1 Peter 4:12-19 - This Shouldn't Be A Surprise

December 8, 2013 Speaker: Series: 1 Peter

Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: 1 Peter 4:12–4:19

[Text: 1 Peter 4:12-19] “This Shouldn’t Be A Surprise”

Jonathan and Mr. Julian were talking a while back. And Jonathan told Mr. Julian about some new aches he’d discovered in his 60-ish-year-old body. And wise, sobering words of reality came to him from his older brother, “Well, you’re not as young as you used to be; this shouldn’t be a surprise.”

Sometimes we get surprised by things that shouldn’t be surprising. And in our passage today, Peter wants to remove the surprise factor from something Christians deal with every day – suffering, specifically unjust suffering. And in doing so he’s helping us live with hope that the faithfulness of God reaches us even in our most difficult moments.

[Pray – Father, for this word we give you thanks. And we ask that by the work of your Spirit in our hearts we might hear and believe you at your word, learning to trust you and your Son, Jesus, who came and suffered. That was your will for him and in this word we hear that it is your will for us, too. So help us, Father, to understand what suffering means. But even if we don’t, help us to trust you. Amen.]

[Read 1 Peter 4:12-19]

Now there are good surprises (like coming home on your birthday to a house full of friends). And there are bad surprises (like coming home on your birthday to a house full of wolverines). Peter understood that what his brothers and sisters were experiencing was a surprise of the bad kind.

From the grammar of v. 12, Peter says, “do not be surprised[1] at the fiery trial” because he knows they already are surprised. They’d put their hope in Jesus and now things were harder than before; they never expected that. Their reality had turned into a bad surprise and it was filling their minds with dark confusion.

And from v. 16, Peter assumes that his brothers and sisters are “ashamed”[2] on some level because of their suffering as a Christian. There’s some disagreement about this, but there are a number of scholars who believe that the name “Christian” itself was first used as a slur, calling those who followed Jesus a “little Christ” while afflicting them with the same sufferings as Christ. That suffering – the jeers, the beatings – along with the felt-distance between what was promised them in Christ and what they were experiencing produced shame and embarrassment in them. And maybe mistrust in God and his promises in Christ was, perhaps, beginning to grow. Since they couldn’t see how God’s promises remained true while they suffered, maybe they wondered if God was actually trustworthy.

It’s illuminating to think that these words of Peter were (most likely) written before the systematic persecution of Christians that came later in the Story. So, their surprise and shame had more to do with the ordinary than the extraordinary; more to do with insults than the sword, more to do with a hard marriage than a hard death in the Coliseum. But if, as Peter writes, there was a possibility for hope and grace to find them in their ordinary sufferings, then it could certainly find them in the extraordinary sufferings that would find them later when torture and mass executions would become as normal for Christians as Jonathan’s aches and pains.

You and I might not face beatings that make us question God’s trustworthiness (although our brothers and sisters across the world do face such suffering), but there is enough suffering in the ordinary things of life to cause some dark confusion in our hearts and minds, wondering if we really can trust God. Suffering temptations that endure and even intensify once we come to Christ; suffering from family members – close family members – who mock our faith (or are completely apathetic to it); suffering when we try to do what is right as parents of children or grown children of aging parents.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Not all Christians suffer in the same way or at the same level. But suffering for a Christian is not a matter of “if;” it is a matter “when.” So, how are we supposed to think and act when it comes.

We’ve been looking at 1 Peter for about three months now and what strikes me is how constant Peter is in his focus on suffering. He’s got one point to get across and he’s going to keep hammering away at it because he knows what suffering can do to people. Big or little, it’s hard. But when Peter thinks about the Good News of Jesus, he understands that even the sufferings of Christians are a part of their salvation.

