Suffering as part of God's will (1 Peter 4:1 - 6)

4 Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. 2 As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. 3 For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. 4 They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. 5 But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

Why do many of those who are godly suffer? Examples include Jesus Himself, Job, Paul, Peter, and many others. Sometimes God allows suffering to occur to help us become more focused on Him. The suffering of Jesus did not occur because of sin. We know that Jesus is God’s Son. He is perfect. His suffering was to help Him walk through the things that many other people walk through, to aid the ministry of the Kingdom of God in people’s lives. As the only perfect man who was also fully human, God willed that He would experience human suffering in life. God the Father and the Son want us to know that He too has lived experience of human sorrow.

Jesus experienced a lot of suffering even before He experienced the Cross. From birth, His parents were not welcomed in their hometown and Jesus was treated with the stigma of illegitimacy. His earthly parents became refugees and experienced years of upheaval.

Sometime between the age of 12 and the beginning of His ministry aged 30, Jesus’ earthly father Joseph died. By the time Jesus turned water into wine at Cana in Galilee, His mother had turned to him instinctively as the family problem-solver because He was already experienced in dealing with day-to-day challenges and suffering. Before God the Father allowed God the Son to experience the Cross, Jesus in His humanity had to develop abilities at navigating lesser but still very significant suffering. 

One example is His experience of racism. This was from Roman soldiers (the beatings, spitting and crown of thorns and taunting of being “king of the Jews”). In Isaiah chapter 53 he is named the “man of sorrows”.

How does this relate to us? Paul in Philippians 3:10-11 states, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” The Bible seems to state that suffering has an important role in the Christian life. It is significant that Paul equates suffering with fellowship with Christ.

No normal person wants to experience suffering. However, It appears to be necessary to achieve the Christian goal to draw near to Christ and please God in our lives. When we read Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane it is clear that, although He fully submitted Himself to God, He did not seek suffering any more than a normal person would. Similarly, Paul prayed for his “thorn in the flesh” to be taken away. Jesus indicated just before His resurrection that Peter would be bound up and taken where he did not want to go. Jesus therefore warned Peter that he would suffer against his own will, because of his obedience to Jesus.

In Romans 8:28 Paul states;
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Suffering is included in Paul’s statement about “all things”. God can use suffering in our lives to do good. He can use suffering to mature and improve our character. He can conform us to the image of his Son through suffering.

In 2 Timothy 3:12, Paul states;
“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”. For Paul, persecution and suffering follow on naturally from our desire to lead a godly life. 1 Peter 3:14-15 states,
But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened. 1But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

We need to draw near to God. When we do so, we experience a blessing, even during a period of suffering. The blessing of Christian joy is not dependent on happy external circumstances.

Suggested prayer: 
Dear Heavenly Father. Help me to draw near to Christ and live a life that pleases You. May I trust in Your perfect love that casts out all fear. Help me to find out what pleases You and to be obedient to You. In Jesus Name. Amen.