1 Peter 4:12-19
Dr. Steve Orr
Do you like surprises? I expect your answer to that question would be that it depends on the surprise. There are different types of surprises aren’t there? Some are pleasant surprises that cause you great joy. Some are nasty surprises that really shake you and knock you for six. Others are not necessarily either pleasant or nasty, they are simply unexpected. There are some things that are intended to surprise us. There are other things that really should come as no surprise at all. Well, this morning, Peter is going to tell us about something that should not surprise the believer in Christ. We’re going to look at 1 Peter 4v12-19 where Peter says: “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. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 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? And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good”.
Clearly, Peter is returning to the theme of suffering as a Christian. I say that he’s returning to that theme because it is something that he’s already mentioned repeatedly throughout the letter. He’s often referred to believers being strangers and sojourners in this world and that a result of that is that we will often face suffering and opposition and persecution. Now, he is emphasising how that is to be viewed so that his readers can cope with it in the right way. From these verses we’ll see that for the Christian suffering for the sake of Christ there is no surprise in suffering, no sadness in suffering, no shame in suffering and no serendipity in suffering. So, firstly:
For the Christian there is no surprise in suffering
We see that in verse 12 where Peter addresses his readers as “Beloved” or “Dear friends” so he’s speaking to his brothers and sisters in Christ and he says to them: “do not be surprised”. He used the word “surprised” back in chapter 4 verse 4 where he said: “With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you”. There he was talking about the hostile, unbelieving surrounding culture being surprised at believers for not joining with them in their godless pursuits. That neither came as a pleasant surprise nor as a nasty surprise to them. Why did they find it surprising? Well, Peter goes on to say that they were surprised because, to them, it was “as though something strange were happening”. It was a surprise because it was not what they would have expected. They found it strange. It made no sense to them and they responded to the unexpected by maligning believers. Now, Peter is saying that believers shouldn’t be surprised by that “as though something strange were happening”. He wants his readers to know that being maligned by unbelievers and suffering for your faith is normal. It’s to be expected. This is very much a case of “forewarned is fore armed”. He wants them to be prepared for when suffering comes so that they won’t be surprised by it and caught off guard. He doesn’t want them to be overwhelmed by suffering when it comes and conclude that God must have abandoned them or think that He no longer loves them.
The reality is quite the opposite. Although Peter is clearly speaking of suffering here, notice that he doesn’t actually use the word “suffering”. Rather, he refers to it as “the fiery trial when it comes upon you”. For some reason the NIV omits the purpose of this “fiery trial” but the ESV quite rightly goes on to say that it is “to test you”. The picture here is clearly that of the refiner’s fire which was used to refine or purify precious metals and to prove their genuineness. Peter has already used that imagery back in chapter 1 verses 6 and 7 where he said: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 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.”. So, sufferings are to be viewed as being part of a refining process that reveals and proves the genuineness of our faith and are therefore for our good. Sufferings, far from being a sign of God’s absence, are actually an indication of His purifying presence. It’s an indication of His Fatherly love for us.
So, when suffering comes we’re not to be surprised as though something strange is happening. On the contrary, verse 13 goes on to say: “But rejoice”. So, the next thing that we see is that:
For the Christian there is no sadness in suffering
That word “But” at the beginning of verse 13 provides a marked contrast. Instead of being surprised by suffering and thinking that something strange is happening we’re to rejoice! Suffering might not be pleasant but suffering for Christ’s sake should not sadden us. We are to rejoice even in such suffering. Now, that’s not to say that we are to rejoice in suffering as such. Peter isn’t encouraging some sort of Christian masochism here. He goes on to give three good reasons for rejoicing in suffering.
Firstly, we’re to rejoice in suffering because it provides evidence of our union with Christ now.
