Due to ongoing COVID restrictions in our area, our church is holding a shorter, socially-distanced service in the building, followed by an online service straight afterwards. In the “live” services at the moment, we are working through a series on the “canticles” of the Bible. In case you are not familiar with the term, a canticle is simply a hymn, typically focussed on a specific biblical text.
It was my privilege to be able to share a few thoughts this morning on the canticle called “The Song of Christ the Servant” based on 1 Peter 2:21-25. Here follows a written version of what I said this morning in church.
21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
22 “He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. 1 Peter 2:21-25 (NIV)
I want to share a few thoughts with you today about the subject of suffering… and believe me, I know it is perhaps not the most exciting of subjects!
If I asked you whether Christ was your example, I would imagine many of you would say a definite “Yes!” Christians the world over look to follow the example of Jesus and live as He did. Yet, if I asked you to follow Christ’s example in suffering, I would expect there to be at least a little hesitation.
None of us enjoy suffering, and it is something we try to avoid at great cost. In our canticle today though, we see that Christ suffered for us, and that we ought to follow His example. Does that mean we are to seek out and jump straight into suffering wherever we can? I think not. Rather, I think we need only to live and sooner or later, suffering will find us in one form or another.
As Christ said:
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33 (NIV)
As long as we live in this world, we will indeed face troubles and suffering. I am not trying to be negative here, but it is a sad fact of life in this fallen world that trouble will come. Specifically though, for the Christian, we will no doubt suffer for the name of Christ. This is the thrust of Peter’s point here. The world did not and does not recognise Christ, and we, His followers, will always suffer for bearing His Name in this world.
So, if we must suffer, how are we to act while enduring it? These words from Peter give us some ideas.
Christ did indeed suffer, but it was not for Himself, it was for you. When we suffer, we must do so for other people and for our God.
Whenever we put someone else first, we are making a sacrifice of some kind or another. When we act in a way that prefers others to ourselves, we are denying ourselves for their sake. Perhaps it may only be in some small way, but to put others first, we must put ourselves behind.
In a greater way, we are to suffer for Christ.
Peter says, in the preceding verses of 1 Peter 2:
But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 1 Peter 2:20 (NIV)
There is no credit to us if we suffer because we’ve done wrong. If we break the law of the land, we can hardly claim any hardship for suffering. Yet, if we do what is right before God, and still suffer because and for our faith, then we are commended before the Lord.
As it says in verse 22, Jesus committed no sin and yet was punished. He did not deserve the suffering He faced, but we, who cannot claim to be without sin, somehow feel we should be exempt from sharing in the sufferings of Christ. For many Christians living in the Western world, we have faced little in the way of persecution in recent times. That tide is turning it seems, and as we choose to live in a godly way, we will indeed face persecution from the world around us.
So, if we must suffer, let us do so for Him, and for those around us. Let us show by example, that we suffer for the cause of the Gospel and for the benefit of others.
Do Not Retaliate
When Jesus was threatened, He did not threaten in return. When Christ was insulted, He did not respond in kind. Rather than using His authority and power to strike down those who abused Him, He chose instead to repay evil with good.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21 (NIV)
This is the example we are to follow when we likewise suffer. We are not to repay evil for evil, but good. When we are threatened or insulted because of our faith, we must not insult or threaten in return.
That is not to say we should allow ourselves to be abused or mistreated for any reason at all, and where we can, we should flee from those who would harm us.
Trust in Him Who Judges Justly
When we suffer at the hands of others, we long for justice. An eye for an eye! We may cry! Yet, if we are following Christ’ example, we cannot retaliate against those who hurt us. Instead of doing so, Jesus trusted Himself to the One who judges justly – that is, God the Father.
In the midst of deep suffering, it can be difficult to trust in God. We want to understand why we are facing the trouble we are, and we beg for Him to change it. This is not wrong.
Yet we must learn to place our complete trust in God. When we are wronged, it is not our place to punish others. We cast our care onto the Lord, and we trust that He – the Ultimate Judge – will one day put right every wrong.
God is indeed Sovereign, meaning He is in total control. That is a difficult doctrine to swallow during times of suffering. Why, we ask, would God allow such things to happen to us? Such answers may come, or they may not, but either way, we must learn that all God does is for His ultimate glory. God’s primary interest is not our comfort, but His glory. So, if we suffer, we do so for His glory, and we are glad to do so.
Live for Righteousness
The canticle concludes by pointing out what Christ’s suffering has achieved for us. He bore our sins in His very own body, He took the wounds that we deserve, and by doing so, He made a way for us to die to our sins and live for righteousness. Put simply, He paid the penalty for our sin, and by trusting in His work, we gain righteousness – that is, right standing with God the Father.
Verse 25 uses the analogy of sheep. We were once lost sheep, wandering around at risk and in danger. But because of what Jesus did for us, we are reunited with our Good Shepherd, and will rest under His protection for all eternity.
Christ’s suffering was not pointless, and neither is yours.
Christ’s suffering was not in vain. His wounds, death and resurrection not only achieved your salvation from your sin, but the pinnacle of all glory unto God.
If, when we suffer, we do so as Christ did, then we too can bring glory to God. When people around us see how we suffer, when they see that we do not return threats and insults, but instead trust in God’s justice, then they will want to know more about this Christ and what He has done.
Let your suffering be a banner which draws many to Jesus. Amen!