Suffering, Present Assurance, and Future Glory
Passage: 1 Peter 4:12-14
You may recall that we are currently in the third major unit of 1 Peter, which focuses on how Christians should respond to persecution. This section began in 3:13, and it concludes with the paragraph we just read. Peter gives a variety of encouragements and exhortations regarding how we should respond to opposition. We must keep an eternal perspective, looking for God’s reward and trusting him to bring justice. We must remain pure and maintain a godly testimony. We must rest in the power of God’s grace to sustain us, and we must rally together as a church to support each other.
In the final paragraph, Peter reminds his readers of several good works God is doing through suffering, and he exhorts them regarding how they should respond to suffering. This morning, we are going to study vv. 12–14. Rather than working through these verses phrase by phrase, my outline is thematic. Because of that, I’d like to give a quick overview before we dive into the outline. Verses 12 and 13 are dominated by two different responses we can have to suffering. Rather than thinking suffering is strange or being surprised by it, Peter says that we should rejoice, and he gives three benefits of suffering that should inspire joy. Verse 12 notes that suffering “tries us.” In other words, it has a refining effect. Verse 13 adds that we should rejoice because Christian suffering will lead to eternal joy. Finally, v. 14 states that we can rejoice in suffering because it assures us of our present standing in grace, that we have “the Spirit of glory and of God.”
With that in mind, I’d like to begin by addressing the first major question.
How should we respond to Christian suffering?
The answer to this question is primarily found in the contrasting responses in vv. 12 and 13. But before we look at those responses, I’d like to consider what kind of suffering Peter has in mind.
The Nature of the Suffering:
Verse 12 mentions a “fiery trial,” which sounds really bad. Fire is hot, and even a small fire is pretty painful. If you’ve ever held a match just a little too long, you know what I mean. And certainly, Christian suffering can be painful, but the context indicates that Peter’s primary purpose for comparing their suffering to a fiery trial was not to describe its intensity. Rather, the additional note that the fiery trial is intended to “try you” means Peter’s primary concern is the refining effect of suffering. I’ll say more about that later on. But for now, I want you to see that Peter doesn’t primarily use the phrase “fiery trial” to make it sound like they were being tortured in hell, so to speak. As I’ve said multiple times, this book was written before any sort of state-sponsored persecution began. Nero hadn’t begun using Christians as yard lamps or committing other atrocities that were coming. Rather, Peter tells us what he primarily has in mind in v. 14 when he says that many of the Christians “are reproached for the name of Christ.” This is a reference to verbal abuse, slander, and hatred. We’ve seen Peter references this kind of suffering many times. The pagan culture around these Christians often misunderstood the Christian faith and found it offensive. This hatred led to abusive speech, ostracism, and other difficulties for many Christians.
Peter begins the passage by telling them how not to respond to this abuse. He says…
We should not be surprised.
It’s helpful to put ourselves in the readers’ shoes and remember that this ostracism was very new to them. They had grown up as pagans, and they were comfortably ingrained in their communities. But now that they were Christians, their former friends and colleagues had turned against them. This may have caused some of them to question their faith because they expected God to give immediate, physical blessings when they got saved. But Peter says that they shouldn’t actually be surprised because they weren’t going through “some strange thing.” In other words, their experience was not unique. It is the experience of many Christians, and it is the experience that Jesus predicted. He said in John 15:20, “‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” And so by telling them that their experience was not strange, Peter was telling them that nothing was wrong. This is exactly what Jesus said would happen, and this is what consistently does happen.
There is a lot of practical help in this kind of exhortation because sometimes we are dumbfounded by hardship. Maybe you’ve seen one of your kids have this reaction when they realize that school is hard, and they actually have to work or the first time they do something mean to their buddy, and he actually socks them. The child has this look of, “I can’t believe he just hit me.” And as our culture shifts, Christians can have this same sort of dumbfounded reaction. We are frozen with a sense of “shock and awe” by growing wickedness and especially by growing hostility toward Christianity and Christian morals. But we shouldn’t be surprised. We shouldn’t think that God has lost control or that we are the only ones having a hard time. Jesus said this would happen, and it has consistently happened throughout history. In fact, Christians in other parts of the world are enduring far worse atrocities, and they are still thriving. The church in China has not been destroyed by decades of awful persecution; rather, it has only grown larger. We are right to be grieved and to mourn, but we should not be surprised, and we should not despair as if God has lost. Instead, we should expect it and prepare.
But even more than that, Peter says that…
We should rejoice.
