Preparing for Fiery Trials – 1 Peter 4:12-19
by Berry Kercheville
James said it, Paul said it, and in this text, Peter says it. Sufferings or trials are not to be seen as a negative, but a positive. Therefore, rejoice. Now I have to be honest, that has been a challenge for me. Griping, grumbling, self-justification, and a “why me?” attitude has been more likely my response to suffering. I think that is the response that I have seen in most Christians. Our poor response is not necessarily surprising given the fact that Job, one of the greatest men who ever lived, did not respond especially well to his trial. Job despaired of life, became angry, and even challenged God to a debate he believed he would win.
But God expects better things of us, and as Peter transitions to the final section of his letter, he gets our heads on straight when it comes to trials.
Do Not Be Surprised, But Rejoice
It is not uncommon to see some folks “surprised” by tragedies that are the natural events of life and a result of a fallen world. Ecclesiastes repeatedly mentions the “bad days” and the “crooked” things in life. That being said, Peter is not primarily talking about natural tragedies in life, but suffering because of one’s faith in Christ. But why would one be surprised at suffering for Christ? Therefore, Peter gives reasons why one should not be surprised. The first point is that these trials “come upon you to test you.”
Do you forget that? James tells us that this “test” is valid whether it is general suffering in life or we are suffering because of our faith (James 1). Regardless of the source, we are so busy being upset that we forget the importance of the test. When I think of a test, I think in terms of school and grades. When I took a test, I wanted to get a good grade. Are we concerned with how God is “grading” our response to the test? When we are ridiculed for our beliefs, are we passing the grade? When we have an opportunity to state what is right and wrong, do we compromise and not speak plainly on what God teaches?
The most significant part of the test, however, is the discovery of the condition of our faith. What will cause us to cave in? How much pressure does it take for you to say, “I’ve had enough of this”? Prov. 24:10“If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.” We need to get something very straight here: our faith in Christ is basically meaningless until we have passed these tests.
But how do we rejoice in the test? Peter’s answer is that we are sharing in the sufferings of Christ. Suffering for Christ is especially notable because that is when we really know Christ (Phil. 3:10-11). Knowing Jesus is when we have truly acted as Jesus acted and experienced what He experienced. Further, we are able to rejoice now because we will be able to rejoice then. Sharing in His sufferings means we will also share in His glory.
If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed…
I’m impressed that this blessing is pronounced even when we are simply “insulted.” I think as Christians living in America we have very often felt left out of “suffering” for Christ. But being beaten or dying is not necessary in order to be connected to Christ’s suffering. Being ridiculed, insulted, or just plain being looked down on, is part of sharing in His sufferings. That can happen nearly any time we stand publicly for His cause. The reason we are blessed is because “the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” Remember in 1:11, the reference to the prophets predicting the suffering of Christ? The one prophet who did that the most was Isaiah and Isaiah spoke of the Spirit of God resting on the coming Messiah (Isa. 11:1-2). Therefore, we are again connected to Christ, not only in sufferings but also in the approval of God and the knowledge that He is with us in our sufferings.
Suffering as a Christian or as an Evildoer?
Peter lists sins in two categories, a category of three and a category of one. The first three refer to sins that are punishable in a court of law: murderer, thief, or evildoer. The last, a meddler or busybody in other men’s matters, is disruptive to the world and to a body of believers. The word “as” means “even as.” In other words, whether it is the things we consider major sins or even just a meddler, don’t do those things. Karen Jobes (Baker Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament, pg. 289) cites J. H. Elliott description of this point: “Censuring the behavior of outsiders on the basis of claims to a higher morality, interfering with family relationships, fomenting domestic discontent and discord, or tactless attempts at conversion.” In other words, we are not to be ashamed of the gospel, but meddling through constant interference and condemnation is not a productive approach.
However there is no shame in suffering for Christ and no one should ever feel ashamed. Instead, one should glorify God in the name of Christian. It is interesting that there is no one “name” or title for the Lord’s church. But there is a name for the disciple of Christ. It is the name “Christian” and we are to wear that name without shame. “Christian” implies Christ-like. If we wear the name, we need to live the life.
Notice the words, “It is time…” Peter is not talking about something far in the future. He is talking about the present. Therefore, the “judgment” is not the final judgment. The “judgment” is the suffering they are enduring and will soon endure even more. As the household of God they are suffering a fiery ordeal that is testing them concerning their faithfulness. That being so, what will be the outcome at the final judgment on those who do not obey the gospel? Putting it another way, if you think as a Christian you have it bad, just imagine what the disobedient will suffer! You don’t want that suffering.
Verse 18 is a quotation from Proverbs 11:31, “If the righteous receive their due on earth, how much more the ungodly and the sinner!” (NIV11). You can see that Peter is not saying that the righteous barely get into heaven. Peter is saying the righteous get to heaven through difficulty, through suffering and trials. And if the righteous must suffer this way, can you imagine the outcome of the unrighteous? If God would have His own people go through such, those who are disobedient will suffer far worse.
Peter’s conclusion is to follow the example of Jesus. When you suffer according to God’s will, just leave it in the hands of God. He will take care of it. Entrust your soul to Him while doing good.