During World War II one of the boldest Christian voices combating the evils of Naziism was that of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a native German pastor and scholar whose writings and radio broadcasts intentionally placed his own life at risk so that God’s truth could be contrasted against Hitler’s worldview. Eventually, Bonhoeffer’s words were censored, and he had to flee his native country. But this choice was not permanent, and he returned to Germany, knowing it would probably cost him his life. In the end, it did.
But before the Nazis hanged him, he penned one of the best quotes in modern Christian writing when he said:
When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
In a world where suffering in the flesh is disdained and avoided at almost any cost, Bonhoeffer sounds like a lunatic, especially when one considers that for him death was not a theoretical concept. It was an inevitable reality. But Bonhoeffer was not crazy. He was simply a man who not only understood the truth of scripture but also decided he would take the radical step of applying it to his life. Therefore, when Bonhoeffer read passages like 1st Peter 4:1, which says,
“Since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose….”
Bonhoeffer took the apostle literally. He realized that if his life was the required price to spread the Gospel or to fight off evil, it was a small exchange to make to accomplish the prize.
But where Bonhoeffer succeeded, modern Christians often fail. We argue that we do not need to make such a sacrifice. We are not fighting against an evil empire. We just need to demonstrate God’s love and forgiveness to those who are hurting, but we do not need to suffer ourselves. We seem to think that God can be glorified more through our avoidance of suffering than with our enduring it. But this is not true.
The Apostle Peter makes it clear in this passage that we are to ARM ourselves with the same purpose as Christ (i.e. to suffer in the flesh). By saying this, two things become suddenly clear: 1) If Christ was willing to suffer, we should not think that we are above Him and exempt from suffering, and 2) Suffering is a weapon.
That last part may sound a little strange, but bear with me. If we are to arm ourselves with the same purpose as Christ, then we are to use suffering as a two-pronged attack against Satan and his evil empire. First, Peter continues the verse to tell us that we should do this “because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to no longer live for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.”
It is the suffering that cleanses us from sin. Suffering could be called God’s furnace of healing. It is His way to clean out the impurities within us by forcing us to our knees and learning dependence on Him. Anyone who chooses to rely on themselves or money or power or friends or emotions or work or entertainment or desires of any kind, chooses to rely on something lower than God to deliver them from a sinful heart and mind that is stronger than Man. But when we suffer, when we arm ourselves with the same mindset as Christ, who “for the joy set before him endured the cross,” we begin to understand that God creates futility in our lives in order to create dependency upon Him. As a result, we become more like Christ and are delivered from sin in its many variations. As Hebrews 5:7-9 says, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” Lessons, then, are forged within the crucible of suffering that cannot be attained outside of it. This makes suffering a weapon against the sins that so easily entangle us. For this reason, the Apostle James tells us, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
Suffering, therefore, is necessary for growth, even for perfecting us. But how will this be accomplished if we abhor it and try to define the Christian life as painless? We must remember that nowhere in the Bible does it say that God will not give you more suffering than you can handle. That is actually a misstating of 1st Corinthians 10:13, which says, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (emphasis mine) This is not a verse about suffering. Also, the apostle Paul makes it very clear that as he followed the will of God he was continually in danger (2 Corinthians 11:22-32), and Christian history is replete with martyrs who considered Christ more precious than their own lives.
Secondly, suffering is a weapon against the encroachment of evil in our world. When Christians arm themselves with the mindset to suffer in the flesh like Christ, we demonstrate that we serve God with an unleashed joy. We do not condone any competition in our heart between other loyalties and God. All of our heart is full of purpose and singleness of mind. It is “fullness” in every meaning of the word, such as “no room left,” “sated,” “complete.” A heart full of violence, on the other hand, is not a heart full of grace or joy. It is not a heart full of service to God. A heart full of violence is about selfishness. But as we give up everything for Christ, even our selves, others begin to see the worthiness of God in a way that avoidance of suffering cannot declare. This declaration of God’s pricelessness through our suffering allows other pleasures to be placed in comparison to Him. As our devotion to willingly endure pain for the sake of Christ becomes increasingly unabashed, our heart is purged from sin itself, and an option of infinite love and joy is given to those without Christ that they never knew existed. In this way our willingness to suffer provides people with a choice to make: Do I continue to follow the temporary pleasures that have proven inadequate, or do I follow the call to come to Christ and to die to every earthly gain?
To quote a minister I once heard:
Your passion for something is defined by how much you are willing to endure to reach the goal.
The question, then, becomes what are you willing to endure to purge sin from your heart and to promote the worthiness of Christ?