This response is pretty counterintuitive isn’t it? Why would someone rejoice over suffering? I think it’s important to note that rejoicing doesn’t have to be the exuberance of a sports’ team that just won a national title. In my elective last week, we talked about the fact that Christian joy includes sorrow. It’s ultimately an ability to rest in God, to believe that he has a good purpose he is accomplishing, and to remain thankful for his purpose through suffering. The NT gives several examples of believers having this response to persecution. You may have marveled at some point over the testimony of the apostles in Acts 5. After being beaten for simply preaching Christ, v. 41 says, “They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.” Again, that doesn’t mean that skipped off pumping their fists. I’m sure their backs really hurt, but they felt honored to suffer for their Savior. Of course, Peter was one of the men who was beaten. When he wrote v. 13, he wasn’t just reciting a theoretical response. He probably had scares on his back from that day, and he surely remembered it well. He knew that God was worth it and that he can give the grace to rejoice in suffering.
And so how should we respond to Christian suffering? First of all, we shouldn’t be surprised. We ought to expect it, and we ought to prepare for suffering to come so that when it does come we can rejoice.
But of course it sounds good to say we should rejoice in the face of suffering, but why should we? The second major question I’d like to answer is…
Why should we respond to Christian suffering with joy?
As I mentioned in my introduction, Peter gives three grounds for rejoicing. The first is…
Suffering has a purifying effect (v. 12).
I already noted that the phrase “fiery trial” is not so much a reference to the intensity of their suffering but to its purpose, which is to “try you.” The word translated “try” is a common term for testing. It’s used in a similar context in 1:6–7, which is a close parallel to our text. Verse 6 acknowledges that they were enduring trials (same word), and v. 7 notes their purpose. They served to demonstrate the genuineness of their faith. In both passages he compares this refining process to the refining of gold through fire. The heat, or the uncomfortableness of trials accomplishes two things. First, it demonstrates that our faith is real or genuine. When it stands up to the heat of trials, it proves that the Spirit is at work in our hearts and that our commitment to Christ is not superficial or a passing fad. Second, trials refine our faith; they make it stronger. If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you probably know how this works. When life is comfortable, we naturally fall in love with the comforts of life. We begin to find our satisfaction in this world as we become dull to the ultimate emptiness of temporary pleasure. We also naturally lose sight of our dependence on God. We feel as if we can handle life pretty well on our own. Our times Bible study, prayer, and worship lack urgency and slowly become shorter and more sporadic. And then God sends a hardship and makes life uncomfortable. Maybe you lose your job, maybe you get bad news from the doctor, or maybe there is an unresolved conflict in your family or at church. It shocks your system back into reality. You see again that this world will never satisfy, and that I will not have perfect joy until I am with my Savior in heaven. You see as well that I need God. I need to seek the wisdom and encouragement of his Word. I need to seek God’s grace in desperate prayer. And I need to hear from God through the fellowship of my church and the preaching of the Scriptures. You seek God, and he carries you through. Afterwards, you reflect on what has transpired, and you can clearly see the hand of God because something that should have crushed you instead transformed you. You receive assurance from seeing clear evidence of God’s work in your life. And so while the trial was incredibly hard, it produced wonderful effects. It took you a step forward in being made into the image of Christ and therefore a step closer to glory. And because of that it ought to be a source of joy. Again, I don’t mean a euphoric glee but instead a quiet thankfulness and rest in God’s goodness. How do you respond when life gets difficult? Do you moan and groan? Do you get angry with God? Do you obsess over returning to comfort as quickly as possible? Or do you rejoice that God’s purpose is being done, and he is changing me into the image of Christ? Maybe you are in the pressure cooker right now. Don’t lose heart. Embrace the work that God wants to do in you, believe in his power to sustain you, and press forward with joy.
The second ground for rejoicing is that…
Joy in suffering assures of future joy (v. 13).
Verse 13 begins by commanding us to literally continue rejoicing while you continue partaking in Christ’s sufferings. Both rejoicing and suffering should go hand in hand. As we are suffering we ought to be rejoicing. It’s instructive that Peter says we “partake” in Christ’s suffering. He uses the word koinonia, which means to partner or share in close fellowship. The idea is that when Christians suffer for their faith, we actually participate in the world’s hatred of our Savior, and in so doing, we enjoy a special bond with him. What did Paul desire in Philippians 3:10? He wanted to “know (Christ) and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship (same word) of His sufferings, being conformed to his death.” Those who truly suffer for Christ know him in a special way. Of course we don’t all suffer for Christ to the same extent. Some Christians will suffer more than others, and Peter seems to indicate this was the case in the opening clause of the verse. But “to the extent” that we suffer and rejoice in that suffering, we will be glad at Christ’s appearing. We already talked about the importance of rejoicing in suffering, but it’s important that we also see that present joy affects future joy. Peter says that there is great future joy for the Christian who suffers, but this future joy is only available as we have present joy. How is it that our present joy in trials affects our future joy when we see Christ? The answer is that how we respond to trials is a significant aspect of perseverance. Trials and tribulations will come, and if they destroy our faith, it indicates that we never possessed genuine life. Consider the Parable of the Soils. Jesus mentions the seed that falls on stony ground. It sprouts immediately, but the hot sun kills it quickly. Jesus says the stony ground represents the person who “hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.” This seed bears no fruit, and represents a false believer. And so from a human standpoint, how we respond to trials is vital to our perseverance. But if we endure with joy, Peter says that at the return of Christ, we will “be glad with exceeding joy.” I said earlier that our present joy in suffering is not a jubilant, high emotion. But the joy Peter describes at the end of v. 13 will be. When Christ’s full glory is revealed to us and we see him for all that he is, we will be overwhelmed with joy. We will say, “Hallelujah, every sacrifice was worth it! Christ is my life, and I will be with him forever. There is great joy in the future of every believer as we endure the hardships of life in a sin-cursed world of following Christ in this world. The challenge then for us is to by faith keep our focus on the joy that awaits us. It might be that life feels overwhelming right now, and you are hanging on by a thread. Don’t cave to the pressure. Hold tightly to the hope that Christ is coming again and that if you persevere with joy an exceedingly great joy awaits you.
