There is no crown without a cross! What was true of Jesus is also true of each of us, His followers.
Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.[i]
Humility is the means to exaltation. It is a recognition that apart from God’s grace and a dependance upon Him, we will not run the race of life successfully. Yet, when we embrace God’s path there are significant obstacles that must be overcome. Great trials and challenges attend the path of the follower of Christ. John Bunyan’s incredible allegory, ‘Pilgrim’s Progress,’ reveals so many of the challenges on the way to heaven, which he calls, the ‘Celestial city’. We are shocked by some of the hardships that come our way as Christ followers. We may even question that if God is so good, why does He allow us, whom He loves so deeply, to undergo suffering? That’s a question that haunts so many people in the dark night of the soul, the hour of trial. If we study Scripture carefully, we will discover two words that seem incongruent and yet are always together: glory and suffering. Here in Peter’s letter we find it repeated several times. Peter is writing to believers who are suffering injustice and persecution. He writes to encourage, comfort, and explain that there is a purpose even in their sufferings. He begins by shattering the myth that we will never suffer. He is trying to prepare the reader that they should not be surprised, neither consider it strange, nor be ashamed, when we experience suffering.
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.[ii]
There are different reasons why people suffer, but here Peter mentions distinct categories or reasons why people suffer.
THE FIRST REASON WHY PEOPLE SUFFER IS TO REVEAL THE GLORY OF GOD
Peter now explains several reasons in which suffering brings glory to God.
A. The first reason why we suffer fiery trials is as a test.
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.[iii]
Earlier in the letter Peter discusses the issue of the test of faith as part of a refining process in our lives.
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.[iv]
Trials reveal genuine faith. Faith is reflected in our response to trials. Do we trust God? Do we praise Him, even though we don’t understand what is transpiring in our lives? Often in our trials, in our pain and suffering, we wonder why God allows it or where is God in these moments when we feel that He has abandoned us. “D. E. Johnson rightly remarks that their sufferings are not a sign of God’s absence but his purifying presence.”[v]
Here in our context, these believers were suffering persecution because of their faith. Howard Marshall states it: “Only suffering directly associated with opposition to Christ brings glory to God.”[vi] One of the hardest things in life is to suffer for doing the right thing. We can all understand if we are suffering for doing wrong, but when we are living right and doing what is right and we suffer negative consequences as a result, that is often a bitter pill to swallow. Yet, as we read through the Scriptures, we see this played out over and over again. Jezebel schemes to have Naboth falsely accused and executed in order for Ahab to take possession of his vineyard and inheritance. Stephen is accused of blaspheme and is stoned to death. David flees for his life because of the jealousy and insecurity of Saul. Here in Peter, the believers are suffering simply because they are faithful believers. That can happen in our lives when we faithfully represent Christ and people take offense at our words or life. When we are living in conformity to God’s word and the person of Jesus Christ, who is revealing Himself through our lives, people can be convicted of their sin and rise up against us.
Peter is telling us as believers that this should not only not surprise us, but we need to understand that persecution is a test. So, why does God allow tests to come into our lives? Not just persecution, but other aspects of life also come to prove and refine us. Tests not only reveal to us what our true spiritual condition is really like, but God is also deeply concerned about our spiritual growth and development into Christlikeness. Difficulties are one means of this occurring.
Few jewels are treasured more than the simple pearl. Small wonder that imitation pearls stock store shelves everywhere. As some has said, ‘Imitation is the highest form of flattery.’ So, those imitations pay high tribute to the supreme beauty of the genuine article.
You may recall how the pearl is formed. It results from an oyster’s perseverance at an irritating grain of sand. Similarly, in God’s plan, the irritating sands of trouble shape the beautiful pearl of endurance in our character.[vii]
B. Rejoicing is the right response to suffering as believers.
Peter’s antidote for suffering may seem strange to us. He tells us that the proper response is to rejoice. “But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:13).”
