Sermon Date: April 10, 2011
Sermon Title: No Matter What
Sermon Text: 1 Peter 4:12-19 & Luke 14:27
Small Group Text: 1 Peter 4:12-19
Christian Jews already had a deeply ingrained experiential understanding of suffering and persecution. Conquered and exiled by the Assyrians and Babylonians, ruled by the Persians and Greeks and crushed by the Romans, Jewish tradition was steeped in the idea that the righteous experienced suffering in this age while the wicked would experience judgment and suffering at the hands of God in the age to come (Daniel 12:1-2). But Peter was writing Gentile Christians, new to the faith and for whom religious persecution was perplexing. Little did Peter know that the Church would suffer at the hands of Roman Emperors for two more centuries. Since then, Christians have suffered persecution in various forms at different times and places throughout history making Peter’s first epistle timeless in its relevance. The Church should always be prepared to endure hardship. As Christians present a counterculture to the prevailing norms of their morally corrupt surroundings, they can expect to be persecuted. This is why it would be important for Christ-followers to understand and remember Peter’s counsel on how to persevere through suffering and persecution for the sake of Christ. Don’t be surprised when it happens to you (vv. 12-13) How strange that the genuine believer would engender hatred and persecution from unbelievers. And yet, a God-honoring life can prove difficult. Christ’s demand for selfdenial, for purity and righteousness become a kind of moral conscience (moral compass) to the neighbors next door, the colleagues in the office, classmates at school, maybe even government officials. The Church’s claim that “Jesus Christ is Lord of all” can be inconvenient and even repugnant to those who love their sin. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life. But those on the way to destruction treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse. This is a terrific responsibility. Is anyone competent to take it on? 2 Cor. 2:15 (Msg)
Mistreatment at the hands of a pagan world can take many forms. Christians have been shunned, ridiculed, isolated, ignored, neglected, by-passed, slandered, interrogated, imprisoned, and martyred. But none of this, wrote Peter, should catch the Christian off-guard (literally, the Christian should not be amazed), as though something strange were happening (1 Peter 4:12). Persecution, in one form or another, is inevitable. Suffering for one’s faith is not accidental. It is purposeful. •
Persecution is a test. One’s devotion to a conviction or belief becomes immediately apparent when he/she has to suffer for it. And most likely, only the most committed Christian would have to suffer since the less dedicated ones would probably fold and compromise with the world rather than enduring the “painful trials.” Persecution also has a purifying effect (see 1 Peter 1:7). Peter used the expression, “painful trials” (Greek “purosis,” literally a smelting process). The idea being that, through the heat of persecution, the dross of one’s life surfaces to be skimmed off by God who is purifying a people for His own possession (1 Peter 2:9-10).
Rejoice! Through the fires of persecution, Christians participate (literally, “to share.”) in the sufferings of Jesus Christ. This is not a reference to Christ’s substitutionary suffering on the cross. Rather, it is the Christian’s willingness to suffer for the sake of righteousness. In this sense, Christ-followers become like him – being conformed inwardly to the nature and character of Jesus Christ. And this process of being molded into the image of Christ is not without effect. Through “painful trials,” the Christian… • Will rejoice with Christ (the word overjoyed is translated “rejoice” in 1 Peter 1:6) • Has fellowship with Christ (Phil. 3:10) • Can look forward to… o Being glorified with Christ (Rom. 8:17) o Reigning with Christ (2 Tim. 2:12). The New Testament is clear that those who share the grief share the glory when Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:7; 5:1). If Christians can keep this in mind while undergoing persecution, suffering for the sake of Christ becomes a privilege and not a punishment. This truth holds fear at bay and is the cause for hope and rejoicing in the midst of even the most painful, fiery trials. Don’t bring suffering on yourself (vv. 14-15) But Peter was very pointed regarding the object of the believer’s suffering: Enduring persecution is only virtuous if it results from Christ-like behaviors – not from any wrongdoing on the Christian’s part. Wrongful executions of family and friends was no excuse to retaliate with murder. Stealing to compensate for properties confiscated could not be rationalized from a Christ-like perspective. No matter how they were treated, Christians were never to do anything that would justify punishing them as criminals (1 Peter 2:19; 3:17). Even interfering in other people’s affairs as a critical, gossiping busybody was unbecoming to a Christ-like demeanor (1 Tim. 5:13). Do right! The Apostle Peter was one of the original twelve disciples. Quite obviously, these words of Jesus left a lasting impression upon him: "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Matthew 5:11
