Christians are not promised health, wealth, and prosperity on this earth. Instead, the Bible says that Christians are going to suffer as they pilgrim through this life. Peter writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Pt. 4:12-13 ESV).
Too often, we find it strange when Christians suffer. We ask questions like, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” In our self-centered minds, we think we deserve better. But the Bible clearly teaches that following Christ comes with a cost (see Lk. 14:25-33).
Jesus himself says, “‘Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets’”(Lk. 6:22-23 ESV).
The specific type of suffering explained by both Peter and Jesus is the suffering involved in being a Christian. Peter even refers to sharing in Christ’s sufferings. The Bible uses this same terminology elsewhere (see Rm. 8:17 and Phil. 3:10).
What, then, does it mean to share in Christ’s sufferings? Simply put, it means to be rejected and ridiculed because of our faith. It might look like a teenager getting made fun of for following Jesus rather than giving into peer-pressure. It might look like a young adult committed to purity in his dating relationship facing backlash because he listens to some “old book.” It might look like a middle-aged parent who is ostracized by other parents because of how she disciplines or “overprotects” her teenage daughter. It might look like an elderly man who gets laughed at because of his commitment to visit a local coffee shop each morning and share the gospel.
In other countries around the world, it means being killed for professing Christ as Lord and Savior. It looks like a convert from Islam being rejected by her family. It looks like churches being closed, Bibles being outlawed, and missionaries being pushed out.
But there are other reasons why Christians suffer in this life. We are sinful people in a broken world. Peter makes this clear when he says that Christians glorify God when we suffer for the right reasons.
He writes, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (vv. 14-16 ESV).
Peter is calling these scattered Christians to rejoice in their sufferings for Christ. But he wants them to ask why they are suffering to begin with. We often suffer because of our own sin and selfish motivations. Of course, that kind of suffering fails to glorify God.
Christians are going to suffer. Christians glorify God when suffering for the right reasons. But Peter has more to say. You see, Christians have a sure outcome despite their present suffering.
Peter continues, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And ‘if the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’ Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (vv. 17-19 ESV).
We must allow God to search our hearts and lives. If we are suffering according to God’s will, our lives are glorifying God. And we can trust that we are held in the arms of a faithful Creator who is preserving us to the end. Despite our suffering, we have great hope.
I’m not sure what suffering as a Christian looks like for you in this season. I’m not sure what kind of pain you’re experiencing. But I hope you can take heart because you know the goodness of God. You can entrust your soul to Him.
Being a Christian involves suffering. But Christians also have a sure hope in Christ. And He is the source of our strength as we wait for the day of His return.
Isaiah Pauley is the Minister of Worship for Faith Baptist Church in Mason, W.Va. Find more at www.isaiahpauley.com. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.