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Different Suffering

1 Peter 4:15
If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. (NIV)

The Bible says a lot about suffering. Peter makes it a theme of his letters, because of the imminent persecution of the early church. But it is possible to assume that God's blessing upon those who suffer, will apply to Christians whatever the cause. Peter now addresses this misunderstanding. Although we will feel the pain of persecution, we should also feel the pain of our own wrongdoing - the natural consequence of going against God's will. However, sometimes it is not easy to distinguish between the antagonism caused because the character of Christ in us is offensive, or because we are simply in the wrong or even socially inept.
Clearly criminal behaviour is our fault (assuming that a country has not criminalised good Christian discipleship). We should not think that we are being persecuted for righteousness, when we have been unrighteous. However Peter's mention of meddling in other people's affairs may seem an unusual rebuke. However it matches the instructions not to gossip (look at the references in Proverbs 11:13, 16:28, 20:19, 26:20, 26:22; Romans 1:29; 2 Corinthians 12:20, 1 Timothy 5:13; 3 John 10). Gossip is a way of interfering in the lives of others; as is any authority that is wrongly taken over other people. Their resentment may not be righteous, but the social effect will be to disrupt relationship; and that always brings pain.
So we need to be careful. At a personal level we are primarily responsible for ourselves. If we are leaders we have a certain amount of authority over others but we must not abuse our position in marriage (Ephesians 5:33); with children (Ephesians 6:4); with employers (Ephesians 5:5-8); with employees (Ephesians 6:9), with older people (1 Peter 5:5) or in the church (1 Peter 5:2-3). Of course, some will claim abuse where legitimate and Godly authority has been exercised, but more often the problem lies in the wrongful interference in other lives. It is even more obvious where people assert their own authority, yet are betrayed by their character (2 Timothy 3:1-9). We must, therefore, be constantly watchful of ourselves. No wonder Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:12, "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!"

Dear Lord God. Thank You for Your promise of blessing to all who are persecuted for the sake of Christ. But thank You too for this warning not to assume that wrong is righteous, simply because people turn against me. Help me to have an honest opinion of my character and lifestyle, and if I am wrong, please show me. Help me to be at peace with all, if it is possible; and help me to exercise leadership and citizenship responsibility in a way that will build up others, and glorify You. For Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams