9. Suffering According to God's Will (1 Peter 4:12-19)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (22:02)

St. Peter knew something about suffering persecution and experiencing God's grace in the midst of it. 'St. Peter Freed from Prison,' by Florentine painter Filippino Lippi (1457-1504), fresco, 230 x 88 cm, Cappella Brancacci, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence.
St. Peter knew something about suffering persecution and experiencing God's grace in the midst of it. 'St. Peter Freed from Prison,' by Florentine painter Filippino Lippi (1457-1504), fresco, 230 x 88 cm, Cappella Brancacci, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence. Larger picture.

Suffering is something we try to avoid at all costs. But Christian suffering should be different for us. We should welcome it. We should rejoice. And we should not let suffering deter us from doing good wherever we can. Strange teaching, isn't it? But this is exactly what St. Peter is telling us in this passage to help us mature in the Christian faith. Stretch your spirit a bit and take this spiritual meat as your diet as you seek to grow in Christ.

In the region to which Peter is writing -- Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia -- there are at least 10 major churches as well as their offspring. We read in the Book of Acts of persecution -- often inspired by the Jewish community -- in some of the locations as the churches were being founded. Sometimes the persecution continued. The Roman government saw Christians as a Jewish sect and as atheists -- that is, they didn't believe in and worship the Roman gods. Under Nero and other emperors, persecution was sometimes intense for short periods, but usually continuously present at some level for this minority religious group.

Suffering for Christ Is Our Common Lot (4:12)

Persecution for our faith may seem abnormal to many of us -- at least in America. But Peter reminds us that this is not abnormal at all.

"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you." (4:12)

Peter begins by addressing his readers rather intimately. "Beloved" (KJV, NRSV) or "dear friends" (NIV) is the Greek adjective agapētos, "pertaining to one who is dearly loved, dear, beloved, prized."[226] Sometimes we use the personal address when what we have to say is somewhat hard to hear. Peter assures his readers of his love for them -- and for his twenty-first century readers, too -- who must suffer.

In Peter's day, people expressed surprise that they should suffer. Does that sound familiar? "Surprised" (NIV, NRSV) or "think it ... strange" (KJV) is the Greek verb xenizō, "to cause a strong psychological reaction through introduction of something new or strange, astonish, surprise."[227] If you're fairly new to the faith, Christian suffering may seem like something strange (Greek xenos, "strange, foreign") to you. It's not. It comes with the package. Paul reminded Timothy of a similar truth:

"Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Timothy 3:12)

Fiery Trials (4:12)

But persecution is no picnic. It is painful, sometimes searing pain. "Painful " (NIV), "fiery" (KJV, NRSV) translate the Greek noun pyrōsis, "an intense degree of some painful occurrence or experience, burning ordeal,"[228] from the verb pyroō, "to burn," from which we get our English words "pyre" and "pyromaniac."

The other word Peter uses to describe our sufferings is "trial" (NIV, KJV) or "ordeal" (NRSV). The Greek noun peirasmos can mean (1) "an attempt to learn the nature or character of something, test, trial," or (2) "an attempt to make one do something wrong, temptation, enticement to sin."[229] Of course, God does not tempt us with sin (James 1:13-15). But Satan works on our sinful nature to tempt us. The enemy is hard at work to induce us to give in and stop serving Christ (Matthew 13:18-21). In this process our faith is strengthened and our true heart exposed to God (who knew it all along) -- and more importantly, to us.

You've probably experienced some fiery ordeals after becoming a Christian. But if we're going to live godly lives, we cannot avoid the fiery ordeals. We must not try to sidestep them. With Christ's help we must move through them.

Q1. (4:12) What's the danger of trying to avoid persecution and suffering for Christ? Have you ever been distracted by persecution from what you should have been doing? Have you ever observed this in other Christians?

Rejoicing in Our Sufferings for Christ (4:13)

Peter offers several insights in this passage to encourage us who may be undergoing suffering for the faith.

"But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed." (4:13)

One of the most remarkable teachings in this passage is that we can experience joy even while we are suffering for Christ. This seems like an oxymoron -- joy in suffering. But this paradox is the clear teaching of both Jesus (Matthew 5:12) and the apostles.[230]

"Rejoice" is the Greek verb chairō, "to be in a state of happiness and well-being, rejoice, be glad."[231] In suffering we sometimes experience a special closeness to God (and sometimes we don't). But certainly Christ is with us in these times. Early in Peter's letter he says,

"Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy." (1:8)

 James, Jesus' brother, shares a similar perspective on suffering persecution.

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds." (James 1:2)

Why should we rejoice in suffering for Christ? Peter gives several reasons.

1. We Participate in Christ's Sufferings (4:13)

First, we rejoice because we are privileged to share in Christ's sufferings.