Future joy is a mighty reason to maintain present joy in the face of suffering. The third reason we should respond to suffering with joy is that…
Christian suffering assures us of the Spirit’s presence (v. 14).
I should mention at this point that there is a textual variant in this verse that affects how your versions read. The NKJV and KJV include a second statement “On their part…”, but this statement is not included in many manuscripts and so most other versions leave it out. I will comment on the statement though the sense of the verse isn’t greatly affected either way. The first sentence of the verse begins with a condition, which we already discussed. Christians should expect to occasionally be reviled or slandered. But rather than being intimidated by this or trying to avoid it, we should embrace it. This is because Christian suffering is not a sign of God’s judgment; instead, Peter says that those who suffer for Christ are blessed. This statement sounds very similar to what Peter heard Jesus say in Matthew 5:11–12. “Blessed are you when they revile and 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 so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” But the obvious difference is that Jesus ties the persecuted believer’s blessing to his eternal reward; whereas, Peter mentions the blessing of knowing that “the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” This is a rather unique phrase that might make us scratch our heads, so we need to take a moment and understand what Peter means. It’s important to note that the best way to understand the grammar is to take glory and God as descriptions of Spirit. This is how the NKJV takes it. Peter is talking about the Holy Spirit, and he says that he the Spirit of glory and the Spirit of God. Calling him the “Spirit of God” clearly points to his position as the third member of the Trinity. It’s not as clear what Peter means by calling him the “Spirit of glory.” It’s best to take glory as a second characteristic. The Spirit is God and he is full of glory. He is not just God’s minion or gopher. Rather, he possesses all of the attributes and glory of God. And what is so incredible about this statement is that this incredible Spirit “rests upon you.” This phrase is deeply rooted in the OT. Most commentators see a connection with this phrase and the statement in Isaiah 11:2 regarding the Christ that “The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.” The point is that God’s grace and all of his blessings would be given to the Messiah. In our text, Peter says that this same Spirit rests on the believer. Through the indwelling Spirit, we have access to God’s power, his wisdom, and all of his grace. And we see evidence of his power and sustaining grace when we are, as v. 14 states, “reproached for the name of Christ” but we endure it with joy. That’s not normal. Most people get angry when they suffer. They might get defensive, or lose heart, despair, or give up. But when a Christian endures with joy it is evidence that the Spirit is on him giving supernatural power. That’s really the point of v. 14. Why should we rejoice in suffering? The third reason is that our victory over suffering serves as assurance that we are truly God’s children and that his Spirit lives in our hearts. Again, I’m sure that many of you can sense tremendous darkness in your life, whether it’s directly because of your faith or because of the other effects of life in a sin-cursed world. Sometimes that darkness is very thick, and it is hard to see any light. I hope that you will not miss how God is strengthening you to press forward. Don’t be blind to the clear evidences of grace through God’s Word, the church, providential care, and just how the Spirit helps you put one foot in front of another. Don’t fail to see God in these things. And when you see him, take courage in the fact that he is there. You are his child; he will continue to sustain, and one day, he will bring you to glory.
The theme of this passage is “We should embrace Christian suffering because of the assurance it gives about our future hope and present standing.” Isn’t it incredible how God is able to take very dark things and use them for good? Being hated, enduring scorn, and facing all of the consequences that come with hatred are very difficult. But as a Christian we can know that even in these darkest of times, God is still good, and we can find cause for rejoicing both for the present and for the future.
It might be that all of this sounds very good to you, but it is all very foreign. You know nothing of what it means to have the Holy Spirit living in your heart or to know that you will be in heaven with God someday. You want to know where you can find that kind of assurance. The simple answer is Christ. The very heart of our faith as Christians is that the eternal Son of God left the glories of heaven to become a man. He lived a perfect life, and then he bore the punishment for sin. Because Jesus died and rose again, he offers his righteousness and eternal life to all who believe on him for salvation. If you’ve never done that, then I want to urge you to recognize that you are sinner and you can never save yourself. Turn from your sin and believe on Christ for salvation. If you do that, he will forgive and you can be assured of an eternal home with him. I hope that you will call on him today.