Tuesday, February 7, 2012

FOR CHRIST'S SAKE



WHEN YOU SUFFER FOR CHRIST! 2
If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify god in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of god, and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of god? And ¨if the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?¨” Therefore let those who suffer according to God´s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1Peter 4:14-19)

What is surprising, that you suffer trials for your faith or that you have never experienced them? What trials have you had to suffer for your faith? Have you lost relatives and friends, property and money, job and reputation because you had to take a Christian position in your life? The Lord Jesus said that it was essential that you suffer for His sake. He reiterated this through His apostles that it is very needful that His followers have to suffer.
Apostle continues with encouraging his readers who are going through a difficult time of being persecuted simply because they were Christians. In fact this is the third of the only thee places where the word ´Christian' is used – the other two being the very first time in Antioch and when Felix wondered and sneered at Paul that he was out of his mind to even try to make him a Christian.
John Brown writing about Christian suffering as being not surprising for believers says:
¨Suffering for Christ, in some form and degree or other; seems to be essential to the formation of the Christian character; and that character has usually, reached nearest to perfection in those who have had the largest share of that kind of trial.¨
In this case here you suffer ridicule so that your name, integrity and reputation are put in jeopardy. Would you be willing to be insulted and reviled so that you are put to open shame simply because you said that you are a Christian?
I have  three lessons for us to apply to our lives in this passage:

1.     We should expect blessings when we suffer for Christ (v.14)
The Lord told the disciples in His sermon on the mount, Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness´ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, fir your reward in heaven for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt. 5:10-12) The last two of the beatitude (blessings) all are to do with the blessedness of sufferings for the sake of Christ and his righteousness. Every time Peter remembers the beatitude in his letter, he talks about the beatitudes of suffering (3:14; 4:14), He both says,  you are blessed!  Here the beatitude forms part of the conditional sentence where he says that if the harsh reality of bearing the brunt of unbelievers in the verbal abuse is on one side of the coin, the reward of heavenly happiness is on the other -  Rejoice and be glad, fir your reward in heaven!
What sort of blessings are to be found in painful suffering? How can there be anything good in being on the receiving end of any suffering? According to the Lord, being on the receiving end of suffering trials shows indeed how much blessing you have from the Lord. They are blessed (in the past tense) those who are persecuted and reviled and persecuted! They first have the heavenly inheritance! Many want to own pieces of land in this city – especially if it is a prime plot one would really know that he is somewhere. This is why there is such a struggle to own land and houses that people are easily being cheated by crooks who want to make cheap money from unsuspecting people – who are also too eager to own land that is perishable – not that it is wrong to own property. But here we are talking of owning prime mansions in heaven! Not in Kileleshwa or Runda – in glory! With  and in God´s presence!
Suffering for the name of Christ is an authenticating mark of being heirs of glory... yes, of being a beneficiary of the reward from God. It shows that you belong to the same flock as Elijah and Jeremiah! Surely this should make everyone to rejoice and celebrate that the trials are the signs of what await you! Simply put the Lord is saying that whenever we suffer got His name, we should expect blessings from him.
The name of Christ means that one is identified with the Person and the work of Christ. This concept of bearing the name of Christ includes the ministry of preaching, teaching witnessing, baptizing, praying, breaking of bread and all forms of Christian fellowship that are the distinctive marks of being Christians. All attempts by Christians to live godly lives are looked down upon by unbelievers and their express their disgust in their talking. You are ridiculed because you sought permission to leave early to attend the prayer meeting – and even what is called early is leaving work at 5pm! You are told that you act ´holier than thou´'when you say that you will not take a bribe and yet is what everyone else is doing. When you attend an interview and you say that you will not be willing to work on Sundays, the panelists ironically remark that you are a ´saint´ or an ´angel´. When you tell your employer that your Christian ethic demand that you will need to go back home on time to be with your children then cynically remark, are you the only or the  first one to be a parent. When your friends ask to buy you a beer you tell them that you do not drink they remark that you are a monk! When the boss attempt at you ladies and you tell that you do not want their overtures, they will sarcastically ask, are you a nun? And the list is endless of the sort of things that you have to endure because you identified yourself with Christ.
But the question is, are these blessings only to be expected in future? Peter answers this question by saying that, ¨If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed¨ Not that you WILL be blessed but  you are blessed! The blessings are now and here! What sort of blessings are these?
He says that, because you are slandered and ridiculed for belonging to Christ, the Spirit of glory rests upon you and of God rests upon you!
What does this mean?
You notice that this is a conditional sentence because he uses the participle if to indicate that he is describing a reality. With the clause if you are insulted,  he is pointing to actual insults that Christians have to bear. Christians meet many time scathing verbal attacks even from people that you would not expect – their relatives and friends as well as employers  very easily sneer and insult believers.
The last part of the verse is difficulty ti explain because even there text variations. For example KJV reads, For the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. But there very few manuscript that have this text and so many translations have deleted this last sentence. e.g. NIV and ESV, and so I will ignore it since my Bible does not have it. But RSV adds another  addition, ¨the Spirit of glory and power¨. This simply put is the that Spirit who has exceeding glory but many translators have ignored it. The third difficulty is the literal wording of the statement, with a double subject with a verb in the singular. This then demands that the word spirit has to be supplied in the translations to make it sensible for the English readers because for the Greek readers the double subjects are obvious. But then this leads us to the question, Is the spirit of glory different from or identical to the Spirit of God?
It will help to note that this is a quotation from Isaiah 11:2 – ¨The spirit of the Lord will rest on him¨ in reference to Christ so that Peter is inferring to the Trinity. What this means is that the phrase,  the Spirit of glory points to Christ as in John 1:14. Therefore, the Spirit of Christ and of God rests on the individual Christian under suffering.
What a joy to know and enjoy  the eternal blessings of the Triune God! What an honor to have God in His fullness rest upon us! This is the strength and joy of the believer when he goes through problems for being identified with Jesus. These are eternally permanent blessings that we enjoy. It means that the presence of the Lord will always be with those who undergo such persecutions – whether verbal or physical. For verbal persecutions we should always ask the Lord by His Spirit to give us the wisdom and grace to respond in a manner that will dumbfound the attackers like it happened to the apostles. For example, the Spirit of God gave them such wisdom that they spoke with great boldness so that the Sanhedrin was baffled. They could not believe that they were uneducated, common men – until they remembered that they had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). He who have had the privilege of being with Christ will be wise and gracious because  he has the counsel of the Lord.

