1 Peter 4:12-19 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. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 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? 18 And
“If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
Good morning. It’s Advent, so let’s talk about suffering. In case that seems like an odd connection (which it probably should), let me offer a bit of help. See if you can follow my 5-part reasoning.
- Advent is a time we set aside to celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ.
- Jesus Christ came to suffer for the salvation of the world.
- God has determined that his people share in Jesus’ sufferings as a means of demonstrating the saving power of Jesus sufferings.
- 1 Peter is primarily a letter instructing God’s people on how to share in Jesus’ sufferings in that way.
- Therefore, 1 Peter is an Advent letter!
I’m partially joking, but mostly serious. God’s people are not best served by sentimentalizing Christmas. God’s people are best served by looking at and celebrating Christmas for what it is: the birth of the one who was to suffer and die for the sin of mankind. The primary and deepest experiences of Christian, Christmas joy, therefore, come from keeping suffering in proper perspective and plain view. It is Jesus’ suffering that gives glory to his birth.
To that end, we’re going to continue working our way through the flow of Peter’s thought in 1 Peter 4:12-19. Last week we considered the first two aspects of this (Christians should not be surprised when suffering comes our way and Christians are not meant to endure suffering apart from the love of other Christians). This week, then, we’re going see Peter’s charge for suffering saints (not to be surprised, but) to rejoice!
Please pray with me that the connection between Peter’s words and Advent would be clear to us all and therein fuel—not dampen—our Christmas celebrations!
HOW CHRISTIANS DISHONOR GOD IN OUR SUFFERING
As God’s people go through life, inevitably hardship will come our way. Genuine hardship produces genuine suffering. The question in front of us, one that Peter addresses throughout this letter and in this passage, is what about the way we navigate that hardship or suffering determines whether we honor or dishonor God.
That, therefore, is the outline of this sermon. Part one: How Christians dishonor God in our suffering. Part two: How Christians honor God in our suffering. Let’s begin with Peter’s two pronged answer to dishonor.
Feeling wrongly about our suffering.
The first way God’s people can dishonor God in our suffering is by feeling wrongly about our suffering. As I meditated on this text throughout the week I noticed six misguided feelings.
I imagine you can easily see some of them in the text. Starting with the clearest, Peter directly charges his readers not to be surprised in v.12 (from a different angle, we saw this one last week). Given what Jesus, his apostles, and his gospel tell us about suffering, Christians dishonor God when it catches us off guard. Likewise, there is a straightforward command to “not be ashamed” in v.16. The Son of God humbled himself to put on flesh and endure the scorn and abuse of men (that is, to suffer) in it, in order to rescue us from a peril of our own making. For shame to be our response to whatever suffering might come our way because we’ve chosen to be rescued by Jesus is, perhaps, the most dishonoring thing we can feel. Clearly, then, when suffering comes our way, Christians ought not experience surprise or shame.
The next four are, perhaps, a little less obvious in the text.
The third God-dishonoring thing we can feel when suffering comes our way is indifference. We saw last week, from the first word of v.12, that God’s people must be filled with love whenever we encounter suffering. It stands to reason, then, that if love honors God during suffering, the opposite must be dishonoring. In this context I don’t think the opposite of love is hate; I think it’s indifference. Grace, we lie about the gospel and our relationship to it whenever we respond to suffering with apathy.
Next on the list is confusion. V.12 says, suffering isn’t strange (again as we saw from another angle last week). By definition, we consider something strange when we can’t make sense of it; when it confuses us. Feeling confused in our suffering is dishonoring to God because ignores the fact that Peter (along with many of the other NT writers) gave a clear explanation of the origin and goal of our suffering.
Fifth, Christians dishonor God when suffering comes our way and we feel condemned. Peter tells his readers that whenever they suffer faithfully they should feel blessed because they are blessed (v.14). For them to feel condemned, then, is to demonstrate their ignorance of God’s will for Christian suffering and the gospel’s implications for it. As Jesus instructed the wrong-thinking Pharisees in John 9, faithful suffering does not result from the condemnation of God, but from the blessing of God as an opportunity for the glory of God to be shown.
Finally, most significantly, and most commonly, we dishonor God when our response is sorrow. Peter commands his readers (v.13), as we’re about to consider in detail, to rejoice whenever they share in Christ’s sufferings. Sorrow in this type of suffering, therefore, is not honoring to God. Let me be clear on something from the outset though. This does not mean that we should be happy to lose our jobs or go to jail on account of our faith. It does not mean that we should be glad in the capture of our family by people hostile to the gospel. That’s not what Peter was getting at. Indeed, we should grieve over those things as they are truly evil. It is good to be sorry about injustice and sin. The kind of sorrow at suffering that dishonors God is the kind that acts as if earthly tragedies brought on by our faithfulness are the end of the story or are in vain or are more valuable than God himself. That is, the kind of sorrow in suffering that dishonors God is the kind that results from seeking to gain our lives rather than lose them. The pursuit of comfort above Christ inevitably leads to sorrow in this life, hides the true glory of the gospel, and therein dishonors God.
