Joyful Faith

 

Week of August 10, 2014

 

Bible Verses:  1 Peter 4:12-19

 

The Point:  Choose joy even in life’s difficulties.

 

Rejoice in your Suffering: 1 Peter 4:12-13.

 

[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. [13]  But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.  [ESV]

 

[12-13]  “A new section begins in verse 12. This is evident because the previous section closes with a doxology, and the new section is introduced by Beloved and an imperative as was the new section in 2:11. In addition, Peter again took up the subject of suffering, tackling it from a fresh and final angle, giving another perspective on what has been discussed earlier. Peter began here by admonishing them not to be surprised at the fiery trial they were enduring. If they were astonished at the suffering that occurred, they may have been overwhelmed, concluding that God did not love them. An advance warning of suffering helps the readers to be prepared for suffering, so that their faith is not threatened when difficulties arise. Some interpret the fiery trial as designating actual physical persecution, but Peter said nothing different here from what had already been communicated in 1:6-7. This metaphor should be interpreted in light of the Old Testament background, particularly Psalm 66:10 and Zechariah 13:9 where God uses fiery trials to refine and test His people. Thus sufferings are not a sign of God’s absence but His purifying presence with His people. Their unbelieving contemporaries may be surprised [4:4] that Christians are not participating in their evil, and yet believers should not be surprised that suffering strikes them. Such suffering is to be expected because its purpose is to test you. Peter returned here to the theology of 1:6-7, where suffering is allowed by God to refine the faith of believers. God uses the trials of life to strengthen the character of believers and to make them fit for His presence. Verse 13 functions as a contrast to verse 12, as is indicated by the word But introducing the verse. Instead of being shocked that they were suffering, they should rejoice at the privilege, to the degree that they share Christ’s sufferings, which refers to sufferings that come because of their allegiance to Christ. Peter anticipated here what would be explained in the subsequent verses. Suffering for Christ is a cause for joy, but being mistreated because of one’s own sins is nothing to brag about [see Acts 5:41]. The first part of the verse 15 emphasizes that the believers should rejoice now if they suffer for Christ’s sake. The purpose clause (introduced by that) points readers to a future joy. Believers should rejoice even now in suffering that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed [13]. Rejoicing in their present suffering is mandated, precisely so that believers will have joy in God’s presence at the day of judgment. How believers respond to suffering, in other words, is an indication of whether they truly belong to God at all. The promise of future joy, in fact, energizes the joy that will be theirs in the future. The intensity of joy in the future is reflected in the two words that are used: rejoice and be glad. The two terms used reflect the teaching of Jesus Himself, for He exhorted His disciples to rejoice and be glad when persecuted [Matt. 5:12]. This future joy will belong to believers when his glory is revealed. The revelation of His glory almost certainly refers to the second coming of Christ. This is confirmed by 1:7, where, in a context that also discusses suffering and the final reward, reference is made to the revelation of Jesus Christ. The same expression is used to describe the coming of Jesus Christ in 1:13. Indeed, such an expression describes the future coming of Christ in the Pauline letters [1 Cor. 1:7; 2 Thess. 1:7]. Peter exhorted readers to rejoice in their present sufferings so that they will be able to rejoice and exult forever when Christ returns. By implication those who do not rejoice in their sufferings do not truly belong to Jesus Christ. If they groan about sufferings now, they will presumably be disappointed on the future day.”  [Schreiner, pp. 217-221]

 

Insulted for the Name of Christ:  1 Peter 4:14.

 

[14]  If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.  [ESV]

 

[14]  “In verse 13 believers are commanded to rejoice in their present sufferings, but verse 14 adds a distinct point, emphasizing that believers are blessed by God if they are insulted because of their allegiance to Jesus Christ. The sufferings of believers are described here as being insulted for the name of Christ. The word insulted is important and helps us understand the fiery trial in verse 12. The latter term might suggest that believers were being put to death and were experiencing some kind of physical torture for their faith. Peter certainly wanted the readers to be prepared for such experiences. The evidence of the letter does not support the idea that suffering had yet reached such an intense state. The opposition was mainly verbal at this stage. They were insulted by others for their devotion to Christ. We see in 4:4 that they were abused by unbelievers for not participating in their former activities. The main point of the verse emerges in the second clause. Those who are insulted as Christians are actually blessed. They may be insulted by human beings, but they are blessed by God Himself. Peter was almost certainly recalling the words of Jesus here, for Matthew 5:11 says Blessed are you when others revile you (or insult you). Christians may be reproached by human beings, but they are blessed by God. The last clause in verse 14 explains why believers are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. The wording of the verse hearkens back to Isaiah 11:1-3, where the branch of Jesse, obviously Jesus Himself, will be endowed with the Holy Spirit. The wording of verse 2 is especially important. Isaiah said that the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him. The main difference is that Isaiah used a future tense verb, while in Peter we have a present tense, probably to emphasize that the prophecy uttered in Isaiah has now been fulfilled and that the Spirit that was upon Jesus now also rests on Christians. Believers who suffer are blessed because they are now enjoying God’s favor, tasting even now the wonder of the glory to come and experiencing the promised Holy Spirit.”  [Schreiner, pp. 221-223]

