Standing in the True Grace of God, Lesson 14

Originally posted February 11, 2018, at Women of Purpose.

Our passage this week brings Peter’s discussion of suffering to a close. After this, he will give instructions to the shepherds of Christ’s flock, then a final call to watchfulness with hope before concluding his letter. But in this passage, he gently, yet urgently calls us to endure our suffering with joy and confidence in our faithful Creator.

First Peter 4 addresses deliberate malice aimed at believers in Christ. Yet, while Peter writes of persecution specifically, there is much to learn about how to face a broader range of suffering for those who aren’t persecuted for their faith. “Whether we suffer true persecution or for another reason, everyone needs Peter’s message about suffering. Therefore, as long as we live in this fallen world, this magnificent ruin, we should expect to suffer. It is neither strange nor surprising. The more we expect trouble, the better we will be prepared for it.”[1]

Our lesson skips around the passage, rather than reading straight through, so bear with me as I follow the maze.

We are first asked how Christians are to respond to their sufferings. From this portion of 1 Peter 4 we find that we are to respond with rejoicing, glorifying God in the name of Christ, and entrusting our souls to our faithful God while continuing to do good (13, 16, 19). This has been Peter’s constant theme throughout the letter, and he brings it to a head here.

From chapter 1 he has written about suffering, gradually building from “now, for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (1:6) to, “this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly” (2:19), followed by examples of our Lord’s suffering as encouragement. He then pointed out that it may be necessary to suffer for righteousness’ sake, but it would be accompanied by blessing (3:14). Now, he lays it all out, giving us the hard news, but softening the blow by his tender address, “Beloved.” This is only the second time he has used this term of endearment, and it reflects the compassion with which he is writing. He’s calling us to a difficult providence, but we aren’t going to face it alone or unprepared.

To that end, he writes, “Do not be surprised,” and don’t “be ashamed” (13, 16). For centuries, the Jews had suffered persecution for their beliefs. From neighboring nations and invading armies, from people in the lands in which they lived in exile, even from their own brethren—as the persecuted prophets would attest—the Jews had suffered much. But the Gentile believers had not faced such persecution before. They came from a culture that didn’t care which gods occupied your in-home altar or which pagan temples you frequented for worship. Everybody could agree to get along in their world as far as religion was concerned. That is, until the new believers cleaned off the altar, stopped going to the temples, and worshipped only Jesus Christ. Now they are feeling the first pricks of persecution and it is surprising to them.

Our Lord anticipated their surprise when, at the last supper with the Disciples, he said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Peter remembers Jesus’ words of encouragement, and is now, in turn, encouraging the rest of us. In last week’s lesson we discussed where Peter writes that we are to “arm ourselves” by thinking carefully and soberly about suffering. Prepared people aren’t surprised when what they have trained for comes upon them.

Suffering comes to us from many different kinds of circumstances in our lives, sometimes as a result of our choices, but often not. Some suffering, in the form of persecution, is a result of following Jesus; other suffering may be a result of others sinning against us without being because of our faith; and some suffering is a result of our own choices. All suffering is a result of living in a fallen world. The only suffering over which we have any degree of control is that caused by our own choices.

Whether suffering comes to us through the acts of others, or by what the insurance companies would call, “acts of God,” it all comes by the sovereign will of God. In Sunday school we are wrapping up a study of Job, and to summarize that whole book into one sentence would be oversimplification in the extreme. But to say that God moves in mysterious ways according to his own hidden purposes may just cover it. Derek Thomas quoted the following hymn, written by William Cowper in 1773, and it applies beautifully to our discussion of suffering:

God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines Of never failing skill He treasures up His bright designs And works His sov’reign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; The clouds ye so much dread Are big with mercy and shall break In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding every hour; The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flow’r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err And scan His work in vain; God is His own interpreter, And He will make it plain.

Peter gives a brief list of sins which are in our power to avoid, and for which we therefore ought not to be found guilty.

“But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler” (15)

This mirrors his earlier admonition in 2:20 when he asks, “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure?” If we sin, and we suffer for it, we are getting our just reward and have no right to cry foul. We may read this list and feel confident that we aren’t swimming in these waters. Daniel Doriani wants to remind us to read more carefully.

“Refraining from murder also means no displays of anger, no resentment. No harsh judgement—scorning, scoffing, despising, or belittling. Refraining from theft also means no envy or greed, no manipulation or abuse of funds, no unpaid debts, and no waste of wealth or creation.”[2]

Do we feel the water lapping at our feet yet? But, wait—there’s more.

