Trust Your Creator
Passage: 1 Peter 4:15-19
Last Sunday, we studied vv. 12–14, and you may recall that these verses are built around two different responses we can have to Christian suffering. We can be surprised, or we can rejoice. We ought to rejoice because of how God uses suffering to purify us, because of the eternal joy that awaits those who rejoice, and because of the present assurance we receive when we respond appropriately. And so rather than running from suffering, Christians should embrace it for the gracious works God does through it.
But of course any time you discuss suffering, it seems as if God always sends a trial to see if we are really committed to what we claim to believe. And we saw plenty of that this week. Last Sunday, we announced that one church member had lost a brother and another had lost his dad. Sunday afternoon another church member lost her mom, and then we also learned about Anne’s death. None of these hardships were the direct result of Christian faith, but they still are tremendous tests of our confidence in God. Do we really believe that his will is good, and will we by faith rejoice in suffering? It’s been a blessing to see clear evidence of grace in the lives of those most affected by these deaths, and I pray that many others experienced God’s grace this week as they faced other trials that maybe no one else even knows about.
This morning, we are going to study the remainder of this paragraph in which Peter continues to move back and forth between exhorting us regarding our response to suffering and grounding these exhortations in the nature and purposes of God. I pray that God will use this text to help us see beyond our temporary pain to God’s eternal purpose and that as a result we would be filled with joy and faith.
I’d like to break these verses down into four challenges that we must obey as we live in a sin-cursed, anti-God world.
Guard the cause of suffering (vv. 15–16a).
Verse 15 gives a challenge, which Peter has already given several times. That is…
Make sure you do not suffer for sin.
Peter mentions four types of sin. There is a clear progression in this list from more severe sins down to what may seem relatively insignificant. Murder is among the worst sins man can commit, and the Scriptures teach that it ought to be punished with death. Stealing is also forbidden in the Ten Commandments and in just about ever culture it has been considered a criminal offense that is punishable by the state. There is some debate about how to understand the third term. Some think Peter is describing any criminal behavior while others think it describes evil in general. I lean toward it being criminal activity based on the fact that grammatically, the fourth term is set apart as being in a different category from the others. And so with the first three terms, Peter challenges his readers to make sure they do not commit any crimes against the state and bring on themselves justified suffering at the hands of the justice system. However, the fourth cause of suffering it is set apart from the others, and it may raise an eyebrow that Peter puts it in the same context as these other sins. Peter warns his readers to make sure they don’t suffer as busybodies or as meddlers. We’ve probably all known a meddler. They always are prying into other people’s business. They always have the latest scoop, or they are always sharing an opinion on what you are doing or should be doing even when you don’t ask. It’s not because they love you; it’s because they have to be in the middle of everything. Such a person is annoying, but typically we don’t think of meddling as being in the same category as criminal behavior, so why does Peter include it? Of course, meddling will not get you in trouble with the state, but it can cause anger and hatred and a degree of suffering. And Peter includes it to make his list exhaustive. Peter’s point in v. 15 is, “Make sure that you do not suffer as a criminal or even because of basic offenses against others.” The assumption is that there is no credit with God for these kinds of suffering. They are justified, and they have no reward. Don’t ever call suffering for your sins a trial from God. However, we should…
Embrace Christian suffering.
Verse 16 describes a very different kind of suffering. It is suffering that is caused by our identity as a “Christian.” This word is only used three times in the NT. The Greek term combines “Christ” with a suffix that means “follower.” As such, Christian means “Christ follower.” The title was first used at Antioch, and nonChristian opponents probably coined it as a derogatory name. That’s how it is used here. There was a widespread suspicion and dislike for Christians.
And so Paul again notes that we better make sure we maintain a godly testimony and that any suffering we endure is truly unjust. We better make sure that like Daniel, there is no charge against us that is legitimate. But like Daniel, people will sometimes still despise us.
The second challenge is that when we do suffer as Christians we must…
Respond appropriately (v. 16).
Again, v. 16 describes a potential scenario, which many of Peter’s readers had experienced. They suffered because of their Christian faith.
When this happens, negatively we must…
Do not be ashamed.
As we’ve seen many times, public shame and slander were common ways these Christians were suffering for Christ. They couldn’t prevent this shame from occurring, but they could decide not to let that shame penetrate their hearts and lead to a sense of embarrassment or despair. I think we’ve all probably been there ourselves. You are sitting around a lunch table and someone begins to rant over all of the supposed hypocrisy and evil among Christians. The conversation works around the table, and then someone asks you what you think about those narrow-minded Christians. You have a choice to make. Will you find joy in Christ or in the acceptance of people? Will you speak boldly for him, or will you skirt around your identity as a Christian? Of course, Peter had made a well-known blunder in this kind of scenario. While Christ was enduring awful shame within an earshot of Peter, Peter was questioned about his own faith. He responded with embarrassment and shame. He denied his identity as Christ’s disciple. We can’t know for certain, but I can imagine that as Peter wrote this statement he was thinking, “Don’t make the mistake I made. Don’t be ashamed of your identify as a Christian.”
