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- 1 Peter 4:12 - 19
Do you like surprises: A surprise birthday party, a surprise check in the mail, a surprise visit from family? I think people are split on their enjoyment of being surprised or thrown off rhythm. Some people really like things predictable and steady. Others may like some twists and turns and things happening when they least expect it.
I think what we all share in common is a general dislike of not so good surprises, things happening to us that we did not expect or plan for or ask for and would never have asked for.
God is in control
When we become believers in the Lord Jesus and begin to follow Him, we are not promised a steady, predictable life without any surprises. We are instead given assurance that God is never surprised, thrown off rhythm, left scrambling to figure out “what went wrong.” God is in control and that means that we do not need to be surprised by unexpected troubles that come into our life. Instead, we can choose to trust Christ through the trial and troubles and grow in Christ because of the trial and troubles.
Peter wants to help us to do that here at the end of chapter 4. The first thing to do in a trial is to remember our identity as, “Beloved.” Now the first thing we think of when we see people in a trial or are undergoing a trial ourselves is usually pity of some sorts. So we say things like, “I feel so bad for you” or “why is this happening to me.” This is responding to suffering with pity or a form of sadness. And that is okay to a point. Compassion is certainly a great quality and a response to people’s pain.
More than pity
However the gospel offers us more than pity and compassion while suffering. It offers a renewed sense of identity. We are not the product of unfortunate events and bad circumstances. We are beloved. We are loved by God with everlasting affection. And we are loved by one another. Trials will often put very different thoughts into your mind like, “I am alone in the universe,” “Nobody loves me or cares about me.” This will pull us away from fellowship with God and each other. Knowing that we are beloved within the suffering will push us toward fellowship with God and each other.
Knowing that we are beloved also helps us to not be surprised at the fiery trial as though something strange were happening to you. We all have an idea of how a day will go, a week will go, a month will go and even how a life will go. If you keep a calendar on google or on the wall or in a day planner, I am guessing that you did not write into the calendar, “suffering” for this day in this month. We really don’t make plans to suffer or be tested. And that is okay. It would be strange to make that a part of our 2-year plan.
It will come
However, we are to think right about the future and not dismiss the clear teachings of Scripture when it comes to the future. In the world, you will have trouble Jesus says. And those who live a Godly life in Christ will experience persecution of various kinds. So be hopeful in Christ in regards to the future but also be sober-minded about the future too. This will keep us from being surprised when things come into our life that were not in our day planner but were in God’s plan for us.
These fiery trials are not be thought of as strange but as purposeful. They come upon us to test us, Peter says. Now when we think of a test, we usually think of a sheet of paper or a screen with a bunch of true or false or multiple-choice questions or a few essays. Those kinds of tests are gauges to see where you are in your knowledge. You don’t necessarily learn anything new but you will repeat back what you already know.
Tests that grow us
When the Bible speaks of tests, it is more than gauging your current state. These tests also produce greater faith and deeper character and give us a stronger resolve to obey. So they both identify where we are now and push us to deeper maturity than we had before the test came. So in your fiery trial do not just think, “I hope I get through this and pass the test.” But also think, “in what ways will I grow through this test? What is God teaching me through this and how will I submit to Him and His work in me through this difficult thing?”
Sent by God
These trials that test us are not randomly thrown into our lives by accident. They come upon us and are sent to us by God. This does not mean that God does evil to us or tempts us to sin. It means that sovereign God will use a variety of means to both test and strengthen our faith in Him.
Jesus in the wilderness
An obvious example of this is Jesus in Matthew 4. Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. So here we have 2 Persons at work. The Spirit leading Jesus to be tempted by the devil. This was a test for Jesus’ readiness for ministry and the means of the test was Satan Himself.
So this test was not a detour from communion with the Spirit. God the Father did not say, “go ahead Satan, tempt my Son and I will check in to see how it turns out.” Not at all. The Spirit led Jesus (or as Mark says “drove Jesus”) into that test and stayed with Jesus throughout the test.
God is with us
Even through a very fiery intense painful trial, we are assured that God is with us. This trial is not by chance but by design. And the good that will come from it may not be seen immediately but good will come from it, when, how and in what ways this will happen is up to God.
