We Are All In This Together
There is a sense in which the call to be a Christian is an individual call. Each person must repent and believe in Christ. And when we are converted, God guides each one of us through diverse paths — different callings, vocations, spiritual gifts, surroundings.
Similarly, the trials we face will be unique to the path God takes us through — a believer in North Korea will face different challenges from the one in the US and the one who is called to politics will face different trials from the one who is called to mission work. Also, the temptations we face will differ based on our personalities, history, and surrounding.
In this sense, God calls every believer to carry their own cross (Luke 14:27). Jesus rebuked Peter for wondering about his plan for John when he should have focused on his own duty to follow him (Christ).
However, despite the diverse crosses we are called to carry, there is a solidarity in the act of cross-bearing itself, a fact we often forget to our detriment. To that solidarity, we now turn.
United in sufferings
After reminding his audience of the devil’s continuous desire to devour (1 Peter 5:8), Peter admonished the church to resist him by standing firm in the faith. For Peter, the whole point of the devil’s prowling is to cause believers to lose their faith and the way to defeat him is to stand firm in the faith.
However, it seems so strange, at first glance, that the way Peter encourages believers to stand firm in the faith (and resist the devil by that perseverance) is to remind them that the family of believers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings that they experience.
One of the devil’s tools is to seek to overwhelm believers under the weight of their trials so they lose their faith. From Peter’s pastoral experience, he understands that one of the ways the enemy does this is to make believers feel that they are all alone in their suffering.
He (the devil) wants us to absolutise the individuality of Christian discipleship to the point where we begin to feel alone amidst our suffering as if God decided to spare everyone else and put all the burden on us. This sense of separateness and isolation is an inroad that the devil uses to devour.
Peter wants us to be wary of this tactic of our adversary by reminding us that the trials we face are common to the family of believers all over the world. The call to suffer is a call to all believers, a call to union with Christ in his suffering (1 Peter 2:21). Consequently, we must never be surprised when fiery ordeals arise to test us (1 Peter 4:12); trials and ordeals are part of Christian discipleship, a discipleship in which all believers are united.
Paul would make this same point in his letter to Timothy: everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). He reminded the Thessalonians that what they suffered for the faith is the same thing the Christians in Judea suffered (1 Thessalonians 2:14-15). In fact, similar to what Peter did above, Paul and Barnabas sought to encourage and strengthen believers in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch by reminding them that “we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14;22). Hardships are not simply the lot of missionaries like Paul and his fellow travelers; no, they are the lot of all believers. We are all in this together!
As Jesus said, “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33).
So, while every believer will have different crosses that correspond to the different paths God has called them to, they share a solidarity in the trials they face. God has not spared others and put all the trials of this world on you; instead, anytime you suffer as a believer, you are in solidarity with your brothers and sisters all over the world who also suffer for Christ’s sake. Our crosses may differ in the specific, but no one has been given a stick instead of a cross.
United in temptations
Just as Peter encourages us to resist the devil by reminding us of our solidarity in trials, Paul encourages us to stand firm in the faith by reminding us of our solidarity in temptations.
After chronicling the sins of the wilderness generation of Israelites (1 Corinthians 10:6-10), he warns us of any form of complacency — so, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall (verse 12).
However, though temptations to sin abound, the believer must understand that there is no temptation they face that is not common to humanity (verse 13). Temptations to idolatry, sexual immorality, setting the heart on evil, and testing Christ are not unique to the Corinthians or any particular believer.
(The same Greek word (peirasmos) can be translated as trials (in the sense of sufferings) or temptations (in the sense of internal and external allurements to sin) and the particular meaning must depend on context. The context of 1 Corinthians 10:13, verses 6-10, shows that Paul at least has temptations to sin in view (it’s possible he is using the world more comprehensively to include temptations and trials.)
All believers are united in temptations because the flesh, which desires what is contrary to the Spirit (Galatians 5:17), though no longer dominant, still rears its ugly head trying to drag us to sin. Every one of us must be mindful of sin’s deceitfulness (Hebrews 3:13). We all have a weak body and a willing spirit that requires us to watch and pray (Mathew 26:41).