Instead God commands us to…
The word “matter” is probably better translated as “name,” and it’s best to see name as referring back to the name Christian. And so Peter is saying that when someone hatefully looks mocks your name Christian, don’t be ashamed of the name. Instead, “glorify God.” There are two ideas at stake in this command. First, it’s a command to stand boldly for Christ, to say in the face of hatred, “Yes, I am a Christian.” But we also glorify God by bearing the name Christian in a way that truly honors his name. Sadly, many people will talk openly about being Christians but dishonor God’s name by their arrogance, lack of compassion, or ungodly lives. That does not honor God. We need to bear the name of Christ boldly, but we need to back it up with godliness. We also need to sincerely proclaim his glory by speaking of his goodness and the joy we have in him. Some may think you are nuts, but they need to see that Christ is your great desire and highest satisfaction. But others will see the obvious signs of God’s grace in your life and know God is real and is in your life.
The fact is that no one wants to suffer whether it be directly for your faith or because we simply live in a sin-cursed world. But when suffering comes, we need to see it as a tremendous opportunity to glorify our Lord. In fact, suffering provides some of the best opportunities we will ever have to show the world that our faith is real and powerful. Don’t miss those opportunities. Stand boldly for Christ and demonstrate through your responses who he is and what he means to you.
The third challenge of this passage is…
Understand God’s ultimate purpose (vv. 17–18).
You could say that vv. 15–16 look at suffering from a very narrow perspective of how we should respond in the moment. But vv. 17–18 step back and reflects on Christian suffering from the broad perspective of what God is doing right now and how that fits in his eternal purpose both for Christians and nonChristians. Peter makes his point with two parallel statements that contrast his purpose for both groups. First…
God uses suffering to refine Christians.
Verse 17a might strike us as odd. Didn’t Jesus already bear the judgment for Christians? Most scholars agree that v. 17 draws on language of judgment that comes from the OT. Think particularly of the Babylonian captivity. The “house of God” is a reference to the temple, and the Scriptures are clear that God used the Babylonians to judge Israel. The temple was destroyed, and Judah endured terrible suffering at the hands of Babylon. But while Babylon fulfilled the purpose of God by invading Jerusalem, they also sinned mightily by attacking God’s people. The prophets correctly predicted that they would face God’s harsh judgment as a result. Of course they did when the Persians invaded their city and defeated them in a single night. The prophets are also clear that God’s intention in the destruction of Israel was very different from his intention in judging Babylon and Israel’s other enemies. God continually promised to restore Israel and said that their judgment was intended to purify them. In contrast, God’s judgment on the other nations was pure justice. And so when Peter says that God is judging the church, he doesn’t mean that we are enduring God’s wrath. Rather, as we saw in v. 12, God is refining us through suffering to make us more like his Son. And Peter doesn’t sugarcoat how difficult this process can be. He calls it “judgment,” and notice the parallel description in v. 18a. The point of this statement is not to call into question whether or not Christians will actually be saved, as if we will barely make it. The idea is that our journey to the completion of our salvation will be on a road that is marked with difficulty. The Christian life will be hard, and the Scriptures never hide from this fact. Jesus said over and over that you better count the cost before you decide to be a disciple. Becoming a Christian will not make your life easier; it probably will make it harder. So why would anyone become a Christian then? One reason is that the suffering that awaits God’s people has a very different purpose from the judgment that awaits unbelievers. Our suffering is ultimately for our good. It is part of God’s good work to transform our character. Suffering is an important tool that God uses to turn ungodly sinners into glorified saints. It is so important that we see clearly this good work. Christian, if you are in the furnace right now, don’t focus your energies on getting out as quickly as possible. Instead, embrace what God is doing in your life. Be in awe of the fact that he is forming the character of Christ in you, and press forward prayerfully desiring to see God’s refining work accomplished. Don’t miss the glory of what God is doing in you.
This fact ought to give great encouragement as we endure suffering. But we also ought to be encouraged by seeing that God’s purpose for the unbeliever is far more difficult than his purpose for us.
God will judge unbelievers.
Before we get to the primary point of these verses, I think we need to make sure we don’t miss how Peter describes the unsaved. Verse 17 describes them as those “who do not obey the gospel of God.” This is an instructive description because we can have a very man-centered presentation of the gospel that ultimately dishonors God. We make God out to be a sort of desperate lover who is wringing his hands hoping you will love him or give him a try. God does love sinners, and he does “stand at the door and knock.” But he doesn’t need anything; he is the sovereign Lord. As we share the gospel, we must remember that there is a command inherent to this message. God commands all men to repent, and when they don’t, they aren’t just rejecting a gift. They are disobeying and dishonoring God.
