Sometimes people mistakenly think that life should have become perfect after they accepted Christ. That initial joy and excitement that they felt was so strong. They finally understood God’s grace and experienced the power of His forgiveness and salvation in their lives. They now knew what it was to have a right relationship with God. How could anything go wrong afterwards? I remember when I got saved in college, it seemed like everything was finally right in my life. Peace with God, love for Him and others, a new sense of direction and purpose for my future, finally having victory over my sinful anger issues (yeah, no, things got way better but God is still working on me with that!). But then life got tough again in a hurry – finishing my senior year with an honors thesis to write (it was a 45-page history paper!), working from 5:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. on the sports desk of a newspaper four nights a week, and trying to learn how to survive and grow as a Christian by staying in church, reading my Bible, and spending time with more mature brothers in Christ. It felt like I had given the Lord control of my life at just the right time; I wouldn’t have made it without Him.
Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience. Maybe since finally settling your relationship with Christ, you’ve been suffering through some conflict with your family and friends, or with letting go of some stuff that you now realize is sinful and hurting your new spiritual life. Maybe God’s been pushing you to make some changes and sacrifices to put Him first; you know that you won’t experience His peace until you get some priorities right. Maybe homework, quizzes, tests, and projects have been beating you down. Maybe illness, disease, or financial or emotional hardship has struck your family. You are wondering like I did, “God, I know that I’ve surrendered my life to You, so why I are you making things so hard?”
The good news is that if you are a believer, the Lord is with you, and your struggles are not unusual. In today’s passage, Peter tells his readers, Christians suffering under the persecutions of the evil ancient Roman government and culture, that they should not consider their trials and hardships to be “strange.” Rather, they must remember that Christ suffered infinitely more for them, and that it is a great honor to suffer for our Lord’s sake. These words are true for us, too. As he has said before, Peter says again that we should not rejoice when our troubles are the result of our owns sins and foolishness. However, when we know that we are seeking to obey the Lord and we still struggle and face persecution because of our faithfulness to Jesus, then we should “not be ashamed” because we know that we are suffering as Christians. God is honored when we suffer for Him. Others may trash the name of Jesus, but we glorify His name even when it hurts us because we know that one day every knee will bow to that name above every name. At the same time, we realize that suffering is the spiritual furnace that God uses to burn off the junk in our lives and make us more like our Lord. The process is not fun, but it is how God makes us ready for His heaven. And remembering that, we can celebrate every day like we did when we first got saved. Suffering won’t be a stranger, but that’s okay, because our God has a plan for us and He will be with us until the end.
The Text (1 Peter 4:12-16)
12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.
Background and Observations
• The Greek word translated “fiery trial” in verse 12 is used in only two other places in Scripture: Revelation 18:9 and 18:18. There it refers to literal burning, but it does not necessarily mean being burned alive in this passage, though that did happen during the Roman empire’s many persecutions (the emperor Nero is said to have used Christians as torches to light up his evening parties). We should instead understand it in a more general way as any kind of intense, harsh treatment by enemies of the gospel.
• Verse 14 reminds believers of Christ’s promises about the Holy Spirit, who would come to live in His disciples at salvation and never leave them. In some supernatural way, the Holy Spirit strengthens Christians with His divine power when they are facing hardships and tests of their faith. If you have been a Christian for even a few months, you can probably already testify to times when you have felt God with you in a special way in the midst of your sufferings.
Questions to Think About
1. What challenges and difficulties did you face in the first few weeks and months after you accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior? How do you see those trials now as you look back at that time?
2. What kinds of persecutions or conflicts are you facing right now because of your commitment to living for Jesus Christ?
3. Can you think of a time when you felt God with you in a particularly powerful way as you faced a hardship in your life? How did that special sense of His presence strengthen your faith?