Vol. IX — No. 28 July 14, 1968


The Christian’s Stance in the Face of Suffering

1 Peter 5:6-11

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflications are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

In Christ Jesus, who would have us take up His cross and follow after Him, Fellow Redeemed:

The theme of St. Peter’s first epistle can be summed up neatly in the German phrase, Durch Kreuz zur Krone. That can be translated as follows: The way to the crown is by way of the cross. In writing this letter Peter elaborated upon a word that he personally heard from the lips of the Lord Jesus: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” Matthew 16:24.

Peter opened his letter with a doxology, a hymn of praise to our God who has provided salvation for us. Peter addressed his readers as heirs of that salvation, “wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” (1:6-7) These Christians were experiencing inner joy while at the same time experiencing trials and sufferings for their faith’s sake. Continuing on Peter writes: “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.” (2:21) Christ suffered for us; we are to follow down the path of suffering for His sake. Suffering is the lot of a true Christian, but it must be suffering for the right reason: “But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye…For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.” (3:14 and l7) Scripture knows of no moral value of any suffering just for the sake of suffering. But suffering for the sake of righteousness, suffering for well-doing, suffering because of faithfulness to the Lord—such suffering has great value. No child of God should think that such sufferings are extraordinary. They are rather to be anticipated and expected. Peter writes: “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…If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye.” (4:12-14) This part of the Christian message many Christians don’t want to hear today. They prefer an easy, cross-free, suffering-less type of Christianity. But such a Christianity is not the real thing, for every child of God who remains faithful to his Lord will experience suffering. Peter prepares his readers for such suffering. In the last section of his letter, from which our text is taken, he presents what we could call—


I. Humility before God.

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.” At the time that Peter wrote his letter the status of the Christian religion was being changed from a legal religion to an illegal one. The result was a wave of persecutions, which finally also took the life of Peter, also Paul. When these things happened, the Christians were not to think that the Lord Jesus had suddenly lost control of the situation even though all power had been given Him in heaven and on earth. No, they were to realize that the persecutions and sufferings which would befall them were coming their way with the permission and consent of the Almighty God. What was to be their stance? Not rebellion, not defiance, not cursing God, but rather humility before God.

An excellent example of a Christian stance and attitude in the face of suffering can be found in Job. The Almighty God permitted Satan to test Job severely. Satan took all of Job’s possessions, including his ten children, from him. What was Job’s response? What was his attitude? What was his stance in the face of this suffering? His words reveal it all: “Naked, came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” And the inspired recorder adds, “In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.” When the Almighty God gave Satan permission to afflict the body of Job, his suffering became so great that his own wife urged him to curse God and die. Job withstood also that temptation, saying: “What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” And again the inspired recorder adds the remark: “In all this did not Job sin with his lips.” (Job l and 2) Job humbled himself under the mighty hand of his God when his God laid the hand of affliction upon him.

This is as it should be, but it is not always so. It is so easy to whine, to complain, to feel sorry for oneself, to charge God with injustice when He in His wisdom lays the hand of suffering upon us. These reactions are forms of rebellion. Not this, but humility—a bowing of one’s head and a submitting of one’s will to the Lord—is the proper stance. To help us to this attitude and stance the Lord gives us the promise of being exalted in due tine. That time is the end of time in the world to come. The cross here; the crown hereafter. This is your life—if you are and want to be a child of God.

The second stance urged by Peter can be briefly stated:

II. Care-free in His care.

“Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” whatever comes to us in life comes from our God. We may suffer that which all flesh is heir to—sickness, accidents, losses from storms and fire, untimely deaths. In addition we may suffer tribulations which come upon us just because we are children of God. Such sufferings may come in the form of slander and vicious gossip. They may come in the form of hard feelings in the family, loss of good will in the community, loss of business or job security or one’s job itself. It may even come to physical abuse and danger to one’s property and life. Whatever sufferings come our way, they come from our God. If He did not permit them to come, they could not strike us. But they do come, because the Lord sends them to us to test us as a part of His educational program for us. The Lord tells us what to do with the cares that He sends our way. He recommends that we unload them upon Him. We are to be care-free by unloading or casting our cares upon Him.

