Sharing Christ's sufferings. 4:12-19
The passage before us concludes the third part of Peter's letter. In this passage Peter further develops his teaching on Christian suffering. He gives practical advice and explains how suffering is but a sign of the coming judgement of God, pointing out that blessings accompany suffering and that those who inflect this suffering are already marked out for destruction.
v12. Peter begins this passage by encouraging his readers that they should not be astonished in the face of suffering, as though something out of the ordinary was happening to them. Suffering is part of a believer's apprenticeship for Christ.
v13. Yet, along with suffering there is glory. Christ rose from the dead and entered glory. Those who follow him will similarly move from suffering to joy, shame to glory.
v14. A believer who suffers is blessed, is happy. That is, they are privileged in the sight of God, and this because the shekinah glory, the manifestation of God's glory, rests upon them. It is very encouraging to know that divine glory is accentuated in the situation where a believer suffers for their faith.
v15. Since suffering for Christ honours Christ, a believer must be careful that they don't dishonor Christ by suffering for doing evil. The suffering Peter refers to is possibly a legal charge before a court of law. Suffering as a murderer or a thief is not suffering for Christ. Yet, Peter mentions suffering prompted by being a "meddler". This implies that the suffering Peter has in mind is verbal where a person is reproached or denounced. This may refer to those Christians who try to impose their ethical views on their neighbors. Do gooders leave themselves open to the resentment of those unworthy mortals who have to live next to them!
v16. If we find we are reviled because we are a "Christian", we should not slink away in shame, but rather honor God by standing firm in the name we bear. Peter here uses the term "Christ's men", a term first used by Agrippa in a derogatory way, Act.26:28. Although this title had obviously come to be regarded with disdain by both Gentiles and Jews, it is not something to be ashamed of, rather, it is a badge of honour.
v17-18. Peter now gives a very interesting insight into the suffering of believers. The suffering of the people of God is the first sign of God's judgement upon the human race, a judgement which begins with "the family of God." If believers just scrape through the day of judgment singed but safe, then what hope is there for those who do not know Christ? Jesus himself warned that the day of judgement would indeed be a time of wailing and grinding of teeth. Peter backs up his point by quoting the LXX (Greek) version of the Old Testament, Proverbs 11:31.
v19. Peter concludes his argument by encouraging his readers to trust in the Lord during times of trouble and to continue to act rightly in difficult circumstances. The kingdom comes through suffering, such is God's will. We must accept this truth and remain faithful.
Life wasn't meant to be easy
Peter's letter was written to encourage believers who were facing suffering. We are not quite sure what type of suffering they faced; it may have been state inspired persecution, but it was more likely verbal abuse and social ostracism from neighbors, work-mates and business colleagues. So, Peter's letter has something to say about the general troubles of life. We all face difficult times; things don't always work out for the best. When the fates conspire, how should we behave?
1. Do not be surprised, v12
There is nothing "strange" or unusual about suffering. There is no point shaking the fist at God when we have to face the what-will-be-will-be reality of life. It is the nature of things - humanity out of control, nature groaning as it awaits its redemption.
2. Rejoice, v13
The believer is in the box-seat when it comes to the troubles of this world, for we know that these dark clouds will disperse before the brilliance of coming glory. More than that, we are aware that troubles prepare us for eternity. As Joe Cocker put it, "troubles lift us up where we belong." Indeed they do, especially for a believer. So rejoice.
3. Be happy, v14
If we find that the fates conspire to do us in, then we do well to see ourselves standing with the "man of sorrows". If we find ourselves suffering as Christ suffered, the promise of scripture is that his Spirit stands with us in the suffering. It is because of this that we may say, "happy is the person who suffers for righteousness sake".
4. Honor God, v16
When our faith in Jesus is reviled we are tempted to back off, even stand by and allow Christ to be defamed. It's not always easy, but we should stand up for our faith, confess Jesus, not aggressively, not rudely, but stand proud as a Christian.
5. Know the times, v17-18
The scriptures promise that in these last days trouble will be close at hand. Dark days are before us, times when the powers of darkness turn on the people of God as if in a last ditched stand to defeat the dawning of the kingdom. The "family of God" always stands close to the edge of darkness and so we must expect times of trouble. Still, if the coming day causes us some trouble, imagine what will be like for those who do not know Christ.
1. Why shouldn't we be surprised by troubled times?
2. How is a person "blessed" by suffering?
3. Discuss the notion that the church will increasingly suffer as the day of Christ's return draws near.
4. How should we handle bad times?