1 Peter 4:12-16
Recipients of this letter are experiencing trials, harsh treatment, and suffering (1:6-7; 2:18-20; 3:13-17; 4:1-4, 12-19; 5:10). Peter encourages them with a vision of “an incorruptible and undefiled inheritance that doesn’t fade away, reserved in Heaven for you” (1:4), and calls them to live holy lives (1:15; 2:9). He holds up the prospect of the rewards that they will experience in the future (1:8)—and encourages them to stand fast in their faith in the midst of adversity.
In 2:18-25, he spoke at length about the example of Christ’s suffering, “leaving you an example” (2:21).
In 3:8-22, he addressed the issue of suffering for doing what is right.
In chapter 4, he said, “Forasmuch then as Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind; for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (4:1). He talked at length about people who “walked in lewdness, lusts,” etc. (4:3). Such people would see Christian behavior as peculiar (4:4). “But the end of all things is near. Therefore be of sound mind, self-controlled, and sober in prayer. And above all things be earnest in your love among yourselves, for love covers a multitude of sins” (4:7-8).
Verse 11 ends with a benediction, which is probably the reason that our lectionary reading begins with verse 12. However, as you will see from this “Context” segment, there is much continuity between what went before (1:1 – 4:11) with what follows (4:12 – 5:11) in the emphasis on handling persecution (4:12-14) and holy living (5:6-11).
1 PETER 4:12-14. DON’T BE ASTONISHED AT THE FIERY TRIAL
12 Beloved, don’t be astonished at the fiery trial which has come upon you, to test you, as though a strange thing happened to you. 13 But because you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, rejoice; that at the revelation of his glory you also may rejoice with exceeding joy. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed; because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
“Beloved, don’t be astonished at the fiery trial (Greek: pyrosis) which has come upon you, to test(Greek: peirasmos) you, as though a strange thing happened to you” (v. 12). The Greek word pyrosis means fire or to burn. The word “trial” is not in the Greek, but is implied by the context. These people have walked through the fire of persecution for their faith.
Peter advises them not to regard those fiery trials as something peculiar. Christians can expect such things.
“to test (peirasmos) you” (v. 12b). God often tests people to give them a chance to prove their faith:
• God tested Abraham by telling him to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19). Abraham passed that test with flying colors (Hebrews 11:17-19).
• God tested the Israelites in the wilderness to humble them, to prove them, and to learn what was in their hearts—whether they would keep God’s commandments (Deuteronomy 8:2) and whether they would love God with all their heart and soul (Deuteronomy 13:3; see also Exodus 15:25; 16:4; 20:20; Judges 2:22; 3:1, 4). We might think of these testings as a quality-control procedure. Yahweh needed to expose flaws in Israel’s faith and faithfulness so that he might provide the necessary discipline to restore them to proper faith and faithfulness. The testing was intended to do them good rather than harm, but the corrective discipline was usually painful.
• God also tests Christians (Matthew 26:41; Luke 8:13; James 1:2; 1 Peter 4:12). The person who passes those tests today can expect to be spared testing at the end of time (Revelation 3:10).
• God tested these Asia Minor Christians to give them opportunity to prove their faith.
“But because you are partakers (Greek: koinoneo) of Christ’s sufferings, rejoice“ (v. 13a). Christ’s suffering wasn’t random or masochistic. It had a purpose. Christ suffered “for us”—on our behalf—in our place. The sin was ours, so the suffering should have been ours. But, in keeping with the sacrificial code prescribed by Torah law, Jesus became “the Lamb who has been killed” (Revelation 5:12)—”the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)—”Christ, our Passover, …sacrificed in our place” (1 Corinthians 5:7)—the “faultless and pure lamb” whose precious blood redeemed us (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Now Peter tells these Christians that they are partakers (koinoneo) in Christ’s sufferings. This word koinoneo (partakers) is related to the more familiar word koinonia (fellowship) that we use for fellowship groups. Koinoneo (partakers) suggests an intimate connection—a situation where everyone embraces the joys or sorrows of the other members of the group.
In this instance, these recipients of Peter’s letter have been persecuted for their faith in Christ. In the beginning, they might not have realized that the active exercise of their faith would lead to persecution. They might even be tempted now to repudiate their faith so that they might bring a halt to the persecution.
