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. 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. 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?” 19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (ESV-translation)
As we move beyond the doxology of 4:11, the subject is a familiar one. Clearly there is a deep concern on the part of the Apostle to address this subject of suffering and persecution more fully. This section (4:12-19) is a concise unit with a beginning and ending. Truths to help Christians respond to suffering are articulated clearly.
We see first of all, that:
Persecution and suffering for Christ should not be viewed as an abnormal or strange experience. You could say that “it goes with the territory.” Being in a “foreign or strange land” leaves one vulnerable to the sufferings that are part of the “exile experience.” Peter has already stated this is various ways, but now he emphasizes this reality. We know from church history that this has been a common experience for Christians down through the centuries.
I enjoy reading two devotionals that present special events and people in church history for every day in the year. It is remarkable how many of the accounts record painful suffering on the part of one of God’s servants, often ending in martyrdom. It is just as remarkable how these sufferings were handled with grace and faithfulness. It is the norm for Christians in many countries even today as it was in the Apostle Peter’s day (5:9) for Christians to suffer various forms of persecution.
I am sure you have heard this kind of “thing” on the news. A crime takes place in a certain neighborhood. There is an interview, probably very brief, with someone who lives there in the area. So often you will hear people say something like this, “This doesn’t happen in our neighborhood.” Or, “this is unusual for our neighborhood.” What they are saying is that it is surprising that this should happen right here, although it may happen in other places. Maybe it is because I grew up in New York City, or because I am used to sinful behavior, but I don’t think we should be surprised about crimes happening anywhere, and the same is true for various types of persecution.
One person can be hostile to the gospel. A small group of people can try to oppose local church ministry or outreach. There are major cultural shifts that impact moral issues that can cause hatred towards Christians for their stand on these issues. Government decisions can certainly be anti-Christian even in so-called free democracies. And of course, there can be direct persecution as there has been throughout church history. Peter’s first sentence begins, “Beloved, don’t be surprised……” But, the full sentence points to a purpose in suffering.
The Apostle clearly states that suffering is used to test believers, to purify believers, even to purge the church in the light of eternity. At the start of this letter, as we noted, Peter writes of the living hope that we have in Christ. Within that section he addressed the present reality of these Christians (vss. 6-9). Peter acknowledges the grief caused by trials, but he is quick to affirm that the genuine character of faith is tested through such trials. And ultimately this purified faith will bring “praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (vs. 7). Faith is tested by fire, and it is more precious than gold.
We fail to realize how important our faith, indeed our lives are to God. And rather than seeing suffering as being abandoned by God, we need to discern that God uses such suffering to rid us of impurities in our faith and in our lives. Suffering not only tests and purifies the faith of individual Christians, it purges the church as well (4:17-18).
I think we sometimes can misread a text like Romans 8:28 thinking that “for good” means better circumstances. We are not asked to pray for suffering or for bad circumstances, and it is natural to want peaceful and fruitful seasons. But, the “good” needs to be seen within the bigger picture of God’s purpose of conforming us to the image of His Son. The truth is that God is for us and nothing can separate us from His love even when we are going through the hardships and sufferings of this world. And through these experiences, including suffering, God is working to purify our faith and to make us more like Christ. God’s purposes are good, and He orchestrates everything for our good as His children.
Hand-in-hand with this truth is the fact that:
By now we should fully grasp that Christ did not suffer so that we don’t have to suffer. Christ is the unique Savior and Bearer of our Sins that involved suffering. But, as believers in Christ, we fellowship with Him in suffering and in the glory that is to come. Part of our relationship with Christ and our fellowship with Him is sharing in the sufferings of His redemptive plan. Suffering is a necessary prelude to glory. Just as there is travail before birth, there is present suffering before future glory. This isn’t an easy truth, but it is a Biblical truth (2:21). And this should cause us to rejoice in the privilege of suffering for Christ, knowing that there will be an even greater joy when we share in His glory. Praise God that he is the God of all grace that knows all about our sufferings, and Christ Himself has experienced sufferings that paved the way for the glory that is to be revealed.
How do we understand this “rejoicing” in the midst of sufferings? We recognize that it is part of God’s will for us as we anticipate the eternal glory to follow. I think also, on a devotional note, such suffering helps us understand the sufferings of Christ our Savior and grow in our fellowship with Him. Are we really wanting such “fellowship” with Christ? Really? Can we can say with the Apostle Paul that we want to know Christ … including the “fellowship of His sufferings” (Phil. 3:10)?