You’ll notice that Peter qualifies this rejoicing by saying: “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings”. So, Peter is talking about sufferings that come as a result of being a follower of Christ and living for Him. The rejoicing isn’t in the sufferings per se. Indeed, in verse 15 he’s going to say: “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler”. There would be no cause for rejoicing in that sort of suffering but Peter says that we’re to rejoice insofar as we’re being like Christ. When you suffer as a Christian those sufferings are not merely your own. They are also Christ’s sufferings in that you are suffering for Him and you are suffering as He suffered. You are sharing in His sufferings. That is cause for rejoicing because it means you are united to Christ and being united with Christ is of fundamental importance in terms of our salvation and hope for eternity. As Paul says in Romans 6v5: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his”. Then in verse 8 he went on to say: “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him”. You see, our hope of resurrection life depends on our union with Christ and suffering for Christ’s sake provides evidence of our union with Him.
Secondly, we’re to rejoice in present suffering because it leads us to future glory.
You see, continuing in verse 13, Peter says that we’re to rejoice in suffering now “that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed”. This is based on the clear Biblical pattern that present suffering leads to future glory. That was the pattern for Jesus. Back in 1 Peter 1v10-11 Peter said: “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories”. You see, he speaks of “the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories”. That was the pattern. Christ’s suffering led Him to glory and exactly the same pattern is true for believers in Christ. We read in Romans 8v16-17: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him”. You see, our present suffering with Christ leads to us being glorified with Christ. We’re to rejoice in suffering now because it’s the precursor to glory. It shows that we’re on the way to glory.
Notice that the ESV says that we’re to rejoice in suffering “that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed”. That’s a bit too low-key. It doesn’t really capture the sense very well. The NIV is better in saying “so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed”. The Greek text literally means “rejoice exulting”. That is rejoicing plus plus. Rejoicing to the max. Extreme rejoicing! The idea is that if we rejoice in suffering now because it’s the precursor to glory how much greater will our rejoicing be when we enter that glory! We can rejoice in suffering because we know that it will lead us to even greater rejoicing.
Thirdly, we’re to rejoice in suffering because the presence of the Holy Spirit blesses us when we do.
We read in verse 14 that Peter says: “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed”. We’ve just seen that we’re to rejoice in suffering now because there is future blessing to look forward to when our rejoicing will be unbounded but, now, Peter is saying that we are to rejoice in suffering because there is also blessing in the present when you suffer for Christ’s sake. He says “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed”. That’s in the present tense. That might seem a strange thing to say but Jesus said much the same thing to His disciples in Matthew 5v11 where we read: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account”. How can there possibly be blessing in being insulted or suffering in other ways? Well, Peter says that it’s “because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you”.
That is almost certainly an allusion to Isaiah 11v1-2 where we read: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord”. That was a Messianic prophecy in which the Holy Spirit was speaking through Isaiah to say that when the Messiah comes “the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him”. That was written in the future tense because Jesus the Messiah was yet to come when Isaiah was speaking but notice that Peter has changed the quotation so that it is in the present tense. That’s because Jesus has come and the Spirit has rested on Him. Peter’s point is that when believers suffer for Christ’s sake they can rejoice, not only because it shows their union with Christ and because it’s going to lead to future glory but also because the Holy Spirit rests upon them to bless them in their suffering and to give a foretaste of the glory to come. So, for the Christian there is no sadness in suffering for Christ. Rather, we have good reasons for rejoicing.
Next, we see that:
For the Christian there is no shame in suffering
Peter says in verse 15: “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler”. Clearly, if a Christian was to “suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler” such suffering would be deserved. It would come as no surprise and it would be a cause for both sadness and shame. But Peter goes on to say: “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed”.
It’s interesting that Peter uses the term “Christian” here. We’re very familiar with that term and readily refer to ourselves as “Christians” but it’s only used on two other occasions in the New Testament. The early believers didn’t refer to themselves as “Christians”. It literally means “follower of Christ” and, as such, it clearly is an apt description of a believer. However, it was actually coined by unbelieving Gentiles in Antioch and it was almost certainly used as a term of derision or abuse. Being called a Christian amounted to an accusation of being an outsider and disruptive and not socially acceptable and could lead to being ostracised and even punished. Peter’s point is that there is no shame in such suffering if it is because of being a follower of Christ. We find an example of this in Acts 5 where we have an account of Peter and the Apostles appearing before the council for preaching in the name of Jesus when they’d previously been ordered not to do so. The council was annoyed and wanted to put them to death but wise words from Gamaliel prevailed and they were let off with a beating instead. So, they avoided being put to death but they suffered for their faith. Were the apostles ashamed to have suffered in that way? No, we read in Acts 5v41: “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name”. They rightly felt no shame in suffering. Rather, they rejoiced “that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name”.
