Practical Suffering, Part 4a: Suffering in the Name of Christ – 1 Peter 4:12-16

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal coming among you for your testing as something strange befalling you. But to the extent you partake in Christ’s sufferings, rejoice! So that also in the revelation of His glory you might rejoice with exultation. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed! Because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. For not one of you must suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evil doer or as a meddler. But if as a Christian, he must not be ashamed but must glorify God in this name.


It is possible to consider 4:7-11 as something of a parenthesis in Peter’s argument, but Peter’s language connects back to this previous section as well as traveling through it to the previous exhortations regarding suffering. The logical connection between v. 11 and v. 12 lies in the idea of doing all things for the glory of God (δοξάζηται in 4:11 vs. δόξης in vv.13 and 14). The emphasis in v. 11 is placed on Christian service within the context of the church. But the motivation of God’s glory must be extended to that of suffering (πάσχω) as well (4:1, 13, 15). Suffering is, after all, the focus of this section.


Peter has already given instruction on how to deal with those who bring suffering (3:13-17; 4:1-6) and is now addressing how to respond to the suffering itself. Rather than repeating himself, Peter is honing his exhortation to a finer point. It is important that these Christians of Asia Minor understand what Christian suffering really is. These verses provide answers to three basic questions regarding Christian suffering so that the readers will know how to suffer in the name of Christ and for the glory of God. Let the reader understand and be edified.


What is Suffering’s Purpose? (vv. 12-13)


With the use of surprised (ξενίζεσθε) and strange (ξένου) Peter connects back to the argument of 4:1-6. The pagan thinks it a strange thing (ξενίζονται) that these believers no longer run with them head long into dissipation (4:4). In 4:1-6 Peter was commenting on how the pagan reacts to the Christian. It is now time to discuss how believers should react to the pagan. First, we read how believers should not react (v. 12). Then, we read Peter’s exhortation for a positive response (v. 13).


Suffering Purifies Believers (v. 12)

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal coming among you for your testing as something strange befalling you.


The unbeliever is shocked to find that their partners in crime against a holy God are no longer with them. This same sense of shock is here prohibited of the believer. The present imperative indicates a continued or repeated sense of shock or bewilderment. Peter stresses that this surprise is to cease and desist, never to occur again. The source of this surprise is a response to the fiery ordeal among you. The term fiery (πυρόσει) describes a burning and is only used in the New Testament to describe judgment (Rev. 18:9, 18). The LXX of the Old Testament however uses this term in a wider context, often to describe the process of smelting metal or a refiner’s fire (Prov. 27:21). It seems that Peter has returned to his own metaphor from 1:6-7. By saying that this burning fire is among you (ἐν ὑμῖν) Peter acknowledges that not every single believer in Asia Minor is experiencing the same heat, yet the whole body feels the effects. Just because a toe is burned to a crisp does not mean that the rest of the body is left without pain. Some members may be experiencing more suffering than others, yet the whole body must not view this as something strange. All the suffering that he has already mentioned, Peter now calls a furnace for your testing. Suffering comes with a very practical purpose, the purpose of purifying Christians.


Suffering causes us to acknowledge the fact that we are weak and foolish creatures that fully depend upon our strong and wise God. The fact of the matter is that we are not able to serve God or each other in our own strength nor will we find any words of wisdom with us (3:11). Suffering strips us of any thought of self-reliance and slams us upon the Rock of Ages. In this sense, suffering is a very good thing.


We must not relapse into a worldly deistic frame of mind that views the plans of God as contingent upon the will of man. It is not as though God is constantly jumping from one calamity to the next in order to salvage some good from the situation. God actively works all things for good for those who love Him and are called to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). If this is true, then we must not respond to suffering as though something utterly foreign to God’s plan has suddenly befallen us. Suffering is normal and thus must not be met with bewilderment.


Suffering Joins Believes to Christ (v. 13)

But to the extent you partake in Christ’s sufferings, rejoice! So that also in the revelation of His glory you might rejoice with exultation.


