The First Letter of Peter: Chapter 4:12-19

Study No.16: (1 Peter 4:12-19)

Once more the theme of suffering for our faith in the Lord Jesus comes up in Peter’s letter Even though the assemblies were facing persecution already they were about to undergo a specific time of intense persecution under the Roman Emperor Nero. During his persecution both the apostle Paul and Peter were both martyred. Peter knew that he would be killed for his faith during this time, as the Lord Jesus said Peter would when he was advanced in years (1:4). The apostle Paul also knew when his time of martyrdom had come (2 Timothy 4:6). Peter’s letter is primarily addressed to New Covenant believers in every age that have suffered down through the centuries and who are suffering for their faith today. The theme of suffering for one’s faith and what to do when it comes runs strongly through this letter (1:3-7; 2:20-23; 3:9-17; 4:3-5).

Exposition: (1 Peter 4:12-19)

(Vs.12) “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful (fiery) trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.”

Now Peter tells us that we are not be surprised when we face persecution but that it is inevitable if we are faithful to the Lord Jesus and more so as we approach the very end of this present age when Satan is upping the ante on his persecution of Israel and the spiritual offspring, the Body of Messiah spiritually grafted into Israel (Revelation 12:13-17). The believers Peter was writing to were already being martyred. It was a fiery trial for these dear believers loved by God in that Nero was sewing them into pig skins doused with oil, and burning them on crosses bound in the pig skins, to light up his garden parties.

When we are undergoing a severe trial or test or even some form of persecution for our faith humanly speaking, it is so easy for us to think and to feel that the Lord has somehow abandoned us and left us to fend for ourselves, or to find some inner source of strength to sustain us which does not seem to come. We will also be tempted at such times to feel that God is not in control of the circumstances we are facing, and many of the believers Peter was writing to undoubtedly felt this way when facing the horrific and barbarous method of execution mandated by the Roman government. Of course today we see this terrible persecution in Islamic and Communist countries and horrific things being perpetrated against faithful New Covenant believers and rapidly becoming a global phenomenon.

Now it needs to be briefly addressed that some believers think that as followers of the Messiah our Lord Jesus that we should deliberately or intentionally seek suffering for the name of the Lord Jesus. There is no doubt of course that to a greater or lesser degree we will at times suffer because we follow the Lord Jesus and refuse to follow the course of this world’s value systems and pursuits. It is not natural to seek persecution and this kind of thinking primarily stems from Medieval Monasticism when beating and flaying the body to draw blood and cutting oneself with whips was thought to control the desires of the flesh and in doing this would make one more spiritual and less carnal in mind and body.

Of course this kind of flagellation and other deprivations of natural and normal desires they got from pagan religions that were into this kind of thing big time, and not from the Word of God! The reality is that the more we try to control those desires that we know go contrary to the Bible the more we will fail to control them. Only through the power of the Holy Spirit and by faith in the blood of Jesus can we walk in God’s ways instead of the ways of Satan (Galatians 5:16). So then we are not to deliberately seek suffering, as this is not natural. While we cannot avoid it we must not seek it.

Did not our Lord Jesus say to His disciples; “You will be hated by everyone because of My name, but the one who perseveres to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next” (Matthew 10:22-23a). Of course when we flee we should take the message of salvation and the Word of God with us to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God. We also read what the first century believers at Jerusalem did when persecution broke out against them after the death of Stephen at the hands of Rabbi Saul before he was converted. They were scattered by the persecution.

We read where “Those who had been scattered preached the Word wherever they went and God used this persecution to get the Body of Messiah to expand their area of ministry and we read where revival broke out in Samaria and many were saved, healed, delivered from demons, baptised, and that there was great joy from the Holy Spirit in the lives of those who had come to saving faith in the Messiah our Lord Jesus. After this the apostles Peter and John came down to Samaria to pray for these new converts to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:4-7, 14-17).

