1 Peter: Lesson 12: Suffering and Its Implications


Last week, in 1 Peter 4:7, Peter finished with commanding Christians to have a “sound mind” and to be “sober.”  Both of these repeated what he earlier said.  First, to “arm yourselves with [Christ’s] way of thinking” (vs. 1).  Second, not participating in “drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties,” with all sinful behavior being an outgrowth of one’s “lawless idolatry” (vs. 3).  In these, the Christian glorified God in everything through Jesus Christ (vs. 11).

Peter now again restates and further develops what he has earlier said about suffering because of Christ, for being a Christian.  This section also contains an unusual number of imperatives, commands, with every verb for the Christian as an imperative.

  • You must not be habitually surprised at the fiery trial (vs. 12),
  • Rejoice insofar as you share in Christ’s sufferings (4:13).
  • Let none of you suffer as a wrongdoer (4:15).
  • When suffering as a Christian, do not be ashamed (4:16).
  • When suffering as a Christian, glorify God (4:16).
  • Let sufferers entrust themselves to a faithful Creator (4:19).

How to Understand Suffering: Because You are a Christian

Peter begins this section with “beloved,” which is his way of starting another subdivision in his letter, such as 1 Peter 2:11.  Like the other subparts of 1 Peter, this unit will also end in a familiar pattern.  A Scripture passage will come at or near the end of a line of thinking, as he did in 1 Pet 1:24-25 and 3:10-12.  (He also used “therefore,” but that’s for later.)

Read 1 Peter 4:12

  • How are those to whom Peter writes responding to the sufferings they are enduring?

“surprised”: The verb is present tense for an action people are already doing, “Stop being [regularly or habitually] surprised when…

Peter uses “wordplay” to contrast Christians and the non-believers who are persecuting them.  In 1 Peter 4:4, the Gentiles “are surprised” (xenizo) when Christians don’t join them in their socially accepted sins.  However, Christians should not “be surprised” (xenizo) or consider this as something “strange” (xenos) when the Gentiles abuse them, in response, for the two are related.  No longer participating with the Gentiles in their immorality, Christians are now participating with Christ in suffering.

Jesus suffered and predicted suffering for His followers.  So, they, and we, should not think this strange when His experiences are repeated in us and His predictions are fulfilled (Matt 10:24-25; Luke 6:40; John 13:16, 15:18-21, 16:1-4; 1 John 3:13).

  • How does Peter describe the trials the Christians are enduring?

“fiery”: Here, Peter draws on the image of refining of metals from Proverbs 27:21 in the Septuagint.  The Septuagint accompanies the fiery ordeal with proof or testing (but many translations add this in because of the Septuagint). 

Through “fiery,” Peter is leading his recipients to what God is doing through their sufferings, pointing them to what will be their reality on the Last Day.

The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God…

Though disciplined in a few things, they will receive great kindness, for God tested them and found them worthy of himself.  Like gold in a furnace, he tested them, and like a whole burnt offering, he accepted them….  The Lord will reign over them into the ages….  Those who trust in Him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with Him in love because grace and mercy are upon his saints.   [Wisdom 3:1, 4-6, 10]

  • How is God using these trials?
  • Discuss the smelting process and what the heating of metal does for the final product?

In the Asiatic Greek Peter uses, note his emphasis through repetition: “You must not be habitually surprised at the fiery trial among you that comes to test you.”

Read 1 Peter 4:13

  • We should rejoice insofar as what?  What does he mean?

“rejoice”: We are to rejoice as we share in the sufferings of Christ.  Here, Christ is no mere “example,” for Peter deepens the meaning of our suffering by saying that we “share in,” “have communion in,” Christ’s sufferings (as Paul does: Romans 8:17, 2 Corinthians 1:5, Philippians 3:10, and Colossians 1:24).

The idea of suffering as a divine test and reason for rejoicing is not new.  In the Old Testament, we primarily in the Apocryphal books: 2 Maccabees 6:28, Tobit 13:13-14, Judith 8:25-27 [though Judith brings up God testing Abraham with Isaac], and Wisdom 3:4-6.  Jesus teaches ins in Matthew 5:11-12:

“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…”

  • Based on what Peter says, why should we rejoice (beyond his command language)?

Excursus: Christian Suffering

If we suffer, we do so to share in a greater rejoicing—the revelation of Christ’s glory when He returns (1 Peter 1:7, 5:4).  John’s Gospel is most explicit about how the hour of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, His suffering, was the hour when He was glorified in the world, which also glorified God (John 13:31-32, 17:1-5).  

Jesus didn’t wait until the resurrection to display His glory.  So, the glory revealed in His resurrection is not a separate one, but a continuation of the glory He unveiled at His crucifixion, our salvation.  This explains why His cross-inflicted wounds are still visible in His glorified body.  Jesus’ resurrection testifies and is also a continuation to His saving work on the cross.

