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Suffering Well


Peter Hubbard


October 30, 2022


1 Peter, 1 Peter 5:6-11


So, why did God do it? Why did he put the spotlight on Job when obviously he knew what Satan would say? He highlights Job’s integrity. This is in Job 1:8.

“And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?’”

Satan responds predictably in [Job] 1:9.

“Does Job fear God for no reason?”

In other words, Satan is saying to God, “You actually think that Job worships you because he loves you? No! It’s because of the toys you give him. It’s because of the blessings you give him. It’s because of the hedge you put around him. It’s because of the way you protect him. Take that away. Take the toys away and the blessings away, and he will curse you to your face.”

And so, God gave permission to Satan to afflict Job, and the affliction was great. Sabeans and Chaldeans swept in, wiped out Job’s farm — workers, animals, income gone! Terrible storm kills all of Job’s children. This is the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. And what does Job do? Job 1:21,

“He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”

And the rest of the book tells of Job’s physical sufferings, his wife’s cynicism, his friends’ unhelpful counsel.

And yet Job suffered well. It doesn’t mean he wasn’t confused. He said things about God that were not true. He believed things about God that were not accurate. At the end, though, his eyes were opened to who God really is. And he said in Job 42:3,

“I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful”

We’ve seen that word before many times, “pala.” The word “pala” means “something only God could do,” things too God-like for me which I did not know. I thought I knew things about God, but I didn’t understand. I said things about God that were not completely true. But God has taken me through suffering in order to filter out lies I believe about you, God, and about me and us. Do you think perhaps that might be one of the purposes of suffering? It burns away … at least God intends it to burn away lies we believe about God and ourselves.

And the book of 1 Peter does this brilliantly. 1 Peter 5:6-11 — Peter is training us to suffer well. How can we, as elect exiles (that’s what he calls us at the beginning of the book, “chosen exiles,” walk through difficulty while thinking and doing good? This passage I always think of as kind of like a grand finale of fireworks where the pyro technician (if I wasn’t a pastor, I would be a pyro tech) fires off all the fireworks that he’s been firing individually, collectively. That’s kind of what Peter does here in 1 Peter 5:6-11. It’s just this explosion of color and sound and many of the themes he’s been developing all along are all compressed in this one paragraph.

As we saw several years ago, we could summarize this paragraph with three words — humble, watchful, hopeful. When we suffer, we are called to be humble, watchful, hopeful. Let’s walk through those one at a time. And I want to warn you, we’re going to spend a lot of time on the first one, but do not be nervous.

Humble — verse 6.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God.”

Now, last week we ended with the call to “clothe” ourselves, verse 5,

“all of you, with humility toward one another.”

He’s saying if a church is going to have a dress code, it should be humility. When life groups gather, ladies’ Bible studies, men’s Bible studies, all the ministries when we gather, when we gather to worship, the mandatory wardrobe, the most distinctive thing about our clothing should be, according to Peter, our humility. That’s what we get up and wrap ourselves up in. And there, verse 5, he’s talking about horizontal humility, our humility before one another. You say, where do I get that? I’m not naturally humble, of course.” Well, verse 6, the horizontal humility comes from the vertical humility. A group of people who do verse 6 can do verse 5. We can humble ourselves before one another because we have humbled ourselves before “the mighty hand of God.” What does that mean?

Well, Peter gives us in this passage two reasons to humble ourselves before God. First, his greatness. Second, his goodness. So, let’s look at those one at a time. First, God is great. Verse 6,

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God.”

The word “mighty” there is a different form of the same root word you’ll see down in verse 11, translated “dominion.” We are called to humble ourselves under the one who has dominion forever and ever. So, the mighty hand of God is the hand of God that is over everyone and everything. We often use the word “sovereign,” which simply means he’s in charge of everything and everyone. And it seems odd here. God, why are you saying this to suffering people? You would think he would be saying (Peter) when he’s wrapping up his letter to suffering people, would have said, “Hey, guys, I’ve got something here at the end to boost your self-esteem, because I know you’ve been suffering.” Or “I’ve emailed all of you a rally towel so that you can, you know, drum up some energy as you’ve been suffering.” But no, he ends with “humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God.”

Could it be that suffering not only deflates our spirit, but inflates our thoughts? Our thoughts rise up against the one who is sovereign. We begin to question. It feels wrong. Something’s wrong. Someone, whoever is sovereign, is certainly not doing whatever sovereign people do well, according to me, in my suffering. And so, Peter calls us to humble our thoughts, humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. What is the hand of God? Does God have a hand? The “hand of God” is God’s presence in judging, blessing, saving.

Let me show you one example. Exodus 3:19 — God says,

“But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So, I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders”

There’s “pala” again. All the things that only I could do.

“…that I will do in it; after that, he will let you go.”

So, God freed Israel with a mighty hand. Why do we need to humble ourselves before the mighty hand of God? Well, I am deeply concerned for many evangelical Christians view God’s sovereignty as maybe an idea to debate, like college students in the dorm debating Calvinism and Arminianism. It’s something out there, up there, theoretical, and everybody has some sort of opinion, even if they haven’t thought deeply about it. I’m not interested in that debate. When Peter writes to suffering Christians, it’s not a theoretical debate. Their lives depend on whether God’s hand is mighty or not.

My wife and I have talked about this many times since her very serious diagnosis. If we did not believe God is sovereign, what would we do? Where would we turn? What in the world? This is not a theory. It’s not a subject in a book. This is our hope. This is our joy. This is our comfort This is our life. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, the one hand that controls all hands, all beings, everything. And I fear that for many Christians, when they hear the word “sovereign,” they just immediately think fatalism, mechanism. “God wants me to be a robot. No need to pray. No need to evangelize.” All of that is unbiblical garbage. No! And so there are many Christians who would never say what Job said. Job 19:21,

“Have mercy on me, have mercy on me, O you my friends, for the hand of God has touched me!”

We would correct Job. “No, Job, that wasn’t the hand of God. That was Satan. That was the Sabeans, those nasty Chaldeans! That’s what it was. That was a natural disaster. You live in a fallen world. Stuff is going to happen.” And in one sense, you can see they’re right, right? It was the Chaldeans. It was the Sabeans. There were natural disasters. And you live in a fallen world, and stuff is going to happen.

But Job was not interested in debating immediate causes. He went for the top, ultimate causes, the hand of God. And that’s what Peter’s saying. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God.” There’s only one mighty, sovereign hand in the universe. So, if it were true that God is not sovereign in our suffering, why would Peter call suffering Christians to “humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God”? The command doesn’t make any sense if God is not ultimate, if God is not sovereign.

I had the privilege on Friday to talk to Tim Challies about this question. Tim recently wrote the book Seasons of Sorrow. It just came out. And in that book, he helps us wrestle with how hard it can be to face the sovereignty of God in the midst of deep suffering. In a couple of days, this Thursday, it will be two years since the Lord took his twenty-year-old son Nick suddenly. Nick, there on the left, was a student at Southern Seminary, loved the Lord, loved his family. He was playing games with his sister, his fiancé, some friends, when without warning, he fell unconscious, collapsed, and died. And in a chapter entitled “I Fear God and I’m Afraid of God,” Tim wrestles with how to think about the sovereignty of God in the face of horrific loss.

He writes this.

“So I do fear God. But in these days, I find myself just plain afraid of God. I fear him in that sense of rightly assessing his power, his abilities, his sovereignty. But I’m also afraid of the ways he may exercise them. After all, just a short time ago, God exercised his sovereignty in taking my son to himself …. In one moment, God delivered a blow that staggered me, that very nearly crushed me.

“It was God’s right to take Nick. I know that. I affirm that. The God with the ability to give is the God with the right to take. Willing as I was to receive Nick as a gift from God’s hand, I cannot and will not begrudge the same God for taking him back. Like Job, I blessed the name of the Lord in the giving and will bless it still in the taking.

“But it is God’s ability and willingness to take that leaves me fearful. For if Nick’s life was so fragile that it could end in a moment without obvious cause or explanation, why not the lives of others who are precious to me? If God has called me to suffer this blow, why not another? If God took my beloved son with such speed, with such ease, with such finality, what else might he take? Who else might he take? And how could I bear up under such loss?

