The world may think suffering for Christ is silly and disgraceful and shameful. But not the Christian. Continue reading . . .
The world may think suffering for Christ is silly and disgraceful and shameful. But not the Christian.
“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).
The early church did not typically call themselves “Christians.” This was a designation given to them by others. It was first given to the church by unbelievers at Antioch (Acts 11:26). King Agrippa also used the term when Paul was making his defense in Caesarea (Acts 26:28). But clearly Peter thinks of the label or the name as a good one, one that we ought to embrace with joy and passion. In fact, it is precisely “in that name,” i.e., in and for the name of “Christian”, a follower of Christ, that we are to suffer.
If you rejoice in suffering for his sake, you show that he is gloriously more valuable than the pleasures and approval of man. If you do good to your persecutors instead of retaliating, you show that he is gloriously sufficient to satisfy your longings. The one all-consuming desire of true Christians is that Christ be glorified in their bodies whether by life or death.
The greatest way to show that someone satisfies your heart is to keep on rejoicing in them when all other supports for your satisfaction are falling away. When you keep rejoicing in God in the midst of suffering, it shows that God, and not other things, is the great source of your joy.
Peter uses this moment to say something important about both the suffering of Christians within the community of faith and the suffering of those who reject the gospel. Look again with me at vv. 17-18.
“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?’”
The “judgment” of God that “begins with us” is not the wrath of God. Peter is not talking about Christians being judged for their sins and cast into eternal torment. The believer is “saved” (v. 18a)! What then is this “judgment” that begins with us, the Church? It is the process of being pruned and disciplined and refined, as v. 12 so clearly states.
Here Peter argues from the lesser to the greater. If even those who are going to be finally saved are purified and judged by suffering, then the outcome or result of those who reject and disobey the gospel will surely be a greater punishment.
The word “scarcely” should probably be rendered “with difficulty”. Peter is not saying that God finds it difficult to save us, although the price required in Christ’s blood should never be underestimated. His point is that we, God’s people, must enter through the narrow gate and face opposition and endure suffering all along the pathway to glory. God’s mode of bringing his people to their final inheritance is through hard and painful discipline.
As Tom Schreiner has pointed out: “If the godly are saved through the purification of suffering, then the judgment of the ‘ungodly and sinner’ must be horrific indeed” (229).
If sin is so hateful in God’s sight that even those who through faith are his children are made to suffer discipline so as to purify their souls, what must be the fate of those who disobey the gospel?
To be continued . . .