Don’t Be Surprised By Suffering (1 Peter 4:12-19)

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Introduction

I invite you to turn with me in your Bibles once again to 1 Peter 4. Our passage for today’s sermon will be 1 Peter 4:12-19. If you do not have a Bible with you this morning, or if you’d like to follow along in the translation I will be preaching from, please make use of one of the pew Bibles where you will find this passage located on page 1016.

After several months studying 1 Peter together, we are making our way toward the end of this letter. In fact, in just a few more weeks, we will be done with it altogether. Next week we will be moving into the final chapter, but in our passage for this morning, Peter has a few more things to say to us about the topic suffering—specifically suffering as a result of our faith in Jesus Christ.

Now, there have been many parts of this letter that have been very relevant to us. Even though we are separated by about two thousand years’ worth of time, there are a lot of similarities between what the original recipients of this letter were dealing with and the things we are beginning to deal with today. So, in many ways, I have found it easy to suggest some modern day applications for the things we have studied so far in this book.

Well this morning, we are covering what, I believe, may be the most important verse in the whole letter for us as twenty-first century Christians who are living in the United States of America. The verse I have in mind is 1 Peter 4:12 where Peter says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you.” Now, the reason I think this verse is so timely for us is not because Christians are currently in the midst of a fiery trial of suffering in this country. But, I think it is important because I really believe that most Christians would be surprised out of their minds if we ever began to experience real, systematic persecution in this country. I think, for many of us, it would be one of the most unexpected turn of events that we could have ever anticipated.

You see, the truth is, the vast majority of Christians in this country, have no expectation that they would ever have to suffer for their faith, and many even think that their faith somehow protects them and keeps them from suffering. While that is true in an eschatological sense (there will be no suffering for us in eternity), nothing could be further from the truth in the here and now. And, you don’t have to take my word for it; the Bible is abundantly clear that those who follow Jesus, ought to expect to be persecuted in the same manner in which he was persecuted. In 1 Peter 4:12, Peter is pretty clear about this. He says that we ought “not be surprised at the fiery trial WHEN it comes upon [us].” Not “if” it comes upon us, but “when” it comes upon us. Yes, the truth is, we should expect to suffer for following Jesus. In fact, as we are going to see today, the thing that ought to be strange to us as Christians is the fact that we have gone for such an extended period of time without suffering for our faith in and devotion to Jesus. That’s what should surprise us as Christians, not when things go south for us and we finally realize that Jesus was telling the truth when he said, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20 ESV).

So, if suffering is something that really ought to be on the radar screen of every Christian—including Christians in this country—what else does Peter have to say about it in our passage for this morning? Well, let’s direct our attention there now and see for ourselves. If you haven’t already, turn with me in your Bibles and follow along as I read from 1 Peter 4:12-19. Peter says,

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 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? 18 And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:12–19 ESV)

Suffering Is To Be Expected (v. 12)

Now, I’ve already said that suffering as a Christian is something that, according to the Bible, ought to be expected. But, before I move on, let me expand on that a little bit and provide some more support for that claim. And the additional support I will offer this morning comes directly from looking at the historical realities of life for those who have been obedient to God throughout history.

For example, don’t forget how the prophets in the Old Testament, who God used to tell the people of Israel about the coming of a Messiah, were persecuted by those same people for the message and for their obedience to God (Matthew 5:12). And don’t forget that when Jesus finally came as the long-anticipated Messiah, he too was persecuted and killed just like the prophets before him. And, don’t forget that not too long after his death, the church in Jerusalem was persecuted so severely that they were scattered all over the place (Acts 8:1). Stephen became the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:54-60). The Apostle James was killed by Herod (Acts 12:2). The Apostle Peter, the one who wrote this letter, was arrested at the same time and narrowly escaped with this life (Acts 12:3-11), and tradition tells us that he was ultimately crucified upside down next to his wife who was crucified as well. The Apostle Paul, who was once Saul, the persecutor, eventually endured a great deal of suffering and persecution for his decision to follow Jesus. And down throughout history Christians have been persecuted in a variety ways in a variety of places. And this persecution continues to take place in many different parts of the world even today.

