I can’t think of surprises without hearing Gomer Pyle’s voice in my head: “Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!”
“In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excess of dissipation, and they malign you.” (I Peter 4:4)
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.” (I Peter 4:12)
Buddy Mathis, a friend of years back, sent me “The Word,” a Bible in 26 translations which his company has published. (Mathis Publishers, Inc., POB 6685, Gulfport, MS 39506 I recommend this as the most unusual gift for a pastor!)
So, let’s read this “surprising” business and see how other translations put it regarding I Peter 4:4.
–Most translations make it, “Do not think it strange.” The root of the Greek word translated there is “xenos,” stranger or alien. So, this sounds right.
–The Phillips New Testament has it: “Indeed your former companions may think it very queer that you will no longer join with them….”
–Moffatt puts it: “It astonishes pagans that you will not plunge with them….”
And regarding I Peter 4:12, we find:
–The New English Bible: “Do not be bewildered….”
–Phillips: “I beg you not to be unduly alarmed….”
–TCNT: “Do not be astonished….”
The point of this, then, becomes: “Once you start following Jesus, your old friends will be stunned at the change. They might even become hostile toward you, for whatever reason. But don’t you be surprised and caught unaware by all of that, or by the real persecution that may be headed your way. Expect it. After all, you’re following a Lord who was crucified for nothing but serving God, loving people and speaking Truth.”
Let’s camp out on these two verses for a few minutes. They have much to say about those of us who are serious in our discipleship.
When you begin following Jesus seriously, six things are going to happen:
1) You are going to live differently.
You have higher standards now. You are going to live differently. Over and over in the gospels, Jesus says things like, “That’s how the pagans live. But you will not be like that.” (See Matthew 5:21,27,31,33,38, and 43. See Luke 6:32-36.)
2) Your old friends will be puzzled by this.
After all, they have religion, too. It’s fine with them for you to get religious. But they were not expecting it to change your behavior. They learned early on to compartmentalize their lives, to keep the religion separate and take it out only on special occasions. The idea that it should influence every aspect of a person’s life is foreign to them.
3) They slander you.
“You’ve become a fanatic.” “You’ve joined a cult.” “You take the Bible seriously! Man, I never thought you’d become a fundamentalist!”
Don’t take it personally. They’re acting like a yard dog yapping at something it doesn’t recognize but thinks might be a danger. Stay the course.
4) You persevere.
You had been expecting this. So, you keep loving them but loving the Lord Jesus even more. You stay by your new loyalty to Christ.
This week, a friend messaged me about the struggles she’s having in her Christian life. The root cause, from all I read, was a lack of daily discipline in the most basic aspects of this new life: reading the Word of God each day, praying to the Father, and surrounding herself with godly, loving, nurturing men and women. I was stunned by something she said.
“I have all kinds of friends. Some of them are atheists, some are homosexuals, liberals, conservatives, etc.” She had quite a list. Her friends came from every walk of life. Then she said, “I know that as a follower of Christ, I’m suppose to hate them.”
I erupted (on Facebook, which is not easy to do!), “No! You are not supposed to hate them. Keep on doing what you are doing: loving them, praying for them, sharing your faith with them, letting them see Christ in you!”
5) God uses this in their lives.
Some of them may actually come to Christ as a result of your faithfulness if you will be steadfast.
A friend told me recently that when she came to know the Lord, her family thought she had gone off the deep end and began harassing her about it. As she bit her tongue and did not retaliate the way she might have done previously, her father said, “Now I know it’s the real thing. We were testing you.” And he started going to church with her.
And, even if they do not turn to the Lord, at least they will know you are the real deal. And that’s a big thing.
When Elijah prayed on Mount Carmel just before God sent fire from heaven upon the offering and routed the pagan priests, the prophet prayed, “Lord, let these people know that there is a God in Israel and that I’m your man” (I Kings 18:36).
God told Ezekiel that he was to stand and challenge the ungodliness of his generation, whether they respond or not. Even if they do not, “they will know a prophet has been among them” (Ezek. 2:5).
6) God will use this to strengthen you and to glorify Himself.
And, when the persecution begins to come your way, you will be ready for it.
The action of the enemy will not blindside you because you were prepared.
A friend who is a new believer told me the other day, “Pray for me. I’m going to a convention, and it’s going to be different.” I said, “What is your biggest temptation at these things?” He said simply, “To party.” That’s how he lived for many years. But his heart has changed. He no longer wants to do those things.
We prayed for God to steel his heart and prepare him for what lay ahead.
One reason I find myself hoping thousands of people will buy Drew Brees’ new book, “Coming Back Stronger,” and read it to the end is because it speaks so eloquently about dealing with adversity when it comes.
Adversity takes all kinds of forms. It might be harassment from a co-worker, teasing from a friend, slander from an enemy, or outright torment from those in power over you. Adversity can also be accidents, breakdowns, pain, disease, and the deaths of those you love. Think of Job in the Old Testament. He was subjected to a barrage of enemy action, and even though he faltered, he did well.
Drew Brees writes, “Here’s the thing. I truly believe that God can use anything–even an injury–for good. I believe that God has a plan for people’s lives, even when that plan doesn’t work out the way we think it should. I don’t think God dislocated my shoulder, but in the normal processes of life, he allowed that to happen. And I have the faith to believe there was a reason for it.”
Brees likes to tell people, “If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.”>/i>
The normal thing might be to complain, “Why me, Lord?” But you’re not going to do that.
Here are three “insteads,” three actions for you to take when adversity comes, in place of your old negative behavior:
1) Rejoice. Instead of adversity indicating failure, you are actually blessed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (I Peter 4:14)
2) Praise. Instead of being ashamed of what you are going through, glorify God in it. If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God. (I Peter 4:16)
3) Commit. Instead of retaliating, commit your souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. (I Peter 4:19)
This last thought is an echo from an earlier teaching Peter gave. Back in chapter 2, he said,
Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth. And while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously…” (I Peter 2:21-23)
No one wants to suffer. There is no prize on masochism in the Kingdom of God. We’d rather not have to encounter hardship and adversity.
But this is a fallen world. Get used to the idea that in following Christ, you have chosen to swim upstream in a downstream world. You are going against the flow.
Expect it to be hard sometimes and people to not understand. Don’t be blindsided by that.
After Paul and Barnabas had traveled throughout Asia Minor on their first missionary excursion, they reached a point where they decided this was far enough. It would be good to backtrack, they decided, and to find the new disciples they had left behind. Here’s how Luke tells it.
“After they had preached the gospel in that city and had made many disciples, they returned….strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.'” (Acts 14:21-22)
Don’t be surprised when it comes your way. And don’t say no one told you.
Stay the course. Keep the faith. Steady as she goes.