“Before, life was easy because God’s sovereignty always seemed inclined toward the things I wanted anyway, but now life is hard because I see that God sovereignty may also be inclined toward the things I dread, the things I would never wish for.”

Tim ends the chapter.

“I choose to submit myself to that sovereignty, to continue to pray, ‘Thy will be done.’ But even as I pray, I cringe just a little.”

I wonder if we’ve really gotten a glimpse of the sovereignty of God if we never cringe just a little. If we have put God in such a box, where we assume he would never work outside of that box and he would never do anything that I wouldn’t fully understand and feel good about. And if that’s the case, why would Peter say, “humble yourselves”? Why would I need to humble myself if God is always going to work in a way that is predictable, manageable, and comfortable? What Tim is wrestling with is what everyone here will wrestle with, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but at some point.

And the thing my wife and I have talked about so many times the last year is suffering will force you off the fence of sovereignty. You can’t stay there. You’ll either fall off into despair, anger at God, or distancing God so far from your life as to protect him from being associated at all with anything that’s painful, which will end up being a kind of Christian agnosticism, or you throw yourselves in the mighty hand of God. “I’m here, God, praying thy will be done, cringing a bit, but standing in awe of you.”

The reason I think this is so important and what Peter’s driving this home even to suffering Christians at the end of this short letter is now is the time to settle this question, not when you’re in the midst of the suffering. Now.

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God.” Peter goes on,

“so that at the proper time he may exalt you.”

Now, there’s another big part of our struggle. I would say this is my biggest struggle. Okay, God, I can stand in awe of you, and I know you’re sovereign, but can I talk to you about your timing? What do you mean “at the proper time”? I think this is the hardest part of humbling our thoughts. We struggle with God’s timing. We know we’re going to die. But why now, oh, Lord? Twenty years old! What?! We know we’re going to suffer, but how long, oh, Lord? And then we become trapped in the momentary moment we live in. It’s like we’re in this time bubble, and we totally lose this big vision of who God is and what He’s up to.

Samuel Rutherford, a pastor who suffered greatly, wrote a friend on February 2, 1632.

“Most men measure truth by time, like young seamen setting their compass by a cloud …”

What a great image. What is he talking about there? He’s talking about if you’re on an ocean and you’re trying to figure out where you are and you set your compass by a cloud, you’re setting your standard of truth by the moment you’re in, and a moment later, it’s irrelevant.

“For now, time is father and mother to truth, and the thoughts and practices of our evil time.”

He’s saying this in the 1600s that our momentary trends and feelings cannot be our source of reality, truth. Humility knows that this moment isn’t the moment, “that at the proper time he may exalt you.” No matter how deep the suffering, no matter how long the trial, there is a proper time, and humility also doesn’t try to measure the benefit of the suffering in the moment of suffering.

Have you ever done that? I do that all the time. Okay, God, I get it. I got the lesson you wanted me to get. You can unsqueeze the clamps. I’m good. We’re good. Spurgeon in the late 1800s warned against trying to discern the benefits of suffering while in the moment of suffering. He wrote this.

“Do not let us expect when we are in the trouble to perceive any immediate benefit resulting from it. I’ve tried myself when under sharp pain to see whether I have grown a bit more resigned or more earnest in prayer or more wrapped in fellowship with God, but I have never been able to see the slightest trace of improvement at such times for [This to be a good phrase to memorize] for pain distracts and scatters the thoughts.”

Stop there for a second. Spurgeon experienced a lot of physical suffering. He battled depression at times. He said, if I try to discern … Because I think some of us struggle when we’re suffering because we read the great saints and we think they must have felt really spiritual when they were suffering. I don’t feel very spiritual. When I’m wracked with pain or throwing up or battling some big financial struggle, I don’t feel like a spiritual giant in the midst of that. Well, Spurgeon is telling you neither does he because pain has a way of scattering and distracting our thoughts. And so, part of the proper time is recognizing don’t try to critique the suffering when you’re in the middle of the suffering. He goes on to give a great illustration.

