“Think It Not Strange”

“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” —I Peter 4:12,13

SUFFERING of any kind is foreign to the natural desires of all God’s intelligent creatures, and the human creation is no exception. One of the most blessed assurances given us concerning God’s plan for the human race is that eventually “there shall be no pain.” That will be at the close of the Millennium, when sickness, and even death itself, will have been destroyed, and when all things shall have been “made new.”—Rev. 21:4,5

But we are still in a suffering and dying world, and the followers of the Master share in the experiences which are common to all mankind. The divine arrangement for them does not call for a release from suffering simply because they are servants of God.

Pain itself is difficult enough to endure, but when there is added to physical suffering an uncertainty as to why it is necessary, or what the cause might be, then it becomes more difficult to bear. This frequently is the case with the people of God; when visited by afflictions of one sort or another, they begin to wonder what they have done to displease the Lord. In searching their hearts and lives for the answer, while knowing they are imperfect, usually they can find no special reason for suffering more than do their brethren. So with anxiety, and sometimes even fear, their burden is increased.

However, when we understand clearly the viewpoint which is presented to us in the Word of God, we will have no cause to wonder and worry about our troubles, whether they be sickness or other afflictions. It is this that the Apostle Peter is explaining to us in our text. “Think it not strange,” he says, “concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you.”

The King James translation does not give us the full depth of thought expressed by Peter. Basically, the Greek word here translated ‘strange’ is one that suggests the relationship between a host and a guest; that is, those who are not members of the same family. It is a similar word used by Paul in his reference to the experience of Abraham when visited by three angels. Paul wrote, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”—Heb. 13:1

Abraham knew that the angels were foreign to him, but he welcomed them as guests, and entertained them. But, as Peter explains, we are not to think of our trials as being foreign to us. We are to take them in, so to speak, as a part of our family of experiences and learn to live with them. To take this viewpoint of our afflictions will help a great deal in becoming reconciled to them, and learning the necessary lessons which they are designed to teach us.

Confirming this viewpoint of our trials is the Greek word used in this text, and translated ‘happened’, in the expression, “as though some strange thing happened unto you.” Its literal meaning is ‘to walk together’. The thought is that when trials visit us, and even walk together with us, we are not to think of them as strangers, or aliens, but to accept such experiences as though they were our friends, or even members of our family.

Peter explains that the reason we should not think of our trials as being strange, or alien to us, is that in experiencing them we are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, or, as the Greek text indicates, we are “partners” in Christ’s sufferings. In other words, in our trials we are sharing the common experiences of all whom the Heavenly Father is preparing to share in the glory of the kingdom, and to partake of the glory of the divine nature.

Since trials are thus so closely related to our hope of glory, we should not consider them as strange, but should welcome them into our lives, get acquainted with them, and learn well the lessons which they alone are able to teach us. Just think of the blessing Abraham derived from being host to the three strangers who visited him! Instead of resenting the fact that they had called, he treated them as members of his family, and from them learned wonderful lessons.

It was from these strangers that Abraham received the final assurance that Sarah should bear him a seed, and it was from these also that the patriarch learned about the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Yes, Abraham “entertained angels unawares.” We, too, will discover that if we become reconciled to our trials and consider them as a necessary part of our family of experiences, they will be as angels to impart much valuable information which we need in order to make our calling and election sure.

Not an Evidence of God’s Disfavor

Trials, to the Christian, are not an evidence of God’s disfavor, but the reverse. Paul wrote, “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”—II Tim. 3:12

And we read again that it is through “much tribulation” that we enter the kingdom. (Acts 14:22) Even if some of our trials may be in the nature of disciplinary stripes they are still an evidence of God’s love. “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son he receiveth.”—Heb. 12:6

Yes, every son whom the Father receives and loves will be subject to training and discipline. Therefore, when trials are permitted for this purpose we should think of them as evidences of God’s grace, not as being alien, or foreign, to our needs as new creatures in Christ Jesus.