And here is one of the most affirming truths of Peter’s letter: If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (1 Peter 4:14)
Peter used a rather strange phraseology to make his point. The Spirit of glory and of God (Isa. 11:2; Matt. 3:16) no doubt refers to the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence within all who are identified by “the name of Christ” and suffer persecution because of it. But probably, Peter wanted to infer even more than this. Perhaps he also meant to say that… • •
If a Christian was persecuted for the sake of Christ, this very circumstance, though painful, was an affirmation – verifying that the Spirit of the living God was indwelling that believer. So also, Peter was familiar with the Jewish conception of the Shekinah glory, the luminous glow of the very presence of God. And while this is typically an Old Testament phenomenon, perhaps Peter was convinced that Christ would send his Spirit to strengthen those persecuted for their faith to be evidenced by the Shekinah glory. Peter’s idea brings to mind the first Christian martyr, Stephen, who, while on trial for his faith and certain that he would be condemned to death, had the countenance of an angel (Acts 6:15).
Don’t be ashamed to share His suffering (vv. 16-19 see also Romans 1:16) Peter’s learned early on in his Christian experience that there is no shame in suffering for the sake of Christ (see Acts 5). To the contrary, the experience becomes a source of praise to God as it identifies the persecuted Christian with the blessings of salvation. Instead of being overcome with humiliation and despair, the suffering Christian is to accept persecution as the undeniable mark of son-ship, i.e., that he/she belongs to God. Peter had already identified persecution for righteousness as purposed by God to refine and prove one’s faith (1 Peter 1:6-7; 3:17). But God also allows persecution as discipline for sin to purify the lives of those in His family. He does this to encourage us to stay faithful and consistently depend upon Him. (Note: The writer of Hebrews also supports Peter’s warning. Read Hebrews 12:1-12 for a more in-depth treatment of this concept.) But Peter noted this sobering caveat from the Old Testament book of Proverbs: If the children of God are subject to the disciplinary judgments of their Heavenly Father, how much more will those who do not obey the gospel – the ungodly and unrepentant sinner – deserve everlasting judgment (Proverbs 11:31). Commit and continue! Finally, Peter exhorted his readers to continue to do good (literally, to live virtuous lives committed to well-doing). No matter the circumstances, God could be trusted as the Source of all creation upon whom they could rely. For just as God created the world, and faithfully orders and sustains it at every microsecond of life – this same faithful God can be counted on to fulfill His promises to His people. If God can oversee the forces of nature, most certainly He can see His children through the fires of persecution – no matter how intense the heat. It’s an interesting word that Peter used to convey this idea of trust. The Greek word, paratithemi, (par-at-ith'-ay-mee) is the technical word for depositing money with a trusted friend. In the absence of banks and safe places to deposit money, a man would often leave his money in the safekeeping of a friend before leaving for an extended trip. Such a trust was regarded as one of the most sacred things in life. The friend was absolutely bound by his honor and his religion to return the money intact. This, then, is the same spirit of trust the believer is to have toward God. Just as Christ entrusted himself to His Father who judges rightly (1 Peter 2:23), so should believers commit (literally “deposit or entrust”) themselves (literally, “their souls”) to their faithful Creator and continue to do good (1 Peter 2:15, 20). Perhaps in closing out this passage, Peter was recalling the language of a familiar Jewish prayer, which included the phrase, “Our lives are committed to your hand, and our souls are in your care.”