(1 Peter 2:18-4:19)
Why is it that some, and perhaps many, Christians are somewhat surprised and shaken when suffering falls upon us, or upon those among us? Is it because the subject of Christian suffering was not taught during our catechism lessons or over the pulpit? Somehow, the general feeling seems to be that if we are walking aright with God, everything would go smoothly, and we will be secure in His hands and free from suffering. But is that what the Bible teaches us?
David was a man after Godís own heart, and didnít he have a close relationship with God? Sure, he spent many years running from King Saul who was thirsting for his blood, and sure, he went through many wars and battles. But through them all, wasnít he singing his beautiful psalms? So, could he have suffered much through all those years? Well, if so, he didnít make a song and dance about it did he? Um, perhaps he did make a song, or a whole lot of songs, about his sufferings. Wasnít it amazing that he could do so?
Was it because God was with him and comforted him? It was David who composed Psalm 23 and said, "Your rod and your staff, they comfort me." The shepherdís rod was a thick and heavy stick which could kill carnivores like wolves which attack the sheep. The shepherdís staff was the long pole used to keep the sheep together and to guide them along the way to new pastures. So both were sources of comfort to the sheep. So it is a comfort to us to know that the Lord our Shepherd is guiding us and protecting us. But does that mean that there are no wolves and lions out there waiting to attack and injure or devour us?
Jesus suffered a great deal, but we tend to look at His sufferings as a once-and-for-all kind of suffering, something distant from ourselves. Naah, it wonít happen to us, right? Oops, but werenít some of his disciples martyred? So was Paul, after being beaten, whipped, stoned, imprisoned in chains (my, how uncomfortable!), shipwrecked and nearly drowned, attacked by a poisonous snake, and much more! No wonder Paul used no less than seven Greek words that have been translated as "suffered," "suffering," "sufferings" and "suffers" in the New International Version of the Bible, more than any other New Testament writer. It would appear that the more highly educated a writer is, the larger his vocabulary?
In contrast, the Apostle Peter was not so highly educated. Unlike Paul, who had studied under the great rabbi Gamaliel, Peter had been an "unschooled" or "uneducated" fisherman (Acts 4: 13). In fact, some Bible commentators (like W.G. Kummel, F.W. Beare and E.Best) have poured doubt upon Peterís authorship of the epistle 1 Peter. Among their arguments is this: The Greek is too good for Peter the uneducated fisherman. Well, Peter used only two Greek words that have been translated as variations of "suffer" and "suffering," compared to Paulís seven. That is something to think about.
In 1 Peter, we find the most frequent mention of suffering in any book of the Bible. This may come as a surprise to many of us. Peter suffering? There is hardly any mention in the Bible of Peter suffering, is there? Wasnít he designated the head of the Church by Jesus Christ himself? Doesnít our human wisdom shout out to us that if anyone "deserved" not to suffer, shouldnít it have been Peter? What did he know about suffering?
Say, didnít Peter suffer when he saw Jesus being ill-treated in the courtyard of the high priestís house, while he, Peter, stood powerless to raise a finger to help him? Did he not suffer agony when the cock crowed and he realised that he had denied Jesus three times as Jesus had prophesied? Did Peter not suffer the ignominy of being the one who boasted to Jesus that even if he died he would never deny him, but did? How painful it must have been.
And when Stephen was stoned to death, what happened to the Church in Jerusalem? Acts 8:1-3 says, "On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. ÖBut Saul continued to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison." With this terrible fellow Saul hunting down Christians from house to house, it must have been a nightmare period for the apostles, including Peter, who remained in the small city of Jerusalem. We do not know how they managed to escape Saul and his men; the apostles must have moved from safe house to safe house. What we can be sure of is that God was with them, and somehow they evaded arrest. But when one is hunted, one experiences heart-stopping danger, fear, hardship, hunger, the pain of being separated from family members and close friends, who would be watched, and more. I suspect it was far from an easy time for Peter.
Saul was not the only threat to the Christians in Israel. After Saul became a Christian, King Herod arrested some Christians and even killed the Apostle James, the brother of John, and arrested Peter. Peter was such an important catch that Herod had him bound with two chains and guarded by four squads of four men each (Acts 12:4, 6). That night, an angel freed Peter and led him out of the prison. Then Peter again became a fugitive, a hunted man. Herod executed all the men guarding Peter in the prison - how much more easily he would have killed Peter.
So we should not be surprised that Peter wrote so much about suffering in 1 Peter, regarding:
Fortunately, however, after his long discourse on suffering, Peter ended on a positive note. He reminded his readers, even us, of the eternity perspective, to fix our eyes not on this world and its sufferings, but on the eternal. "And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast." (5:10). No matter how long our suffering may seem, when we get to Heaven and see them against the backdrop of eternity, it would clearly be seen as just "a little while." God, who created us, will Himself, personally, restore us. Wow!
Mr James Chua 28/8
Ms Cheng Xiao Lin 28/8
Ms Ruth Hing 29/8
Mrs Tan-Heng Siang Hoon 29/8
Mr Victor Chan 29/8
Ms Rosalind Teo 30/8
Ms Nancy Haryanto 31/8
Mrs Sophia Yap 1/9
Ms Lim Bee Lum 2/9