 

Glorify God in your Suffering:  1 Peter 4:15-19.

 

[15]  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. [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?" [19]  Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.  [ESV]

 

[15-19]  “The but introducing verse 15 explains that believers’ joy and blessing is conditioned upon truly suffering as Christians. Not all suffering qualifies one for God’s blessing and joy, for human beings also suffer when they do what is evil. The realism of Peter and of the early Christian movement manifests itself here. He knew how easily people can rationalize punishments that are deserved and explain them as ‘Christian’ suffering. The admonition also reminds us that the early Christian churches were imperfect. Believers were still prone to sin, and hence they needed exhortations to encourage them to walk in godly pathways. The first two sins listed are blatant examples of falling short of God’s standards. Indeed, murder and stealing are not only sins but also crimes in society. We should not discern from this that believers in the Petrine churches were actually committing such crimes, nor is it clear from this that Christians were being taken to court. Blatant sins are listed for rhetorical reasons, so that believers will distinguish between genuine Christian suffering and suffering that is a consequence of misbehavior. The third sin is acting as an evildoer. Peter used the same word on two other occasions, and in both those cases it refers to doing wrong in general and cannot be limited to criminal acts [1 Peter 2:12,14]. The fourth word represents one of the most difficult interpretive problems in the New Testament. The word translated meddler occurs nowhere else in the New Testament or in other Greek literature before 1 Peter. When we examine the word’s parts, we could define it as ‘watching over another’s affairs’. Others have suggested that the term means ‘revolutionary’ or ‘embezzler’. Certainty is impossible because of the lack of data, but it is argued by some that ‘embezzler’ makes the best sense contextually. They claim that meddling is annoying, but the context demands actions that are seriously wrong, and meddling does not fit in such a context. But, on the other hand, Peter realized that most Christians will not be guilty of obvious sins like murder and stealing, and so he concluded by encouraging believers to even refrain from annoying others. If believers act like busybodies, they would be considered to be pests who deserve ostracism and mistreatment. Hence, though certainty is impossible, a reference to being a meddler seems most probable. Peter wanted believers to refrain from acting tactlessly and without social graces. Verse 16 now examines the other side. The word if as in verse 14 should not be translated as ‘since’ or ‘when’. It is not as though Peter was saying that Christians may escape suffering. The word is used so the readers will consider the condition, focusing on the reason for suffering, namely, if someone suffers as a Christian. Even though the Christian faith was not officially declared to be illegal in Peter’s day, the threat of persecution was constant, for as Christians emerged as a distinct entity from Judaism, they had no legal status as a religion. The call to renounce shame focuses on actions that are shameful. Specifically, Christians would act shamefully by denying Christ before unbelievers or by failing to persevere in the faith. Hence, those who are ashamed would be guilty of apostasy. By way of contrast believers glorify God by confessing and praising His name publicly. They glorify God in the name Christian by enduring such suffering with joy [13], pleased that they are privileged to suffer because of their allegiance to Jesus Christ. The For beginning verse 17 reaches back to the idea of suffering in verse 16. The suffering of believers is the beginning of God’s judgment at the household of God. This judgment does not involve the destruction of the godly but their refinement and purification. That the judgment in Peter does not involve destruction is clear from the parallel statement in verse 18, where the godly are saved. We see in 1:6-7 that the trials and difficulties of the righteous are designed to purify and refine believers so that they will receive their final reward. Even though God’s household is the temple in the Old Testament, we see here that Peter now conceives of the church, God’s people, as His temple. Such a move is not surprising in Peter, for he already had identified the church as God’s priesthood, His chosen people, and His holy nation, so that blessings belonging to Israel now belong to the church [2:9]. The judgment that begins with God’s people purifies those who truly belong to God, and that purification comes through suffering, making believers morally fit for their inheritance. The judgment here is the final judgment, but this judgment begins even now, in the present evil age. The judgment begins with us, which means that it commences with