However, Peter calls them to an altogether different response. He calls them to rejoice, because they have been honored to participate in Christ’s sufferings—to experience a bit of what he experienced—to gain an appreciation of the sacrifices that he made in their behalf. Also, as we will see in the last half of this verse, they can rejoice because of the reward that they can expect “at the revelation of his glory.”
According to tradition, Peter was later crucified in Rome—upside down at his own request, because he didn’t feel worthy to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus. While there is no scriptural record of that event, it would be in keeping with the spirit of this verse.
“that at the revelation of his glory (Greek: doxa) you also may rejoice (Greek: agalliao) with exceeding joy“ (v. 13b). Glory is characteristic of God, and refers to God’s awe-inspiring majesty.
God shared this glory with Jesus. Like God’s glory, Christ’s glory is revealed in his presence with us, in his salvation work, and in judgment. We saw Jesus’ glory revealed at the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36) and through his death and resurrection (Luke 24:26). At the parousia (the Second Coming), Jesus will return “in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27). At that time, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).
When Christ’s glory is fully revealed, these Christians “may rejoice” (agalliao) with exceeding joy” (v. 13b), because they will be fully vindicated. They can expect that Jesus will tell them, “Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:21; see also Matthew 5:11-12; Luke 6:22-23; Hebrews 10:32-39; 1 Peter 1:6-7).
The Greek word agalliao (rejoice) is wonderfully expressive. It speaks of exultation—leaping and dancing joy. When Peter tells these Christians that the day will come when they will “rejoice with exceeding joy,” he paints the picture of great celebration.
“If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed“ (v. 14a). Jesus stated this principle in the Sermon on the Mount, saying, “Blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).
Suffering contempt or humiliation can be as painful—even more painful than physical injury. Being reviled or insulted or slandered penetrates to the heart. Children say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” but that is a lie. Words have the capacity to wound us emotionally as surely as a knife has the capacity to wound us physically. Most of us still carry emotional scars from words that someone said years ago.
Damage to one’s reputation can also be disastrous professionally and financially. Nobody wants to do business with a person of questionable reputation.
But Christ was reviled on the cross (Matthew 27:38-44; Mark 15:29-32), and his followers can expect to suffer insults as well. When that happens, Jesus says, “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven, for their fathers did the same thing to the prophets” (Luke 6:22-23). He also assures them that they won’t need to be anxious about what they will say, “For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you”(Matthew 10:20).
But in this verse Peter is talking about present blessings. Opponents of these Christians might revile them, but God is blessing them—blessing them now.
“because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you“ (v. 14b). “The Spirit of glory and of God” is unusual wording, but refers to the Holy Spirit.
The word “rests” is present tense. These Christians already possess the Spirit of God. It rests on them now, providing strength and guidance as needed.
1 PETER 4:15-16. IF YOU SUFFER FOR BEING A CHRISTIAN
15 For let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evil doer, or a meddler in other men’s matters. 16 But if one of you suffers for being a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this matter.
“For let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evil doer, or a meddler in other men’s matters” (v. 15). Peter offers this verse as clarification, lest anyone misunderstand. The blessings he has promised to suffering Christians don’t apply to those who are suffering because they are murderers, thieves, evil doers, or meddlers in the affairs of other people. People guilty of those sins are suffering justly, and can expect no blessing as a reward for their hardships. Furthermore, we shouldn’t consider these four sins to be an exhaustive list. They are simply examples of sins that will not bring rewards. No sinner should expect to be rewarded for suffering that results from his/her sin.
“But if one of you suffers for being a Christian” (Greek: Christianos) (v. 16a). This is one of only three places where the word Christian (Christianos) appears in the New Testament. The other two are Acts 11:26; 26:28. This word combines the word Christ with the suffix ianos—a common practice to designate the follower of a particular person. The word Christianos, then, simply means a follower of Christ.
That name was almost certainly imposed on Christians by non-Christians, and wasn’t widely accepted by Christians until the second century. During the first century, followers of Christ commonly referred to themselves as “disciples” (Greek: mathetes—learner)—or “brothers/sisters” (Greek: adelphoi)—or “saints” (Greek: hagioi)—or “believers” (Greek: pisteuo). English translations are often imprecise. I have found the word “believers” in translations where the original is mathetes or adelphoi or hagioi.
“let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter” (Greek: in touto to onomati—in having that name) (v. 16b). Christians who suffer because of their faith have no reason to be ashamed. They should “glorify God in having that name.” They should wear Christ’s name proudly, and should act and speak in ways that would give glory to God.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2014, Richard Niell Donovan