This verse comes from the first letter of Peter. This letter talks a lot about suffering and it was written in a time when many Christians were persecuted for their Christian faith. Suffering is one of the reasons people turn away from God. The question ‘How can a good God allow suffering?’ is not uncommon. And indeed, why is there suffering in the world?
Any ‘Why A?’ question can be answered in three different ways. First, we can look at the reason: the reason for A is because of B. This answer looks at the cause of A. Second, we can look at the purpose: the purpose of A is B. This answer looks at the intention of A. And third, we can look at the result: the result of A is B. This answer looks at what A is leading to.
So with regards to the question, ‘Why suffering?’, we can answer it in three different ways: The reason that there is suffering in the world is because God said that this would happen if we disobeyed Him, and we disobeyed Him. The purpose of suffering is possibly to make people keenly aware that this world is not all that there is and that a better world is coming. Or perhaps it is to demonstrate that disobeying God has very serious consequences so that we will be less likely to do that again. And our verse today looks at the result of suffering, so let’s look a bit more closely at it.
Rejoice (chairo) means to rejoice or to be glad. Extent (katho) means according to or in so far as. Partake (koinoneo) means to share or participate, and sufferings (pathema) means suffering, misfortune, or affliction.
So the first phrase tells us that we should rejoice and that the amount of our rejoicing should be related to the amount that we share in Christ’s sufferings. The more we suffer as a result of our faith, the more reason we have to rejoice. That sure is a very challenging idea and probably not prevalent all that much in our thinking.
Peter gives a logical reason for this rather counterintuitive statement. If we partake in Christ’s suffering, we will have gladness with exceeding joy when Christ returns. When we suffer now for Christ, then God will make it up to us, and exceedingly so, when Christ comes back. Jesus himself expressed the very same idea in the Sermon on the Mount:
Matthew 5: 11 “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
And the apostle Paul agreed:
Romans 8: 6 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.
Our reward in heaven, our joint inheritance with Christ, the degree of our future glorification, it is all the same and it depends on our joint suffering with Him. We have to pick up cross daily, and deny ourselves, and follow Him. This will involve suffering, but in the midst of it, we have reason to rejoice. The result of suffering with Christ is a rich reward in heaven.