Christians. In the present age believers experience suffering, and this is the purifying judgment that begins with believers. Peter proceeded to argue from the lesser to the greater. If even those who are going to be saved are purified and judged by suffering, then the outcome or result of those who reject the gospel will surely be a greater punishment. Unbelievers are described here as those who do not obey the gospel of God. Peter could have written about judgment falling on those who disbelieved the gospel, but here he wanted to focus on the failure to obey, for all unbelief leads to disobedience. On three other occasions those who will be judged are described as disobeying [2:8; 3:1,20]. In 2:8 and 3:1 such disobedience is described as disobedience to the word, and the word in these texts is simply another expression for the gospel. Believers, on the other hand, are characterized by obedience [1:2,14; 3:10-12; 4:3-4]. Peter did not specify what judgment awaits unbelievers, but he already had indicated in 4:5 that they await final judgment. Verse 18 restates the truth of verse 17 in proverbial form [Prov. 11:31]. The meaning of the proverb must be discerned from the context in which Peter used it, and it clearly functions as a restatement of the previous idea in verse 17. The word translated scarcely also can mean ‘with difficulty’, which the context here favors. Peter was not saying that the righteous are scarcely saved, as if they were almost consigned to destruction and were just pulled from the flames. What he meant was that the righteous are saved ‘with difficulty’. The difficulty envisioned is the suffering believers must endure in order to be saved. God saves His people by refining and purifying them through suffering. It is implied here that salvation is eschatological, a gift that believers will receive after enduring suffering. If the godly are saved through the purification of suffering, then the judgment of the ungodly and the sinner must be horrific indeed. The verb will become refers to the eschatological judgment of unbelievers. Peter wrote this to motivate believers to endure in suffering, and we have seen a similar argument in 4:3-6. Suffering may be difficult now, but by participating in the pain of following Christ believers escape the condemnation coming upon the wicked. A conclusion form all of verses 12-18 is now drawn in verse 19. Those who suffer according to God’s will are those who share in Christ’s sufferings [12], who are insulted in Christ’s name [14], and who suffer as Christians rather than for doing something evil [15-16]. The reference to God’s will here as in 3:17 indicates that all suffering passes through His sovereign control. When suffering strikes, believers should entrust their souls to a faithful Creator. Christ modeled what Peter enjoined, for when He was suffering, He entrusted Himself to God [2:23]. Jesus used the same word when He entrusted His spirit to God at His death [Luke 23:46]. In Acts the word is used when Paul entrusted his converts to God [Acts 14:23; 20:32], and in the Pastorals the word designates the entrusting of God’s truth to faithful men [1 Tim. 1:18; 2 Tim. 2:2]. Similarly, believers should entrust their lives to God as Creator. The reference to God as Creator implies His sovereignty, for the Creator of the world is also sovereign over it. Therefore believers can be confident that He will not allow them to suffer beyond their capacity and that He will provide the strength needed to endure. Such confidence can be theirs because He is a faithful Creator, faithful to His promises and faithful to His people, never abandoning them in their time of need, always vindicating the righteous and condemning the wicked. The way believers will reveal that they are trusting in God is by continuing doing good.”  [Schreiner, pp. 223-230]

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.         In 4:12-14, Peter instructs his readers to not be surprised when they suffer, but to rejoice instead. Why should they rejoice? What is the reason for their joy? Do you rejoice when you suffer for honoring Christ? Have you sensed God’s blessing in your life when you are insulted for the name of Christ [14]? How are sufferings a test of your faith?

 

2.         In 4:15-19, what two types of suffering does Peter describe? Compare and contrast the two types of suffering. What does Peter mean by suffering according to God’s will? How can you glorify God when you suffer for the name of Christ?

 

3.         The world in which we live is becoming increasingly anti-Christian. We should expect to suffer when we stand up for Christ in a pluralistic and immoral world. Pray that God will enable you to glorify the name of Christ when you suffer according to God’s will. And pray that you will continue to entrust yourself to God in the midst of your sufferings.

 

References:

The Message of 1 Peter, Edmund Clowney, Inter Varsity.

1 Peter, Karen Jobes, BENT, Baker.

1, 2 Peter, Jude, Thomas Schreiner, NAC, B & H Publishers.