Suffering As a Christian

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  • Beloved, do not be surprised at thee fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s suffering that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 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. 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? And ‘If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’ Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

    – 1 Peter 4:12-19

    After the stoning of Stephen, the early church scattered beyond Jerusalem. The disciples initially preached the gospel to fellow Jews. Then the gospel broke free from racial and ethnic bias. Gentiles came to faith in Christ. The church at Jerusalem sent Barnabas to investigate. When he saw the Lord was at work at Antioch, he brought Saul to the city. They ministered to the young church for a year. Acts 11:26 records a parenthetical footnote: “And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”

    The disciples did not call themselves Christians. People in Antioch called them Christians. It was not a compliment. “Christian” means follower of Christ. A “Herodian” was a partisan follower of Herod the Great. To be a Christian was to be a member of the Christ party. The term Christian associates disciples with the title Christ, not the name Jesus. Believing Jesus to be the Christ, disciples lived in devotion to him. Their devotion was so obvious that the unbelieving community nicknamed them Christians. The name stuckand spread. 

    When Paul was arrested, he stood trial before Agrippa. Instead of defending himself, Paul preached Christ. In Acts 26:28, Agrippa asked Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” This was not a sincere question. It was full of irony, sarcasm, and contempt. How dare this prisoner think he can preach a sermon and persuade me to be a Christian! Acts 26:29 says, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am – except for these chains.”

    1 Peter 4:16 is the third and final time the word Christian is used in the New Testament: “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” Christians belong to Christ, believe in Christ, and behave like Christ. To live in such a way invites and invokes suffering. True Christians persevere in faith in Christ when suffering comes. Suffering is a reality of life. Christian suffering is a special category of suffering. To suffer as a Christian is to suffer for Christ and like Christ.

    • You cannot suffer as a Christian if you are not a Christian. 
    • But you can be a Christian and never suffer as a Christian. 

    Have you suffered as a Christian? Peter addresses the subject of suffering for the last time in this letter. His focus is not on what or how these elect exiles will suffer. He is concerned about the reasons for their suffering and their responseto it. 1 Peter 4:12-19 explains the nature of Christian suffering. What is Christian suffering?

    Joyful Suffering

    1 Peter 4:12 introduces a new section of the letter with a term of affection: “Beloved.” Peter will confront the saints with the harsh realities of Christian suffering. But they do not suffer because they are unloved. The apostle loved these saints, even though he had not met them. Moreover, the Lord knew and loved them. In a spirit of love, Peter’s tone intensifies in verses 12-13, as he gives two instructions for suffering Christians. 

    Do not be surprised. Religious persecution was commonplace among Jewish people. But it may have been a surprise to the Gentile believers in these churches. Some believers may have subscribed to an ancient form of Prosperity Theology that guaranteed health and wealth. Or maybe these saints believed the previous passages of 1 Peter. They had living hope in the risen Savior. As a result, they were surprised by suffering. Verse 12 says, “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.”

    “Surprised” indicates more than initial shock and awe. It suggests disillusionment that results in bitter resentment. Peter says do not be surprised when the “fiery trial” comes. The term foreshadows the persecution that was to come. Nero would blame Christians for the burning of Rome. During this Imperial suffering, Christians would be set on fire as torches. The term is a graphic description of suffering. Picture precious metal put in a fire or furnace to reveal, purify, and strengthen it. 

    • The process burns
    • The purpose benefits

    Verse 12 affirms this by saying the fiery trial comes to test you. Teachers test students. Suffering tests Christians. In the classroom of suffering, you grade your own paper. The Lord knows your grade. He wants you to see if you are passing or failing. Fiery trials will come to test you. Do not think or act “as though something strange were happening to you.” Christian suffering is an invited guest, not an unwelcomed stranger. The Lord sends sufferings for your good and his glory. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

    Do not be sorrowful. Verse 12 is a prohibition. Verse 13 is an exhortation: “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” Here is the paradox of Christian joy. 

    • Unprepared students take tests anxiously
    • Prepared students take tests confidently

    What student rejoices at testing time? This is how Christians should respond to suffering. James 1:2 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” Why rejoice? Verse 13 answers: “Inasmuch as you share Christ’s sufferings.” To suffer as a Christian is to share Christ’s sufferings. John 19:30 says, “It is finished.”

    • We do not share Christ’s redemptive sufferings. 
    • We do share Christ’s righteous sufferings. 

    John 15:20 says, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” The world persecutes Christians when it sees Christ in us. Christian suffering is Christian fellowship. It draws us closer to Christ. When it happens, rejoice “that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” Christ’s glory is hidden on earth. It will be revealed when he comes again. We will share in his glory. Romans 8:17 calls us “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” We rejoice knowing future, rapturous, triumphant joy is coming. Godly joy now leads to greater joy later. There will be glory after this!