We find that Peter continues by saying “but let him glorify God in that name”. So, “if anyone suffers as a Christian”, far from being ashamed, he is to own that name, embrace that name, live according to that name because doing so will “glorify God”. God is glorified when believers confess the name of Christ and praise His name publicly.
The last point is that:
For the Christian there is no serendipity in suffering
“Serendipity” is probably not a word you’re used to hearing in the context of a sermon heading. I readily admit that I have used it in order to maintain the alliteration that we’ve had so far with the terms “surprise”, “sadness” and “shame”. Even so, saying that there is no serendipity in suffering does convey the sense of what we’re going to see in this final point. You see, the word “serendipity” means something like chance or coincidence or accident. In verses17 to 19 we read: “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? And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good”. At first sight that passage might seem a bit puzzling but if we dig into it we’ll find that it shows us that when we suffer as Christians it doesn’t happen by chance. It’s not an unfortunate coincidence. It doesn’t happen by accident.
Notice that verse 17 begins with the word “For”. That immediately tells us that Peter is going to give the reason for not being surprised but rather to rejoice when suffering as a Christian. So, our suffering isn’t meaningless happenstance. There is a reason for it. He then says “it is time”. That suggests purpose. It suggests a plan or a design. That is reminiscent of Paul’s words in Galatians 4v4-5 where Paul said: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons”. There was nothing random about Jesus coming when He did. He came at the right time – the appointed time according to God’s plan and purpose. So, the idea here in Peter is that the time has come for something to happen as planned. Time for what? Well, Peter says: “for judgment to begin at the household of God”. So, the suffering that Peter has been talking about is some sort of judgement and he says that it begins “at the household of God”.
What are we to understand by “the household of God” as the ESV puts it or “family of God” as in the NIV? Well, the Greek word used there is “oikos” and it literally means “house” so Peter is saying that it is time for judgement to begin at the house of God. In the Old Testament, “the house of God” invariably referred to the Temple. But, what did Peter mean when he mentioned “the house of God”? Well, the only other time that Peter uses the word “oikos” is in 1 Peter 2v4-5 where we read: “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”. There, “oikos” has rightly been translated as “house” and what he meant by “house” was certainly not an earthly temple. Rather it was a spiritual building that is constructed from “living stones” by which he means people who have received new life in Christ. That is the church. That is us. That is believers in Christ. That understanding is confirmed because Peter will go on to say “and if it begins with us”. So, when Peter says that “it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” he means that judgement begins with the church. Judgement begins here with us!
That might come as quite a surprise because, so far, we’ve seen that there’s to be no sadness and no shame in suffering. But, if that suffering is actually judgement, you would think that it would be cause for sadness and shame! Being judged and yet rejoicing in it and not being ashamed seems to be a difficult conundrum to unravel. The difficulty arises because, when we see that word “judgment” we tend to find ourselves thinking in terms of the final judgement or even in terms of condemnation. However, the Greek word that has been used here is a broader term which could be taken to mean something like “assessment” or “appraisal”. As such, it could have either a negative or a positive outcome. No doubt most of you have experienced “annual appraisals” at work. If you’ve been performing badly the appraisal is likely to cause you a degree of sadness and shame but, if you’ve been performing well it will give you reason to be encouraged and pleased. Either way, if it’s done properly, the purpose of the appraisal isn’t to try to find reasons to criticise and condemn you. It’s to help you to improve and develop and make progress. So, the idea is that it is time for God to start assessing or appraising us. There’s nothing random about that. There’s a purpose in that and the purpose is to encourage our growth and development. That was very much the idea that we saw that Peter had in mind when he referred to our sufferings as “the fiery trial”.
Notice next that this assessment will “begin at the household of God”. The implication is that it won’t end there. Again, we have a clear sense of purpose rather than random chance. There’s a defined process going on here.
