Back to series

Good morning, church. Please go with me to 1 Peter 4, and we’re going to start in v.12. We’ve been in a series through Peter’s letters for the majority of the year, because Peter is writing to a people who are suffering, and this has been a year marked by suffering. I’ve had conversation after conversation this week with people who are struggling—struggling to find work, struggling through addiction and depression, feeling the weight of everything that’s happening in our world, struggling with overwork and exhaustion, with family conflict and natural disaster. This has been a difficult year.

Peter writes to those who are suffering, who are feeling that weight, to take strength in knowing that Christ has come to suffer alongside you, and he’s able to bear that burden with you. And when you feel overwhelmed in a flood of things not as they should be, know that he’s able to raise you up to breath, to walk in newness of life. Most of all, he reminds us that our lives go by in an instant, and eternity awaits those who are in Christ. Last week we read that above all else, in difficult times, we need to love each other earnestly, because love covers a multitude of sins. Our love for each other is able to cover the sin dividing us, and God’s love for us is able to cover and set right even the deepest wounds of our earth, the suffering of this world.

This week, Peter is going to talk about how God is able to turn everything on its head, turn our lives upside down; that is, we’ve been upside down through all of the ages of the earth, and God is able to put us right again.

Read with me, 1 Peter 4:12-19. […] This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly. Lord God, I pray you would show us your truth in your word today, because we know your truth will set us free. Amen.

My first point for today is this: God is able to turn suffering into rejoicing. God is able to turn suffering into rejoicing.

This may sound a bit odd, me saying that God is able to transform, as if by magic, our suffering into rejoicing, but near-magical transformations are actually fairly commonplace in our household. Here’s how it usually happens. I put something by the back door to recycle—maybe a cardboard box, or an empty bottle of some kind, then my five-year-old sees it and viola! It is no longer a piece of trash, but instead it is a vorpal sword, or an armored car, or a spaceship. A piece of baggage I wanted to get rid of, now transformed into a priceless artifact, and why was I trying to throw it away, it is to be treasured, and kept until the end of time.

The five-year-old is also, himself, magically being transformed day by day in more significant ways. These formative years fly by. Blink and you’re grown. Annie and I are re-certifying for foster care right now also, which means hours and hours of classes and training about parenting. Which, honestly, the trainings are great, and it’s not their fault we parent the way we do. My only complaint is that the trainings are long, and late at night after everyone can put the kids to bed, and that I’m approximately 90 years old and want to go to bed at nine.

One of the things I’m learning: there is not a child in foster care who has not been through trauma, and trauma can feel hopeless. If you’re a person who has lived through some sort of trauma, it can feel like you’re damaged, like you can never be right again, that the bad things in your life are irrevocable.

But that’s actually not true. Studies have shown that even into adulthood, your brain is plastic, it’s able to change, actually physically rewire, so that the effects of trauma are undone. So these trainings are geared toward giving parents the tools to help the children in their care to physically, emotionally, and in every other way heal from the brokenness that marked and marred their younger life.

The trainings have been a potent reminder to me that even the worst emotional pains, the deepest suffering in our lives, even if it comes in waves at various times in our lives, we may not forget about them, and it may take years, but the damage they cause can be undone and turned back. The part of the child’s life that comes after those early pains is able literally and physically to transform that suffering into wholeness, even rejoicing.

And the reason I’m bringing these trainings up now, looking at this passage in 1 Peter, is because Peter’s main point here is that the Lord is able to take our suffering, take the pain we’ve experienced, and turn it completely upside-down, until in the place of suffering and shame we find rejoicing. God undoes our suffering, rewires us bit by bit, a near-magical transformation from suffering into joy. It’s part of the hope we have in Christ, that our mourning will turn to joy.

