Our Text – 1 Peter 4:12-17
Key Verse – 1 Peter 4:16, “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name”
Our Theme – God wants us to purpose to glorify Him in our trials.
We have lived long enough to know that life isn’t always easy and you will eventually go through some kind of suffering. You may feel like things are going along pretty well and then suddenly, your life changes, like the flip of a light switch, and now you are going through trials in your life.
Psalm 119:71 says, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” – Affliction, when we accept it with humility, can be instructive, a discipline that leads us to a deeper, fuller life. “Before I was afflicted, I went astray,” David said, “but now I keep Your Word (Psalm 119:67). Peter would agree, affliction leads us not to live for ourselves “but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:2).
Far from being an obstacle to our spiritual growth, pain can be the instrument of it, if we’re trained by it. It can push us closer to God and deeper into His Word. It is a means by which He graciously shapes us to be like His Son, gradually giving us the compassion, contentment, tranquility, and courage we long and pray for. Without pain, we wouldn’t be all that God wants us to be. His strength shines brightest through human weakness.
Has God set your apart today to receive instruction through suffering and pain? If so, endure this training patiently. He can turn the trial into a blessing. He can use it to draw you closer to His heart and into His Word, teach you the lessons He intends for you to learn, and use it to bestow His grace on you. As believers in Jesus Christ, we must always remember that, “God’s love does not keep us from trials, but sees us through them”, wherein we can glorify and praise Him in our trials.
In today’s study, Peter was writing to a group of people who were relatively new believers in Christ. They had trusted Him as their Lord and Savior in the belief that He would (as He promised) give them new life, which He did. However, now they were facing trials and many of those trials were because of their faith. They were confused and maybe a bit disillusioned. Peter responds with the words in today’s study.
The Believer’s Attitude in Relation to Suffering
A. Expect Suffering – 1 Peter 4:12, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you”
Apparently, some suffering believers were thinking that something had gone astray with the divine plan. They reasoned that the godly shouldn’t suffer, especially unjustly, at the hands of God’s enemies. Was God ignorant of their plight or powerless to help or calloused to their tears? Not at all, said Peter, trials are not abnormal. In fact, they are part of the blue print as God transforms redeemed sinners into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).
Trials sometimes serve as God’s smelting furnace where the impurities of self-love, self-pity, pride, bitterness, lack of concern for others, and sinful desires are removed by God’s strong but loving hand. Other times God uses trials to open ministry opportunities and further His work. There are two reasons suffering should not surprise us.
(1) the Bible clearly tells us that there will be trials. Recorded for us in the Old Testament, we are presented with the stories of people who were severely tested in their faithfulness. I’m mindful of Joseph, David, Job and many others. In the New Testament we are warned:
(a) That blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:10).
(b) “In the world you will have tribulation but take courage, for I have overcome the world” (John 6:33).
(c) Listen how the apostle Paul described his ministry, “Rather as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything (2 Corinthians 6:4-10).
(d) The book of Hebrews tell us to “endure hardship as discipline” (Hebrew 12:7); and,
(e) James tells us to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2).
(2) the reason we should not be surprised is because Jesus Himself faced trials. He told His disciples, “Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20). Thus, trials are a part of being a follower of Jesus Christ and according to Scripture suffering has different purposes, such as:
(a) Some trials are meant to correct us while some are designed to deepen us. Just like dryness causes a plant to root deep for moisture, so in the time of trials we must deepen our faith.
(b) Some trials are given as platforms from which we can demonstrate our faith. When we are faithful even though life is hard, the world listens more carefully. Job did nothing wrong but his faithfulness in suffering proved the validity of His faith.
(c) Some trials serve as a training ground for a future ministry (we learn compassion often by what we suffer). Think about how Joseph suffered for many years but God was using all those experiences to put him in a place where he could save his entire family during the famine in Egypt.
(d) Much of the time we have no idea why we are going through difficult times. When hard times do come and they will, the preliminary question needs to be; have I caused or provoked this suffering by some sin or some sinful attitude? If we see some sin we should repent and work to correct the rebellious attitude. If we don’t see any problems, then our job is to entrust ourselves to the Lord in the confidence that He is using the trial for His good purpose that we don’t yet see.
B. Rejoice in Suffering – 1 Peter 4:13-14, “But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you”
The verb for “rejoice” is in the present tense and indicates that rejoicing is to characterize the believer. Rejoicing is a matter of both attitude and activity. The attitude produces the activity. Peter’s readers would have no cause to rejoice in trials that resulted from their own failures. However, they could and should rejoice in the prospect of unjust suffering. If they were sharing in Christ’s sufferings, they were assured that they would also share in His glory hereafter. As believers today we can rejoice when we suffer for being a Christian when:
(1) we are overlooked for promotion or not hired because of our relationship with Jesus Christ;
(2) we endure hardships to proclaim the truth of God (like missionaries) or we are arrested for refusing to compromise what the Bible has clearly stated.
