Sermon preached on 1 Peter 4:12-19 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 8/21/2011 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Peter 4:12-19
“Do Not Think it Strange”
If you invest your money in what everyone thought was a strong stable company and the next day they announce bankruptcy, then you are surprised and startled. If you pay someone a compliment and they reply with an angry response, then you are surprised to say the least. If you entrust your closest most trustworthy friend with something and then they go and betray you, you’re surprised and shocked. All of these are strange and unexpected things. Life is full of the unexpected. But it’s the things that are least expected that do seem so strange to us. And yet in all of these examples I just gave, if you had a piece of additional information, then maybe things wouldn’t have caught you off guard. At the failing company, someone knew about the financial problems of the company, even if they hid it from everyone else. With the person who gets angry at the compliment, maybe you find that’s a compliment someone had abused them with before and they are taking their anger out at you. With your trustworthy friend, you might find out that they were upset with you about something, and this was their revenge. My point is that many unexpected things in life wouldn’t be unexpected if you had some more information. Instead, the reason why they come unexpectedly is usually that you don’t have that added perspective of additional information. With that additional information, you would no longer be surprised when the incident happens. You may still find the situation difficult, but you won’t be taken by surprise. Advance warning helps.
Well, in this letter, Peter has been giving us some additional information about our life. He’s giving us some advanced warning. He’s been telling us about Christian suffering. You see, it could be surprising that Christians sometimes suffer. It might seem strange to you. This is something that could have been understandably startling. That is, until you realize that the Bible has told us about it ahead of time. We’ve been given advanced warning. Peter here has been forewarning us about it. Peter’s been telling us how to think about it; its purpose, and the final end of it all. Today he continues to develop this in more detail. He’s telling us all of this so we won’t be taken by surprise in it. So it won’t seem strange. Instead, he wants us to know how to rightly handle the suffering when it comes. And so our message today we’ll be to first consider what kind of suffering is in view here. Second, we’ll think about the purpose of this suffering. Third, we’ll think about the final end of suffering; we’ll connect it with glory, joy and the gospel.
Let’s begin then with looking at the kind of suffering in view here. We see the kind of suffering this is in verse 13. We are partaking of Christ’s sufferings. Well, we know Christ’s sufferings. He died on the cross. He was mocked, beaten, and betrayed. His friends deserted him. And his heavenly father forsook him on the cross as he poured out divine wrath. Jesus did that in our place, to take on our punishment on the cross. He atoned for our sins by his suffering. Scripture is clear that his suffering was complete; it was sufficient for all that we need.
And yet, though that’s true, Peter says that the kind of suffering that we may face in life is partaking in Christ’s suffering. As it says in verse 14, we could be reproached for Christ’s name. As verse 16 says, this is suffering as a Christian. In other words, because we are Christian, the sort of slander, and ridicule, and persecution Christ received, we may receive. History records this with countless examples, many who suffer even to the point of death; dying as a martyr. Each of us can probably think of at least some examples where you’ve received some persecution as a Christian. But this is the kind of suffering Peter is describing today. He’s talking about Christian persecution. That’s what we shouldn’t be surprised about. Now, yes, a broader application of this passage could have some application to suffering in general. Certainly Christians may have sufferings in life beyond just overly religious persecution. In such cases, much of what’s described here in this passage is still applicable. But realize that he especially is talking about how the world will hate us for being a Christian.
And Peter says this is partaking with Christ in verse 13. The word partaking is the idea of having a share of something together with someone else. Almost like a joint venture or partnership. When we suffer as a Christian, it’s a way in which we get to be involved in the sort of suffering that Christ did for us. This is not saying anything was lacking in Christ’s suffering that we had to finish in order to be justified before God. But it’s a way we get to experience a bit of that suffering ourselves. In God’s good plan, he allows us to gain an intimate stake in Christ’s sufferings. Christians are those who have become united to Christ with faith. Part of that union with Christ means we share with him in his resurrection. But part of it means we also suffer along with him right now in this world.
