It Comes as No Surprise (I Peter 4:12-19)
Passage: 1 Peter 4:12–4:19
New Life in the Same Old Place
This morning, we return once again to the letter we call I Peter.
You may remember that this entire letter, written to many churches scattered across regions encompassing something like 300,000 square miles in what is today Turkey, this entire letter was written to Christians that Peter describes in chapter 1 as “elect exiles”. Because they had been chosen by God through Jesus, they no longer were of this world; they were no longer living for what the world lives for.
But ever since chapter 2, he has been talking to them about suffering. This morning, we come to the last major section dealing with suffering: verses 12 through 19 of chapter 4. Why don’t we look at that together.
II. The Passage: "Do Not be Surprised" (4:12-19)
Listen to how Peter begins here in verse 12: Beloved [those whom I love], do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
Now, if we go back the beginning of this passage, back to verse 12, I think it would be very helpful to ask the following question about Peter’s words here: “Why were his readers surprised by their suffering?”
Did you see what he wrote? “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you”. We might answer that question using Peter’s words at the end of the verse. Why were they surprised? Because they thought “something strange” was happening to them.
But that only begs the related question, “Why did they think their suffering was ‘something strange’?”
It appears, based on the necessity of Peter’s words here, it appears that many of these Christians had an inaccurate view of the Christian life. It appears many of these disciples did not include suffering as a basic feature of their faith. In the recipe of faith, suffering, for them, was not an ingredient.
Maybe their belief that suffering was “something strange” flowed out of a belief that Christianity was only about victory, and glory, and prosperity, and blessing, and a crown. That kind of thinking wouldn’t be new, even for Peter. Remember Jesus’ conversation with James and John in the Gospels?
And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” (Mark 10:36, 37)
Maybe that’s the mindset Peter’s audience had. And if following Jesus is only about following a King marching forward in victory, as we might define victory, than, yeah, suffering doesn’t make sense. Suffering is “something strange”.
Does the recipe of your faith include suffering as a key ingredient?
Even today, there are many Christians who find themselves surprised by suffering. Their understanding of God and salvation, their theology, has a hard time dealing with the subject of suffering.
They either believe that suffering is always a sign of hidden sin or a lack of faith. Or they believe that suffering means ‘I just have not disciplined myself enough; I’m too spiritually weak’. Or they believe that suffering means I need to tone things down, and pull back, and soften my approach, and figure out something that works without this kind of resistance.
Now there can be some truth in those explanations, but when followers of Christ approach all their suffering like that, something’s wrong. When Christians look at all suffering as “something strange”, something is wrong. This is what Peter is addressing here in verse 12:
Beloved, do not be surprised…as though something strange were happening to you.
III. It’s Not “Strange”, It’s…
What we see Peter doing here in verses 12-18 is giving these believers five reasons why suffering is not “something strange”; five reasons why suffering is, in fact, a key ingredient in the recipe of faith.
A. The Father’s Test (v. 12)
The first reason is right there in verse 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.
Notice how Peter uses the word “fiery” here. Is he saying that some of them were being burned at the stake? No, Peter spelled out this idea right at the very beginning of this letter. It was obviously something very important, something he wanted to tackle right up front. He wrote in chapter 1:
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. (1:6, 7)
Peter is telling them here that suffering is not “something strange”. Suffering is a refining tool that God the Father uses to test and prove the genuineness of our faith.
Just like a craftsman puts gold into the fire in order to burn away the impurities, God was using their sufferings like a spiritual fire that wouldl either reveal what is counterfeit, or purify the faith of those who truly belong to Jesus.
But he goes on to explain their suffering in verse 13.
B. The Son’s Sufferings (v. 13)
Peter writes in verse 13: But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
Look at how Peter describes his readers’ suffering in this verse. He connects their sufferings to Christ’s sufferings.
Peter tells them, “No, your suffering is not “something strange”. You suffer just as Jesus suffered. Your suffering is because of Jesus.” We share in Jesus’ sufferings, not by somehow sharing in his unique suffering for the sins of the world. No, we share in His sufferings because, through him, we are no longer of the world. We are in Christ. And because we are IN Christ, we experience the very hostility and resistance that resulted in Jesus being hung on the cross.
