PARTAKERS WITH CHRIST
Reading: 1 Peter chs. 4 and 5
Our starting point is a word, a single word, which is often on our lips at the Breaking of Bread; and it occurs in two of the chapters which we have read this morning from Peter’s first epistle. He is speaking about the sufferings of the brethren and sisters to whom he wrote: “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” (1 Peter 4.12—13). Then in the next chapter, speaking of the glory that lies ahead: “The elders which are among you 1 exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed.”
Partakers of the sufferings of Christ; partakers of the glory that shall be revealed. A partaker is one who takes part, who gets involved in a matter, as distinct from a bystander who simply stands on the sidelines and looks on and contributes nothing to the matterin hand, except perhaps to tell the participants that they are doing it all wrong. If we want a good example of a partaker we could hardly do better than to look at the example of Peter himself, who wrote this epistle, who was always in the thick of things, a participant if ever there was one. “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” That just about sums up Peter.
It is Peter who shouts above the noise of the storm: “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come to thee on the water.” One word from Jesus and Peter is clambering over the side into that surging sea. It was nearly a disaster for Peter, yet even so he learned as a result that most valuable of all lessons, that the Lord’s hand is not shortened but is ever at hand to uphold those who are falling. Then after the resurrection it was John, the faster sprinter, who arrived at the sepulchre first and stooping down looked in; Peter comes straight up and rushes past John and clambers down into the sepulchre to see everything that is to be seen.
Then again in Galilee, it is John, quieter perhaps, a little more discerning, who whispers to Peter: “It is the Lord,” and Peter without more ado grabs his coat and leaps over into the water and wades ashore, leaving the other disciples to attend to the now entirely unimportant matter of hauling the net with the fishes into the shore. As far as Peter is concerned his ship can now drift out to sea and founder. What matters it? The Lord is here. Nothing else is of any concern whatsoever.
Such was the character of Peter, warm, loving, straightforward, enthusiastic, the sort of character which sometimes arouses a certain amount of amused contempt, the supercilious smile from those who like to think of themselves as a little more prudent, perhaps a little more decorous in their ways. And it is true that Peter’s eagerness to be a partaker in the things which were nearest to his heart often landed him in trouble. He should not have tried to bar Jesus’ way as Jesus went up to Jerusalem to be crucified, and thereby earn the sharp rebuke from Jesus: “Get thee behind me, adversary.” And if Peter had not over-estimated his strength he would have stayed away with the other disciples from the high priest’s palace, and thereby have avoided the temptation to deny his Master. But Peter was not the sort who could stay away. He simply had to be there, and it is clear that God loves such men and women. Like Joseph in the Egyptian prison, whatsoever they did there, “he was the doer of it.” So was Peter.
Later on in the Acts of the Apostles, after Jesus had ascended, we find that Peter has not changed one bit in this respect. From Pentecost onwards, Peter is foremost in the work, undeterred by threats, by imprisonment, by floggings; nothing could prevent him. In one of those early chapters of the Acts we read how the apostles were beaten and commanded not to speak in the name of Jesus, and they were cast into a prison. They were brought forth and then dismissed after having been beaten; and it says they departed “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.” Now this was only a very short time after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and here they were raising their voices in preaching the gospel and experiencing suffering and shame as a result. They were cast into prison, they were beaten, they were threatened with dire punishments.
Suddenly—and I think it may have been quite suddenly—it dawned on them just what was happening. They were being made partakers of Christ’s sufferings. Still vivid in their memory were those awful scenes outside the walls of Jerusalem. They knew how their dear Lord had had the clothes stripped from his back and had been scourged mercilessly, and then taken forth to be crucified. Golgotha’s scene could they forget? And now their own clothes were being ripped off and they were being beaten for the name of Christ, and they rejoiced “that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.” In the phrase of Peter in today’s chapter, they had been made partakers of Christ’s sufferings, but also with that partaking of his sufferings they found that they were able to partake of his strength also. They were given all the help that they needed to bear the trial.
So it continued with Peter. Next time we read of him in prison he is alone, on that night when he is suddenly woken up and led forth by an angel, miraculously freed from his imprisonment, and that record gives us another valuable insight into the character of Peter. Consider the circumstances. Herod had just killed James, another of the apostles, and had had Peter thrown into prison to await his trial. The trial was fixed for the next day. Peter did not know whether the same fate awaited him as had befallen James. Peter did not know that an angel was on the way to deliver him from his chains. We read: “the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains.” I am not sure whether I could have slept very well under those circumstances. This was the sleep of a man with a clear conscience, a man who had thrown away his sword and armed himself with the mind of Christ. In another phrase which he uses in one of today’s chapters: “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind.” Peter, a partaker of Christ’s sufferings. Yes, and also a partaker in the peace that Christ had promised to his disciples: “My peace I give unto you:
not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
This peace belonged to Peter on that night when he slept with untroubled heart, bound to the soldiers.
Such was the apostle who wrote this letter which we are at present reading, a letter which has very much to say upon the subject of afflictions and trials, manifold temptations, the trial of your faith, suffering wrongfully, the fiery trial, suffering for righteousness’ sake, reproach for Christ. The phrases follow one after the other throughout this epistle, and as we read them we may reflect how little suffering and trial seems to befall us as compared with those of former times. With a few exceptions—and there are certainly exceptions amongst us, those who have suffered for the sake of the Truth—but with those exceptions, many of us, certainly the present speaker included, are forced to admit that we have virtually nothing that we can speak of in our own experiences to compare with such sufferings as Peter experienced and the apostles of those early days.
