Those who suffer according to God’s will
Peter, a ‘sent one’ of Jesus Christ, has written to God’s chosen people scattered across the world. His readers are not defined by a specific town or geographic area but by their calling by God to be holy and saved by the blood of Christ. It is their faith that defines their identity, not as part of this world but as part of the hope of grace in Jesus Christ.
His subject matter has turned to suffering in this world and chapter 4 began with the lesson of denying the body and being passionate about serving God. Those who suffer in the body are done with sin. Peter continues the theme of suffering now but in the domain of others inflicting injury or hardship on Christians because of their faith.
- 12-13 Do not be surprised at insult because of the name of Christ
- 14-16 Be sure your suffering is for the name of Christ and not something else
- 17-19 The conclusion: Commit yourself to the Sovereign God
12-13 Do not be surprised at insult because of the name of Christ
“Dear friends…” Peter’s warmth is noted at this point. Although he is Peter “The Rock”, he is a fellow believer in Christ and a friend to God’s chosen people. There is no hierarchy in the Christian church (there may be one in the denominational church). All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Peter too had “spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do” (4:3).
“…do not be surprised…as though something strange were happening to you.” Peter will now talk to believers about persecution and his starting point is to not think it unusual. It’s like going bushwalking and coming across a snake – you ought not be surprised to find them in the bush. You might not encounter it everywhere or on every trip, but don’t be surprised when one turns up.
“…by the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you…” The ‘fiery ordeal’ brings the imagery of a hot process similar to the refining of metals. Peter is picking up imagery that he introduced back in 1 Peter 1:6-7. Metal is refined by fire and a Christian’s faith will be strengthened through ‘fiery ordeals. It’s not necessary to know the specific events of persecution that were met by the original readers of this letter but we can note that Christianity did not fit neatly into the Greco-Roman culture like it does in our day and age. We live in the Western world that has been greatly influenced by Judo-Christian beliefs and so being a Christians has not been extremely jarring to us. Those days become more and more like history as our culture rejects more and more of the fundamental truths of Christianity and Christian living. There is no doubt that Christianity in the 1st and 2nd century was met with extreme persecution. We ought to remember that there are places in our world today which deal out severe persecution to people of Christian faith.
“But rejoice…” The bible has a knack for giving extraordinary advice even to areas that we think we might know how to respond or think. Anyone who experiences suffering or persecution in this world (ie, everyone) will come up with a worldview to explain it and a method to handle it. Death, for example, is experienced by everybody and so all humans fashion a story to help understand death and therefore know how to respond. Peter has given us the topic of fiery ordeals – or hard situations – and told us not to be surprised. We may agree with him that this is normal and not strange and so what shall we do with this? We should buckle down and find the quickest path to extinguish the flame! No! We should REJOICE! And here is why…
“…inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ…” This is the qualifier. Peter expands on this in the next verses to compare sufferings that fit a different category but here we are to rejoice in our sufferings when it is because of our faith in Christ. He suffered and if we are suffering due to our identity and walk with Him, then let’s rejoice because that’s authentic.
“…so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” His glory is revealed when Jesus Christ is seen clearly for who he is. His glory was revealed during his earthly ministry through signs and wonders that revealed his identity (John 2:11) and the New Testament writers look forward to a time when his glory is revealed again (Rom 8:18; 1 Peter 1:7; 1 Peter 5:1; Revelation 15:4). Peter is asking Christians to see joy in their sufferings now because they follow the suffering Christ and when he returns in glory, we will be overjoyed to share in the glory with him (Rom 8:18). It might be like sticking with a football team during the underdog days because you know that they will have their day and it will be glorious. We Christians know a secret. We know that Christ has won and when he returns he will collect his chosen people who have put their hopes in him and we will be received in glory to share in an inheritance that will never fade. “Blessed are you when people insult you…because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12; compare Luke 6:22-23).
14-16 Be sure your suffering is for the name of Christ and not something else
“If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed…” The reason behind the insults is important as Peter will go on to expand upon.
“…for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” The nature of the blessing is that the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. This is the Spirit of God who is the Spirit of glory. “The blessing is not in the suffering itself but because the presence of the Spirit of glory and of God is present.” (Jobes). The suffering is not advantages because it has some hidden character building benefits (though Paul indicates this in ) but that God’s presence is evident in the believer. This is a sanctifying work of the Spirit (1:2) not the process of persecution but that the believer is in the position to be persecuted. Christ himself is our role model for suffering and the Spirit of God is our companion through it. We have the same Spirit in us as did rest on the Lord through his ministry (Isaiah 11:2).
“If you suffer…” It should be no surprise to us when suffering comes but note that there is a question of IF we suffer. The conditional phrase could also have the weight of ‘when’ with the condition being on the type of suffering. Is it legitimate Christian suffering? Or is it just plain old human stupidity…
“…it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal…” God himself places governments and authorities in place to cause suffering on such antisocial and illegal behaviour which all of society agree is unacceptable (1 Peter 2:13-14). These crimes listed are punishable under most organised laws. Even the pagans agree on these.
“…or even as a meddler.” This last item is not necessarily a criminal offense but it is also offensive in most cultures. Nobody likes a meddler. Someone who puts his nose in other people’s business. If you suffer for this, don’t claim that as Christian persecution. Some might say that this would be reason why Christians ought not get involved in public debates over morality, law and ethics since this is pushing a Christian opinion into a public space. Except that a democratic society asks for every part of the population to express their opinion. Meddling, though, is not appreciated by anyone. (1 Peter 3:13)
“However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” The whole passage needs to be absorbed doesn’t it. This clause on it’s own can be quoted as a badge of honour any time a Christian suffers. But the category is for being unfairly and unreasonably dealt with and in a “fiery”, “suffering” way simply because you stand for Christ. It follows that a Christian who is obnoxiously so can receive persecution on the basis of their character rather than the basis of their faith.
“…do not be ashamed…” This is an important phrase. The Greko-Roman culture of the day was a shame culture. What I mean is that it was important to “save face” in the community and not stand out as different. This is what made being a Christian particularly difficult and attracted persecution. Outcasts were treated harshly as outcasts. When Jesus was put out to die on a cross, this was the most shameful form of execution and punishment. Without knowing anything about Jesus, you would know that he was an absolute outcast from society. So, Peter tells Christians that when they are treated shamefully, not to be ashamed. Their true citizenship and identity is the kingdom of God. Insults from this world should translate as of no significance to a man or woman of the kingdom of God.
“…but praise God that you bear that name.” Further from the last point, rather than being ashamed of who you are, praise God that you carry his name with honour and pride. Nobody loves to be hated. But in a world that could hate Christians, we can be happy to be hated when it is our God and Saviour that we love more than this world.
“…bear that name.” The name, Christian. It is not often in the bible that we find this title. It was a kind of nickname given by outsiders to those who were followers of ‘The Way” (Acts 9:2; 24:14; 11:26; 26:28). It is a name planted on us by outsiders and we can nod our heads with satisfaction that their nickname is accurate. We are Christ-ians first and Australians secondarily. We are also Christians – followers of Jesus Christ – before we are Anglicans, Baptists, puritans, Calvinists etc. It is our love and service of the Lord above all else.
17-19 The conclusion: Commit yourself to the Sovereign God
“For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household…” The ‘household of God’ phrase picks up the imagery of Christians being living stones of a spiritual house (2:4-5). Paul tells us that brothers and sisters in Christ will all stand before God’s judgment seat in Romans 14:10-12. Hebrews 9:27 reminds us that everybody faces death and then after that will face judgment. The Old Testament declares judgment to come over the whole earth and the people of God will not be excluded from this (Jer 25:29; Malachi 3:1-5). The difference that Christ makes is that He will stand in our place as our righteousness (Romans 10:4). All people will be judged according to what they have done (Matthew 16:27; Romans 2:6; Revelation 20:12-13; 22:12). But Christians will be judged righteous and saved from judgment if they call on the name of the Lord Jesus (Romans 10:9, 13; Acts 2:21). But Peter says that the household of God will first pass through judgment and anybody who does not call on the name of the Lord will not be saved. So bearing the name ‘Christian’ is something to praise God for! And rejoice through suffering if it is because you hold dearly to your faith in Christ! But Peter perhaps gives us another way of thinking about persecution in this world as a type of judgment – or testing – on the household of God…see comment on verse 18.
