We’ve seen that one of the reasons Peter wrote this letter was to encourage believers who were suffering for their faith and who were suffering for doing good. Think back to chapter 1, where he wrote about the grief they were suffering in all kinds of trials. Peter’s first readers were suffering for their faith. And yet, in the very same chapter, he wrote about the great hope they have as believers; and how their eternal inheritance is kept safe for them in heaven; and how they are being shielded by God’s power while they wait for the Saviour to come again. Yes, they’re suffering grief in all kinds of trials; but still they can rejoice, because the Lord is able to help them and he has something glorious in store for them in the future. And throughout this letter, Peter has mentioned the suffering of his readers; and he’s been writing various things to encourage them and to comfort them and to re-assure them. And in today’s verses, he returns to the subject of suffering.
As I was preparing for today, I reflected on the fact that, on Sunday evenings, we’re studying the book of Exodus. And how does Exodus begin? It begins with the story of how God’s people were suffering grief in all kinds of trials in the land of Egypt. The Egyptians were oppressing them, treating them as slaves, making them work harder and harder and harder in the fields and on the building sites; and then the Pharaoh gave the order to kill all their male children as well. And God’s people began to groan and to cry out because of what they were suffering. And their groaning went up to heaven and God heard it and did something about it. There you have it: the suffering of God’s people.
And then, on Wednesday evenings, we’re going through the book of Revelation. And what’s Revelation about? Well, the Apostle John received all these visions from the Lord to teach him and us about what life in these, the last days, will be like. And what will life, in these, the last days, be like? Well, last week we were studying chapter 11, which is a difficult chapter and hard to interpret. However, it’s about the church and how the church is both protected by God and yet exposed to danger. We’re protected, because our salvation is safe and secure and no one can take it away from us. But at the same time, the church is exposed and trampled upon, because the Devil and the world are against us and the church is often ignored and disregarded and opposed and persecuted. And so, there you have it again: the suffering of God’s people.
Read Exodus, at the beginning of the Bible, and you’ll read about the suffering of God’s people. Read Revelation, at the end of the Bible, and you’ll read about the suffering of God’s people. It’s all through the Bible; and it’s here as well in 1 Peter. The Lord wants his people to be clear about this: the Christian life is one that is marked by suffering.
Look at verse 12 where Peter tells us not to be surprised when we suffer, because suffering for Christ is a test. So, Peter writes:
Dear friends, do not be surprised by the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.
Don’t be surprised when you suffer, because it’s not surprising; and it’s not unusual; and it’s not uncommon; and it’s not strange. In fact, it’s to be expected.
Now, the word which is translated by the NIV as ‘painful trial’ can also be translated as ‘fiery trial’. I’m not sure if Peter has this in mind, but whenever I hear about fiery trials, my mind goes to Daniel’s three friends — Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego — in the fiery furnace. Do you remember? The king commanded everyone to bow down and worship the golden statue he had set up; if anyone dared disobey the king and refused to bow down and worship the golden statue, they would be thrown into a blazing furnace. Well, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down and worship the golden image. And the king was so angry, he gave orders to make the furnace even hotter than normal. And the three friends were thrown into the furnace to die. Well, you know the story: the Lord visited them in the furnace and kept them safe. But what an ordeal they went through; what a fiery trial they faced; and what a test of their faith.
And that’s significant, isn’t it? It was a test of their faith and of their commitment to the Lord. Would they remain faithful to the Lord, the one true and living God, and worship him alone? Or would they give in to their fears and to the pressure to conform, and would they do what everyone else was doing and bow down and worship the golden statue? It was a test of their faith and of their commitment to the Lord.
And here’s the thing: Peter tells his readers that the fiery trial they are facing is to test them. ‘Where does it say that?’ you might be thinking. Well, the NIV’s translation of 1 Peter 4:12 is not as accurate as it ought to be; a more accurate translation of what Peter wrote is this:
Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trial happening among you to test you.
To test you. When Daniel’s three friends faced the fiery furnace, it was a test of their faith and of their commitment to the Lord. And Peter is saying that whatever fiery trials we face are a test of our faith and of our commitment to the Lord. Those who are committed to the Lord will endure the fiery trials, because they love the Lord and want to remain faithful to him, no matter what the cost.
So, don’t be surprised at the fiery trial which is happening among you, because the trials you’re going through are designed to test you and to test your faith and your commitment to the Lord.
Verses 13 and 14
The point of the next two verses is that our suffering is only for a while and will lead eventually to something better.