From negative bewilderment Peter turns to the positive response of joy. Peter makes a clear connection with Christian suffering and the suffering of Christ. Christians are not only joined to Christ’s death and resurrection but also have fellowship (κοινωνέω) with Him in the sufferings He encountered in His life. Not every Christian will suffer to the same extent, and so Peter uses the comparative καθό (to the extent of). The greater the suffering, the greater fellowship we have in Christ’s life.


To counter the negative imperative of v. 12 (μὴ ξενίζεσθε) Peter now presents a positive command (χαίρετε). He again uses the present tense to indicate that this rejoicing is to go on and on, keep on rejoicing! We must understand that this command to rejoice is not in the fact that suffering exists, but in the fact that suffering joins us to Christ in a way that nothing else can. Believers are called to rejoice in their fellowship with Christ. Is that not something to rejoice in? Should we not be overjoyed that our lives are now held in tighter communion with Christ’s life? To drive this point home, Peter moves from the present joy over shared suffering with Christ to the future joy that we will experience in the future.

The ἵνα clause (so that) introduces a purpose statement that hangs on the eschatological return of Christ or the revelation of His glory. Believers will not only rejoice when Christ returns but will rejoice with exultation. The same verb is used (rejoice/χαίρω) but is now modified with a participle of manner (ἀγαλλιώμενοι). The idea is that this rejoicing will be done in an attitude of exuberant and excessive joy that bubbles up from the soul and spills out through tears, shouts, and songs of praise. Such is the believer’s response to the return of their Christ. It is difficult not to see our Lord’s own words being echoed here: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:12 NASB). There is an implication that our joy in suffering now indicates our joy later. If we fail to rejoice in our suffering now, knowing that this suffering joins us to Christ, then we will hardly rejoice with even greater vigor when we are reunited with Him at His return.[1]


There is no reason to be shocked at our current suffering for the name of Christ. Rather, we should expect it and rejoice in it. Suffering purifies us and joins us to Christ in the present and prepares us for our reunion with Him in the future. Therefore, rejoice and be glad!


What Does Suffering Reveal? (v. 14)


After addressing the proper response to suffering by exposing suffering as the link between a believer’s life and Christ’s, Peter continues to flesh this concept out. What are the major implications of Christian suffering? In short, Christian suffering is one of the major indicators that one is a Christian.


Suffering Reveals a Believer’s Blessing (v. 14a)

If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed!


Here we have an indication of the main source of suffering. While government ran pogroms against the church had already occurred in Rome after the fire of 64 AD and will occur again in pockets of the empire, the emphasis Peter continues to use is on the slander and insults give to believers by the pagan culture (3:16; 4:4, 14). The source of persecution has not been a faceless government, but the neighbors, clients, employers, and previous friends of Peter’s readers.


If Peter drew on Jesus’ words in Matt. 5:12 in the previous verse, he certainly is drawing on Matt. 5:11 here. Both Peter and Jesus use the same term insult or slander (ὀνειδίζω) and recognize the same reason for the insult. When Peter labels this insult as in Christ’s name (ἐν ὀνόματι Χριστοῦ) he means because of Christ’s name.[2]


It is interesting that the early church did not rally around the name “Jesus” as much as they did the designation of “Christ.” It was the understanding that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed Yhwh’s Messiah and God’s Anointed one, that provided a foundation for this movement that was now separated from pharisaical Judaism and different from Hellenistic Paganism. These are men and women who do not simply claim to be Christians but are those who are insulted because they cling to the name of Christ and thus receive all the slander and hate that the world pours upon Christ Himself. The world cursed Christ during His advent on earth and continue to curse all those who remind them of Him. While the world pronounces a curse, Peter echoes the words of our Lord in pronouncing a blessing. If the world slanders you in connection with Me, blessed!


All that we have already said regarding the similar statement in 3:14 is true here. To be blessed (μακάριοι) is to be one who is under the divine favor and outpouring of God’s blessing. This is the same language of the blessed man (Ps. 1:1) and the man who seeks Yhwh through His word (Ps. 119:1-2) and it is the same language Jesus used to describe those who truly belong to Him (Matt. 5:3-11). To bear the reproach of Christ because we are associated with Him is to confirm that we are blessed kin and joint heirs of the promise of God.