"But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed." (4:13)

"Participate" (NIV), "sharing" (NRSV), "are partakers" (KJV) is the Greek verb koinōneō, "share, have a share," from the adjective koinos, pertaining to being of mutual interest or shared collectively, communal, common" and the noun koinōnia, "communion, fellowship, participation, sharing."[232] If you buy a share of stock, you become a shareholder in the company. When the company has hard times, it's tough for everyone. But when that company prospers, you receive a dividend, you share in the rewards. We are sharers, participants in Christ's sufferings, so we are joined to him in his blessings, too. Jesus said:

"Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also." (John 15:20)

Paul called this "the fellowship of sharing (koinōnia) in his sufferings" (Philippians 3:10), something he longed to do. Elsewhere he says,

"Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up[233] in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church." (Colossians 1:24)

In another place, Paul comments on the privilege of suffering for Christ.

"For it has been granted[234] to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him." (Philippians 1:29)

Of course, there is a sense in which Christ's sacrifice and suffering for sins is completed once and for all (1 Peter 3:18). But there is also a sense in which you and I are sharers in Christ's own sufferings as we suffer for the faith. If we suffer with humility and gentleness towards our enemies, there is the additional opportunity that our suffering might be redemptive, that is, help bring about their salvation as they see Christ in us. What an honor to stand alongside Christ in suffering.

Q2. (4:13) When you meditate on the idea of partaking of or being a sharer in Christ's sufferings, what perspective does it give you on whatever persecution you may experience?

2. We Anticipate Eternal Rewards for Suffering in Christ's Name (4:13)

A second reason to rejoice is that we know that when we stand before him at his return ("when his glory is revealed"), we will be greatly rewarded for our suffering. Sometimes I find it difficult to understand the concept of rewards for faithful service. I'm trying to serve Jesus out of love, not out of thought of reward. But lest in my piety I distort the scripture, it's important to notice that the idea of reward at Jesus' coming is woven through and through the New Testament, in both Jesus' teaching and that of the apostles.[235]

When we anticipate Christ's coming, we can scarcely contain our overflowing joy. Peter uses two Greek verbs together, chairo, "rejoice" (which we examined above) and agalliaō, "be exceedingly joyful, exult, be glad, overjoyed."[236] It is translated variously as "be overjoyed" (NIV), "with exceeding joy" (KJV), "shout for joy" (NRSV). Suffering makes us "long for his appearing" (2 Timothy 4:8).

3. They Persecute the Christ in You (4:14)

A third reason for rejoicing in suffering is that your persecutors have noticed something about you worth persecuting.

"If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you." (4:14)

"Insulted" (NIV), "reproached" (KJV), "reviled" (NRSV) is the Greek verb oneidizō, "to find fault in a way that demeans the other, reproach, revile, mock, heap insults upon as a way of shaming."[237] It's one thing to be persecuted as a member of a despised cult. It's another to be persecuted because people see Christ shining forth from you. Persecution is a sign that others have seen Christ in us; that should give us joy. In the Beatitudes Jesus said:

"Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
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, because great is your reward in heaven,
for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
(Matthew 5:10-12)

If you are counted worthy in the same breath as the prophets, you are indeed blessed! "Blessed" (NIV, NRSV), "happy" (KJV) is the Greek noun makarios, "pertaining to being fortunate or happy because of circumstances, fortunate, happy, blessed, privileged."[238] It is the same word used in the Beatitudes to describe believers.

Q3. (1 Peter 4:14) If we are never persecuted, what does that say about how people view us? In what way should persecution make us happy?

4. The Spirit of God Helps Us (4:14)

A fourth reason for rejoicing is that we are not alone in our persecutions. The Spirit comes to help us.

"If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you." (4:14)

In the earliest days of the Jerusalem church, John and Peter were interrogated after healing a lame man in Jesus' name. In his response to the questioning Peter was "filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 4:8). When the church was persecuted, they saw it as an occasion to pray for boldness:

"After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly." (Acts 4:31)

Notice the presence of the Spirit. When Stephen testified before being stoned, the scripture says:

"Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God." (Acts 7:55)

Jesus promised his disciples:

"Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit." (Mark 13:11)

Suffering for the Name of Christ (4:15-16) 

"If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name." (4:15-16)

We have no business suffering for criminal activity or for being "a pain in the neck" to be around.[239] But when we suffer for the name of Christ, we should be proud. "Christian" is the Greek noun christianos, "one who is associated with Christ, Christ-partisan, Christian."[240] Suffering as a Christ-follower is an honor.

Judgment Begins with the Family of God (4:17-18)

After talking about the suffering Christians are going through in persecutions, Peter steps back to look at the larger picture. Right now, Christians are suffering God's refining fire in persecutions. To the outsider, it may even seem that God is judging them. "Judgment" here is the Greek noun krima, "action or function of a judge, judging, judgment."[241] Peter comments:

"For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And,

   'If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
   what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?'" (4:17-18)

"Family" (NIV), "house" (KJV), "household" (NRSV) translate the Greek noun oikos, which refers first to a literal dwelling. From there the meaning can include "household, family" or focus specifically on the "temple," which is the way "house of God" is used in the Greek Septuagint.[242] Peter's point is that, if Christians are having a difficult time in suffering, what chance do unbelievers[243] have when it is their time for judgment?

Twice in the Old Testament we see judgment beginning in the house of God, the temple -- Ezekiel 9 and Malachi 3. In Malachi, God is a refining fire to refine the Levites. In both cases, judgment spreads from the temple outwards.