Again, it is dishonoring to God, Peter wrote, for God’s people to feel these things when suffering comes our way. Let’s check ourselves for these signs of a dishonoring understanding of the suffering God wills (v.19) for our lives. There’s another way we can dishonor God in our suffering.
Suffering for wrong reasons.
We dishonor God when we feel wrongly about our suffering and when we suffer for wrong reasons. There’s a cause of suffering, which we’ll see in just a bit, that is at the heart of this paragraph. There’s another cause of suffering, however, that flies in the face of this passage and is incompatible with honoring God: suffering for sin.
That’s what Peter meant when he wrote, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler” (4:15). Sin always brings suffering with it. Suffering for sin is also, always dishonoring to God. Peter wanted his readers to make sure that their suffering was not resulting from their sin. Again, then, Grace, let’s consider our suffering in order to repent from any sinful behavior that’s causing it.
Simply, then, you and I dishonor God whenever we feel wrongly about our suffering or suffer for sinful reasons.
If that is how we dishonor God, how do we honor him?
HOW CHRISTIANS HONOR GOD IN OUR SUFFERING
There are three key aspects to suffering rightly—in ways that honor God—according to this passage.
Feeling rightly about suffering
First, according to Peter’s instructions in these few verses, we honor God in our suffering when our understanding of our suffering produces certain feelings in us. The things Peter calls his readers to feel are a flip of the ones we saw earlier.
Instead of indifference—love. Instead of surprise—expectation. Instead of confusion—clarity and sober-mindedness. Instead of shame—honor. Instead of condemnation—blessed. And, most importantly, instead of sorrow—joy!
The main thrust is joy, so I want to get there quickly. And we already covered many of the God-honoring feelings in looking at their opposites. However, I want to say a quick word about each before we dive deeply into joy.
We honor God when we feel love for suffering saints because God loves us in our suffering. He is not indifferent to our difficulty. He does not leave us to fend for ourselves. He is always present to comfort and strengthen and help. We honor God, therefore, when we feel and do the same—when we feel deep love for sufferers.
We honor God in our suffering when we expect it to come because it means we trusted God when he told us it would and because it means that we were living in such a way that made suffering likely—namely, like Jesus.
We honor God when suffer with clarity and sobriety of mind because God has given us clear instructions on what suffering is, why it comes to his people, and how to endure it in a manner pleasing to him. God has also provided us with a perfect example in Jesus. When we feel clear-minded in the midst of suffering it demonstrates our trust in God’s provision of these things, and that honors God.
We honor God when we feel honored and blessed to share in Jesus’ sufferings because that is a mark of our inclusion into God’s family. Only those who belong to God are granted the right to be persecuted like his Son for the glory of his Son. It honors God when we recognize what an honor it is to suffer for being in the household of God.
Finally, then, that leaves us with joy.
1 Peter 4:12-19 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. 13 But rejoice…
The primary emotion that Peter calls his readers to pursue for the honor and glory of God in their suffering is joy. The rest of this sermon is meant to answer two questions: 1) what type of suffering ought to produce joy in Christians, and 2) why does that produce joy in our suffering?
Suffering for the right reason
The type of joy/rejoicing Peter calls his readers to (along with all of the God-honoring emotions called for in this passage) comes exclusively from one kind of suffering. Earlier we saw that suffering for sin is dishonoring to God and produces all kinds of godless emotions. Here we need to see the right reason.
1 Peter 4:12-19 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. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings…
Rejoicing in suffering honors God only when it comes from sharing in Christ’s sufferings. What does that mean?
First off, emphatically, it does not mean taking part in Jesus’ atoning work. It does not mean that we help earn our salvation or the salvation of others. We do not share in Jesus’ sufferings in any way that affects our justification. Again, then, what does it mean?
Negatively, as we just saw, sharing in the sufferings of Christ is the opposite of suffering for sin; as a murder or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. It is not suffering for doing evil.