Perhaps this worries us a little. Perhaps we have a kind of guilty feeling that our path seems relatively smooth and clear. There is not, I think, a need for us to worry on this score, if that is how we feel things are with us. There are several considerations which enter into this. Firstly, if we really believe that our affairs are in the hands of God, then we can safely rest in the knowledge that God knows what trials we may need and will in due time provide them. Perhaps our faith is so small that it is not equal to such a fiery trial as the apostles had to endure. God has promised us that He will not suffer us to be tried above our ability to endure. Or again we nay reflect that trial may take many forms, and often does. Persecution from the authorities of the day is only one form in which our faith may be tried. Yetagain, we may consider that until our probation has actually ended we do not know what experiences may yet befall us, either asa community or as individuals, before the end comes.
While we are waiting for some kind of fiery trial to come and try our faith, we might well consider again the implications of the apostle’s words with which we began, where we quoted what he says in the 4th chapter about being partakers of Christ’s sufferings. Partakers—it is the word which is often translated also by the word fellowship. It means a sharing, a fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. Paul wrote: “Bearye oneanother’s burdens.” If our own afflictions at the moment seem light, then it behoves us to look around for those who have heavier burdens to bear and to think of what we can do to help them; and certainly if we do look around the ecclesias we shall soon find some who have heavy and severe trials to endure. “Bear ye” says Paul, “one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”
There are many ways in which we can do this. There are what we might call the obvious ways of visiting the sick, of writing letters to the lonely and those in distant lands, and above all, the exercise of earnest and frequent prayer. We call these the obvious ways which are open to all of us. But then there are also those very special ways in which some brethren and sisters—I think we can say the sisters are possibly particularly good at this—manage to show an understanding of the particular need of a brother or sister, and to show in a thoughtful way how they are really striving to partake, to share in the needs and hardships of another; and to experience such thoughtfulness from another brother or sister is to be deeply moved and to be made aware of what fellowship in Christ can really mean.
Many years ago, before the Second World War, there was a regular stream of brethren from this ecclesia to the Leicester Ecclesia in the Midlands, in order to minister to the needs of that small meeting Sunday by Sunday. This involved a long day, a very late arrival back at St.Pancras, possibly catching or even missing the last bus or Tube, and arriving back home in the small hours of Monday morning. I remember my father describing how, before leaving Leicester, Bro. Bradshaw would ask the question, “What time do you expect to be back home tonight?” and on receiving the answer—half-past twelve, one o’clock, whatever it was, he would nod and quietly say, “I will be up till then.” In terms of cold logic that was pointless, pointless for one brother to deprive himself of an hour or two’s sleep just because another brother had to be late home. It did not help the travelling brother to get back to London any quicker. But we all know what a poor world it would be that was governed only by considerations of cold logic. It was an instance where a brother was finding a particular and unique way of expressing his thanks and appreciation before God for the help which he and his meeting had received, and the small sacrifice that it entailed on behalf of a brother who had journeyed far to minister that help.
It was something of the spirit of Uriah the Hittite who, you will remember, when he was recalled from the battle line by David back to Jerusalem, and told by the king to go down to his house, gave this answer: “My lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open fields; shall I then go into mine house?” It was a willing and heartfelt fellowshipping of another’s sufferings and hardships.
So from such examples we learn that we can be partakers, we can share in the experiences of our brethren and sisters and bear one another’s burdens without necessarily going to prison, or being flogged or stoned, or experiencing those dreadful things which befell our brethren of the first century. Jesus himself declared: “He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward.” We may not be prophets nor apostles ourselves, but if we can help forward the work which they did so nobly, if we can be partakers, partners in the work of the Truth in even small ways, sharing the sufferings and the trials and disciplines which befall those who become followers of Christ, then we can confidently look forward to being partakers in the glory that shall be revealed.
That brings us to the other passage in Peter’s letter, the first verse of chapter 5: “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also ari elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed.” It is interesting to notice that in this verse Peter does not repeat the phrase “a partaker of Christ’s sufferings;” he refers to himself as being “a witness of the sufferings of Christ.” Yes, although there is a sense, of which we have spoken, in which we can be partakers, sharers, of Christ’s sufferings, there is another sense in which the sufferings of Christ are something apart, something unique. This sacrifice was something which only he could offer; something which was “once for all” and can never be re-enacted. As Peter writes in an earlier chapter, “Christ . . . once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.”
Of these sufferings Peter declares that he was but a witness, for neither he nor any man or woman could contribute one wit to the sacrifice that Christ offered. He alone bore our sins. But the glory he will gladly share with all his brethren and sisters, for it is the glory of his Father in which he comes; and what does that signify for us—the phrase “partakers of the glory that shall be revealed”? It signifies everything that is dearest and loveliest and best that the heart can conceive—eternal life, inheritance of a perfected earth, power over the nations, deliverance from every kind of evil and sufferingand sorrow, reunion with those from whom we have been parted, and all this to be experienced in an earth that is at last reconciled to God and at peace with the Creator.
But above all, I think, it signifies to be in the presence of Christ and of the apostles and of the prophets, yea, in the presence of God Himself. That is the tnie fellowship, the eternal companionship to which we have been invited. The company of the redeemed is a company of men and women who have been sharing a common experience of mortality and affliction, who have learned to share together in times of trouble a love for God and a love for one another, and have been partners in His service in the clays of weakness, but who are now, at long last, made partakers of His glory. “These are they”, wrote John, “which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth, These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb,” and who will never cease to sing his praises:
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory and blessing.”:— J. M. Evans