Part 12 1 Peter 4:12–19
12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. 17 For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 Now “If the righteous one is scarcely saved, Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?” 19 Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.
Peter continues his theme of suffering in today’s passage. There are new things for us to grasp in this passage, surprising things about how we should respond, so let us look at what it says here.
Suffering is common, that is, trials come to us generally as part of being in the human race so there should be no surprise. Sin has left its mark on the world and we will suffer because of others, because of ourselves and because of a curse upon the earth pronounced with the ejection of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. How we respond to such times is key, and first and foremost we suffer unto the Lord. There are going to be times when we lack power over a situation and things will feel volatile but Whom do we trust through it all?
We are brought back to the cross and Jesus’ own sufferings. And when the hour arrived He did not refuse what was coming upon Him but committed Himself to His Father. In this case He suffered at the hands of others and He did not think it strange. But it was at the worst moment of history, the death of Jesus, that victory was won and glory achieved. The suffering of Jesus brought us eternal life and He had to lose His life for it to happen. We, also, are called to suffering and when we suffer it will lead to glory in the end.
Peter is not saying that any of them are suffering at this time but is forewarning them that it is probably on the way. As you have heard me over several weeks this is what I am warning us about. Should we think it strange that we should go through any trials here in the UK? Suffering is probably on the way and we should not be taken by surprise when it does come. And if it happens we are fellowshipping with Christ in His sufferings. And in this we should rejoice.
If you should become recipients of verbal or physical persecutions that arise on account of the Word then the Spirit of glory rests upon us in such situations and this, in the words of Fanny Crosby is a foretaste of glory divine. And that is what this is about – the sufferings endured here in this life cannot be compared with the glory that will be experienced in the next life. And there, of course, you will not be able to lose your life as it says in:
4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
Suffering for the gospel is never to be thought of as strange. Many of us struggle with God during times of trials. We wonder where he has gone. We wonder if he still cares for us. We feel abandoned in our hour of need. Our feeling need to find comfort in the fact that God’s glory and approval is especially upon us at such times.
Indeed if we are shunned, if we are abused verbally or physically because we hold onto the name of Christ then we are automatically blessed and God is glorified when we hold fast the name of Christ.
Helen Roseveare was a Christian British doctor who served more than twenty years in Zaire (now DR Congo), Africa. In 1964 a revolution overwhelmed the country. She and her coworkers were thrown into five and a half months of unbelievable brutality and torture. For a moment she thought that God had forsaken her, but then she was overwhelmed with a sense of his presence, and she records that it was as if God was saying to her:
Twenty years ago you asked me for the privilege of being a missionary, the privilege of being identified with me. This is it. Don’t you want it? This is what it means: These are not your sufferings, they are mine. All I ask of you is the loan of your body.
And Christians have died or been tortured in their thousands for Christ ever since.
George Matheson was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in March 1842. At birth Matheson’s eyesight was poor. By age eighteen he had nearly lost it completely. Robbed of physical sight, he nevertheless recognised spiritual truths with penetrating clarity and insight. Take the role of suffering in the life of a believer, for example. It never caught him by surprise. He never thought suffering for his Christian faith strange. And when, according to God’s will, he was asked to enter into it, he was never ashamed. He writes:
There is a time coming in which your glory shall consist in the very thing which now constitutes your pain. Nothing could be more sad to Jacob than the ground on which he was lying, a stone for his pillow. It was the hour of his poverty. It was the season of his night. It was the seeming absence of his God. The Lord was in the place and he knew it not. Awakened from his sleep he found that the day of his trial was the dawn of his triumph.
Ask the great ones of the past what has been the spot of their prosperity and they will say, “It was the cold ground on which I was lying.” Ask Abraham; he will point to the sacrifice on Mount Moriah. Ask Joseph; he will direct you to his prison. Ask Moses; he will date his fortune from his danger in the Nile. Ask David; he will tell you that his songs came in the night. Ask Job; he will remind you that God answered him out of the whirlwind. Ask John; he will give the path to Patmos. Ask Paul; he will attribute his inspiration to the light which struck him blind.
Ask one more!—the Son of God. Ask Him whence has come His rule over the world; he will answer, “From the cold ground on which I was lying—the Gethsemane ground—I received my sceptre there.”
Peter then goes onto say let us not suffer for anything other than being Christians – let us not be found guilty of anything that will defame us or God by stealing, by doing evil, by interfering in other people’s lives in things that have nothing to do with us. It is easy in a moment of madness to ruin our witness and close the door on opportunities. We have to fend off the prowling attacks of Satan.
But should we suffer for good or for the sins that we do God can and will be there through it and we can entrust ourselves to Him.
This same George Mattheson wrote that on June 6, 1882, the day of his sister’s marriage, and his family was staying overnight in Glasgow, Scotland. Something happened to him as he sat alone there in the darkness of his blindness, something known only to himself, something that caused him severe mental suffering. He never confided to anyone what the problem was, and yet his heart cried out to Christ. As his heart moaned, words welled up in his mind, words of comfort. “I had the impression of having it dictated to me by some inward voice rather than of working it out myself,” he said. And I am sure that these words are familiar to you:
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
Suffering is the lot for Christians but through it glory will come.
