In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials. —1 Peter 1:6
Perhaps the most encouraging word about persecution is that it is temporary. Several Christmases ago we were planning to leave on our Christmas trip when our daughter started suffering severe pain in her abdomen. When she described her symptoms I knew she was suffering from kidney stones. You know, it seems as if there is no pain comparable to those jagged calcium rocks in your urinary tract. I couldn’t offer her a lot of comfort, but what I could tell her was, “Honey, as bad as this is, it will subside. The pain will pass.” You know that’s the only comfort sometimes we find in suffering: that as bad as it is, it is temporary.
Peter was writing to Christians who were imprisoned; others had lost their jobs, their homes, their livelihood. Some had to choose between their faith and their families, and some were being executed for their faith. Peter did not diminish the reality of the pain they were facing, but he encouraged them with one phrase. In 1 Peter 1:6, he writes, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials.” He says, “for a little while.” Those are perhaps the most encouraging words to anyone who is suffering, especially suffering because of his commitment to Christ. It’s as if Peter is saying: “I know this is hurtful, and I know this is hard, but the pain you feel will not last forever.”
You see, time and suffering are a matter of perspective. In 2 Corinthians 11 Paul cataloged his sufferings: beaten five times within an inch of his life, shipwrecked, tortured, and so forth. Yet in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 he says, “Momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Consider all that Paul went through, yet he described them as “momentary, light affliction.”Paul is reminding us that the length of our suffering (“momentary”) and the intensity of our suffering (“light”) are simply a matter of perspective.
We hope we never have to make the choice between faithfulness to Christ and persecution. But the stories of Christians around the world throughout history tell us that we are not going to be exempt from those kind of choices. You know, when I read the stories of the great martyrs of the faith, I wonder, do they just have a greater threshold for pain than I have? But as I read their stories more carefully I discovered that the difference is not that they had a greater threshold for pain; it’s that they had a different perspective. They weighed the temporary pain of persecution against the eternal rewards of God. And using that scale, the choice was not difficult to make. And neither will it be for most of us when persecution comes.
Today’s devotion is an excerpt from “When Persecution Comes” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2011.