(3) we are going through a deep time of testing and we are working hard to remain faithful
Peter says we can and should rejoice in our trials or suffering for several reasons.
(1) because, in our trial we are identified with Christ (13). The logic here is simple: when people treat us like they treated Christ it shows that they see Him in us. When we live for Christ, we become a contrast to the ways of the world. We become sort of the “conscience” society. People sometimes feel guilty around us not because of anything we say but because of the lives we live. However, instead of dealing with their sin, they would rather attack us. We are told the disciples rejoiced that they were considered worthy of suffering for the name of Christ. They considered it an honor to be so associated with Christ that others treated them as they treated Him.
(2) suffering reveals the depth of our faith. When we are willing to suffer for the glory of God as Christ has suffered, we reveal the true nature of our faith. We can claim to be or be able to do all kinds of things. We may say we are a good cook, that we have musical ability, that we can hit a major league fastball, that we are an artist, that we are a craftsman, that we are a good public speaker. You can claim anything; however, the proof is when you demonstrate your professed ability.
In the same way, anyone can say they are a follower of Christ and is easy to say. The claim is tested when they are put in a position where it is going to cost them something (comfort, popularity, inconvenience, pain, or even our lives). When we endure suffering because of our faith in Him, we demonstrate that our claim to trust Him is valid and true. Romans 8:17 says, “if we suffer with Christ, we will also be glorified with Him”.
(3) we experience the strengthening of the Holy Spirit. Peter says, “ If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”
In the times of suffering, we often feel like we have been abandoned by God. In truth, He is closer to us than ever. The times of heartache are often the times when we discover the Lord in the most profound ways. We learn a new dependency and discover His deep strength and sufficiency. No one earns a degree without passing tests. These tests are designed to motivate us and to measure what we have learned. Trials do the same thing. They motivate us, deepen us, and reveal the true nature of our faith. He tests us so WE can see the depth of our faith, which (He already knows). If we could talk to the saints of old, we would discover that their greatest spiritual moments came while in the furnace of trials such as:
(1) Abraham on Mount Moriah where he was told to offer his son in sacrifice or Moses learning to depend upon God in the wilderness;
(2) David trusting God while Saul was trying to kill him or Job’s faith in the horrible trials he experienced;
(3) Elijah learning to hear the still small voice in a cave during his time of depression or Esther when she had to face her fear in approaching King Xerxes.
(4) Stephen who saw Jesus most clearly at the trial that led to his stoning and Paul who said the thorn in his flesh taught Him that God’s grace was sufficient and that those times when he felt most helpless, he actually discovered his greatest strength.
C. Suffering should not come from doing wrong – 1 Peter 4:15, If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler”
Some of those receiving Peter’s letter had been saved out of a wicked past. “Let none of you suffer” (v. 15) implies that some had suffered in their previous unconverted life because of ungodly conduct. The contrast between their present and past was to be so sharp that there could be no accusations. Their former sinful activities were completely taboo to the new life (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Ephesians 5:8). Some of them, like some of us, had been murderers, thieves, evil doers, busybodies; however, God’s marvelous grace brought them into the divine family and provided an eternal inheritance.
It is amazing what sins God lumps together, while we divide them into categories, such as extremely evil, moderately evil, and tolerable. God puts covetousness on the same par as fornication (Colossians 3:5) or malice with blasphemy (Colossians 3:8). 1 Peter 4:15 condemns the busybody right along with the murderer. “Busybody” literally means “a supervisor of things not one’s own.” We might say, “a self-appointed overseer.” Sometimes when Christians experience criticism the critics are justified because those believers are busybodies, seeking to supervise things outside their control. God is not pleased with self-appointed overseers.
D. Glorify God in suffering – 1 Peter 4:16, “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name”
In the first part of this verse Peter reminded his readers that if they suffer for being a Christian, they should not feel ashamed. Rather, they should glorify God. This brings a new dimension into the picture of suffering. Not only is the believer to bear up under the trials without complaining, but he is actually to glorify God in those trials.
To glorify God means to bring praise and adoration to Him. We do this by crediting God with our words and by living as God desires before others. It is the responsibility of believers to respond to afflictions in a godly manner. Doing so demonstrates that the Spirit of Christ is resting on them and it glorifies the Father and His Son (Mathew 5:16).