And so this kind of suffering Peter is talking about here is when we stand up for Christ, and are persecuted. It especially includes when we live good moral lives for Christ, and are nonetheless persecuted by the wicked. But Peter is also very clear about what kind of suffering this is not. It’s not the suffering that results from sin. Peter’s not talking about persecution that comes to you because you were doing something bad. Just look at verse 15. This kind of suffering he’s talking about, is not the kind that results from being a murderer, thief, or evildoer. Nor is it a result of being a busybody in other people’s matters. Notice how I just separated the first three sins from the last one. That’s because in the Greek grammar, there’s a subtle grouping that does that. You see that even in our English translation. Don’t suffer as a murder, thief, or evildoer, or as a busybody. The word “as” is repeated a second time, separating the being a busybody from the other three. So, these are set apart, and yet related. Well, think about this list. You would hope any Christian would really see the evil of those first three and stay far away from them. And yet that last one is something that is probably a lot more common, even for Christians, unfortunately. Yet, Peter groups them all together it seems to heighten how serious this last one is.
A busybody is someone who meddles in other people’s affairs. They put their noses in places they don’t belong, proactively looking to solve other’s problems, when they weren’t asked for help. Well, back then you could think about how a new Christian could end up being a busy body, especially to unbelievers. They just become saved, and suddenly they find themselves going around to everyone else thinking they can solve all their moral dilemmas. They start spouting off the Ten Commandments and other laws that they’ve been learning. They act holier-than-thou, and sure enough the unbelievers around them are sick of it and begin to persecute them. Peter is saying that if people slander you or persecute you because of your sin, then that’s not a good kind of suffering. That’s suffering your own sin has heaped upon you. Being a busybody is one of those kinds of sins. Don’t get me wrong, Christians should evangelize with unbelievers. They should humbly share the gospel. But there is a difference between that and being a busybody. The same is true with other believers; we are called to lovingly and humbly confront a believer if you find them struggling with some sin. But that’s different than you going around constantly trying to insert yourself in other people’s business. It can be a fine line, but an important one.
Peter saw being a busybody as one of those destructive sins in your life. It could heap suffering and persecution upon you. Not the kind he is commending here. This was not just a problem for them back then. Christians today can still struggle with being a busybody and a meddler. And they can still have a tendency to downplay it or not think they have a problem with it. But we must be on guard against it. The Bible wants us to mind our own business and not be a busy body.
But do you see why Peter highlights this here? We can get ourselves into a lot of trouble if you don’t mind your own business. As you do that, others may react to you negatively. You might think you are being persecuted for your faith. Peter says that’s not the case if you are being a busybody.
Let’s turn now to consider the purpose of this suffering. Notice with me that verse 19 says this kind of suffering is according to the will of God. What that means is that if you find yourself suffering in this way, you know it’s God’s will for you. And if it’s God’s will for you as a Christian, then surely God has a good purpose in it. Well, we see that good purpose here. Notice how verse 12 describes the purpose of these sufferings. They are fiery trials which try you. In other words, it’s a test. Should God bring a time of Christian suffering into your life, one purpose of it is try and test you. It’s a trial that’s to show forth the genuineness of your faith. As you stand fast amidst persecution, you show that you have true faith in God, and that you have indeed entrusted your life to his good plan for you.
This is similar to how Peter started out this letter in chapter 1. Specifically 1:6-7. There he talked about how we have various trials in our life that test the genuineness of our faith. He made the comparison then to how these trials are like the fire that purifies and refines gold. Well, here he uses that fire imagery again. Verse 12 calls these trials fiery. Surely this describes a bit of the difficulty of these trials, but in light of chapter 1, and even the rest of this passage, it seems best to understand this as a refining fire again.
And so the purpose of these sufferings, at least in part, is to test our faith, and to refine our faith. We see this described further in verses 16-18. These verses are a bit hard to understand at first glance, but we’ll walk through them slowly. Let’s read them again: Verses 17-18, “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now ‘If the righteous one is scarcely saved, Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?'” Simply put, this is about how our trials of suffering can begin to show that we have genuine faith. That we are really a Christian. That we are truly those who have believed in the gospel and turned to Christ in faith.
