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An Exhortation to Elders

1 Peter 5:1-4
Dr. Steve Orr

Children are often encouraged to respect their elders, aren’t they? The thinking is that there is a certain dignity that is associated with old age and there is an expectation that that should be recognised. We’re going to make a start on looking at the final chapter of 1 Peter this morning by considering verses 1 to 4 in which Peter gives an exhortation to “elders”. If that meant that Peter is exhorting older people you might think that’s just what you need because you are quite an elderly congregation. However, the Greek word that has been translated here as “elder” is “presbyteroi”. It’s the word from which Presbyterian churches take their name. It is almost certainly a term that the early church borrowed from the Jewish tradition where leaders of villages or synagogues were referred to as “elders”. It doesn’t speak of age as such. Rather, it suggests leadership on the basis of maturity and wisdom and experience. That being the case, you might think that, rather than being just what you need, it’s of no relevance to you whatsoever. Well, I can’t help but be struck by the fact that Peter included this exhortation to elders in a letter to local churches. If it was only relevant to elders, he would have written a letter directly to elders. That he includes his exhortation to elders in a general letter suggests that the churches need to know and hear what he has to say to elders. Remember that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness”.

Now, this term “elder” is consistently used throughout the New Testament as the title for local church leaders. So, in Acts 14v23 which is speaking of Paul and Barnabas during the first missionary journey, we read: “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed”. So, Paul and Barnabas appointed elders. Notice that elders were appointed “in every church”. Not just churches that fancied having them. Not just churches that Paul thought particularly needed them. Being led by elders was the norm. So, in Acts 15 which speaks of Paul and Barnabas going to the Council at Jerusalem, we read, in verse 14: “When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them”. So, it is clear that the church at Jerusalem had elders. The same was true of the church at Ephesus because we read in Acts 20v17: “Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him”. For one last example look at Titus 1v5 where we read: “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you”. So, Paul had left Titus in Crete in order to appoint elders in each of the local churches. Notice that in all of those examples the word “elders” is plural. It seems clear that the normal New Testament pattern and expectation was that local churches would have elders.

Here in 1 Peter 5v1-4, Peter is addressing the elders of the churches he was writing to. Those verses begin with an introduction, move on to an exhortation and end with an encouragement.

THE INTRODUCTION

Verse 1 is the introduction to the exhortation that is to follow. That introduction indicates the reason for the exhortation, identifies who is going to be exhorted and provides information about Peter as the one who is doing the exhorting. Peter begins the verse by saying: So I exhort”. The NIV omits the word “so” but it is in the Greek text. The Greek word means “so” or “therefore” or “then”. That indicates that there is a connection between what Peter has just been saying and the exhortation he’s going to give. What had Peter been saying? Well, at the end of chapter 4 he’d been talking about a “fiery trial” coming and about sharing in Christ’s sufferings and about being insulted for the name of Christ and about judgement beginning at the household of God. He was warning the churches that he was writing to of the hardships and difficulties they were to expect because of their allegiance to Christ. Such hardships and difficulties put a tremendous strain on everyone within the local church and it could easily lead to all sorts of internal problems and tensions. That is a challenging situation for the leaders of the church to face. It produces a need for wise and effective leadership so Peter said that he was going to “exhort the elders among you”. In view of the sufferings and hardships that could be expected he wanted the elders to know what their role was and to be sure to fulfil that role effectively for the good of the life and witness of the church.

We can note a couple of things about elders from the fact that he said he was going to “exhort the elders among you”. Firstly, note that he speaks of “elders”. It’s plural. Now, I know the letter was a circular that was addressed to several churches throughout Asia Minor so you might think that the use of the plural could simply mean that there was one elder per church and therefore several elders altogether. However, it is clear from elsewhere in the New Testament that the norm was for there to be a plurality of elders in each local church. That was evident in the verses we looked at earlier. So, when Peter said “elders” here I’m sure that he was referring to the elders in each local church. The second thing to note is that Peter spoke of “the elders” as being “among you”. So, they weren’t external. They didn’t keep an eye on things from afar and perhaps pay a visit from time to time. They were part of the local church. Neither were they imposed from without. In Anglicanism it’s quite common for a new vicar to be helicoptered in from who knows where and then after a few years to be moved on to somewhere else. But, the Biblical picture of elders isn’t that they’re semi-detached. They’re as much a part of the local body of believers as the rest of us. They are “among you”. They are each “one of us”. Neither are elders above the rest of us. They’re not a breed apart. Yes, they lead, but they do that by being among us.

