Peter commands us to “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter 4:13). We do not rejoice as masochists or as Nietzsche’s Übermensch (whose extraordinary giftedness puts him above the law and enables him to soar over life’s difficulties). Believers suffer with eyes glued on Christ. As we bear our cross of suffering for Christ, we marvel at what Christ endured for us. We ask ourselves, in the words of Thomas Case:
If the chips of the cross are this heavy, what was the cross itself? If my bodily pains are so bitter, what were the agonies the Lord sustained in his soul? If the wrath of man is so piercing, what must the wrath of God be? By our sharing the remainders of his cross, which he has bequeathed to us as a legacy . . . we are able to guess at what we cannot understand.
The believer’s lot is his chosen portion from God (see Ps. 16:5). Christ is our Savior and also our pattern, and our legacy and identity as Christians will reflect the cross.
Reformation always begins in the church, and for this reason, Peter tells us that judgment begins at the household of God (1 Peter 4:17). Peter is saying not that only the household of God will face God’s judgment but rather that calamities on whole nations generally begin with God’s own people (Isa. 10:12; Jer. 25:29; Ezek. 4:6). The privilege of being a follower of Christ comes with responsibility. Judgment begins with the household of faith, but it ends when God pours out His wrath on the wicked. Calvin reminds us that we do not want to be like calves fattened for the slaughter, enjoying the comfort of today that secretly carries with it the judgment of tomorrow. Because intense suffering prompts sin, repentance unto life prepares our spirits to bear trials.
Therefore, “those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19). Peter paints the contrast starkly: the ungodly can trust only in riches, strength, and princes. The Puritan David Clarkson says, “Riches are uncertain, unsatisfying, insufficient, limited, and deceitful.” In contrast: “God is unchangeable, satisfying, all sufficient, and faithful. Strength is vain. God is omnipotent. Princes are trembling, broken reeds. God is the rock of ages.” God and God alone will faithfully keep us and protect us through all our trials. Matthew Henry reminds us, “It is not the suffering, but the cause that makes the martyr.”
Peter’s checklist style asks us to look closely at our own lives: Are we covenant members of a faithful church? Are we pressing on in the midst of suffering, enduring slander or worse for the cause of Christ? This strong medicine for our weak and wandering faith will prepare us faithfully for the days ahead.