Today, we are in 1st Peter chapter 4:12-19. Peter is writing about suffering as Christians. Now, if you’ve been with us, that may sound familiar. This is been really the primary theme of Peter’s letter. In fact, the last verse we’re looking at today—1st Peter 4:19—is a perfect summary verse for this whole letter: “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”
That summarizes all of 1st Peter. It also gives us some context for why Peter is writing this letter to begin with. We know from chapter 1 that he’s writing to “elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” We know from history these exiled Christians were going through varying degrees of persecution during this time. This was a hard time to be a Christian. And apparently, some of these exiles, and maybe even Peter himself, struggled with why God would allow them to suffer.
Isn’t this often our first question when we experience suffering? Lord, why would you let this happen? To be honest, it’s an understandable question, at least at first. Because this whole time Peter is emphasizing the victory we have in Christ. He writes of the remarkable privilege it is to be a child of God, God’s own possession. All of that does make it a bit confusing when those who claim Christ are abused and mocked, even arrested as criminals.
Again, perhaps it’s understandable that Christians would ask this question. But that’s the beauty of God’s Word, and 1stPeter in particular: he gives us an answer to this question. I want to ask Drew Stasio to come and read the text for us today. Most of you already know that Drew is an elder candidate here at Lamar. 1st Peter 4:12-19. Drew, take it away.
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.
Here’s what we have for this morning on Christian suffering: Four hard truths, and one response. It’s that simple.
Four Hard Truths and One Response
- Suffering as a Christian is part of God’s will (12, 19).
This is likely one of the hardest things to really understand about suffering. Even if we acknowledge this in our minds, it’s really difficult to remember this when trials hit. Suffering and trials are a normal part of the Christian life. Verse 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.” What a word for all of us, right? Don’t be surprised! Isn’t that exactly how we usually respond? We’re surprised. We wonder, “why would God let this happen?” We even wonder if we did something wrong, made God mad, and that’s why we’re suffering. But the truth is that suffering is part of God’s will.
Verse 19, the summary verse we read earlier: “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will.” Suffering is not only normal for the Christian; suffering is part of God’s will for our lives. I know we share occasionally about what’s commonly known as the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel is championed by teachers and preachers like Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Jesse Duplantis, Joel Osteen might be the best-known prosperity gospel preacher. Creflo Dollar is another. The heart of this teaching is that faith in Christ will bring about health, material wealth, and success. That’s the heart of it. That God’s desire for Christians is that we not suffer, but that we thrive. And of course, by “thrive”, they mean by worldly standards—health, wealth, and success.
Now, most of you I think realize that’s an unbiblical teaching. From this text alone, it is blatantly false. And yet, practically speaking, when you and I face suffering of any kind, I think we struggle more than we’re willing to admit with wondering why God would let us go through it. In other words, it seems most Bible-believing Christians have adopted a mini-prosperity gospel. Maybe it’s not like Kenneth Copeland or Jesse Duplantis—but we still think that following Christ will mean an easier life. Perhaps we even think that we’re entitled to an easier life.
Let’s get real, here. That’s false, church. There are countless, infinite benefits to repenting from your sin and believing upon Christ. But it is certainly not one of those benefits that we will escape suffering in this life. If anything, we are inviting more suffering into our lives by following after Christ. That’s a far more biblical viewpoint than thinking we can escape it. That’s hard truth #1. #2:
2. Suffering as a Christian brings joy and blessing (13-14).
Let me read verses 13-14 again: “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.”
This is quite different maybe than you expected. Not only is suffering part of God’s will for our lives. But now, we’re told to rejoice and be glad when we suffer! Now, I know that sounds crazy, but we’ve seen it throughout this letter all the way back from the very first chapter. We see it throughout the whole New Testament!
