No one desires suffering. No one asks to suffering. But for the sake of Christ, Christians will endure it. And they will glorify God in the midst of it.
This side of heaven, we don’t always know why suffering comes. We may know the causes of suffering — health issues, financial struggles, broken relationships, overbearing or unjust people in authority over us, religious persecution, just to name a few. But even when we know the causes of our suffering, we (like Job in the Old Testament) may not understand the spiritual battle going on behind the scenes. We must continually look to the Lord for strength, comfort and guidance.
One group of people in the first century that had to endure suffering were Christians who worked for harsh employers. The relationship was referred to as a slave and master, where the person who was working as a slave had either sold themselves into slavery to get out of debt, or they had become a slave when their nation was conquered by another nation.** As mentioned above, the correct parallel to the relationship with the servant/slave and master from the first century is an employee and employer relationship in our day. In that cultural context, the following verses can be correctly understood.
Favor with God
When people suffer, they and those around them are tempted to think that the suffering is due to God’s punishment or discipline. And certainly sometimes that is the case. For example, a person who frivolously wastes money will suffer financially because of his decisions. However, suffering occurs sometimes even when a person is faithfully following the Lord. Verses 18-20 above teach us that we are to submit to the authorities in our life, including unjust employers. We are are do the things that are good and right. If by living that way we endure suffering because of the actions or words of those over us, we should take heart: our faithfulness brings us favor with God. We need to seek God’s favor always.
Follow the example of Jesus’ suffering
Jesus set the example of how to endure suffering (vv21-23). He suffered even though He never committed any sin. He is the only person who ever lived that absolutely deserved NO suffering. He never said a sinful word nor committed a sinful act. Yet He suffered in excruciating ways. He was beaten, reviled and abused because of us. He went to the cross for our sins. He died in our place. He never lashed out at his persecutors. He humbly endured suffering. He prayed to the Father for strength to endure. He fulfilled the Lord’s will.
Notice that verse 21 says that we are called to follow Jesus’ example of suffering. We give our lives to the Lord’s will, enduring whatever we must so that others will look to Jesus as the Lord and Savior of their lives. If our suffering leads to the salvation of others, we know that it is worth it.
The glory of the cross
The glory of the cross (vv 24-25) is that Jesus bore our sins on the tree so that we could be forgiven and made righteous with God. Not only are we made right before God from an eternal perspective, but His righteousness at work in our lives today means that He helps us to do the right thing in every situation, even if that includes enduring suffering. At the cross Jesus healed us by His wounds. He is our Great Shepherd and the Guardian of our souls. Glorious!
** Note: we are thankful to God that through the work of Christians through the years such as William Wilberforce, Abraham Lincoln and others, slavery was abolished in nations around the world.