A Meditation on Suffering as Seen in Peter’s First Epistle
V. Counter, Kingsteignton, S. Devon
The mystery of Christ's sufferings baffled the prophets of old. It was pleasurable to them to write of the glory, nay. rather, the glories to come. But to write of sufferings preceding these glories, as they were invariably led to do, brought them to enquire and search diligently.
Perhaps the key to the Epistle is near the entrance door. In 1. 11 we have the expression "the sufferings of Christ", which even more correctly may be expressed "the sufferings pertaining to Christ". The mind is immediately drawn to think of a different kind of sufferings. Sufferings are associated with Christ, whether in Himself or in His people. The "sufferings of Christ" are intended to be exemplary in Peter's Epistle in order to encourage those believers who had lost everything to look on to that which was to be recompensed to them later. There are, of course, sufferings which are on our behalf, as in 2. 24; 3.18, and in this substitutionary aspect we can have no share. But the emphasis seems to be on the sufferings themselves—the "sufferings pertaining to Christ".
In chapter 1, Peter seems to say, "You have a living hope. Christ is risen ! There is an incorruptible and undefiled inheritance reserved for you in heaven, and you are guarded by faith until that salvation comes which will lead you into it. You are already 'greatly rejoicing' in this, but you have heaviness for a (limited) season through manifold temptations. You do not understand this ? God is trying your faith; He is desiring to prove you, and He wants you to live in trial so that such trial of faith may be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing (revelation in v. 13) of Jesus Christ. You have not seen Christ, but you do love Him; you do believe in Him, and you cannot express in words your joy, since it is so full of glory". Peter continues, "Now of this salvation the prophets of old were informed by revelation that the message was not for themselves but for a future generation of believers, and you are among such. When the Holy Spirit had come, He inspired the apostles, prophets, and evangelists to herald the truth that the promised Messiah and Saviour had come, that He had suffered as no other had done, and that He, the Messiah, now awaited the coming foreshadowed glories". The following verses of this chapter show that suffering believers would also obtain glory.
In chapter 2, Peter reminds them that some of their company were bondservants, and that they may well meet with suffering, perhaps, physically. He says, "Whatever else, do not disobey and so bring suffering upon yourselves, except when occasions arise, and you have to disobey for 'conscience sake'. You were called to suffering in order that you may be followers of Christ. He was sinless, guileless and, in the midst of reviling and suffering He never gave like for like, but committed everything to the righteous Judge. You know, too, that in His Own body on the tree He bare our sins, and what suffering that involved ! in His death of suffering, you died to sins and the way was made clear for you to 'live unto righteousness'. His stripes were necessary for the healing of wounds which sin had made. But now, you, the straying sheep are returned and you are in the safe custody of the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. Did He suffer for others' sins, did He suffer for the faults of others ? You have the example—follow it. It may well be that in living unto righteousness, you will be called to suffer". This will be seen in chapter 3.
In chapter 3, Peter follows up the subject of suffering for righteousness' sake. He says, "If you love (natural) life and desire your days to be extended, watch your tongue and your lips; shun every form of evil and do good. In your links with men do not be drawn into cavilling; let peace be your aim and follow it up unceasingly. 0 righteous ones, be assured that the Lord's eyes are upon you and His ears are attentive to your prayers, whilst His face is against them that do evil. Is it likely that anyone will harm you if you be followers of that which is good? However, it is possible that, by choosing the path of righteousness, you may suffer on this account. The world does not understand your position; it does not think as you do. You may be asked to state your reason for non-compliance with their actions. Make it clear that you have a hope before you which makes it impossible for you to move with them. Sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts and keep your conscience clear. Their reaction will be to speak evil of you as of evil-doers, but what shame will come to them when they are proved false in their accusations. Should God's will allow you to suffer, let it be for well doing rather than for evil doing. Take Christ for your Example. He suffered because of evil doing, He suffered for sins but you know that neither the evil doing nor sins were His Own. He was put to death in the flesh; He came for this purpose, being thus ordained, indeed, fore-ordained. He suffered for us, the Just for the unjust ones, to bring us to God. He suffered in the flesh for righteousness' sake but was quickened in the Spirit. You were once away from God as your enemies still are, and you suffer because of your association with Christ". This path of suffering began when Cain slew his brother Abel, and John, in his Epistle, asks, "And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous", 1 John 3. 12.
In chapter 4, Peter speaks of that period of time in which the believer is called upon to suffer. It is whilst he is "in the flesh". He reminds them that "Christ also hath suffered 'in the flesh'. It was in this scene as God manifest in flesh that sufferings were inflicted upon Him both by God in judgment and by man in hatred". In view of this, Peter continues, "Since, indeed, Christ has suffered in the flesh, brace yourselves with His mind; approach suffering as He did. God's design in your suffering in bodily flesh is that you may be delivered from your carnal flesh. God has made a clear division in your life. There are two parts, past and future. The time past of your life must surely be sufficient to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, namely, in those lusts in which they continue, wondering why you have changed. Nevertheless they have a time of reckoning before them. Meanwhile, God is allowing you to continue. There is further 'time in the flesh' in which, negatively, you throw off your lusts and, positively, you live according 'to the will of God'. Beloved, there is a more severe trial to come. Do not be surprised as though some strange thing happened unto you. This should be a cause for joy. Thereby you are partakers; you are 'in common' with Christ and His sufferings. You are reproached for the Name of Christ. He said, 'the reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me', Rom. 1 5. 3. The Spirit of glory and of God rests on you as it did on Him. Others speak evil of Him, but you glorify Him. Let none of you suffer as a murderer (you remember Barabbas, Luke 23.19), or as a thief (you remember Judas, John 12. 6), or as an evil doer (your Lord was arraigned with this charge, 'If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up', John 18. 30), or as a busybody in other men's matters. Yet, if you suffer as a Christian, because of your link with Christ, be not ashamed. Let this be a cause for glorifying God. Judgment must fall on evil. As you suffer 'in the flesh' you are being purified from that which defiles and corrupts, and the gold becomes bright to God's glory".
In chapter 5, drawing his Epistle to a close, Peter encourages his fellow elders to feed the flock over which the Holy Ghost had made them overseers. He says, "I am a witness of the sufferings of Christ, I am a partaker of coming glory. Look on to the day of His appearing and, if you are faithful, you shall receive a crown of glory which shall never fade away. You have lost much, but this you will never lose. Encourage the saints to humble themselves under the mighty hand of God, for in due time He will exalt you all, Your enemy the devil is stalking, watching his opportunity to devour, yet resist him, steadfast in the faith and remember that, throughout the world, there are your brethren who suffer like afflictions. But God is measuring your sufferings. Only for a measured period will you so suffer and then—the eternal glory. May that same God make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you". Note: The vicarious suffering of Christ was associated with His death. There were, of course, many other sufferings that took place during His life and in His death, all of them preparing Him for His present ministry.