Study 9 VICTORY IN THE MIDST OF SUFFERING
THE FIRST LETTER OF PETER
by Francis Dixon
(Scripture Portion: 1 Peter 4:12-19)
Peter was well qualified to write to his fellow-believers on the subject of suffering, for as a servant of Christ he had experienced hardship and persecution himself. People suffer everywhere, but this is especially true of God’s people - look up Psalms 69:7-9; 89:50-51; Philippians 1:29; Hebrews 11:25-26; 13:13. It is important to notice that the suffering Peter mentions almost exclusively results from persecution by the world because of our faith in Christ. This is confirmed by the word ’insulted’ in verse 14, and by the words ’suffer as a Christian’ in verse 16, which means that Christians suffer because they are Christians. Those to whom Peter wrote had already experienced persecution and trial (1 Peter 1:6-7; 3:13-17), but here Peter refers to even greater trials that were to come. He had in mind the persecution under Nero (AD 64), where in Rome the Christians were burned alive.
It is very important for us to realise that the action of suffering upon us as Christians is inevitable; it is our reaction that is more important. How should we react when we suffer for Christ’s sake, and what is the secret of victory in the midst of suffering? Peter gives seven pieces of advice to sufferers:-
1. Do not be surprised if God permits you to experience suffering and trial.
- The words ‘Dear friends’ in the Greek mean ’beloved ones’ or ’the loved ones of the Lord’ (4:12). It is comforting in the midst of suffering and sorrow to know that we are the Lord’s loved ones!
- The words “do not be surprised …as though something strange…” are self-explanatory. We are not to think that something unusual has happened if we suffer because we are Christians - look up Hebrews 12:3-11.
- The words ”painful trial” indicate that some suffering is very severe; and there are many today who are experiencing this severe persecution.
2. Be sure to rejoice that you are privileged to suffer for and with Christ.
We are told this in verse 13 and the first part of verse 14. From the worldly point of view it would seem strange advice, but Christians are a spiritual people, and when they suffer they are to let their suffering be an occasion for giving evidence of the supernatural nature of their faith. We read that Jesus referred to those who suffer as Christians as ‘blessed’ - look up Matthew 5:10-12; Peter and John actually rejoiced in their sufferings - look up Acts 5:41; but what a privilege it is to suffer with and for the Lord Jesus who suffered so much for us! - look up James 1:2, and compare Romans 8:17-18. Now is the time of suffering; later on will be the time of glory. But how is it possible to rejoice in the midst of suffering?
3. Always appropriate the special grace that God offers you to enable you to glorify Him in your suffering.
The important word in verse 14 is ‘because’. It introduces the truth that when a Christian suffers because of his love for the Lord Jesus, “the Spirit of glory and of God” rests upon him. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us special grace in our times of trial and testing to enable us to glorify God. This means that when a Christian suffers the Lord is with him in a special way - look up Daniel 3:25. The power of the Holy Spirit is not only for daily living (Ephesians 5:18), and for vital witnessing (Acts 1:8), but it is also for endurance in suffering (1 Peter 4:14) - and for two illustrations of verse 14 read Acts 7:54-60; 16:22-25.
4. There is nothing to be ashamed of if you have to suffer as a Christian.
This is what verses 15 and 16 tell us. It is a shameful thing ‘to suffer as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler’ - but it is not a matter of shame to suffer as a Christian. Our Lord Jesus Christ endured great shame and suffering for us all, and if we are called upon to suffer, we are only identifying ourselves with Him as His followers. There is no shame in this; indeed it is a privilege. Such suffering glorifies God when it is patiently borne, as the last part of verse 16 indicates.
5. Let your suffering fill you with deep compassion for those who are unsaved and who await the judgment of the Great White Throne.
Verses 17 and 18 are remarkable verses. They mean that these sufferings in Christians are the initial stages of God’s judgment of sinful men. If God permits such drastic means for the purification of His own children, what can one say about the suffering and the remorse that the unsaved will experience? Have you any compassion for the many who are without God, without Christ, without hope, without Heaven? - look up Ephesians 2:12. As Christians we may be called upon to suffer now, but think of what those who are not Christians will be called upon to suffer then - look up Revelation 20:15!
6. Never doubt the fact that there is a ministry in suffering.
Notice the truth contained in verse 19, that suffering can very definitely be according to God’s will. Suffering is designed by God as a method for sanctifying us and training us as His children - again look at Hebrews 12:5-11. Even Jesus, the Captain of our salvation, suffered - look up 1 Peter 2:21, and compare Hebrews 2:10. It was His Father’s will for Him to suffer; it may be God’s will for us. What must our attitude be in the midst of suffering?
7. You must commit yourself to the Lord and trust Him to keep you.
In verse 19, the Greek word for ‘commit’ is a banking term meaning ’to give in charge as a deposit’. This is what we must do with our circumstances and ourselves. We must give ourselves and all that concerns us in charge to the Lord Himself as a deposit look up 2 Timothy 1:12, and compare Psalm 31:5; Luke 23:46; Acts 7:59; Jude 24-25.