Two Handrails for Suffering
Have you ever watched a bull rider right before the gate is opened and he frolics with 2000 lbs. of fury? Almost all the focus is upon getting that perfect grip which will anchor him for 8 seconds of insanity. Knowing that your grip is secure when turbulence comes is important. 1 Peter is predominantly about the turbulence of suffering, and he gives us two realities that we must hold onto in those times.
Those two realties are captured by a word and a phrase that show up in 1 Peter more than any other book, relative to size. The phrase is “will of God” and the word is “sober.” The “will of God” is used 3 times explicitly in the Greek and possibly a couple more times implied. Those passages are 2:15, 4:2, 4:19. For comparison, the phrase “will of God” in Greek is found 3 times in Romans, but that book has 16 chapters. It is found twice in 2 Corinthians, but one of those is Paul’s greeting which takes it out of the count because it isn’t a teaching context; that is also true for Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Timothy. This means that Peter is far more focused on the specific concept of “the will of God” than the other books.
The word “sober” is also used in 1 Peter 3 times, at 1:13, 4:7, and 5:8. Alcohol is not the issue, clear-thinking is. It only shows up once in several other books, and in 1 Thessalonians it is used twice in one particular passage in chapter 5. So again, this word “sober” is used with a special emphasis in 1 Peter that the other authors just don’t have.
In 1 Peter, both “sober” and the “will of God” are used in contexts that deal with suffering. Suffering is the unifying issue that connects these two features. Therefore, I believe we have found two particularly important handrails that the saint is to hold onto when entering into suffering.
First, that saint is to have a firm grip on the reality that suffering for doing right is the will of God. Even when suffering comes from evil people, for evil purposes, the child of God must realize that God wants this for him. For a thousand different reasons, a few of which are explored in 1 Peter, God wants him to know that doing right will sometimes cost him dearly, and it is exactly what God wants to happen. Now, if you trust God, this is the greatest news you can hear. Athletes have coaches because they need to hear that the pain is part of a plan and it is accomplishing something good. They trust the coach and they press on. If you don’t trust God, just like when you don’t trust your coach, you quit. And when you quit doing what is right, it means you begin doing what is wrong. Therefore, Peter wants you to get a firm grip on the truth that God will, at times, want you to suffer for doing what is right.
Second, the saint is to be sober-minded in suffering. Peter moves from the highly theological “will of God” to the highly practical matter of being sober-minded. How true and necessary this is. How many times have you seen people make hasty, irrational decisions during times of pain? Pain is something we are wired to stop or avoid. It tells us something is wrong and needs to be fixed. However, much pain in life comes from a broken world. It will not be fixed by anything you do. It will only be fixed by an omnipotent redeemer and judge. We have to remember this, and think clearly about this, and fix our hope on the promises of this. If you don’t, you are going to do something stupid. You are going to take what looks to be a possible escape from the problem, only to find that you have compounded the problem with additional problems you just created.
Therefore, tie both hands down, one to sober-mindedness and the other to God’s will, and you will ride your suffering to the end for which God ordained it. Peter even says in 1:6 and in 5:10 that this suffering is for a “little while.” Maybe standing on the other side in glory we will look back and say “Yeah, it really does seem like only 8 seconds now.”
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