The kind of severe persecution facing those to whom Peter was writing his letter was so intense and widespread that it was causing many to feel as if something strange was happening to them that was somehow outside of the perimeters permitted by the Lord. Sometimes when we undergo suffering, even if it is not directly related to persecution, we can think that something strange is happening to us when we are undergoing a trial or test that is severe in nature. Sometimes God allows these trials and tests to prepare us for future persecution to come. While we do not find it joyful we are to consider it by faith as pure joy. As the apostle James writes; “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). This pure joy is not just some nebulous feeling of some sort, but a supernatural deep-seated joy focused on the Messiah our Lord Jesus. And so Peter continues…

(Vs.13) “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of the Messiah, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.”

We are to rejoice then in that when we suffer for our faith because we are participating in the same kind of suffering that our Lord Jesus Himself experienced, and as we share in His suffering we will also share in His glory at the rapture and resurrection (2:21) (Romans 8:17). Our Lord Jesus told us that if we followed Him that we would experience what He did. He said; ““If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also” (John 15:18-20).

So when our work colleagues, our friends, and even members of our own family or those closest to us laugh at us and even persecute us, and severely criticise us because of what we believe with our heart and confess with our mouth, we should not think this strange but normal, even though our feelings may be going wild and even “off the scales” as it were! Our Lord Jesus also said; “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).

Some tested and tried believers have become disheartened and discouraged because Satan has somehow affected their thoughts and feelings that they are suffering because of some sin they have committed in the past or they are committing, even though nothing has come to light when prayed about. Satan is called “the accuser of the brethren who accuses them day and night before our God” (Revelation 12:10). When we do sin the Holy Spirit is very clear in his convicting work. God uses persecution to purify us but He never instigates it, but Satan does, as was the case with Job in the Old Testament. The only way to effectively deal with Satan is to use the Word of God against Him (Matthew 4:1-11).

Despite how we feel God’s Word will say the same thing tomorrow that it does today because it has been settled forever in Heaven (Psalm 119:89). When we suffer for the sake of the Lord Jesus we will have supernatural joy given to us in the suffering. We may not see how that could be when we have never suffered for our faith; however, it is a supernatural work of the blessed Holy Spirit. At the Second Coming of the Messiah our Lord Jesus we will be overjoyed at our deliverance and “sighing and sorrow will flee away” and we will co-reign with Him as kings and priests forever (Isaiah 51:11) (Revelation 4:10). Peter continues…

(Vs.14) “If you are insulted because of the name of the Messiah, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”

If we have to face persecution, and today it is a stark reality for the wider Body of Messiah in Islamic and Communist countries and coming to the western democracies historically and traditionally associated with Biblical Judeo- Christianity. Not only does it come from pagan society as well but is also growing within wider Christendom as the great apostasy approaches with lightning speed.  If within the providence of God we will have to face persecution we will not face it alone but experience God’s presence and power supernaturally through the blessed Holy Spirit who continuously abides in us, and who has sealed us and will keep us for the day when our full redemption will come and our rescue out of this present evil age will occur!

God says through the prophet Isaiah; “But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. “For I am the Lord your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Saviour” (Isaiah 43:1-3a). They can kill our bodies but we will be more alive than ever, being absent from the body but present with the Lord! God has promised that He will never leave us nor forsake us as we walk by faith in Him and in step with the Holy Spirit moment by moment. If we want to do God’s will then we will be as strong as God’s will is strong! (Hebrews 13:5-6).

When we contemplate persecution and how we will persevere in it we find it hard to imagine what it must be like to have the Spirit and glory of God resting upon us in that hour! How awesome the Spirit and glory of God’s presence must be when experiencing persecution. Stephen the first martyr experienced this glory of God resting upon Him before his accusers (Acts 6:15). When he was being stoned to death he saw the glory of the Triune God. We read; “Now when they heard this (Stephen’s convicting message), they (the Jewish religious leaders) were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:54-55).

What a way to leave this world when suffering martyrdom. After he had prayed for his persecutors stoning him Stephen voluntarily gave up his spirit into God’s hand and fell asleep in the Messiah. He may have been physically dead in this world, but in eternity he was very much alive and basking in the glory of God that filled his entire being beyond anything he could have ever imagined on earth! (Acts 7:59-60).

