12 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. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 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? 18 And
“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
19 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
As Christians, the natural response to the “fiery trials” that come our way because of our faith, is surprise. We ask, “Why is this happening to me?” We see trials as anomalies or abnormal experiences. We don’t expect them as believers, somehow having convinced ourselves that our relationship with God, as His children, makes us immune or not susceptible to the difficulties of life. And yet, Peter provides us with a three-word statement regarding the purpose of trials in our lives, He simply states that they are there “to test you.” The Greek word Peter uses refers to a proving or testing of someone or something. It is the same word used to refer to the testing of gold or silver to check its purity. The word, in this context, means, “adversity, affliction, trouble: sent by God and serving to test or prove one’s character, faith, holiness” (G3986 – peirasmos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV). Retrieved from https://www.blueletterbible.org). These trials or tests are not meant to defeat us, but to define and refine us. They reveal the true content of our character, exposing our doubts, fears, love for the world, and our dependence upon things like health, money, security, comfort and convenience. These “fiery trials” are like the furnace of a smelter, and are intended for our good. The heat burns away the dross and impurities that remain in our lives. We are blind to them. We don’t even know they exist. So, God turns up the heat in our lives in order to bring these impurities to the surface where they can be removed. James wrote about this very same thing in his letter, even encouraging his readers to rejoice over the trials of life:
2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. – James 1:2-4 NLT
He adds the incentive that this process of purification through trials results in spiritual maturity. The process of having our faith tested by trials produces endurance and perseverance, which ultimately lead to Christ-likeness.
And Peter echoes the words of James when he writes, “be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world” (1 Peter 4:13 NLT). We don’t find joy in the trials themselves, but in the realization that they are perfecting us, and that one day our perfection will culminate in our glorification, when we see Christ face to face. We are willing to suffer in this life, because we know that Christ did. He was raised to new life and, one day, we will share in that same experience. The apostle Paul told the believers in Corinth: “We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you” (2 Corinthians 4:14 NLT). This became a theme in many of Paul’s letters.
22 Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.
23 But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News. – Colossians 1:22-23 NLT
We have been justified before God. In other words, our faith in Christ has resulted in God declaring us righteous in His eyes. He sees us as righteous because Christ is righteous. But not only that, we will one day be glorified by God, receiving new bodies and a resurrected life freed from the affects of sin and death, just as Jesus did. And that is the truth we are to continue to believe in and rest on as we experience the trials of life.
Peter states that if we suffer or are insulted because we bear the name of Christ, we are blessed. That sounds so strange, doesn’t it? And yet, that is exactly what Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount.
11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way. – Matthew 5:11-12 NLT
Followers of Christ don’t go through trials alone, like the rest of the world. We have a heavenly Father who loves us and who longs to bless and pour out His favor on us. And, He is especially pleased when He sees His children standing up for His name and defending His honor by enduring the pain and ridicule that comes with bearing His name. Jesus told us that the world would hate us, because of Him. It hated Him, so it is only natural that they hate us. He said, “They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the one who sent me” (John 15:21 NLT). “All of this” refers to the hatred and persecution the disciples were to experience. The world, because it doesn’t know and understand God, rejects the Son of God. And, as a result, it rejects and hates the children of God. It is our relationship with Christ that brings the suffering we experience. And that should bring us joy. Paul was even willing to say:
10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! – Philippians 3:10-11 NLT
Peter reminds us that, while there is plenty of reason to feel shame for doing the wrong things and we should expect to suffer as a result, there is no shame associated with suffering for Christ. No, we should see it as a privilege for getting to suffer for His name.
One of the things Peter would have us understand is that our “judgment” is now, and it is a far different kind of judgment that the lost world will one day face. We’re being judged as to our character in this life. We are already justified before God. He sees us as righteous because we have been covered by the righteous blood of Christ. We face no future judgment regarding sin. That is why Paul was able to say, “there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 NLT). The trials we face in this life can be seen as a form of judgment, not to punish or condemn us, but as a means of exposing the lingering remnants of sin within us. When we go through trials, our patience, faith, dependence upon God, and our love for Him, are tested. We learn where we are weak. We are reminded that we are weak. Which is exactly why Paul could say:
So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 NLT
Peter states that, “the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household” (1 Peter 4:17 NLT). Our time of judgment is now. We are having our sins exposed in this life. And, as believers, we should be willing to judge the sins in one another’s lives, refusing to tolerate falsehood, immorality, or sin of any kind in our midst. Listen to these sobering words of Paul:
11 I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.
12 It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. 13 God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.” – 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 NLT
Our judgment is now. But what about the lost? They will face a future judgment that will expose their sins, illicit God’s judgment and result in eternal condemnation. While they can freely get away with their sins in this life, they will pay for them in the next. We are having our sins judged and purged from our lives now, but we do not need to fear judgment for our sins in the future. So, Peter encourages us to keep doing what is right. If we suffer for it, so be it. He simply states, “trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you” (1 Peter 5:19 NLT). We suffer in this life, but it has a purpose. We face trials in this life, but they are proof of the Father’s love and the means by which He purifies and perfects us, transforming us into the image of His Son. So, we are to rejoice like it.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.