Having explained who he is going to be exhorting, Peter went on say something about himself as the one who would be doing the exhorting. We see that he referred to himself as “a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed”. He was really telling the elders three things about himself there and they were intended to encourage them to heed the exhortation he was going to give them.

Firstly, notice the title he used for himself. Remember that he had begun the letter by referring to himself as “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ” but here he spoke of himself “as a fellow elder”. So, he identified himself with the church leaders he was addressing by using the same title as theirs. He wasn’t pulling apostolic rank. He wasn’t commanding them as an apostle. Rather, he was exhorting them as a fellow elder. In doing so he was setting a good example. He was indicating the way in which elders are to rule within the church. They’re not to govern with a heavy-handed authority from above but to exhort as fellow believers in the midst of the local church.

Secondly, notice what he claimed for himself. He was saying that, “as a fellow elder”, he was “a witness of the sufferings of Christ”. Again, if he was emphasising his apostleship you might expect him to refer to himself, quite rightly, as having been an eye witness of the resurrection but he claimed to be “a witness of the sufferings of Christ”. Previously, when Peter had spoken of “the sufferings of Christ” it was clear what sufferings Peter had in mind. For instance, we read in 1 Peter 3v18: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit”. The suffering was obviously Christ’s death on the cross. But, in all probability, Peter didn’t actually witness Jesus’ suffering on the cross. Remember that, before the crucifixion, Peter had denied Jesus three times and then ran away. In what sense then was Peter claiming to be “a witness of the sufferings of Christ”? Well, in 1 Peter 4v13 we read that he said: “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings”. Peter was a witness to “the sufferings of Christ” both in that he had seen believers suffering in the name of Christ and for His sake and in that he himself had experienced such suffering for Christ’s sake. So, Peter wasn’t only exhorting the elders as a fellow elder but as an elder who had experience the sort of suffering that was coming their way.

Thirdly, notice what he expected for himself. He referred to himself as “a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed”. We’ll think a bit more about that when we get to verse 4. For now, just notice the pattern that he’s laying out. He was experiencing suffering for Christ’s sake but was confident of partaking “in the glory that is going to be revealed”. So, Peter was one with the elders that he was exhorting, not only in that he was a “a fellow elder” and not only in that he had experienced the sort of suffering for Christ’s sake that they would have to face but also in that he and they shared the same expectation of future glory.

THE EXHORTATION

The exhortation itself is found in verses 2 and 3 and it really consists of the WHAT of eldership, the HOW of eldership and the WHY of eldership.

Firstly, we see the WHAT of eldership in verse 2 where we read that Peter exhorts them to: “shepherd the flock of God that is among you”. What are elders to do? They are to “shepherd the flock of God”. There’s a bit of a play on words going on there. The Greek word that has been translated as “shepherd” is “poimaino” and the Greek word that has been translated as “flock” is “poimnion”. Both words come from same root so the expression is best translated as “shepherd the sheep”. Elders are to shepherd God’s sheep.

If you’re using the NIV you’ll see that it has translated this as: “be shepherds of God’s flock”. It’s used the word “shepherd” as a noun whereas the ESV has it as a verb. The fact is that the Greek word “poimaino” is a verb so the ESV is correct in saying that Peter is exhorting the elders to “shepherd the flock of God”. Shepherding is what Peter is exhorting elders to do. We find exactly the same idea elsewhere in the New Testament. For example, we read in John 21v16: “He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep””. That was when Jesus was re-instating Peter after his three denials of his Lord and at this point Jesus said Tend my sheep”. The NIV has Take care of my sheep” but the Greek word is “poimaino” so Jesus was telling Peter to “shepherd my sheep”. No wonder Peter had referred to himself as a “fellow elder”. Jesus had told him to do what elders are to do. For another example we can look at Acts 20v28 where we read: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood”. This was when Paul was saying farewell to the Ephesian elders and he told them that they were to care for the church of God”. Once again, the Greek word is “poimaino”. The NIV has “Be shepherds of the church of God” so, once again, it has changed the verb into a noun. It really should be shepherd the church of God”. So, it’s clear that shepherding is what elders are to do.

There is only one instance in the New Testament of the noun “shepherd” being used of church leaders. It’s the Greek word “poimen” and we find it in Ephesians 4v11-13 where we read: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”. The NIV has “pastors” instead of “shepherds” but the English word “pastor” derives from the Latin noun pastor” which simply means “shepherd”. Somehow, that word “pastor” has come to be loaded with a meaning in Christian thinking that is way beyond what is suggested by the Biblical usage. As we’ve seen, the Biblical pattern is that there is to be a plurality of men called Elders and shepherding or pastoring, if you like, is what they do. We might well then ask ourselves why most Evangelical churches have, or want to have, one particular person with the title “Pastor” who is somehow different from or more prominent than the other elders.