Blessing is Defined by the Holy Spirit’s Abiding Presence (v. 14b)

Because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.


Peter follows this up by providing the reason for such a statement. There is a reason that Peter can make such a bold statement as claiming that his readers are blessed. They are blessed because (ὅτι) of the Holy Spirit’s abiding presence. The suffering reveals blessing but is not the reason that believers are blessed. Christians are blessed because they have been born again by the Father (1:3) and are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit to obey the Son (1:2).


This spirit is none other than God the Holy Spirit who both bestows glory (τῆς δόξης) and is sent by God (τοῦ θεοῦ). They can confidently be called blessed because God the holy Spirit rests (ἀναπαύεται) upon them. The reference Peter has in mind comes from Is. 11:2, a prophecy regarding the coming Seed of David or root from Jesse. While the LXX of Is. 11:1-3 uses future tenses to predict the communion between Messiah and the Spirit of Yhwh, Peter uses the present tense to reveal a current reality.[3]


The ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament was primarily one of empowerment. The Spirit of Yhwh is said to come upon (κατευθύνω – Judg. 14:6, 19; 15:14) some men for a time, but never permanently rest (ἀναπαύω) upon them. This is why Isaiah’s statement regarding this future Seed of David is so startling. This one will not simply enjoy the Holy Spirit’s empowerment but will also experience the Holy Spirit’s indwelling.[4] Peter uses the reference of Isaiah to make another aspect of the fellowship between Christians and Christ. Just as the abiding presence of God’s glory upon the tabernacle was an indication of God’s blessing, so too is the abiding presence of His Spirit upon individuals. Jesus was publicly marked as God’s beloved and blessed Son when the Holy Spirit alighted upon Him (Matt. 3:16). Just as Jesus was insulted by men in His sufferings yet called blessed of God, so too are believers who are insulted because of their connection with Christ. The same Holy Spirit who testifies of Christ testifies of us. We belong to Him! All of this is revealed by our suffering.


What Constitutes Christian Suffering? (vv. 15-16)


Not all suffering is to be considered equal. This world is an evil place that does more to punish righteousness than it does to promote it. Yet even wicked men recognize some things as evil and make those who do such things to suffer. After all, it is the God-ordained duty of magistrates to punish those who do evil (2:14). It is imperative that these readers understand the difference between suffering for the sake of Christ and just plain suffering.


Christian Suffering is Unlike Worldly Suffering (v. 15)

For not one of you must suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evil doer or as a meddler.


With the use of γὰρ Peter offers this verse as an explanation to draw a tight circle around the kind of suffering that he has in mind. By using the singular τις and the plural ὑμῶν (any one of y’all), Peter points to each individual within the Christian community. This phrase is more forceful than most English translations make it out to be, as Peter uses yet another present imperative. The sense here is that Peter strictly prohibits any single Christian from suffering as a murder, or a thief, or an evil doer, or as a meddler. If there is going to be any objection from the world, it cannot be that the church has a negative impact on society and are nothing but a group of lawbreakers and annoying rabble rousers (3:16-17). Any religion that condones or practices sin is only a projection of paganism with a veneer of piety.[5]


There is no reason that we should understand murderer (φονεύς) and thief (κλέπτης[6]) in any manner other than the obvious. Those who are defined as murderers and thieves have nothing in common with God’s people and it should come as no surprise that both murderers and thieves will not occupy the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:10; Rev. 21:8; 22:15). What these terms have in common is that they describe heinous crimes against men that have been outlawed by virtually every society in history.


The third term evil doers (κακοποιός) is more general and could be seen as another reference to criminal activity (2:14), or something less than a prosecutor would pursue. There is much evil in the world, most of it untouched by the law. It is considered a moral evil to lie, yet only in a few circumstances would one ever be pursued by the law for this breach of faith.


The fourth term meddler (ἀλλοτριεπίσκοπος) or troublesome meddler (NASB) or busybody (NKJV) is a term that is largely disputed. This term is only used here in the New Testament and may be a term coined by Peter. If we dissect the various parts of this compound word, we are left with another’s (ἄλλος) overseer (ἐπίσκοπος) or one who attempts to be an overseer over another’s business. The meddler is one who pries into the affairs of others only to stand over them as if he has the right and authority to provide instruction or direction. Peter’s argument has moved from violent crime all the way to being a general public nuisance.