So in a trial we are to know our identity as beloved, we are to not be surprised and we are to understand it as test, not as a strange happening or random occurrence. Verse 14 takes it even further and states that we are to rejoice insofar as you share in the sufferings of Christ that you may also be glad and rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. So notice 2 very separate distinct things that should produce the same action. We are to rejoice in suffering and we are to rejoice and be glad in glory, or when Jesus returns to raise the dead.
How is that humanly possible? It isn’t. If a heart can rejoice in current suffering and in future glory, there is only one explanation. That heart has been filled with the Holy Spirit of God, Who fills us with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory. This is not an ability we have naturally but something we have supernaturally. We rejoice because of Who is in us not because of the circumstances outside of us.
He can sympathize
And we have in us the Christ, who also suffered and can sympathize with us in our suffering. He in fact was tempted in every way, tested like we are. So we are again not cutting a new trail in our suffering. We are following Jesus through it and we have has His prayers, His compassion, His knowledge of our situation and His promise to be with us through the suffering. He suffered and was brought to glory. We also will suffer and be brought to glory. And that knowledge is enough to give us the strength to rejoice in the current suffering on the way to future glory.
The Spirit of glory
Even if we are insulted, verse 14 says, or maligned for the name of Christ, we are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. Peter is speaking here of Christian witness, not so much personal sorrows or trials. If you experience any form of criticism for your loyalty to Jesus, you will actually be blessed by God.
The most raw, descriptive example of this is Stephen in Acts 7. Stephen had just finished a sermon about God’s redemptive work in history. The religious people did not like it and gnashed their teeth at Him. They did what Jesus said people will do, they hated Stephen on account of His love for Jesus.
Love for Jesus
And by the way, that is why the world should hate Christians, because Christians love Jesus and have affection for Him. Not because we have formed a wall of resistance that opposes the culture. We do not love being different than the world. We love Jesus and we love being like Jesus and this pushes us into the culture, like it did with the apostles and others. As we do that, advance into the culture with love for Jesus and the love of Jesus, some people will hate us for it. We will love them anyway. That is certainly what Stephen did.
Full of the Holy Spirit
Stephen finished his sermon. And the people did not like it. So they made plans to make sure he never preached again (which didn’t work because He still preaches today through Acts 7). And verse 55, says, “he full of the Holy Spirit gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” The next thing that happens is his stoning. They drug him out of the city and killed him through the process of throwing sizable stones at him until eventually dying from the blows.
So here we see suffering and glory. Insult and blessing. Displeased people. A very pleased Father in heaven. This is what Peter is getting at here. The glory of God rests on you no matter what kind of hostile environment you are in. And this leads us to love our enemies or in the case of Stephen to pray that God would forgive them. How is this possible? Because the Holy Spirit of God has taken the supreme place in our hearts. Mercy overcomes even the best reasons for judgment.
The other kind of suffering
However not all suffering is noble and a test in maturity. Non-believers suffer as well. And Christians can suffer as well for choices and decisions that do not align with the loving commands of Jesus. Peter says, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or a meddler.” The first 2 things are criminal. The law will punish both murder and theft. The other 2 may fly under the radar of criminal activity but are nonetheless prohibited in Scripture. An evildoer is someone who plots evil, does what is not good and right. A meddler is most likely someone who puts his or her nose in other people’s business, to step in it if you will, to fall victim to foot in mouth disease (Like Peter often did) or to fail to practice social graces.
Avoiding avoidable suffering
Peter is not just stating the obvious here, that we should not do these things. I think he is also making the point to avoid suffering that is avoidable. And if you do something that causes suffering, learn from it, grow in wisdom and return to the lordship of Christ in your life. The Christian life is hard enough as it is. Do not add more suffering to your already full schedule.
Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed but let him glorify Christ in that name. The name Christian was first given to believers in Antioch in Acts 11. The non-believing Gentiles called Christ-followers Christians and it stuck. It is a fine name for Christ worshippers. To suffer as a Christian is to have your life defined and determined by Jesus in such an obvious way that some people are threatened by it to the point of insulting you for it.
In whose name do you suffer?