Notice who elders are to shepherd. Peter exhorts them to “shepherd the flock of God or “sheep of God”. We must never forget that it is God’s flock. It’s His church. As Peter reminded the Ephesian elders they were to shepherd “the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood”. The flock does not belong to the elders or a pastor and yet how often do you hear of a church being referred to as “so & so’s church” where “so & so” is the “Pastor”? It doesn’t belong to any one man or group of men. A local church is God’s flock. So, the elders don’t own the church – they serve the church by shepherding it and that suggests things like caring for the church, tending to the needs of the church, feeding the church and leading the church.

Secondly, we see the HOW of eldership as Peter continues in verse 2 by saying: “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight. The NIV has “serving as overseers”. Both versions have translated it rather clumsily. The Greek word is episkopeo which is a compound of epi, meaning “over”, and skopeo which is the verb to “look” or “see” so episkopeo is best translated as “overlooking” or “overseeing” and the text is then “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, overlooking or overseeing. We have the English words “microscope” and “telescope” don’t we? Well, “micro” means “small” and “scope” comes from “skopos” meaning “look” or “see” so the idea with a microscope is of looking closely at small details in a focused way. That’s not the idea with overseeing. The “tele” in “telescope” means “far” so the idea is of looking from a distance. Again, that’s not the idea with overseeing. Elders don’t look from a distance. As we saw earlier, Peter spoke of “the elders” as being “among you”. The idea with overseeing is of looking from above. You could think of it as having a bird’s eye view. It’s taking in the whole picture. It’s taking a broad, comprehensive view. So, elders are being exhorted to shepherd God’s flock by overseeing the flock as a whole. You could think of it as “watching over” the flock. It brings to mind the words of the Christmas carol: “While shepherds watched their flocks by night”. How are shepherds able to care for their sheep? It stems from overseeing or watching over the flock. What do shepherds look out for when they’re watching over the flock? I suggest that there are two aspects to it. Firstly, they’re looking out for the well-being of individual sheep. Are any sick or injured or malnourished? If so, they can care for them by addressing those needs. Secondly, they’re looking out for danger. Are there wolves threatening to attack? If so, they can protect the flock from harm.

It’s worth noting that the noun “episkopos” is also used of church leaders in the New Testament. It’s properly translated as “overseer” so it refers to one who “oversees”. That, as we have seen, is what elders are to do in order to shepherd the flock. The word “episkopos” was translated as “bishop” in the King James version and that is where Anglicans get their idea of bishops from and why it’s called an episcopal church. In their scheme of things, a bishop is above local church leaders and has oversight over several churches. However, if you consider New Testament usage it quickly becomes apparent that the term overseer is used as an alternative to elder. For instance, we’ve already noted that in Titus 1v5-7 Paul said to Titus: “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you”. There you see the expectation that there would be a plurality of elders in each local church. He went on to outline the qualities required of elders by saying: “if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination” and then followed that by saying: “For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain”. Having spoken of “elders”, Paul switched to speaking of an elder as an “overseer” and he outlined the same requirements for “overseers” as for “elders”. It’s clear that an “overseer” isn’t different from an “elder”. They are simply different terms for the same role. We see the same if we look at Acts 20. In verses 17 and 18 we read: “Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. And when they came to him, he said to them:”. So, Paul was addressing “elders”. In the course of that address we read in verse 28 that he said: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood”. Again, it’s clear that in Paul’s mind “elders” are “overseers” and “overseers” are “elders” and what they do is “care for” or rather “shepherd”, “the church of God”.

So, piecing together what we’ve seen so far, each local church is to have a plurality of “elders”, or “overseers”, and those “elders”, or “overseers” are exhorted to shepherd the local church by overseeing the local church.

Thirdly, we see the WHY of eldership. In the Christian life, it’s not just what you do and how you do it that matters. Most important of all is why you do it. God looks upon the heart. He expects the motive for what you do to be right. That’s as true for eldership as for any other aspect of the Christian life. So, we find that Peter continues in verses 2 and 3 by saying: “not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock”. We see there that he is addressing the WHY of eldership. He is exhorting elders to be sure to have the right motives for being elders. He does that by means of a series of three “not / but” comparisons.

