What Is Your Fair Share?
Background Scripture: 1 Peter 4:1-11.
Devotional Reading: Galatians 5:13-26.
The world that the writer of 1 Peter lived in was radically different from ours today. His was a world in which Christianity was both a minority faith and a constant threat to the established culture.
Although there are places in the world today where being a Christian is dangerous — Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan — the Christianity we experience today is not much of a threat to society and does not make us prospects for martyrdom.
I have never had to suffer for my faith.
In the time of 1 Peter, it was a gentile, pagan world with little cells of Christian disciples scattered here and there. Sometimes, Christian martyrdom is presented as something to be sought, rather than victoriously endured.
In fact, some have promoted martyrdom as being good for the gospel. Although it has often had a strengthening effect upon the cause of Christ, martyrdom in itself is not a moral good.
Nevertheless, good can often be drawn from it. In 1 Peter 4:1-11, Christians were warned to protect themselves against martyrdom, viewing it just as Jesus regarded his own suffering on the first Good Friday: “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same thought, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time no longer by human passions but by the will of God” (4:1,2).
How Jesus Saw It
So how did Jesus view his own suffering and martyrdom?
Nowhere in the four gospels do I find him anticipating it for the good of his mission. But, if Jesus didn’t seek it, neither did he run from it — as he could have.
Instead he prayed: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me ... yet not my will but yours be done” (Lk.32:42).
Shall we assume that God wanted Jesus to suffer and die on the cross?
No. Human depravity was real and God used it, rather than desired it, to demonstrate for all the world, then and now, that suffering and death cannot, would not prevail.
We do not have to seek suffering; it will find us, because we live in a world where suffering is not only possible, but very likely.
But when we cannot avoid it, we need to have in us the same mind that Jesus took with him to the cross. He trusted God to bring him through the Crucifixion and make him victor — and that is how we also should regard it.
Martyrdom is not our goal, but sometimes it may be the means to our goal. But of course, martyrdom is not the only issue for the Christian because we can experience suffering in which martyrdom is not involved — physical illness and limitations, family sorrow, vocational failures and so on.
It is evident that we should not seek these, but, when they come upon us, we can respond in the same way as martyrs, asking God to turn tragedy into something worthwhile — fear into courage, for example.
Napoleon was quite correct when he said: “It requires more courage to suffer than to die.”
I do not believe God causes us suffering so that we may learn courage, but that he uses our sufferings to teach us courage.
The End of All Things
We must also keep in mind as we read 1 Peter that it was a time when Christians still anticipated that the return of Christ in glory and the kingdom of God: “The end of all things is at hand” (4:7).
The writer of 1 Peter was not alone in this expectation. Paul says to the Philippians that “the Lord is near” (4:5).
James says the same: “The coming of the Lord is near” (5:6) and the writer of Revelation 1:3 says, “Surely I am coming soon.”
Were these assurances in error?
Whether we believe they were wrong or that there is a way to explain them, nevertheless we can still profit from them, for we should always live in the expectation that the Lord will return and God’s Kingdom be fulfilled, without assuming that we know when.
In Acts 1:6, the disciples ask: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Don’t forget his reply: “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”
2 Peter 3:8 reminds us: “But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.”
More important than a precise end-of-time date is the call of what, in the meantime, we are to be and do: “Be serious and discipline yourselves. ... Maintain constant love for one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received” (4:7-11).