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The Context of Suffering for Christ

06 Jan
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The idea of suffering comes with a mixed bag of beliefs or practices that one has gotten and retained from being taught as a child and growing up in traditions coming from society. For example, if one has given himself over to be an athlete, he might have heard it said: “It isn’t working unless it hurts!” That is, if one is really interested in the prize, one must endure suffering along the way. This, of course, is also the goal of military discipline. So, suffering, although negative in tone, is often pursued in order to gain a desired positive goal. Jesus had a goal in mind, and he knew suffering was the only path to take in order to achieve that end. Therefore, he embraced the way of the cross, not because he enjoyed suffering, but because it was the only way of attaining the end for which he was born (John 18:37; cf. Luke 12:50; 22:15). The believer is called to follow Christ and, according to Peter, suffering has its place in the believer’s way of life.

Jesus suffered at the hands of his enemies, those who hated him or were opposed to his claim to being the Messiah. His suffering didn’t come as a surprise or something which initiated plan B. On the contrary, Jesus knew the end for which he had been born, and accepted and planned for the consequences that would befall reaching out to complete his goal. He suffered in order to put away sin from the lives of men (1Peter 4:1a). Similarly, suffering is the means of attaining our goals (1Peter 4:1b). We cannot be Jesus’ disciple and expect to never suffer the consequences of making that decision.

Christ’s suffering was endured on the behalf of others. Therefore, ours should be, as well, in that there are consequences for righting wrongs. If a believer decides to stand for righteousness, he needs to act righteously in the face of a present unrighteous moral ethic. Minds are not changed through debate, but, rather, through witnessing the effects of evil behavior performed upon the innocent.

The believers living in Asia Minor at the time of Peter’s epistle were experiencing an organized persecution that sought to force Messianic Jews to abandon Jesus and come back under the authority of the high priest at Jerusalem.[1] They were accused of being rebels and of being treasonous against Caesar, were said to have submitted to another King. The believers’ defense was to behave righteously, showing they had not rebelled against the Empire, but always behaved as good citizens of Rome.

Peter concludes in 1Peter 4:1c that “he who has suffered has ceased from sin.” In saying this, Peter doesn’t mean that believers who suffer persecution are no longer able to sin. Rather, he means that the one who has suffered is done with sin. It points to two things. First, it points to Christ who had once suffered and died to put away sin—that is, through his suffering he is now done with sin. Sin is no longer a problem, because he has answered it—paid its consequences on our behalf. Secondly, it refers to believers, in that, when we permit ourselves to suffer for righteousness, it tells others that we are done with sin. We no longer pursue the pleasures of sin. That is, sinning (seeking its pleasures) is not something we have made our goal to achieve. We look to achieve a different purpose.

Contextually, the idea of suffering serves two purposes as far as the Christian is concerned. First, it is done or we permit it to happen to us for the benefit of others. Namely, so they are able to see the end of their own evil. When suffering occurs, faith is no longer a debate, it is put into practice. Any witness to that suffering is forced to judge whether the action taken against the believer was justified. Moreover, the point of view (perhaps even the worldview) of the persecutor is also made to bear that judgment of witnesses. Secondly, the very fact that the believer is willing to suffer rather than capitulate to the will of the persecutor shows the believer has left that sort of thing behind (i.e. the believer won’t do what the persecutor is doing to the believer). The believer is not acting in kind. He would rather suffer at the hand of the persecutor than to act as he acts.

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[1] In a previous blogpost, The Persecution in Asia Minor, I argued that the fact that persecution was felt in five Roman provinces in Asia Minor shows the effort was an organized one, and therefore demanded a common source. Since the persecution wasn’t Empire wide, that source probably wasn’t Nero. The only other authority who could contextually command such a persecution against believers, especially believing Jews, was the high priest at Jerusalem, namely Annas.

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Posted by on January 6, 2017 in Epistles of Peter

 

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