My son Lachlan was about two. He’d fallen from the top of a slippery slide, and had a gash in his mouth that needed a few stitches. At the medical centre, he was completely hysterical. I’m not even sure it was much to do with his mouth actually hurting. More to do with not knowing what was going on, and what was going to happen. More concerned with being the centre of attention, with a whole bunch of adults looking at him with frowns on their faces.
We had to try and hold him still while the doctor put a pain-killing needle in the gash, and then stitched it up. But he squirmed around so hard, it was like trying to grab a fish jumping around in the bottom of the boat. In the end we wrapped him in a sheet, and three adults had to almost sit on him to keep him still.
And all the time, with his eyes wide with fear, I was saying to him. “It will be alright. Daddy’s here. Daddy loves you. It will all be over soon. It’s going to hurt a little bit, but it’s going to make you better again. And then it won’t hurt any more. Daddy’s here. It’ll be over soon.”
I’m sure those of you who are parents have had similar experiences. Trying to reassure your kids that, despite appearances, the pain was actually for their good. And that it would be over soon.
And that’s what the letter of 1 Peter is. It’s God’s soothing comfort to his suffering children. The gentle whisper of our heavenly Father, “It’ll be alright. I’m here. I love you. It hurts now, but it will be over soon, and then you’ll be fixed up.”
The book of 1 Peter is all about SUFFERING AND PERSECUTION. About how God’s ultimately behind it. Bringing HIS purposes to pass. And about how we’re to live in RESPONSE to that truth. Like right back in ch 1. Verse 3 talks about the new life we have in Jesus. The inheritance we’ve been given. And then, v6.
6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now FOR A LITTLE WHILE you may have had to suffer grief IN ALL KINDS OF TRIALS.
And then we catch a glimpse of God’s purposes BEHIND the trials.
7 These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-MAY BE PROVED GENUINE and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Just like fire purifies gold, trials can PURIFY our faith. Make it stronger. Burn off everything else we trust in, until only God remains. A short period of PAIN for long-term GAIN.
And as we keep reading, we see more of both God’s PURPOSES in suffering, and what our RESPONSE should be. Like 2:12
12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Your RESPONSE to persecution testifies about God’s character, and leads to people recognising him. All part of God’s plan.
And, in case you think you didn’t sign up for this when you decided to follow Jesus, think again says Peter.
21 To this you were CALLED, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
Don’t be surprised, because it’s there in the job description. More of the same through chapters 3 and 4. About showing our trust in God by the way we respond to insult and hurt. About following Jesus’ example.
Jump down to ch 4 v19. Summing it all up.
19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will SHOULD COMMIT THEMSELVES TO THEIR FAITHFUL CREATOR and CONTINUE TO DO GOOD.
That’s the response to suffering in a nutshell. Commit yourself to God. Trust that he knows what he’s doing. That he’s in control, and working all things for good. And SHOW that, by continuing to do good. By living as normal. As if there WAS no suffering.
And so we come to ch 5, and Peter’s concluding remarks. And, in particular, the two paragraphs we’re looking at today. The first a COMMAND, and the second a PROMISE. From v8. The COMMAND.
8 Be SELF-CONTROLLED AND ALERT. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
Suffering: The devil’s roar
And in the context of all that Peter’s just been saying, it’s easy to see what he means by the devil prowling around like a roaring lion. He’s talking about SUFFERING.
Suffering and persecution are the devil’s roar. The OBVIOUS ways he works. (Sometimes he’s A SNAKE – subtle and deceptive. Weaving lies into half-truths. Lulling them into a false sense of security. Encouraging them to think he doesn’t exist.)
But that’s not what Peter’s talking about here. Here, Satan’s like A ROARING LION. Big and noisy and scary. He roams around inflicting all sorts of PAIN on people, roaring at them. You can see that connection between the devil and suffering in v9. We’re to resist THE DEVIL because our brothers around the world are experiencing the SAME KIND OF SUFFERING.
It might be government legislation, forbidding Christians meeting together. Or to register their children’s birth as Christian – like in Iraq. It might be discrimination in the workplace, like in Pakistan, or Egypt, where Christians are banned from promotion, or working in government jobs. Or tribal violence like in Sudan. It might be the burning of Bibles, the rape of women, the imprisonment of pastors.
All ways Satan ROARS at Christians. He wants them to SUFFER.
But that’s ALL the suffering is. The devil’s ROAR. Can a LION’S roar hurt you? No! It can SCARE you, but it can’t hurt you. It’s not the ROAR you have to worry about, but THE TEETH!
