About Jesus - Steve (Stephen) Sweetman

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Saints Under Stress  


1 Peter 4:12 reads:


Dear 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:


"Remember 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 yours."


Ultimate 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.    

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