And here is the shocking news that judgment begins with us, His people – and we will get away from eternal punishment by the skin of our teeth. Peter is linking suffering and God’s judgement. Until now suffering has come at the hands of others but now it would appear we could suffer at the hands of God for our own behaviour. What is this but none other than God’s discipline. And sometimes this will feel very severe and we may not recognise it for what it is. It is what John 15 speaks of when we are to be pruned so that we can bear worthy fruit.
C. H. Spurgeon told a story about the results of pruning.
The apricot tree at home was trimmed back so much I wondered if the branches and leaves would ever grow back, let alone the leaves. We ended up that next year having apricots coming out of our ears; Mom made apricot pie, jam, and we had it as fresh fruit, and there was still an abundance left for the birds.
Sometimes seasons of suffering come to us but this will bring glory to God and fruit for Him and an overwhelming reward from Him in the future. Not only that but God punishes us now so that we will not go through the same judgement as the world will go through. Indeed Jesus tells us in:
36 Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
We can only be counted worthy if we are covered in the blood of the lamb. We’ll not be condemned with the world for our sins have already been dealt with at the cross by the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The judgement we receive, the suffering that we go through, the pain that we acutely feel is because we are being moulded to be more like Jesus and to a greater fellowship with the Father.
But if we are to be judged so severely it will be nothing like it will be for those who have rejected Jesus Christ for their names shall not be found in the Book of Life and will be cast into the lake of fire to be tormented for ever and ever and ever. The ungodly and the sinner have no chance of escape.
This makes me wonder for such people and whether we could have done something to help them avoid such a destiny. And indeed we do lack a concern for those around us. We need a new Pentecost and be refilled with the Holy Spirit who will give us the boldness to speak and witness. We need not fear people or what they can do to us. Is this not the upshot of what Peter says. If they reject us they are rejecting Jesus. If they make us suffer this should not make us shy back from the holy task that Jesus has sent us on.
Peter links suffering with judgment because God is starting to wind-up history and the saints are impatient for it:
9 When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. 10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
It is no mistake that we are reading this passage today – the suffering of God’s people all over the world is on the increase like never before. I do not condone what happened in New Zealand at the hands of that criminal which made headline news but let us not forget the thousands of Christians who die at the hands of others every year which should also make headline news which is why those saints are crying out for justice. Let us also not forget that time is short as it says in:
28 For He will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness, Because the Lord will make a short work upon the earth.”
Time is running out to tell our neighbours and our friends and family and those in Manselton and this world about the good news of Jesus, that He came for them to reconcile them back to God. We need a new infilling to get us motivated, to be inspired in our conversations with people – for we know that if they do not receive Jesus they have to pay the penalty for rejecting the only One who can save them.
Perhaps we are not motivated because we think that everyone will reject the gospel but every day many thousands come to Christ. There is one website, peacewithGod.net, that up to 5000 people every day become Christians – or at least register that they have asked Jesus into their lives for the first time. In the brief time I was on the site at least one from Saudi Arabia, another from Ethiopia, another from Thailand, several from the US, one in Iraq, another from Portugal, one from Fuji, one from Madagascar, one in Algeria, one in the UK and many others; results were coming in every few seconds.
The door is still open. Let us glorify Jesus whilst we still can. If we allow the Holy Spirit to fill us (by simply asking Him to do so) then who knows who could come to the Lord. At Pentecost 3000 people were saved in one go. And not long after this another 2000 came to the Lord.
God has left the door open to give people a chance to repent and turn around. God is still merciful seeking to bring people to Him but once they have died then there will be no further opportunity to repent.
Friends, time is so short – God says He has shortened the time otherwise the world would be destroyed by man’s own hand.
What we have to bear in mind with all the things that are happening in the world and the things that will happen is that God is in control – and we can commit ourselves to Him without fear trusting Him to help us when things turn bad. And things are going to turn bad quickly in the world and for us even here in the West – we too will be put to the test and we are to continue to love, to do good, to be patient, to not revile in response to others. Their judgment will come soon enough in God’s good time.
The last words of this passage says that He is a faithful Creator. What encouragement this is! He knows how we are made for He made us. He knows what makes us tick. He knows all our concerns. He knows all our ways even those which we would not really want Him to know:
1 O Lord, You have searched me and known me. 2 You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. 3 You comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways. 4 For there is not a word on my tongue, But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether. 5 You have hedged me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it.
And although He does know us so well He remains faithful – He has promised to get us there in the end as this and many other passage testifies:
23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.
What shall I say in conclusion to all these things?
It may be appointed to us to suffer for Jesus if it is in the will of God. The glory that is ours if this happens is inestimable. In the meantime we have to get ready for Jesus’ return knowing that many are not ready. Let us not be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and try to bring some people with us. We need His Spirit giving us the boldness so ask Him to be our help in witnessing and in living for Jesus. As He is faithful let us be faithful. Let’s pray…
20 Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, 21 make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Helm, D. R. (2008). 1 & 2 Peter and Jude: sharing christ’s sufferings. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.