When we suffer for being a Christian, we also testify to Christ’s suffering.  Just as His suffering (3:18) did not stop Him from continuing His journey to the right hand of God (3:22) and receiving true honor and glory (4:11), so also for us (4:1).  The sufferings we endure should not impede our journey to participate in Christ’s honor and glory in eternity (4:13-14).

Like Christ’s suffering came before His resurrection, the same is true for us.  So, if we do suffer, it should not be because we are jerks.  Peter uses many words to define why a Christian should happen to suffer:

  • “insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings” (vs. 13),
  • “for the name of Christ” (vs. 14),
  • “as a Christian” (vs. 16),
  • “in that [Christ’s] name” (vs. 16),
  • and “according to God’s will” (vs. 19).

Only in this can we rejoice because we are united to, and following in, the way of Christ. 

Let us not overlook Peter’s use of “revelation” or “unveiling” for Christ’s return, not the usual “coming” or “appearing.”  He uses “unveiling” (apokalupsis) more often than John does in Revelation (1 Peter 1:5, 7, 13; 4:13; 5:1; Revelation 1:1)!  Christ suffered and rose from death, changing our sufferings, which now testify to our resurrection to come—when He will return and reveal His glory for us. 

Peter neither denies nor diminishes the reality of evil.  He does not idealize suffering or blame the receivers of his letter for their travails, suggesting their suffering is a punishment from God.  No, for when Peter directs Christians to rejoice in their suffering, this reminds us that rejoicing is simply part of our life.  Thus, suffering is not the cause of our rejoicing, but a state of being that should continue through it, as the future awaiting us shapes our current lives.

————–

Isaiah 11:2: “The Spirit of God will rest upon Him [the Messiah to come]…”

  • When did the Spirit descend to rest on Jesus? (Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:10, Luke 3:23)

Read 1 Peter 4:14

  • If others insult a Christian “for the name of Christ,” what are they (and you)?  Why?

“the Spirit of glory and of God”: This redundancy is typical of Asiatic Greek, for the Spirit of glory and the Spirit of God are the same Person.  Peter does this to highlight the wondrous blessing of God’s Spirit resting on the Christian.  (Note the present tenseness of this, like I am married, not I was married.)

  • Considering also when “the Spirit of glory and of God” come to rest upon Jesus, when did this Spirit come to rest on you?
  • When Peter uses “the Spirit of glory,” what event is he referring to, when Christ’s glory will become ours?

How to Understand Suffering: Because You are Being Sinful

Read 1 Peter 4:15

Apart from Christ, each sin of ours ruins us with God.  However, Peter brings us two categories of sins:

  1. Murderer, thief, evildoer describe the typical types of wrongdoing people consider as wrong.  The focus is on sins outside the Church.
  2. “Meddler” is a term, allotriepiskopos, we can find nowhere else in Greek literature.  So, this is probably a term Peter coined, combining terms, to highlight a sin within the Church:
  • allotri,” which we’re not sure exactly what this means.  However, other words with an “allotri” prefix, where we do know the meaning, all deal with someone involving himself in an activity that isn’t his business of concern:
    • allotriophagos, eating someone else’s food.
    • allotriopragia, meddling in another’s affairs.
  • episkopos,” the word for bishop or overseer.
  • So, this isn’t just someone meddling, but someone asserting himself as “bishop” in matters of which he is not authorized or responsible.  Because Peter’s used “episkopos,” he is likely referring to disrupters in the Church, who act like they are the pastor (bishop) but are not.
  • Are these the only sins that get us in trouble with God?
  • Why do you think Peter would then list these?

Though it should be obvious, Peter doesn’t explain why the Christian should think sinful acts are somehow a valid reason for suffering.  He answers this in vs. 16.

Read 1 Peter 4:16

  • Why should someone not be ashamed if he suffers as a Christian?
  • How is someone “in [Christ’s] name” to be able to glorify Him?

The contrast of glory and shame is one we find relating to the final judgment when Jesus returns.  So, Peter will again focus on the Last Day but, this time, for both the Christian and non-Christian.

The Last Day Revisited

Read 1 Peter 4:17-18

In vs. 17, Peter sets up a contrast, which he then answers in vs. 18.  He then quotes Proverbs 11:31 from the Septuagint.  The Masoretic Text reads, “If the righteous is repaid on the earth, how much more the wicked and the sinner!”  This proverb moves from the lesser to the greater. 

  • What does Peter mean by “If the righteous is scarcely saved”?
  • What does this imply for the non-righteous, the unbeliever?

Being scarcely saved means our salvation all because of God’s doing.  Since we can’t contribute to His saving work, what Peter writes next makes perfect sense.

Read 1 Peter 4:19

  • Because our salvation is God’s doing, how does shape what we do?

Link to the last Lesson.

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