This issue of sufferings being a part of God rescuing us is a difficult thing to wrap our minds around because it is so contrary to how we would save ourselves. And, unfortunately, it is also contrary to what many of us have heard from preachers and our friends who sit under teachers of the Prosperity Gospel, the “health and wealth” message which isn’t actually good news at all. They imagine that life should be light and easy for a Christian because they imagine that Jesus is a means to an end. “Jesus gets you (this or that). Jesus gets you heaven,” they say. But that isn’t what the God of the Bible says to those who trust him. He says, “I will be your God and you will be my people. I am rescuing you and what you get is ME. Yes, at my right hand there are pleasures forever more. Yes, I love you and accept you because of Jesus, but I will purify you for my own purposes and make you like my Son, Jesus. It pleased me to perfect him through suffering before lifting him up in honor. And I will lead you to myself in the same way.”

So, Peter is helping these early Christians (and us) understand that truth. Because when suffering isn’t a surprise and when we hear God saying it isn’t useless but rather a part of our salvation, then we can learn more and more to trust Him at His Word. And trusting God at His word is exactly what we’re supposed to do in the face of suffering.

So, let’s look at His Word and listen, so that when suffering comes (and if it has already come), we can trust Him; so that we can trust him and rejoice. We can rejoice and trust God because (1) Christian suffering isn’t strange; (2) because sharing in Christ’s sufferings always leads to joy; (3) because suffering is part of God’s Fatherly discipline.

First, Christian suffering isn’t strange; it isn’t unheard of for the people of God. Now, from v.15, it’s obvious that Peter is talking about suffering that isn’t caused by our own direct sin. Earlier he wrote that it isn’t any credit to anyone to do wrong and endure the consequences. But it is precious in God’s sight to endure suffering we don’t deserve. And that is a common thing.

Listen again to Paul in Acts 20:22-23, “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.” (emphasis mine) At every point in the Story of Redemption we hear in the Bible, we hear about a God who understands the problem of our rebellious hearts runs so deep that simple measures and easy life will not produce a holy people for Himself. So, He calls His people to suffer for the sake of His Name. All those who have trusted him and followed him have suffered and He has always used the suffering of His people to accomplish his purpose of redeeming this world that was lost to sin. So, why should we be any different from any Christian who has gone before us?

But it isn’t as if He is asking us to do something He Himself isn’t willing to do. He is the God who comes to us – we who have (and often still) run away from him trying to be gods ourselves instead of following Him. And He came to us in His Son, Jesus, to himself suffer. We’re entering the Christmas season when we celebrate his first Advent, his first “appearing.” But think about how the Bible talks about his first appearing; Ephesians 2:8 says it was Christ “humbling” himself (literally, “humiliating” himself) in order to rescue his people.

When we think about Christmas, we don’t ordinarily think about it as the beginning of Jesus’ suffering. But the Scriptures see it that way. And his sufferings extended from his birth through his death in his being born in a low condition, in submitting himself under the same law as us, in undergoing the miseries of this life, in suffering the wrath of God so that we don’t have to, in suffering the cursed death of the cross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time.[3] Peter has kept the suffering of Jesus in front of us throughout this letter because seeing a Savior who is willing to suffering for us gives us strength to endure what is (in comparison) “light, momentary affliction” (2 Cor. 4:17) for his sake.

But more than that, seeing a Savior who is willing to suffer helps me to trust God even if I don’t understand what He’s doing. Even if suffering still surprises me (and it does) and even if it makes me afraid, I can go back to this Word that tells me Jesus suffered to bring me to God. And if he suffered so much to win me to God, why would he abandon me after that? He doesn’t. He won’t. We can look at Jesus and say of our suffering, “This is normal. God is doing something. I can’t see it. But He suffered, too. So, I can trust him.”

So suffering isn’t strange for Christians because we follow a suffering Savior. And following Christ – even into suffering – is the will of God himself, who calls us to follow after the pattern Jesus set for us. But if we share in his humiliation, in his sufferings, then we have hope that we will also share in his joy “when his glory is revealed” in his second advent.

That’s the second thing to hear in this passage, how sharing in Christ’s sufferings always leads to joy. Not to joy that revolves around things, but joy that revolves around someone else – around Jesus – as we see our Rescuer who suffered now alive and honored and exalted.