We understand this in human relationships, don’t we? Sports teams that have gone through hard training and the ups and downs of competition discover a deeper bond than when they first arrived for training camp. Often someone who has had a specific difficult illness will find a sense of unity with others who have gone through the same pain and suffering. Personal relationships are often strengthened through enduring suffering together. Suffering can make and sometimes break a marriage. But, for those who remain faithful in marriage, the suffering shared can deepen the relationship greatly. We can know objectively what Jesus Christ did for us and the sufferings He endured. But, when we share in sufferings for Him, there is a “fellowship of suffering” that is hard to duplicate in any other way.
One pastor that I highly respect spent years in a Central American country during times of violence and upheaval. He shared with me how it was hard to talk about the years of hardship he faced. It was a life and ministry situation that called for staying, rather than leaving, despite the dangers. So, when he returned to the United States he often didn’t talk about it. Why was it hard to talk about it? Because he knew that many people really did not fully understand what he went through. He was not being mean or proud. The simple reality was that people did not and really could not understand personally and empathetically what he experienced. There was not a real sharing in the sufferings together.
Other examples could be given, like soldiers who fought side-by-side and experienced pain, loss and survival together. We see evidence of that when veterans get together, and we see the loneliness that veterans can experience when they are not able to share their sufferings in some significant relational way. There is such a thing as a fellowship of suffering that is experienced on the human level.
There is a uniqueness to sharing in Christ’s sufferings, but that fellowship can grow deeper and richer as the sacrificial love of the Savior is appreciated more and more. Later on Peter will speak of himself as a “witness of the sufferings of Christ” (5:1). Think of the various references (direct and indirect) to the sufferings and the death of Christ in this very letter (1:2, 1:11, 1:18-21, 2:4,7, 2:21-24, 3:18-21, 4:1, 4:13,). The Apostle shared in the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ.
The Apostle Paul could speak of “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, the church” (Colossians 1:24). And this was something in which he rejoiced. We know that Paul was not saying anything about adding to the efficacy of the atoning work of Christ. Never! But, Paul did see his sufferings as part of the necessary sufferings to accomplish his mission on behalf of Christ and His church. There was a sharing in sufferings which was a sharing in the sufferings of Christ.
There is another dimension to this “fellowship” and that is “joy.” Notice here that joy is connected with suffering for and “with” Christ. I can think of servants of God who have had to endure direct sufferings in their service of the Lord. Rather than being bitter or thinking of themselves as victims, I have met “saints” who having suffered, have a precious walk with the Lord. Such beloved Christians appear to have a joy deep within.
Yes, it is possible to rejoice in suffering because such suffering is meaningful being in fellowship with the sufferings of Christ. But, the Apostle does not leave it there. Any joy in suffering anticipates the greater joy when the glory of Christ is revealed. Just as Christ moved from suffering to glory (1:19-21, 3:18-22, 4:13), so sharing in Christ’s glory will be the experience of those who suffer for Him. The Apostle does not explicitly state that present suffering is a mandatory requirement for future glory, but he certainly sees the exuberant joy of a future day as what follows suffering in the present life. What a glorious expectation!
I think any teaching concerning persecution or suffering would come up short if it did not include this powerful truth presented by Peter here. This statement concerning the Holy Spirit is awesome. So, awesome that Peter speaks of those who are being persecuted as being blessed. Now, Jesus already stated that persecuted followers were blessed as recorded in Matt. 5. Here the blessing is associated specifically with the presence of the Holy Spirit, spoken of as the Spirit of Glory (kai) the Spirit of God. More than that, Peter speaks of the Spirit as resting upon believers. What a statement! But, note the significance of this. Persecution, suffering for Christ, comes with insult, reproach, and shame. There is a shame in suffering, especially in the eyes of those causing the persecution. But, Peter wants his readers to know that the Spirit of God has not abandoned them at such times. Indeed, the opposite of reproach and shame is glory. In the very experience of insult and shame, God’s Spirit is present and He is the glorious Spirit whose glory rests upon the persecuted. The believer needs to take comfort and rest in the fact that the Spirit of glory will be upon them. So:
It is possible to suffer for other reasons than the cause and the name of Christ. You can suffer for your own crimes, your own evil practices, and even unwise involvements in the lives of others (4:15). There may be shame involved in punishment or suffering for these practices. But, the Christian need not be ashamed for suffering for Christ, and the presence of the Spirit testifies to that. God is owning the believer’s suffering and resting Himself upon us. Suffering could involve being ridiculed. Suffering could involve some type of physical attack or injury. Suffering could involve some official punishment financially, or personally. Such events may cause shame in the eyes of the non-Christian community. The Christian could easily be shamed and viewed negatively by those around, or worse. So, this matter of not being ashamed is very significant. This is an affirmation from the Lord that He has not abandoned His child, He does not abandon His people suffering for His Name’s sake. Indeed, His Spirit is present, the Spirit of glory.
“Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that Name” (4:16). When you hear the amazing stories of men and women of God who have endured suffering with faithfulness, glorifying God in word and deed, you know that God did not abandon them. God rested upon them in Shekinah-like glory through His Holy Spirit to enable them to stay true and glorify God in the midst of cruel and evil circumstances. God’s presence is glorious and His presence by His Spirit enables the believer to be obedient to this directive to “glorify God in that name.” As strange as it may sound, Peter is teaching that the follower of Christ is a blessed sufferer. This makes sense as the follower of Christ lives out his or her identity as one who is special to God but a stranger or exile in this world (1:1, 2:9-11).
So, is there blessing in the midst of suffering, really? Yes, as elect exiles, and free slaves, Christians are also blessed sufferers. Even if people speak of you in a derogatory way “as a Christian,” the true child of God can glorify God in that same name.
There is no indication here that the judgment that begins “at the household of God” will result in anything else but salvation. Even though the quotation speaks of the righteous being “scarcely saved,” they are still saved, praise God! This is a reminder to us that we should not flippantly assume that God owes us salvation. If God was to do with us as we deserve, where would we end up?? God has every right to judge us, and to judge the world. We need to take comfort in the fact that we are the “beloved” addressed at the beginning of this text (4:12). We are special to God, even though strangers, aliens, exiles in this world. So, we need to read Peter’s words concerning this God of Judgment who is also the God of all grace (5:10) remembering that “….after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (5:10).
God is just, and only by His grace does He keep and save those who are in fact worthy of final judgment outside of His mercy. It is better by His grace to endure the firstfruits of judgment in this life. These testings will purify our faith according to God’s purpose, bless us with an experience of His presence, and ultimately lead us to salvation as we share in Christ’s sufferings before we share in His glory.
The truth is that the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel is not good. The text does not say that they are saved. The judgement that may begin at the house of God will not end in salvation for those who reject the gospel. Rejecters of the gospel stand in parallel to the reference to the “ungodly and the sinner.”
“It is time ……” the Apostle writes. After all, he has already written that the end of all things is at hand (4:7). These are the last days. For God’s people their suffering should not be a surprise. Suffering is purifying, especially for faith. It is a means for deepening joyful fellowship with Christ as we anticipate His glory. There is the blessing of the Spirit’s presence in the midst of suffering enabling the Christian to glorify God and not be ashamed. And such suffering can be viewed as the beginning of judgement through which the Christian will be saved, but the non-Christian will not be saved.
So, what is the bottom line? The Apostle Peter wraps us this tremendous “afterword” on suffering with a clear exhortation for response. The conclusion of the matter is:
“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful creator while doing good” (4:19)
Peter again confirms that there is a suffering that is according to God’s will. Some may question that there is such a thing as suffering according to God’s will! I hope that the reading of 1 Peter has corrected any notion that suffering is somehow outside of the will of God. That simply is not the case. But, there may be another aspect to the meaning of this phrase “according to the will of God.” Peter has warned the Christians by saying “let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evil doer or as a meddler” (4:15). Suffering for your own crimes or wrongdoings is different. This is not suffering for the will of God or according to the will of God in that sense. Throughout the letter, Peter calls for doing good, even as he does in this conclusion. Suffering according to the will of God is suffering for doing good, suffering for the Name of Christ, suffering to which we are called as elect exiles.
The key verb and directive is to “entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” The idea is to entrust God with your life. The faithful creator God is to be trusted with your life or soul because of who He is. Peter has affirmed already that the salvation of their souls is ahead (1:9). Just as eight souls were saved through the flood (3:20), so they will be saved. God is able to keep and to save - so their lives can be entrusted to Him. It is interesting that Peter refers to God as the “faithful Creator.” God is the author of life, the creator of all things including the souls of men. So, those who are suffering can entrust themselves to God with certainty.
A demonstration of that trusting or entrusting would be their commitment to the good deeds or works that God calls them to do. Instead of turning to evil or ungodly retribution, they “in faith” continue on the path of doing good for the Lord’s sake. They entrust their lives into God’s hands and obey Him by “doing good.” This sounds so simple, but “simple” is not easy without the gracious help of God Himself. As we have seen, this is a continuing emphasis on the part of the Apostle throughout this letter. Christians are not to be anarchists who choose to sin and do evil in reaction to their sufferings. Honorable conduct is called for at all times. Furthermore, connected to this aspect of “entrusting” is the idea of entrusting the outcome of the suffering into God’s hands, knowing that a sovereign God is keeping His child. So, no matter the outcome of the time of trial, or the season of suffering, God is worthy of trust.