How To Suffer Well [Part 11]
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you. —1 Peter 5:10
Today we wrap up our series on How To Suffer Well. Here in 1 Peter chapter 5 we see what Peter wanted to communicate when he wrote this to us. What has he been saying to us? “I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it” (verse 12). There is the whole point of 1 Peter. But what does the “this” refer to? What is “the true grace of God”? As we’ve seen, the true grace of God is a pattern of life that looks like Jesus—first the cross, then the crown. The way of God with all his people is—first suffering, then glory. Jesus walked that path. There was the death of Good Friday, and then there was the resurrection of Easter Sunday. And Peter has been saying to us, this is the true grace of God. For example,
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 may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. —1 Peter 4:12-13
When you’re obeying Jesus and you suffer for it, don’t think God has turned against you. He is showing you his true grace. You are sharing in Christ’s sufferings. You will also share in his glory. And here’s what we do with that assurance: “Stand firm.” Don’t bail. You haven’t miscalculated by putting Jesus first. Stand firm.
Remember from last week how Peter pulled chapter 4 to a close: “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (4:19). Peter calls us to live with complete openness to God, moment by moment entrusting ourselves into God’s care, while doing good. We don’t force things to go our way. We wait on the Lord for the future, and make a positive contribution in the present. But what does that look like, in real terms? Where does that outlook on life take us, in practical ways? Four places. One, the loving place of leadership (verses 1-4). Two, the low place of humility (verses 5-7). Three, the hard place of warfare (verses 8-9). Four, the glad place of promise (verses 10-11).
The loving place of leadership
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. —1 Peter 5:1-4
Peter starts out addressing us men who are elders. He starts there, because we’re trusting God together in community. The faith in God of 4:19 is a group project. That involves leaders. How does Peter instruct us men who are elders in this church? He shows us our focus, our task, our tone.
Our focus as elders is Jesus himself: “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed….” I love the way Peter addresses us elders. He doesn’t call himself an apostle. He calls himself “a fellow elder.” And what is our focus together? Jesus in his sufferings and glory. There is a conversation going on in this church 24/7—in emails, phone calls, texts, chance meetings at the store, community groups, and so forth. What are we talking about? What is the focus on that endless conversation? It must be Jesus. Not secondary things. Jesus. And we elders accept our responsibility to steward the church-wide conversation in a positive way, keeping first things first—Jesus on his cross, Jesus in his glory. He is our focus.
Our task as elders is this: “…shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight.” He doesn’t say, “Have meetings, vote on stuff and hand down decisions.” Our task is caring for people: “Shepherd the flock.” We do have meetings and we do make decisions, of course. But our primary task is people. Jesus is not the CEO; he is “the chief Shepherd” (verse 4). He shepherds us all in five ways: he knows the sheep (John 10:14, 27), he sacrifices for the sheep (John 10:11, 15), he leads the sheep (John 10:3-4), he protects the sheep (John 10:12), and he gathers in more sheep (John 10:16). There is the task of an elder. And here’s how we do that: “exercising oversight.” In other words, constant awareness and close involvement. It’s how we create a better future for everyone who is willing to follow. We elders are taking responsibility to know, sacrifice, lead, protect and gather in more people. It’s the work of Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, through us.
Finally, Peter sets our tone as elders. He describes it with three contrasts: “…not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” The whole point is enthusiasm. It’s how God loves us. Setting that tone makes a church attractive. We all want to be loved that way. I heard President Ronald Reagan referred to this week as “a happy warrior.” Even people who disagreed with him were attracted. Even so, people don’t come to church for their burdens to be increased. They come to be lifted up. And cheerful elders set that tone.
Now let me say something to you men who are not yet elders. An elder is not a different kind of Christian. He’s just a little further down the same road we’re all traveling. In fact, an elder isn’t necessarily old. Paul entrusted the early church to Timothy when he was still young, before some people thought he was ready (1 Timothy 4:12). So I want to say to you younger men: God is calling you to grow and become a leader for him. You may or may not end up an elder or a deacon, but every man should aspire to lead. If you think you’re too sinful, Peter denied Christ, and the Lord still used him. If you don’t think you’re ready, what are you doing to get ready? If you’re just protecting yourself from taking responsibility for the spiritual future of our city because it will cost you, so you’d rather hang back, where does the Bible say that’s okay? Maybe some of us men need to repent and trust God and go for it. Every man here should be on a growth track toward leadership.
The low place of humility
Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. —1 Peter 5:5-7
Who wouldn’t be safe in that social environment? But this is un-American. The Bible teaches openness to the leadership of elders. The Bible says here in verse 5, “Be subject to the elders.” That doesn’t exclude discussion and even disagreement. Candid discussion makes for more solid decisions. But verse 5 does mean finding a way to make it work, and not holding out for my own way. The Bible says, “Respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 5:12). The Bible says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them” (Hebrews 13:17). To whom do you submit?