This is certainly not a normal human response to life, but a supernatural and spiritual response. Yet, as we read through the Scriptures, we find believers rejoicing in their suffering. Job worshiped and blessed the Lord in his losses. David, in the Psalms stated, that we are to bless the Lord at all times. The apostle Paul tells us that we should have an attitude of gratitude and thanksgiving. We are people who always have hope because we know that God is in control, and He is working in every situation. To those who witnessed Paul’s difficulties in bringing the gospel to them, he writes: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4). Paul practiced what he preached and the church at Philippi knew that this was true of the apostle right from the start of their own church beginnings. When Paul and Silas were thrown into the Philippian jail and beaten their response was to rejoice.
After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully.
When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.
Severely flogged and fastened in stocks.[viii]
Why? Because they exercised spirits from a girl who told fortunes. A sign of the power of the gospel at work liberating a life in bondage. So, what was their response? Despair? Discouragement? No! They were praying and singing praises to God! They were worshiping the Lord. They were rejoicing. When we can learn to sing in our pain, God opens other doors. In their case, their prison cells were opened supernaturally as an earthquake shook the building. The jailer and his family became believers and were added to the small but growing group of believers in Philippi.
C. Suffering is one means to really get to know Jesus.
“But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:13).” Why should we rejoice? One of the means of fellowship with Jesus is through suffering. This idea of participating in the sufferings of Christ seems foreign to many today, yet the apostle Paul described that as part of really coming to know God.
I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow to attaining to the resurrection of the dead.[ix]
Here we see that suffering precedes our entrance into glory. What does it mean to participate in Christ’s sufferings? Suffering shatters the many distortions of Christianity. When we suffer, we discover that life is hard, difficult and often painful. Sin is at work in our world, and we battle spiritual forces that are in rebellion to God. We often acted surprised when things don’t go the way we think they should. What we eventually discover is that living with Jesus means that He is with us in life’s journey. He is there, rejoicing in our victories and suffering with us in our sorrows and difficulties.
The ultimate goal of every believer is that we really get to know Him. The two sides of biblical Christianity are the power of a new life, the experiences of amazing spiritual victories, with incredible miracles and healing; but the other side of the same coin is that we also walk through the losses, the pain, the suffering, betrayal, rejection and abuse that Jesus went through. Peter then goes on to describe what he means by these sufferings that are similar to what Jesus suffered. “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you (1 Peter 4:14).”
Here we see that the suffering was as a result of our identification with Christ. We are being persecuted simply because Christ is being revealed through our lives and people are rejecting and abusing the person of Jesus dwelling within us. They are rejecting who Jesus is and what He stands for. We are not to be ashamed or suffer shame as a result of public humiliation. Though people may shame us, God will ultimately exalt us with him. “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name (1 Peter 4:16).”
Howard Marshall reminds us “To be insulted publicly is, by normal reckoning, a source of misery. But Peter echoes Jesus and says that, on the contrary, appearances can be deceptive In fact, you are blessed.”[x]
THE SECOND REASON WHY PEOPLE SUFFER IS A RESULT OF PERSONAL SINFUL BEHAVIOR
Suffering alone doesn’t merit future blessings if what we are suffering for is because of our own sinful behavior. “If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler (1 Peter 4:15).”
We can easily understand why Peter states that people involved in criminal behavior would suffer when apprehended, but he ends with the statement ‘or even as a meddler.’ Believers can draw undue attention to themselves needlessly and thereby stir up resentment and even hostility because of involvements that are not necessary.
The prohibition against meddling accords well with Peter’s teaching elsewhere that Greco-Roman social roles and boundaries are to be respected, though not to the point of denying Christ (2:12-13, 17; 2:18-3:7). Peter wants his readers to avoid attracting hostility if at all possible, without renouncing their faith in Christ.[xi]
Peter continues to elaborate that God is a God of justice and will ultimately judge all human behavior. Here we discover that this always begins with God’s people.
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?’[xii]
Wayne Grudem explains this text regarding judgment occurring among God’s people.