The Aussie soccer team in South Africa stayed on a game reserve. And they could, apparently, hear lions roaring from the safety of their rooms at night. Were they safe? Of course! Were they scared by the noise? Perhaps! But that’s ALL that could happen.
The roar might be DEAFENING – the lion right outside their window. But as long as they STAYED INSIDE. As long as they checked the locks and the windows, they were SAFE.
And it’s the same with Satan’s suffering. It’s only A ROAR. It can only SCARE you, but it can’t, ultimately, HURT you.
The worst that Satan can do, is KILL YOU. Which sounds like a funny thing to say. But from the perspective of eternity, it ISN’T much. It’s only a roar.
YESTERDAY, somewhere in the world, people probably died simply for being Christians. But TODAY they’re with Christ, and pain and suffering’s ended. UNHURT. Which is better by far. Listen to what Jesus promises to the believers in Smyrna. Revelation 2:10.
10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, EVEN TO THE POINT OF DEATH, and I will give you the crown of life.
Suffering’s only a roar. Even when it leads to DEATH. Satan can’t ultimately HURT you with it.
The devouring lion
He ROARS through suffering, but what Satan WANTS to do. And what’s worse by far. Even worse that DEATH. Is to KEEP you from receiving the crown of life. It’s there in v7. He’s the devouring lion. Looking for someone to GOBBLE UP. Someone to drag away into the eternal destruction HE’S headed for.
He’s searching out someone to give up on Jesus. Who’ll decide it’s all too hard. Who’ll turn away from him in despair, or anger, disappointment, or pain.
I want to stop for a moment and consider the question of who CAUSES the suffering? Is it the devil, or is it God? A few minutes ago I said Satan brings suffering to drag down Christians. And that’s TRUE.
But I ALSO said God USES suffering to refine your faith. (That’s 1 Peter 1:6-7).
And then in 4:19 we read that those who suffer ACCORDING TO GOD’S WILL, should commit themselves to him. Suffering is God’s will!
So, does Satan cause it, or God? Well, the answer is … YES. In a sense, they BOTH do. We see it like that in the life of Job. Satan ASKS PERMISSION of God to test Job with suffering. Satan wants to DESTROY him, God has DIFFERENT plans.
And we see it most clearly in the death of Jesus. It was SATAN who entered Judas, persuading him to betray Jesus. Satan wanted Jesus DEAD. But so did God. For totally different reasons. He worked through the evil choices of Satan, and humans, so that his good purposes were brought about. He’d planned it like that from eternity, and then brought it to pass. Acts 2:23 puts it like this (Peter’s preaching to the Jerusalem crowd)
23 Jesus was handed over to you BY GOD’S SET PURPOSE AND FOREKNOWLEDGE; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.
And it’s the same thing with the suffering Christian’s experience. Satan brings it about to DEVOUR Christians and crush them. GOD brings it about to discipline and train and purify and correct us. He brings it about to bring glory to himself.
Be alert, resist him, standing firm in the faith
That’s the THEORY. What about where the rubber meets the road?
To make sure GOD’S purposes are brought about through the trials, we need to follow his COMMAND. And trust his PROMISE. THOSE WHO TRULY BELONG TO GOD WILL FOLLOW WHAT HE SAYS, AND STAND ON HIS PROMISE. AND SATAN’S PLANS WILL BE FRUSTRATED. All he’ll be able to do is ROAR at you.
So let’s look first at the COMMAND. The trick to not letting the lion DEVOUR you, is there in v8. “Be self-controlled and alert”. Be AWARE of Satan’s prowling. Of his roaring. And then, v9, RESIST him, standing firm in the FAITH. Ephesians 6 says it’s the shield of FAITH that extinguishes the flaming arrows of the evil one.
Suffering and persecution ROAR in your ear, “God doesn’t love you. He’s abandoned you. This suffering’s too big for God. He can’t handle it. You deserve better. It’s not fair. God has no plan – no purpose. He wants to crush you, not keep you.”
But the shield of faith clings, instead, to God’s promises. And puts out those flaming arrows. Promises like those in v10 and 11 that we’ll get to in a moment. Faith clings to promises, despite the lion’s roar, and enables us to declare
“God loves me. He’s called me, rescued me, and made me his friend when I used to be his enemy.
He’s got an eternal inheritance prepared for me.
He’s disciplining me because he loves me – because I’m his child.
He’s refining my faith, making it more pure.
He’s working all things for good because he’s got a plan and a purpose.”
