Don’t Be Surprised When You Go Through Suffering
By the mid-1500s, the Bible was translated into English. The town of Hadley was one of the first places in all of England to receive the Bible in English. Dr. Rowland Taylor was a pastor of Hadley who faithfully preached the word of God. As expected, he was ordered to appear before the bishop and Lord Chancellor in London. Accused of being a heretic, he was granted an opportunity to change his Bible stance or be burnt at the stake.
He responded boldly, “I will not depart from preaching the truth, and I thank God for calling me to be worthy to suffer for His Word.” He was immediately sent back to Hadley to be burnt at the stake. Along the way, he was so joyful and merry that anyone watching would have thought he was going to a banquet or a wedding. His words to his guards often caused them to weep as he earnestly called them to repent from their evil living. They marveled to see him so steadfast, fearless, joyful, and glad to die.
When they reached the place where he would be burned, Dr. Taylor said to all of his congregation who were gathered there with tears in their eyes, “I have taught you nothing but God’s holy Word and those lessons that I have taken out of God’s blessed book, the Holy Bible. I have come here this day to seal it with my blood.”
He knelt, prayed, and went to the stake. He kissed the stake, stood against it, with his hands folded together and his eyes toward heaven. So he continually prayed. They bound him with chains, and several men put the sticks in place. As they lit the fire, Dr. Taylor held up both his hands and called upon God, saying, “Merciful Father of heaven, for Jesus Christ my Savior’s sake, receive my soul into Thy hands.”
He stood in the flames without either crying or moving, his hands folded together. To spare him from further suffering, a man from the town ran towards the fire and struck him on the head with a long-handled battle ax. Taylor died instantly, his corpse falling into the fire.
When we read such a story and many others similar to this one, we wonder what causes people like Taylor to endure such suffering. Perhaps they know the Christian life is a call to suffering and thus were not surprised when it comes. They take to heart the words of 1 Peter 4:12, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
Notice Peter starts by saying, “do not be surprised.” It is a command. “Expect to suffer as part of the Christian life” is what he’s saying. You see, the typical reaction is to exhibit shock when going through trials. “Something strange” is happening to me is the response. However, that should not be the case for the informed Christian. We should not be surprised when trials come. Instead, we should expect it. The Bible repeatedly reminds us to expect to suffer and not be surprised when trials come. Here are some examples from none other than the Lord Jesus himself.
Matthew 5:11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”
Matthew 10:34-36 “34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.'”
Mark 10:29-30 “29“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.”
John 15:20 “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.”
Other New Testament writers also remind us of this fact. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:12, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.“ John reminds us in 1 John 3:13, “Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.”
When we read the book of Acts or the 11th chapter of Hebrews, we are reminded of the stonings, imprisonments, whippings, and killings that God’s people have been subjected to during the early years of the church. Church history gives testimony to the suffering of God’s people at the hands of the world from the 1st century to this very day. Since the Fall, there has been a constant enmity between Satan’s people and God’s people. Since Satan stands against God, he will incite his children to hate God and everyone who stands for God. So, it is clear that both Jesus and the apostles warn us about the reality of suffering.
Back to 1 Peter 4:12. Peter goes on to describe the trials we sometimes go through may be likened to as a “fiery ordeal.” Not only are Christians to expect trials and not be surprised by them, but these trials would sometimes be intense or harsh. That’s what the word “fiery” [burning] means. The same word is translated as “furnace” in the Old Testament. It describes the pain the Christians to whom Peter wrote were going through at that time. And also what some are going through even in our day and age.
At this point, one may ask, “What is the point of such intense suffering?” Peter answers that question with these words, “fiery ordeal…has come on you to test you.“ Suffering comes to test us. Genuine faith endures through trials. False faith collapses when undergoing trials. Earlier, in 1 Peter 1:6-7, Peter talked about the Christian’s faith being tested and purified by suffering just as gold gets tested and purified by fire. Fire reveals the quality of the gold, and if it is genuine, it comes forth even purer after undergoing the burning process. That’s the same for genuine Christians. They become purer after undergoing trials.
Suffering is needed for believers. How else can we become like our Master? How else can we learn to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who persecute us? How else can we become more humble, more gentle, more broken, and more sensitive to the needs of others? When we fail to understand that God uses trials to purify us, Peter says we will react to trials “as though something strange were happening” to us.
Unfortunately, “something strange happening to me” is the response of many professing Christians. Perhaps, they were promised that the Christian life is a problem-free life of health, wealth, and happiness—which is precisely the opposite of what the Bible teaches. And when such people face trials, they don’t know the right way to respond. That is why people need to count the cost before they follow Christ.
Jesus himself demanded that people count the cost before they follow him [Lk 14:26-35]. He was never interested in making half-hearted disciples who will flee when they have to pay the price for their faith. Those who run when trials come are the ones who respond to Christ on an emotional basis, like the seed that fell on rocky places. Jesus describes such people in the following manner, “16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away” [Mk 4:16-17].
On the other hand, those who do count the cost are different. They recognize their utter sinfulness and misery and come to Christ on his terms—as enabled by the Holy Spirit. Such people are like the seed on good soil, and they will endure when faced with trials, “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop” [Lk 8:15]. They expect to suffer and are not surprised by trials when they come. Hence they endure!
Let’s constantly ask the Lord to remind us through the Holy Spirit to expect to suffer and not be surprised by it. Rejection and suffering in various forms will come when we live for Jesus. Having this kind of biblical understanding will accomplish at least two things:
(1) It will prevent us from grumbling against God when going through trials.
(2) It will also strengthen our hearts to consider it a privilege to suffer for Jesus, as Paul reminds us in Philippians 1:29, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him” [Phil 1:29]!