You see it talks about judgment coming first upon the Christians. Let me explain this. Judgment is not the same as condemnation. True Christians are not under any condemnation. No, Christ bore that for us on the cross. But the Scriptures do say that at the end, there will be a judgment day for all mankind. Revelation 20 sees that both Christians and non-Christians will go through that judgment time. Matthew 25 also talks about the final day of judgment. There Jesus says that he will separate the peoples at that time, as one divides between sheep and goats. Jesus will divide between the sheep and the goats at the final judgment day. In other words, it says in Matthew 25 that he’ll send the righteous to eternal life, and the wicked to eternal punishment.
That’s the judgment that will take place at the end. And yet Peter says there’s an aspect of judgment going on already now within the church. Within the house of God, he says in verse 17. It’s not that he’s issuing condemnation or punishment on the church. It’s not that Christian suffering is any sort of punishment, or purgatory, or divine wrath. No, it’s simply that God is using suffering to judge us in the sense of testing the genuineness of our faith. He tests and trys us in this, to judge if our faith is pure. His judgment of us is to determine if our faith is genuine. And then he will use these fiery trials to bring this purification and refinement to our faith.
It seems Peter had the context of Malachi 3 in the background as he wrote this. That passage helps explain what we are reading here in 1 Peter. We read that Malachi passage earlier in the service. There the prophet Malachi predicted the Lord coming to his temple, specifically to come for judgment, Malachi 3:5. Well, here in verse 17 Peter talks about God coming in judgment to the house of God. The house of God here is temple language, now understood as the church; as the people of God. Malachi 3 goes on to say that as God comes in judgment, that this judgment will come as a refiner’s fire to his people. This will result he says in the purifying of the Levites, and of Judah and Jerusalem. But he goes on to say in Malachi 3 that his judgment against the wicked will be terrible, consumed by that fire, not purified.
So do you see how that Malachi 3 passage helps explain the backdrop to Peter’s ideas here? The element of refining fire and judgment are explained there – Malachi says they refine the leviters, and those of Judah and Jerusalem – in other words they are purifying God’s people and their faith. And so this makes Peter to say in verse 18 that the righteous will scarcely be saved. That might come across a bit lost in translation. The sense of it is that this salvation of the righteous comes with difficulty. That’s how the NASB translates it even. In other words, this acknowledges that Christian suffering is difficult. In this process, the purifying fire can be tough. Fire burns. But we know God knows what’s best for our spiritual growth and well being.
And so to sum this up, Peter says that one purpose of Christian suffering and persecution is something whereby God tests our faith and purifies it. God even judges through this in a sense, in that he identifies who are truly his righteous people and who are the wicked unbelievers. We see those stark distinctions in verse 17 and 18. On the one hand you have the righteous who are identified as those who obey the gospel. That’s us. To obey the gospel is to turn from your sins and put your faith in Christ and in his forgiveness won for you on the cross. On the other hand, you have the ungodly and the sinners who do not obey the gospel. Two distinct camps. The sheep and the goats. Our trials of Christian suffering will show which camp we belong to. We will either persevere in our faith, trusting God. Or we will turn away and show that we really don’t have true faith.
Brothers and sisters, we are those here who have put our faith in the Lord. We can trust in him that he will purify our faith even as he tests it. There is a final end goal to all of this. The final end of all of this is God’s glory, and our great joy! We saw that last week with our spiritual gifts, and here’s again with regard to our suffering. It comes about through this gospel of salvation we have found in Christ. What’s man’s chief end? To glorify God and enjoy him forever. That’s what we see described in this passage. Verse 14 brings both glory and joy together. When all is said and done, all the ways the world persecuted Christ and his followers, will result in glory to God. And it will result in our greatest joy on that final day. Because on that final day, we’ll be vindicated before the world. And we will then enter into that rest where there will be no more pain or sorrow, but instead we get to spend eternity with God enjoying him and his goodness forever.