The eyes of faith see the future with long-sightedness. They see THE BIG PICTURE. Faith says, with Paul in 2 Cor 4:17-18, “These trials are only momentary troubles. They’re achieving an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Faith sees suffering simply as following the Master. Faith takes seriously Jesus’ words, Jn 15:18
18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. … you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.
And faith sees YOUR suffering from a world-wide perspective. You’re NOT alone. You’re NOT the first. And you won’t be the last. In fact, there’s a worldwide brotherhood of those going through exactly the same things says v9. Following after Jesus. Suffering for his name. Brothers in arms. There’s strength in numbers. Strength to resist. To stand firm in the faith.
2. A promise
That’s God’s COMMAND to deal with the devil’s roar. Then he gives us a PROMISE. V10.
10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
Satan might seem like the lion who roars around. It might seem like he rules the jungle. But there’s ANOTHER king of the Jungle. God. HE’S the king of the jungle.
He’s the GOD OF ALL GRACE. The whole letter of 1 Peter paints the huge panorama, in broad brushstrokes, of all the gifts God’s LAVISHED on us. And that’s the BIG picture. The CONTEXT we should place these few short, trials in. Look at 1:3 for example
1:3. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade-kept in heaven for you,
He’s the God of all grace.
And part of that grace is that he CALLED US FOR A PURPOSE. To an eternal glory. He’s got AN END GAME in mind. It’s all part of the plan. Despite what things look like at the moment.
V10. The end game is about GLORY, in contrast to SUFFERING. About appreciating GOD’S glory, recognising his goodness, understanding completely his love and power and grace and mercy and goodness and holiness and justice. And REJOICING in that. In a way that’s DIFFICULT when you’re in the middle of suffering.
And the end game’s about US being part of that glory too, in contrast to suffering. Romans 8:18 talks about glory being revealed IN US. About glorified bodies. About pain and tears and mourning and brokenness being destroyed. That’s our destiny. That’s God’s promise!
(The end game’s about GLORY in contrast to suffering). And, also in v10, the end game’s about ETERNITY, in contrast to a LITTLE WHILE. We’re so short-sighted. A flu that lasts for A WEEK seems like an age. Persecution that lasts for a year, or sickness that lasts for a decade, or suffering that lasts for the rest of your life seems like FOREVER. But only ETERNITY is forever. And everything else is a blink of an eye in comparison. That’s God’s promise.
And what’s more, the God of all grace, who’s given so much, with that eternal view in mind, WILL HIMSELF RESTORE YOU. Yes, he commands YOU to be self-controlled and alert. He commands YOU to resist the devil, standing firm in the faith.
But, on our own, we CAN’T do it. On our own, we’re broken, weak, shaky, and wavering.
But God’s promise is that HE HIMSELF will restore you, after you’ve suffered a little while, and make you strong, firm, steadfast.
“Restore” is a lovely word. It’s about MENDING – like fishing nets. It’s like buffing something up. Silverware, or an old car’s paintwork. Bringing out the shine that was always there, but that had been dulled and hidden underneath layers of grime from a hard life.
And God’s promise is to bring us through that short period of pollution and grime. And restore us to the glory he designed us for. Restored body, restored mind, restored emotions and relationships.
And instead of being weak, broken, and wavering. He’ll make us strong, firm and steadfast.
That might be IN THIS LIFE. He might bring us through a period of despair, or sickness, or unemployment, or aching loneliness. It might take days, or weeks, or even YEARS. And bring us into a restored EARTHLY experience of his goodness.
And actually USE those experiences to DO it. To discipline us. To refine our faith. Like fire purifying gold. USE that stuff as the INSTRUMENT that actually CARVES OUT strength, firmness and steadfastness in our lives. James 1:2-4 puts it like this
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
And yet for SOME of God’s children, they DON’T see any of that restoration in this life. They LOSE THEIR LIVES still experiencing the suffering they endured. Some people in our congregations will NEVER experience, in THIS life, the restoration we pray for. They’ll go to glory still suffering the pain they endured for years.
And around the world, TODAY, our brothers are killed because they remain loyal to Jesus.
Does that mean God’s promise for them has FAILED?
(slow) Of course not! For them, their restoration is MORE complete, their suffering MORE relieved. Their experience of God’s grace and glory MORE real. Because God has made them strong, firm and steadfast FOR ETERNITY. Secure with him.
For them, the promise of Jesus in Revelation 2:10 we read earlier rings true:
10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.
God is ABLE to do it. He WILL do it. HE is faithful and true. And so, we echo the words of Peter there in v11. “To him belongs THE POWER for ever and ever.”