WE DON’T LOOK ALIKE. We don’t act alike. We don’t dress alike. We have different tastes in the food we eat, the books we read, the cars we drive, and the music we enjoy. You like opera; I like country.
We have dissimilar backgrounds, goals, and motivations. We work at different jobs, and we enjoy different hobbies. You like rock climbing; I like Harleys. We ascribe to a variety of philosophies and differ over politics. We have our own unique convictions on child-rearing and education. Our weights vary. Our heights vary. So does the color of our skin.
But there is one thing we all have in common: We all know what it means to hurt.
Suffering is a universal language. Tears are the same for Jews or Muslims or Christians, for white or black or brown, for children or adults or the elderly. When life hurts and our dreams fade, we may express our anguish in different ways, but each one of us knows the sting of pain and heartache, disease and disaster, trials and sufferings.
Joseph Parker, a great preacher of yesteryear, once said to a group of aspiring young ministers, “Preach to the suffering and you will never lack a congregation. There is a broken heart in every pew.”
Truly, suffering is the common thread in all our garments.
This has been true since the beginning, when sin entered the world and Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden. It shouldn’t surprise us, therefore, that when the apostle Peter wrote his first letter to fellow believers scattered throughout much of Asia Minor he focused on the one subject that drew all of them together. Suffering. These people were being singed by the same flames of persecution that would take the apostle’s life in just a few years. Their circumstances were the bleakest imaginable. Yet Peter didn’t try to pump them up with positive thinking. Instead, he gently reached his hand to their chins and lifted their faces skyward—so they could see beyond their circumstances to their celestial calling.
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontius, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in fullest measure. (1 Pet. 1:1–2)
The men and women Peter wrote to knew what it was like to be away from home, not by choice but by force. Persecuted for their faith, they had been pushed out into a world that was not only unfamiliar but hostile.
Warren Wiersbe, in a fine little book entitled Be Hopeful, says this about the recipients of the letter:
The important thing for us to know about these “scattered strangers” is that they were going through a time of suffering and persecution. At least fifteen times in this letter, Peter referred to suffering; and he used eight different Greek words to do so. Some of these Christians were suffering because they were living godly lives and doing what was good and right. . . . Others were suffering reproach for the name of Christ . . . and being railed at by unsaved people. . . . Peter wrote to encourage them to be good witnesses to their persecutors, and to remember that their suffering would lead to glory.1
Take another look at the beginning of that last sentence: “Peter wrote to encourage them to be good witnesses to their persecutors.” It is so easy to read that. It is even easier to preach it. But it is extremely difficult to do it. If you have ever been mistreated, you know what a great temptation it is to retaliate, to defend yourself, to fight back, to treat the other person as he or she has treated you. Peter wants to encourage his fellow believers to put pain in perspective and find hope beyond their suffering.
Charles R. Swindoll, Hope Again: When Life Hurts and Dreams Fade (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997).
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