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Stay the Course

Undoubtedly, learning is thrilling, but being tested isn’t.  Throughout my years of formal education, tests were almost always stressful and very difficult.  With all the studying and cramming and pressure, they were in no way fun.  However, I have to wonder where I would be educationally if I had never been tested.  Where would you be?  I suspect that we wouldn’t be even near where we are today if we’d not been tested.  Therefore, testing in school serves very beneficial purposes.  It shows us where we stand educationally and challenges us to grow intellectually.

Of course, academics isn’t the only arena in which we are tested.  Life is full of them too.  Those whom God loves He tests, and like academics, our testing in life shows where God stands in our affections and challenges us to grow in godliness.  We MUST be tested!  I believe this truth is the big idea God’s communicating to us through 1 Peter 4:1-2, 7-19:

1 Peter 4:1-2 1 Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God… The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.  Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 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; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER? Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.

Being Shown Where God Stands in Your Affections:  Is He your treasure or not?  There is an epic battle being waged for your heart and your mind and subsequently, your soul, which is behind both of those things.  On one side is the flesh impelled by the power of sin, and on the other side is God manifested in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Tests show us what we really love.

That’s what I believe Peter is getting at when he says in vv. 1-2, he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.  You see, to suffer is to be tested, and when we pass the test, we show we stand with God—for the will of God and against the flesh.  In persevering, we demonstrate that God is more precious to us than our own physical comfort.  We declare to God and the world that we desire God and the things of God more than anything else in the universe.  We proclaim that God in Jesus Christ is infinitely worthy of the complete dedication of our lives.

Friends, that’s why the blood of the martyrs is seed of the church, as the early church father Tertullian said.  It’s in those moments of complete faithfulness to God, even in the face of death, that makes God look so appealing and awesome to the lost, leading to conversions and church growth.  John Piper has had as his ministry’s slogan for years this sentence:  God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.  Whether you esteem Piper or not, that’s a profound summary of biblical truth.  You see, persevering through suffering in the flesh for Christ screams that God is most satisfying and totally worthy of supreme devotion and shows that God stands uppermost in your affections.  You must be tested to see if this is true for your life.  And, if it’s true, you’ll not just persevere in your suffering.  You’ll actually rejoice as Peter instructs in vv. 12-19.

Being challenged to grow in godliness:  Dear one, the end’s near.  The time of judgment is at hand.  It’ll be the day of ultimate testing, final exams.  Therefore, God is challenging us to grow in godliness until then in the areas mentioned in vv. 7-11 so that in all things God may be glorified.  Specifically, Peter points to growth in our discernment, seriousness leading to prayer, love for one another, hospitality, our words, and serving.  These are the areas in which God expects us to excel.  Your testing should lead to a great surge in your godliness.

May you be ready when the test comes and honor your great God!

-This article first appeared in the March 23 edition of the Baptist and Reflector, the official newspaper of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, as a commentary on the March 27, 2011 LifeWay Sunday School curriculum Bible Studies for Life, and can be accessed through the B&R website at http://www.tnbaptist.org/BRARticle.asp?ID=3755.  The article has been slightly edited here for westmainbaptist.com.

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