Of the wicked, David wrote, “Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish.” (Ps. 73:7) This, of course, is not necessarily true of all who are not running for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. There are many in the world who have severe trials, either through poverty, or in other ways. At times, it is a temptation to a Christian to compare his lot with a worldly friend or neighbor who is doing well along material lines, and perhaps wonder why, as a child of God, he himself is having such a ‘hard time’.

It is often along this line that the devil tries to discourage us. He endeavors to catch us off guard, and inject the thought into our minds that if we were truly the Lord’s he would take better care of us. This reasoning might well appeal to our fleshly minds, and we would begin to wonder why we should not have things at least as favorable as our neighbors.

Should you be tempted along this line, simply recall the words of Peter, “Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial” that is trying you. True, your neighbor may be carefree and prosperous, and you should be glad that he is. But he does not possess the glorious hope of joint-heirship with Christ Jesus that stirs your heart and enriches your life. He may be getting much out of the present life, but you are made rich by the joys of faith. He is without God, having no hope in the world; you have the presence and favor of God, and you have a hope that fadeth not away, eternal in the heavens.—I Pet. 1:4

Trials Common to All

Paul informs us that Christians do not have any temptations, or trials, but what are common to man. (I Cor. 10:13) This is quite true. The entire human race is suffering and dying. Because of this, all experience mental and physical suffering; all sooner or later sicken and die. There is a common heritage of trial which is experienced in every family, and by every member of the dying race.

Individually, nearly all of us experience, intermittently, periods of carefree and happy existence; and it is fortunate that this is so. But no one knows when disaster will strike. When we give ourselves to the Lord to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we are not translated out of this general situation of the world. Instead, the Lord uses these common experiences of man for the testing of our faith and patience, and for our disciplinary training.

It is true, of course, that this general ministry of evil is being utilized by the Lord for the good of all mankind, but with the world in general there is as yet no compensating grace of God to offset the trials. The value of these experiences will not be realized by the world until their day of judgment during the thousand years of Christ’s reign.

But with us it is different. Our trials as members of the fallen race are no more severe, on the average, than those of the world, but we have a wonderful burden-bearer who is ever present to console and give us strength. The Lord said to Moses, “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.” (Exod. 33:14) This is no less true of the Lord’s consecrated people today. And in addition, as Paul reminds us, we have a sympathetic High Priest under whom we serve, who was “touched with the feeling of our infirmities.”—Heb. 4:15

Paul also explains that Jesus was tempted in all points “like as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15) Jesus was not himself a sinner, nor did he yield to the temptations which were presented to him by Satan and by the sinful world. Nevertheless, he was in this world. He was surrounded by suffering, and he experienced all the hardships which are common to man, so he knows what we are going through, and is able to succor us in our trials.

For the Truth’s Sake

The sufferings of Christ, in which we are invited to share, were in part the bitter persecutions which came upon him, and which resulted in his death. He was persecuted because of his faithfulness in proclaiming unpopular truths, and in exposing popular error. We are to follow his example in this, and while today the persecuting spirit manifests itself along more refined lines, such as ostracism and cold indifference, we will surely feel the opposition of those who sit in darkness if we faithfully let our light shine.

Jesus also suffered weariness of the flesh because of his faithfulness to his vows of consecration. We have the same opportunity. How encouraging it is to realize that today there are still many of the Lord’s consecrated people who, in addition to spending necessary time and strength meeting the temporal responsibilities of life, are happy to work ‘overtime’, as it were, in the service of the Lord.

When the unconsecrated are through with their necessary daily toil, they are free to seek enjoyment or relaxation where it suits them the best. Actually, of course, the Lord’s people do the same, but the greatest pleasure of the consecrated heart is to seek out ways and means of devoting time and strength directly in the service of the Lord.

