Dr. Zach Crook
In the midst of a society that prioritizes comfort and avoidance of pain, the concept of suffering is often met with resistance. However, the letter of First Peter challenges this idea, calling on believers to rejoice in their trials and trust a faithful creator. As we near Easter and the end of our study through First Peter, we will delve into one of the most controversial portions of the letter: the topic of suffering. Throughout Chapter four, Peter reminds the scattered church in modern-day Turkey that they are elect exiles and ambassadors and that the values they live by are going against society’s values. In 1 Peter 4:12-19, he encourages them to stand firm and not be surprised by the fiery ordeal that comes to test them. Instead, they should rejoice in their suffering as they share in the sufferings of Christ, knowing that their hope lies in the glory that will be revealed. Let us explore this challenging and thought-provoking section of Scripture and seek to understand how we can glorify God in our trials.
The Promise of Suffering
Because living counter to our culture is so opposite of what is taught, we need to flip things upside down and think about the truth. Our society teaches us to pursue comfort and avoid trials, but Peter reminds us not to be surprised when we are tested. We should not self-medicate or flee from difficulties but instead trust in God and do what is good. It’s not uncommon to go through trials and sufferings, and we should rejoice in them as we share in the sufferings of Christ.
However, this is contrary to what our culture teaches us, which is to pursue comfort and avoid any form of suffering, trials, and difficulties by self-medicating or becoming numb to it all. Nobody would willingly sign up for suffering, but there are promises in God’s Word that we love to hold onto, such as God’s love for us, the assurance that nothing can snatch us out of the father’s hand, and that God will never leave nor forsake us. But some promises are harder to grasp, like in John 16:33, where Jesus says, “In this world, you will have trouble.” Although this promise may be hard for us to accept, Jesus also gives us hope by saying, “But take heart, for I have overcome the world.” Peter reminds the church that they will go through trials and sufferings and should be prepared for it, not surprised when it happens.
The Problem of Suffering
Peter is instructing us to prepare for the trials we will face and to have a response ready. He emphasizes that we should not be caught off guard or surprised when trials come to test us, as it is not unusual to walk through trials. But why do we have to walk through trials? It is because of sin in the world that has affected our lives and our world. Even creation is groaning and crying out, waiting for Jesus to return and create a new heaven and earth without pain and suffering. However, as we live in this broken world, we will face trials and difficulties. James 1 tells us that Jesus allows us to go through trials to build our faith and make us more like him. Samuel Rutherford, Charles Spurgeon, and Paul Brand all attest to the fact that amid affliction, we find great treasures, and pain and pleasure are intertwined. The Bible tells us that Jesus wants to burn away the excess in us, mold us, and shape us more into his image, and when we walk through the fires of trials, we become more like Jesus and learn more about God, drawing closer to Him. We understand it is worth it because of what God is doing in our lives.
The Purpose of Suffering
God allows us to walk through fiery trials because He cares more about our holiness than our comfort and desires to mold us into His son’s image. This is similar to how a goldsmith puts gold into a fire to burn off the excess until the gold is ready and reflects the goldsmith’s image. Peter reminds us that we can rejoice in our suffering because we are sharing in the suffering of Christ. We can endure because Christ has already dealt with sin and pain through His sacrifice, and He will one day return to eliminate all suffering forever. Even in our trials, we can rely on God’s sovereignty and grace; as John Piper notes, “In great sufferings on Earth, there is great support from heaven.” Our rejoicing in trials is rooted in the hope of Christ’s return and the promise of eternal glory, where there will be no more tears or pain.
The enemy wants us to focus solely on the present moment, but we should be future-focused as believers. Rejoicing in trials shows others that we live for eternity, not just for the here and now. Peter emphasizes in verse 14 that if we are ridiculed for Christ’s name, we are blessed because the spirit of glory and God rests upon us. However, he also warns against suffering due to our own wrongdoing, such as being a murderer, a thief, or an evildoer. There are right and wrong ways to suffer, and suffering for our foolish decisions is not noble. When we sin, and the natural consequences of our sin result in discipline or punishment, we cannot claim to be suffering for Christ’s sake. Peter clarifies that suffering for Christ’s sake means suffering for His name’s sake, not our own.
In our current day, especially with social media, it is crucial not to engage in gossip or get involved in things that don’t require our input. We all need to stay in our lane. When we don’t, our actions lead to suffering due to our own sin. However, you do not have to be ashamed if you suffer as a Christian. Instead, focus on glorifying God and be proud to be called a Christian. The word Christian is used only three times in the entire Bible, and in the first instance, it was used to mock the followers of Jesus. Despite this, the Bible says believers glorify God for having that name if they are mocked or belittled for it. When believers suffer in the right way, it brings glory to God. In Acts Chapter five, the Apostles were put on trial for speaking the name of Jesus, and they rejoiced in being counted worthy to suffer for it. As believers face trials and difficulties in life, the goal should be to point others to Christ and bring glory to God’s name. It is not about personal comfort or will but about living for Christ and following Him daily, even if it means picking up one’s cross.
The Purification of Suffering
In verse 17, the writer indicates that it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household. This judgment is not punitive but rather purifying, as God burns away impurities and molds us through trials to look more like Him. The writer quotes from Proverbs to illustrate that the difficulty of the righteous person’s salvation contrasts sharply with the suffering that the ungodly will endure. Therefore, the purifying trials that we experience are minor compared to the eternal separation from God that the ungodly will face. Finally, in verse 19, the writer urges those who suffer according to God’s will to entrust themselves to a faithful Creator while doing good. This means constantly entrusting ourselves to Christ by offering ourselves as living sacrifices and trusting in God’s faithfulness. Ultimately, our value to God and His faithfulness to us enable us to entrust ourselves to Him each day.
The reason why we can entrust ourselves to God and trust in the finished work of what Christ has done for us is that God saw us in our sin and recognized our value, prompting Him to send His only Son to come down to Earth, go to the cross, and sacrifice Himself for us so that we might have the opportunity to be saved. Therefore, we can look back at the cross and see God’s incredible love for us whenever we walk through trials. Although we may wish for comfort and happiness in our trials, we must remember that happiness is based on circumstance, while joy is found in the beauty of the gospel. Thus, we can take comfort in knowing that if God calls us to the fire, we will not walk alone. Just as Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego were thrown into the fire, but God was right there with them, we have the promise that God will walk with us every step of the way and that His grace is enough and His power is made perfect in our weakness. Therefore, even though the Bible never promises that following God will result in a comfortable life of happiness, we can have faith that He will never leave or forsake us.
As you read this, you may be going through intense trials. The enemy might be telling you to find comfort in something worldly and to turn your back on God because it seems like He doesn’t care that you’re going through this trial. However, Peter’s message is to press into Christ and entrust yourself to Him because He is good and will see you through. If you have never decided to entrust yourself to God, perhaps today is the day to do so. Many non-believers ask why there is so much pain and suffering in the world if God is real, and they doubt that there could be a good God if He allows such things to happen. However, the Bible tells us that Christ has not returned yet to bring about a new heaven and new earth because He does not want anyone to suffer. His kindness is why He has not yet returned, and He is giving us the opportunity to turn to Him. Those who entrust themselves to Him will be saved, and He will wipe away every tear from every eye. He will create a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no pain or suffering, as sin and the devil were dealt with on the cross, and when Christ returns, they will be removed for all eternity. Therefore, do not let the trials of this life prevent you from entrusting yourself to God. So what Peter is saying is when you entrust yourself to him. You will understand that you will never be alone if God calls you to the fire. He’ll be with you every step of the way.