The first comparison is: not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you”. Elders are not to oversee the flock because they have been pressurised into doing so or guilt tripped into it. No, they are to do so “willingly”. It’s to be something that they have a personal desire to do. As Paul says in 1 Timothy 3v1: “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task”. Elders aren’t to oversee the flock reluctantly or grudgingly but willingly. Peter makes it clear that that is the attitude that God is looking for because he adds “as God would have you”. He doesn’t just want elders to shepherd and oversee, He wants them to do so willingly. The idea is similar to what Paul said in connection with giving in 1 Corinthians 9v7 where we read Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver”. Just as the Lord loves a cheerful giver, He loves a cheerful elder. He doesn’t want anyone to be an elder out of a reluctant sense of duty. He wants willing elders.

The second comparison is: not for shameful gain, but eagerly”. Frank Zappa once released an album entitled: “We’re only in it for the money”. Put bluntly, Peter is saying that elders are not to be in it for the money. Just as they’re not to be motivated by compulsion, they’re not to be motivated by greed either. Paul says the same in Titus 1v7 where we read: “For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain. Rather than being motivated by a calculating attitude that is geared towards making money, elders are to oversee the flock “eagerly”. That goes beyond “willingly”. It suggests real zeal and enthusiasm.

The third comparison is: not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock”. So, elders are not to be motivated by a desire to wield power. The ESV has “not domineering over” and the NIV has “not lording it over”. The idea is of not forcefully subduing or controlling. Who are they to not forcefully control? Well, an unusual Greek word is being used here. The word is “kleron” and it means something like “those allotted”. The ESV translates that as “those in your charge”. The NIV is probably better here in saying “those entrusted to you”. It’s clearly referring back to “the flock of God” that they were exhorted to shepherd back in verse 2. Elders have no right to dominate the flock because it doesn’t belong to them. It’s God’s flock. Rather, they are to be “examples to the flock”. Rather than leading by exerting power they are to lead by example.

So, elders are not to be motivated to oversee the local church by compulsion or greed or a hunger for power. Rather, they are to oversee the local church willingly and eagerly and as role models.

THE ENCOURAGEMENT

If the motive for being an elder in the local church is not duty or greed or power what encouragement is there for elders to eagerly oversee and shepherd the church? Well, remember that in verse 1 Peter had laid out the pattern of suffering now and the hope of future glory. Now he continues in verse 4 by saying: “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory”. The “chief Shepherd”, of course, is Jesus. I’m sure that Peter refers to Him as “the chief Shepherd” to reinforce the fact that they are under Christ and, as such, serve the church rather than dictate to it. Peter expects Him to “appear”. That’s referring to His return. So, the encouragement for elders, as for every believer, is associated with the fact that Jesus will come again. So, for instance, in 1 Thessalonians 4, where Paul speaks of the return of Christ, he concludes the chapter by saying: “Therefore encourage one another with these words”.

Why is knowing that Jesus is coming again an encouragement? Well, Peter says that when He does so “you will receive the unfading crown of glory”. Most commentators seem to take that to be referring to some sort of special reward for elders that they will receive in glory. However, it seems to me, that to say that is to read more into the text than it actually says. It’s eisegesis rather than exegesis. What’s the difference? Well, exegesis can be defined as “the process of drawing out the meaning from a text in accordance with the context and discoverable meaning of its author”. That’s what a preacher should seek to do. Eisegesis can be defined as “the imposition of the reader’s interpretation onto the text”.

Surely, “the unfading crown of glory” is what every believer looks forward to following Christ’s return. Paul says in 2 Timothy 4v8: “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day”. You could get the impression that Paul was just claiming that for himself but he went on to say: “and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing”. It’s not just for Paul. It’s not just for elders. It’s for every believer when Christ returns. In James 1v12 we read: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him”. Again, it’s not just for elders. It’s promised to “those who love him”. I’m sure that “the crown of life” and “the crown of righteousness” and “the unfading crown of glory” are all the same thing. They refer to what Peter spoke of way back in chapter 1 as “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time”.

So, the encouragement for elders in shepherding the flock is exactly the same as the encouragement that every believer has in living the Christian life and serving the Lord. What greater encouragement can there be than knowing that Jesus will return and that when He does we will be glorified and receive our eternal inheritance?

What can you take from this passage? Well, remember that you are “the flock of God”. As such, regardless of whether or not you have elders, you are under the care of Jesus as the “chief Shepherd”. Be sure to “encourage one another” with the sure hope of His return and the knowledge that when He appears “you will receive the unfading crown of glory”.

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Suffering as a Christian

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.

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