So, to those modern-day, American Christians who are surprised when I say that we ought to expect persecution, I’d simply ask, “Have you not read your Bibles? Do you not watch the news?” Friends, if your understanding of Christianity does not include the very real possibility of suffering for what you believe, your understanding of Christianity isn’t a biblical understanding. Now that doesn’t mean that we are going to be imprisoned or tortured or executed as many Christians have been. But, to have the expectation that there will be no price to pay for following Jesus, is not realistic and certainly not biblical—at least not if you are truly following Jesus. There are plenty of “in name only” Christians who will never suffer a lick for calling themselves a Christian. But for those who are true followers of Jesus, and are being used by God as salt and light in this world (Matthew 5:13-16), there ought to be some expectation of resistance along the way. That has been the norm for the people of God throughout history. And it was certainly the case for Jesus.

So again, since this is true, Peter has written a great deal in this letter to help us have a proper understanding of Christian suffering. And, in addition to telling us in verse 12 that suffering is not something strange but a reality that we ought to expect, Peter tells us four more things about suffering in these verses. And that is what we will spend the rest of our time discussing this morning.

Suffering Serves As A Test

So, the second thing Peter has to say about suffering in this passage is that suffering for following Jesus serves as a test of our faith. Do you see that in verse 12? Peter says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you.” So, what does Peter mean when he talks about the “fiery trial” as a test? Well, I want to turn your attention back to something he said way back in the first chapter of this letter because I think it will be helpful to us here. Turn back a page to 1 Peter 1 and look with me at verses 6 and 7 and notice what Peter says. After talking for a bit about the salvation his readers have received through faith in Jesus, Peter says,

6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your 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. (1 Peter 1:6–7 ESV)

So, when Peter talks in 1 Peter 4:12 about believers being tested through “fiery trials,” he is most certainly thinking back to the metaphor he used in the first chapter to describe the way God allows suffering into our lives to refine our faith in the same way gold is refined by fire. Yes, while God is not to blame for the persecution Christians face in the life, he does get credit for using those trials to make us more like Jesus. And this is precisely why our sufferings should not be seen as something unusual and unexpected. They should not be seen as unusual and unexpected because the Bible tells us that experiences of suffering are one of the things God uses to refine our faith. And so, what this means is that if it weren’t for suffering, we wouldn’t grow in our faith as we should.

So the first thing Peter tells us about suffering in this passage is that suffering is something we ought to expect. We ought to expect it because we are living in a world where, for the most part, God is ignored and rejected and his people persecuted. It has been that way for thousands of years now, and that is not going to change in our lifetimes. So suffering is just something we ought to expect.

The second thing Peter tells us in this passage about suffering is that God allows our suffering for a reason. Yes, we may wonder why God would allow his people to suffer. Why doesn’t he intervene? Well, as we just saw, God uses the evil intentions of men for his own good. And, isn’t that an encouraging thing to consider? Isn’t it encouraging to know that what others mean for evil against us is something God can and does use for good (c.f. Genesis 50:20). Yes, according to Peter, when we have no choice but to endure fiery trials that are brought on by persecution, we can expect God to use the heat of those experiences to refine us and shape us into a more Christlike person. That is the second thing we have seen in this passage.

Suffering Is Reason To Rejoice (v. 13-14)

Now, the third thing Peter tells us about suffering in this passage is that when we suffer for our faith, that we should, in fact, rejoice. But, that is a pretty odd thing to say, isn’t it? Who in the world is going to rejoice when they are suffering? Well, according to Peter, Christians are. Yes, friends, being a Christian means that we will be radically different from others. And, one way we are radically different from others is that we rejoice in our suffering, we rejoice whenever we are “insulted for the name of Christ” (1 Peter 4:14 ESV). We rejoice because we know that in those moments we are sharing in Christ’s sufferings.

Now, at one point Peter failed terribly at this. At one point, Peter denied knowing Jesus altogether. In fact, he denied him three times. But, after receiving the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, Peter became a new man. And, after that, he had plenty of opportunities to show that he was no longer the same coward who had denied his Lord and Savior on the night Jesus was arrested. Yes, at one point, after being beaten and ordered to never speak in the name of Jesus ever again, Peter and the rest of the apostles who had been arrested and beaten with him, rejoiced, according to Acts 5:41, that “that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” of Jesus.

