For a few people, doing something that has never been done before is a challenge. For the majority, such is a major discouragement. For all, there are some distinctions that are undesirable and not worth the effort. Being unique in suffering is undesirable and not worth the effort. Suffering is something to escape, not to endorse.
Healthy people in no society wish to suffer just for the sake of suffering. That appeals to no healthy person. Make a clear distinction between suffering for a reason or a cause and suffering just for the sake of experiencing pain.
People in any age did not glorify suffering for the sake of suffering. Suffering for the sake of heroism is glorified in all ages. To endure suffering to be heroic in championing a cause that is considered (even by some) to be a pursuit of valor is considered admirable. To endure suffering for nothing more than suffering's sake is considered sick.
Healthy people do not view suffering without a reason or a cause as an experience of value.
The call to endure suffering has never been a popular call. That is why calls that involve suffering rarely, if ever, focus attention on the suffering. Instead, the call focuses on the emotionally desirable: the nobility of pursuing God's will, or the patriotism of defending the country, or the defense of those you love, or the joys of freeing the oppressed, or the unjust and horrible characteristics of the enemy. It is understood by most that suffering is an acceptable price to pay for causes more significant than the suffering.
A call that involves suffering seeks (a) to minimize the suffering or (b) to focus the person or the group on something else that (hopefully) makes suffering worthwhile.
Yet, the earliest Christian leaders who thrust Christianity into an idolatrous society were quite frank. Surely it was noble to pursue God's will in Jesus Christ. However, the Christian weapon of advance was suffering, not control. Just as people were attracted to the dead but resurrected Jesus Christ through his selfless suffering, people would be attracted to his eternal journey to the Father by the selfless suffering of God's people. They were quite upfront: if your goal is eternal life with the Father, a willingness to suffer will be your commitment.
Early Christianity was different in that it acknowledged that suffering produced by opposition to Christian existence would be a common experience. It dealt with suffering openly, frankly, and upfront. A part of the price of devotion to God was suffering. Focusing on the eternal in Jesus Christ would result in suffering for many Christians.
How are people encouraged to suffer in the face of certain opposition? Early Christianity did two things. (a) It acknowledged suffering was a certain reality. The forces controlling people's minds and lives saw people who endorsed life in Jesus Christ as enemies. (b) Jesus Christ himself was used as the example of suffering (in addition to Peter's stress in today's text, consider Paul's stress in Philippians 2:5-11 and the book of Hebrews' stress in Hebrews 11).
Note that this approach to the reality to Christian suffering was commonplace in biblical writers. Note Paul and Hebrews use of the same concept in the references given. This would indicate (a) suffering opposition was a widespread problem and (b) this was a common explanation.
Consider today's text. (1) You suffer if necessary because the Jesus of flesh suffered. One benefit of suffering: the route of suffering for Jesus is the escape route from sin. If following Jesus is the superior purpose in your life, then the priorities of sin quickly become inferior. (2) You have lived to gratify the desires of physical existence; now live to seek God's will. Whereas your ultimate values were determined by the gratification of physical desires, live now with a focus on the eternal. (3) People will note your existence is lived on the basis of different values because you do not exist to gratify the physical. (4) Everyone, regardless of what values determine how they live, is ultimately accountable to God for his/her choices. (5) Verse 6 is a difficult verse for us to understand. It is likely used by Peter as an illustration just as he used the incident with Noah in 3:20. If that observation is correct, it means the original recipients of Peter's writing understood clearly what Peter meant. To them it was a concluding illustration of his point. For us the mater is different. We must reason back from his illustration to understand his point. Three things seem obvious in Peter's illustration. (a) God is incredibly patient. (b) The 'good news' announced through the gospel continues to be 'good news' even in adverse situations. (c) All had opportunity to respond to the patient God's 'good news.'
Please note there was no attempt to evade the reality of suffering created by opposition. The values that direct a Christian's life are distinctly different from the values that guide lives not devoted to God.
You are challenged to focus on the obvious. Jesus has not asked his followers to do something he was unwilling to do. He suffered to do God's will because he focused on God's eternal objective. If following Jesus results in Christian suffering, keep your focus on God and His eternal objective. His eternal objective for Jesus was making him the Christ [Messiah] (see Acts 2:36, 13:30-39), the restoration of His son to his heavenly existence (see John 17:1-5; Acts 2:22-24; 32, 33), and the rule of his son until God's objectives are fulfilled in the physical sphere (see 1 Corinthians 15:25-28).
Instead of spending a lot of time focusing on the difficult and controversial, spend time focusing on the obvious. Emphasize that Jesus' suffering was real, not pretend. He was a physical person--perhaps you can make that point by referring to John 4:4-38 and stressing his weariness, thirst, and hunger. An illustration of how distracted a person can be from physical need can be produced by the person suffering intense grief. Grief often masks physical need. When we are committed to a passionate cause, we often ignore physical need. The fact that Jesus could ignore his physical needs does not mean he did not have them.
Jesus did not wish to experience the suffering involved in physical death (see Matthew 26:37-44). Yet he endured it with resolve to achieve God's eternal purposes. Are you not thankful he did? When he died, no one understood what God was doing but Jesus and God. Even to the twelve, Jesus' death had the feel of defeat! Yet, God achieved His greatest victory and defeated Satan through physical suffering! He made Jesus (his name) the Christ or Messiah by physical suffering. If God could make Jesus the Christ through suffering, do you dare imagine what God can do with your suffering caused by devotion to His will?
Stress two points. (a) Jesus did not wish to die. Do note that after his prayers of yielding, he was a resolved man at peace with his decision. (b) God accomplished what seemed impossible through physical suffering, and no humans [other than Jesus] knew what God did. We need to understand that when God is at work, suffering in a godly attitude is never useless.
If you are tempted to think, "My yielding to God even in suffering requires faith. Jesus yielding to God in suffering did not require that kind of faith!" then reconsider. Jesus had to trust the faithfulness of God in keeping His promise to raise him from death and restore him to the heavenly realm. Dying meant Jesus placed his total confidence in God--just as we must do!
Discuss the fact that Jesus had to trust God in certain matters just like we must trust God. Note that Jesus had to trust God to resurrect him and restore him. He had never died before!
The Christian trusts God because he/she is devoted to the eternal, not the physical. That devotion will (minimally) result in difficult choices. In those choices (even for the most fortunate), there will be suffering.
Anyone who chooses to serve God incurs the wrath of Satan. Though God's power exceeds Satan's power, Satan is not without power in this physical realm.
The value God places on people is seen in the example He provided Christians in Jesus' physical suffering. God allowed His son to suffer so we could be forgiven!
God's investment in our forgiveness verifies the depth of His caring.
For Thought and Discussion
Suffering is something to escape, not to endure (experience).
They never enjoy suffering for the sake of suffering.
His/her commitment would be a willingness to suffer.
The Jesus of physical flesh suffered.
They should live with a focus on the eternal.
Christians live by a different value system.
Everyone is accountable to God for their choices.
He had to trust the promises and faithfulness of God to resurrect him and restore him to his place in heaven.
He/she is devoted to the eternal, not the physical.
Link to Student Guide Lesson 7
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