2.     We should never be ashamed of suffering for Christ (vv. 15-16)
John Brown commenting on this writes, ¨The most ignominious treatment, when it is unmerited, reflects dishonor not on him who innocently endures, but on him who unjustly inflicts it. To profess what we believe to be true, and to do what we believe to be right, to refuse to give either explicit or tacit approbation of what we account false and wrong, to acknowledge obligations to a Divine benefactor for favours of unappreciable value in the manner that Divine benefactor enjoins, can never be dishonorable¨ 1Peter vol. 2 page 406
Peter starts by pointing out who humanly speaking deserve to bear the brunt of the law in punishment – these are,  a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or a meddler. He point out  these are the ones that are disgraceful if a Christian suffers for them. He implies that for someone to be designated the suffering that comes from the law then, it will be because he has engaged in illegal activities – obviously this is not so for Christians because they have nothing to do with any such illicit activities. Christians are law-abiding citizens who are examples to the society as the light and salt. They are never to be found involved with such who are law-breakers and so ought to never be classified as criminals who are guilty before the civil courts of law. The point is that it would be a great shame not only for the individual Christian to be named among law-breakers but also the name of Christ will be put in open shame. Should a Christian suffer for illegal activities then he would no longer be a good testimony for Christ.
Who is a meddler? These are busybodies who interfere with other people´s affairs. A meddler interferes with the peace of people so that there is turmoil and discord. Christians are admonished by Apostle Paul to live quietly, to mind their own business and to work with their own hands … so that you may may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one (1Thess. 4:11, 12). When a person is ever meddling in the affairs of other people he opens himself to open criticism and shame for himself and the church of Christ so that the name of the Lord is blasphemed by the unbelievers.
This verse then prepares the ground for the manner in which a Christian deals with suffering for the name of Christ, by taking away all the possibilities of exposing oneself to shame and ridicule. It first makes sure that a believer is not one who is focused on godliness and contentment in which there is great gain both for the Christian and for the course of Christ. The contrast between verse 15 and 16 is marked by ´however´. The Apostle explains that the suffering which believer go through is not because of criminal activities as the authorities of the time laid accusations to believers. When a Christian suffers persecutions it is with a clear conscience, so that he is able to defend himself without any shame.
Many time when we suffer, we are ashamed, even when there is no reason to be ashamed. Peter as a wise, experienced pastor knew the heart of man. When a believer meets scorn and contempt, ridicule and sarcasm, sneers and jeers because of his faith, shame often will prevent him from being a faithful witness of the Lord in that context. This is the tactic of the enemy who roams around. Thankfully, we are not ignorant of his tactics – a believer should always triumph over shame because we bear a great name of the King immortal – the Rock and horn of our salvation.
We should celebrate that we are counted worthy of the name of God. We should very gladly rejoice like the apostles that we are counted worthy to suffer to dishonor for the name so that we do not cease from talking about Christ as the One who has granted us what us salvation, who has an eternal reward reserved for us where moth, rust, thieves and enemies cannot reach. We should be grateful that we bear the Name of God the Creator.
It is the duty of every believer to make sure that he does not suffer as law-breakers in disgrace. It is shame to commit murder and therefore it is a great disgrace to suffer as a murderer. It is shameful to steal and so a Christian should not suffer the punishment of stealing. All who break the law of the land (that is not contrary to the law of God) are punished so as to shame them and never should a Christian be counted among them. All who are punished for gross misconduct are shamed and never should a believer in the Lord of all grace be disgraced because one who profess to belong to him has committed such as is shameful. We are to know that the name that we bear is a holy name and should be glorified not shamed. This is because it is terrible to put God or His Son or His church to shame. We should never give occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme him or His church.

