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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. (NIVUK)

The Bible says a lot about suffering – the result of mankind’s rebellion against God (Genesis 3:17-19) which also caused His own suffering (1 Peter 2:24).  Peter makes suffering a theme of his letters, partly because he saw the early martyrs, Stephen (Acts 7:55-58) and James (Acts 12:1-3); partly because of Jesus’ promise that Peter would die a martyr’s death (John 21:18-19) and partly because of the imminent persecution of the early church.  

In the previous verses, Peter had affirmed God's blessing on those who are persecuted (1 Peter 4:12-14).  But now he wanted his readers not to confuse God's blessing upon those who suffer for standing with Him with the suffering of punishment for those who do wrong.  Although we will feel the pain of persecution but look beyond it to the joy of Christ’s approval, we are intended to feel the pain and shame 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, we are at fault if we behave as criminals (if a country has not criminalised Christian faith and 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.  But it matches the many Bible instructions not to gossip (look at the references in Proverbs 16:28; Romans 1:29;  2 Corinthians 12:20;  1 Timothy 5:13;  3 John 1:10). 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: either in marriage (Ephesians 5:33), or with children (Ephesians 6:4), or with employers (Ephesians 6:5-8), or with employees (Ephesians 6:9), or with older people (1 Peter 5:5) or in the church (1 Peter 5:2-3).  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 forgive me when I have assumed that my wrongdoing 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. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams