Strangers And Aliens (21c): Be Not Surprised By Fiery Trials (1 Peter 4:12–19)

12Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” 19Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:12–19; ESV) 12Ἀγαπητοί, μὴ ξενίζεσθε τῇ ἐν ὑμῖν πυρώσει πρὸς πειρασμὸν ὑμῖν γινομένῃ ὡς ξένου ὑμῖν συμβαίνοντος, 13 ἀλλὰ καθὸ κοινωνεῖτε τοῖς τοῦ Χριστοῦ παθήμασιν χαίρετε, ἵνα καὶ ἐν τῇ ἀποκαλύψει τῆς δόξης αὐτοῦ χαρῆτε ἀγαλλιώμενοι. 14 εἰ ὀνειδίζεσθε ἐν ὀνόματι Χριστοῦ, μακάριοι, ὅτι τὸ τῆς δόξης καὶ τὸ τοῦ θεοῦ πνεῦμα ἐφ᾿ ὑμᾶς ἀναπαύεται. 15 μὴ γάρ τις ὑμῶν πασχέτω ὡς φονεὺς ἢ κλέπτης ἢ κακοποιὸς ἢ ὡς ἀλλοτριεπίσκοπος· 16 εἰ δὲ ὡς Χριστιανός, μὴ αἰσχυνέσθω, δοξαζέτω δὲ τὸν θεὸν ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι τούτῳ. 17 ὅτι [ὁ] καιρὸς τοῦ ἄρξασθαι τὸ κρίμα ἀπὸ τοῦ οἴκου τοῦ θεοῦ· εἰ δὲ πρῶτον ἀφ᾿ ἡμῶν, τί τὸ τέλος τῶν ἀπειθούντων τῷ τοῦ θεοῦ εὐαγγελίῳ; 18 καὶ εἰ ὁ δίκαιος μόλις σῴζεται, ὁ ἀσεβὴς καὶ ἁμαρτωλὸς ποῦ φανεῖται; 19 ὥστε καὶ οἱ πάσχοντες κατὰ τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ πιστῷ κτίστῃ παρατιθέσθωσαν τὰς ψυχὰς αὐτῶν ἐν ἀγαθοποιΐᾳ.

v.15–16: Suffering For Christ But Not For Lawlessness
In our time and culture(s) we use the word “suffer” very loosely. Perhaps most often we use it to refer to medical, emotional, or psychiatric conditions. To be sure these are forms of suffering. Christians are not Gnostics (e.g., The Church of Christ Science, “Christian Science”). We affirm the reality of our shared humanity and the reality of physical, emotional, psychological suffering (e.g., Matt 8:6) but when the Apostle Peter speaks of suffering here his paradigm is Christ. To be sure, Christians affirm whole-heartedly the true humanity of Jesus. He suffered emotionally and physically. His true humanity is both body and soul nevertheless, when Peter thinks about Christ’s suffering he is not thinking of medical conditions. He is thinking of Christ’s suffering under “the elders and chief priests and scribes” (Mark 8:31), his being treated with contempt (Mark 9:12). It was with these sufferings that Peter began his epistle: “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” (1 Pet 1:10–11). Peter has already contrasted suffering like Christ for his sake (because of our identity with him), with suffering for wrong-doing (1 Pet 2:19–21). Christ, however, was reviled because he was righteous. When he suffered he did not threaten (1 Pet 2:23). When we live in a way that is appropriate to our identity with Christ we may suffer for righteousness’ sake (1 Pet 3:14, 17). It is a testimony to our identity with Christ. He suffered in the flesh (1 Pet 4:1) and so may we.

Should we suffer (πασχέτω), however, as Peter has already written, it must not be because we committed murder (φονεὺς). Our Lord, who gave the moral law to Adam in the garden and again at Sinai, repeatedly condemned murder as a gross violation of his law (Matt 5:21; 15:19; 19:18; Mark 7:21). Indeed, Peter’s language here echoes Jesus’ in Mark 10:19 where he gave a similar list, derived from the Decalogue. Like Jesus (μὴ κλέψῃς) in Mark 10:19, Peter lists theft (κλέπτης) as one of the sins, lawbreaking, that brings one into conflict with civil authorities and that brings the Christian confession into disrepute among the pagans. He does not explain what murder or theft are. He quite rightly assumes that we know—because we do know—what theft and murder are. The latter is the unrighteous taking of a human life. Cain was a murderer (Gen 4:8). He took his brother’s life without any moral justification. He was jealous. This is categorically different, however, from the justified taking of a human life. E.g., when the state takes the life of a murderer, that is justified, righteous. A murderer has taken another human life contrary to the natural, moral law instituted in creation by God. A life may be taken in a just war. E.g., When the Axis Powers in the 1930s and 40s sought to impose tyranny across the globe, free peoples (and the Soviet Union) rose up to oppose them. Such taking of a life is not murder. Failure to observe the distinction between the two is blindness and the source of moral confusion and social chaos. Theft is the unjust taking of what does not belong to one. This is something that every two-year old learns: what does and does not belong to one. Again, such unrighteous taking must be contrasted with legitimate taxation. Scripture explicitly calls Christians to pay taxes to the authorities (Mark 12:17; Rom 13:6, 7). Those Libertarians who say that all taxes are theft do so contrary to God’s Word.