“It is obvious that disciples should avoid criminal activity, but the ban on meddling is a subtle notion. . . . Meddlers interfere, usurping roles not properly theirs. They might even scheme to gain influence outside their sphere. They nose into matters that are not their proper concern and offer unwanted opinions. They speak when protocol calls for silence.”[3]

When a believer commits a crime and is punished for it, it is easy to see that he deserves to pay the penalty. And when a believer is caught in a “lesser sin,” they also ought not to be surprised when they reap the consequences. After all, “God does not bless tactless behavior, and it is not persecution when obnoxious acts earn wrath.”[4] Peter has been describing persecution for faith in Christ, and he doesn’t want his readers to suppose that just punishments for other behaviors fall into the same category.

Going back to verse 12, we shouldn’t be surprised or think that suffering persecution for being Christians is anything strange because, as Peter already pointed out, we are following in the footsteps of a crucified man (2:21). Our Lord was persecuted unjustly because of his good deeds. Jesus himself warned us that the world would hate and persecute us for following him:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 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. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” (John 15:18-21)

If we are familiar with the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus, then we won’t be surprised when others treat us shamefully or even persecute us outright because of our faith. Indeed, we should expect it. There is something intangible about our effect on those around us. Paul wrote to the Corinthians of the attraction believers hold for one another, while at the same time repelling unbelievers:

“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.  For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)

When we suffer “according to God’s will” (19), there is blessing. Peter’s choice of words, describing our suffering as “fiery trial” points to one aspect of blessing being the purpose behind our ordeal.

“With an allusion to the smelter’s fire, Peter intimates that as gold is refined by fire so the believer’s faith is tested through suffering (1:6-7). God wants to test the genuineness of the Christian’s faith, for faith in God is “of greater worth than gold” (1:7). The believer, then, should be fully aware of God’s purpose in his life and not be surprised.”[5]

Other blessings, found right here in our passage, which come through the agent of suffering, are the rejoicing and gladness which will be ours when Christ’s glory is revealed (13), as we go through the trials the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon us (14), and when we suffer as Christians—specifically for our faith—we bring glory to God (16). These are weighty and eternal blessings, even though we go through grievous trials (1:6). Our present suffering relates, after all, to our heavenly future, as Scripture testifies in many places:

“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.” Matthew 5:11-12

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12

God’s purposes in our suffering are far higher than our own hopes and desires for ourselves. God’s plans for us stretch into eternity, which is beyond the scope of our imaginations. God is preparing us to glorify and enjoy him forever.

“The Christian should not question God’s providence when unexpected suffering strikes him. He should not blame God for failing to intervene in his behalf. Certainly God is in control of every situation and has the power to shield a Christian from impending suffering. However, God works out his own purposes to strengthen the believer’s faith through suffering. Christians must understand that God wants to separate true faith from pretense and uses the instrument of suffering to accomplish his purpose. Christians should apply Jesus’ words to themselves:

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad.” [Matt. 5:11-12a][6]

I’m beginning to think the final Beatitude is the theme of our lesson, aren’t you?

So, what is this blessing that we receive when we are insulted and cursed by those who despise and reject Jesus? According to our text, we are blessed, “because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon [us]” (14). Commentators see this as an allusion to Isaiah 11:2, which says:

“And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.”

Peter, by alluding to this passage from Isaiah, is saying that when we suffer for the name of Christ we have the full weight of the Trinity supporting us, “resting upon” us, as it were. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are enveloping us with wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, and the knowledge and fear of the Lord! Whether we ‘feel this in our feelers’ we must ‘know it in our knowers.’ God has promised, and he is faithful to follow through on his promises. Jesus confirmed this promise when he told the disciples:

“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:25-26)

Jesus was promising the disciples that they would be able to remember everything they needed to know to raise up the fledgling church and write the new Testament, but the promise to send the Holy Spirit is what we are getting at here. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to help his people.

Paul wrote of the same promise, coupling it with a precious assurance of faith and a help to our prayers:

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. . . . Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:16-17, 26-27)

God shows his faithfulness time and again to his people as we are called to walk through overwhelming circumstances. We may not see what he is doing in the storm, but as we cling to him nonetheless, he is sharpening our faith in ways determined in his wisdom and goodness to be best for us. You may want with everything that is within you to escape—but flee to Jesus.