I think one of the neatest examples of this is found in Acts chapter 5, when a group of the apostles were arrested and put into prison. An angel came in the night, lets them out of prison, and they kept on teaching about Jesus in the temple. It was an incredible miracle of God, and it ended up that the apostles were captured again, beaten, and commanded not to speak in the name of Jesus. Then, Acts 5:41 reads, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”
They rejoiced that they were counted worthy of suffering dishonor for the name of Jesus. This goes beyond recognizing suffering as part of God’s will. It’s finding joy in knowing that we are connected with Christ. In the same way that Christ suffered unjustly, there will be times when we may suffer unjustly. Some of us more than others. But it especially brings us joy knowing that one day the glory of Christ will be revealed. That’s what verse 13 says. There is a day coming when every knee will bow, and on that day, we can know that Christ will be vindicated in the mind of every person who has ever lived, and we too, by affiliation will be vindicated. Alan Stibbs writes this: “To share, therefore, in Christ’s suffering here, is to be on the sure road to a share in His consequent glory hereafter.”
That’s why verse 14 says, if you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed! Why? “Because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” God Himself is with you, in the same way that God the Father Himself was and is with Christ. We are so blessed to live in a free country where we are not persecuted for our faith. The opposition we may experience at times, I wouldn’t call that persecution just yet. But even if you were one day to experience real life persecution or opposition, like many do around the world in places where the Christian faith is forbidden. Maybe you think you wouldn’t be able to stand up in the midst of that. I think verse 14 is a crucial reminder of who helps us to stand in the midst of trials. The Spirit of glory and of God. So many examples we see in the New Testament show us a unique presence of the Holy Spirit to help and strengthen us when we face opposition and insults. You may not be able to on your own stand up for what you believe in—but do not forget who lives in you. And may that be the reason you have joy in the midst of it. #3:
3. Suffering as a Christian brings God glory (15-16).
I love verses 15 and 16. This brings us some clarity, because here’s the reality of it: not all suffering we go through is God’s will. At least in the sense that it is for our good and for our testing. God is sovereign over all, so of course in one sense, it’s his will. But when we suffer because of our own sin, we can’t call that suffering for Christ!
Verses 15 and 16: “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” Now, the first few examples he gives might be easier for us to say, “Not it.” A murderer who goes to prison is not suffering for Christ, for God’s glory. We get that. A thief, same thing. An “evildoer”—that word encapsulates pretty much anything and everything that is against God’s Word. “Meddler”—that’s an interesting word. Without getting into all the etymology of it, it basically means someone who is overly concerned about things they should not be concerned with. “Busybody” is a similar word here. Or “idler.”
One definition I found was this: “Someone who meddles in things alien to his calling.” This is such a unique word, the only time this is used in the New Testament. Some even think this word originated with Peter. So I want to keep describing it, because the more I do, the more it’s going to hit home for us. My favorite explanation for this difficult word comes from Joseph Ernest Renan, not someone I would usually quote from. He was a French language scholar in the 19thcentury. Anyway, this is how he described this word Peter used: “It means bishops of other men’s matters. It denotes those prying and self-important people who fancy they can set everything to rights, and that everybody they come across is under their personal jurisdiction.” He goes on to describe these as people who would likely be the quickest to claim Christlike suffering, even though clearly Peter here exempts them from such Godly suffering.
So, let’s put this all together. Being un-Christlike and suffering because of it—that does not bring God glory. That is not suffering as a “Christian”, as verse 16 puts it. Christian, meaning follower of Christ. Meaning, “little Christ.” You cannot act unGodly then claim that any backlash you experience is suffering for Jesus! You cannot meddle in things in which you do not belong, then say “I’m just being real.” Suffering as a Christian, as you are following and living like Jesus—that is what brings God glory. We can’t confuse these things.
This reminds me of prayer meetings that at times aren’t really prayer meetings. It’s gossip for 55 minutes then 5 minutes of actual prayer. I’ve said this before, I want to say it again: do not use supposed prayer requests as vessels for gossip. If you get called out for gossiping, don’t try and claim innocence. In everything you say and everything you do, the question you must ask: are these words I’m saying and these things I’m doing—are they to God’s glory? Are they for the good of those around me? If they are not, and you suffer because of it—you earned that suffering. And the only good that can come from it is that it might compel you to repent.