There is a Bible class or testimony meeting to attend. There is study of the Lord’s Word to be done in order to be equipped to give an answer for the hope which we have within us. There is truth literature to be distributed. For some there is the privilege of addressing envelopes in which literature can be mailed.

Yes, there are many avenues of service, and the consecrated today are finding these and utilizing their strength as faithfully as possible, and in the spirit of rejoicing, just as Jesus did. Oftentimes probably Jesus would have appreciated the privilege of a little more rest, and it is the same with the Lord’s people today. But he was laying down his life, and we are laying down our lives with him so we rejoice in our weariness because it is a part of his suffering.

Jesus also suffered sympathetically because of being in the world—although he was not of the world. Being himself perfect, the sinful and imperfect things of the world would be even a greater trial to him than otherwise. The sickness and death with which he was surrounded bore down heavily upon his sympathetic shoulders. When Jesus stood by the tomb of Lazarus he wept in sympathy for the family, and for the whole dying world.

We also participate in these sufferings of Christ. True, our minds are more or less dulled by inherent imperfection, so we cannot enter into the sufferings of mankind with the same degree of sympathetic understanding that Jesus did. However, it was our revolt against sin which led us to the Lord, and having consecrated ourselves to his service, and received of his Holy Spirit, we are to some extent in the same relative position in the world as Jesus occupied, and thus share in his sufferings along this line.

Jesus spoke of this when he said, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4) This could be true only of the consecrated, who mourn sympathetically for the sorrows of others, as Jesus did. Of Jesus it is written that he was a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”—Isa. 53:3

Jesus was not grief-stricken because of illness, or poverty, or failure in business, or for any of the reasons that ordinarily destroy human happiness. Rather, he was mournful because of the sadness with which he was surrounded. His weeping at the tomb of Lazarus was an evidence of this, an indication of the burden which continually bore upon his sympathetic heart.

Are we, from this standpoint, suffering with Jesus? Does a part of our daily trial consist of the fact that we are pained by the sorrow of others? If this be true, we have one of the most outstanding witnesses of the Spirit that we are the children of God. Surely we should not think such trials strange, but should rejoice indeed if we have this evidence of Christ-likeness.

Love for the Brethren

It was because Jesus loved the world that he suffered sympathetically with the people. This will be the basis of our sympathy toward the poor groaning creation. And this feeling will be even more keenly felt toward our brethren in Christ. Concerning this Paul wrote: “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.”—Phil. 2:1,2

Just as Jesus passed through experiences similar to those which try us, and is now able to understand and succor us, this should also be true among ourselves. We are all running in the same narrow way of sacrifice. We are all living in the same unfriendly world. We are all subject to the same trials and temptations. Should not our hearts go out to one another in sympathetic understanding, and in the spirit of true comfort and helpfulness?

This, indeed, has been the attitude of the truly consecrated. If we do not find such a spirit surging up in our own hearts, we may know that we are lacking in true Christian growth. Concerning the brethren in Galatia, Paul wrote, “Ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and would have given them to me.” (Gal. 4:15) As we know, Paul’s eyesight was seriously impaired. This was a great trial to him. Evidently the Galatian brethren realized this, and in their spirit of sympathy made Paul feel that if it had been possible they would have given him their eyes.

To realize that our brethren in Christ are considering us in terms of genuine sympathy and in the spirit of helpfulness, assists in providing strength to face the difficulties of the narrow way. John said that we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren, and this surely involves the outpouring of our love and sympathy in words and acts of kindness to one another in times of need.—I John 3:16

Besides, the very fact that we are laying down our lives as Jesus did should remind us not to think it strange when surrounded with hardships and trials, for such experiences are the flames necessary to consume our sacrifice. We do not need to face a firing squad, or be burned at the stake, or thrown to the lions, in order to suffer with Christ, and be planted together in the likeness of his death.

The Scriptures admonish that whether we eat, or drink, or whatever we do, all is to be done as unto the Lord. (I Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17) We can also consider all our hardships as indirectly related to our partnership in Christ’s suffering. To view our common tasks and our trivial cares from this standpoint will transform them into hallowed experiences in which we will see the hand of the Lord directing our destiny, and causing all things to work together for our good.

