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Suffering For Being A Christian  (ch. 4:12 - 19)  

Peter starts verse 12 with the words "dear friends."  The Greek word used here incorporates the word "agape" which is selfless love.  Peter is expecting the believers to be exhibiting selfless love for one another, especially in the hard times that they are going through from the anti-Christ culture in which they live.


You can tell that Peter is beginning to feel heart broken over his suffering brothers and sisters in Jesus who were suffering so much from their anti-Christ culture.  I say that because of the words "dear friends" or "beloved" as some versions put it.      


Peter tells his readers not to be "surprised at the painful trials they are suffering as if something strange is happening to them."  Peter is saying that persecution in those days was par for the course for the Christian.  It was something to be expected.  Becoming a Christian in those days meant much more than getting your ticket to heaven as seems to be the case today.  It meant lots of trouble and possibly the giving up of your life.  One had to seriously count the cost of becoming a Christian.  A quick repeat after me prayer would not do it back then.  A short inspirational message of ask for forgiveness and go to heaven wouldn't do it either.


Note the word "painful."  This was not average suffering.  This was painful suffering, suffering beyond normal suffering. 


I'm sure Peter must have remembered Jesus telling the 11 apostles that because the world hated Him it would hate them as well (John 16:18).  This is the background to what is happening here.  Painful trials were normal Christianity for the first generation Christian.  It has been the case for many Christians since then.  For those of us living in the western world it has not been the case because we were once influenced by Biblical thought.  As our culture ignores and disregards this Biblical thought now and into the future, we can expect the same painful trials from our anti-Christ culture.  I don't have a martyr's complex when I say these things.  I'm simply speaking the truth.     


Before I move on to verse 13 I want to point out one difference between the NIV and the KJV in verse 12.  The KJV says that the trials these believers were going through were to test them, or, test their faith.  We saw this back in chapter 1 as well.  The NIV does not say that these trials are a test of faith.  I like the KJV in this respect because it better reflects the Greek text that clearly sates these trials to be a test for these believers.        


In verse 13 Peter says that those who are suffering should "rejoice" since they "are participating in the sufferings of Christ."  What does that mean?  It means that those Christians were suffering just as Jesus suffered and for similar reasons.  So, Peterís logic is that if Christ suffered and you are suffering in like fashion, then you should rejoice because you are following in Jesusí footsteps.  Those first generation Christians viewed suffering for Jesus as a privilege.  That's something that most of us today would have a hard time getting our heads around.    


The reason why Peter gives for rejoicing in the midst of such suffering is because when Jesusí glory is revealed, you can be "overjoyed."  Here is another look into the future.  For those who suffer for Jesusí sake now, on the day of Jesus' return for them, there will be much rejoicing, both by them and by Jesus.  The term "Jesus' glory being revealed" speaks of His return to earth.  


Hebrews 12:3 tells us that Jesus endured the cross because of all the joy He saw in the future.  This is the same mentality Peter is encouraging his readers to have. He is reminding them of all the glories that will be revealed when Jesus returns for His people.  If you want a hint of what this rejoicing looks like, just read the first part of Revelation 7.


In verse 14 Peter says that if "you are insulted" for the sake of Christ, then you are blessed because the "Spirit of glory and of God rests on you."  The Holy Spirit can fill people with His presence when they are being insulted.  If not for the Spirit of God, these people would not have survived their suffering.  Thus, we see the importance of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the believer, especially during unjust suffering.  We shouldn't be complaining about suffering.  We should be experiencing the presence of the Holy Spirit instead, something you cannot experience when you complain. 


Although the NIV capitalized the word "Spirit" here, suggesting that Peter had the Holy Spirit in mind, Greek does not have capital letters.  To suggest that it's the Holy Spirit Peter had in mind is a bit of an interpretation, although I agree that it is the Holy Spirit.  There are times when the Greek word for "spirit" can be understood in a generic sense.    