So, when you are tempted to sin, remember that we are all in this together. God is not specifically sending all the demons of hell to you to bring you down and make you fall (as we often think). No! Though your unique personality and environment will expose you to certain temptations that the next Christian does not struggle with, yet, those temptations are not unique to you; they are common to humanity. We are in this together.
United in grace
Just as our trials and temptations are common, the grace God gives to us is also common.
Though we are insulted because of the name of Christ, the Spirit of glory and of grace rests on us to make the insults a source of blessing (1 Peter 4:14). After reminding believers of their solidarity in suffering, Peter goes on to tell us that after we have suffered a little while, the God of glory, our faithful Creator (1 Peter 4:19), will restore us and make us strong, firm, and steadfast (1 Peter 5:10).
In the same way, after informing his disciples of the troubles they will face in solidarity, he reminded them that he has overcome the world, a fact that should give them peace even amidst troubles (John 16:33).
Paul adds that though we are wasting away outwardly because of our trials, we are being renewed day by day inwardly as we fix our eyes on what is unseen (2 Corinthians 4:16). James goes on to specify this inward renewal, calling it perseverance, which leads to Christian maturity and completeness (James 1:2-4). The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, and what he brings about through our trials is evident to all, as the experience of Job illustrates (James 5:10-12).
In the same way, when we are tempted, Paul assures us that God will provide a way out so that we can endure it. And, moreso, he will ensure that we are not tempted beyond what we can endure (1 Corinthians 10:13). The Spirit he has given us also wars against the flesh such that if we keep in step with that Spirit, the desires of the flesh will not overcome us (Galatians 5:16-17).
United in glory
One of the ways God supplies us with grace amidst trials and temptations is to remind us of the glory that is ahead — the world to come where there will be neither trial nor temptation.
Those who suffer in union with Christ have the capacity to be overjoyed when his glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:13). Our trials will prove the genuineness of our faith and result in praise, glory, and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:7). The God who has called us to his eternal glory in Christ (1 Peter 5:10) will ensure that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Those who, like the church in Smyrna, will remain faithful in persecution will receive the victor’s crown (Revelation 2:10).
Similarly, we also look forward to our perfection when the body of sin will be finally done away with and we will receive an immortal body (Philippians 3:20) that will be united with a perfected spirit (Hebrews 12:23). We’ll see Jesus and become like him in all purity and holiness (1 John 3:1-3), spirit, soul, and body kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
Encourage one another
However, since we are united in our sufferings and temptations as well as in grace and in glory, we must also encourage one another. Understanding that our brothers and sisters are united with us in suffering and temptations, we must encourage them and also receive their encouragement.
We must not so insist that they don’t know what we are feeling (in its uniqueness) that we forget our solidarity and refuse to receive them as a source of grace in temptations and trials. Neither must we think that because we can’t understand another person’s feeling in its particularity that the solidarity we share with them is not enough to encourage them.
Paul wants us to use our union in the glory to come to encourage one another amidst trials and sufferings (1 Thessalonians 4:18). Similarly, he wants us to encourage one another to be prepared for Christ’s coming, overcoming sin and walking in righteousness (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
The author of Hebrews also wants us to encourage one another so none of us will yield to sin’s deceitfulness (Hebrews 3:13).
In essence, solidarity in trials and temptations is not a justification for grumbling under trials or becoming lax under temptations; rather, it is both an encouragement (we are all in this together, God has not singled you out for trials or temptations) and a call to mutual encouragement (encourage other believers and let other believers encourage you).
Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follow’r of the Lamb?
And shall I fear to own His cause,
Or blush to speak His name?
Must I be carried to the skies
On flow’ry beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?
Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To help me on to God?
Sure I must fight if I would reign;
Increase my courage, Lord;
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy Word.
Thy saints in all this glorious war
Shall conquer, though they die;
They see the triumph from afar,
By faith’s discerning eye.
When that illustrious day shall rise,
And all Thy armies shine
In robes of vict’ry through the skies,
The glory shall be Thine.