Are you surprised when you see religious programming on television, and you hear someone say that if you have enough faith you will have health, wealth and prosperity? Peter would have been surprised. His message to Christians is don’t be surprised when you experience painful suffering.
I hope that when you believed in Christ you were not told that if you just had enough faith, that you would be exempt from suffering. You will see in this passage what a distortion that perspective really is.
1 Peter 4:12-19
12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 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? 18 And,
“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
To understand where Peter is coming from and what he is getting at I want to point out three different types of suffering, Type 1, Type 2, and Type 3. In the midst of painful suffering, it won’t make the pain go away to understand that you are experiencing Type 1 suffering. But knowing the three types of suffering may help with a biblical perspective and make it possible to avoid some suffering that Christians should be exempt from.
Type 1 Suffering- Common to all.
Health problems come to the faithful Christian as well as the most cynical atheist. This is part of living in a fallen world. Jesus made the point when he said, “the rain falls on the just and the unjust” (Mathew 5:45).
Hurricane Katrina knocked down Casinos and churches. Righteous people and unrighteous people need corrective eyeglasses. Both righteous and unrighteous have headaches and back pain.
This kind of general suffering is not distributed equally. Some people are born with severe handicaps and others have very few ailments even into the later years of life. But as far as Christian and non-Christians they fall equally on one group or another.
By the way, this kind of suffering is not the type of suffering that Peter is speaking about in this letter.
Type 2 Suffering- Unique only to Christians.
In addition to the Type 1 general suffering that falls on everyone equally, Christians have another suffering unique only to them. It is a suffering that comes from a world opposed to everything Christians stand for.
This type of suffering is what Jesus spoke about to Peter and the other disciples in John 15:18-19 when he said,
18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.
Peter is now writing to others to help them understand and respond to the suffering that is unique to Christians.
Type 3 Suffering – Result of immorality
Faithful Christians should be exempt from this type of suffering. Christians still experience Type 1 suffering in the same measure as before Christ plus having Type 2 suffering added. But the worst suffering of all is Type 3 problems that come as a result of immorality. If a man is jailed for fraud he suffers the consequence of the sin.
No wonder Peter makes suffering the theme of his letter. He experienced to a great measure all three types of suffering.
Peter’s experienced Type 1 suffering in Luke 5:5 and John 21:3-5. Peter’s call to follow Christ again after he had spent 3 years close with to Jesus came in the context of fishing. He fished all night and had not caught anything. He had his bad days fishing just like everyone else.
Peter’s Type 2 Suffering – Because he was a faithful follower of Jesus. Acts 5:17-18, 40 He was jailed and flogged. In Acts 12:1-4 it pleased enemies of the gospel to arrest and imprison him.
Peter was in the eye of the storm when the first great wave of persecution came upon the Christian church. Now Peter writes to Christians suffering for their faith and on the front end of what would become even worse persecution.
That is when the madman emperor Nero would blame the burning of Rome on Christians because Christians had warned of fire and brimstone from God. Christians were burned at the stake. Peter knew what it was to suffer for the specific reason of being loyal to Jesus in the world that hated him and crucified him.
And yes, Peter even knew Type 3 suffering. Peter wept bitterly after he denied Christ (Luke 22:62). His was a suffering that comes from moral failure. Peter knew the particular bitterness of this kind of suffering.
Peter comes to the subject of suffering with a tremendous background. He says in verse 12, Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering. Peter tells us how to respond.
Don’t be surprised
Peter would continue that sentiment if the most rude crude co-worker particularly likes to offend you with off color jokes because of your beliefs. Don’t be surprised. That someone lashes out at you cruelly when you speak with them about Christ and their relationship with the Lord. Don’t be surprised. That in this day in some places Christians are persecuted unto death. Don’t be surprised.
When you undergo suffering that comes as a result of your faith, rejoice. These are not merely words for Peter. He put his own advise into action when he was beaten and jailed for his faith (Acts 5:41) and he left rejoicing because he was counted worthy of suffering disgrace for Jesus. If you are persecuted for the name of Christ you are blessed (vs. 14).
There is no doubt that Peter would call on anyone today who suffers because they are being faithful to Jesus to rejoice. From the Christian in the market place on the receiving end of cutting hateful words, or the context of severe persecution receiving threats or violence any and all of it, rejoice.
Peter never councils Christians to avoid suffering that comes through persecution. But he sure makes it clear we should not be inflicted with Type 3 suffering resulting from immorality. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler (vs. 15).
We are to tell people about Christ but not be a meddler and pry into their personal affairs. If you suffer because they say sharply my personal affairs are not your business that is not the kind of suffering we are called to. That will not bring blessing like genuine persecution.
Suffering for righteous sake has a long tradition, Jeremiah, Amos, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Jesus Steven, Paul, Silas and Peter.
Blessing of suffering for Christ
But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed (vs. 13) There is a special reward when Jesus comes again for those who have suffered for his name.
Spirit of God rests on you
If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
When Steven became the first Martyr he was full of the Holy Spirit and saw the glory of God (Acts 7:55).
You are a partner in Christ’s sufferings
But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 You identify with Jesus who suffered and lived a sinless life.
You honor God when you bear the name of Jesus
16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
In verse 17-18 it says that judgment is to begin with the house of God. The Old Testament we find the concept of judgment beginning with God’s people first Ezekiel 9:6 and Proverbs 11:31
If Christians must be judged what a terrible fate awaits those unbelievers when they are judged. You need to come to Christ to escape a horrible judgment. You can’t be promised a suffering free existence. But coming to Christ is the utmost important thing you will ever do.