“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you…”
Suffering was not part of God’s design for creation. Every time suffering is encountered we are reminded that things are not the way they are supposed to be. Sin has made a terrible mess of God’s good world. Yet the Apostle Peter makes the jarring claim that Christians should not be surprised at their sufferings, particularly those suffered for standing with Christ. Indeed, when Christians suffer for standing with Christ it is a cause for blessing and joy (vs. 13).
Peter was writing to men and women who, because they were Christians, had found themselves in a position of conflict with the surrounding culture. Christian beliefs and ethics were in marked contrast to those of the Greco-Roman world. Because of this conflict of beliefs and lifestyle Christians were routinely marked out as trouble-makers, haters of humanity, atheists, insurrectionists, and worse. There was no way for a Christ-loving people to avoid being hated, marginalized, and persecuted by a Christ-hating world.
“Because evil and sin targeted the perfect human being, Jesus Christ, those who follow in his footsteps should not be surprised to find themselves also targets of the forces of evil and sin that came against Jesus” (Jobes, 286). And even though we do not live in a society which persecutes Christians with the same violence and openness as that which was experienced by Peter’s original readers, we nevertheless are living in a time when Christian beliefs and ethics and those who hold them are increasingly mocked, marginalized, and accused of all sorts of evil.
Certainly, people suffer for doing wrong. And when Christians suffer because of sinful or foolish choices they ought not think that such suffering is a cause for joy. But to suffer for standing with Christ is to suffer according to God’s will (vs. 19). In fact, Peter’s claim is that those who choose to suffer by standing with Christ are undergoing a kind of end-times judgment which will in the end separate God’s people from those who reject him (vs. 17).
Suffering for the sake of Christ is a blessing. Not only does such suffering refine our faith and fix our hope on Christ but it confirms that we belong to God’s household; those upon whom the Holy Spirit rests (vs. 14).