It is vitally important to our spiritual survival that in a time of peace and the absence of persecution that we start preparing ourselves now for the time of Great Tribulation when the Body of Messiah will be persecuted globally as foretold in the books of Daniel and Revelation. We need to be developing our personal relationship with the Lord now as we spiritually develop and grow in our walk with Him. If we learn to do this now, then, when the time of persecution comes, we will know how to stand. Our trials and tests in life in a time of peace is God’s way of preparing us to trust in Him in the hour of persecution that is soon descending on the Body of Messiah on a global scale.

We can prepare ourselves now in the following ways. By seeking to rejoice always, by praying unceasingly in the Holy Spirit and by giving thanks in all the circumstances of our life whether good or not so good, being God’s will for us in the Messiah (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). We can prepare ourselves by reading and studying God’s Word, living under the power of Jesus blood and walking moment by moment by faith in step with the Holy Spirit, by having personal communion every morning, and by keeping short accounts with God through repentance and confession. We can prepare ourselves by regular Spirit filled fellowship around the Lord’s Table every Sunday with our brothers and sisters in Messiah, and by fellowship over a meal in our homes with each other, and by witnessing when we can, and by using the gifts that God has given us to edify and strengthen our brothers and sisters in the Messiah when we come together corporately to worship the Lord.

Our personal relationship with our fellow brothers and sisters in the Messiah comes out in this letter (1:13-16; 2:17; 3:8-9; 4:8). If we cannot stand together and united in the Holy Spirit in times of peace then we will never be able to stand together in times of adversity, trials, tests and persecution when they come. Above all else, we can count on the blessed Holy Spirit to rest upon us with glory and power and give us the words to say to our accusers (Matthew 10:17-20) (Luke 21:12-19).

(Vs.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.”

Sometimes we can bring suffering upon ourselves and criticism from the world when we behave in a way that dishonours the Lord. In light of this we should not suffer as the unsaved suffer who are murderers, thieves, or other sorts of criminals, or those who are meddlers in the affairs of others. However, if we suffer because we “nail our colours to the mast” when acknowledging the Lord Jesus publically, then we will not have any reason to be ashamed or embarrassed because as we speak in faith the blessed Holy Spirit will empower us and work through us to do His convicting and converting work (John 16:8-11).

We are not to be ashamed of the Lord before others when we suffer for being a New Covenant believer in the Messiah our Lord Jesus but to praise God that we bear the name of Jesus. It is that name to which all powers in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth must bow. As Rabbi the apostle Paul writes; “Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name above all names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

As it is also written; “When the enemy (Satan) comes in, like a flood the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a (battle) standard against him” (Isaiah 59:19b). Our testimony of praise and thankfulness to the Lord offered up with a childlike trust and confidence in Him, will slap the devils mouth shut and drive him out of our affairs. As it is written; “Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger” (Psalm 8:2). Let’s continue…

(Vs.17-18) “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?”

Sometimes God uses suffering and applied pressure in differing circumstances in our lives to mould us into the kind of people He has purposed us to be and to do according to His foreknowledge of all things. Usually He will use circumstances to mould us into the shape He desires for our life and service for Him. When He has finished making the containers of our lives according to His plan He can then fill us with His glory and power. This process is often painful and takes time but in the end it will save time, because it will have been done according to God’s perfect master plan for our life and ministry in this age and in anticipation of the world to come, when we will be richly rewarded for our labours for Him through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Iron is tempered and made strong in the intense heat of the furnace. Liquid Gold is refined in fire until the dross comes to the surface and then when it is removed the refiner is able to see his image reflected in the surface of the liquid gold. God is the master Potter and we are the clay in His hands and He, not us, decides what shape we will be and how we will turn out in the end (Jeremiah 18:1-6) (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Now we are declared to be righteous in God’s sight because of our faith in the Lord Jesus and in the salvation He has provided for us and by that faith have peace with God (Romans 5:1). We have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus and set apart to God and have had all of our sins forgiven and by Jesus blood we will also be protected from the wrath of God that will come upon a Messiah hating, Messiah rejecting world at the end of this present age (Ephesians 1:7) (Romans 5:9). Before the Lord Jesus returns to earth it is going to be very hard and difficult for the Body of Messiah to keep herself from being spotted by the world.

