The Joy Arising from Our Hope

| 1 Peter 4:1-2, 12-19

Week of July 5, 2020

The Point:  Suffering for Christ can deepen our walk with Him.

Suffering as a Christian:  1 Peter 4:1-2,12-19.

[1] Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, [2] so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.[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.  [ESV]

“Preparing to Suffer as Christ Did [4:1-2]. [1] The word therefore draws a conclusion from the previous verses [3:18-22], where Christ’s victory over hostile powers by virtue of his death and resurrection is featured. The connection between the two sections is this: since Christ’s suffering is the pathway to glory, believers should also prepare themselves to suffer, knowing that suffering is the prelude to an eschatological reward. The main point of the verse is that believers are to arm themselves with the intention to suffer. The term arm yourselves has military connotations, and in other texts the Christian life is compared to the life of a warrior. The martial language indicates that discipline and grit are needed to live the Christian life, particularly in view of the suffering believers encounter. Indeed, believers must arm themselves with the “attitude” that suffering is inevitable. Like soldiers preparing for battle, believers should prepare themselves for suffering. The first clause in the verse explains the reason the Petrine readers should expect to suffer. Christ also suffered in the flesh. The wording hearkens back to 3:18, where both the verb suffered and the noun flesh occur. In both texts Peter links the suffering of Christ to the suffering of his readers, acknowledging, of course, the distinctiveness of Christ’s suffering as well. Christ’s suffering here focuses on his death as in 3:18 and 2:21-24. Further, as in 2:21-23 Christ’s suffering is exemplary for believers, providing the pattern they should imitate. The most difficult part of the verse is the last phrase, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin. Probably the best interpretation understands whoever has suffered as referring to believers and relates back to the imperative to prepare themselves for suffering. Peter explained why they should prepare themselves to suffer, seeing the commitment to suffer as evidence that they have broken with a life of sin. The point is not that believers who suffer have attained sinless perfection, as if they do not sin at all after suffering. What Peter emphasized was that those who commit themselves to suffer, those who willingly endure scorn and mockery for their faith, show that they have triumphed over sin. They have broken with sin because they have ceased to participate in the lawless activities of unbelievers and endured the criticisms that have come from such a decision. The commitment to suffer reveals a passion for a new way of life, a life that is not yet perfect but remarkably different from the lives of unbelievers in the Greco-Roman world. [2] Verse 2 is a purpose clause. Christians should arm themselves with the intention to suffer, so that they live the remainder of their lives in carrying out God’s will instead of fulfilling the human lusts that comminated their lives before conversion. The purpose clause provides confirmation for the interpretation proposed for the last clause in verse 1. Believers are summoned to suffer in the sense that they are called to do God’s will and to turn away from a life of sin. Peter realized that some Christians would likely die before Christ returned while still anticipating the imminent return of Christ. Whatever the span of life God grants, believers are to live zealously for God as long as life endures.” [Schreiner, pp. 198-202].