The Lord gives us motivation for doing just this: “for He careth for you.” When the Lord sends us cares, it may appear as though He doesn’t care for us. But it only appears that way. The very fact that He sends cares is evidence and proof of His care and concern, for whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth. St. Paul expresses His concern for us in these words: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Romans 8:32. The gift of His Son is evidence of His love and concern. Without that gift we would still be children of wrath instead of sons and daughters of our God. This concern for our eternal security and well-being guarantees a concern for all the other problems that come up in our lives. So we may freely unburden ourselves by casting all our cares upon our Lord.

Here is the Lord’s formula for a truly carefree life—not superficially ignoring our cares, not drowning them in alcohol, not losing them for a time through tranqilizers, not evading suffering by being unfaithful to the Lord in His Word, but simply and in fact casting them upon Him in the certainty that He cares for us. Care-free in His care—so let us live!

The third directive for a proper stance in the face of suffering is directed toward the agent of so much suffering:

III. Sober and watchful towards Satan.

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.” The great advantage that Satan has today is that so few actually believe in his existence. Belief in a personal spirit, known as Satan, is considered by most to be part of medieval superstition. Citizens of the modern scientific era are supposed to be above such primitive beliefs. And most are—which makes it so easy for Satan to do his work of tearing down what the Spirit erects, of imitating and counterfeiting the works of God, of seducing into misbelief, despair and other great shame and vice, of trying to wear down children of God through persecutions and sufferings of body and mind, property and honor.

Peter knew better. He didn’t want any of his readers to be caught off guard. He urges: Be sober, be watchful! The exhortation is not to be sober in contrast to being drunk, but rather to be sober-minded in contrast to being spiritually giddy, impulsive, tending towards extremes and so on. Keep your feet on the ground. Keep your eyes open. You have a real opponent who is seeking your destruction. Resist him in the faith. Use the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Strike Satan down with, “It is written” and “Thus saith the Lord.” Use the weapon of prayer. In so doing realize that all Christians of all times have had to and continue to fight this same battle against the old evil foe.

Oh that we would but heed these exhortations! Satan tries to make us think that suffering is evidence of God’s lack of love and lack of concern. He would have us despair, curse God and die. We are to be sober-minded. That would mean in this case that we take our God at His Word when He assures us of His love and concern in the midst of suffering, that we study the history of God’s saints and observe how suffering was always a part of their lives, that we realize that no suffering of this present time can even begin to compare with the glory that awaits us.

Are we able to cope with the situation? Peter assures us, for belonging to our proper stance in the face of suffering is the assurance that we will be—

IV. Equipped in His strength.

Peter gives this assurance: “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever.” The God of all grace will make us perfect. That doesn’t mean what we usually think of when we hear the word “perfect.” It means that our God will equip or outfit us for the struggle that lies before us. He will strengthen us for every situation so that we will not fall by the way side.

What kind of equipment do we need? When suffering comes, we need to be assured that it is not coming as punishment for our sins, but rather as part of our Lord’s pedagogic program for us. That assurance we find in the cross of our Savior. He suffered and died for us. His suffering and death is our suffering and death by proxy. Here the law of double jeopardy comes in. If our Lord Jesus suffered and died in our place and in our stead, then our Father in heaven cannot and will not punish us for the same sins. That would be double suffering for the same sin. So our suffering is not punishment, for Christ was punished on the cross for our sins. Our suffering is pedagogic, a training in following after our Lord. This spiritual outlook and understanding is part of the equipment we need.

We need that faith which looks ahead and keeps the end in sight—the crown at the end of the trail of suffering. Such a faith the Lord is even now strengthening in us as we study these words of St. Peter. May each of us be strengthened and founded upon the Lord, to whom be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

—Pastor Paul F. Nolting

Preached - June 30, 1968
Holy Trinity Independent
Evangelical Lutheran Church
West Columbia, South Carolina

Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.