We are told that Jesus was made perfect by the things which he suffered. He was trained, that is, for the position he now occupies as our sympathetic High Priest, and the Head of the royal priesthood, which later will succor the whole world of mankind. He was tested in all points as a new creature similar to the manner in which we are tested as new creatures; but only by observation did he become acquainted with the weaknesses of the dying race.

So, during the Gospel Age the church is being made perfect, or trained to be associated with Jesus in dealing with the sin-cursed world. Because we are by nature sinners, it means that the world’s priesthood will, by actual experience as well as by observation, be able to deal sympathetically with the people during the future mediatorial reign.

Since Jesus died in order to provide life, it might be expected that those who accept the provision of his blood would immediately be released from suffering and death. But they are not. Instead, they are invited to suffer and die with him. So, when you suffer, think it not strange. The Lord could deliver you from it, but he wants you to learn from this experience the great need of all the human race who are undergoing similar pain. It is your training, the way you are being “made perfect” as a part of the world’s sympathetic priesthood.

The hardships of the world are many and varied—disease, pain, death, financial worries, humiliations, disappointments, misunderstandings, and many others. Being in the world, we share in all these. But think it not strange, for in the great economy of God he is using these distresses to enrich your spiritual life, and to prepare you for glory.

To the unconsecrated a bitter experience may be tragic, but to you it can be an instrument in the Lord’s hand to teach you sympathy for the millions who are similarly suffering, and thus make you a little better prepared for your future work as a co-mediator of the New Covenant.

Those who understand the divine plan of salvation know why the Lord permitted evil; that it was because he wanted his human creation to learn valuable lessons from the experience. But do we always stop to think when we are passing through severe trials which result to us from the permission of evil, that in our case the Lord is using these experiences in a special way, that by them he is training us to be the teachers of the world of mankind to help them to understand the full meaning of the reign of sin and death?

This, beloved, is the divine purpose of your calling, and of permitting you to suffer even as the world suffers. Think it not strange, therefore, that you should find yourself in a furnace of affliction. Rejoice, rather, that you are a partner in the sufferings of Christ, and that your trials are being used for the same purpose as were his.

To keep this proper thought in mind will help us greatly to bear our trials. But merely to bear them is not enough. The Lord wants us to bear them patiently, and in spite of them to be rejoicing Christians. This is also possible through faith—faith that is in the promises of God to strengthen us in our weakness, and to guide our otherwise uncertain steps.

The Lord said concerning his typical people that when they were afflicted he also suffered. (Isa. 63:9) Surely this is no less true with us. If our faith can grasp this fact, it will help to make every ache and pain—of mind or heart, or body—a sacred experience of priceless value in preparing us for that high position for which we have been apprehended by God.

And this will be true regardless of the specific cause of our distresses, for they are all being utilized by the Lord in connection with the trial of our faith. Because Jesus let his light shine he was hated by the world, and persecuted. If we faithfully let our light shine, we will find that as he was, so are we in the world. Jesus said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”—John 16:33

As we have seen, Jesus had many trials simply because of his association with the imperfect and dying race of mankind. We suffer likewise. If some of our trials are disciplines of the Lord, even these we should recognize as evidences of the Father’s love, designed by infinite wisdom, and administered with patient tenderness. Think it not strange, then, concerning your fiery trials. Remember that your Heavenly Father knows all about them, and if you tune your ear to his Word you will hear him say, “My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (II Cor. 12:9) “Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed; for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”—Josh. 1:9

Because the Lord fulfills these promises in our day-by-day experiences, we can rejoice in him and in the power of his might. Despite fiery trials, our lives will flow on in endless song. Our joy in the Lord will abound, and the “peace of God which passeth understanding” will be our daily and blessed portion.—Phil. 4:6,7

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