1 Peter 4:12-19
A researcher writing for Christian History magazine estimated that 70 million Christians have been martyred for their faith. The International Institute for Religious Freedom estimates that 8,500 believers continue to be martyred each year.
Around the world believers are facing persecution for their faith. It began shortly after Jesus’ Resurrection with Stephen and it continues today.
Today we continue our study of 1 Peter. Peter knew that the saints in the Roman Empire would be facing persecution, so he shared with them five principles about suffering. These same truths still apply today.
In our passage we will learn about:
The certainty of suffering
The purpose of suffering
The attitude in suffering
The cause for suffering
The reaction to suffering
Read passage –
Let’s pray –
The certainty of suffering (12)
Dear friends… Peter cares deeply for the believers. He loves them. He has a heart of compassion for them. It is this empathy that motivates him to tell them about the suffering which they should expect. He tells them so that they will be ready and prepared when they face it. Not if they face it, but when.
They were facing and would continue to face a “fiery ordeal.” 1 Peter was written about 63 AD. Nero was the emperor. About a year later some intense persecutions would begin culminating in 67 AD.
The following is an eye-witness account from the Roman historian Tacitus, ““Therefore, to stop the rumor [that he had set Rome on fire], he [Emperor Nero] falsely charged with guilt, and punished with the most fearful tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were [generally] hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of that name, was put to death as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, in the reign of Tiberius, but the pernicious superstition – repressed for a time, broke out yet again, not only through Judea
In their very deaths they were made the subjects of sport: for they were covered with the hides of wild beasts, and worried to death by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set fire to, and when the day waned, burned to serve for the evening lights. Nero offered his own garden players for the spectacle, and exhibited a Circensian game, indiscriminately mingling with the common people in the dress of a charioteer, or else standing in his chariot.”
Some of Peter’s readers would only face some normal level of persecution that believers face in all times and places in a pagan world. Scorning, mocking, a laughing behind their backs, slander, localized actions of hatred. But others would face far worse.
To all of them, Peter says, “do not be surprised!” and “as though some strange thing were happening.” Believers should know that suffering and persecution is not only possible or even likely, but it is certain. Read cross-references
Philippians 1:29 – For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him,
2 Timothy 3:12 – Will be persecuted…
These verses are clear that believers who are living for God should expect persecution. God did not want the believers in the first century to be surprised and He doesn’t want you to be surprised either.
There is a popular teaching that God wants believers to be rich and live a smooth, healthy life. It is called the health and wealth gospel. Many people follow it. A survey found that 31% of Americans believe that “if you give God money He will bless you with more” and 61% believe that God wants us to be prosperous.
One such preacher said, “Some people say it’s about peace, joy and love. NO!! It’s about MONEY!“
And another famous one (Kenneth Copeland) said, “money come to be now.”
The idea that God wants us to live a carefree, comfortable life and that if we aren’t it is because of our sin, is not a new one. The thinking was already common at the time of Jesus. When they encountered a blind man, the disciples thought his suffering must be due to someone’s sin. What did Jesus tell them? He said it was not due to sin, but so that God would be glorified. God allowed suffering in this man’s life for a greater purpose and it was not due to his sin. The idea that a believer will live a prosperous life without any suffering and that God automatically wants to heal all people of all their sicknesses and take away all their problems, is a lie. Do you know how I know it is a lie? The Bible tells me so.
Peter says, “don’t be surprised as if it is some strange thing!” It is not strange. It is normal. It is expected.
How does this apply to us?
Brothers and sisters, today you should be very clear to know that following Jesus is a tough road. It is called a narrow gate for a reason. He does promise us a life of ease and comfort. He instead warns us of suffering and persecution. He tells you ahead of time so that you can be informed. So the application is two-fold:
Don’t fall away when trials come because “you didn’t know” following Jesus would be so hard. He tells you ahead of time so that you can be ready.
When you share the gospel with others, do not only highlight the benefits of following Jesus and gloss over the difficulties. Tell them that following Jesus is not easy. Tell them there will be difficulties. That way they can develop a deep root and not be swayed when those storms come.
II. The purpose of suffering (12)
Why do we have to suffer? God loves His children, and He is all powerful so why does He allow this? Verse 12 tells us the answer. It says it is for our “testing.”
Proverbs 17:3 says, “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.”