So, first of all, in verse 13, Peter offers a contrast: instead of being surprised, and shocked and put off by what you’re going through, rejoice, says Peter. Rejoice because you’re participating in the sufferings of Christ. In other words, you’re suffering because of your commitment to Christ. Do you remember in Acts 5 how the Apostles were arrested by the religious authorities and put in prison. But during the night, an angel of the Lord released them and commanded them to keep preaching the good news. And, of course, they did what they were told to do and they kept preaching. And so, they were arrested again and they were flogged; and then the religious authorities warned them never to speak about the Lord Jesus again. And what was their reaction? We read that the Apostles rejoiced; they rejoiced because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the name of Jesus Christ. They were not put off by their experience, but they counted it a privilege to suffer for the faith.
So, says Peter to his readers: rejoice that you’re suffering for your faith. Why? Well, Peter goes on to add:
so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
Do you see what he’s saying? Rejoice in your suffering now, so that you will be overjoyed in the future when the Lord Jesus comes again and his glory is revealed to all the world. Right now, those who don’t believe aren’t aware of his glory. Right now, those who don’t believe think what we believe about the Lord Jesus is nonsense. Right now, those who don’t believe may ridicule us and despise us and hate us for what we believe about the Lord Jesus, because they’re not aware of his glory. Their eyes are blind to his glory; their ears are deaf to his voice; and their hearts are hard so they cannot love him. And so, they despise him and they despise us, his followers. But, says Peter, if you’re prepared to suffer now for the faith and not give up, the day will come when you will not only rejoice, but you will be overwhelmed with joy when Jesus Christ comes again. And if you keep that in mind, then you’ll be able to endure the suffering now.
And isn’t that interesting? All through the letter, Peter has been reminding his readers how our true home is in heaven. By faith, we’re been raised with Christ to the heavenly realms; that’s where we now belong; that’s our true home. We’re only aliens and strangers in the world, because this is not our true home. He’s been reminding us of our true home. And he’s been reminding us that the Lord is coming again: the end of all things is near, because the next date on God’s calendar is the coming of the Lord Jesus, when he will come to gather us together and bring us to our true home. All though the letter, Peter has been reminding us of these things. And he’s doing the same here: endure suffering in this world now, because one day, all who trust in the Lord and who endure all things for his sake will enter our true home in heaven and we’ll experience that fullness of joy which the Lord is preparing for us.
And look at verse 14: if you’re insulted now, in this life, and in this world, because of your commitment to Christ, you’re blessed. Why are you blessed? Because the Spirit of the glory to come already rests on you. Now, you’re not there yet; you haven’t yet come into God’s glory in body and soul as you will do when Jesus Christ comes again; you’re not there yet, but you know that one day you will enter that glory, because God the Holy Spirit has come into your life and he’s filled you with the sure and certain hope of the resurrection and everlasting life in the presence of God.
Verses 15 and 16
So, the fiery trials are a test of our faith. And the suffering we experience is only for a while and will lead eventually to something better. Having said all that, Peter wants to make clear in verses 15 and 16 that not all suffering is the same; not all suffering is the same. Some people suffer because they’re murderers or they’re thieves or they’re criminals. When they suffer, they’re receiving the punishment they deserve. Peter even refers to meddlers who meddle in another person’s business. And we’ve all met meddlers; and perhaps you’ve meddled in things that were none of your business. And if so, you know people don’t like it; and perhaps they’ve got angry with you. Well, if you were meddling, you deserved it. But that’s suffering for doing wrong; that’s suffering for being a wrongdoer. And that’s the wrong kind of suffering. The right kind of suffering is what Peter refers to in verse 16: it’s suffering as a Christian, which means suffering because of our faith and because of our commitment to Christ. If you suffer for Christ, don’t be ashamed the way a murderer or a thief or a criminal or a meddler might feel ashamed whenever they’re punished. Instead praise God because you bear the name of being a Christian; and that’s nothing to be ashamed about.
Verses 17 and 18
So, in verses 12 to 16 Peter has been teaching us that our suffering is a test: a test of our faith and of our commitment to Christ. And he’s been teaching us that our suffering is only for a time and will lead eventually to something better. And he’s been teaching us that not all suffering is the same.
In verses 17 and 18 Peter goes on to talk about judgment. In verse 17 he says that it’s time for judgment to begin with the family of God. And if it begins with the family of God, what will it be like for those who don’t obey the gospel? And in verse 18 he quotes a Proverb about how, if it’s hard for the righteous to be saved, what will it be like for the ungodly?
