After reading through the book of 1 Peter, I’m surprised that I have been surprised by these past weeks.
I was chasing an idea around Google and I was led, several times, to verses in 1 Peter. So, I just read the whole letter.
It’s only four chapters, but, if Peter wanted to send the world’s Christians a letter today, I don’t think he would need to write a new one.
Some surprising news
I went googling after reading a Facebook post from a friend.
We were friends in college, and he is married to one of the women I roomed with, who was also one of my bridesmaids. He worked in an oil-related business and, because of the coronavirus, lost his job.
He and his wife are dedicated Christians, openly faithful, and had almost reached the age of retiring.
But, they weren’t planning on this. How could they?
It occurred to me that the most difficult days of this plague may actually be ahead of us. I was surprised by that thought.
I had planned to stay home until this whole thing passed, and I thought that was the tough part. I don’t think that any longer.
The really tough parts of this are still to come. But, that’s okay. This isn’t as tough as it seems.
We just haven’t needed to be tough like this before.
We shouldn’t be surprised
I have no idea how many Bible lessons I’ve taught in my lifetime, but it is literally in the thousands.
I’m the same age as my friends: headed to retirement, but not yet there.
I have taught kids in VBS about David, Jonah, Paul, Queen Esther, Peter . . . just keep the names coming.
I’ve taught Sunday school lessons about Moses. I’ve taught Bible studies about the prophets, the life of Christ, the apostles and, well, you get the picture.
When you think about those people in the Bible, what stories come to mind?
David fought Goliath. Jonah got swallowed by a big fish. Paul made people angry quite often and paid the consequences. Queen Esther had to risk her life to save her people. Peter was thrown into prison and had to run for his life. Moses was put in a basket as a baby, called to a burning bush, and told to stand up to Pharaoh. Then came the Red Sea, the desert, the Ten Commandments, and the fact he wasn’t allowed to enter the Promised Land. The prophets had to hide in caves, run from their enemies, and try to convince God’s people to shape up.
I have often taught about living for the Lord, even when things get tough. That is a consistent theme in God’s word.
So, why was I surprised when our nation and our world began experiencing tough times?
I think it is because I expected those things to happen to other people.
When I think about all those lessons I have taught, I’m surprised that I was ever surprised.
Peter said, “Do not be.”
In 1 Peter 4:12–19, we read:
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. 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. 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.
Whenever I am surprised by the challenges of this world, I want to remember Peter’s words.
He said, “Beloved, don’t be.”
Beloved means he was writing these words to his brothers and sisters in Christ and telling them not to be surprised when the trials come because nothing “strange” is happening to us.
God allows trials in our lives to “test” or “strengthen” our faith. Our trials are the best way for people to see the “Spirit of glory and of God rests” on us.
Our trials will often provide our greatest eternal rewards so God will allow them for our eternal good.
There is nothing strange about this trial
Everything about the past month has felt strange, but it isn’t.
Eventually, scientists will find a vaccine for this virus, just like they have for others. In the meantime, they have already learned a lot about treating people. No one chose to get sick. People are suffering because of a silent, unseen enemy.
Peter does mention the fact that sometimes Christians suffer because of our own choices. If a person is a thief, for example, his prison cell is the result of his choice. But that isn’t the kind of suffering many people are facing today.
Peter said we will sometimes suffer as Christians because we choose to live in faith.
We have some friends who are doctors and nurses. Their calling is to help people during these days of pandemic. I pray for their protection, but I wish I could promise them God would keep them from catching the virus.
In the days ahead, will companies need to downsize and decide to lay off a Christian?
Maybe this person has been faithful to share his or her faith so the company thinks, “They will be okay.”
We have seen Christian politicians slandered and deemed “unelectable” simply because they’ve taken a firm stand for biblical marriage or the sanctity of life. There are also Christians who have lost their jobs because they didn’t keep their faith to themselves.
Peter would say to all of them, “Don’t be surprised. Nothing strange is happening to you.”
And when we consider most of God’s people we have studied in Scripture, persecution has always been normal.
What is the therefore there for?
Peter talked about the trials those early Christians faced, then said, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19).
Peter lists goals for Christians who are suffering: he teaches us to suffer “according to God’s will” and “entrust our souls” to our Creator “while doing good.”
What’s the therefore there for?
Peter doesn’t give us much time, or any time, for a pity party. He simply tells us: Don’t be surprised. We are in some pretty great company, and we just need to focus on doing good and living through the trials according to our Christian faith.
Because, whatever happens, we have God and he has us—forever.
Peter’s lesson from a different teacher
My husband, Jim, used Jonathan Evan’s words in his article the other day.
Jonathan recently spoke at his mom’s funeral. His mom was Lois Evans, who was married to Tony Evans, a great pastor and teacher, but Lois’ family would tell you that she had an amazing ministry of her own as well.
Lois was a friend of mine who died of cancer earlier this year. Jonathan’s words are perfection, and I thought I would share them with my readers as well. They are worth reading and reading again.
Jonathan spoke about all the prayers the church had lifted to God during his mom’s cancer trial. He told the church, “There were always two answers to your prayers—either she was going to be healed or she was going to be healed. Either she was going to live or she was going to live. Either she was going to be with family or she was going to be with family. Either she was going to be well taken care of or she was going to be well taken care of . . .The two answers to your prayer are yes and yes. Because victory belongs to Jesus.”
I think Peter would have said a loud amen if he’d been sitting at the funeral.
There are trials ahead for all of us. The great good news is that, whatever our trials are or will be, we can walk in victory, with God’s love and strength.
We who have God can know that God has us—and we are good.
We shouldn’t be surprised by that good news either!