Just as silver and gold are refined by a fire so we are refined by the fiery trials, suffering, or persecution we may face. Some people ask, “what good can possibly come from suffering?”
Suffering can remind us to be humble. When everything is going well and we are successful and our life is smooth, it is easy to become prideful and start to take credit for the good things in our life. When things become difficult we are less prideful.
Suffering reminds us of our dependence on the Lord. In times of suffering, we realize that we cannot solve our problems ourselves. Have you ever asked people what they believe and they said, “I believe in myself?” It is very common. But if you ask the same person facing great suffering what they believe it is much less likely they will say “I believe in myself.” In those times all we can do is put our hope in the Lord.
Testing reveals the real faith of real believers. God did not test Abraham by asking him to sacrifice Isaac to find out if Abraham had faith or not. He did not test Abraham to figure out the limit of Abraham’s faith. He knows everything. He knew how Abraham would respond. He tested Abraham so that Abraham would be clear about his own faith. By putting his faith into action on such a difficult test, Abraham’s faith was proved to himself. This solidified his faith and helped him to know exactly where he stood, which was firmly on God’s side. God tests us for the same reason. Some who do not really have faith will fall away. But those genuine believers who respond with the faith that was always inside of them will pass the test. They will be encouraged. Doubts will fade away and a new and deeper trust in God will fill their hearts.
I’ve never heard anyone say the really deep lessons of life have come in times of ease and comfort. But, I have heard many saints say every significant advance I’ve ever made in grasping in the depth of God’s love and growing deep with Him, have come through suffering.
The attitude in suffering (13-14)
Read verses 13-14.
When you are persecuted, you should rejoice. When you are persecuted, you should rejoice. Why? Why would anyone ever rejoice about suffering?
Verse 14 tells us that if you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, for His Spirit rests on you. And verse 16 says “praise God that you bear that name.” What does this mean?
This means that persecution is one kind of confirmation that you genuinely belong to Christ and are living for Him. Think about it like this way. Persecution often comes to those who are different. If you are living your life the same as the people in the world around you, will you be persecuted? No. You will be tolerated or even celebrated. Last week, brother Tom Keenan shared about some friends of his. One was Miss Media. Will she be persecuted by her friends? No. Another was Mr. Moneybags. Will Mr. Moneybags be persecuted by his other money loving colleagues? No. They will respect him for his business savvy.
We already read in 2 Timothy that ALL who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. So when your friends laugh at you for not going to the same R rated movies they do, this is a cause for rejoicing. Your godly life has been noticed. You are living differently. It is confirmation that your life is Spirit filled.
If you have listened to Troy’s sermons, you probably know about the Puritans. These were a group of believers from about the sixteenth century. You may not know their name was given to them by their enemies. Their enemies mocked them by disdainfully calling them “puritans.” They were persecuted for their sincere dedication to the Lord. That was a cause for rejoicing. It was confirmation that their lives were Spirit filled.
There was a group of people I shared the good news with. One time as I was walking up, one of them said something like, “Great, here comes the Bible guy again.” He said it to mock me because I often talked about the Bible. But you know what. I was happy to hear him say that! He remembered I talked about the Bible. He remembered me as being different from others because I talked about it different things than they did.
If you follow the Lord your life will be different. If you are different, people will make fun of you.
Parents, they may make fun of you for sending your kids to a Christian school or for homeschooling your children. Rejoice! God’s Spirit rests on you.
Students, they may make fun of you for refusing to look at the test questions before the test like everyone else is doing. Rejoice! God’s Spirit rests on you.
Wives, they may make fun of you for dedicating your time and energy to your families instead of only focusing on making more money. Rejoice! God’s Spirit rests on you.
Brothers and sisters, they may make fun of you for refusing to accept the false theories of evolution. Rejoice! God’s Spirit rests on you.
If God is for you, who can be against you? Let us live our lives to please God rather than to please man. If you do, persecution will come. Sometimes it could be much worse than what I have mentioned. Many believers around the world right now are suffering far worse. Some are in prisons. Some are being beaten. Some are being killed. What would Peter say to them? He would say the same thing. Rejoice!
This is not like a crazy person being whipped and laughing hysterically saying, “I love it!” It is not taking pleasure in the pain. Rather it is a decision in our heart to maintain a good attitude. It is a recognition of the fact that the persecution is confirmation we are putting our priority in the right places .
Someone might say, “Peter you don’t understand how difficult it is.” Well, Peter did understand.