And so this talk of testing is not meant to scare us; “I hope I pass the test,” sort of thing. That’s not the tone of this. This passage wants to encourage us and our faith. Just look at all the ways this passage encourages us to trust that that God is purifying our faith us in all of this. Let’s quickly walk through that encouragement. Verse 12 calls us the “Beloved.” We are the beloved of the Lord! Verse 18 does talk about being saved with difficulty – and yet we are still those who are saved! We should be encouraged with the prospect of salvation. That means that when we go through the trials and find that we still believe, we can know we are saved! Verse 14 says that when we are persecuted and stand firm, it means God’s spirit – a spirit of glory – is resting upon us. That’s the same language used in Isaiah 11:2 about how the Spirit would rest upon the Messiah. Again, we see our union with Christ in our suffering. What an amazing encouragement to know this suffering makes us more and more like Christ! And verse 19 says that we are blessed if we are persecuted! That reminds me of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 when Jesus says that same thing. Verse 19 says that God is our faithful creator in all of this. He is faithful to his good and perfect plan for our lives. Do you see what this passage is saying? Just this quick scan of it, shows a number of encouragements for us in this. Peter wants us to have the right perspective on Christian persecution and suffering. We should be encouraged in all of it, with this perspective.
I’d like to close out our message today by calling your attention to the several commands Peter makes in this passage. There is an interesting blend of 2nd person commands and 3rd person commands here. Mainly 3rd person commands, however. That brings out a lot more of the possibility, instead of the certainty. Should one find himself in this circumstance of suffering, then let him do this. But I think that gives us a healthy balance. Suffering likely won’t characterize every moment of your Christian life. But should it come, don’t be surprised, but do what’s being said here. Peter tells us several things to do in the event this Christian suffering comes.
First thing he says to do is to not think it strange. Don’t be surprised. This is the message I highlighted at the start. It’s really the most direct exhortation here. But this is a good one. We tend to be surprised as Christians when persecution comes. But Peter’s told us ahead of time. Jesus told us ahead of time. There’s no reason to be surprised when persecution comes because we have forewarning and we’ve been told how to think about Christian suffering. If doing the right thing according to the Lord is difficult; time and time again difficult; chronically difficult and a sacrifice – don’t be surprised.
A second thing he calls us to is to not be ashamed; verse 16. Don’t be ashamed when others slander you or mock you for your faith. Don’t buy into their lies. If you stand up for your faith, you can get some pretty harsh comments from others. They could try to shame you. I had someone do that to me recently, essentially trying to say I was denigrating his wife by my religious views – even though I hadn’t even mentioned his wife. Don’t let them falsely shame you. Instead, the alternative is to rejoice. That’s the command in verse 13. Instead of being ashamed for your views, take joy in their attempts to shame you. That means you are living more like Christ. That you are resembling him more and more. Take joy in this.
Another command here is to glorify God. That’s verse 16. When suffering comes, praise God, don’t blame him. When suffering comes, trust God, don’t doubt him. Consider how he is working to refine your faith and strengthen you. Reflect on how he will ultimately vindicate you on the last day. In all this, praise God for it.
Finally, we have the closing exhortation of verse 19. Commit your soul to God in doing good. Entrust your very soul to God when persecution comes. Trust that he will bring you safely through it all, ultimately to himself in eternity. But this isn’t just a passive, mental, trust. No, Peter says this entrusting of your soul to God is to be expressed in continued obedience to God. Keep doing good. Even if people are slandering you for your commitment to this in the first place. Even if doing good, doing the right thing, keeps you in a place that is so very difficult. Keep it up. Righteous living is the response Peter keeps commending to us. Do good, even it others do bad unto you.
And so this is a call to trust your soul to him – that even if you should die in the flesh, even if from persecution, or any suffering, including health – that you are safe and secure in the Lord. Trust our lives and even our very souls to him! May God grant us sufficient grace to keep this perfect perspective on Christian suffering before us; and even through our trials to grow us and perfect us with his refining fire. Amen.
Copyright (c) 2011 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.