Have you lost your job because of your clear Christian faith? Or feel rejected and unwanted because of your biblical Christian values? Remember what many of your Christian sisters and brothers face in other countries. To name only a few places, local Christians in many Muslim countries, in northern Nigeria and Cameroon, in North Korea or increasingly in Pakistan, India, and Burma, face barbaric violence and discrimination all the time.
So Peter tells his suffering readers, “Don’t be surprised . . . as if something surprising were happening to you” (4.12). As true Christians we may expect that the Lord will try and purify us by such means. We remember Peter’s picture of gold being refined in the fire to burn off all the dross of sin (1.7). In that passage too Peter uses the same word ‘trials’ to describe the sufferings his readers are experiencing for their faith. Our sufferings have a beneficial purpose of cleansing us from all compromise and sin, sanctifying us with the purity, truth and holiness of the Lord.
In introducing the subject of fiery trials, Peter addresses his readers as “beloved” (4.12). How heart-warming in the midst of hatred and rejection to know that someone loves us deeply! Once again, as so often in our study of the New Testament, loving fellowship amongst us as Christians is underlined.
In the context of “suffering grief in all kinds of trials”, 1.6-8 remains clearly in mind as we think of 4.12-19. Peter not only uses the word ‘trials’ in both passages, but also ‘rejoice’. In fact he uses two Greek words for ‘rejoice’ in both passages. The one reminds us of the similar-sounding word for ‘grace’, while the other (1.6, 8 and 4.13) is particularly exuberant and joyful (being British I am aware how counter-cultural it is to be exuberant in rejoicing!). To these words is further added the statement that we are ‘happy’ if we are “insulted in the name of Christ” (4.14). This word is also used in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5.3-10) where it is commonly translated as ‘Blessed’. I confess that I have not generally found it at all a matter of rejoicing when I have had to suffer for my faith. But Peter reminds his readers that it is an enormous privilege and joy to be allowed to follow in the footsteps of our Lord and Saviour, the suffering servant.
Peter elaborates on the reason for our rejoicing as Christians in undergoing trials and tests for our faith. In such times we actually have fellowship (4.13 uses the verbal form of koinonia/‘fellowship’: koinoneite) with the sufferings of Christ. He suffered and we suffer with him. We can see something of the depth of such fellowship in ordinary everyday life. People who share the same tragedies of bereavement, the same illness, unemployment or other difficulty, value and enjoy mutual sharing and friendship. How much more so with the saving sufferings of Jesus! What an amazing joy and privilege that we can join with him in the fellowship of his sufferings! “The Spirit of glory and of God rests on us” (4.14) if we are “insulted because of the name of Christ”. Our only reaction must be: WOW! We are almost (but perhaps not quite?!) moved to say, “Bring it on!”
Our joyful rejoicing is associated with looking forward to that great day when Jesus’ glory will be revealed (4.13). God’s testing of our faith marks the beginning of the final judgment. And if such suffering afflicts Christians as the outcome of God’s judgment, Peter asks what will God’s judgment mean “for those who do not obey the Gospel” (4.17). Proverbs 11.31 is clearly in mind, “If the righteous receive their due on earth, how much more the ungodly and the sinner!” Slightly altering Proverbs, Peter doesn’t see our sufferings as our due, but with sympathy acknowledges that suffering is “hard” (4.18). But if God’s judgment is tough for believers, how fearful it will be for the ungodly. Even today let us never forget that God’s judgment awaits us all. We long therefore that God’s Spirit might move our unbelieving friends and relatives to faith in Jesus.
In closing we may note Peter’s conclusion to this passage (4.19). We are not to suffer opposition because of our own sin (4.15), but are to ‘commit ourselves to the faithful Creator in well-doing’ (4.19). Our lives ae to be characterised by loving, moral goodness. May the unbelieving world see our good works and our love, so that they too may become followers of Jesus!
Question to ponder: What sufferings might we face as Christians and how do we react?