“The gardener takes his knife and prunes the fruit trees to make them bring forth much fruit. His little child comes, trudging at his heels and cries, ‘Father, I do not see that the fruit comes on the trees after you have cut them.’ No, dear child, it is not likely you would, but come round in a few months when the season of fruit has come [That’s the proper time] and then you will see the golden apples which thank the knife. Graces which are meant to endure require time for their production.”

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” God is great, but also God is good. Peter seems to help us know how to humble ourselves here, verse 7, by

“casting all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.”

When my heart is proud, I tend to hold onto my anxieties, assuming that I care about them far more than God, who apparently because of this suffering, does not care. And Peter is calling us to humble our hearts and realize that I can cast my cares on him because he actually cares for me and my cares more than I care for me and my cares.

Last year when we were in Mark 4, we watched Jesus cross the Sea of Galilee with his disciples in a storm. And I gave you a really corny outline. (You’re all looking at me like that wasn’t the only time. There’s no way we can remember all your corny outlines. True.) Chooses, Snoozes, Diffuses, Uses. Jesus chooses to take them through the storm, highlighting the sovereignty of God over storms because the text makes clear Jesus chose to do this. Secondly, he snoozes in the middle of the storm. He appears not to care. Third, he diffuses the power of the storm. He rebuked the wind and the waves.

“Be still! Peace, be still!”

And then he uses the message of the storm to reveal his identity as the one that even the wind and the waves obey. Who is this? But right in the middle of that, in verse 38 of Mark 4, the disciples, when Jesus was asleep, the disciples are terrified. They woke him up and they said,

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

And Peter … We don’t know exactly who asked. It may have been Peter. We know he was there. Peter uses the same word “care” that is a Mark 4 and 1 Peter 5. I mentioned that then. Cast all your “care,” same word, on him.

Peter knows what it’s like to be in the middle of a storm and to question the care of Jesus. Do you not care? And the same person is now saying to us, you can cast all your anxieties on him because he really does care even when it feels like he doesn’t. Notice Peter’s solution to that feeling like he doesn’t isn’t to distance God from the suffering, but to trust him in the middle of the suffering by casting all your anxieties on him because he really does care.

Piper summarizes this.

“For those who trust Christ, God’s sovereignty in suffering is not an unyielding problem but an unfailing hope. It means that, in the suffering of Christians neither Satan nor man nor nature nor chance is wielding decisive control. God is sovereign over this suffering, which means it is not meaningless. It is not wrath. It is not ultimately destructive. It is not wanton [that is cruel] or heedless [reckless]. It is purposeful. It is measured. It is wise. It is loving.”

So, we can cast our care on him because he cares for you. That’s what it means to be humble as we suffer.

Second, watchful. Be watchful. Do not be tipsy or drowsy. Verse 8,

“Be sober-minded; be watchful.”

Don’t be intoxicated. Don’t be napping spiritually. Why? What are we supposed to be alert to? He gives three things to watch out for — our foe, our faith, our family. Our foe — we have a real enemy; our faith — we have everything we need in the Gospel; and our family — we’re not alone. Let’s look at those one at a time.

Your foe — verse 8.

“Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

The “devil” … That word is “slander,” “diabolis.” He slanders God to us. Genesis 3:1,

“Did God actually say?”

He slanders us to God. Revelation 12:10 — He is the

“accuser of the brothers … who accuses them day and night before God.”

And then he slanders us to one another. Ephesians 4:27 — The context is that of relational conflict, and Paul writes,

“Give no opportunity to the devil.”

In other words relational conflict is like an open door to give the enemy an opportunity to accuse, to slander us to one another. “Be watchful” because his roar is loudest when your pain is greatest.

Second, be watchful not only of your foe, but of your faith. Look at verse 9.

“Resist him, firm in your faith.”

Resist him. Now, we are told in Scripture to flee a lot of things. Flee the wrath to come. Flee idolatry. Flee sexual immorality. Flee youthful passions. Flee the love of money. But we are never told to flee from the devil. James 4:7,

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

So, with what do we resist the devil? Well, it’s our faith. “Resist him, firm in your faith.”

