Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. – 1 Peter 4:12-19 ESV
The fiery trial. Those words sound ominous and unattractive to us. Who, in their right mind, would want to experience something like that? But Peter tells us that when, not if, it happens, we are not be surprised or act if something strange were taking place. In other words, we are to see it as a normal and expected part of our life as a Christian. The Greek word that Peter used is πύρωσις (pyrōsis) and it means “the burning by which metals are roasted and reduced” (“G4451 – pyrōsis (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org). In this instance, Peter is using it to refer to a trial that tests the character. It all goes back to his ongoing discussion of suffering begun in chapter three. There is a good chance that we will “suffer for righteousness’ sake” (1 Peter 3:14 ESV) in this life. Jesus promised it and Paul also warned us about it. Jesus warned His disciples as they went out on their first mission without Him, “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:22 ESV). Paul kept his sanity in the midst of trials by keeping his eyes focused on the outcome: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18 ESV).
Trials for the believer are to be seen as coming through God. He is sovereign and in complete control of all things. These experiences, while not always coming directly from the hand of God, are allowed by Him in order to prove or refine us. Like a craftsman who refines gold or silver, fire is involved. The intense heat of the flames are actually used to make that which is being refined more pure and precious than it was before. It burns away all that is of no value, leaving behind something of far greater worth than it had before. Gold cannot refine itself. Neither can we. Even as believers we are contaminated by sin and carry with us the residue of our sin nature. It is God’s good will to expose and expunge the remnants of our old nature in order that we might become increasingly like Christ. And the way He has chosen to do that is through the sufferings we encounter in this life. It is in the midst of a trial that we see our weaknesses: our fear of death or our fear of man, our lack of contentment and our lack of trust, our anger, our greed, our lust, and a host of other negative characteristics that are hold-overs to our old way of life.
Peter actually tells us to rejoice when we share in Christ’s sufferings. But the key is that we must always keep our hope focused on the glory to be revealed when He returns. As we wait for that day, Peter’s counsel is, “if you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:14 ESV). It may not feel like it at the time, but we must recognize the fact that God loves us and is in the process of refining us. I am reminded of the words of David from the 139th Psalm:
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. – Psalm 139:23-24 ESV
David was inviting God to test him. He wanted God to expose anything in his life that was in opposition to Him. David longed to be purified by God, and he knew that only God could see the hidden sins and character flaws in his life and do something about them. The sad reality is that we are often blind to our sins. We can’t always see our pride, anger, fear, greed, lust, and hate. But God can and He uses the trials and tests of life to bring those things to the surface so that they can be removed or burned away. Purification requires purging. Holiness demands that sinfulness be eliminated.
Peter warns us once again that our suffering should always be for righteousness sake and not for doing evil. We are not to “suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler” (1 Peter 4:15 ESV). Instead, our suffering, should it happen, must be as a result of our relationship with Christ. And rather than be ashamed for that kind of suffering, we should rejoice. We should see it as the hand of God purifying His church and His people. We may suffer now, but we will not suffer in when the day of God’s judgment comes upon all those who have rejected His Son. Peter may well be referring to the words of the prophet, Malachi:
But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness. – Malachi 3:2-3 ESV
We must trust in the justice of God. He loves us and is out to purify and perfect us. His judgment on us is now as He removes from us the remaining vestiges of sin in our lives. He judges our sin in the sense of exposing and removing it. He shines His light into the dark recesses of our lives and reveals anything that is contrary to our new nature as His children. But the judgment for those who have not embraced the gospel is going to be much more severe. We may suffer for a time, but their suffering will be for eternity. Paul reminds us, “our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” (2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT). So if we find ourselves suffering as a result of our faith, we must remind ourselves that our God is faithful and loving. We must entrust our souls to Him, believing that He will do what He has promised and one day take us to be with Him. And we will trade our momentary, light afflictions for an eternal weight of glory.