Suffering…as a Christian (Luther)

Many of us have read the words of 1 Peter 4:15-16 more than a few times: “If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (NIV). The words are pretty straightforward. They talk about suffering as a Christian – suffering for being a Christian, believing Christian truths, and behaving in a Christian way. Martin Luther nicely talked about these verses in light of Christ’s teaching about cross bearing:

In this way all Christians should suffer and bear the cross; even as Peter says: Not “suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, … yet … as a Christian,” that is, for the sake of the Lord Jesus and His Word and confession. All Christians acknowledge themselves to be poor sinners, and know that through sin they have deserved all the calamities God sends upon them on earth, and many more. They are, indeed, the only ones who acknowledge their shortcomings, weakness and transgressions; for sin’s peculiar punishment is eternal death, and not this or that particular temporal misfortune.

Nevertheless, their suffering is not the punishment for sin, but the real and holy “cross.” His being a sinner and his stumbling and falling occasionally, is not the reason why the Christian is hated by the evil adversary and the world. No, both the devil and the world could well tolerate that, and would be satisfied with the Christian as far as that is concerned. But the Christian holds to the Word and has faith; he put his hope in Christ, the Son of God, and is comforted in His death and resurrection; he fears God and tries to live according to His will; he labors hard, by means of his confession, to persuade others to believe and to come to the knowledge of Christ. This it is that neither the devil nor his tender bride, the world, can endure; this it is that makes Satan rage so terribly against all Christians; this it is that makes him always pursue them, afflicting their bodies with disease and sometimes their property with loss by storms, or hail, or fire, as it was the case with Job. (Job 1.)

And sometimes the devil troubles them with great secret torments of conscience, such as melancholy, sadness, fear, trembling, doubts, dread of death, and like fiery darts of the devil, about which the Psalms lament so much. Of this kind was the temptation of Paul which he mentions 2 Cor. 12: “There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me…”. And what the world does in this direction is easily seen, especially in times like the present, when poor Christians receive such wretched and horrible treatment.

 Martin Luther, “Ninth Passion-Sermon: Christ Led Away to Be Crucified.—Simon Bears the Cross after Him.—The Women Who Follow Bewail and Lament Him,” in Sermons on the Passion of Christ, trans. Isensee J. T. (Rock Island, IL: Lutheran Augustana Book Concern, 1871), 146–148.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015