Peter himself had this attitude when he was persecuted. He was beaten for his faith, but we read this in Acts 5:41, “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”
We have so far seen that suffering is certain, that the purpose is to refine us, and that we should rejoice when we suffer.
The cause of suffering (15-16)
Read verse 15.
There is an age old question: “is suffering a direct result of sin?” What is the answer. The answer is maybe, maybe not. Or sometimes. You see suffering is not always a result of sin as Jesus made clear when He told His disciples that the man born blind was not suffering blindness because of anyone’s sin.
But suffering is sometimes a result of sin. Zachariah was blind for around nine months because he sinned by disbelieving the angel’s direct word from God. David suffered many problems and persecutions even at the hand of his son Absalom because of his own sin in being a poor father and husband.
In these verses Peter shows his readers that they should consider the reason for their suffering. We are not blessed if we suffer because of our own sins. A thief must not sit in jail rejoicing that he is worthy to suffer for the Lord. He is not suffering for the Lord.
What does this mean for you? If you are persecuted, you should ask yourself the reason why. If your classmates or colleagues insult you, you should ask yourself the reason why they are doing it. Do not automatically assume it is because you are a Christian. We should not have a persecution complex where we think everyone is out to get us. Nor should we think that everything bad which happens to us is because we are Christians. Sometimes we bring these insults on ourselves.
It could be that you have a judgmental or rude attitude. It could be that you are prideful and aloof. It could be that you only say pious sounding Christian phrases, but you are not living like a real follower of Jesus. The pharisees for example sounded very spiritual and were very good at making religious speeches, but their hearts were like tombs Jesus said. If someone is offended by you, first ask yourself if your own wrong attitude or behavior caused that offense. If it is your own behavior that is dishonoring God’s name, you need to repent and ask that person for forgiveness. Christ is a rock of offense, but it should never be our own wrong attitudes that offend others.
But sometimes that persecution is because of our belief in Jesus.
Read verse 16.
If you suffer as a Christian do not be ashamed. Some of you are suffering insults and persecutions for the name of Christ. Maybe it is from your families or your parents or your classmates or your home governments. Others of you may not have faced any persecutions yet, but they are coming.
Do not be embarrassed about your faith. Do not hide from the fact that you are a Christian. Do not complain. Do not get angry. Do not get bitter. Do not return evil for evil. And whatever you do, do not give up. Instead praise God that you bear that you name.
Romans 8:18 says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
Your suffering is temporary. But salvation is eternal.
The reaction to suffering (17-19)
Let’s continue reading verses 17-19.
Verse 17 introduces a very sticky question. What is the judgment that Peter refers to? And more importantly, who is the one doing the judging?
As I studied it, two interpretations began to emerge.
Judgment on the family of God means that God is judging believers. This could be called discipline for sin. The goal would be to purify his people and cause them to repent of their sin and turn back to God. God does on occasion do this. But this does not fit with the preceding verses or in fact the whole theme of 1 Peter, which make it clear that the persecution in question is unjust and is the result of a believer’s good behavior, not because of his sin. If Peter was talking about judgment coming from God because of sin, why did he not warn them to repent of some sin so they could avoid the judgment? He did not warn them because the judgment was not a judgment for their sin.
And if this suffering is a judgment from God because of sin, why does Peter keep saying things like “rejoice,” “be overjoyed,” and “you are blessed.”
This judgment is not a judgment from God at all. The context shows that the believers are suffering unjustly because of their righteous behavior. Therefore it does not make sense that at the same time God would be judging them for this righteous behavior.
The word judgment can mean decree or decision. It is a decree against believers by Nero. Nero was about to begin this persecution of the family of God. This was the first widespread persecution against believers in world history. But it was only the beginning and there would be much more in the future.
This interpretation would seem to make the most sense within the context of believers suffering unjustly and being persecuted by man. But what then do we make of the phrase “what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?
Here Peter could be introducing a comparison of judgments. Believers will be judged by man, which can be extremely painful. But it is still a temporal physical judgment. That is bad enough already. What about unbelievers? These will face a judgment from God. And that judgment is eternal and not limited to only the physical aspect. Their judgment would be all the worse because of the way in which they deal with believers.
And verse 18 reinforces this comparison. It is hard for the righteous because of all of the persecutions they have to face. The righteous are punished a little by man for their right