Now, these verses puzzle many people, because we believe — don’t we? — that there’s now no condemnation for those who believe. We believe that on the cross, Jesus Christ the Saviour suffered the punishment we deserve for our sins. We believe that since Jesus Christ has paid for our sins in full, God will never punish us for our sins. We believe that. Now, if that’s true — and it is true — if that’s true, how can Peter write about judgment beginning in the family of God? How can God judge us, if Christ has already paid for our sins?
The solution is by remembering that the word ‘judge’ does not mean ‘condemn’. It means to decide or to consider or to form an opinion about someone or something; and the opinion we form can be positive or negative, good or bad. So, imagine you’re in the supermarket and you need to buy a melon. And so, you stand in front of the shelf of melons and you pick them up and you examine them and you squeeze them and perhaps you smell them too. And you do all of that in order to judge and to determine which one is the one to buy. If one is too hard, it goes back. If one is too soft, it goes back. But this one: this one is not too hard and not too soft; it’s just right. So, you judge between them and decide which one you want. In this case, judging the fruit means sorting them out into those which are not right and the one that is just right.
And that’s how we should understand verse 17. When it says that it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God, it means that the Lord God uses the suffering of his people in this life to sort out those who really believe and are committed to Christ from those who do not really believe and who will give up the faith when it gets too hard. Think of the Lord’s parable of the sower and the seed. Some of the seed fell on rocky ground, where there wasn’t much soil; and though the seed sprang up, it did not last long, because it had no root and it soon withered in the sun. What did it mean? Well, the Lord was talking about those who hear God’s word; and they receive it with joy; this is the best news they’ve ever heard and they believe it. And for a time, they profess the faith and they join a church and they seem to be a true believer. But it doesn’t last. And it doesn’t last, because — and this is what the Lord Jesus said about it — they have no root; and when trouble or persecution comes because of God’s word, they quickly fall away. Do you see? The trouble and the persecution sort out those who really believe from those who don’t really believe.
And that’s why Peter goes on to say that it’s hard for the righteous to be saved. It’s hard, not because the Lord struggles to save us, and is barely able to save us. That’s not what he means. He means it’s hard for the righteous to be saved because we must go through these hard and difficult and testing times of trouble and persecution, because that’s the way the Lord sorts out those who believe from those who don’t really believe.
So, the fiery trials we face are a test: a test of our faith and of our commitment to Christ. And our suffering is only for a while and will lead eventually to something better. Not all suffering is the same. And God uses the suffering we go through in order to judge and to determine whose faith is real. And so, if people insult you for what you believe, if they ridicule you and think you’re strange, if they ignore you, or if they hurt you, and you wonder why this is happening to you, remember and believe that these trials come in order to test our faith and our commitment to Christ; and they come in order to sort out those who really believe from those who don’t really believe. And, of course, the suffering is only for a while, because the Lord has something better and glorious in store for us in the future.
Well, in verse 19, we come to Peter’s conclusion. Given everything that he has said in these verses about suffering for Christ, what should we do? Well, it’s very simple. Look at verse 19. First all of, we should commit ourselves to our faithful Creator. What does he mean? Well, perhaps you own something precious; something valuable; and you want it kept safe; and so what do you do? You entrust it into the care of someone you trust and who is able to look after it. Or perhaps you entrust it into the care of your bank where it’s stored securely in their safe. In the same way, the believer entrusts himself or herself into the care of our faithful Creator who is able to keep us safe and secure. Since he’s faithful, we know we can trust in him. And since he’s the Creator who rules over all that he has made, then we can trust in him to provide us with all that we need to cope with this life’s troubles and we can trust in him to rule over all the events of my life and to turn them to my good.
So, we’re to commit ourselves to God. And we’re to continue to do good. ‘What’s the point in doing good?’ we may ask. It’s not making my life any easier. In fact, it’s just the reverse: whenever I try to obey the Lord and to do good, those people insult me. Nevertheless, we’re to continue to do good, says Peter.
And, of course, by entrusting ourselves to our Faithful Creator and by continuing to do good, we’re following the example of our Saviour, who was despised and rejected by men, and who was a man of sorrows and who was familiar with suffering. And yet he continued to do good right throughout his life on earth; and he remained obedient to his Father in heaven, even though it meant death on the cross. But even as he died — do you remember? — he entrusted his spirit into the hands of his Father in heaven. He entrusted himself to God and he continued to do good. And afterwards, after his suffering, he was raised from the dead and he ascended to heaven and into the joy of his Father’s presence.
And here’s the thing: the Lord Jesus Christ has given us his Spirit to enable us to become more and more like him and to enable us to endure all kinds of fiery trials while we go on living on the earth, trusting our faithful Creator to help us, and to bring us at last into that fullness of joy which he has prepared for all who trust in him.