Lectionary Reading for Sunday: 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11 (NRSV)
At this point in the letter, there is the assumption that suffering and persecution are a part of the Christian life. It could be that the author is speaking of persecutions directly experienced or of those related by colleagues. In any event, there seems to be a sense of solidarity in suffering as if it is helpful to realize that you are not the only one in turmoil.
The old adage “misery loves company” helps us to remember that we don’t do as well in isolation.
The Christian community works well when it lifts up its various members when they are down. It does even better when it applies this same helping hand to anyone in its vicinity. Churches are some of the best organizations at responding to disaster relief. We step up when we see the need staring us in the face.
To be isolated in the midst of crisis is to often face despair. People working through grief know that it is easier when shared with others. We instinctively understand that we need to lean on one another from time to time.
The second part of verse 5:8 struck me as it declares, “Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” This metaphor is apt. Human beings have known for millennia that it is easier to get picked off by lions when you stray from the group. There is strength in numbers - spiritually as well as physically.
This verse reminds me of the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. After God favors Abel’s offering, Cain is upset and God states in verse 7, “But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” This particular verse is from the New International Version which makes the metaphor of sin similar to the roaring lion in 1 Peter 5:8.
These metaphors characterize evil as a force that is pursuing us. In order to overcome it, our best defense is to share in the strength of the Holy Spirit which is most often expressed within the Christian community.
What does it mean for us to share in the suffering of one another? How do we do this without getting dragged down with those in pain? In other words, how do we lift them up rather than empathizing so much that we are now the ones needing help?
Prayer for the day:
O God, we have known and believed the love that You have for us. May we, by dwelling in love, dwell in You, and You in us. May we learn to love You Whom we have not seen, by loving our brothers and sisters whom we have seen. Teach us, O heavenly Father, the love wherewith You have loved us; fashion us, O blessed Lord, after Your own example of love; shed abroad, O Your Holy Spirit of Love, the love of God and humanity in our hearts. Amen.
~Henry Alford, Church of England, 19th Century
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