Suffering for Being
12Dear friends, don't be surprised or shocked that you are going through testing that is like walking through fire. 13Be glad for the chance to suffer as Christ suffered. It will prepare you for even greater happiness when he makes his glorious return.
14Count it a blessing when you suffer for being a Christian. This shows that God's glorious Spirit is with you. 15But you deserve to suffer if you are a murderer, a thief, a crook, or a busybody. 16Don't be ashamed to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God that you belong to him. 17God has already begun judging his own people. And if his judgment begins with us, imagine how terrible it will be for those who refuse to obey his message. The Scriptures say,
18 “If good people barely escape,
what will happen to sinners
and to others
who don't respect God?”
19If you suffer for obeying God, you must have complete faith in your faithful Creator and keep on doing right.
“Let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful creator, while continuing to do good” (4:19 NRSV). This is a good summary of 1 Peter’s theology of suffering. It does more than acknowledge the reality of persecution and suffering; it expects it and accepts it as an element of God’s will.
But not just any suffering qualifies. Suffering caused by unethical and criminal behaviour is not within God’s will. There’s no point trying to excuse or sanctify what is inherently ungodly (4:15). But there is no disgrace if you “suffer as a Christian.” Instead, you can expect vindication, real identification with God Almighty – “because you bear his name” (4:16 NRSV).
If you trust in a faithful creator you will avoid bitterness and the desire to return unkind and unfair actions with more of the same. If you act in a godly way in the face of real persecution you will witness profoundly to what is ultimately true. Continue to do good.
Is it a good thing for Christians to encounter opposition to their faith? Peter suggests, “yes,” at least under certain circumstances. He expects people of Christian faith to be “reviled” for their religious beliefs, in part because their behaviour causes them to stand out. Conflict of some sort is likely, and it will probably lead to persecution or suffering.
Peter is clear that suffering for Christ needs to be exactly that – for Christ, and not for any other reason. The expectation of conflict is not an excuse for adversarial behaviour. Christian conduct is never truly unlawful, self-seeking or unloving. This isn’t about the consequences of mischief.
When suffering is a direct result of person’s essential faith, a strange blessing is released. God’s spirit attends in a special way; the peace of assurance descends and rests with the sufferer. And this experience of revelation is itself cause for gladness.
O God, how easy it is to lash out at those who treat me unfairly. But your Word encourages me to continue to do good no matter what is happening. The bad actions of others are no reason for me to abandon an ethic of love towards all. Help me to be faithful. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.