I am a pretty big fan of what often gets labeled as nerdy movies and shows. I love Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Marvel Movies. For the most part, it’s just fun entertainment, but now and then I’ll hear a line or quote in a movie and think “that’s a pretty good quote.” One of those quotes is from the original Star Wars movie. Two characters are stranded on the desert planet of Tatooine and the character C-3PO is bemoaning their current state of affairs and says “We seem to be made to suffer. It’s our lot in life.”
Nearly every time I hear him say that I think to myself “he’s not that far off.” Suffering is an inevitable part of our lives. But the book of 1 Peter not only acknowledges this, it gives us hope in and a way to navigate through our suffering. It was written by the apostle Peter to Christians in modern-day Turkey somewhere between AD 62-64. These believers were under heavy persecution from the Roman Emperor Nero. Peter’s goal was to encourage these suffering believers to stand firm in their faith in the middle of being persecuted.
Throughout the book, we are reminded that as believers we are “exiles” (1:1; 2:11) and “strangers” (2:11) in this world and that informs how we live our lives. As author Jared C. Wilson puts it “As trials come, the understanding that such suffering can be the mark and measure of faithfulness helps these early Christians to see that affliction is one more means of Christlikeness and, indeed, one more avenue of true joy.”
1 Peter 1:1-2 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ: To those chosen, living as exiles dispersed abroad in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient and to be sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ. May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
As Peter starts off this small, but powerful book he reminds us of our identity. We are CHOSEN BY GOD, but we are also living as exiles. In verse 2 we see all three persons of the trinity are active in salvation. “The Father purposes the saving work, the Son accomplishes the work by his blood, and the Spirit applies the work to the sinner.”
It feels like Peter is celebrating the amazing gift of salvation as he is greeting everyone. He is reminding them of who they are. That is why he can tell these suffering Christians grace and peace be multiplied to you! Then in verse three, he jumps right into the mercy of God.
1 Peter 1:3-5 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. You are being guarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
As Peter seeks to encourage these believers, and us, he starts preaching about the beauty of the gospel. He is reminding them and us how amazing our salvation is. Even though everything around us may feel like it is falling apart, our salvation, and by extension us, is secure. Charles Spurgeon reminds us that “The inheritance of the saints of God has nothing within it that can make it perish.”
For our 2020 family vacation, my family had planned to spend a night at the Great Wolf Lodge in Anaheim, California. It’s a nice resort and an amazing indoor water park that my kids would have loved! However, about a week after we made our reservation it got canceled due to COVID-19. I think nearly everyone I know has had at least one thing canceled on them because of the Coronavirus. As frustrating as having a reservation get canceled can be, your reservation in heaven will never be canceled. The POWER OF GOD is guarding it!
Before Peter starts to unpack what it looks like to endure suffering while living a holy life, he takes us on a deep dive into the gospel and he leads us to God’s sovereign power and the assurance that we are given as a result. The type of power needed to thrive while living in a place that is not our home can only be found in the gospel. You have the power of God available to you so that you can thrive, even while suffering. Peter continues:
1 Peter 1:6-9 You rejoice in this, even though now for a short time, if necessary, you suffer grief in various trials so that the proven character of your faith — more valuable than gold which, though perishable, is refined by fire — may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him; though not seeing him now, you believe in him, and you rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, because you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
This power and security we have in Christ should be our biggest source of joy, even if you are suffering. Consider what Peter said in chapter four.
1 Peter 4:13 Instead, rejoice as you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may also rejoice with great joy when his glory is revealed.
Why do we rejoice? Because suffering is designed (for the believer) to do three things: Prove Your Faith, Strengthen Your Faith, and Glorify Your Savior. It is through suffering that we have the opportunity to become more like Jesus! Another quote from Charles Spurgeon is helpful here. He says: “Faith is a sword. Whoever has it may expect, between here and heaven, to learn what battle means. We must expect trial because trial is the element of faith. Faith without trial is like a diamond uncut, the brilliance of which has never been seen. A fish without water or a bird without air is faith without trial. We may surely expect our faith will be tested.”
Christianity and suffering are vitally connected. Those who are in Christ will suffer and will continue to be made like Christ as they share in Christ’s suffering. Consider Romans chapter five.
Romans 5:3-4 And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope.
We can rejoice in our afflictions because we know where it is leading us. Because of the gospel, we have power and assurance that enables us to obey God and persevere in the face of suffering without losing our faith. Our security in Christ gives us HOLY GRIT. We can endure hard days and even thrive through them because we know that we are eternally secure. We can faithfully follow and obey God because we are eternally secure in him. All these amazing truths about the gospel are not new. Peter reminds us that the prophets wrote about them. The entire Bible is God’s unfolding plan of redemption that even the angels long to catch a glimpse of it.
With that foundation laid Peter now moves into how we live and thrive as obedient exiles. So how do we suffer well? We will jump into that in the next post. In the meantime, be sure to check out my new book, Thriving In Exile which unpacks the entire book of 1 Peter and shows us how we can suffer well, while pointing people to Jesus.