One thing for sure about the believers to whom Peter was writing is that there was suffering in store for them. Listen to what the apostle says in verses 12-19 of chapter 4. Just ahead is a “fiery trial” – they will “share Christ’s sufferings” – they may be “insulted” – hopefully none will be suffer as “murderer . . . thief . . . evildoer . . . or meddler” – but some will suffer “as a Christian” – as members of the household of God, “judgment” will begin with them – even though they are “righteous” they will be “scarcely saved” – they are to trust God and do good since they “suffer according to God’s will.”
Not a bright picture, you say. True in one sense, but let’s look at what else is being said about suffering in the same sequence of verses. In v. 13 they are told to rejoice so that when Christ’s glory is revealed they may enjoy an even “greater gladness” (NJB). If they are “insulted” for believing in Christ they will be blessed because God’s glorious Spirit” will rest on them (v. 14). They are not to be “ashamed” but to “glorify God” (v. 16). Now the picture is brought into balance; there is suffering ahead but there are also rewards for enduring trouble with a happy heart.
Why do Christians suffer? And there are a number of places in the world right now where believers are suffering for their trust in Christ. According to the Voice of the Martyrs (founded by Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian Jew who converted to Christianity during the Marxist regime), Christians in Mindanao are being killed by terrorists who believe that killing a Christian will guarantee them entrance into heaven. Only a few months ago in Columbia, Alicia Castilla was killed by assassins in front of her children during a visit from the family pastor. And North Korea is the most oppressive regime in the world, imprisoning, torturing and murdering Christians for the ”crime” of believing in Christ.
It seems that Christians suffer because they have accepted a way of life unacceptable to others. It has boundaries. But why should that bother others? If I understand from Scripture that a certain lifestyle is contrary to God’s will, why should that make a difference to someone else? Isn’t it a private decision? Years ago on a ”champaign flight” from Minneapolis to Chicago I turned my glass upside down indicating that I didn’t care for wine. My seatmate, after his second glass, caught my attention and remarked, “There’s one thing about the teaching of Jesus, you’re not supposed to judge.” What? I hadn’t said a word. But obviously my decision not to drink bothered him. Perhaps he caught himself acting against his own conscience.
Obviously being killed is a long way from being considered a bit strange, and it doesn’t take long to decide which you would prefer. But in both cases the opposition arises from the Christian’s decision to believe and order his life according to the teaching of Scripture. Why does that bother the outsider? Perhaps because deep down the other senses that by not believing he will ultimately find himself on the wrong side and have to suffer the penalty. The struggle against God’s “inner call” leads people to react in many ways, from quiet opposition to killing. Isn’t it remarkable that suffering “according to God’s will” provides an occasion for rejoicing!