Don’t Be Surprised (4:12)
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. (ESV)
Peter describes the suffering of these Christians as a “fiery trial” or “fiery ordeal.” This is a word used of burning metal in a refining process. Don’t be surprised that we are being refined. Don’t be surprised that we go through difficulties and suffering. These hard times come upon us to test us. Friends, don’t be shocked when you go through bad times. These are important reminders because we live in a religious world that thinks and teaches that true Christians do not suffer and do not go through hardships. Christians, especially those who seeking to lead godly lives, must expect to face resistance and hostility from a sinful world. Don’t be blindsided when we are rejected. Don’t be thrown off when we are punished or treated unfairly though doing good, righteous acts. Peter turns the rest of this point to giving believers comfort when suffering for righteousness’ sake.
The Blessing of Suffering (4:13-16)
13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. (ESV)
When suffering, we are not to throw in the towel and we are not give up. Peter says that we need to rejoice. This is not the only time the scriptures teach rejoicing when suffering. James has one of the most memorable teachings about rejoicing in light of suffering. “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3; NRSV). But Peter does not give us the same reasons for rejoicing that James gives. James asks us to think about how our character is being changed for godliness. The writer of Hebrews teaches the same reason (Hebrews 12:3-17). Peter takes suffering from a different perspective.
Peter gives some reasons why we need to rejoice when suffering. (1) You are sharing in the suffering of Jesus. Now why is that something to rejoice about? The answer is that we are able to see ourselves as servants of Jesus who are happy to suffer for him because he suffered for us. Let me take this to a lesser level to see the idea. When someone does something thoughtful and kind toward us, when we have a godly heart, we want to do something thoughtful and kind in return. We want to show some amount of appreciation for what was done for us. When someone gives us a gift, we want to give a gift back. When someone puts us first, then we want to do something to put them first. We call it “returning the favor.” Jesus suffered because of my sins on my behalf so that I could have a relationship with God. I am thrilled to be able to suffer for him. I am thrilled to be able to “return the favor” to a very small degree because I appreciate so much what Jesus did for me.
The apostles left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus. (Acts 5:41; NLT)
Peter is teaching a similar point to what the apostle Paul taught in Romans 8:17 — that if we suffer with Jesus, we know that we will be glorified with Jesus. Be willing to suffer for righteousness so that you will be glorified along with Jesus. Peter teaches to rejoice in suffering so that we will be able to rejoice and be glad when Jesus’ glory is revealed at his return.
(2) The other reason we rejoice is taught to us in verse 14, “because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” What does this mean and why is this something that shows that we are blessed and ought to rejoice? I do not believe that Peter was resorted into teaching some sort of mystical teaching about the Holy Spirit hovering over us when we suffer. I think the point is fairly simple. When we suffer for the sake of righteousness, we are proving that we belong to Jesus. We are proving that we are bearing the fruit of the Spirit through our suffering. Suffering for Jesus is evidence of genuine faith. God has not abandoned us when we suffer for his cause. Rather, we are proving our faith and proving our relationship with God when we choose to suffer for the sake of righteousness.
How often we feel like God has left us when we suffer for the cause of Christ! Peter reassures us that we are doing the right thing to suffer with Jesus. We should not question our decision to avoid sin and suffer as a Christian. Rejoice in your decision because you are proving your faith and proving that you are a child of God. God has not left you. Instead you are blessed. Jesus taught the same point:
“Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12; HCSB)
Verse 15 reminds us that there is no blessing for suffering for doing wrong. Don’t think that just because you are suffering that you are blessed by God. Suffering for making bad life decisions is not something to rejoice in. Suffering for be sinful or foolish is not in view. Rather, suffering as a Christian is what Peter is teaching (vs. 16). We should only be guilty for having Christian faith. We should not be guilty of anything else. Do not be ashamed for being a Christian when we are suffering for professing our faith. Do not be ashamed for loving Jesus. Do not be ashamed for having faith in God. Do not be ashamed of what Jesus has done to change your life. Unfortunately, we are frequently ashamed to be Christians even when we are not suffering! If we are not to be ashamed of being a disciple of Jesus when we are being persecuted for it, how can we possibly think it is okay to be ashamed of Jesus when we are not suffering for his cause? It is shameful that we are so timid about our faith. It is shameful that we are not open about who we are and what we believe. We are trying to avoid persecution and suffering by being ashamed of Jesus. Don’t feel bad about being a Christian. Don’t be self-conscious about carrying a Bible and reading a Bible in public. Don’t be nervous when talking about God. Our life mission is not to avoid suffering for Jesus. We need to be bold and courageous about Jesus and know that the sinful world will not be thrilled, but we will rejoice in Jesus and his suffering above all else.
You Are Persecuted… How Much Worse For Unbelievers? (4:17-18)
17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (ESV)
These two verses have also been somewhat misunderstood and have a degree of difficulty interpreting. But as we did with 1 Peter 3:18-22, we need to keep the passage in its context and ask how it fits Peter’s point of encouragement to suffer for righteousness and to not be ashamed.
This is a contrast from the lesser to the greater. If preliminary judgment is already taking place (Christian suffering), then how severe will the final judgment of God be on those who are not Christians? I think the difficulty comes in that suffering as a Christian is called “judgment.” We only think of judgment in negative terms and I think that is what contributes to our difficulty in understanding Peter’s point. But this is called judgment because Christian suffering and persecution sorts out those who are truly Christ’s from those who are not. This is how the quotation in verse 18, which comes from Proverbs 11:31, is to be understood. Peter is not saying that God barely saves us from our sins. Peter is saying that righteous are scarcely saved because of all of the suffering and trials Christians must endure. The life of the Christian is not easy and requires endurance.
Here is the point of encouragement: while we may be scarcely saved because we are enduring hardship for the sake of Jesus, how much worse do you think it will be upon the ungodly and the sinner? What do you think the outcome will be on those who do not obey the gospel if those who DO obey the gospel go through such fiery ordeals and trials? The point is that it is better to suffer a little now as Christians than to be the ungodly and suffer much more later.
Trust God While Suffering (4:19)
19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (ESV)
This reminds us of what Jesus did, as Peter taught us earlier. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23; TNIV). Now Peter is explicitly calling for us to suffer in the same way. When we are doing God’s will and suffer for doing it, put your trust in the Creator.
- Will we trust our lives to God in the face of suffering?
- Don’t be surprised that you suffer
- Suffering for Jesus shows our genuine faith
- Physical suffering now is better than eternal suffering coming upon the ungodly and sinner
- Trust God by continue to do good, even though suffering for doing good. (Theme of the letter)