In verse 16, Peter mentions shame: “if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” This is only one of three places the term “Christian” is used in the New Testament. Elsewhere in the Scriptures we see the people of God called “believers,” or those who are “in Christ,” and other turns of phrase to indicate their status as Christians. When Peter was writing this epistle, the word “Christian” was an insult, a slur, a derogatory term for the followers of this ‘new religion.’ When it was used, the desired result was shame. Believers were literally being “insulted for the name of Christ” (14). Peter tells his readers to embrace this insult and wear it as a badge of honor before the world that hates them for their allegiance to Christ—to the glory of God.

Two thousand years have passed, and the name “Christian” is again considered an insult by many and meant to shame those who follow Christ. We may be able to live most of our lives in our Christian circles of friends and associates, but those who never face hostility for the faith are sheltered. Our brothers and sisters around the world face the loss of not only reputation, but possessions, professions, homelands, and their very lives for the sake of Christ. We should not be surprised when we, too, face derision and insult for our Lord’s sake, for it is not something strange that is happening to us, but, is perfectly normal in a world and culture that increasingly rejects the gospel. Should this happen to you, dear sisters, embrace the insult and wear it as a badge of honor—to the glory of God.

Hard on the heels of his call for us to glorify God in the face of insults, bearing the name of Christ before a hostile world, Peter turns to judgement:

“For it is time for judgement to begin at the household of God, and if it begins with us, what is to 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?’” (17, 18)

Judgement, as Peter has already mentioned, is coming. For God’s children it is not a judgement of condemnation, but an evaluation of our deeds.

“The Bible consistently teaches that God will examine us and will do so through our works when we stand before him. We will account for them all on the last day (Ps. 62:12; Jer. 17:10; matt. 16:27; 2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Peter 1:17; Rev. 20:12) . . . . But this judgement should not alarm us… This is not [salvation] according to works. Our works do count, but they count because they follow our heart commitments. Deeds supply public, verifiable evidence of the heart’s condition (Matt. 7:17-18; 12:33-35; James 2:14-26), Therefore, we should examine ourselves and ask what our words and deeds reveal.”[7]

God’s children need not fear the final judgement as a day of condemnation; Jesus “himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (2:24), remember? Yet we still face many trials and tribulations before we reach that day. When Peter asks, “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly?” I hear the tension in his question. Sisters, this life is hard. Oh, it is so hard. We need God’s preserving hand upon us or we would blow away with the winds of the storm.

Peter began his letter with the promise that we are being guarded by God’s power “through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1:5). When I think of the trials my brothers and sisters are even now enduring and it brings me to my knees, I must remember to rejoice that they are held by God’s power and will be saved at the last—even if from our perspective it seems that they will scarcely be saved, they are secure in his mighty grip and will make it to heaven.

Peter closes his encouragement for those who suffer with this:

“Therefore, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (19)

With this “therefore,” we can look back at more than what Peter has written in his epistle. When Peter references our “faithful Creator,” he is calling us to remember the faithfulness of God toward his people all the way back to the beginning of time.

“The Bible starts with the covenants and character of God. He created us, he redeemed us, and he is worthy of our trust. If Jesus was willing to suffer in the flesh, we should be, too. And if the Father vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead, he will vindicate us, too. That future, in God’s presence, that future, sharing in his glory, teaches us to persevere.”[8]

Our Creator, who has caused us to be born again into his covenant family, is faithful to keep us through all the storms that he sends our way to test us and purify our faith. Our lesson closes with the question, what does continuing to do good while persevering through trials look like? I happened upon an answer to this question as I was looking through a new book delivered to my doorstep a few days ago:

“But, my dear brother, you must also be willing to bear Christ’s burden. Now the burden of Christ is his cross, which every Christian must take up. Expect to be reproached, expect to meet with some degree of the scandal of the cross, for the offence of it never ceases. Persecution and reproach are a blessed burden; when your soul loves Jesus it is a light thing to suffer for him, and, therefore, never by any cowardly retirement or refusal to profess your faith, evade your share of this honorable load. Woe unto those who say, “I will never be a martyr.” No rest is sweeter than the martyr’s rest. Woe unto those who say, “We will go to heaven by night along a secret road, and so avoid the shame of the cross.” The rest of the Christian is found not in cowardice but in courage; it lies not in providing for ease but in the brave endurance of suffering for the truth.”[9]

Life is hard, but God is good. Jesus does all things well.

[1] Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary, 1 Peter, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2014), 190- 191.

[2] Ibid., 195.

[3] Ibid., 195.

[4] Ibid., 195.

[5] Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of 1 Peter, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1986/1987), 173-4.

[6] Ibid. 174.

[7] Doriani, 197-198.

[8] Ibid., 200.

[9] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Sermons, Volume 9 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, sixth printing- August 2017), 448-449.

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