It has been often said that North American Christians do not suffer in the same way as in some other countries especially in those nations where Islam is the predominant culture. I have made this statement many times and I stand behind its truth. While it’s true that we don’t suffer in the same way as some of our brothers & sisters in Iran, China or India, there are still many ways in which we face struggles in our own culture.
It doesn’t take very long once an individual has been blessed with the new birth and comes to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 13:48) to realize that not everyone is as joyous as they are with their conversion. The struggles that are faced by new converts, especially those born in non-Christian homes, takes on the form of hostility, mockery and rejection. The unregenerate heart cannot understand why anyone would find such delight in Jesus Christ and generally reacts negatively to the newly changed individual. Let’s face it, it isn’t cool to most people to be a Christian and they just don’t get it. This negative reaction unfortunately doesn’t end within a short period of time after the conversion. There are many Christian who face a lifetime of rejection and exclusion at the hands of family members and friends. There is always a pressure to conform ourselves to their lifestyles when we meet with them. There is a pressure for us to conform to their worldview which often means we feel a pressure for us to go back to a life we once lived. It is a lifestyle they are perfectly adapted to while to the Christian this is a life that is dead to them.
Like anything else, there is nothing new under the sun. The bible does address this topic especially in the fourth chapter of Peter’s first epistle. We read:
Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. 3 For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. 4 In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; (vs1-4)
Here we have the great apostle exhorting his first century readers to a life’s purpose which is to “arm yourselves”. The language used is to convey the idea of a war that is being fought and this war was very real to the recipients of this letter. Christians throughout history have been in a constant battle against the flesh and its armies. The weapon that we need to focus our attention on even today is found in the suffering of Christ “in the flesh”. The flesh was crucified and we must in essence crucify our flesh with a with a view towards living our lives, not for our own gain, desires or lusts but “for the will of God” exactly like Christ did. We no longer pursue what’s best for us but what glorifies the One who gave us all. Our eyes should be set on pleasing Him and to place His will as preeminent in how we think and in anything we do. The time spent on this earth is no longer looking forward to things we once lived for but we give ourselves fully to Him and His desires.
Peter then explains what our lives were prior to this crucifixion of the flesh mainly that “the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries.” We had wasted enough time in these futile things in our past life to be it sufficient to know to live now for something so much better. Those olden sins that we looked forward to every day now no longer appeal to us but rather we live our remaining years on this earth belonging to God. Does this mean that we can never be tempted by these things? No, we can certainly be tempted and this is why Peter is exhorting these believers to arm themselves. The enticement is lead by those who are still in love with these lusts. They are dumbfounded that we as Christians don’t take pleasure in these things. We don’t live to satisfy ourselves in indulging in immoral sex, getting wild and drunk with them while making money, sex, work and sports have prominence in our lives. They don’t understand us since “the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God, for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7-8) Our minds are set on the Spirit and this is why Paul could say to the Corinthians “the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor. 2:14). What men don’t understand and cannot embrace becomes a frustration to them and this they eventually reject it even with hostility.
Being rejected and mocked by a stranger is difficult enough but when it’s someone we care about then it becomes a greater burden to carry. It is often hard to fathom how someone we care about can utterly disrespect us to the point of pushing us away for a lack of words. The apostle latter on in the epistle states “ do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you…as though some strange things were happening to you” (v.12). Brother and sisters, this ordeal that we go through is not abnormal in the slightest. The apostles went through it as did Christians over the last 2000 + years and many more after we’ve parted from this world will go through it also. How can it be otherwise when the One whom we owe our everything was “despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3) While going through these trials can with such confidence can be easier said than done, we must focus our attention upon Him who suffered in the flesh. Let’s continue to “consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18).