Peter quotes Proverbs 11:31 to bolster his argument. If the righteous feel pain in discipline and refining, how much more will the unrighteous. "Hard" (NIV, NRSV),  "scarcely" (KJV) is the Greek adverb molis, "scarcely, pertaining to being hard to accomplish, with difficulty."[244] This isn't intended to mean that a Christian's salvation is hanging by a thread. By no means! Our salvation was extremely costly, but extremely solid!

Committing Ourselves to God (4:19)

Peter concludes this section with clear directions for Christians:

"So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good." (4:19)

So it is God's will that we suffer persecution and reviling at the present. Peter gives two instructions for us to help us when we are persecuted.

  1. Trust your life fully to God. "Commit" (NIV, KJV), "entrust" (NRSV) is the Greek verb paratithēmi, "to entrust for safekeeping, give over, entrust someone to the care or protection of someone."[245] The idea of trusting someone to keep us safe is echoed in the adjective used to describe God -- faithful. "Faithful" is the Greek adjective pistos, "pertaining to being worthy of belief or trust, trustworthy, faithful, dependable, inspiring trust/faith."[246] Because God is trustworthy, we must trust him -- even when persecution is raging around us. Even when our lives our threatened. We must continue to trust him fully -- commit our cause to him completely.
  2. Continue to do good, is Peter's second instruction. "Continue to do good" (NIV, NRSV), "well doing" (KJV) is the Greek noun agathopoiia, "engagement in doing what is good, doing good."[247] One reaction to persecution is fear and timidity, a defensive posture intent on protection, a selfish attitude rather than an attitude that continues to look to the needs of others. The other reaction is to trust God and continue to do what he has called us to do -- good works (Ephesians 2:10). "Keep on keeping on," no matter what. That's our calling.
1 Peter: Discipleship Lessons from the Fisherman, by Ralph F. Wilson
In book form as PDF, Kindle, and paperback

Persecution is designed to refine us and teach us what is really important in life, not to debilitate us. Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23). The cross is important. We must be willing to die every day, so instead of protecting ourselves, we can instead concentrate on our mission -- to follow Jesus and do his works.

Q4. Why is a willingness to die, if need be, essential to healthy Christianity during persecution? What happens when we aren't willing to die, when we are afraid to "take up our cross daily" (Luke 9:23) and follow Jesus? What does this have to do with "committing ourselves to a faithful Creator"?


Lord, I confess to you that sometimes under pressure I have buckled under to fear, rather than press ahead in faith and trust. Forgive me. I pray that I might become battle-hardened by persecution so that my spiritual eyes might no longer be distracted, but be focused singly upon you. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

Key Verse

"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed." (1 Peter 4:12-13)

End Notes

[226] Agapētos, BDAG 7.

[227] Xenizō, BDAG 683-684.

[228] Pyrōsis, BDAG 900.

[229] Peirasmos, BDAG 793.

[230] Acts 5:41; 4:29-31; Romans 5:3; Colossians 1:24; Hebrews 10:34.

[231] Chairō, BDAG 1074-1075.

[232] Koinōneō, BDAG 552.

[233] Antanapleroō, "take one's turn in filling up something," then "fill up on one's part, supplement" (BDAG 86).

[234] Charizomai, "to give freely as a favor, give graciously" (BDAG 107, 1).

[235] Matthew 5:12, 46; 6:1, 4-6, 16, 18; 10:41-42; 16:27; 1 Corinthians 3:8, 14; 4:5; 9:17-18; Ephesians 6:8; Colossians 2:18; 3:24; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 1 Timothy 3:13; 2 Timothy 4:7-8, 14; Hebrews 10:35; 11:26; 1 Peter 5:1, 4; 2 John 8; Revelation 22:12.

[236] Agalliaō, BDAG 4.

[237] Oneidizō, BDAG 710.

[238] Makarios, BDAG 610-611.

[239] "Meddler" (NIV), "busybody in other men's matters" (KJV) and "mischief maker" (NRSV), translate a word whose meaning has not yet been determined with certainty. The Greek noun allotriepiskopos, may mean "one who meddles in things that do not concern the person, a busybody." Other conjectures about the meaning are "concealer of stolen goods," "spy, informer," and "revolutionist" (BDAG 47).

[240] Christianos, BDAG 1090. The word is used in the New Testament here and in Acts 11:26; 26:28. Also found in secular documents of the period -- Tacitus, Ann. 15, 44; Suetonius, Nero 16; Pliny the Younger, Ep. 10, 96, 1; 2; 3 al, also in Trajan's reply.

[241] Krima, BDAG 567.

[242] Oikos, BDAG 698-699. Grudem 181-182 follows Dennis Johnson's argument that the phrase "house of God" never means "household, family" in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, but always refers to the temple.

[243] "Do not obey" is the Greek verb apeitheō, "disobey, be disobedient" (BDAG 99).

[244] Molis, BDAG 657.

[245] Paratithēmi, BDAG 772.

[246] Pistos, BDAG 820-821.

[247] Agathopoiia, BDAG 3.

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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