Today, we are walking alongside Peter. We are curious to what he is thinking.
Calvary is before us, though we realize it not. If we are in realization, we are not yet in a place where we can even begin to comprehend its awesome magnitude.
Three times, our Rabbi Jesus has told us of his having to suffer at the hands of his betrayers. He has prophesized that he must suffer unbelievable humiliation at the hands of the people – that he will be crucified, and he will be killed. We do not believe this is possible for such a one as our Rabbi – we will never allow it to happen as long as we are alive, can expend all strengths, and able to prevent it.
But, to our surprise, our Rabbi sharply rebukes us. He tells us we are to get out of his way – do not try to prevent his coming suffering. It is ordained by God! I cannot wrap my head or my heart or my suffering soul around such a notion. I am struggling with the notion that Rabbi suffering is a God ordained necessity.
I understand what it means to struggle and suffer – I have spent many days in my father’s boats – struggling and suffering to bring in the nets filled with my days catch. I also understand what it means to suffer and to struggle when the nets are empty at the end of the day, and that I have no fish to sell in the local market or to feed my family, friends and neighbors or donate to the Temple. I am used to such days and count them as the cost of doing what I choose to do.
But now, with these words of my Rabbi, weaving into and out of my soul, I do not believe I really know, nor comprehend what suffering he is referring to. I have seen people being crucified – and it frightens me to the core of my being. My own Rabbi tells me he must absolutely experience this for my greater good. These are strange words to me! These are surprising words to me! What now?
So, I continue to walk with my Rabbi as we prepare to celebrate the Passover ….
1 Peter 4:12-19 Easy-to-Read Version
Suffering as a Follower of Christ
12 My friends, do not be surprised at the painful things that you are now suffering, which are testing your faith. Do not think that something strange is happening to you. 13 But you should be happy that you are sharing in Christ’s sufferings. You will be happy and full of joy when Christ shows his glory. 14 When people say bad things to you because you follow Christ, consider it a blessing. When that happens, it shows that God’s Spirit, the Spirit of glory, is with you. 15 You may suffer, but do not let it be because you murder, steal, make trouble, or try to control other people’s lives. 16 But if you suffer because you are a “Christ-follower,” do not be ashamed. You should praise God for that name. 17 It is time for judging to begin. That judging will begin with God’s family. If it begins with us, then what will happen to those who do not accept the Good News of God?
18 “If it is hard for even a good person to be saved,
what will happen to the one who is against God and full of sin?”
19 So if God wants you to suffer, you should trust your lives to him. He is the one who made you, and you can trust him. So, continue to do good.
The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.
What ought we to learn from such a lesson as Peter dictates to us?
I want to highlight important four truths from this text.
First, don’t be surprised when you suffer for your faith in Jesus Christ (v. 12).
Second, rejoice, and glorify God when you suffer for your faith in Jesus Christ (vv. 13-14).
Third, don’t be ashamed to suffer for your faith in Jesus Christ (vv. 15-18).
Fourth, trust God when you suffer for your faith in Jesus Christ (v. 19).
In order to understand vv. 12-19, I will first discuss two introductory points about the context of our text.
1. Context of 1 Peter 4:12-19.
First, in my own personal view, Peter wrote this letter to exhort Christians who have suffered for their faith in Jesus Christ to be holy and to hope in God as they suffered for their faith in Christ.
For example, in 1:6-7, Peter states that these Christians should rejoice although they suffer “various trials” so that their faith would be tested (i.e., refined) and proven to be real at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
In 1:13, he exhorts them to hope in the saving grace of Jesus Christ, grace that will be offered to them when Jesus returns (see also 1:13-16).
In 2:18-25, he exhorts Christian slaves to endure their suffering at the hands of both unjust masters and just masters in a manner that honors Christ.
In 3:14, Peter exhorts these Christians not to fear their oppressors if they suffer for righteousness (i.e., if they suffer as a Christian).
Finally, in 4:12-19, Peter exhorts these Christians to honor Christ even if they are insulted, reviled, and ridiculed for their Christian faith.
Thus, in my view, Peter wrote this letter to exhort Christians who suffered for their faith in Jesus to be holy and to hope (i.e., trust/wait) for their salvation in Christ as they suffered for Christ.
Second, Peter grounds his exhortations to be holy and to hope in God and God’s sovereign work of salvation in Christ.
For example, in 1:1-2, Peter calls these Christians, scattered throughout Pontus, Cappadocia, Asia, Galatia, and Bithynia, elect (chosen by God) in accordance with his foreknowledge (i.e., in accordance with his covenantal love that he chose to place on them before the foundation of the world).
In 1:2, Peter further states that these Christians are the people of God when he refers to their conversion with the words elect by the sanctification of the Spirit for obedience and for sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ.
In 1:3-5, Peter further explains to his audience they are the people of God by emphasizing God himself has reached down from heaven and supernaturally entered their lives by causing them to be born again to a living hope according to his great mercy by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead unto an incorruptible, unfading, and undefiled inheritance,
which is being kept in heaven for them, who are being kept by the power of God for an eschatological salvation that has invaded this present evil age and that will be revealed on the last day.
Then, Peter says, in verses 6-12, although they suffered various trials in this life, they should rejoice, because they would receive the goal of their faith, namely, the salvation of their souls.
Their suffering was a means by which their future salvation would be realized.
Based on Peter’s brief doxology about God’s sovereign work of salvation on behalf of his people in 1:3-12, Peter then exhorts these Christians in 1:13 until the end of the letter to be holy as they are suffering for their faith in Christ.
Therefore, before considering 4:12-19, we must remind ourselves that Peter grounds his gospel imperatives to be holy and to hope in the gospel indicatives of God’s own sovereign work of salvation in the lives of his people who were suffering for their faith in Christ.
This reminder takes me to my first point from 4:12-19.
First, don’t be surprised when you suffer for your faith in Jesus Christ (v. 12).
Don’t be surprised by the fiery trial (12): Peter begins verse 12 by exhorting his audience not to be surprised/shocked by this fiery trial that has come upon them as though something strange/foreign has come upon them. The fiery trial refers to suffering for their faith in Jesus Christ.
More specifically, it refers to suffering insults, revilements, social ostracism from the society in which these Christians lived, because Peter states in verse 14 these Christians are blessed if they are reviled/insulted for the name of Jesus. This latter point is supported elsewhere in 1 Peter (e.g., 1 Pet 2:12, 18-25; 3:14).
Peter calls this trial “fiery” because he associates it with God’s chastening or judgment of his people for the sake of purifying their faith.
In 1 Peter 1:7, Peter refers to the suffering of these Christians with an analogy of gold being refined through fire. He asserts in 1:7 that their tested faith, is more precious than gold refined by fire, will be proven to be real when Jesus returns.
Furthermore, in 4:17-18, Peter associates this fiery trial with God’s judgment and chastening of his people when he states that judgment begins with God’s people at God’s house first and that the righteous will be saved by means of difficulty (i.e., by means of suffering).
In 4:19, he declares that it is God’s will for Christians to suffer.
Consequently, if we read 1:7 beside of 4:12-19, we can infer that God brings the fiery trial of suffering for faith in Jesus Christ upon these Christians through evil antagonists of the Christian faith to be a means by which he keeps them in order to strengthen the faith of these Christians so that they will be saved from God’s eschatological wrath when Jesus returns.
Second, rejoice when you suffer for your faith in Jesus (vv. 13-14).
The tension between suffering and joy (13):
This verse introduces us to one of the many tensions of the Christian faith: namely, the tension of joy co-existing with suffering.
Peter says if “you participate in the sufferings of Christ” (by which I think he mentions you suffer for righteousness as a Christian), “then rejoice.”2 I do not expect Peter to say “rejoice” when you suffer!
Honestly, in light of verse 12, verse 13 comes as a shock to me since Christians who heard this exhortation and who have read this exhortation throughout history have suffered severely.
Nevertheless, Peter’s exhortation to rejoice is not a contradiction, but it is an exhortation to hope in God’s promise of eschatological salvation.
That is, he is exhorting these Christians to look to the eschatological salvation for which they have been saved and which God will reveal to them on the last day when Jesus returns.
In the midst of the certainty of their suffering for their faith in Jesus Christ, Peter reminds these Christians of the certainty of their future salvation, which has invaded this present evil age.
This interpretation seems right for the following reasons.
First, in the first half of verse 13, Peter says “but to the degree that you share/ participate in the sufferings of Christ, you rejoice!” In the second half of verse 13, he gives the reason for the command: “so that at the revelation of his glory” (i.e., at the second coming) “you may rejoice with much exultation.”
Second, in 1:6-9, Peter exhorts these Christians to hope in their various trials in this life because their suffering is a direct means by which they will truly inherit future salvation.
Finally, in 1:13, Peter exhorts these Christians to hope in their salvation that God will give to them when Jesus returns.
Therefore, in 4:13, Peter exhorts these Christians to hope in the certainty of God’s eschatological salvation in the midst of the shame and dishonor that their persecutors brought upon them for their faith.
Instead of being ashamed of suffering for Jesus, they should be rejoicing because they will be saved from their suffering and from God’s wrath when Jesus returns since they are the people of God.
The Spirit of God and of glory rests upon those who suffer (v. 14):
I believe verse 14 further supports the preceding interpretation. The Spirit rests upon the people of God in 1 Peter.
In 1:2, Peter states these Christians have been sanctified by the Holy Spirit: i.e., they have been converted.
Thus, Peter’s point in 4:14 seems to be when Christians suffer for their faith in Christ, this particular suffering proves they have the Spirit, it proves they are the people of God, and their suffering for Christ proves they will be saved on the last day when Jesus returns. Therefore, Christians should rejoice (i.e., hope in Christ’s salvation) when they suffer, because we are indeed blessed by God.
Third, don’t be ashamed when you suffer for your faith in Jesus Christ (vv. 15-18).
In verses 15-18, Peter further explains the argument he has been making in verses 12-14.
Namely, in verses 12-14, the argument is don’t be shocked/surprised when you suffer for your faith in Jesus Christ as though this is a strange thing.
But instead rejoice now when you suffer for your faith in Jesus Christ, so you will rejoice on the last day when Jesus returns in his glory, because if you suffer for your faith in Christ, then such suffering proves that you are converted.
In verse 15, Peter now says be ashamed to suffer for unrighteousness because that kind of suffering brings dishonor in God’s eschatological law-court.
There is no honor when one suffers as a murderer or as a thief or as a busy-body or as an evil-doer, for these acts bring shame in society and in God’s eschatological law-court (v. 15).
But Christians should not be ashamed to suffer as a Christian (i.e., for their faith in Christ) because suffering for Christ brings honor in God’s eschatological law-court although it brings shame in this life.
Christians should, nevertheless, glorify God by suffering for the name of Jesus Christ when non-Christian’s dishonor and shame them for their faith in Christ.
In v. 16, the command to glorify God by the name of Christ is another way of talking about hoping in God (cf. 1:13) and trusting God (cf. v. 19).
In verse 17-18, with an appeal to Proverbs 11:31 from the Septuagint (LXX), Peter specifically offers a reason why Christians should not be ashamed to suffer for their faith in Christ.
Namely, God judges his people in the current evil age by means of suffering via evil opponents of the Christian faith (v. 17).
In v. 18, he confirms this interpretation by asserting that the righteous (i.e., Christians [v. 16]) will be saved by means of difficulty, whereas the ungodly and the sinner (i.e., the non-Christian) will experience God’s wrath (vv. 17-18).