Why are God’s people suffering and evildoers going unpunished? Peter explains that the ‘fiery ordeal,’ or ‘refining fire,’ of verse 12 is really a fire of God’s judgment. Yet this word for judgment (krima) does not necessarily mean ‘condemnation’ (which would be katakrima) but is a broader term which can refer to a judgment which results in good or bad evaluation, a judgment which may issue in approval or discipline as well as condemnation. The picture is that God has begun judging within the church, and will later move outward to judge those outside the church. The refining fire of judgment is leaving no one untouched, but Christians are being purified and strengthened by it-sins are being eliminated and trust in God and holiness of life are growing.”4 So, why does God allow the judgment to begin in His household? While for the Christian the judgment is reflected in a purifying trial to prepare us for eternity with God, we now move to the greater expression of judgment on those who ‘disobey the gospel.’ Thomas Schreiner insightfully points out: “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.[xiii]
This certainly eliminates the idea that people can merely confess belief, but actions reveal what we truly believe. What are we prepared to suffer for? The believer is willing to suffer if need be to do God’s will and trust that God rewards, vindicates and addresses all issues in His time.
THE FINAL REASON WHY PEOPLE SUFFER IS ACCORDING TO THE WILL OF GOD
In other words, God is not only allowing this to happen in our lives, but ultimately, He has a purpose in it, not only for ourselves but also for others. How many people have come to faith because of the faithful witness of believers who have suffered for their faith, thereby demonstrating the reality of God’s presence in their lives? Think of the martyrdom of Stephen and the results of his amazing testimony before Saul and other religious leaders who also were deeply impacted by his dying words of forgiveness. How should we handle suffering that God is allowing in our lives? “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to a faithful Creator and continue to do good (1 Peter 4:19).”
Two thoughts come to mind from this text. The first is that we are to imitate Jesus who suffered. He also committed Himself to His father.
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.[xiv]
The second thought is that whenever we suffer or experience pain as a result of something we have done, we tend to want to withdraw from that context in the future. The temptation then is to quit doing what caused the persecution, and the suffering in our lives. But here we are encouraged to persevere and continue to be faithful and do good. We certainly see that in Peter’s own life when he was beaten by the religious leaders of his nation, the Sanhedrin, he rejoiced that he had been counted worthy for suffering for Christ.
They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.
Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.[xv]
Peter and his company continued to do the good even though they were risking further persecution and ostracization from his fellow countrymen. We must understand that God allows certain things in our lives for a higher and greater purpose.
The apostle Paul explains in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This is written in light of the trials that these believers were experiencing.
Who shall separate us form the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
As it is written: For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
No in all these things [the things we suffer] we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.[xvi]
Let me conclude with some comments by R. C. Sproul in his commentary on 1 Peter.
The God who has redeemed us counts our souls more valuable than gold, and as gold is refined in the fire, so are we refined. Though we suffer for a moment, the goal of God in our suffering is our redemption, not our destruction. …We suffer because He suffered, and He asked us to join Him in that. His suffering is redemptive; ours is not, but in our suffering we bear witness to the glory of His.[xvii]
Peter is telling us a number of critical things here in regard to suffering. We should not be surprised by suffering. If anything, we should be surprised if we don’t suffer. When we do suffer, we are participating in some measure with Christ’s sufferings, and we are to rejoice that we have been counted worthy. Our suffering should come only as a result of doing what is right and not for something we have done wrong or sinful. What should our response be? Rather than fear, despair, or be discouraged we should rejoice that we have been counted worthy! The apostle Paul boasted in his sufferings for Christ. He knew that when we are weak, Christ’s power or glory rested on him (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9-10).
[i] Luke 9:23-24, The New International Version of the Bible, 2011.
[ii] 1 Peter 4:12.
[iv] 1 Peter 1:6-7.
[v] Thomas Schreiner, I, 2 Peter, Jude, The New American Commentary, vol. 37, (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2003), 219.
[vi] I Howard Marshall, 1 Peter, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1991), 156.
[vii] Robert Hubbard Jr., ‘Ordinary Faithful People, (U. S. A.: Victor Books, 1992), 28.
[viii] Acts 16:23-25.
[ix] Philippians 3:10-11.
[x] I Howard Marshall, 1 Peter, 153.
[xi] Karen Jobes, 1 Peter, Baker Exegetical Commentary On The New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 289.
[xii] 1 Peter 4:17-18.
[xiii] Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 181.
[xiv] 1 Peter 2:23.
[xv] Acts 5:40b-42.
[xvi] Romans 8:35-37.
[xvii] R. C. Sproul, 1-2 Peter: An Expositional Commentary, (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2019), 151-52.