Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, was a second-century martyr for Christ. When the old man was brought to the arena, the Roman proconsul urged him to worship Caesar and curse Christ. Polycarp replied, “Eighty- six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”
Polycarp understood the privilege of participating in Christ’s sufferings (v. 13). Suffering has been a major theme in Peter’s letter (1:6–7). The phrase “fiery ordeal” might indicate that Nero’s persecutions had begun. For Christians to suffer is normal. The world tends to persecute the church because we are members of two opposing kingdoms. Another reason for suffering is that God can use it to test and refine us (v. 12).
Our response should be joy (v. 13). What does it mean to “participate” in Christ’s sufferings? It does not mean our sufferings play any role in redemption. Rather, it means we suffer while spreading the gospel. Christ suffered to create the gospel; we suffer to proclaim it. “Participate” thus indicates we suffer for the same basic reason as our Lord. This is definitely reason to rejoice! And we’ll be even more joyful when He returns and our redemption is fully realized.
This doesn’t apply to ordinary suffering (vv. 15–16). Sometimes we simply reap the consequences of our sinful actions. But when we suffer for Christ, we’re actually blessed (v. 14). The gospel reverses things—the last shall be first, servants are honored, and suffering can be a blessing.
For unbelievers, suffering can be punitive (God’s judgment) and terrifying (vv. 17–18). For believers, however, suffering can be a call to “commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (v. 19).
>> There are many places in our world where Christians are facing severe suffering; the believers in Ukraine are just one example. We encourage you to join us as we pray for these brothers and sisters in Christ today.
Heavenly Father, we ask for Your protection, strength, and wisdom for our brothers and sisters suffering in Ukraine and around the world. Give them the hope to endure and thus glorify Your name.