That being said, notice the argument of vv. 17–18. Both verses contrast the end that awaits Christians with the end that awaits nonChristians, and they both argue from the lesser to the greater. You can summarize both verses this way. “If God is putting his own special people through incredible hardship, what kind of terrible judgment awaits those who reject him?” Both verses leave the answer unspoken giving them a weighty rhetorical effect because the answer is obvious. The judgment that awaits unbelievers is not the loving discipline of a Father. There is no good for the sinner in the judgment that awaits him; he only awaits the just wrath of a holy God. Hebrews 10:31 states, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
And if you have never been saved, if you have never obeyed the command of the gospel to repent and believe, then there is no sugarcoating the weight of this warning. If I did, I would dishonor God and by lying to you. If you die without Christ, you will face justice for your sin. And if you think that’s no biggy because you aren’t that bad, then you don’t appreciate the holiness of God and the wickedness of your sin. All sin is a terrible violation of God’s holiness, and you do not want to stand before God someday based on your own goodness. Verses 17–18 ought to scare you., so don’t turn a blind eye to the warning of God’s Word. But also understand that this warning is not the end of the story. Yes our sin deserves God’s wrath, but Jesus already bore the wrath of God on the cross, and he offers salvation to everyone who believes on him. You can leave today under the favor of God. Obey the gospel today. Call on Christ for salvation.
But Peter was primarily speaking to Christians in these verses, so what is the point he is making for us? The answer is that Peter is trying to help us gain some perspective on the trials we endure. Sometimes we get very rattled by hardship. We feel like the world is caving in, and we may even get angry at God. When we have that reaction, we have lost perspective and developed a sense of entitlement that is quite absurd. Peter wants us to see that enduring a trial that actually refines us and brings us closer to glory is very small in comparison to the eternal wrath of God. And so don’t lose heart over suffering. Drive out any thoughts that God hasn’t done right by you. Instead, praise God that you have been rescued from his wrath, and embrace what he is doing through your trials.
This application leads very naturally into the final challenge of this passage, which is to…
Trust the Lord (v. 19).
This verse pulls together everything Peter has said in vv. 12–19 into a final, summary challenge.
Peter reminds us again that…
God is in control.
The challenge of this verse is addressed to those “who suffer according to the will of God.” The phrase “will of God” is primarily intended to qualify who should rest in the Lord’s purpose—it is those who suffer as Christians. But this qualifier is rich in significance. The assumption is that when we suffer for wrongdoing, we have brought that suffering on ourselves. However, when a Christian obeys God’s will and suffers anyway, God’s good purpose stands behind it. His will is being done. And so when that family member spreads lies about you because they despise your faith, there is more at work than his hatred. When you share the gospel with a friend, and she gets angry and spreads rumors about you, her hatred is not acting alone. Or even when your doctor uses the word cancer, something far more significant has happened then the mutation of some cells. No God in his mighty wisdom is taking bad things using them to accomplish his good purpose. There is tremendous rest in knowing that God’s will is being done. Peter adds further comfort in how he describes God. He is the “faithful Creator.” The designation “Creator” speaks to God’s mighty power. He hung the stars in the sky, he holds the oceans in the palm of his hand, and his hand sustains all creation. God is mighty, but his power wouldn’t provide much comfort except for the fact that he is also faithful. God is absolutely trustworthy. His character never changes. His purposes are always good. And so as we endure suffering, we must remember that we live in a world that is controlled by the faithful Creator and that everything we endure is from his hand. God is in control.
Because of that, we must
Rest in his care.
Peter commands us to commit our souls to God by doing good. It’s important that we not miss the connection between faith and obedience. We demonstrate our trust by doing what God has commanded us to do rather than taking matters into our own hands. When hardship comes, just keep doing the right thing. And then leave the things that you cannot control in God’s hand. Commit yourself to him. This verb communicates a sense of rest or peace. We are to resign ourselves to the fact that I may not know what God’s purpose is, and it may not be his will that I fix my problems myself. As contrary as it may seem to every urge in my body, I have to be okay with that. I trust him to do his will, and I obey the will that he has revealed to me.
The theme of this passage is that we must respond to Christian suffering by glorifying God and trusting him to accomplish his will. Trials and difficulties will come, and we can either see them as a frustration or an opportunity. We can consume ourselves with getting out from the trial at any cost, or we anticipate what God will do. If you are suffering right now, this is the choice you have to make. Will you trust God enough to keep doing the right thing? Will you trust him enough to embrace his name even at great cost and glorify him? Will you see past your temporary pain and rejoice at the opportunity to glorify our Savior and to watch him transform you? May God help us to live v. 19 as we endure, and may we support each other in believing these truths and living them each day.