3.     We must commit our souls to God the faithful Creator (17-19)
The ultimate manner in which we are deal with suffering for the name of Christ is to submit our cares to the One for which we are suffering.  Verses 17 and 18 are the basis for which we are to commit our soul to the faithful God. It simply states two things – one, that severe afflictions await those who are believers in Christ coming from God for  their sake and secondly, there are still more terrible evils impending for all unbelievers. The last category might as well imply those who fall from faith in apostasy, even it where as a result of severe persecution for the name of Christ.
The house of God in the Old Testament would be a reference to the temple in Jerusalem. Figuratively it would be a reference to a household or family or the people of Israel. A clear category of believers as the household of God and unbelievers as those who are called ungodly and sinners. But both go through the judgment of God the former for the positive purpose of establishing them and the latter for the purpose of punishment.
The period of judgment is  not in future – it is now . It is the time for judgment and it has already began with the sufferings of the believers. When the sinners persecute the believers, they make a distinction between them and us – as those who belong to different worlds or destiny, owned by different Fathers and those who have different inheritances. Those who belong to the household of God are together with the apostle himself because he is talking of us and furthermore are described as the righteous.
Christians go through  the present trials in order to prepare them for what is to come. And the Lord had prepared them for the trials to go through in these life. He said, ¨Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name´s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another... and because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. Bu the one who endures to the end will be saved¨ (Matt. 24:9-13). Great grace is needed to suffer all these  according to the will of God.
Peter here echoes the OT about God´s judgment on His own people as well as the world as described by such prophets as Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Amos – the lesson is that God will punish His own people when they sin. The judgment begins from the house of god as it happened in Ezekiel 9:6 , where the Lord instructed that the judgment was to begin at the sanctuary. But he goes a step further to show that Christians who are the elect of God find blessings in the afflictions for the sake of the Name of Christ in that they are finally saved. We notice that the word used is judgment not punishment because the believers who suffer scorn and ridicule from the world, though they may be going through the chastening of the Lord, they are God´s people, belonging to His family; Peter calls them ¨a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation¨ (2:9) this is because Christ endured all wrath and punishment from God for them to set them free. God has made them to escape the condemnation of judgment through forgiveness of their sins by the atoning work of Christ on the cross, so that the fellowship and peace with God is completely restored. God will first of all bring judgment on his own people to keep them safe and then inevitably to all who do not obey the gospel. The question Peter deserves a personal consideration by all of us – have you obeyed the gospel so that you may escape the judgment of God?
Quoting from Proverbs 11:31 and through it points how difficult it is for Christians to be saved ( although they are saved) through the narrow gate, because through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). You should never think that the Christian road is a smooth one for the believers – it hard and full of difficulties. It requires work and fear and trembling for Paul says, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling , for God works in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12,13 ).   
On the other hand are those who are ungodly and sinners. This means those who do not worship the true God, they  don love Him as their God and so they have no place for Him in the their lives. Sinners are those who willfully transgress his law and commands. These are not going to stand since it is so hand even for those who have the favour of God.
The persecuted Christians are encouraged to commit their souls to the Lord. Committing or entrusting the soul to the Lord reminds of the manner in which the Lord Jesus committed His soul to the Father before His death on the cross. This is the same thing that Stephen did – he entrusted His soul to the Lord and died for being a faithful witness to Christ. We would always be wise to keep our souls to the good Guardian who is both faithful and the Creator who can, not just renew the soul but create anew. He is faithful to protect and support the souls and bodies of all who trust Him.
Committing the soul to the Lord means that one is prepared to face death from the persecutors if it comes to it – He is not going to bulge or be shaken so as to give up. Committing the soul to the Lord also means that one will continue to do good as the Lord has instructed so as to honor Him. It is this that characterizes the life of a believer, making the distinction with sinners so great. Many times Peter encourages Christians to do good – 2:15, 20, 3:6 11, 17). the manner in which a Christian shows his commitment to the Lord is that he does the works of God – of love and mercy toward other people, because we show our love to God by showing it to our neighbour.
 Let us be those who will not bulge or give up at the face of danger. May the Lord help us to be courageously faithful and diligent in the face of threat, danger, ridicule, contempt, slander, false accusations as we entrust ourselves to the help of the Lord.


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