1 Peter 4:12-16
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you:…
It has often been said that the Christian faith gives dignity to every kind of suffering. If we may so speak, the light shines from Christ's Cross as a fringe of glory upon every cloud which environs human life. You have given up that false notion which belonged rather to the heathen age, that the gods would not visit in pain or suffering those who were their special favourites. It is the other way in Christian conception. According to the Christian, those whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth. "Think it not strange the fiery trial which is to try you" — that is coming for this purpose to put your life to the test, but see how far your faith needs consolidating, how far your love needs being drawn forth as often love only can be in the hours of sorrow. But he rises higher than this. He seems to say: "Do not merely look upon suffering as a certain ministry for good, but that he that suffers may be brought into the charmed circle of fellowship with Christ." But we are met at once by the thought: Are not the sufferings of Christ wholly unique in character? Are they not such that none may share them?
I. IN WHAT SENSE IS IT TRUE THAT THE CHRISTIAN CAN HAVE A PARTNERSHIP WITH THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST? In the first place it is not of the ordinary sorrows of life that the apostle is speaking; because he does not speak respecting the sufferings which Christ shares with us, but rather of certain sufferings which we share with Christ. There is all the difference in the world between those sorrows which are rather the sorrows of humanity, and which Christ, in becoming man, of necessity became a participator in, and those sufferings which belong to the Christian life, and which only Christian lives can share with Christ. And I think that just as those sorrows cannot be in any fair sense called the sufferings peculiarly of Christ, so the whole analogy of similar passages in the New Testament shows us that the apostle is speaking of the sufferings which we suffer as Christians. What, then, does he mean? If we exclude the sorrows of life which are common to all mankind, if we exclude the special sufferings of Christ on the Cross as our Redeemer, what are the sufferings which we are privileged to share with Christ? In one sense the work of Christ was complete; He wrought a perfect and complete work upon the Cross. But, on the other hand, there is a real sense in which the work of Christ is not complete. Christ may, if I may use the figure, be supposed to have formed a great steel plate, on which every line and letter is engraved, but still the work of striking off the impressions is left for the Church of Christ to do. He formed every feature of the Christian character which was to be stamped upon mankind; He wrought all that great and glorious work which was the great picturing of Divine love in the eyesight of man; but having wrought that, He left it to His disciples to carry forth that image to the world, and they were to impress it upon the characters of men; they were, in fact, to work out that which Christ had left them to work. He had given them the rule, they were to work out the examples; He had given them the great completed seed, they were to sow it into the hearts of men. Christ's Church is built up in suffering. There is not a truth which is incorporated in our creeds, there is not a single aphorism of Christianity which is dear to your hearts that has not been consolidated by the blood of suffering men and women. But there is another sense in which we may also share the sufferings of Christ. All Christian life is progressive. Against all the knots, and against all the awkward angles of character, the grace of God has to contend, and in contending with these it is purging out the evil and implanting the good. And as Christian life is thus progressive, so the capacity of sharing a certain order of Christ's sufferings is growing within us. If a pure-minded person were made by necessity to go through the obscene details of the police records, even physical agony would be preferred to that. And just so he who feels that his spiritual life is growing, that the sanctifying influences of the Spirit make him more enamoured of purity and more hostile to evil, begins to understand what intense pain Christ must have endured in daily contact with sin; and so he becomes a partaker in that degree of the sufferings of Christ. The judiciousness of the apostle's language is to be seen in this: he says, "Rejoice, in so far as" (and no further) "you are partakers of the sufferings of Christ." That is to say, he shows to them that their cause of rejoicing can only lie in this — their consciousness that they are suffering with Christ. He who feels that the spiritual life within him is growing may know that in proportion as he is conscious of that pain which sin must bring to the pure in heart he is able to share somewhat in the sufferings of Christ.
II. WHAT, THEN, ARE THE SOURCES OF THE JOY? These we have partly anticipated. The joy, and that which the apostle wishes the Christian to rejoice in, is precisely the thought that he is suffering with Christ. The faithful servant will feel that the hours are not merely wasted, but are positively dishonestly employed that are not being used in his master's service; and thus the Christian feels that his hours are not, indeed, his own, but belong to his Master; and even if those hours must be employed in pain, if constant conflict against the powers of evil be that which he is called upon to endure, he can rejoice, for it is for his Master. Not that he is indifferent to sorrow, but that he feels the sorrow is glorified by the fact that it is for Christ. And just as thus it is a joy to him to rejoice in suffering for Christ, so also is it so because he sees in it a witness of his own progress. Do I find sin a greater pain, do I find that the presence of it causes more agony than before? Then I am glad, for at least I can so far feel that I am growing in the image of Christ; I would rather feel sin to be ten thousandfold the agony it was before than that I should live a life which is utterly indifferent to Christian progress. And there is yet another reason of joy. The love which the Christian has is that which the apostle assumes. But what is one of the first features of love? Is it not to be linked with the object it loves? We always long to appropriate that which we love, because there is the straining desire of the soul to be drawn nearer to the object of its love. And so the Christian feels that the desire of his love is to be linked with Christ. And where is the link? Look round the world and answer, where can the link with Christ be? Is it in joy? I know no joy as long as sin reigns in the world. Is it to be found in the mere amusements of life? These are impossible. The only law by which the soul of man can be linked with Christ is the law of suffering; it is the very law of our physical being, it is the very law of society, it is the very law of God's universe, because of the strange distortions which sin has introduced, that all love is a bond in suffering. Not one has suffered; not one has loved without feeling that love and suffering are always co-relatives in life. It was not because your life was easy and smooth together that you loved one another so intensely; it is because you have fought together, because you have struggled together, because you were partners in the same sorrow and in the same care. And not merely thus; those who have suffered the same loss, for example — see what a freemasonry of love that establishes! But it is not merely this; it is more. It is not merely the same loss you are suffering. "For the zeal of Thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached Thee are fallen upon me"; but the sorrow which men endure together in establishing the same cause, is not that a link which binds them fast? None have suffered for Christ without loving Christ the more, and none have loved Christ the more without feeling Christ's love the more, and none have felt Christ's love the more without feeling that He has stooped down to their very side to be near them.
(Bp. Boyd Carpenter.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: