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.
In the first part of chapter 4 Peter revels in the glory of God, how great life with him is. Then we get to verse 12 and Peter shifts his attention from the glory of God to the suffering f God’s people in the world.
Two times in verse 12 Peter speaks of something strange, a sort of anomaly in the Christian life – the presence of pain and suffering under the watchful eye of God.
Every Christian who lives a godly life experiences a certain amount of persecution. On the job, in school, in the neighborhood, perhaps even in the family, there are people who resist the truth and oppose the gospel of Christ. No matter what a believer says or does, these people find fault and criticize. Peter dealt with this kind of “normal persecution” in the previous part of his letter.
But in this section, Peter explained about a special kind of persecution—a “fiery trial”—that was about to overtake the entire church. It would not be occasional personal persecution from those around them, but official persecution from those above them. Thus far, Christianity had been tolerated by Rome because it was considered a “sect” of Judaism, and the Jews were permitted to worship freely. That attitude would change and the fires of persecution would be ignited, first by Nero, and then by the emperors that followed.
Peter gave the believers four instructions to follow in the light of the coming “fiery trial.”
Be ready, be prepared
Persecution is not something that is alien to the Christian life. Throughout history the people of God have suffered at the hands of the unbelieving world. Christians are different from unbelievers, and this different kind of life produces a different kind of lifestyle. Much of what goes on in the world depends on lies, pride, pleasure, and the desire to “get more.” A dedicated Christian builds his life on truth, humility, holiness, and the desire to glorify God.
This conflict is illustrated throughout the Bible. Cain was a religious man, yet he hated his brother and killed him. The world does not persecute “religious people,” but it does persecute righteous people. Why Cain killed Abel is explained in 1 John 3:12: “Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.” The Pharisees and Jewish leaders were religious people, yet they crucified Christ and persecuted the early church. “But beware of men,” Jesus warned His disciples, “for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues”. Imagine scourging the servants of God in the very house of God!
God declared war on Satan after the fall of man in Genesis chapter 3, and Satan has been attacking God through His people ever since. Christians are “strangers and pilgrims” in an alien world where Satan is the god and prince. Whatever glorifies God will anger the enemy, and he will attack. For believers, persecution is not a strange thing. The absence of satanic opposition would be strange!
The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:4 NIV
Rejoice in Suffering
The world cannot understand how difficult circumstances can produce exceeding joy, because the world has never experienced the grace of God.
Can you share how your own personal experience in suffering has changed from the way you used to face it?
Peter named several privileges that we share that encourage us to rejoice in the midst of the fiery trial. Our suffering means fellowship with Christ (v. 13). It is an honor and a privilege to suffer with Christ and be treated by the world the way it treated Him. “The fellowship of his sufferings” is a gift from God (Phil. 1:29; 3:10). Not every believer grows to the point where God can trust him with this kind of experience, so we ought to rejoice when the privilege comes to us.
“And they [the apostles] departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name” – Acts 5:41
Christ is with us in the furnace of persecution (Isa. 41:10; 43:2). When the three Hebrew children were cast into the fiery furnace, they discovered they were not alone (Dan. 3:23–25). The Lord was with Paul in all of his trials (Acts 23:11; 27:21–25; 2 Tim. 4:9–18), and He promises to be with us “to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). In fact, when sinners persecute us, they are really persecuting Jesus Christ (Acts 9:4).
Our suffering means glory in the future
13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. – 1 Peter 4:13
“Suffering” and “glory” are twin truths that are woven into the fabric of Peter’s letter. The world believes that the absence of suffering means glory, but a Christian’s outlook is different. The trial of our faith today is the assurance of glory when Jesus returns. Remember earlier Peter declares in chapter 1:
6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 1:6-7
This was the experience of Jesus, and it shall also be our experience.
It is necessary to understand that God is not going to replace suffering with glory; rather He will transform suffering into glory. Jesus used the illustration of a woman giving birth (John 16:20–22). The same baby that gave her pain also gave her joy. The pain was transformed into joy by the birth of the baby. The thorn in the flesh that gave Paul difficulty also gave him power and glory (2 Cor. 12:7–10). The cross that gave Jesus shame and pain also brought power and glory.
Mature people know that life includes some “postponed pleasures.” We pay a price today in order to have enjoyments in the future. The piano student may not enjoy practicing scales by the hour, but he looks forward to the pleasure of playing beautiful music one day. The athlete may not enjoy exercising and practicing his skills, but he looks forward to winning the game by doing his best. Christians have something even better our very sufferings will one day be transformed into glory, and we will be “glad also with exceeding joy” (see Rom. 8:17; 2 Tim. 3:11).
14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. – 1 Peter 4:14
Our suffering brings to us the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He is the Spirit of glory and He has a special ministry to those who suffer for the glory of Jesus Christ. This verse can be translated “for the presence of the glory, even the Spirit, rests on you.” The reference is to the Shekinah glory of God that dwelt in the tabernacle and in the temple (Ex. 40:34; 1 Kings 8:10–11). When the people stoned Stephen, he saw Jesus in heaven and experienced God’s glory (Acts 6:15; 7:54–60). This is the “joy unspeakable and full of glory” that Peter wrote about in 1 Peter 1:7–8.
In other words, suffering Christians do not have to wait for heaven in order to experience His glory. Through the Holy Spirit, they can have the glory now.
This explains how martyrs could sing praises to God while bound in the midst of blazing fires. It also explains how persecuted Christians (and there are many in today’s world) can go to prison and to death without complaining or resisting their captors.
Our suffering enables us to glorify His name. We suffer because of His name (John 15:21). You can tell your unsaved friends that you are Baptist, a Presbyterian, a Methodist, or even an agnostic, and there will be no opposition; but tell them you are a Christian—bring Christ’s name into the conversation—and things will start to happen. Our authority is in the name of Jesus, and Satan hates that name. Every time we are opposed for the name of Christ, we have the opportunity to bring glory to that name. The world may speak against His name, but we will so speak and live that His name will be honored and God will be pleased.
There are only three places in the New Testament where the term Christian is used. In the book of Acts (11:26 & 26:28) and right here in verse 16. The name was originally given by the enemies of the church as a term of reproach, but in time, it became an honored name. Of course, in today’s world, the word Christian means to most people the opposite of “pagan.” But the word carries the idea of “a Christ one, belonging to Christ.” Certainly it is a privilege to bear the name and to suffer for His name’s sake (Acts 5:41).
Polycarp was the Bishop of Smyrna about the middle of the second century. He was arrested for his faith and threatened with death if he did not recant. “Eighty and six years have I served Him,” the saintly bishop replied, “and He never did me any injury. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”
Examine Your Life
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?” – 1 Peter 4:15-18 ESV
Have you ever noticed that when you are in the middle of persecution it is easier to examine your life, decisions and status? It has been said when you are in the furnace of persecution and suffering, we often have more light by which we can examine our lives and ministries. The fiery trial is a refining process, by which God removes the dross and purifies us. One day, a fiery judgment will overtake the whole world (2 Peter 3:7–16). Meanwhile, God’s judgment begins “at the house of God,” the church (1 Peter 2:5). This truth ought to motivate us to be as pure and obedient as possible (see Ezek. 9 for an Old Testament illustration of this truth). There are several questions we should ask ourselves as we examine our own lives.
Why am I suffering?
15 If you suffer, however, it must not be for murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs. – 1 Peter 4:15 NLT
We know that not all suffering is a “fiery trial” from the Lord. If a professed Christian breaks the law and gets into trouble or becomes a meddler into other people’s lives, then he ought to suffer! We have to be able to face the consequences for our decisions. The fact that we are Christians is not a guarantee that we escape the normal consequences of our misdeeds. We may not be guilty of murder (though anger can be the same as murder in the heart, Matt. 5:21–26), but what about stealing or meddling? When Abraham, David, Peter, and other Bible “greats” disobeyed God, they suffered for it; so, who are we that we should escape? Let’s be sure we are suffering because we are Christians and not because we are criminals.
Am I ashamed
16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. – 1 Peter 4:16
This statement must have reminded Peter of his own denial of Christ (Luke 22:54–62). Jesus Christ is not ashamed of us (Heb. 2:11)—though many times He surely could be!
Can you share of a time when you were ashamed and how you are now?
The Father is not ashamed to be called our God. On the cross Jesus Christ despised shame for us (Heb. 12:2), so surely we can bear reproach for Him and not be ashamed. The warning in Mark 8 is worth pondering.
38 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels. – Mark 8:38 NASB
“Not be ashamed” is negative; “glorify God” is positive. It takes both for a balanced witness. If we seek to glorify God, then we will not be ashamed of the name of Jesus Christ. It was this determination not to be ashamed that encouraged Paul when he went to Rome (Rom. 1:16), when he suffered in Rome (Phil. 1:20–21), and when he faced martyrdom in Rome (2 Tim. 1:12).
Am I seeking to win the lost
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?” – 1 Peter 4:15-18 ESV
Note the words that Peter used to describe the lost: “Those who do not obey the gospel of God…. the ungodly and the sinner.” The argument of this verse is clear: If God sends a “fiery trial” to His own children, and they are saved “with difficulty,” what will happen to lost sinners when God’s fiery judgment falls?
When a believer suffers, he experiences glory and knows that there will be greater glory in the future. But a sinner who causes that suffering is only filling up the measure of God’s wrath more and more (Matt. 23:29–33). Instead of being concerned only about ourselves, we need to be concerned about the lost sinners around us.
This is where many of our American Christians check out. They only care about themselves. They want their own life better. Because realistically, that is why they think they came to church in the first place. (Notice they think they came to church, but we know through studying of scripture, it is God calling, electing, us to come to Him).
Our present “fiery trial” is nothing compared with the “flaming fire” that shall punish the lost when Jesus returns in judgment (2 Thess. 1:7–10). The idea is expressed in Proverbs 11:31—
If the righteous will be rewarded in the earth, How much more the wicked and the sinner! – Proverbs 11:31 NASB
The phrase scarcely saved, in verse 18 means “saved with difficulty,” but it does not suggest that God is too weak to save us. The reference is probably to Genesis 19:15–26, when God sought to rescue Lot from Sodom before the city was destroyed. God was able—but Lot was unwilling! He lingered, argued with the angels, and finally had to be taken by the hand and dragged out of the city! Lot was “saved as by fire” and everything he lived for went up in smoke (see 1 Cor. 3:9–15).
Times of persecution are times of opportunity for a loving witness to those who persecute us (see Matt. 5:10–12, 43–48). It was not the earthquake, in Acts 16, that brought that Philippian jailer to Christ, because that frightened him into almost committing suicide! No, it was Paul’s loving concern for him that brought the jailer to faith in Christ. As Christians, we do not seek for vengeance on those who have hurt us. Rather, we pray for them and seek to lead them to Jesus Christ.
Do you see yourself facing your persecutors differently now than you used to?
Commit Yourself to God
19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. – 1 Peter 4:19 ESV
When we are suffering in the will of God, we can commit ourselves into the care of God. Everything else that we do as Christians depends on this. The word is a banking term; it means “to deposit for safekeeping” (see 2 Tim. 1:12). Of course, when we deposit our life in God’s bank, we always receive eternal dividends on our investment. This picture reminds us that we are valuable to God. He made us, redeemed us, lives in us, guards, and protects us.
We don’t think about it much now days, but soon we might, how important it is to have the government backing up and guaranteeing our money in the banking system. We have a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) that will guarantee our deposits, even if the bank goes under. In days of financial unsteadiness, such assurances are necessary to depositors. But when we “deposit” our life with God, we have nothing to fear, for He is able to keep us.
This commitment is not a single action but a constant attitude. “Be constantly committing” is the force of accountability and discipleship. How do we do this? “By means of well-doing.” As we return good for evil and do good even though we suffer for it, we are committing ourselves to God so that He can care for us. This commitment involves every area of our lives and every hour of our lives.
If we really have hope (remember that is not wishful thinking but solid understanding), and believe that Jesus is coming again, then we will obey His Word and start laying up treasures and glory in heaven.
Unsaved people have a present that is controlled by their past, but Christians have a present that is controlled by the future (Phil. 3:12–21). In our very serving, we are committing ourselves to God and making investments for the future.
Why did Peter refer to God as “a faithful Creator” rather than “a faithful Judge” or even “a faithful Savior”? Because God the Creator meets the needs of His people (Matt. 6:24–34). It is the Creator who provides food and clothing to persecuted Christians, and who protects them in times of danger. When the early church was persecuted, they met together for prayer and addressed the Lord as the “God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is” (Acts 4:24). They prayed to the Creator!
Our heavenly Father is “the Lord of heaven and earth” (Matt. 11:25). With that kind of a Father, we have no need to worry! He is the faithful Creator, and His faithfulness will not fail.
Before God pours out His wrath on this evil world, a “fiery trial” will come to God’s church, to unite and purify it, that it might be a strong witness to the lost. There is nothing for us to fear if we are suffering in the will of God. Our faithful Father-Creator will victoriously see us through!