I think this especially crucial as we come upon another election year. Plan now, well over a year before we vote for a new president—plan now to be ruled by this question: Are the words I’m saying (or posting for that matter) and the things I’m doing: are they for God’s glory and the good of those around me, or are they not? #4. The fourth hard truth, then we’ll see one response.
4. Suffering as a Christian purifies us (17-18).
This is something we’ve looked at pretty in-depth in 1st Peter up to this point. But Peter gives us the same truth written a bit differently in verses 17-18: “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?” Then in verse 18, he quotes Proverbs 11:31- “’If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’”
For whatever reason, in the church today, God’s wrath and judgment are not taught. Perhaps we don’t like thinking about it; we prefer other attributes of God. But these words should sober us. They should wake us up. Judgment begins with the household of God. What does that mean?
Well, judgment is a broad term. And because of the blood of Christ, we who’ve put our faith in Him—we escape God’s condemnation. God’s wrath is placed upon Christ, and we receive his righteousness. It’s the great exchange. That’s the gospel itself, right? So God’s judgment for believers is a not a terrifying reality, but is instead a purifying reality.
The suffering we experience, whether it be due to persecution or just living in a fallen world, it works to purify us. That’s why back in chapter 1, Peter wrote that we rejoice in our salvation, “though now for a little while, we have been grieved by various trials.” Why? “so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—maybe be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” That’s how Peter kicked off this letter.
We are God’s possession, right? We are called to be holy. We see that in chapter 1 also. We were ransomed from our futile ways. In chapter 2, Peter wrote that we are “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” Chapter 2 verse 10: We are now God’s people. Once we had not received mercy, but now we have received mercy.
And this mercy was costly. That’s what it means in verse 18, back here in chapter 4: “If the righteous are scarcely saved.” That sounds confusing at first, but it’s not that some believers will be saved and others won’t. Not at all. Christ’s atonement on our behalf is absolutely effective. What that word “scarcely” means. It means “difficult,” “costly.” We couldn’t save ourselves. It was far too difficult for us. Far too costly for us. Only God could do it. And we must not forget the price he paid.
Let me put it this way: as you experience suffering, and you will. Even if you haven’t experienced much suffering in your life yet, you will lose loved ones. Life will take ugly turns. You may be insulted for you faith, or worse. As we experience suffering, we can know without a doubt, there is purpose behind that suffering. In the path of obedience, as we’re following after Christ—all suffering will make us more like him. Suffering as a Christian purifies us. So then, in light of all of that, what is our one response?
- We entrust ourselves to our faithful Creator (19).
Verse 19: “Therefore, [because of all these hard but good truths], let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” We keep going, year-by-year, day-by-day, sometimes hour-by-hour depending on what kind pain and suffering you’re experiencing—we keep going. We do good. We follow Jesus with all our hearts. And no matter what comes, we entrust ourselves to God. Why? Because He’s the Faithful Creator. I don’t know of a better title to give God than “Faithful Creator.”
Let me tell you: throughout all of history, our God has never proven to be unfaithful. And let me tell you this too: through everything the future may hold—our God will never prove to be unfaithful. He is worthy of our trust. No matter what life throws at us, He is worthy of our trust. In a world where there are a lot of things we don’t know, that’s the one thing we can know without a shadow of a doubt. God will be faithful. Your spouse may not be. Your job or career may not be. Your ambitions may not be. Your mental health may not be. The world may not be. But our God will remain faithful. He is the Faithful Creator.
I don’t know if I’ve been through more or less suffering than the average person. I guess it’s not really important. But I do understand the inclination we have to wonder why God would let us suffer. We’re his adopted children. But throughout the New Testament, and especially here in this text, we see reminders that God is the architect of all things. He has a great design beyond our imagination, and certainly beyond our ability to understand.
Suffering, though we may not understand how exactly: It is limited (by God’s grace), and it is for our good. There will be no more suffering for God’s children when the glory of Christ is revealed in the end. And the suffering we experience now is not outside God’s power. Thank God; it would be terrifying otherwise. Suffering, instead, for our good. That doesn’t mean we go looking for it. But it does mean we entrust ourselves to our Faithful Creator.