You can see the shift from v.12 to v.13 when he writes don’t be surprised, don’t be taken aback and thrown off by suffering in our lives, by everything that’s gone wrong this year. Instead, v.13, rejoice, rejoice because the fire of the trial is not a fire that will destroy you, it’s one that will refine you and forge you into something new. God is transforming your suffering, that thing you would rather get rid of, the pain that seemed irrevocable, into rejoicing. Viola.

This is the consistent teaching of Scripture: when you come upon difficult times, rejoice. And just like that, I’ve helped you, right? Don’t suffer, rejoice instead! Easy peasy, right? Or maybe, a little easier said than done. Maybe a little more like healing trauma than making a piece or cardboard into a sword.

I mentioned some of this during our devotional series through the book of James, but we have to be careful with this teaching, not to imply that there’s something wrong with Christians who are sad, who struggle with depression, or anger, or who experience mourning. It’s ok for you to struggle at times, and to not be ok. Just don’t give up hope. There’s always hope in Christ.

When we look at how Jesus responded to people who were doubting or sad in difficult times, we see someone who cried alongside people who were grieving, even though he knew resurrection was coming; someone who spoke truth in love and patience to those who had doubts. He was patient, he waited with people through times of healing.

Following Peter’s teaching to rejoice in suffering doesn’t mean that as a Christian you have to cast a positive light on everything, walk around with a smile, tell everyone who asks you how you’re doing, “Oh, I’m good. How are you?” In fact, I would argue that feigning happiness, never delving into the grit and messiness of our lives or of the world is fairly opposite to the Christian teaching.

The rejoicing Peter is talking about in suffering, is a hope and assurance that we’re going to make it through all of this. Satan temps us to despair, to say, there’s no hope, so who cares what I do with my life, but in Christ there is always hope for whatever we face. He’s strong enough to turn suffering into rejoicing, though sometimes it takes years. And v. 13 reminds us that sometimes our suffering will last our lifetime, until we’re raised in the end. But just as we heal from trauma, the life that comes after pain is able to transform all of the pain at the beginning.

Paul uses the analogy of childbirth. There is incredible suffering in childbirth, because of sin and the fall, but even through incredible suffering God is able to bring about joy, and beauty, and new life. And the new life gives meaning and purpose even to the suffering. The end changes the entire experience.

So in our lives, the promise of resurrection, new life after pain, changes the nature of what we experience here. Even lifelong hurts are brief, momentary in light of eternity. Even mistakes that took thirty years from you were small mistakes. Even when it feels like there’s no hope in this life, we can find hope in the next.

In other words, Christians don’t rejoice in the midst of suffering in the sense that we treat rainy days like they’re bright and sunny; it’s that we weather the storm because we know, even though we can’t see it through the clouds, there is still a sun shining as radiantly as it ever has.

Again, it’s ok for you to struggle at times. It’s ok to not be ok. We want to hear your story, even if it’s a sad story, so we can know you and pray for you. Every person here has made mistakes and has struggled. Most of us are currently struggling through this crazy year. But in the midst of that struggle, you’re able to rejoice in the change that God is able to bring to the world and to our own lives.

Secondly, today, God is able to turn shame into glory. God is able to turn shame into glory, glory meaning literally radiance, shining, honor to be seen and remembered. In v.16, Peter writes “if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name,” and to understand this verse you have to know, the name Christian started as a slur. It’s only used three times in the Bible, only once, in this passage, is it used by a Christian, because it was a curse, it was offensive. Christians were seen as a third race of people—Jews, Greeks, and Christians—and as people still today use racial slurs to make people feel small, so we see in the book of Acts that name, Christian, being used as an insult against the apostles and other disciples. The first followers of Christ referred to themselves as saints, or sons and daughters of God. The enemies of the faith, the ones who dragged them into court, falsely arrested and imprisoned them, who saw them as less than human, used the word Christian. The word literally means little Christ, meant to communicate, you’re small, of little importance, not worth my time, Christian.

