we are just as committed to avoiding suffering and all that, we just are a little more prosperous so we don’t feel like we need a miracle as much to avoid suffering, instead we just try to manipulate our own circumstances and our own lives so we can avoid suffering at all costs.
I was struck the other day reading a Hudson Taylor biography by the kinds of sacrifices he was willing to make for the spread of the gospel. I just love quotes like this,
“My heart yearns, oh how intently for the evangelization of these 18millions of the nine unoccupied provinces. Oh that I had a hundred lives to give or spend for their good. . . . Better to have . . . outward trials and perplexities, and blessing in the work itself, souls being saved, and the name of the Lord Jesus being magnified, than any measure of external prosperity without it.”
That last line is pretty striking. I wonder how many people really believe it. I sometimes wonder if some within the church haven’t traded the two, better to have any measure of external prosperity even if it means souls aren’t being saved than outward trials and perplexities with lives being transformed.
I can’t help but be hit by the fact that while we like to read about men like Hudson Taylor and sacrifices like the ones he made, when people go to make those kinds of sacrifices today people in the church discourage them from doing so.
It is just so curious. These men are heros, I don’t think any true Christian would deny that but imagine if someone in your church went to live in a dangerous neighborhood, (cannonballs were hitting Taylor’s home when he first got to China) if someone in your church gave their money away and hardly had anything left in the bank account and said it was because they wanted to look to God to provide completely for them, how people would react?
And that attitude may reveal something of our inadequate take on suffering.
In fact, I am going to be honest, I think it is very hard for some professing Christians to really get the message of 1 Peter.
For me, sometimes.
Not because of exegesis, though some say 1 Peter does contain some of the hardest passages of Scripture anywhere.
Not because you can’t outline it. Some of you are so analytical you can probably outline this book in your sleep.
And not even because I think the themes are so beyond us. We can get the basic concepts.
The problem is you can do the exegesis right, outline it great, repeat the themes and still miss the message of 1 Peter very easily because you come to the book with a commitment to unbiblical ideas about suffering and it that commitment can blind you to the punch.
As Peter looks at this theme of suffering, we have to come face to face with this assumption that is right at the core of his understanding of it.
PETER ASSUMES LIVING FOR CHRIST IS GOING TO INVOLVE SUFFERING.
He is not going to explain everything about why we suffer, he is not going to tell us to pursue suffering and he is not going to spend a lot of time explaining how to design your life so you can look to other people like you are obeying God while you are really avoiding every and all forms of suffering.
He writes to help us understand instead how to live for God in the midst of it.
The theme of this book is suffering.
I think one of the reasons it is important to study this book is because we sometimes have a big hole right there in the middle of our understanding of suffering.