    Righteous Suffering

    To suffer as a Christian is to suffer for the right reasons.

    The Suffering Christians Embrace. Verse 14 presents a specific example of Christian suffering: “If you are insulted for the name of Christ.” Their suffering had not become physical persecution yet. It was verbal abuse. But it was more than people talking about them. “Insulted” is character assassination. It is to speak words to defame, disrespect, and dishonor. The term is used in Mark 15:32 for the crowds who mocked Jesus on the cross. Christians will be reviled, rebuked, and rebuked for the name of Christ. Verse 14 says, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed!”

    • The world insults Christians for Christ’s sake. 
    • The Father blesses Christians for Christ’s sake. 

    Matthew 5:11-12 says, “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.” Jesus promised future blessings when you are insulted for his name. 1 Peter announces a present-tense blessing: “You are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” In the Old Testament, the Shekinah rested over the tabernacle. When the world insults you, the glory of God rests on you through the Spirit of Christ. All three members of the Godhead work to give strength, comfort, and assurance when you suffer for Christ. 

    The Suffering Christians Avoid.

    Avoid sinful suffering. Verse 15 records a strong contrast: “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.” This list falls into two categories. There are criminal offenses. Murder and stealing violate two of the Ten Commandments. They are also civil crimes. Do not retaliate with homicide or pilfering. An “evildoer” is a wrongdoer whose life is marked by immoral activities. Then there is a social offense: “a meddler.” The Greek term refers to a busybody or mischief-maker who watches over the affairs of others. There are no perfect churches. But there should be godly churches. 

    • You cannot control the reality of suffering. 
    • You can control the reason for suffering. 

    Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” Make sure you are bearing your cross, not reaping your crop!

    Avoid shameful suffering. Verse 16 says, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.”

    • You can do wrong and suffer. 
    • You can do right and suffer. 

    If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed. There are many things we should be ashamed of. Jeremiah 6:15 and 8:12 rebuke Israel for not knowing how to blush. It is a double sin to do wrong and feel no shame. Philippians 3:19 describes enemies of the cross of Christ as those who “glory in their shame.”Do not be ashamed of any trouble you get into following Jesus. Glorify God! Acts 5:41 says, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” 

    Limited Suffering

    The lamenting sufferer struggles with two questions: 

    • Why me? 
    • How long? 

    Peter addresses both questions in verses 17-18. The verses draw a contrast.

    The present suffering of believers. Verse 17 says, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God.” Holiness is the defining attribute of God. His love is holy. God cannot overlook sin, even in his children. Thus, there are times when judgment comes to the household of God. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” The judgment on God’s house is purifying, not punitive. The Roman Catholic Church teaches an intermediate state between death and heaven to purify Christians called purgatory. It is not biblical teaching. God’s purgatory process happens now in this life. The Lord uses suffering to clean uphis house and wash up his children. Have you experienced the purifying power of suffering? Psalm 119:67 says, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.” Psalm 119:71 says, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.”

    The future suffering of unbelievers. Verse 17 asks, “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?”Judgment begins at the house of God. It proceeds to those who do not obey the gospel of God. Peter argues from lesser to greater: If Christians suffer now, what will happen to the unsaved?

    • Believers pay with cash
    • Unbelievers pay with credit

    Verse 18 asks, “And ‘If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’” It is an allusion to Proverbs 11:31. “Scarcely” means “through difficulty.” Acts 14:22 says, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” If the way to heaven is difficult, how severe will the eternal punishment of the wicked be? Run to the cross! 

    Steadfast Suffering

    What do you do in the meantime? Verse 19 says, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” This verse is the conclusion of the passage. It is also a summary of everything 1 Peter teaches about Christian suffering. We suffer “according to God’s will.” Your suffering is not accidental or incidental. Nothing happens outside of God’s plan, purpose, and pleasure. Genesis 50:20 says, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”

    If it is God’s will for you to suffer, entrust yourself to him. The verb is a banking term. It is to give money, jewels, or valuables to someone for sake-keeping. Luke 23:46 says, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” You never see a customer and bank teller in a tug-of-war over a deposit. Entrust your soul to the “faithful Creator.” This is the only New Testament verse that calls God “Creator.” Creation emphasizes the sovereignty, omnipotence, and transcendence of God. Psalm 24:1-2 says, “The earth is the Lord and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.” 

    God is the “faithful” Creator. Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. Galatians 6:9 says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” 1 Corinthians 15:58 says, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Hebrews 6:10 says, “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.” 


    H.B. Charles Jr.

    Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.

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