“Suffer Joyfully in Accord with God’s Will [4:12-19]. [12] A new section of the letter begins here. This is evident because the previous section closes with a doxology, and the new section is introduced by Beloved and an imperative as was the new section in 2:11. In addition, Peter again took up the subject of suffering, tackling it from a fresh and final angle, giving another perspective on what has been discussed earlier. Peter began here by admonishing them not to be surprised at the fiery trial they were enduring. If they were astonished at the suffering that occurred, they may have been overwhelmed, concluding that God did not love them. And advance warning of suffering helps the readers to be prepared for suffering, so that their faith is not threatened when difficulties arise. Sufferings are not a sign of God’s absence but his purifying presence. Such suffering is to be expected because its purpose is to test you. Peter returned here to the theology of 1:6-7, where suffering is allowed by God to refine the faith of believers. The use of the word test links this verse back to the same word translated trials in 1:6. [13] Verse 13 functions as a contrast to verse 12, as is indicated by the word but introducing the verse. Instead of being shocked that they were suffering, they should rejoice at the privilege, to the degree that they share Christ’s sufferings, which refers to sufferings that come because of their allegiance to Christ. Peter anticipated here what would be explained in the subsequent verses. Suffering for Christ is a cause for joy, but being mistreated because of one’s own sins is nothing to brag about. The first part of the verse emphasizes that the believers should rejoice now if they suffer for Christ’s sake. The purpose clause (introduced by that) points readers to a future joy. Believers should rejoice even now in suffering “so that you may be overjoyed” in the future. Rejoicing in their present suffering is mandated, precisely so that believers will have joy in God’s presence at the day of judgment. How believers respond to suffering, in other words, is an indication of whether they truly belong to God at all. The promise of future joy, in fact, energizes the joy that will be theirs in the future. The intensity of joy in the future is reflected in the two words that are used for joy, rejoice and be glad. The two terms used reflect the teaching of Jesus himself, for he exhorted his disciples to rejoice and be glad when persecuted [Matt. 5:12]. This future joy will belong to believers when his glory is revealed. The revelation of his glory almost certainly refers to the second coming of Christ. Peter exhorted readers to rejoice in their present sufferings so that they will be able to rejoice and exult forever when Christ returns. By implication those who do not rejoice in their sufferings do not truly belong to Jesus Christ. If they groan about sufferings now, they will presumably be disappointed on the future day. [14] In verse 13 believers are commanded to rejoice in their present sufferings, but verse 14 adds a distinct point, emphasizing that believers are blessed by God if they are insulted because of their allegiance to Jesus Christ. The sufferings of believers are described here as being insulted for the name of Christ. The word insulted is important and helps us understand the fiery trial in verse 12. The latter term might suggest that believers were being put to death and were experiencing some kind of physical torture for their faith. Peter certainly wanted the readers to be prepared for such experiences. But the evidence of the letter does not support the idea that suffering had yet reached such an intense state. The opposition was mainly verbal at this stage. They were insulted by others for their devotion to Christ. The main point of the verse emerges in the second clause. Those who are insulted as Christians are actually blessed. They may be insulted by human beings, but they are blessed by God himself. The last clause in verse 14 explains why believers are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. Believers who suffer are blessed because they are now enjoying God’s favor, tasting even now the wonder of the glory to come and experiencing the promised Holy Spirit. [15] The But introducing verse 15 explains that believers’ joy and blessing is conditioned upon truly suffering as Christians. Not all suffering qualifies one for God’s blessing and joy, for human beings also suffer when they do what is evil. The realism of Peter and of the early Christian movement manifests itself here. He knew how easily people can rationalize punishments that are deserved and explain them as “Christian” suffering. The admonition also reminds us that the early Christian churches were imperfect. Believers were still prone to sin, and hence they needed exhortations to encourage them to walk in godly pathways. The first two sins listed are blatant examples of falling short of God’s standards. Indeed, murder and stealing are not only sins but also crimes in society. We should not discern from this that believers in the Petrine churches were actually committing such crimes, nor is it clear from this that Christians were being taken to court. Blatant sins are listed for rhetorical reasons, so that believers will distinguish between genuine Christian suffering and suffering that is a consequence of misbehavior. The third sin is defined as evildoer which refers to doing wrong in general and cannot be limited to criminal acts. The fourth word is translated meddler. Peter realized that most Christians will not be guilty of obvious sins like murder and stealing, and so he concluded by encouraging believers to even refrain from annoying others. If believers act like busy-bodies, they would be considered to be pests who deserve ostracism and mistreatment. Peter wanted believers to refrain from acting tactlessly and without social graces. [16] Verse 16 now examines the other side. Now Peter wants his readers to focus on the reason for suffering, namely, if someone suffers as a Christian. Even though we saw in verse 14 that the Christian faith was not officially declared to be illegal in Peter’s day, the threat of persecution was constant, for