COMMENTARY ON FIRST PETER
"4:12Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy." (1 Peter 4:12-13NKJV)
The Holy Spirit consistently views life from the perspective of our relationship to Christ. He never addresses the saints as citizens of an earthly country, a fraternity of people connected by common earthly interests, or domestic families. While none of those things are condemned, they are not the area of blessing. Jesus is Himself the circumference of every good and perfect gift that comes down from above. In this text, even sufferings are viewed from a spiritual perspective. In this way, the whole of life is perceived as a preparation for the appearing of Jesus. This is true whether it is viewed as a stewardship, a ministry, a time of receiving from God, or one of suffering shame for His name. Jesus is the Polestar around which all of life is centered. He has devoted, and is devoting, Himself fully to our salvation. It is not unreasonable, therefore, that we should devote ourselves fully to Him, viewing every aspect of life as associated with Him, and sustained by Him.
DO NOT THINK IT STRANGE
" 4:12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you . . . " NKJV The Epistles address the people of God as "Beloved" no less than fifty-one times. The Lord Jesus is also referred to as "the Beloved" (Eph 1:6), and God's "beloved Son" (2 Pet 1:17). This is, therefore, no insignificant expression. Think of some of the ways it is used in reference to God's people. "Beloved of God" (Rom 1:7), "Dearly beloved" (Rom 12:19), "beloved in the Lord" (Rom 16:8), "beloved brethren" (1 Cor 15:58), "elect of God holy and beloved" (Col 3:12). The expression denotes a special people, in whom the Lord has a special interest, and for whom the saints have a special preference. This is heart language, as when Paul said to Philemon, "I have you in my heart" (Phile 7). It is not a mere formal approach.
Something was ahead for these saints-something that would be difficult to bear. Peter calls it a "fiery trial." Other versions say "fiery ordeal,"RSV "painful trial,"NIV and "testing by fire."NJB Note, he does not refer to a coming "tragedy," "disaster," "calamity," or "catastrophe." The word "fiery" views difficulty as a period of refinement-of purging the dross from our lives. Peter has already referred to this part of spiritual life in the first chapter. "That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ" (1:7). It is not enough simply to possess faith. It must be put to the test to prove its worth. The test is not for God's benefit, but for ours-to show us the superiority of faith, and its nature to overcome the world (1 John 5:4). Many professed believers do not consider the effect trials have upon their faith. They think too much in the flesh, and not enough in the Spirit. This is owing to the distorted emphasis that is being promoted by the contemporary church. It accents life in this world, rather than life in the "heavenly places," to which we have been raised(Eph 2:6). This moves people to think of their flesh instead of their faith, when trials come upon them. Ponder how your faith has survived! How marvelous it is! Hardship need not cause you to cease trusting God, but can actually make your determination stronger. When this happens, your faith has passed the test of trial.
He refers to a "TRIAL," emphasizing the objective served by the occurrence, rather the experience itself. Here is a perspective that is imperative if we are to gain the victory in life! The very word "trial" confirms the experience is in the hands of the Lord, not men. It is not happenstance, but is under the strict and beneficent government of Jesus. He will not allow the test to go too far (1 Cor 10:13), and will stand by us throughout its duration. Your trials are a fulfillment of Malachi 3:3. "And He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness." Trials do affect what we offer to God.
These saints were suffering for righteousness sake. From the standpoint of morality, they were suffering "wrongfully," enduring something they did not deserve (Matt 5:10; 1 Pet 2:19; 3:14). But they must not allow their minds to dwell upon this. Their suffering must be seen from a higher perspective-as a "trial" being governed by their Lord.
With a large heart, the aged Apostle tells believers not to "be surprised" by the ordeal that is taking place among them.NSRV It is not to be viewed as something unusual-a sort of intrusion into their lives that will uproot them from fellowship with God. Being in the world is like being in the furnace of trial. This is the ONLY place where we will be tested, so we should not be astonished when trial comes. Our trials belong to us (1 Cor 3:21-23).
Precisely what this trial was is not declared. Some have thought it to be the destruction of Jerusalem, which would occur about five years later. However, this is unlikely since the letter is not written to people in Jerusalem, but to "strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia" (1:1). Jesus taught men to prepare for conflict and trial. He said it this way, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matt 16:24). The cross is associated with testing, and with ultimate death. It provides a view of spiritual life that is sorely needed in our day. The testing of our faith can confirm you are fully capable of bearing YOUR cross.
PARTAKERS OF CHRIST'S SUFFERINGS
" 4:13a . . . but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings . . . " NKJV Sufferings are not merely to be borne, but become the occasion for rejoicing. How frequently rejoicing is associated with suffering: "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad. . . " (Matt 5:11-12). "When men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy" (Lk 6:23). "And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name" (Acts 5:41). "Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations" (1 Pet 1:6). How can we rejoice when we suffer?
First, the reason for the suffering is our identity with Jesus! The suffering, therefore, becomes proof of that identity! It substantiates that we do not belong in this world-that we are being oriented for another place and another ministry. When the world does not receive us, it proves we do not belong to its order. When life in this world is made hard because of trials, it confirms we are out of place here. To us, the world is like the wilderness to Israel. They were only going through it in order to get to Canaan. The knowledge of these realities makes for rejoicing in the Lord.