If you suffer like that, you should not be ashamed but rather glorify Christ in that name. To suffer in your name is to suffer for things you’ve done in your own name by your own initiative, according to your own way and plans. To suffer in Christ’s name is to suffer for things you’ve done in His name, by His initiative, according to His ways and His plans. If we are to suffer, we are to suffer in His name, not our own. (We will get more to that in a minute).
2 kinds of judgment
Peter adds somewhat of a cryptic description of judgment in verse 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? And if the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the sinner?” What Peter is doing here is distinguishing between 2 kinds of judgments: a purifying judgment and a punitive judgment. The household of God is the people of God, the children of the King, the community of the redeemed. We will experience suffering, a judgment of sorts on the way to glory. In fact, we will be scarcely saved or saved but with great difficulty and travail.
Painful and purifying
The suffering we experience will be a painful and yet purifying suffering. Like Paul says in I Corinthians 11:32, “But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.” So there is judgment that leads to maturity and growth and there is a judgment that leads to eternal condemnation. Peter’s points is this: if even the church, the bride of Christ suffers a purifying judgment that leads to growth and maturity, how much more will non-believers experience judgment to the point of eternal separation from God and all that is good and pure and pleasurable.
Everybody hurts, thank you Michael Stipe. Believers hurt and suffer in a way that leads us to eternal good. Those who reject the gospel of God will also hurt and suffer as a preview to the greater judgment to come. This is not Peter being severe. This is Peter reflecting reality. There is no cakewalk to heaven or hell. Both paths are filled with trouble. One path leads to eternal peace. The other to eternal pain.
An important question
Now there needs to be a question asked and hopefully answered here. If all suffering is either suffering for doing good or suffering for doing evil, what does God do with Christians who suffer for doing that which is wrong (and by the way that will be all of us to one extent or the other)? Is there any suffering for the Christian that lies outside the bounds of His redemptive work and loving discipline? I think the answer is no. Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”
This was true even of the murderous, insolent, persecuting Paul. He “received mercy so that Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” And so the things Paul did that were not good things were used to heighten both His love for Jesus and witness to the world that the grace of Christ changes people and overcomes the hardest rebellion. Paul’s pre-Christian life was not a waste (although he calls his accolades rubbish). It was a reason for a life of praise and service to Jesus.
This is where the gospel goes another level deeper than we first think. Because God does not just say, “well, I’m glad I wasn’t around to know you when you were like that.” He says, “I loved you and chose you even in that state so that when I change you into a new creation, you will understand the miracle that it is and praise me for it.” God’s love does not begin at conversion. It leads to conversion. God’s love does not begin at the point of repentance. It is overflowing to us in our rebellion and then leads us to repentance.
The way we respond
The way we respond to the gospel is to accept the love and forgiveness of God given to us in Christ while were still sinners, not saints. We accept that the things we did in our name, for our own purposes, with our own blind initiative Jesus has taken onto Himself as though He did it. My sins are plunged into the blood of the King named Jesus Who takes away the sins of the world. And now all suffering both from bad and good actions never leads to punishment but to purification.
No dual punishment
God, being just, does not issue dual punishment. He does not punish Jesus and you for your sins. He does not put sins in your name as though they belong to you and also in Jesus’ name as though they belong to Him too. Christ already took the sins and therefore took the punishment so that our sins are not floating out there unforgiven or untaken care of. They are fully and finally and forever dealt with at the cruel Cross of Calvary. And there we die to our name and all that we have done right and wrong and we rise to live for the Fame and glory of Jesus Christ, the Name that is above all names.
The summary in verse 19 is mean to embody everything that Peter has said so far in one succinct statement, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” This is probably a verse worth memorizing or at least internalizing. It was the will of God to crush the Son at the cross. It is also the will of God to bring trials and tests into our lives to both test and strengthen our faith.
Within this suffering, we are to do 2 things: entrust ourselves, give ourselves over to the safe keeping of God Who will guard our souls and preserve our bodies until it’s time for a new one. And we are to continuing doing good. God does not interrupt our life by adding suffering. He leads us to eternal life through suffering. Don’t be surprised. Be ready to do that which is pleasing to Him through Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.