Let’s take our Bibles at this time, as we come to the study of God’s Word again tonight, and open it to 1 Peter chapter 4. We’re looking at the text of verses 12 through 19 under the title, “The Fiery Trial.” Now, as I noted for you last time, it is most likely that this epistle of 1 Peter was written late in the year 64 AD. That would put it a few months after the burning of Rome. You remember that Nero had burned Rome wanting, no doubt, to build a greater edifice to his own glory. And when Rome was burning and someone was needed to be blamed, he laid the blame on the Christians. And so, beginning in that year of 64 AD, there came an ever increasingly intense and outrageous and widening persecution of Christians. It is then in that context that Peter is writing his epistle. His readers would already be feeling some of the fury of a people who were anti-Christian to start with, and who now would hold Christians responsible for the tragedy of the burning of Rome and the death of people who were in that city. His readers scattered throughout the Roman world would also begin to feel the pressure of persecution. So, Peter is writing then to believers who are beginning to have the fire turned up, as it were, from those who were in an unbelieving role in the world, an unbelieving role I say as those dupes and agents of Satan set against the church of Christ.
To just get you in touch with that a little bit, go back to chapter 1 and get a feeling for this character within the epistle. Chapter 1 verse 6, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while if necessary you have been distressed by various trials.” He mentions in verse 7 that such trials are testing their faith. Then, over in chapter 2 notice verses 11 and 12. He reminds them that they are aliens and strangers, and they are to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. They’re to keep their behavior excellent among the Gentiles so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds as they observe them glorify God in the day of visitation. So, the idea again comes forth that they were slandered as evildoers as well as persecuted for righteousness’ sake. They were enduring distress and various trials.
In verse 19 of chapter 2 Peter alludes again to this. He says, “This finds favor if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if when you sin and are harshly treated you endure it with patience, but if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure, this finds favor with God.” Over in chapter 3 then, and verse 8, he says to sum it up, “Let’s be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kind hearted and humble in spirit,” then this, “not returning evil for evil or insult for insult.” And again, indicating that they were being treated with an evil means and they were being insulted as well. Verse 14 says, “Even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled.” Verse 17 says, “It is better if God should will it so that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.” Then, in chapter 4 verse 1, “Since has Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.” Expect it; it came to your Lord. Chapter 5 verse 10, “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace who called you to His eternal glory in Christ will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.”
Now, you can tell then that in every chapter there is some reference made to unjust suffering. The church was being persecuted. As Peter begins here in chapter 4 verse 12, what is really the last section of his epistle flows all the way down through chapter 5, he again visits this same theme. He is concerned about suffering for righteousness’ sake, suffering for the sake of Jesus Christ. It is interesting to me to look at the world around us. We’re looking at a church in Eastern Europe and a church in Russia, Soviet Union, that has suffered greatly for a number of years, a number of decades. That church is emerging out of its suffering season and will be granted freedoms. In some ways, that church may turn out to have greater freedom than we do as Christians in America. It seems to me that the trend here is quite the opposite. Rather than a church emerging out of an atheistic humanistic society as we are seeing in Eastern Europe, we have atheism and humanism emerging out of a quote-unquote Christian culture. And atheism and humanism will eventually in our own nation become more aggressively the persecutor of the church.
What Peter is saying here then may speak to us in our own lifetime and the lifetime of our children. As our nation becomes more and more intolerant of the Christian faith in its quest for fulfilling its amoral life style, we will become a greater and greater threat. So, Peter’s words must be taken to heart. Already, there is a growing persecution against those that name the name of Jesus Christ. If you are to speak, for example, publicly against the sins of our culture, sexual sins, particularly the sin of homosexuality, you will find a hostility that can be on its fringes frightening and even life-threatening. We are living in a day when those who live strongly for Christ and who confront the culture, and whose testimony is on the cutting edge, and who say what ought to be said where it ought to be said may find themselves in trouble and under great distress and persecution. So be it, we should be ready for it.
In order to be ready, should that come, and even to endure what we are already experiencing, we need to take to heart verses 12 through 19. Here Peter gives us the proper way to deal with suffering for righteousness’ sake. And I have to tell you that I’ve gone over this repeatedly in my own mind because I get a little of this. It’s amazing to me that sometimes the suffering for righteousness’ sake comes from within the church, within the framework of Christianity. There can be hostility, and unkindness, and threats, and who knows what. I have found myself retreating to the truths of this passage on a number of occasions, and more so recently than at any other time in my life. But let me read you verses 12 through 19 just to set it in your mind. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you which comes upon you for your testing as though some strange thing were happening to you. But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ keep on rejoicing so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exaltation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer or thief or evildoer or a troublesome meddler, but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed but in that name let him glorify God; for it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God. And, if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner? Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God and trust their souls to a faithful creator in doing what is right.”