It seems that on the one hand, Peter is moving in a direction of lesser infractions but, on the other hand he is raising the bar regarding Christian suffering. He goes well beyond stating that Christians are not to suffer for breaking the laws of God and man to stating that Christians are not to earn their scorn in any conceivable manner. If the world is going to hate us, then let it be because we cling to Christ. If you are hated and scorned because you commit sin or because you impose your own self-righteous standard upon others, then you’re welcome to enjoy what you’ve so richly earned. Peter forbids every Christian on the sub-continent from such suffering.


Christian Suffering Glorifies God (v. 16)

But if as a Christian, he must not be ashamed but must glorify God in this name.


The contrast here is sticking, for it seems as though Peter has introduced a third category (ὡς) with the mention of Christian. The name Christian was not one that the church conceived of but was given to them by the watching world (Acts. 11:26; 26:28).[7] This is the third and final use of the term (χριστιανός) in the New Testament. A Christian is one who follows Christ. If someone suffers because the world recognizes him as a follower of Christ and, for that reason, directs persecution, then and only then does he suffer as a Christian.

If this is the cause of his suffering, Peter forbids the feeling of shame. Yet another present imperative negated by μὴ commands his readers from ever feeling shame at being identified as a follower of Christ. To be named as a follower of Christ is an honor and something to be humbly grateful for. To be ashamed of Christ is nothing less than to commit the very real crime of apostasy.[8]


Rather than fall away from the faith and from their Savior, Peter commands his readers to continue glorifying God in this name, that is the name Christian.[9] It is their connection with the name of Christ (ἐν ὀνόματι Χριστοῦ) that earns the insults from the world and the blessing of God (v. 14), and it is in this name Christian that the world now turns to project suffering yet is able to bring glory to the Father. Peter has now come full circle since his discussion in 4:7-11.


The goal and object of Christianity is nothing short of the glory of God (4:11). It is our distinct privilege to be connected with the name of Christ and to be joined to Him in fellowship if we are so honored to suffer in connection with His name. We wear this name Christian, not as the slur for which it was intended, but with the gratitude of sons of a benevolent Father. To glorify God by means of (ἐν) the name Christian is to live as Christ lived, in perfect obedience and conformity to the Father of lights within whom there is no variation nor shifting shadow (Jm. 1:17). To glorify God in the name Christian is to simply be what the name implies, a follower of Christ.


Conclusion


It is not a small matter that modern evangelicalism is working overtime to erase the name Christian from their vocabulary. Meanwhile, cults and false religions have made great strides to claim the same name which evangelicals seem to denounce. Yet it is the name Christian that identifies the people of Christ. Suffering as a Christian is what confirms our union with Christ. Why would we seek any other name to call ourselves? Why would we think to “rebrand” what God has already branded? Perhaps the church of Christ needs to spend less time considering how we might be accepted by the world and accept the fact that the world hates us. This is nothing to be shocked at. It is only something to be recognized so that we might redouble our efforts to do what we have been reborn to do; to glorify the God who saved us.


Soli Deo Gloria!

[1] Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003), p. 220-1. [2] Ibid, p. 221-2. [3] Schreiner, p. 223. [4] D. Edmond Hiebert, 1 Peter (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1984), p. 288. [5] Ibid, p. 288. [6] The verb κλέπτω is where we get our English “kleptomaniac.” [7] Schreiner, p. 225-6. [8] Ibid, p. 226. [9] The Textus Receptus reads μέρει (part/share) instead of ὀνόματι (name). The first four editions of the UBS GNT and the first 27 editions of the Nestle-Aland GNT both reduce μέρει to the footnotes and hold ὀνόματι as the correct reading. The UBS5 and the NA28 both regrettably reverse this decision. In his 1971 commentary on the text of the UBS3, Bruce Metzger did not even see the variant worthy of discussion. Up until the early 21st century, all critical scholarship agreed that Peter wrote name instead of part.

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