Peter would have remembered how Jesus explained this on the night before his death:
18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. (John 15:18-20)
This is exactly what Peter wants to tell them about being an “elect exile”. “But I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” This is why John himself made a very similar statement in his first letter:
Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. (I John 3:13)
When James and John asked Jesus about claiming their place in glory, do you remember how Jesus responded to them? He talked to them about the cup he had to drink, about how he came to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.
He was in essence telling them that the cross always comes before the crown.
There is no Christianity without the cross. There is no genuine salvation that only offers a crown. The way of Jesus is about both. It is about victory, but victory through defeat. It is about glory, but glory in humility. It is about being first, but only by being last. It is about finding life, but only by losing our life.
Verses 13 and 14 are also helpful for us because they remind us that the suffering Peter is talking about here is suffering we endure because we believe; because we are followers of Jesus. It isn’t simply circumstantial suffering, the kind that happens to everyone (sickness, financial pressures, problems in relationships, natural disasters, etc.).
I think there are principles that help us suffer as Christians, even when we are not directly suffering for our faith. But Peter is definitely talking about persecution that is taking place because his readers have confessed that “Jesus is Lord”, and his lordship has changed every area of their lives.
Wherever believers are in the world, believers who are living under the loving leadership of Jesus Christ, there will be friction; because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
In some places that friction is felt in a stare or in a snide remark. In some places that friction is felt in a punch or in an executioner’s deadly blow.
Wherever ‘the rub’ is felt, Peter tells his readers, he tells us, to “rejoice”. Why rejoice? Because we know that such sufferings demonstrate our connection with Jesus; and that connection should remind us, verse 13, of the glory that will be revealed when Jesus returns. We rejoice in light of our future rejoicing. We rejoice in light of what our sufferings confirms about God’s word and our relationship with God’s son.
This idea is also clear in the next verse, verse 14:
C. The Spirit’s Evidence (v. 14)
Look with me at verse 14:
If you are insulted for the name of Christ [there’s another clear indication of the kind of suffering some of these churches were experiencing…these were Christ’s sufferings…”insulted for [his] name”…if you are insulted for the name of Christ), you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
First he says “rejoice” in your sufferings. Now he says, consider yourselves “blessed”. No doubt Peter remembers the words of Jesus when he said:
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad [just like I Peter 4:13], for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)
But why does Peter call them “blessed” here in I Peter 4?
As a consequence of the last point, I think Peter is reminding them here that their suffering is not “something strange”, but is in fact a wonderful reminder that God’s Spirit is working in and through us.
When we feel that friction from a world that hates Jesus and God’s kingdom, that friction is not being directed toward us because our moral purity is just too much for people. No, that resistance and rejection is directed to the Spirit of glory…the Spirit of God who is working out the life of Jesus in us.
As Paul explained it in II Corinthians 2: For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. (II Cor 2:15, 16)
When we suffer for Him, we should not think that somehow God is far away. We should instead be encouraged by the fact that our suffering is evidence that God is very near…that He is working in us through His Spirit.
D. An Opportunity to Glorify God! (vs. 15, 16)
Look next at verses 15 and 16: 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.
Verse 15 is one of several places in this letter, in this section on suffering, where Peter wants to make sure that his readers make sure that they are suffering for the right reasons.
Some in these churches might have been in conflict with their neighbors or in trouble with the civil authorities because they were, in fact, a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or…a meddler.
And they might have been guilty of such evil while holding on to sanctified justifications: “We should take matters into our own hands because we are servants of the true king. That ruler is simply a servant of the devil.” “Well, I had to say it forcefully like that because those sinners will not listen to anything else. I had to do take those drastic measures, or else the church would have suffered. God’s plan might have been derailed.”
We are often very good at justifying our poor behavior, our worldly attitudes, our lack of faith with some spiritual sounding language. But if you suffer because of your faith, make sure you are not suffering because you are offensive or overbearing or arrogant. Make sure you are suffering because Christ and His message are confronting someone with the truth.