E. Judgment of the believer and unbeliever – 1 Peter 4:17-18, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, if it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
These verses contain two questions about the unsaved: “What shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And “Where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” Unbelievers face God’s irrevocable law of sowing and reaping in this life. They may reap the penalty of wrongdoing from civil governments, but God is not in the business of purifying or judging the non-Christian in this life, as is continuously the case for the child of God.
The two questions may be counted as one. Peter’s message is that if God has permitted, yes, even directed, suffering and judgment to come upon His own people for whom Christ died, how much more serious His judgment will be upon those who actually persecute His children and consciously reject His gospel. It is serious enough to abuse the sons of God and to set oneself against the household of God, but how much more tragic it is to hear the gospel and to see the gospel demonstrated daily in the lives of those being mistreated, and then to reject it. The sin of those without Christ was twofold: first, their persistent rejection of the truth, and second, their willful persecution of the believers without cause. Two categories are mentioned:
(1) the sinners, those who acts were contrary to the will of God and
(2) the ungodly, those who have omitted God from life and thoughts even though they may be regarded as upright in conduct.
God’s judgment for such people is held in restraint today so that grace and mercy may prevail and produce repentance (Romans 2:4). But every day’s delay in obeying the gospel adds to the storehouse of God’s wrath (Romans 2:5). While suffering may come for doing right, we should never bring it upon ourselves by doing wrong. The unbelievers will suffer their just punishment in due time.
Making it personal:
(1) Be Prepared – we are living in a society that is becoming increasingly hostile to the ways of Christ. People don’t like the idea of a standard to truth that does not change. They don’t like the idea of ultimate accountability. They don’t like the notion of our need for a Savior. When we hold to Biblical standards, we are called hate-mongers, narrow-minded, extremist, empty-headed and much worse.
Are there Christians who are mean and insensitive? Yes. But they are the exception, not the rule. Some are putting all Christians into the “dangerous-extremist” category. Talk show host Rosie O’Donnell even said “Christians are much more dangerous than radical Islamic terrorists”. Ponder the implications of those words. I believe we are going to increasingly be faced with choices that force us to choose between peace with the world and faithfulness to God and what His Word tells us. We need to be prepared to endure suffering and abuse in order to remain true to the gospel, and to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who purchased us with His own precious blood.
(2) Commit yourselves to God – Peter tells us to commit ourselves to our faithful Creator. The key to surviving any difficult time is to realize that God is in control. He has a plan even when the world feels like it is out of control. In every difficult time we must ask the simple question: Do I trust my circumstances or do I trust the one who is Lord over the circumstances. If God is truly in control and he loves us . . . we should rest in Him.
It is the height of foolishness to wait until trials come to learn to walk with Christ. That is like waiting until there is a fire to put gas or water in the fire truck! We must be prepared for difficult times. We get prepared by learning to walk with God now. We prepare for difficult times by learning to trust Him in the good times.
(3) Continue to do what is good – when people attack us, it is always tempting to respond in kind. Harsh words are met with harsh words, intimidation with intimidation, aggression by aggression. God calls us to respond as Christ would respond. We are to meet hostility with grace, kindness, and a desire to show love. We must not let the conflict keep us from our mission: to share the gospel of Christ with those who are lost and in need.
Will this be easy? It will not be. Life is not easy. Jesus told followers to “count the cost” before they signed on as His followers. He warns us that following Him will make us targets of the Devil and the sinful world around us. God does not promise to shield us from heartache or pain. He promises that those who trust Him will find His strength in the tough times. Those who trust Him in the hard times will discover that He is more sufficient to meet our needs than we ever imagined He could be when the times were good.
Romans 8:16-17, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory”. Lew Wallace’s book Ben-Hur tells the story of a Jewish aristocrat betrayed by his best friend and condemned to serve as a galley slave in the Roman navy. On a forced march to the ship, Judah Ben-Hur meets Jesus of Nazareth, whose compassion fills him with hope. Eventually, Ben-Hur saves the Roman commander during battle. In gratitude, the commander adopts Ben-Hur as his son, instantly elevating him from slave to heir.
That’s exactly what happens to us when God adopts us into His family. But great privilege brings great responsibility. Paul said that we become “heirs of God and Joint heirs of Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him”. The gospel does not say, “Come to Jesus and live happily ever after.” God’s syllabus for His children’s education includes training through hardships.
Ben-Hur’s years of enduring hardship as a Roman slave strengthened him and increased his endurance. He eventually defeated his “friend-turned-enemy” in a chariot race. As endurance and training were key to Ben-Hur’s victory, so are they vital to victory in the Christian’s war with sin and evil. The hard times we endure are God’s way to prepare us for greater service for His glory.
Remember that in every desert of trial, God has an oasis of comfort.