In v.13 Peter writes, “…rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” Once again, Peter picks up on one of the themes of the letter as he helps us see “today” in light of God’s promises about the future. Back in 1:13 he wrote, “…preparing you minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” That future grace is promised to all those who hope in Christ alone. It’s the arrival of our “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading” (1:4), an inheritance which is ultimately God himself. And while the fullness of joy and gladness may only come when Christ returns (his Second Advent), there is still joy to be experienced now because when Peter writes, “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings,” he’s talking about whatever day we call “today.”

This rejoicing, this joy in the midst of suffering is a joy that comes from knowing that suffering for the sake of Jesus – in all its forms – means that we have been so united to him by faith that we are his and he is ours. We can rejoice in suffering because it means no matter what our circumstances tell us, God says we are blessed because we belong to Jesus.

It’s what we hear from our brothers in Acts 5. Peter and the other apostles had been thrown in prison for preaching the Gospel of Jesus but had been released by an angel in the night. And the first thing they did was to go back out and preach the Gospel again. The religious leaders took them again and told them to stop but the apostles said, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” But still, the leaders beat them and told them to keep silent about Jesus before letting them go. And this is what Peter and the apostles did, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” (Acts 5:17-42 passim)

They were “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” of Jesus because they knew that what really mattered was being counted by God as one with Christ. What really mattered more than anything wasn’t happiness or comfort or ease of life but being forgiven and united to Jesus. God had come in the flesh and suffered death to give his people repentance and forgiveness, which we have by trusting him. And if God was willing to united us to Jesus in his suffering, then the apostles knew – they knew – that God had (and would) unite us to Jesus in his glorious exaltation.

That’s why Peter can say in v.14, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God (or God’s glorious Spirit) rests upon you.” The mockery of Christians is a sign of their identification with Jesus, who was himself mocked and insulted throughout his earthly ministry. So, as Peter writes in v.16, “…if anyone suffers as a Christian (remember, as a “little Christ”), let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” Because if Christ is our new identity; if we are defined by our relationship with Jesus and we suffer because of it, then what glorious suffering! I don’t mean we enjoy the suffering itself. But what joy we can have in what it means!

To suffer as a Christian means God is our Father and Christ is our brother and it means we have the Holy Spirit. It means the opposite of what we’re scared suffering means – suffering isn’t a sign of God’s rejection of us; it’s a sign of his presence with us to save us and to conform our lives to the pattern of Jesus’ own life, which was suffering, then unending glory.

That brings us to the last reason why we can trust God and rejoice in the face of suffering; it’s because suffering is part of God’s Fatherly discipline.

In the opening chapter (1:6-7), Peter wrote that these early Christians rejoiced in their hope in Christ, “though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of you faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Now, he returns to that image in v. 12, saying the “fiery trial” comes to “test.” When I first read this, I understood “fiery trial” to refer to the form their suffering might take, like as Christians would later be burned as lamps to light Nero’s gardens.[4] But when I read it with the words from chapter 1, it became clear that the fiery trial coming to test Christians is God coming to refine His people, to burn away everything in us that doesn’t fit who we are in Christ.

Instead of this being about how well you handle suffering and your holiness depending on you, this is saying that God is the One working in you to purify you for his own purposes. Though it be painful as death, Christian suffering belongs in the purposes of a sovereign God.

Gold has been a desired thing as far back as our history goes. And gold has always had to be refined in order to eliminate impurities so that what remained gleamed with greater brilliance and worth. If you’ve seen gold ore, straight from the ground, then you’ve seen the need for refining. A chunk of ore weighing five or six tons may only yield an ounce of gold, depending on the vein, because of how many impurities are surrounding the gold.

Now, science has developed a few different ways of refining gold, but the oldest way is fairly simple. Intense fire, a crucible to hold the raw material, and time working together can separate impurities from that which is truly valuable. You start with a large lump that burns down to a tiny bead of gold. But however small and insignificant it seems to our eyes, it is pure.

