About Jesus - Steve (Stephen) Sweetman
Peter 4:12 reads:
friends, don't be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to
test you, as if something unusual were happening to you."
Peter wrote his first
letter to those the NIV text calls "dear friends," or as the
Greek text implies, loved ones to whom Peter sacrificed his life.
It was this communal sacrifice of lives among the believers in
the midst of stress-filled suffering that Peter believed would preserve the
unity of the church. It's
what I believe is one of Peter's main points in this letter.
Peter told his loved
ones' in Christ not to be surprised about the stress-filled suffering
they were encountering, much of which was put on them from the
surrounding anti-Christ culture. Becoming
a Christian in Peter's day was a huge life-altering decision.
It wasn't just repeating a simple sinner's prayer or responding
to an emotional plea spoken by a preacher.
The cost of Christian discipleship had to be counted because
becoming a Christian included being disenfranchised from the Greco-Roman
world in which one lived. Unlike
the gospel we often preach today, the possibility of being persecuted
for one's association with Jesus was included in the gospel preached
back then. Peter knew about
such suffering well in advance of writing this letter.
Jesus warned His disciples about the cost of discipleship.
John 15:20 reads:
the word I spoke to you: 'A
servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they
will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep
persecution came to Peter when Caesar Nero's regime executed him a few
years after he wrote this letter.
We often apply Peter's
admonition to stand firm in the face of suffering to the individual
Christian, but due to the plural pronoun "you" in this verse
and throughout this letter, it also has a corporate application.
Peter was addressing the church that was experiencing the stress
of suffering, and stress always brings out the worst in us, which in
turn, can cause relationships to suffer.
According to Peter, stress-filled suffering could be considered a test for both the
individual and the church to successfully pass.
This suffering would either make or break the individual, and in
turn, make or break the church. It
could bring the church together or rip it in half.
All that Peter wrote in
his first letter is relevant for us today.
Many issues are stressing out the church these days to the degree
that we are allowing them to divide us. Personal
relationships are being ripped apart because we fail to take Peter's
words seriously, assuming we actually know what he wrote.
That also presupposes that we have personal
relationships within church. In many respects, we are failing the test.
If Peter was alive today, he would encourage us not to get bent out of
shape, or be surprised, over these stress-filled issues. He'd tell
us to live the life of sacrificial love that will preserve the unity of
the church in the midst of suffering.