Sunday After New Year January 4, 1998
1 Peter 4:12-19
125, 527, 528, 532
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator. Here ends our text.
In Christ, Whose sufferings we share as Christians, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
“Tempering” is a metallurgical process in which a metal instrument—usually a tool or a weapon—is made stronger by heating it white hot and then cooling it very quickly. You can’t, for instance, just take a block of steel, attach a handle to it and use it for a hammer; in a very short time it would turn into a useless lump of banged-up metal. In order to be useful, a hammer must be made of tempered steel, hardened by intense heat.
There is a tempering process that we Christians go through, too. Trials in our lives that are hard to live with, but which make us stronger. Troubles that subject us to terrible heat, but which help us to endure and become more useful servants of Christ. The source and degree of heat will be different in each individual’s life, but the Bible is very clear on one point: every Christian will go through some tempering! In our text for today, Peter urges us to be, in the words of our theme…
Our text really talks about two sources of heat in the life of a Christian. The first is the heat we feel from the world. We’re told to expect it: Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings. What? Jesus felt the heat from the world too? You bet He did! Practically from the very first day He was born! Part of the Christmas account we heard two weeks ago told about how King Herod hated the baby Jesus, and plotted to kill Him. While Jesus was still an infant in swaddling clothes, his parents were forced to flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s death squads. Thousands of innocent babies were slain in the effort to kill the newborn King.
From that point onward, Jesus’ whole life was a chain of suffering and persecution, and each link in the chain was tempered with sorrow and tears. He lived a life of constant poverty: “Foxes have holes,” Jesus said, “and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Matt 8:20. The jealous scribes and Pharisees were constantly on His back, trying to trap Him into saying something that would get Him in trouble. One of His own disciples turned traitor and betrayed Him to the Romans. A crazed mob of Jews screamed for His blood. Finally, Jesus was subjected to most painful and humiliating form of execution there was—death by crucifixion. Oh, Jesus went through the fire, all right! He felt the heat from the world. He was tempered for the great work He needed to accomplish. In fact, His spirit was tempered to the point where He could even endure the agony of the cross in order to secure your salvation and mine. Praise be to God for that!
What’s Peter telling the believers in this text?—He’s saying, basically, that being a Christian is no bed of roses. The early Christians to whom he was writing were already feeling the heat. They were being tempered by world in which they lived. They were ridiculed for not taking part in the drunken parties of the heathen. “In regard to these,” he said, “they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, and they speak evil of you.”—I Pet 4:4. Worse yet, Peter knew that things were going to get even hotter for the Asian Christians. A time was coming when they would be imprisoned for their faith. They’d be beaten, tortured, burned at the stake and fed to the lions for the amusement of the crowds.
We all know about this sad part of Christian history. What’s amazing is that Peter actually tells them to rejoice in these sufferings! Rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you. When the world is pressing you hardest, he says, that’s how you know that the Spirit of God is with you. And on the Day of Judgment, when the glory of Christ is revealed, you’ll see that it was more than worth it! The heat of the world tempered the faith of those Christians. The persecutions, far from nipping Christianity in the bud, strengthened it…made it into a mighty empire that has lasted right down to the present day!
Peter’s talking to us, too. He’s inviting us to share in the sufferings of Christ. To feel the heat of the world. It’s not quite the same for us, though. The heat has shifted somewhat in our day and age. God has blessed us Americans with a government that protects our right to worship as we choose. We don’t have to meet secretly in someone’s home to hold services, like they do in some eastern countries. We don’t get thrown in jail for being a Christian, like they do in Communist China. In fact, you might be thinking to yourself, “Things haven’t been very hot for me at all as a Christian—in fact, I’m pretty comfortable!”
…But you know what? God never meant for believers to get comfortable in this world. We are strangers and pilgrims on this earth. We’re temporary residents in a world that is constantly trying to get us to go along and relax our standards. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Everybody gets drunk once in a while, so forget about what the Bible says about being sober and vigilant! Cheating on your taxes is standard procedure, so forget what the Bible says about obeying the government! Obviously, the best way for young people to get to know one another is to live together, so forget about the Sixth Commandment! Don’t be a stick in the mud! Get with the times!—And if you don’t, you’re going to feel the heat. If you haven’t been feeling much heat lately, maybe you should take another look at what your lifestyle is saying about you to other people. If you have been feeling the heat, you should be happy, for Jesus said, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matt 5:11-12.
The second part of our text talks about another kind of heat that is applied to our lives, and that’s the heat of sufferings that God Himself sends our way in order to correct and strengthen us. For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.
The correction that God sends into our lives can be very hard for us to understand. Peter reminds us that God’s judgment upon sin begins with us believers! He wants us to remember that we are “scarcely saved”…in other words, we should realize very clearly that there’s only one thing separating us from eternal destruction—and that’s our Savior, Jesus Christ! And to keep us from losing sight of that fact, God is constantly applying the heat of correction in our lives. He does it in order to bring us back in line, and keep us from hurting ourselves spiritually. The Bible says, “It is for discipline that you endure chastening: God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.” Heb 11:7-8. God’s chastisement is always out of love, and it’s always for our good. But that doesn’t change the fact that it hurts!
There’s a true story that’s a favorite of mine. It’s about a woman who was vacationing in Switzerland. One day she took a walk in the hills, and came upon a shepherd with his sheep. One of the sheep was lying down, and appeared to be hurt. When she looked at it closely, she saw that it’s leg was broken. She asked the shepherd how it had happened. She was shocked when the shepherd told her that he, himself, had broken its leg. “Of all the sheep in my flock,” he said, “this one was the most disobedient. It would never follow where I led, and was always wandering to the edge of dangerous cliffs. Not only that, but it kept leading other sheep from the flock astray. So I broke its leg. The first day I went to feed it, it tried to bite me. I let it lie by itself for a couple of days, and went back, and now it not only took the food, but licked my hand in submission and even affection. And let me tell you something more. When this sheep is well, as it soon will be, it will be the model sheep of my flock. No sheep will hear my voice so quickly. None will follow so closely by my side!”
Much of the suffering that God permits in our life is just like that. God will do whatever is necessary to bring us back to His side, even if it means pain for His dear children. “When we are judged,” Paul says, “we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.” I Cor 11:32. God knows what’s best for us, even when we can’t see it. God knows exactly how much heat to apply in order to temper us, and make us strong enough to meet the challenges that will confront us in life.
Today, as we stand at the beginning of a new year, we know beforehand that there will be trials to go through and challenges to face. For each one of us there will be suffering as well as joy, hardship as well as happiness. I think we all tend to ask God to remove those sufferings from our path. But maybe we’ve been praying for the wrong thing. It’s good for us to feel the heat; the heat the world puts on us, and the heat our loving God applies as chastisement. It will temper us, and give us the “metal” we need to live our lives as God’s faithful servants. Perhaps, instead of praying that God remove the hardships, we should take the advice of the evangelist Phillips Brooks, who said, “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger people! Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks!” In Jesus’ name, AMEN.
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