Suffering also confirms our reward IS great in heaven (Matt 5:12). It is there already, "reserved" as our inheritance (1 Pet 1:4). While we are waiting to receive that inheritance, we are being tried and sifted in order to be worthy of it. As it is written, "that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer" (2 Thess 1:5). When our hearts take hold of this verity, rejoicing is made possible, strengthening the heart.
Our sufferings-those which are "for righteousness sake," and because we are not of the world-are a form of Divine fellowship. We "partake of Christ's sufferings." We are thus "suffering WITH Him" (Rom 8:17). We are actually experiencing the same things He did, because He was not of this world. For that reason, "as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation" (2 Cor 1:7). As believers, in our sufferings, "the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body" (2 Cor 4:10). In our "fiery" and refining trials, we become a visible testimony to the life of Christ. It is His life within us that has induced the trial. From the Divine perspective, that Life requires testing and proving for our sakes, in order that we might gain confidence and assurance. From the viewpoint of our oppressors, they behold how Divine life reacts to rejection and abuse. From the vantage point of the powers of darkness, they behold the invincibility of our faith, being unable to cause us to curse God or abandon the way of righteousness.
Christ has left a residue of suffering behind, to be experienced by those He has "received to the glory of God" (Rom 15:7). This aspect of spiritual life was revealed through Paul. "Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church"NKJV (Col 1:24). Other versions refer to the sufferings as "that which is lacking." This does NOT mean Christ's sufferings are deficient. It DOES mean salvation makes provision for us to share in the experience of them. Our sufferings have no remedial power, and cannot save anyone. In them, however, there is a level of fellowship with Jesus that cannot be found elsewhere. These sufferings are also "for" the church, or people of God. They are the result of siding with the saints, being unashamed to be openly included in their number. They are also sufferings that result from our commitment to bring spiritual advantage to them at all cost.
These sufferings are measured. They are not the same for everyone, but are in harmony with our abilities, degree of spiritual insight, and measure of faith. That is why the words "to the extent," or "inasmuch"KJV are used. The NASB reads, "to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ." That "degree" or "extent" can be joyfully endured by your faith. It is not more than you can bear, but is specifically tailored for you by a loving Father. They will fit you for the wonderful inheritance that is reserved for you in heaven.
GLAD WHEN HIS GLORY IS REVEALED
" 4:13b . . . that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy." NKJV Even in their sufferings, those in Christ receive strength to rejoice. Now, because we believe in Jesus, and even though we do not see Him, we "rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory" (1 Pet 1:8). But that is nothing to compare with the joy that is to come. Always, and without exception, the eyes of the believer are lifted upward. Saints are admonished to consider the future more than the present. Hope, which is faith in its forward posture, is set on what is coming. It refuses to settle down in this world, or place the emphasis on things that are seen and experienced here.
The future is not an end of itself. That is, it is not simply held out to us as though to say, "things will get better." There is an event on the horizon of Divine destiny that mitigates all adversity, and neutralizes every cup of trouble and sorrow. It is the coming, or appearing, of the Lord--when His glory will be revealed. The coming of Christ is to faith what the star was to the wise men from the East.
The revelation of Christ's glory is when God will unveil Who Jesus really is, showing Him in unrestricted splendor. Scripture says it this way. " . . . until our Lord Jesus Christ's appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords" (1 Tim 6:14-15). At that time, we will see Jesus "as He is" (1 John 3:2). For those in Christ, the sight will be perfectly harmonious with the realities grasped by faith. Jesus in "His glory" (Matt 25:31) will differ not one whit from the understanding of Him that faith has brought to us. The glorified Christ will be but an enhancement of the One we trusted, and upon Whom we have believed.
We will not be startled by what we see, but gladdened by the sight. Even when we did not see Him, we rejoiced with "joy unspeakable." When the hindering influences of time, and the obscuring effects of the things that are "seen" are removed, our hearts will leap for joy at the sight of Jesus. One of the primary reasons for this is the transforming effect of seeing Jesus in all of His glory. As it is written, "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory" (Col 3:4). Again, it is written, "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2). The cause that will effect our final change is the sight of the glorified Christ! That is why it is written, "For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body" (Phil 3:20-21). For those who believe, that is a most pleasant prospect!
Presently, our faith is preparing us for the time when we will see the Lord "as He is." Further, our trials are perfecting and enhancing our faith. They are leading us to rely more completely upon the Lord, and more strongly anticipate His return in glory. The refiner's fire confirms there is a final fire that will consume the earth and the things that are in it (2 Pet 3:10-12). As our faith is refined, we are being brought to a point where "exceeding joy" will erupt from us at the appearing of Jesus Christ. That is not something that might happen. It is something that WILL happen for believers. That is WHY the Lord tries and refines us through suffering. Does that not make the yoke of Jesus "easy," and His burden "light"? Your heart can embrace this without fear of contradiction of disappointment.
The realities affirmed by this text expose the folly of much of the religion of our day. There is a noticeable absence of any emphasis on the return of Jesus Christ. Men have chosen to argue about Christ's return rather than to anticipate it. Myriad of churched people have never heard a single message on, or discussion of, Christ coming in glory. Not one gram of value can be assigned to any professed Christianity or teaching that does not make a prominent place for the return of Christ Jesus. God is going to "show" His Son in all of His glory, and is devoted to readying His people for that event. How, then, can any neglect of this teaching be justified? When Jesus is seen in His glory, we also will be seen in ours? We will then be liberated from every vestige of sin's curse, and attain the great inheritance to which we have been appointed. Christ's return is to be anticipated.