Peter suggesting here that his church rejoice when people call them by that name, that slur, honestly would most closely relate in our culture to the black appropriation of the n-word. He’s telling them to claim, and use for themselves, a slur that was meant to make them small. Peter’s point is that the very thing the culture looked down on them for was in reality a point of pride. Being a Christian isn’t something to be ashamed of. In fact, that was the very thing of which they should feel most proud. And as for those insulting them, really they are just insulting the work and person of Holy Spirit of God, which rests on them, so judgement awaits.

And the truth he’s getting at here is profound. Christ is able to bear our shame, to turn it upside down. We talked about this on Wednesday. When you’re a Christian, all of the things about yourself that the world says you should be proud of, pretty much none of them matter in the kingdom of God. And all of the things the world tells you are shameful—those are the things from which God receives the most glory, because when your sin abounds, God’s grace abounds all the more. It’s a totally upside-down set of values. The world will honor you for your strength, independence, self-determination, and Christ calls us to weakness, dependence on him, and to allow the Holy Spirit to set our paths and shape our character. The world applauds pursuit of wealth and fame, while the spirit leads us toward self-divestment and humility.

As Paul writes, elsewhere, “But [Christ] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

In our society, we hide imperfections. Increasingly, we live our lives like an online profile, where we pick and choose the things we want people to see about us, we never share our full selves, and whenever we let people see us, we make sure its on a good day when we’re smiling and the sun is shining.

In Christ, what glorifies God the most is when we confess our sins and live lives of humility and repentance. People think the church is here to help you be a better person, but it’s not. The church is here to give glory to God because he is able to use deeply broken people to bring about healing and hope in a suffering world.

People think to live the Christian life you have to try to be good, but the Christian life is more about proclaiming God’s goodness than it is about seeking goodness for ourselves. Yes, the Spirit makes you more like Christ each day in this Christian life, yes, we are meant to kill sin in our lives, but our message to the world is not, “look at how good God made me,” it’s “look how God is able to use even me.” The closer to Christ I come the more I see the depth of my own sin and depravity, not the lessening of it.

Those things that you’re so ashamed of, those sins you don’t want to confess, those wounds you’re afraid to let anyone else touch, those are the things that God is able to use the most. People may call you names, slurs, make you feel worthless, like your life isn’t worth anything, and it’s exactly that weakness, that shame that shows us the goodness of God when he chooses us as his adopted sons and daughters.

What is it that makes you ashamed? What makes you avoid mirrors, conversations, friendships, avoid memory at all? It’s in that very place that Christ will meet you and call you blessed and beloved.

Christians are not people whose lives are righteous, but rather “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” We desperately need to recover the disciplines of confession and repentance in our church, among each other, even outwardly to our communities. We are afraid our sin will shame us. But hiding our sin and pretending we are perfect is shaming our God. When they insult us, when they say Christian almost like it’s a slur, own it. Your weakness is your strength in Christ. God is able to turn shame into glory.

Lastly, this, briefly: God is able to make something beautiful out of us. God is able to make something beautiful out of us. I was struck when I was studying the passage by the reference in v.19 to God as the creator, and it opened my eyes to other creation images, of the trial like a crucible, the spirit of God resting upon his people like the spirit hovering over the water in creation, or in the Exodus when God remade his people and dwelt among them.

Peter is trying to say that in all of this, through suffering, through pain, even if it breaks you, God is able to recreate you, to piece you back together into something good, like an artist working with stained glass. Like this sculpture hanging on our wall in the back, here: “broken, beautiful.” God is able to make something beautiful out of us.

If you’re here today in suffering, or in shame, I would invite you to come. Come talk with us, pray with us, walk with us, join the church. Even if you never imagined that you would be a church person, what you thought would shame you—that title, Christian—learn to own it, to know the goodness and glory of following Christ.

Don’t live your life without hope. There is hope in Christ for each of us, hope for rejoicing, a release from shame. Come to the creator who is able to make something beautiful out of you.