Peter repeats himself in verse 15.  As he has said before we shouldnít be suffering for any evil that we do.  This time he gives some examples of such evil.  They are, being a murderer, a thief, or, even a meddler into other people's business that has nothing to do with you.  It is interesting that he would link a meddler with a murderer.  I don't know of any Christian who has murdered someone but I believe I have met some Christians who have meddled in other people's affairs. 


The Greek word "allotriepiskopos" is translated here as "meddler" or in some versions "busybody."  You may notice the Greek word "episkopos" in this word that is translated as "overseer" in the NIV.  The first part of this word means "to belong to another person," thus, the meaning to oversee something that belongs to another person that is really none of your business.      


In verse 16 Peter continues by saying that "if you suffer for being a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name." Again, Peter is repeating himself here.  "Bearing God's name" means that we represent God's name to the world.  We should view ourselves as God's representatives.  Since He is not here on earth in physical form, we are here in His place.  We need to properly bear His name.   


One thing to note here.  The word Christian is only found three times in the New Testament, once here and also in Acts 11:26 and 17:28.  In all three cases the word is used in somewhat of a negative sense.  Here it's connected with persecution.  It's my understanding that the name Christian was applied to the believer by non-believers.  It wasn't a name that they applied to themselves, at least not at first.   


Peter says an interesting thing in verse 17.  He says that "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."  Peter appears to be saying that the time has now come for the family of God to be judged by God.  What is Peter saying here?


I think Peter is still speaking in terms of the nearness to the end of this age has having already arrived as we saw back in verse 7.  If this is the case, then, it only makes sense that he would think judgment was being poured out on the family of God.  This end time judgment is seen in the book of Revelation where I believe we see God's people suffering persecution, or judgment, before the wrath of God is poured out on the nations of the world.    


We often think of God judging non-Christians, nations, and empires.  It's clear from what Peter says here that God judges His people as well.  We see this concerning with His Old Testament people Israel, which by the way, some people believe is what is being talked about here and also in the book of Revelation.  There's no logic in thinking that God wouldn't judge His New Testament people as well.  


If you believe the church at Laodicea as seen in Revelation 3 portrays the last end time apostate church, as some do, then we as the church can expect to suffer judgment.  Jesus said that He would vomit those lukewarm believers out of His mouth.  How would He do that?  We can't take this literally.  I believe Jesus will spit, or vomit, the lukewarm out of His mouth by causing the church to suffer.  Those who are lukewarm towards Jesus will leave Him and the church, and in many cases with great negative emotion, which accounts for the word "vomit."       


Revelation 2:5 clearly shows us as well that God can and will judge His people.  This part of Revelation 2 is directed to the church at Ephesus .  Jesus told this community of believers to repent of their loss of first love.  If they did not repent Jesus said in verse 5 that He would remove their lampstand.  Revelation 1:20 tells us that the lampstand is the church.  Simply put, if this church failed to repent Jesus would remove them being the church in Ephesus .  They may still have the empty shell of church, but they would not be the church.  This was a stern warning of judgment by Jesus to the church at Ephesus .


It's my thinking, although Peter might well be speaking of God judging His people during the tribulation period of the last days, whoever His people may be, it's not the only time God judges His people.  I believe one way that God judges His people is through persecution and trials.  This is meant to bring purity to a church that has been defiled by the world around it.  I believe western world Christians should be prepared for a coming persecution, judgment, or purifying of the church.     


Many people believe that purification of the church comes through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but that is not so.  The outpouring of the Holy Spirit as seen in the Charismatic Movement of the 1960's and 1970's for example was not intended to purify the church.  Like any outpouring of the Spirit, it was meant to give power to the church in order to be an affective witness for Jesus.  Purifying comes through suffering, and this is exactly why Peter wrote this book.    


