for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,…” 1 Pet. 4:1
Why does Peter connect suffering and a sanctified life? How are suffering and ceasing from sin related? The answer is found in Jesus Christ, our perfect example.
Suffering describes the life of Christ. He did not suffer for personal sins; Jesus was without sin, Heb. 4:15; cf 1 Peter 1:19. And Jesus did not suffer the general afflications men do as a consequence of their bad habits and self-inflicted wounds of wrong modes of living. Jesus would be a perfect example
of self-control and moderation in every way. But Jesus did suffer. So how?
Jesus’ suffering was the suffering inflicted on him by the devil and by those who were opposed to God. He knew what was in man and could not entrust Himself to them, John 2:24. Men made life a time of suffering for Jesus. Jesus came and dwelled amongst us that He might help us find deliverance from sin and to have salvation. He suffered the insults and hostilities of the ungodly so that he might save sinful men.
The Hebrews writers says, “16For surely it is not the angels He helps, but the descendants of Abraham. 17So He had to be made like His brothers in every way, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, in order to make atonement for the sins of the people. 18Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.…” Hebrews 12:16-18.
See how He suffered when He was tempted? See how he suffered that He might help not angels, but us who are tempted? He became like us in every way so that He could be a sympathetic and effective advocate for us to the heavenly Father. For us Jesus suffered temptation.
In the times of temptation and trial, Jesus suffered to the point of great physical strain. His suffering came through striving against sin and temptation by the devil as in the wilderness, Matthew 4. He knew the limitations and weakness of human flesh because he took on flesh that He might share in our infirmities. He knew the heat of the day and the cold of the night. He knew hunger and pain. Jesus knew the weakness of being tired so that in all of this He would entrust Himself to God, . He was hungry not having eaten for forty days, says Matthew and Luke. And after the period of temptation, it says, “angels came and ministered to Him.” Mt 4:11. This ministering was the aid given to Him because He was in a very weak condition. This help came again to Jesus when He suffered in the garden on the night He was betrayed and arrested. This level of suffering was manifested by his “sweat becoming like great drops of blood falling down to the ground”, Lk. 22:44, where the Hebrews writer says, “who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear”, Hebrews 5:7. So severe was the suffering Jesus endured, even before the cross, that once again it was necessary that angels minister to Him in that hour, Lk. 22:43. Jesus suffered in prayer for His disciples, John 17. Jesus sometimes prayed all night, Luke 6:12. Jesus suffered knowing the baptism of suffering He was about to endure, Lk. 22:42.
Why should I suffer when Jesus has already suffered for me on the cross? This question is often asked as if the very suggestion of suffering for Christ somehow takes away from the work of Jesus for our salvation. Understand that only Jesus, the perfect lamb of God, atone for the sins of man. Any discussion on the necessity of Christian suffering is not an attempt to personally atone for sins. A sinful man cannot save himself, and we are all sinful, but once we are washed by Christ’s blood, we can suffer the suffering He suffered. Christ alone can and does does atone for the sins of the repentant. But the suffering Christians are called to endure is the kind of suffering that comes from being like Christ. When Christians are saved by His blood, they then begin to walk in the light and glorify God. This new life in Christ brings troubles from the world and something else, the ongoing war against the flesh.
If we are God’s children, we will suffer. It’s not that Jesus didn’t accomplish for all sinners the way to salvation, but Jesus isn’t living our life for us. He calls on us to live for Him. He asks for each believer to take up his own cross and follow Him. That includes also the invitation to suffer with Him. “Whoever wishes to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 2 Tim. 3:12. And Peter himself says God’s children will suffer and that should they suffer as a Christian, there is no shame, 1 Pet. 4:16. Now it becomes clear that being Christian means “ceasing from sin” and that therefore the suffering a Christian endures is the suffering of Christ, that is, the suffering for the sake righteousness.
There are many kinds of suffering in the world. But the suffering of Christ which Christians experience and endure is of a particular kind. It is that suffering that comes when you are holy and your life stands in opposition to the sin in the world. The devil will oppose you and the world will hate you, said Jesus. “If you were of the world, the world would love you” Jn. 15:19. It is because Christians are not of the world, but are instead strangers and aliens in the world, 1 Peter 2:11, that the world maligns them for it, 1 Peter 4:4. Jesus said, “but I have chosen you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” A Christian will suffer at the hands of the hateful world.