Peter also uses the category “evil doers” (κακοποιὸς) which Mark 3:4 used to quote Jesus against the Pharisees (Mark 3:6) on the Sabbath: “And he said to them, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil (κακοποιῆσαι), to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent.” This is an intentionally broad category. Peter has already invoked it in 2:12 (κακοποιῶν) and in 3:17 (κακοποιοῦντας). As the Apostle John wrote to the churches in Asia Minor, Christians are to be marked not be imitating evil nor by evil doing (κακοποιῶν) but by doing good (ἀγαθοποιῶν). John says starkly “the one doing evil has not seen God” (3 John 11). Again, he does not define it. He assumes we know what it is because we do. We know it from what the Westminster Divines called “the general rules of the Word” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 1.7).

The final category of disobedience is actually somewhat difficult. Peter uses an unusual word (ἀλλοτριεπίσκοπος). William Tyndale (1494–1536), who was martyred for the gospel, translated the term as “busybody.” He was followed by the Authorized Version (1611). The American Standard Version (1901) used “meddler” and the New American Standard uses “troublesome meddler.” The NIV and ESV followed this tradition. According to James Swanson, it might also mean “one who infringes on the rights of others,” an “intriguer,” “informer,” or “mischief maker.”1 Were we simply to add up the letters, it would mean simply “one who over sees others” or “others’ things” but method and the context here forbids this understanding. There were Christians who served as supervisors in various capacities in the very time and place in which and to which the Apostle Peter wrote. He was not saying that Christians must not serve as overseers. Thus, the sense must be meddling or something like that. This understanding fits with his general concern that Christians should, to use Paul’s language live quietly and mind our own affairs (1 Thess 4:11; 2 Thess 3:12; 1 Tim 2:11).

Should we suffer for this sort of immorality and lawbreaking, Christians ought to be ashamed. As earlier in the epistle, as noted above, Peter again exhorts his hearers (and us) that should we suffer as a Christian (Χριστιανός) we should not be ashamed (αἰσχυνέσθω). In some cultures the concept of shame is so fundamental, so embedded that it need not be explained. In our late-modern Narcissistic selfie-culture, in which self-aggrandizement, self-promotion, and self-image is glorified it bears some explanation. The Oxford American Dictionary defines shame thus:  “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.” Luke uses it in that same sense in Luke 16:3. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:8 that, at the judgment, he shall not be put to shame (αἰσχυνθήσομαι; see also Phil 1:20).  The Apostle John says that believers shall not experience a painful feeling of humiliation at the return of Jesus (1 John 2:28).

The proper response to suffering for righteousness’ sake is not painful humiliation but to glorify (δοξαζέτω) God “in this name” (τῷ ὀνόματι τούτῳ).  This last phrase gives us a strong clue to the situation that Peter has in mind. He is preparing the Christians of Asia Minor for that day when some of them shall be called upon to give testimony in the name of Jesus and to face punishment and death for the same of the same name. Should they face punishment for criminal behavior, they would do so in their own name, not in the name of Christ. When the Roman authorities, however, arrested Christians one of the first questions they asked was: “Are you a Christian?” At that moment a Christian faced a choice: to affirm the Savior and to die for his sake, to suffer like him, or to deny him. They would be called to deny Christ and to affirm Caesar and the gods and even to pour out a drink offering (libatio) to the gods.

Thus, the glorifying that Peter has in mind here has less to do with our subjective feelings (e.g., feelings of euphoria) than it does with an objective reality, a declaration of the truth in the face of suffering and death. Suffering for Christ was not pleasant physically. The Romans were expert at torture and they periodically punished Christians for dissenting from the status quo until Christianity was legalized in the early 4th century.

Suffering is miserable but suffering as a lawbreaker is shameful. As I write our brothers and sisters in Nigeria (particularly in the north) are suffering in the way that Peter is speaking here. They are suffering for the name of Christ. Brothers and sisters in (communist) China continue to suffer periodically. Christians have all but been eliminated from Nineveh (in Iraq) and face terrible persecution from adherents of the so-called “religion of peace” (Islam) in the Middle East and on the African continent. May the God of all grace sustain them and us, should  our time also come.

1. See James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), s.v., ἀλλοτριεπίσκοπος.

Here are all the posts on 1 Peter.

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!

One comment

Comments are closed.