So, friends, instead of being surprised and caught off guard when we suffer for our faith, Peter says we ought to rejoice over the prospect of sharing in Christ’s sufferings. In fact, he is so serious about the importance of rejoicing when we suffer for Christ that he says it is necessary if we want to “rejoice and be glad” when Jesus returns. Do you see that in verse 13? Peter says, “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, THAT you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”

And, he goes on in verse 14 to say, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” Now, what does Peter mean by all of this? Why does our joy and gladness at the second coming of Christ depend on whether or not we rejoice in our sufferings right now? And how is it that we are blessed when we are insulted for the name of Christ? Well, because when we rejoice over the privilege of sharing in the sufferings of Christ, and when we are so committed to following Jesus that we are willing to do so even when we are insulted and slandered by others for it, our willingness to suffer for his name is evidence that the glorious Holy Spirit of God is resting upon us, which means that we are truly saved and are, therefore, blessed heirs to the Kingdom of God. That is why we must rejoice when we suffer for Christ’s name. We don’t rejoice because we are suffering. We rejoice because we know that when we are willing to suffer for the name of Jesus, we are truly one of his followers. We know that the Holy Spirit of God is resting upon us as the downpayment of all the riches of heaven we will one day receive. Because if the Holy Spirit were not upon us, we would deny Jesus just like Peter originally did. And Jesus’s words in Matthew 10:33 would be ominous to us. Because in that verse Jesus says, “whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” So, friends, we must be prepared to suffer for the name of Jesus, because according to Jesus, no one who denies him before men will enter into the kingdom of God.

Now, just to make sure no one gets confused about the type of suffering he is talking about here, Peter clarifies in verses 15 and 16 that he is only talking about suffering that comes about because of our faith in Christ. That’s right; there’s no reward or blessing if we suffer as a result of sin. That is not what Peter has in mind when he talks about suffering as a Christian. Suffering for doing things we should no longer do, doesn’t count.

Now, to make his point, Peter goes to extremes here. The truth is, it isn’t very likely that the believers to whom Peter was writing were regularly committing murder, and I don’t think any of them were probably living the life of a thief. But by mentioning these two blatant sins, Peter makes clear what he is trying to say. Because, it would have been just as obvious to the original recipients of this letter, as it is to us, that no matter whether you are a Christian or not, if you commit murder and are punished for it, or if you rob someone and are punished for it, you are not suffering as Christian. If you do those things and suffer for them, you are suffering, not as a Christian, but as a criminal.

But, in addition to these two blatant sins, Peter also uses some generic terms that could cover all sorts of sins. The point is still the same, however. If you are suffering as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or even as a pesky meddler, you are not suffering as a Christian, you are suffering because you have done something that is deserving of suffering and ought to make you ashamed. But, if you are suffering “as a Christian,” or because you are a Christian, you have nothing to be ashamed of and should continue to glorify God in front of others even if it might bring more suffering your way. That’s what Peter tells us in verses 15 and 16.

Suffering Separates the Sheep From the Goats (vv. 17-18)

But, Peter doesn’t pretend that suffering for our faith is easy. In fact, he makes it clear in verses 17 and 18 that suffering for what you claim to believe about Jesus is so difficult, that it is actually part of what God uses to separate the sheep from the goats—or to separate true believers from those who have only been pretending. That’s the fourth thing Peter teaches us about suffering in this passage. Let’s read verses 17 and 18 again because they can be a bit confusing. Peter says,

17 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? 18 And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (1 Peter 4:17–18 ESV)

So, what does Peter mean when he says, “it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God?” Well, look back up to verse 12. What does he say there? He says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you.” And that is what Peter means in verse 17 when he says, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God.” He means that the suffering we endure as Christians during this life serves as a test of our faith. When we endure suffering and persecution without rejecting or denying Christ, our faith is judged to be genuine. But, if we turn our backs on Jesus when the heat gets turned up, and walk away from him, the evidence points in the other direction. And the only judgment that remains is that we were never true believers in the first place. As 1 John 2:19 says, “If they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”

Friends, the Bible makes clear that we will all stand before God as our judge one day. And the only hope any of us have in that moment is to have received Christ as our Lord and Savior at some point during our lives and to have persevered in that condition until the end. Now, I am not suggesting that someone can lose their salvation. In John 6:37, Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” And in John 10:27-28, he said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” And in Romans 8:30, the Apostle Paul says, “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” There is an unbreakable chain there. So, I am not saying that someone who has truly heard the voice of Jesus calling to them, and has come to him in faith, can ever lose their salvation. As Jesus said, “no one will snatch them out of my hand.” But, I am saying that someone can prove that they were never really one of his sheep in the first place, by denying him and walking away from the sheepfold. Does that make sense?

