By the mid-1500s, the Bible had been translated into English. The town of Hadley was one of the first places in all of England to receive the Bible in English. Dr. Rowland Taylor was a pastor of Hadley who faithfully preached the word of God. As expected, he was ordered to appear before the bishop and Lord Chancellor in London. He was accused of being a heretic and was given a chance to change his stance on the Bible or to be burnt at the stake.
He responded boldly, “I will not depart from preaching the truth and I thank God for calling me to be worthy to suffer for His Word.” He was immediately sent back to Hadley to be burnt at the stake. Along the way, he was so joyful and merry that anyone watching would have thought he was going to a banquet or a wedding. His words to his guards often caused them to weep as he earnestly called them to repent from their evil and wicked living. They marveled to see him so steadfast, fearless, joyful and glad to die.
When they reached the place where he would be burned, Dr. Taylor said to all of his congregation who were gathered there with tears in their eyes, “I have taught you nothing but God’s holy Word and those lessons that I have taken out of God’s blessed book, the Holy Bible. I have come here this day to seal it with my blood.”
He knelt down, prayed and went to the stake. He kissed the stake, stood against it, with his hands folded together and his eyes toward heaven. So he continually prayed. They bound him with chains, and several men put the sticks in place. As they lit the fire, Dr. Taylor held up both his hands and called upon God, saying, “Merciful Father of heaven, for Jesus Christ my Savior’s sake, receive my soul into Thy hands.”
He stood in the flames without either crying or moving, his hands folded together. To spare him from further suffering, a man from the town ran towards the fire and struck him on the head with a long-handled battle-ax. Taylor died instantly his corpse falling into the fire.
When we read such a story and many others similar to this one, we wonder what causes people like Taylor to endure such suffering? One reason, amongst many others, is that they know that the Christian life is a call to suffering and thus were not surprised when suffering came. They take to heart the words of 1 Peter 4:12, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
Notice, Peter starts out by saying, “do not be surprised.” It is a command. In other words, “Expect to suffer as part of the Christian life” is what he is saying. You see, the normal human reaction is to exhibit shock when going through trials, “something strange” is happening to me. However, that should not be the case for the informed Christian. We should not be surprised when trials come; rather, we should expect it. The Bible repeatedly reminds us to expect to suffer and not be surprised when trials come. Here are some examples from none other than the Lord Jesus himself.
Matthew 5:11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”
Matthew 10:34-36 “34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’”
Mark 10:29-30 “”Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.””
John 15:20 “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.”
Other New Testament writers also remind us of this fact. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:12, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” John reminds us in 1 John 3:13, “Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.”
When we read the book of Acts or the 11thchapter of Hebrews, we are clearly reminded of the stonings, imprisonments, whippings, and killings that God’s people have been subjected to during the early years of the church. Church history gives testimony to the suffering of God’s people at the hands of the world from the 1st century to this very day. Ever since the Fall, there is a constant enmity between Satan’s people and God’s people. Since Satan stands against God, he will incite his children to hate God and everyone who stands for God. So, it is clear, both Jesus and the apostles warn us about the reality of suffering.
Now, let’s go back to 1 Peter 4:12. Peter goes on to describe the trials we sometimes go through may be likened to as a “fiery ordeal.” Not only are Christians to expect trials and not be surprised by them, but at times, these trials would be intense or harsh. That’s what the word “fiery” [burning] means. The same word is translated as “furnace” in the Old Testament. It describes the severity of the experience that the Christians to whom Peter wrote to were going through at that time and what some go through even in our day and age.
At this point, one may ask the question, “What is the point of such intense suffering?” Peter answers that question with these words, “fiery ordeal…has come on you to test you.” Suffering comes to test us. Genuine faith endures through trials. False faith collapses when undergoing trials. Earlier, in 1 Peter 1:6-7, Peter talked about the Christian’s faith being tested and purified by suffering just as gold gets tested and purified by fire. Fire reveals the quality of the gold and if it is genuine, it comes forth even purer after undergoing the burning process. That’s the same for the genuine Christian. He or she becomes purer after undergoing trials.
Suffering is needed for believers. How else can we become like our Master? How else can learn to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us and pray for those who persecute us? How else can we become more humble, more gentle, more broken, more sensitive to the needs of others? When we fail to understand that trials are used by God to purify us, Peter says we will react to trials “as though something strange were happening” to us?
Unfortunately, that is the response of many professing Christians. Perhaps, they were promised that the Christian life is a problem-free life of health, wealth and happiness—which is exactly the opposite to what the Bible teaches. And when such people face trials they don’t know the right way to respond. That is why it is important for people to count the cost before they follow Christ.
Jesus himself demanded that people count the cost before they follow Him [Lk 14:26-35]. He was never interested in making half-hearted disciples who will flee when they have to pay a price for their faith. Those who flee when trials come are the ones who respond to Christ on an emotional basis, like the seed that fell on the rocky places. Jesus describes such people in the following manner, “16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away“ [Mk 4:16-17].
On the other hand, those who do count the cost are the ones who recognize their utter sinfulness and misery and come to Christ on his terms—as enabled by the Holy Spirit. Such people are like the seed on good soil and they will endure when faced with trials, “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop” [Lk 8:15]. They expect to suffer and are not surprised by trials when they come. Hence they endure!
Let us constantly ask the Lord to remind us through the Holy Spirit to expect to suffer in whatever form it may come when we live for him and not be surprised by it. Such a biblical understanding will not only prevent us from grumbling against God when going through trials and thus disobey him, but will also strengthen our hearts to consider it a privilege to suffer for Christ, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him” [Phil 1:29]!