In the time of Sodom righteous Lot was oppressed by the society in which he lived and in the end it was only the intercession of Abraham (a type of the Lord Jesus) and the forceful removal by angels of Lot and his family from Sodom and that by God’s sovereign mercy, that Lot escaped with his life. His wife was also escaping but looked back and perished even as she was being saved out of Sodom. She undoubtedly still desired the fashion malls, the opulent lifestyle, and the pleasures and accolades of society and the places of entertainment which she frequented because her affections were still centred in this world and all that it offers and she perished in the flames! At the of this present age society in this world will become so morally and spiritually corrupt, depraved and degenerate as it was in the days of Noah before the flood, that it will be a miracle of God if any of us make it out of herein the end just before the fire falls from heaven, as it did upon Sodom and Gomorrah those wicked cities in the plain!  (2 Peter 2:6-9).

Now having said these things, being moulded by God into the image of His Son at times then will be a painful and prolonged process but in the end prove to be glorious and totally satisfying (1:7). As His redeemed people and his adopted children God judges us differently from the way He judges the unsaved in the Sodom and Gomorrah of this world headed for a fiery retribution on its inhabitants who have rejected His salvation only found in the Messiah our Lord Jesus (Acts 4:12). God judges what is best for us and knows what to use and how to use it to get the best results. Often God uses applied pressure in our lives, not to punish us, but to prepare us to live with Him forever in eternity (Hebrews 12:4-12).

Offering our bodies to God as living sacrifices separated from the lusts and lures of the world pleases God and is our true spiritual worship. As we seek not to conform our lives any longer to the world’s pattern of living, but be transformed spiritually deep down on the inside through renewing our thoughts with the Word of God, we will be able to test and approve the good, acceptable and perfect will of God for our life and service for Him and escape the corruption in the world that comes from the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and from the pride of life (Romans 12:1-2). Lot escaped with his life but his wife perished. We cannot love this world and the things it offers and love God at the same time. “Friendship with the world is to be at enmity with God” (James 4:4).

Friendship with the world in this context is to go along with the prevailing trends, pursuits, ambitions and pleasures this world offers that go contrary to the life that God wants people to have. How we need the mercy and favour of God if we are to escape the wrath to come. Let us make much of the blood of the Messiah to protect us, to keep us unspotted from the world, and to keep us from Satan’s power and from the lusts and ambitions of this world. Indeed as Peter writes; “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?”

(Vs.19) “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”

Can suffering be part and parcel of God’s will for us as His children? Peter tells us that this is the case and that we cannot escape it throughout our lives in this world. Our Lord Jesus suffered terribly on the cross according to the will of God (Isaiah 53:10). He had committed Himself totally to the will of His Father in heaven, and even though He shuddered at the horror to befall Him through crucifixion and more so through taking upon Himself the sins of the whole world, He did not shrink from this suffering knowing that the end result would be salvation for untold millions down through the centuries to come (Hebrews 12:2) (Hebrews 2:9-10).

Our Lord Jesus saw suffering as the opportunity for His Heavenly Father to work very powerfully and completely in and through Him  to become the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him by faith (Hebrews 5:7-10) (Ephesians 2:8-10). In times of suffering or persecution we should commit ourselves to God and to His faithfulness and be thankful to Him in all of the ups and downs of life. This kind of faith pleases Him immensely and He rewards it accordingly (Hebrews 11:6). Sometimes in a time of testing we will be saved from it by God’s sovereign mercy and favour. Sometimes we will be saved through it or delivered out of it altogether. We are to trust God for the future knowing that He still has everything under control and knows what He is doing even if we don’t.

Our Lord Jesus suffered for righteousness sake according to the will of His Father and delighted to do His will because His Father’s law was written in His Son’s heart (Psalm 40:7-8). Doing God’s will may seem hard now, but in the end it will prove to be the best and sweetest thing to experience in the entire world. In accepting God’s perfect will for our life we should endure suffering that is in line with His will for our lives and keep on doing good to the saved and to the unsaved alike. May we have Job’s attitude to life in this world who was able to say in the midst of a severe and unrelenting trial permitted by God’s will, even it was spawned by Satan, “He knows the way that I take and when He has tested me I shall come forth as gold.”

Go to Study No. 17