Positively, sharing in the sufferings of Christ means suffering according to Jesus’ example; suffering like Jesus did. This was Peter’s point in 2:21, “…Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”
In our passage for this morning Peter clarified his meaning in two different places. In v.14 he wrote, “If you are insulted for the name of Jesus…”. To be insulted (reviled, slandered) in the name of Jesus means being so much like Jesus in mission and holiness that the people who despised Jesus’ mission and holiness despise you. The suffering caused by insults is at the heart of what it means to share in Jesus’ sufferings. And second, in v.16 he wrote, “Yet if anyone of you suffers as a Christian,” that is, for being a Christian. This too is a clarifying phrase. Sharing in the sufferings of Jesus is to suffer solely for bearing the name of Jesus—Christian.
Again, then, to share in Jesus’ sufferings is not to take part in Jesus’ atoning work and it is not to suffer for doing evil. It is to suffer according to his example, in his name, as a Christian.
Peter’s point is that only those whose suffer like this, like Jesus, have cause to rejoice. But why, exactly, would suffering like Jesus, on account of our faith in Jesus produce joy. I see five reasons in this text. Let’s close by considering each of them.
Reasons sharing in the sufferings of Jesus causes rejoicing.
Why does sharing in Jesus’ sufferings cause Christians to rejoice?
We rejoice because God has purpose for all Christian suffering. As I said last week, the great promise of God is that no drop of a saint’s faithful suffering is wasted. If there were even a chance that our suffering were in vain or without meaning, suffering in Jesus’ name would be no cause for rejoicing. However, as we’ve seen throughout this letter, there is no chance of this.
Please don’t forget that suffering, your suffering and mine, when it is in endured for bearing the name of Jesus, is always and only a tool of God’s for his glory and the good of his people. And that’s cause for serious rejoicing.
In this passage Peter mentions one particular way in which God uses the faithful suffering of his people for his good purposes. Therefore, Peter also gives us one particular reason to rejoice in our suffering. In v.12, we’re told that God uses it to test and refine our faith.
1 Peter 4:12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you…
We’re going to spend all of next week on this. However, here I simply want to draw your attention to the fact that sharing in the sufferings of Jesus ought to cause us to rejoice because through it God helps us to know that we are truly his children and that the return of Jesus will be a celebration for us (v.13). Knowing that God’s favor is upon us and will remain so for eternity is great cause for rejoicing.
We rejoice because we share in the sufferings of Christ. There is a double meaning here. Sharing in the sufferings of Jesus is the command, but it is also a reason for joy. We are not told to share in the sufferings of a drug addict, a leaper, or even a godly saint. We are called to share in the sufferings of the Son of God. That we get to share in anything with Jesus is truly awesome. Give me a minute of sharing in Jesus’ suffering over a lifetime of sharing in the world’s “blessing”.
The apostles understood this. Consider their response to suffering in Jesus’ name.
Acts 5:40-41 when [the religious leaders] had called in the apostles, they beat them [for speaking in the name of Jesus] and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they [the apostles] left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.
The apostle Paul understood this. Consider his response to suffering in the name of Jesus.
Colossians 1:24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church…
Suffering in Jesus’ name ought to cause us to rejoice because it is in JESUS’ name!
We rejoice because we are blessed. As counterintuitive as it may seem, sharing in the sufferings of Jesus’ is a blessing. It is a blessing—in this sense—primarily because suffering in Jesus’ name means that in increasing measure the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon us.
1 Peter 4:14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
The Holy Spirit is always upon and in the saints, but in this passage we’ve found a promise of gold…namely, that whenever we suffer for being Christian the Spirit of glory manifests himself in greater measure for our help and comfort and protection. Oh what joy!
- Finally, we rejoice because we glorify God. Again, in a sort of summary way, Peter wrote, “…if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (4:16). As we saw a few weeks ago, this is the aim and goal and purpose and joy of all our lives. We suffer faithfully “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” Because, “To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.” Seeing and spreading the glory of God is the very reason we were made. Whether through eating or drinking, worshiping, or suffering, whenever we’re able to glorify God in that name we’ve found cause to rejoice in the highest!
All of this, of course, is meant to be considered in light of your real life, in light of real or likely suffering. We dishonor God in our suffering when we feel wrongly about our suffering and when we suffer for wrong reasons. We honor God in our suffering when we feel rightly about suffering in Jesus’ name (especially joy) and understand the reasons joy is right.
Again, this truly is an Advent sermon. We celebrate the coming of Jesus because his resurrection proved that his suffering worked. Jesus suffered and died on our behalf, but he did not stay dead. He rose from the dead, ascended to the Father’s right hand, and is there, right now, making intercession on behalf of all whose hope is in him, who long for his appearing, and who will be glad when his glory is revealed. By grace, through faith in Jesus, right now, you can gain and grow in access to all of the blessings of God—including the blessing of knowing that all your suffering will end and that none of it will be in vain.