The dictionary definition of the word “suffering” is the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship. It is obviously not something anyone would desire. And it is also something many of us, if we are honest, don’t handle well. This is where we lose our temper or patience. We neglect our Bible reading, prayer and Christian fellowship. We complain, (why me?), or we blame. Typically, the worst of us can come out in the midst of suffering. Which is why Peter’s admonition to us in 1 Peter 4 stands out so starkly with our lived experiences. 1 Peter 4:16 says, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” What does it mean to suffer as a Christian?
First, it means why we suffer. 1 Peter 4:15 says, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.” Those who suffer for doing something wrong deserve their suffering. When we make foolish mistakes, we basically reap what we sow. If we choose to eat unhealthy foods our whole life and then get sick from it, we have no one to blame our suffering on but ourselves.
In contrast to this suffering, Peter exhorts us to suffer for following Christ. This means that there is a specific type of suffering that comes because we stay true to honoring Christ in our lives. Back in 1 Peter 4:4 it says, “With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you.” When we refuse to join the chorus of the world, (in their view of sexuality, when life begins, or what is considered entertainment), we can expect suffering. As a Christian, Peter encourages us to suffer for honoring the Lord as this is worthwhile suffering.
Second though, it also means how we suffer. 1 Peter 4:19 says, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” The key to suffering in a God-honoring way is to “entrust our souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” First, we need to entrust ourselves to God in our suffering. Our suffering is often the place where we can feel closest to God because we can’t rely on our own at that moment. For us to suffer well means to depend on the Lord to help us make it through the suffering.
It also means that we continue to do good in the suffering. Suffering isn’t an excuse for inaction in the Christian life. We are to continue to “do good” because in that, Christ is most honored and glorified. And I would even go so far as to say that when we can continue to pursue “doing good” (Christian fellowship, evangelism, prayer for others, etc…), that it is also good for us. Doing good for others during suffering is an antidote to the “why me” mentality.
I don’t suffer well. My desire is that I would, through the grace of God and the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, learn to suffer as a Christian. Lord, help me to suffer well because I am so passionate for knowing and serving you. And Lord, help me to learn how to go through suffering in such a Christ-exalting way that others take notice and that they may glorify You. Help us all to suffer as a Christian Lord. In Jesus name, Amen.