as Christians emerged as a distinct entity from Judaism, they had no legal status as a religion. The call to renounce shame focuses on actions that are shameful. Specifically, Christians would act shamefully by denying Christ before unbelievers or by failing to persevere in the faith. Hence, those who are ashamed would be guilty of apostasy. By way of contrast believers glorify God by confessing and praising his name publicly. They glorify God in the name “Christian” by enduring such suffering with joy, pleased that they are privileged to suffer because of their allegiance to Jesus Christ. The final phrase of the verse, in that name, probably signifies that believers suffer for the epithet “Christian.” [17] The for beginning this verse reaches back to the idea of suffering in verse 16. The suffering of believers is the beginning of God’s judgment from the household of God. Even though God’s household is the temple in the Old Testament, we see here that Peter, in concert with other New Testament writers, now conceives of the church, God’s people, as his temple. Such a move is not surprising in Peter, for he already had identified the church as God’s priesthood, his chosen people, and his holy nation, so that blessings belonging to Israel now belong to the church. The judgment that begins with God’s people purifies those who truly belong to God, and that purification comes through suffering, making believers morally fit for their inheritance. The judgment here is the final judgment, but this judgment begins even now, in the present evil age. The judgment begins with us, which means that it commences with Christians. In the present age believers experience suffering, and this is the purifying judgment that begins with believers. Peter proceeded to argue from the lesser to the greater. If even those who are going to be saved are purified and judged by suffering, then the outcome or result of those who reject the gospel will surely be a greater punishment. Unbelievers are described here as those who do not obey the gospel of God. Peter could have written about judgment falling on those who disbelieved the gospel, but here he wanted to focus on the failure to obey, for all unbelief leads to disobedience. Believers, on the other hand, are characterized by obedience. Peter did not specify what judgment awaits unbelievers, but he already had indicated in 4:5 that they await final judgment. [18] Verse 18 restates the truth of verse 17 in proverbial form. Peter was not saying that the righteous are scarcely saved, as if they were almost consigned to destruction and were just pulled from the flames. What he meant was that the righteous are saved “with difficulty.” The difficulty envisioned is the suffering believers must endure in order to be saved. God saves his people by refining and purifying them through suffering. It is implied here that salvation is eschatological, a gift that believers will receive after enduring suffering. If the godly are saved through the purification of suffering, then the judgment of the “ungodly and sinner” must be horrific indeed. Peter wrote this to motivate believers to endure in suffering, and we have seen a similar argument in 4:3-6. Suffering may be difficult now, but by participating in the pain of following Christ believers escape the condemnation coming upon the wicked. [19] A conclusion from all of verses 12-18 is now drawn. Those who suffer according to God’s will are those who share in Christ’s sufferings [12], who are insulted in Christ’s name [14], and who suffer as Christians rather than for doing something evil [15-16]. The reference to God’s will here as in 3:17 indicates that all suffering passes through his hands, that nothing strikes a believer apart from God’s loving and sovereign control. When suffering strikes, believers should entrust their souls to a faithful Creator. Christ modeled what Peter enjoined, for when he was suffering, he entrusted himself to God [2:23]. The reference to God as Creator implies his sovereignty, for the Creator of the world is also sovereign over it. Therefore believers can be confident that he will not allow them to suffer beyond their capacity and that he will provide the strength needed to endure. Such confidence can be theirs because he is a “faithful” Creator, faithful to his promises and faithful to his people, never abandoning them in their time of need, always vindicating the righteous and condemning the wicked. The way believers will reveal that they are trusting in God is by continuing to do good.“ [Schreiner, pp. 217-230].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Why does Peter instruct his readers in 4:1-2 to arm yourselves with the attitude that suffering is inevitable? What does it mean to live for the will of God? How does this type of living both incur suffering and enable you to rejoice in suffering.
  2. In 4:12-14, Peter instructs his readers to not be surprised when they suffer, but to rejoice instead. Why should they rejoice? What is the reason for their joy? Do you rejoice when you suffer for honoring Christ? Have you sensed God’s blessing in your life when you are insulted for the name of Christ [14]? How are sufferings a test of your faith? How well do you pass the test?
  3. In 4:15-19, what two types of suffering does Peter describe? Compare and contrast the two types of suffering. What does Peter mean by suffering according to God’s will? How can you glorify God by the way you suffer for the name of Christ?
  4. The world in which we live is becoming increasingly anti-Christian. We should expect to suffer insults and ridicule when we stand up for Christ in a pluralistic and immoral world. Pray that God will enable you to glorify the name of Christ when you suffer according to God’s will. And pray that you will continue to entrust yourself to God in the midst of your sufferings.

References:

The Message of 1 Peter, Edmund Clowney, Inter Varsity.

Let’s Study 1 Peter, William Harrell, Banner of Truth.

1 Peter, Karen Jobes, BENT, Baker.

1, 2 Peter, Jude, Thomas Schreiner, NAC, B & H Publishers.

The purpose of this article is to provide additional reference resources for those Sunday School teachers who use Lifeway’s Bible Studies for Life material.