Dear friends, do not be surprised at the firey ordeal that has come on you to test you as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the suffering of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer of thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Chrstian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” So then, those who suffer accordingly to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. (1 Peter 4:12-19
Sometimes teachers use a spiral approach to their classes. They teach a subject, then continue to return to it over the year, spiraling through different levels of mastery. Similarly, Peter uses a spiral approach to helping us understand our response to suffering. Peter returns to the topic of suffering over the course of his book, examining it from different perspectives. In 1 Peter 4:12-19 Peter returns to the concept of suffering again. He gives us five words of wisdom for how to suffer without shame.
Don’t be surprised by suffering (1 Peter 4:12)
I like being comfortable. I have a thermostat in my home that lets me control the temperature. When I go to a restaurant, I can tell the waiter how spicy I want my food. Even when I go to the doctor, the nurse asks me to rate my pain so they can adjust my medications appropriately.
Our world teaches us to expect comfort. We get used to it. We expect to be comfortable. But sometimes life is painful. And when it is, suffering catches us off guard. Peter tells us not to be surprised by suffering. Suffering as Christians is not a sign that something strange is happening to us; it is part of the Christian experience and an opportunity to identify with Christ in his suffering. Jesus said that the world will treat us the way it treated him (John 15:18-20). Can we expect the world that rejected our Savior to greet us with open arms? Accepting that suffering is part of life helps prepare us so we won’t be caught off guard when it comes.
Suffering can be the path God chooses to overcome evil. (1 Peter 4:13)
On the cross, Jesus’ victory over sin and death came through the path of suffering. Battle is not easy. Sometimes suffering means that God is allowing us to participate in his work of overcoming evil. When we endure through suffering and emerge victorious, God reveals his glory in us.
If you suffer, suffer for the right reasons. (1 Peter 4:14-16).
I always feel that I’m walking a fine line when I talk about persecution. On one hand, I think it’s fair to say that future generations will pay a higher social cost for following Christ than the ones that have gone before. We’re already seeing the silencing and shaming of Christian voices in society, particularly in the area of sexual ethics. And I think it’s likely that going forward, more of us will experience social pressure to keep our faith to ourselves.
But sometimes what people label “persecution” is actually something more like “being called out for acting like a jerk.” We can’t wave the persecution card everytime something happens to us that we don’t like. Nor can we bring negative consequences down on ourselves and call it spiritual warfare. And what Peter tells us here is that if we suffer, be sure we suffer for the right reasons. Not for being a murderer or a thief–or a meddler or a gossip. But there is no shame in suffering for bearing the name of Christ. If we suffer because we have stood for truth and done what is right, we don’t have to be ashamed. Instead, we praise God because suffering proves we are his.
Remember that judgment is coming. (1 Peter 4:17-18).
Peter reminds his readers that judgment is coming. Suffering purifies the church; those who are truly his will prove they belong to God by suffering for their Savior rather than for their sin. But when suffering comes, those who have claimed the name of Christ out of convenience, tradition, or selfish motives drift away. Those who have not repented of their sins and surrendered to Jesus as Lord will experience God’s judgment. Our knowledge of God’s judgment should motivate us to live righteously and to call others to repentance.
Commit yourself to the Creator and do what is good (1 Peter 4:19)
Bottom line: how should we respond to suffering? Commit ourselves to the Creator and continue to do good. God is both sovereign and faithful. He does not abandon us in our suffering. He is with us, enabling us to overcome and endure. God’s presence with us means that we should not use suffering as an excuse to retaliate or to withdraw from a world that causes us pain. Rather, God’s faithful love gives us the strength to continue to love well, looking for ways to do good. It is the harder path, but it is the best one.