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When we as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ read the Word of God with faith, we are pulling down the very power of heaven to bear on our earthly trials. Because the Word of God is pure and true, we can trust it with our lives: “By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God speaking therein” (Westminster Confession of Faith 14.2). The Word of God calls us to “act differently . . . yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life and that which is to come” (WCF 14.2).

First Peter 4:12–19 is written in the rhetorical style of paraenesis—it offers strong encouragement to press on even when it hurts and to not change course because of intense suffering that we will experience. This strong exhortation pushes believers to grow into mature saints. In this passage, Peter commands us to do things that we cannot do without the Lord’s grace: to face the fiery trial with expectation that we will suffer (v. 12); to rejoice in the midst of suffering (v. 13); to interpret the slander that comes our way because of our strong stance for the Christian faith as a blessing from God Himself and a proof of the Spirit of glory resting upon us (v. 14); to mortify all sin and all potential sin, especially murder, robbery, and meddling (v. 15); to glorify the name of God in our words and our deeds as we suffer for the faith (v. 16); to expect God’s hard and rebuking judgment upon the nation to start with the church (v. 17); to realize that, as John Calvin puts it, we can arrive in heaven only after escaping a thousand deaths on earth (what Peter calls being “scarcely saved”). And if all this isn’t enough, God expects us to continue in doing good works in the midst of this agony (v. 19). Written to suffering Christians who are covenant members of a faithful and visible church, belonging to the church and to one another (vv. 1–11), 1 Peter 4:12–19 raises an important question: Why does a God who loves us as a gracious Father want us to suffer for the name of Christ?

While it seems like a paradox, God’s good purpose for our Christian suffering isn’t found in its lonely agony. God uses our Christian suffering for the building up of believers, for the purifying of the church, and for the spreading of the gospel. Peter warns us that suffering “tries” our faith—but it doesn’t ruin our faith. Trials allow us to partake in the “fellowship of [Christ’s] sufferings” (Phil. 3:10, KJV). And trials reveal how union with Christ is central to our faith. John Owen calls union with Christ the logical priority of all other graces. Spiritual, unbreakable, irreplaceable, and eternal, our union with Christ means that Christ redeems our future and heals our past through the trials that are lovingly and providentially handed to us by God Himself, and that through thick and thin, He will never leave us or forsake us.

Believers suffer with eyes glued on Christ.

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.

Anticipating the Coming of Christ

The Main Themes of Scripture

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From the July 2022 Issue
Jul 2022 Issue