Elders and members have different roles, but God wants us to share the same humility together: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” Lone-ranger Christianity, no accountability, no church – that kind of Christianity is common today, but it is nowhere in the Bible. Where does it come from? Pride. But God doesn’t want to be our Opponent. He wants to be our Giver. Proud churches come under God’s judgment, humble churches receive his blessing, and Peter is telling us that our humility before God is proven real by our humility toward one another: “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” How could it be otherwise?
What if God did pour out his blessing on proud, unbiblical churches? We would think he was validating that kind of Christianity. A. W. Tozer put it bluntly: “It is my considered opinion that under the present circumstances we do not want revival at all. A widespread revival of the kind of Christianity we know today in America might prove to be a moral tragedy from which we would not recover in a hundred years.” One of the ways we tell the Lord we do want revival is that we humbly come together for his sake. I love the way Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great pastor, described his feelings as a new believer:
I felt that I could not be happy without fellowship with the people of God. I wanted to be wherever they were, and if anybody ridiculed them, I wished to be ridiculed with them, and if people had an ugly name for them, I wanted to be called by that ugly name, for I felt that, unless I suffered with Christ in his humiliation, I could not expect to reign with him in his glory.
When you are spoken against, and there is nothing you can do about it, God is in it. Verse 6 reveals, God is bringing you under his mighty hand. It’s about God, not your critic. At the proper time, he will make it right again. Keep trusting him, casting your cares on him. When others don’t care about you, he does care for you.
The hard place of warfare
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. —1 Peter 5:8-9
In my ministry I don’t often refer to the devil. He is not our focus. Jesus is. But when I preach through a book of the Bible, God speaks to us about all that’s on his heart. And one thing he wants to do is warn us about our enemy, Satan. C. S. Lewis wisely wrote,
There are two equal and opposite errors into which we can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.
The Bible is clear—the devil does exist, and he wants to ruin every one of us. He hates us because he hates God. There is a reason why Peter tells us to resist the devil.
But how do we resist the devil? He may be more obvious in other parts of the world today – overt demon possession, for example. But Peter doesn’t say here, “Be watchful—except if you live in America!” Peter says here that the devil is “your adversary” (verse 8). In fact, he’s our only real adversary. The Bible says, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:12). People are not the enemy. The devil is. He is the persecutor. We know Peter is thinking of persecution as demonic attack because of verse 9: “…the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” He sees the attacks of the devil as a standard experience for Christians around the world. In Peter’s day it was Roman persecution. During World War 2 it was the Gestapo. In some countries today it’s Islam. And to be “devoured” by this roaring lion means to give up on Jesus, to turn your back on him and stop being a Christian believer. That’s being “devoured,” so to speak.
An early Christian writer named Eusebius, during the persecutions under Emperor Marcus Aurelius in the second century, described how the devil would devour a weak Christian, who denied Jesus, and then the other believers would so love that weak and fallen believer that, as Eusebius put it, the devil was choked into throwing up. He thought he had devoured that Christian. But the other Christian so prayed for their fallen friend and so loved him that the devil got sick to his stomach and back out came that Christian, restored to Christ and to his friends. So, when Peter says in verse 10 that God can restore us, that’s how far the grace of God can go. Peter himself knew, didn’t he? He had denied Christ.
But the devil cannot harm us, as long as we trust Jesus: “Resist him, firm in your faith” (verse 9). The word translated “firm” in Classical Greek can also mean “stubborn.” It’s a heart that says, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back.” The devil cannot stop us, if we are willing to pay a price to obey God, because he cares for us as no one else can. That is Peter’s final point in this letter:
The glad place of promise
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. —1 Peter 5:10-11
Several years ago Jani and I went through a difficult time. It was rejection and humiliation and loss. But a wise friend made a suggestion. He said, “Find a Bible verse that seems right for you during this time. Find a promise from God in his Word, and make it the theme of your life right now.” We did that. We chose 1 Peter 5:10. We memorized it. We discussed it. We recited it. And when reality seemed the opposite of this verse, we clung to this verse. When it seemed impossible that these words could become our future, God gave us hope by his Word. Many of us can tells stories of how the promises of God in the Bible have kept us alive. I don’t know what you’re going through right now, but you can hold onto this verse, or another like it, and God will be true to you.
There’s our part in the gospel, but there’s also God’s part. And God’s part comes first, and God’s part is bigger and deeper and all-encompassing. You need to know that. We elders here at Immanuel living up to the high standards of verse 1-4, and all of us together clothing ourselves in the humility of verses 5-7, and being stubborn in the warfare of verses 8-9—all of that is our part. And we must do our part. But I’m so glad the gospel is, first and foremost, about God’s part. I’m so glad, because I know what it’s like to be weak, and all I can do I turn to God in my need and look to him to do his mighty part. He does: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”
This is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.