1 Peter 4:12-19
If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God
Suffer, But Don’t be Surprised, 4:12
Jesus was always honest with his disciples that suffering would be part of the package of being a Christian. “Take up your cross and follow me.” The path of Jesus is one of suffering, for himself and his followers. (Matt. 16:24). Suffering includes everything from an insult (1 Peter 4:14) to losing one’s life (Matt. 16:25).
In the present context for those studying this booklet, our suffering is mostly along the line of inconveniences at best and insults at worst. However, we should remember that Christianity Today magazine issues a World Watch List each year. That is a listing of the 50 countries where it is most dangerous to follow Jesus. North Korea is the highest rated. It categorizes persecution into two categories; violence and pressure. In the 2019 reporting period, in the top 50 countries rated highest for persecution against Christians, 4,136 Christians were killed for faith-related reasons. 2,625 were detained, arrested, sentenced, and imprisoned. 1,266 churches or Christian buildings were attacked.
For the original audience of 1 Peter, it seems the level of persecution they had experienced was pressure categorized as rather than violence. Social ostracism, threats, and business boycotts may have been common. Yet, Peter warned that persecution could ramp up. His readers should not be surprised if unpleasant pressure turned into a fiery trial. If, as is likely, this letter was written just prior to Nero’s persecution of Christians across the Roman empire, this warning was not just in the realm of possibility, but was prophetic.
Suffer…and Rejoice in Response, 4:13-14
Rejoicing in suffering is a frequent admonition in scripture. See Matt. 5:11-12; Rom. 5:3-5; Jms. 1:2-4. Suffering joins us as a sharer in the experience of Christ, which ends in glory. Suffering refines and builds faith and perseverance. Peter says that when we suffer persecution for the cause of Christ, the Spirit of glory and of God rests on the sufferer.
Suffer…But Do Not Be Ashamed, 4:15-16
Suffering can occur because of legitimate and just reasons. Law breakers, such as murderers and thieves suffer stern penalties when caught and convicted. General evildoing to destructive consequences. There may be health related or social prices to pay. Peter also notes that suffering may come to the “meddler.” Some biblical scholars suggest that Peter was addressing a situation in which Christians were too stridently trying to enforce their morality on unbelievers, resulting in insults and reviling from the community. All of those situation may bring shame, and rightfully so because of the harm done. Yet, it can occur that in societies that have an anti-Christian bias, Christians may unjustly suffer, even just for wearing the name “Christian.” In that case, there is no shame. Whether insulted, imprisoned, or killed, the believer brings glory to God in a show of perseverance and faith.
Suffer…But Trust and Do Good, 4:17-19
Judgment is coming. Those who are saved will have been saved through the crucible of suffering. This is the meaning of “scarcely saved.” If the saved have come to salvation with experience in suffering, then what will the experience of suffering amount to for those who have rejected God? The saved experience suffering, but continue in doing good in confidence of receiving God’s promises.
For enlightenment and discussion:
How does suffering for Christ change from place to place and age to age in the world?
Can you point to any personal experience of suffering for being a Christian?
If a trial of suffering intensified in our day, age, and place, what would the refining result look like?
How is “fiery trial” an apt description of Christian suffering?