God’s refining process is intense. It is painful at times and can make us feel quite small and insignificant. But that isn’t reality as God sees it. He sees you becoming more you every day. He is making you into your true self, conforming you to the image of His Son with whom you have been united by faith. And greater faith, increasing trust in Him and Him alone is what these sufferings and trials are meant to create. Because trusting Him as our loving Father and Redeemer in Christ is exactly what we’re supposed to be doing. Through suffering, God the Father is leading you into deeper and purer trust in Him because He is all we have – and He is enough.

V.17 picks up the theme of God’s family and asks an important question. “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 ungodly and the sinner?’”[5]

The “judgment” that has begun at the household of God is not a punitive judgment. It’s talking again about the work of refining God does as our Father; notice that it is judgment in “the household of God.” We know from other Scriptures that God will never cast off those who belong to His family in Christ.

But the meaning of v.17 becomes clear when we understand this; if God takes sin so seriously that He faithfully – and severely – purifies His people through suffering even though they have already been purified by the blood of Christ, then what hope is there for someone whose sin remains untouched by the blood of Christ? The Christian is only saved with great difficulty (which is what the word “scarcely” means here). Our salvation came through the suffering of the Son of God. What hope is there for one who does not trust God, which is what it means to “(dis)obey the Gospel of God.” The Good News is that God has made a way for us to be with Him again and Christ won that for us through his death. Christ and all his benefits come to us through faith – trust – alone. So, if we won’t trust him, then what do we have? Peter’s silence to his own questions tells us that we already know the answer and the truth is dark. Apart from Christ we have nothing but our sin and the guilt that will sink us lower than the grave.

But to trust in Christ, is to be born again to a living hope. To trust in Christ is to have forgiveness and cleansing and the love of the Father. For now, we do not always see these things clearly. These realities are veiled to us and suffering clouds our thoughts, making us afraid. But a veiled truth remains true. And what God asks of us – demands of us as His children – is to trust him at His word.

When Jesus was dying on the cross, he spoke to God the Father. There he was in the depths of his suffering – alone, forsaken, the eternal Son turned into Sin itself and bearing the full wrath of God that should have fallen on me. And when he gave up his spirit, submitting himself to his Father’s will even to the point of a shameful death on the cross, listen to what he said. He called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46)

That word “commit” is the same as the word we see in v.19, “entrust.” What does God expect you to do when you suffer? To fight? To change the world? To defend yourself by any means necessary? No. Thinking about our suffering Savior, on how God uses suffering to refine us, on how we’ve been united with Christ in his suffering and in his resurrection life, Peter writes, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”

Christian, you have a powerful God who made all things with His words. And He caused us to be born again by the same word of His power. He rescued you through the suffering of Jesus, His Son, on the cross and He will take care of you no matter what trials he allows or brings into your life. So, go and do whatever good you can in the callings God has put on your life – as husbands and wives and children and workers and Christians – go and do good knowing that even if you suffer for it, you are kept by a faithful God and nothing can separate you from His love for you in Christ.

[Pray – Father, what our heads do not understand our hearts grasp, however weakly. You are a faithful God, worthy of all our trust. And so, when suffering comes, when you come to test our faith and strip away everything that isn’t you, help us, O God, to hold fast to you and to Jesus whom you have given for us. In your faithfulness, refine us. Burn away all that is opposed to you and all that we trust in apart from you, but help us endure with our faith firmly in your Son. In him we hope. Amen.]

[Benediction, from 1 Peter 5:10-11]

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”



[1] According to Dr. Robert James Utley, “This is a PRESENT PASSIVE IMPERATIVE with the NEGATIVE PARTICLE, which usually refers to stopping an act already in progress.”

[2] Ibid.

[3] This is summarized in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q+A #27.

[4] Tacitus, Annals, 15.44

[5] Peter is quoting Proverbs 11:31 from the LXX.

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