Well, what does Peter mean by “your faith”? As we learned in chapter 1, our faith is in a gospel (good news) that does not have an expiration date. It does not wither under heat or fade with time. We are redeemed by what is imperishable. Quick review 1 Peter 1:3,

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

So, be watchful for your faith. And then finally, be watchful of your family. Verse 9,

“Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”

Next Sunday is the International Day of Prayer for the persecuted church. It’s actually the whole month of November. So, I want us, in light of what Peter just said, to take a few minutes to prepare our hearts. Hopefully all of us can devote some time over the next month to remembering and praying for our brothers and sisters who face so much suffering for the name of Christ. And what Peter is saying … This does several things. It helps us to remember to lift them up in prayer, but it also puts our suffering in a context. We’re not alone. We’re not in this alone. The same kinds of suffering — physical suffering, injustices, normal daily difficulties, relational suffering — all are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And then some. Let’s take a few minutes and watch this video as we learn a little bit from our sister Rebecca of suffering around the world.

“My name is Rebecca. I live in the north of Nigeria. One evening I was out with my daughter, and on our way home, we saw smoke rising above our village. We were under attack. There was nothing we could do to defend ourselves. My husband and I were married in that village. My wedding day — it was the happiest day of my life. Some members of our church gave us a wedding gift. It was a Bible. We read it together every day.

“When our children were old enough, we read it to them and their friends.

‘Let the little children come to me and do not forbid them, for such is the kingdom of heaven.’ Matthew 19:14.

“On the day our village burnt to the ground, my husband and my son were killed in that attack. I was devastated. I mourned for many months. Some of us were able to return to our village to reclaim anything that was left. I found our Bible. Parts of Genesis and Revelation were burnt, but the rest was mostly intact. Thank you, Lord.

“‘All flesh is made of grass and all its glory like a wildflower … The grass withers and the flower falls off. But the Word of the Lord endures forever.’ [Isaiah 40:6-7]

“I still use this Bible. It reminds me of God’s faithfulness.

‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked and I shall return there. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.’ [Job 1:21]

“The Lord is a husband to all widows. I look to him for every need. This is what I am still holding on to.” (International Day of Prayer 2022|Rebecca: Nigeria)

If the gospel were not true. Rebecca would be a fool, just become a Muslim, and Boko Haram would not persecute you. But if the gospel is true, and Rebecca, who has suffered deeply, has not ultimately lost anything but ultimately gained everything. And that’s why in 1 Peter 5, we are hopeful. That’s why Peter in the end says no matter how deep the suffering, Christians are fundamentally hopeful because, verse 10,

“after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace [the God of all kinds of grace, the God of all amounts of grace] who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself [emphasizing how personal this is] restore [everything you’ve lost], confirm [everything that slipped away], strengthen [all that has become weak or feels useless], and establish [all that is elusive or fleeing]. To him by the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Suffering tends to strip us of our humanity. It breaks us down, brings us to the place where we wonder what is the use? But God is promising that whatever ridicule, illness, aging, loss, injustice, persecution takes away, God himself will personally restore, replace, renew. And so, we can be humble, watchful, and hopeful. Let’s pray.

Father, there is so much about what you are doing in our lives right now that we don’t claim to understand. There’s no promise here that we’re going to fully grasp, be able to calculate, and be able to understand exactly what’s going on in real time. Like Job, we don’t know what is happening behind the scenes, and pain distracts and scatters the thoughts. So, Lord, I beg you that you would help us lock in on what we do know. We do know you are great. We do know you are good. And you have demonstrated the greatest expression of love ever in giving your son as a sacrifice for our sin to bring us to yourself. So, how can we doubt you now? How can we turn on you now? After the one who would give us his own Son, how would you not also with him graciously give us all things?

So, we humble ourselves, Lord. We take those thoughts that tend to rise up, and we bring them down, and even when we pray “your will be done” and cringe a bit, may we humble that under your sovereign care. You are working all things for our good and your glory. Lord, please snap out of our stupor those who are not watchful when we get distracted by all the gimmicks around us at this current moment. And I pray, in spite of all circumstances, Lord, those who are being crushed under the weight, and there are so many! Several in our family lost loved ones this week. So much pain, Lord, but we can be hopeful because the God of all grace, pours out grace to help in a time of need. Father, please continue ministering in our midst as we continue to cry out to you now in Jesus’s name. Amen.