“…what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” This is a rhetorical question. There is only one way to salvation and it is through Jesus Christ. If Christians will also face judgment, there is no back door to God’s kingdom. All will be saved through Christ and all will be judged to hell who are not with him. To disobey the gospel is to reject it. If you disobey a law or rule it is because you reject it (perhaps only momentarily). The gospel is something to be obeyed because it is based on our obedience to God who declares Jesus to be the King. While it is difficult to call yourself a Christian and give a reason for the hope that you have in this world – it will be infinitely worse for anyone who rejects the gospel. Peter wants us to put persecution into that context. Is it better to live an easy life now or hold out for the hope of eternal life?
“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (Compare Proverbs 11:31). It may be a better reading to view the sufferings Christians attract in this life as part of the judgment of God. The Church is refined by fire and those who stick with Jesus are proved to be his chosen people. Peter isn’t saying it’s hard to be saved because we are sinners but because we are up against pressure to throw Christianity away. He described the ‘fiery ordeals’ of persecution as testing (1 Peter 4:12). Those who crumble at earthly persecution are not his flock. When judgment day comes, the chosen people of God, already tested by fire in this world, will be welcomed in by the Lamb of God. Those who were disobedient to the gospel and rejected Christ in this world will be rejected by Christ and suffer way worse on that day. Jesus talks about the days of tribulation which are cut short for the sake of the elect (Matthew 24:22) and Revelation talks about a time of tribulation. While some theologians see this as a future day of extreme tribulation, I would maintain that the age of tribulation began at the resurrection (or at the cross) and will continue until Christ’s glory is revealed (I would go further and say that all of history has been a test for those who would call on the name of the LORD to be saved (Genesis 4:26)). We who bear the name of Christ are to praise God and bear with the sufferings and fiery ordeals of this age because if it is hard for us to be Christian today, imagine how bad it will be on judgment day for those who deny Christ. God’s judgment, or test on this world begins in the house of God and he will be a better judge and tormentor than this world could ever be.
“…those who suffer according to God’s will…” Again, it is God’s divine decision to have his church suffer. We need to put suffering in the category of God’s will for his saved people rather than a disaster that we must avoid at all costs. This is why the NT writers instruct us to rejoice through trials (James 1). Some Christians will experience worse persecution than others and this may be why Peter says ‘those who’. After perceiving suffering as an act of God’s will, Peter gives helpful instruction on what to do in response.
“…commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” The Christian response is to fight against the natural instinct to defend, or retaliate but to submit to their Creator’s will and continue on the path of doing good to others – even those who are dealing out the persecution (1 Peter 1:14; 2:12, 20, 23; 3:9, 11).
It is God’s will that this world dish out persecution and suffering in all forms and that the church of God – the scattered people of God – will receive suffering for their faith. This should not surprise us. Judgment day is coming for all and the church are the first to experience refinement through fiery ordeals. Although it is hard to remain faithful to Christ, it is way easier than what is coming to all who reject the gospel. Remain committed to our Creator and Redeemer.
- Topic A – Suffering for Christ. Discuss ways you have felt ‘under fire’ because of your faith. How did you react at the time? Would you react differently because of the message from 1 Peter 4?
- Topic B – Proud to bear the name of Christ. It is tempting to withdraw and keep our faith personal and quiet in order to fly under the radar of this world. What are the ramifications of responding to persecution in that way? Consider what Jesus teaches in the parable of Matthew 25:14-30. Or consider what Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:13-16. Does God call us to be sheepish sheep?
- Topic C – The time of tribulation. Peter describes this life as the time of testing for the house of God (1 Peter 4:12) and that judgment comes first to Christians. Read Revelation 7:9-17 to hear what becomes of those who have ‘come out of the great tribulation’. How does it change your attitude to this life to believe that we are now living in the time of tribulation?
Prayer of the Week
Mighty God and redeemer, salvation belongs to you who sits on the throne and to the Lamb. Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to you, our God, for ever and ever. Amen.