Now, I think Peter’s point in verse 18 is to simply acknowledge how difficult it is for Christians to remain faithful to the end. The truth is when you are living in a time and a place where you are ridiculed and ostracized and sometimes even arrested and persecuted for your faith, it is hard to press on. Peter is acknowledging that. In those sorts of situations, it is much easier to renounce your beliefs and return to a way of life that the world is going to accept and applaud. And that is precisely what is happening in this country today. All the people who have been Christians in name only, are slowly disappearing from the church as the church is now having to go against the grain of cultural on so many hot-button issues. It was one thing to identify as a Christian when the culture was pressing you to do that; it is another thing to identify as a Christian when the culture begins to reject and ridicule what we believe.

But, it is not that these folks who are leaving the faith were once saved and are now no longer saved. It is that they were never saved and are now proving it by their actions. And this is what Peter means when he says that judgment begins in the household of God. That is what suffering and persecution does. It separates the sheep from the goats. And when God judges the world, the sheep will be judged based on what Jesus has done, while the goats will be judged based on what they have done—including rejecting the gospel of God.

Suffering For Our Faith Requires Trust In God (v. 19)

Now, because of the real difficulty that accompanies suffering for faith in Christ, Peter tells us in verse 19, that the only way we are going to be able to endure the suffering that we face as a result of our faith is by trusting God in the midst of the suffering. He says, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” In other words, keep doing what you are doing even though you are suffering for it, and trust that the God who created you and created your faith cares for you and is in complete control.

Now, this is easier said than done. The truth is, it is easy to entrust your soul to God when everything is going well for you. It is easy to say, “Isn’t God good?” when everything in your life is good. But how about when things are really bad? Is it easy to trust in God then? What about when you are suffering precisely because you are trusting in God and being obedient to his commands—is it easy to trust in God then? Well, only if you remember that God is faithful. He is faithful even when it no longer feels like it. He is faithful even when the whole world is aligned against you. He is faithful even if they arrest you and torture you and kill you for your faith. Friends, God is faithful.

Certainly, Peter has in mind what he said about Jesus back in 1 Peter 2:23. He said, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” And Peter certainly expects that we will follow in our Savior’s footsteps when we suffer (1 Peter 2:21). The world can pass judgment on us all they want for what we believe. But they cannot pass final judgment on us—even if they kill us like they killed Jesus. Only God can do that. And if we stand firm in what we believe, proving that our faith in Jesus is real, we will only be judged with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” when we stand before God on the day of judgment.

Conclusion

Brothers and sisters, we have been very fortunate to live for so long in this country without the threat of persecution. And it is my prayer that Jesus would return before we ever reach a point where Christians are no longer tolerated here. But, we cannot know for sure what the future holds. And so, passages like these are vital for us study—just in case things change for the worse.

The truth is, we aren’t suffering in ways that are as severe as Christians in other parts of the world, but it truly is becoming more and more difficult to follow Christ in this country, isn’t it? Christians don’t hold a favored and protected place in our society anymore. And we are beginning to experience some isolation and ridicule for what we believe, aren’t we? But, as Peter says in this passage, we shouldn’t be surprised by this. We shouldn’t see it as something strange. No, as odd as it sounds to us as Christians who have never had to suffer for our faith, what we are experiencing is exactly what we should expect. And, instead of fretting or complaining, we should learn, instead, to rejoice over the opportunity to share in Christ’s sufferings. That’s what Peter tells us. He says we should learn to rejoice when we are insulted for the name of Christ because when we are willing to suffer for Jesus’s name, it is evidence that our faith is real.

So don’t be surprised, brothers and sisters, at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed on the day he returns to rescue us from all the difficulties of this world.