Instead, rejoice

In my last post on this whole joy study, I discussed 1 Peter 1. There, the apostle Peter was writing to believers in northern Asia Minor – believers who were filled with everyday disciples dealing with everyday problems and everyday persecution – and exhorting them to do the right thing no matter what. There, he started his teaching with the challenge to praise God in every circumstance, rejoicing because, even if for nothing else, they had been remade from the inside out, were being saved unto eternal salvation, and loved God and His will more than anything else. It is no coincidence that the next time the word “rejoice” shows up in the Bible is in 1 Peter 4 when, having issued the call to do the right thing no matter what, the apostle turns to explain what we need to be doing on a daily basis to ensure that we will do the right thing in the no matter whats of life. His advice in chapter 4 is designed to enable us to realize his instruction in chapters 1-3. And it goes something like this: decide now, in the good time, that you will do the right thing; expect adversity because it will come; keep your focus on eternity where God will judge; be serious and disciplined so you can – and will – pray; love people intensely and unceasingly; be hospitable; and use your God-given gifts to serve others for His glory. To these more practical tips, the apostle aimed to add some attitude tips starting in verse 12, where we read this: “Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you. Instead, rejoice as you share in the sufferings of the Messiah, so that you may also rejoice with great joy at the revelation of His glory.”

Did you catch that? In verse thirteen, the word “rejoice” appears twice, and it’s coupled with the word “joy.” In the Bible, whenever I see something repeated, I have to pay attention; generally, it’s important. And here, I have the same thing show up three times in rapid succession. Peter thought it was important for me to have joy even as I “share in the sufferings of the Messiah.”

To be clear here, it’s important that I grasp how serious these sufferings were. You see, the images of Christ’s sufferings were indelibly seared in Peter’s mind. He had been there. And so the language that he used in these two verses to describe the suffering to which we may be called to share is incredibly visual. Consider, for instance, the phrase rendered by the HCSB as “fiery ordeal” in verse 12. The image which this word would have immediately painted on Peter’s reader’s brains was that of a blast furnace or kiln used to refine metals. These things were used to remove impurities from the ore, to create alloys which were far stronger than the raw element, and to forge and temper the metal so that it was far stronger than it would have been otherwise. But in order to do all of these good things, that metal had to be exposed to extremely intense heat.

So this wasn’t just a little difficulty. This was intense difficulty. Intense.

And then, as though that wasn’t enough, he added that we’re to rejoice as we “share in the sufferings of the Messiah.” This wasn’t necessarily an image in and of itself, but it certainly reminded the reader of what Peter had written at the end of chapter 2. There, he described the sufferings of Christ in vivid detail, using words that we see rendered merely as “wounds,” but which his readers would have seen as a man whose face and body were literally beaten to a bloody, quivering pulp before He was ultimately nailed to the cross. Simply put, Peter reminded them that crucifixion was the single most gruesome method of torture and execution ever devised. And now, in chapter four, that imagery flashed again past his readers’ minds.

So we’re talking intense suffering, even to the point of excruciating death. And yet, rejoice, rejoice, joy. And not just joy, but great joy!

Obviously, Peter’s not talking about throwing a party in the midst of this suffering. This is certainly me looking forward to the day that I receive my reward in heaven. But still, the question that I have is HOW????

Fortunately, Peter presents what I think is a pretty simple answer to that question. The key is in verse 12: “Don’t be surprised.” The word at the heart of this phrase is not the kind of surprise you get when someone jumps out from behind a bush and shouts, “Boo!” It’s more like a scoffing, offended, “Oh, no you didn’t!” The key to having joy in the midst of even extreme suffering is not expecting that I should be exempt from suffering and crying “foul!” when it comes.

See, if I expect that I can – and probably will – suffer, then when it comes, and if I’m humble enough to not worry about whether or not it’s fair, I’ll have been steeled against it so that it won’t rob my joy.

As if that wasn’t enough, Peter goes on in verse 14 to remind his readers of what he had heard Jesus say in the sermon on the mount: “If you are ridiculed for the name of Christ, you are blessed.” And he encouraged us in verse 16, “If anyone suffers as a ‘Christian'” – which was originally an insult – “he should not be ashamed but should glorify God.” In other words, remember that suffering for your faith is no reason to be embarrassed or ashamed. And lastly, Peter reminded his readers of the alternative in vs 18: “If a righteous person is saved with difficulty, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Hint: Bad things, man. Bad things.

So the key to keeping my joy, even in the no matter whats of life, is to stop worrying about whether it’s fair or not and keep my eye on the ball, which is God and the eternal life I’m getting from Him.

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