And if anyone is suffering for the right reasons, let them not be ashamed, but glorify God in the name. Peter tells them, “your suffering is not ‘something strange’; it is, in fact, an opportunity to glorify God.”
The world expects and hopes that when we are under the pressure of persecution, when we are feeling the friction, that we will be ashamed of our commitment to Jesus. The Enemy, capital E, wants us to compromise in times like that. But when we stand firm, and rejoice, and recognized that we are blessed with God’s own Spirit; when like the disciples in Acts 5:41 we are rejoicing because [we have] been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name, we will glorify God. God will be honored as his power is seen in us.
E. The Beginning of Judgment Day (vs. 17, 18)
The final reason Peter gives them here, the fifth reason that suffering is not “something strange” is drawn out of verses 17 and 18:
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?”
Do you see what Peter is telling them here? He has just told them in 4:7 that “the end of all things is at hand”. These are the “last days” as Peter explained to the crowd in Jerusalem in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost.
So here he is saying that your suffering is not “something strange” because this is what we should expect at the beginning of the great Day of Judgment.
I Peter 4:5: God is “ready to judge the living and the dead”. But the fires of judgment will begin with God’s people. Listen to how the prophet Malachi explained several hundred years before Peter’s time:
“Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me. [Remember, Jesus said in Mattthew 11, Mark 1, and Luke 7 that this was fulfilled with the coming of John the Baptist] And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. (Malachi 3:1-3)
The fires of persecution, the fires of suffering are, in the hands of our Sovereign God, a fire of judgment that will refine God’s people, but will punish those without Christ, for those who do not obey the gospel of God.
This is not ‘something strange’. This is all part of the program. This is, as Peter expresses it in verse 19, suffering “according to God’s will”.
IV. True Protection (v. 19)
Now as move to the conclusion of the passage in verse 19, look just at the first word: “therefore”. “Therefore” is a word that point us back, isn’t it.
Because suffering is not ‘something strange’, but is in fact, the Father’s test, and the Son’s sufferings, and the Spirit’s evidence, and an opportunity to glorify God, and a sign of the beginning of Judgment Day, therefore…
Therefore let those who suffer according to [‘something strange’? No, according to] God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
The word here “entrust” means to “commit something into the care of another so that it stays safe”. So why is “entrusting our souls” Peter’s conclusion to his encouragements about suffering persecution? Because it is self-protection that usually drives us to respond wrongly in the midst of our suffering. We fear that the pain that will come from resistance and rejection. Some fear abuse. Some fear death.
But our failure to speak or decision to be ashamed is not true protection. We are not really protecting ourselves. We are only doing ourselves harm by not “doing good” (v. 19). No, true protection in the face of suffering can only be found in the One who made us. As Paul expressed it in II Timothy 1: …I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. (1:12)
If there is no ‘friction’ in our lives, then we are most likely not entrusting our souls to God in all of those times when we have a chance to speak or act for Jesus Christ. There is no friction from the world when the world doesn’t see Jesus in us.
How is God calling you to step out this morning? How is calling you to endure this morning in your suffering for Christ, because you stepped out? Even more, maybe he’s calling you to rejoice and count yourself blessed in that suffering.
The right response always and only comes because our eyes are on Jesus. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (I Peter 2:23)
The call of the gospel is that our eyes are always fixed on the cross of Jesus Christ. Listen to what the French Pastor John Calvin said about this in his comments on I Peter 4:
“For whosoever has resolved to fight under Christ's banner, will not be dismayed when persecution happens, but, as one accustomed to it, will patiently bear it. That we may then be in a prepared state of mind when the waves of persecutions roll over us, we ought in due time to habituate ourselves to such an event by meditating continually on the cross.”
May God grant us the grace to do just that, so that we may not be ashamed to live for Christ, so that we may not fear the world’s resistance and rejection, but instead, that we may live as “elect exiles”; that we may do just what Peter talked about at the beginning of this section on suffering: Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (I Peter 2:12)