Peter continues by saying: “and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” The “gospel of God” is the good news that God sent Jesus to die on the cross in order to save sinners who trust in Him. The contrast here is between those “obey the gospel of God”, that is those who trust in Christ for salvation, and “those who do not obey the gospel of God”. If you’re a believer in Christ you don’t need to fear the assessment that begins with the house of God because, although it might uncover some uncomfortable truths and it might be a bit painful, you won’t face condemnation because, as Paul says in Romans 8v1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. The question that follows, however, is another matter. Peter goes on to ask: “what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”. That, of course, is a rhetorical question. Peter doesn’t state the answer. You see, the judgement that begins with the house of God ultimately leads to the final judgement and “the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God” will be that, not only will they be judged, but that that judgement will result in condemnation and punishment.
Peter lends support to his statement, “and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”, by going on in verse 18 to allude to Proverbs 11v31 by saying: “And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”. We won’t spend time on considering that in detail but I think it is important to comment on that phrase “scarcely saved” in the ESV. That gives the impression that believers in Christ are barely saved. It sounds as though we’re saved by the skin of our teeth. It’s a close-run thing. It’s touch and go. The NIV has “if it is hard for the righteous to be saved”. That could give a similar impression. Of course, the reality is that, thanks to the death and resurrection of Jesus, our salvation is gloriously assured. We have complete confidence in Him to save us. There is no “scarcely” about it! The fact is that the Greek word itself can either mean “scarcely” as in the ESV, or “with difficulty”. Given the context, “with difficulty” is the better option and the difficulty that Peter has in mind is surely the suffering that we have to endure as God refines and purifies us in bringing us to final salvation. It’s not suggesting that there’s any uncertainty about our salvation but it’s recognising that we will face hardships along the way. The Christian life can be difficult.
Moving into verse 19 we see that it begins with the word “Therefore” so Peter is drawing a conclusion from what he’s been saying. He says: “Therefore let those who suffer”. So, he’s really drawing that conclusion on behalf of “those who suffer” and he specifically refers to them as being “those who suffer according to God’s will”. We’ve already picked up on a number of indications that there is no serendipity in suffering for the Christian and now he’s making it abundantly clear. When you suffer as a Christian be assured that it is “according to God’s will”. He has a purpose in it so it isn’t random. It isn’t bad fortune.
Peter is really saying “if you suffer for the sake of Christ, in view of what I’ve just been saying, this is what you should conclude. “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will” do what? Be surprised or saddened or ashamed? No, he says: “entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good”. That’s really a twofold response.
Firstly, “those who suffer according to God’s will” are to “entrust their souls to a faithful Creator”. The NIV has “commit themselves”. Now, the idea here is not simply of “trusting God”. The Greek word that has been translated as “entrust” or “commit” means “to hand over something of value to the care of another for safe keeping”. The something of value here is “their souls”. I know the NIV has “themselves” but “souls” is the correct translation and I think that is significant. We’re not to entrust our bodies to be delivered from suffering. We’re to entrust our souls so that we can endure suffering and benefit from it. And, who do we entrust our souls to? Peter says: “a faithful Creator”. That He is “faithful” tells us that He is trustworthy. You can trust Him with something as valuable as your soul. You can count on Him to keep His promises, to remain true to His character and to do what is best for your soul. That He is the “creator” tells us that He has the power and ability to keep your soul. Jesus said in Matthew 6v26: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”. You have nothing more valuable than your soul so be sure to “obey the gospel of God” and entrust your soul to Him.
Secondly, “those who suffer according to God’s will” are to be “doing good”. Peter has previously spoken of suffering for doing good. Perverse as it might sound, the world around us often makes us suffer because of our goodness. Peter’s point here is that because our suffering is “according to God’s will” we’re not to allow suffering to make us stop “doing good”. Rather, our understanding of the suffering that God allows should make us to resolve to continue in “doing good”. Our motive in “doing good” isn’t to receive plaudits from men or to have an easy life but to obey God and bring glory to His name.
So, we’ve seen that where suffering as a Christian is concerned, there is to be no surprise, no sadness and no shame because we know that there is no serendipity in that suffering.