Saturday, December 27, 2008

Grace to suffer

The believers to whom he was writing were facing societal rejection and increasing hostility because of their faith in Christ. It is important to him that they understand the core of what he is trying to impress upon them and so Peter concludes his letter with the words: “By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it” (1 Peter 5:12). For these persecuted Christians, Peter knows that the key to remaining overcoming is firmly standing on the grace of God.

Although often overlooked by many Bible commentators, grace is a predominant theme in 1 Peter. However, the way the apostle defines grace is slightly different and more expansive than our normal understanding of the term – God’s free and unmerited gift that is usually associated with the gift of salvation in Christ. A careful analysis of 1 Peter 2:19,20 leads us to gain a fresh understanding of grace as God’s enablement to endure suffering due to one’s faithfulness to God.

Seeing grace in this light is not entirely unique in the New Testament. Paul, in Philippians 2:29, wrote about the believers there receiving God’s grace not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for Him. Paul was telling the Philippians that they had initially been given the grace of salvation, and then fresh grace was given to them – the grace of suffering for Christ – through their participation in the battle to advance the cause of the Gospel.

Such understanding implies that suffering for Christ is a gift of grace, to be embraced with as much gratitude and joy as the gift of salvation. Therein lies the secret why the early church considered suffering for the sake of Christ as a privilege and joy (Acts 5:41). Obviously, suffering unjustly and enduring is viewed by the world as tragic and might even be considered as heroic. But from God’s perspective, those who suffer for the cause of Christ and endure are simply recipients of His matchless grace.

Upon hearing about persecuted believers around the world, Christians living in the West often say that they would not be sure if they could go through persecution and suffering for their faith and persevere. Enduring suffering for righteousness, however, is not dependent upon one’s courage or strength. There is an important catch however; you and I are likely to respond to persecution in a manner consistent with how we are living out our Christian life now. If we are currently walking in faith and responding to God’s grace, we can be assured of God’s presence and grace if and when we are called to suffer for His sake.

Those who originally read 1 Peter 5:10, must have been very encouraged to read: “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who had called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” This is the only place in the New Testament where God is addressed as “the God of all grace.” Our God is the source of all grace and divine power, supplying help to His children for every need and occasion. Peter assuring these persecuted believers that God will:

  • restore them in the areas where they break down and fail;
  • confirm them, giving them the inflexibility and support needed to withstand the temptations to deny Him without toppling;
  • strengthen them to resist Satan and to endure even to the point of death without falling; and
  • establish them, giving the believers a firm foundation so that they will not be swept away.

Though Satan seeks to destroy, God takes his actions and turns them into the means by which He graciously develops His character into the lives of His people. Grace is seen as God’s work of transforming His child through persecution and suffering into a sacrificial giver to others (just as He is), equipping them to be involved in the cause of Christ and the Gospel.

Just as there was no glory without Christ’s suffering, so it is with His people. Suffering never thwarts God’s purposes. Indeed, God knows no other formula of accomplishing His purpose of transforming a rebellious and fallen world but that of self-sacrifice and self-giving. And He wants to weave His story into our story, recreating us as cross-carrying disciples of the message of the Gospel.


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