1 Peter 4:12–19 (NKJV)
12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. 17 For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 Now “If the righteous one is scarcely saved, Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?” 19 Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.
Few people understand suffering rightly. They imagine that suffering is always a sign of God’s wrath, or that Christians shouldn’t have to suffer so much, because they’re Christians. Neither is true.
Christ suffered God’s wrath as a punishment for sin—not His sin, but our sin. His suffering made satisfaction for our sins, so that, no matter how much we may suffer, we cannot earn God’s favor or make up for our sins in the slightest way, nor should we try. Our suffering does not atone for sin.
But suffering and afflictions may still be punishments for sins—punishments that serve a good and salutary purpose. As the Apology of the Augsburg Confessions says, “Saints are subject to death, and all general afflictions, as 1 Peter 4, 17 says: For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? And although these afflictions are for the most part the punishments of sin, yet in the godly they have a better end, namely, to exercise them, that they may learn amidst trials to seek God’s aid, to acknowledge the distrust of their own hearts… Afflictions are a discipline by which God exercises the saints” (Ap., Art. VI).
Because Christ, by His suffering, has removed God’s wrath from believers, and because God tells us that suffering for doing good makes us partakers of Christ’s suffering and of Christ’s glory, we can rejoice and bear up under the temporary and passing afflictions of this life. The unbeliever, on the other hand, has no such consolation, but will indeed suffer God’s wrath and punishment eternally, if he does not repent and turn to Christ in repentance and faith.
Let us pray: O Christ, who suffered for us the bitter pain of the cross and death, have mercy on us and drive us to cling to You alone in all our sufferings, that we may ever rejoice in Your good purpose for us. Amen.