1 Peter 4:12-19

In this passage Peter continues to explore the divine purpose in suffering. He revisits themes introduced earlier and adds a layer of

I.  4:12, 13 – Expectation and Hope in this world and the next

A. Peter calls it a “fiery trial” which could mean its severity, or, in harmony with 1:7, a trial designed to purify, sanctify and prove their faith to be genuine. “to test you.”

B. They should not be surprised at this. Often in our well-protected Christianity, we feel that trials are unusual, not to be expected, and their presence causes despondency. Peter does not think that such trials should be surprising at all.

C. Instead of despondency and perplexity, Peter says “rejoice.” He qualifies this is two ways.

If one’s sufferings  amount to “sharing Christ’s sufferings” then rejoicing is in order. To share Christ’s sufferings must be what Paul meant when he spoke of “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” The world is not yet through inflicting its wrath on the holy and blameless Lamb of God. God’s wrath is fully propitiated, and He has no more wrath to display for the forgiveness of those for whom Christ died. But the world will never be finished with its hatred of God, its resistance to the exclusivity of Christ’s claims to Lordship and mediatorship, and thus will never tire of opposing the basic Christian message of salvation by Christ alone. If Christ appeared on earth again to make the same claims and gave the same teaching that he did during the days he was here, he would be rejected and despised still. Those, therefore, that trust him, and seek to set him forth in biblical terms, “Neither is there salvation in any other for there is not other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved,” are in the position of sharing Christ’s sufferings.

Peter states his second condition toward the future. We suffer now and will reign with Christ later, “when his glory s revealed.” Now the world minimizes and even despises him in his saving work, but then, when his glory is revealed, none will doubt the power, perfection and infinite excellence of Christ. Paul points to the connection  between present suffering and future glory; “provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” Then he argues from Romans 8:18 to the end of that chapter concerning the relation of present suffering to future glory. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us [or in us]” Paul connects suffering with rejoicing also in Romans 5; “More than that we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”

II. 4:14-16 – The Power of the Name

A. “If you are insulted for the name of Christ. – Peter continues with the glory of Christian suffering by reminding his readers that to be insulted for the name of Christ is a great blessing. Jesus Himself said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11, 12). To be insulted for the name of Christ means that the world resists you for the same reasons that it resisted Christ. Those reasons show their own perversity and corrupt views by their opposition to the one single holy person, the one purely merciful person, the one purely just person that ever lived. Paul again delves into the same insight when he told the Philippians, “not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation and that from God.” When at the name of Jesus, every knee bows, the scene of their resistance to his name in the persons of his followers will come before them as clear and irrefutable evidence, indisputable signs, that their condemnation is just.

B. “You are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” Those that suffer with joy for the sake of the Name, show that they have seen the glory of being with him for eternity. This is one of the operations of the Spirit, to open the eyes of sinners and show them the glory of Christ. He sustains this in their experience so that nothing has more glory than Christ, even reproach for his name in this life. That was the foundation of the faith of Moses, and indeed of everyone that has ever believed the gospel. “By faith Moses when he was grow up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” (Hebrews 11:24-26)

C. Bear in mind, however, that suffering per se has no glory necessarily connected with it. If one commits a crime, or refuses to work diligently for an employer or master, or meddles in the private affairs of other people, than he can expect punishment and discipline. When we suffer for wrongdoing, we cannot look to blessing intrinsically connected with such suffering. Only when suffering “As a Christian” can one glorify God in bearing reproach for that name.

III. 5:17-18 – How Suffering and Judgment are Complements –

A. “It is time for judgment to begin at the household of God;” Christian are living stones being built up as a spiritual house (2:5); this time of testing is a kind of judgment, not for condemnation, but of genuineness of faith. All the impure elements of one’s walk with Christ will be challenged, found wanting, and destroyed. Then at the final assize, we must “all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10) when final verdict on the remnants of indwelling sin will be set forth for the Christian, and the unspiritual labors of Christian ministers will be burned up (1 Corinthians 3:13-15); and Christian will be fitted for a participation in the judgment of the world and even of angels (1 Corinthians 6:2, 3)

B. Christians are not condemned, for they have a perfect righteousness imputed to them through the unfailing obedience of Jesus Christ and his continual intercession for them. Their judgment, therefore, finalizes their purification and fitness for the holy occupation of heaven. What will happen, however, for “those who do not obey the gospel of God?” They have no forgiveness nor righteousness; they stand on their own infinite demerits. They have no principle of holiness infused into them by the Holy Spirit and thus have no foundation for the perfectly sanctifying influences of suffering in any realm, temporal or eternal. Their judgment, therefore, is only to condemnation and for the revelation of the just judgment of God.

C. “If the Righteous is scarcely saved, etc.” “Scarcely” means with great difficulty. Think of what our salvation involved. The Father gave his beloved Son, with the intention of bruising him with unspeakable righteous anger. That wa not easy. The miracle of the incarnation, the extended obedience of the God/man Jesus Christ in his state of humiliation under conditions of constant challenge and increasing hatred from men and the ever-looming, increasingly near onslaught of the perfect wrath of His Father. That was not easy and involve great sorrow and infinite pain and struggle for the one that would be Savior. Then the condescending operations of the Holy Spirit in coming to rebels and impure haters of God to convict and convert them to breathe into the new life, and then to indwell them and abide in them, never to leave them so that they would not fall back into the status of God-haters. The Spirit continually renews these elect sinners and leaves them abandoned to their own strength, but ever renews their strength and intensifies their desires for heaven. That was not easy. Our salvation involved nothing less than the infinite wisdom of God, an intention on his part to love the hateful, the inscrutable wisdom of God, and the omnipotent power of God. Considered in all its dimensions, its origin, its progress, its results and its glorious purpose, redemption is the greatest and most “godlike” work of God.

D. For those, therefore, that are left to the working of their own will and their own righteousness, the rhetorical question, “What will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’ has awesome dimensions.

IV. Live in Trust – 4:19

A. Suffering according to God’s will – The primary idea, is that we suffer while doing God’s will, by being kind, working with integrity, and maintaining a lively witness for the gospel. Implied is that his people will not be immune to such suffering but according to his own ordinance, for their sanctification and his glory, they will suffer while doing good.

B. We entrust our souls to a faithful creator. In doing good while suffering, our testimony is that we do not question God, we do not develop a bitterness of spirit, and we consent to God’s purpose maintained in his very reason for creation that his glorious attributes will be revealed more fully through our suffering that apart from it. Of course, we submit ourselves to him as our redeemer and preserver, but Peter calls on us to commit ourselves to him as the creator, who has created with a view to manifesting himself in these very things. The clay will not say to the potter, “Why hast thou made me thus?”

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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