The Christian suffers for the good of Jesus Christ. Paul said, “7But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 8we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” 2 Cor. 4. The Apostle gladly suffered so that the life of Jesus would be manifested in him. Are we ready to suffer so that Jesus is seen in us?
Peter himself refers again to the suffering Christians endure from the devil and he says, “8Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. 10After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:8-10. This isn’t just any kind of difficulty we encounter in life. This is the various kinds that confront Christians because the stand with Jesus Christ in being holy and exposing evil for what it is.
The Apostle Paul suffered but it wasn’t the suffering of his own making. He said to the Colossians, “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of the body, which is the church”, Col. 1:24. Simply for preaching the Gospel of truth, Paul suffered “three times beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perilds among false brethren; in weariness and toi, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness–besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.” 2 Cor. 11:25-28. Paul’s suffering for the church was never any suggestion of undoing the reliance upon Jesus and the cross. Paul’s suffering was what necessarily comes when you take your stand with Him. The ones who shouted “crucify Him!” would immediately plot how they would kill Paul. And that same hostile spirit is alive today.
To cease from sin we must war against it by suffering. The suffering Christians are called to endure is not the suffering of ailments. It is not the suffering from doing wrong. This suffering we must embrace is the kind that comes when you have ceased from sin: godly, blessed suffering. Think of Peter’s reference to ceasing from sin as one side of the coin where the other side is a holy and pure in life. Peter, in fact, says Jesus died, on the cross “that we, having died to sin, might live for righteousness”, 1 Peter 2:24. That’s the two sides of the coin. Part and parcel to ceasing from sin is living to God. Therefore when we are living as a Christian, we will suffer. So don’t let it make you timid and silent. Resist the devil when you are tempted. Strive against the temptation to sin, just like Jesus, and welcome the suffering that inevitably comes. Arm yourself (1 Pet. 4:1) with Jesus’ attitude against sin and God will be your strength. Strive against personal sin and cease from doing it. Of course you feel the suffering in warring against the flesh! Jesus did too. Follow His example of blessed suffering and cease from sin.
What suffering for Christ is not. If you do evil and suffer, that is not suffering for Christ. Peter clarifies this point, saying, “For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.” 1 Peter 2:20. Suffering for Christ is the suffering that comes from living for Jesus Christ. Great people in the book of Acts suffered for Christ. Names like Peter, John, Stephen, James, Paul, Barnabas, Silas, and others suffered for doing right. They suffered for Christ. Also what suffering for Christ is not is the suffering of falling ill and being afflicated with various diseases and maladies. This is not the “cross of Christ” we bear.
But before moving on, let me add that when these things I’ve mentioned fall upon us, things like suffering for our own sins or diseases, though they are not the suffering for Christ mentioned in the Bible, still these people through such hardships can by their faithful service suffer for Christ. A man in prison for his own crimes, can be converted, and under difficult circumstances, can and should suffer for Christ by living and confessing his faith. And a man who is suffering terrible physical maladies can be a bright light of hope and faith, so that while enduring the pain he keeps smiling and thinking of others. He joyfully, selflessly suffers this for Christ when others might only seek sympathy and pity.
Why suffer? Why would Jesus suffer for us? Love. He loves us. God loves us. And His love is the best explanation for why the Apostles and early Christians endured suffering from Satan, from evil workers, from the hostile world, and even why they endured the suffering associated with ceasing from sin. Only the love they had for Jesus Christ explains their willing suffering.
When we talk about dying to self and carrying a cross, love alone makes sense for why. If and when we come to know God’s love, then we will suffer even to the point of death.
The Hebrews writer calls Christians to keep the faith by learning from the great people of faith listed in chapter eleven. And more importantly, Hebrews calls for casting off “every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangled you” and “fixing your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of faith” Hebrews 12:1-3. If you want to win the race, keep looking at Jesus while you cast off sin. That this involves or calls for suffering in overcoming sin, verse 4 says, “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin;” Overcoming sin is warfare both in the body, Romans 7, and outside of the body, Ephesians 6:10ff. This overcoming sin is not light duty, child’s play. It is war, to the “point of shedding blood”, and is the kind of suffering Jesus suffered in battling temptation and the evil in the world. Nothing but the example and love of Jesus Christ can motivate and sustain us in the battling to overcome sin in our lives.
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