Although vv. 17-18 do not explicitly state the latter point, the context supports it since Peter has emphasized throughout the letter up to 4:18 that Christians are the people of God and that they will be saved from God’s future wrath.
The implication of 4:17-18 is that non-Christians will not escape God’s wrath since they reject Christ, which they demonstrate by persecuting Christians.
Fourth, trust God when you suffer for Christ (v. 19).
Peter concludes 4:12-19 with v. 19 by exhorting these Christians to implicitly trust God when they suffer in accordance with his will (i.e., when they suffer for righteousness as Christians) as they live righteously. (Consider Isaiah 43 here!)
The Long and the Short of this text is this …. against our 21st Century context,
Any “Suffering” sucks. Suffering for Christ is something else altogether.
To suffer for Jesus is something we should expect according to Jesus Himself.
He said that the world would be hostile to His followers and suffering through persecution was something we needed to prepare for. (Consider John 17)
That is because Christians were meant to shake up the world with a message of radical love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, salvation, and transformation.
But, WHERE IN GOD’S KINGDOM DO WE NOTE SUCH RADICAL BEHAVIOR?
Even though the world needed to know the truth, it would not take it easily.
There would be resistance and even fear, all directly and decisively, maliciously aimed at the messengers of The Gospel Message.
If we are honest, we do not want this to be our common faith experience.
Yet, we must absolutely acknowledge the struggle and suffering of churches in countries where communicating the message of the Gospel comes with a heavy price – imprisonment, torture, public humiliation, even worse is their death.
We must pray for the “underground churches” their leaders and congregants.
Where and when possible, support them with our abundance of resources.
We have more freedom here in America to follow Jesus, but unfortunately, I don’t know if that has made us bolder or more urgent with God’s message.
If anything, the culture is indifferent to Christians, because sadly, maybe that is how indifferently we live for Jesus too.
We are in a weird situation. We can be free to be faithful.
The prospect of suffering for our faith is low.
You would think the church would be thriving and believers emboldened and on fire for God’s work.
That is not the case at all.
If anything, Christians seem to blend in with the secular culture more and more.
The church does not struggle with suffering, rather, things like a how to have a more convenient and comfortable faith.
We have lost the edge that can only be sharpened through pressure and testing.
The irony is that the world around us is suffering.
People are struggling and broken without Jesus.
They are looking for hope and a way out.
While that is not pleasant, suffering for being a Christian would at least mean people recognize you are a Christian and you are living in a way that stands out.
However, persecution is not really a threat or reality for most of us.
I can’t say if that a good or bad thing.
What I can say is that a faith that you have to fight and stand up for is a stronger and more enduring faith, simply because it has been tested.
I firmly believe some of the believers reading this devotion right now would identify more with today’s Word because they would have come from countries where living for Jesus has a real price and potentially lethal consequences.
We need those stories and that faith experience to impact our churches here.
We know, or should make a point to know, that there are believers suffering for Christ all over the world.
We are richer for those who have suffered for Christ and come up the other end still standing.
Perhaps, a first step and response to a faith that is relatively free, is to wake up and seize that God-given opportunity by living boldly and recklessly for Jesus.
Believe thou this!
Think about that.
Pray without ceasing about that.
Do something ASSERTIVE about that ……
In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,
Let us Pray,
Heavenly Father, thank You for the Lord Jesus Christ and all that He has done for me. Thank You that in Him, I have eternal life and am secure in Your hands, no matter what I may have to suffer in this life. Thank You that by His blood, I have been fully and finally redeemed and forgiven of my sin. I pray that those who abuse me and cause me to suffer because of my faith in Jesus, may then be convicted of their sin and come to a saving faith in Christ. Thank You that Your grace is sufficient for everything I may have to face. May my life bring honor to You and Your Son’s suffering. In Jesus’ name, Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! AMEN.