The question should be asked to whom the words "household of God refers to.  The answer may depend on to whom you think this letter is written.  As I said in my introduction, some believe it was written to Christian Jews while others think it was written to Christian Gentiles.  I tend to believe it was probably written to both.  If you think this letter was written to Christian Jews you might think the household of God refers to Israel .  Looking back on history, judgment did come to Israel in 70 AD when the Roman armies destroyed Jerusalem .  That being said, I am not convinced that Peter had the Jews in mind when he penned these words. 


Note the word "us" in verse 7.  He relates the household of God to "us', or, "us Christians" who I believe are both Gentile and Jews.  The word "us" would thus refer to the church and not the Jews, meaning, it is the church that will be soon judged.    


Peter then says in verse 17 that if the house of God is now being judged, how will it be for those who do not obey the gospel of God.  They will experience much more suffering than the house of God was experiencing in Peter's day, and that was very severe.  We see this in the book of Revelation during the Great Tribulation.  Some Prophetic Futurists suggest that the first half of the 7 year tribulation period seen in Revelation is God judging Israel , His people.  That is to say, God will judge His people first and then after that He judges the nations of the world in the second half of the 7 years, often called the Great Tribulation.       


It's important to understand that unjust suffering as these Christians were experiencing, is seen as God's judgment on His people.  This might be what the writer of Hebrews calls God disciplining His sons.  Remember, back in chapter 1 verse 7 Peter clearly states that this unjust suffering was meant to test the believer's faith.  This testing is a form of purification of the church as I mentioned earlier.     


I think the bottom line to what Peter is saying in verse 17 is that the one who endures to the end will be saved.  The one who survives the judgment and discipline of God will be saved.  The one who survives the testing of his faith will be saved.  If you cave into the world's temptations and fall away from Jesus, you will not be saved.


Peter says, "for", or "because" it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God.  The word "judgment" means to proclaim a verdict, a sentence of condemnation" as a judge would sentence a criminal.  We are talking about something very serious here.


Verse 17 is in the context of end time theology as we see from verse 7 and as seen in the injustice to Christians.  The book of Revelation speaks to the injustice done to the Christian.  It does so when we see Christians being executed for their association with Jesus.  Many Prophetic Futurists understand the first part of the 7 years tribulation period to be this judgment while they understand the last half of the 7 years to be the nations of the world being judged.  Thus, the people of God are judged first, and then the world is judged.  This might well be a Biblical principle that applies to any time in history.  Maybe Peter had this in mind when he wrote verse 17.  Maybe, because Peter believed the end had already begun, as he said in verse 7, he believes the first half of the tribulation was upon the household of God.  That would easily be understood because of the persecution of Christians back then.   


Concerning the word "judgment" I think there is some misunderstanding.  When we speak of God's judgment as seen in Scripture we're simply speaking of God proclaiming a sentence or a verdict.  What He does beyond that is a result of His verdict that could vary from time to time or place to place.  We can't confuse the verdict with the sentencing that comes after the verdict.   


Then in verse 18 Peter quotes from Proverbs 11:31 which says this.  "If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and sinner."  Is Peter suggesting that it is hard for righteous people to be saved?  Might he be suggesting that some people who we think are saved wonít end up being saved?  I think in context what Peter is saying is that the suffering these people were going through would either make them or break them.  Not all would make it to the end.  Some would turn their backs in unbelief.  Really, without Jesus, it is impossible to be saved, not just hard.  In my thinking, this might suggest that one can lose his salvation.


Peter, in verse 19, closes this chapter by saying, "so then, those who suffer according to Godís will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good."  Note here that the suffering must be according to Godís will.  You must not be suffering for any evil or foolishness you have done.  Suffering can be God's will.  Peter makes that clear here. 


The committing to your Creator suggests giving your life to God in a trusting relationship, trusting Him throughout the suffering process.  During times of suffering we must especially trust ourselves to the Lord.  It is in those times when we are tempted to give up; we should trust Him more than ever. 


Peter calls God the Creator, which He is.  This tells us that the very God who created all things can certainly help you through any time of painful suffering.  



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