1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on May 28, 2017.

Like any good work of prose, the book of 1 Peter returns to its major themes as it approaches its conclusion. In 4:12-14, 5:6-11 the text points the reader to what has been asserted from the beginning, that suffering is part of the Christian experience. The closing, however, is not mere recapitulation. It gives fresh insight into the purposes of suffering and direction about how to endure suffering.

The believer is not to be surprised by suffering. On Palm Sunday 2017 terrorists attacked two Coptic Christian congregations in Egypt killing 44 and wounding over 100. Christians in the Middle East and other parts of the world routinely face suffering in the form of persecution. The persecution of believers has become so widespread and frequent that seeing reports of it on the news is almost normal. If this text were to be read by Christians in Egypt, the application would be straightforward. Do no be surprised that suffering and persecution is part of your experience. Jesus suffered, and believers are not above their Master.

A mindset change in the West has made application of this text crucial, but with a different thrust. Since the close of World War II, when the horrors of the Holocaust were revealed to the world, Western Christian theology has become fixated on the problem of evil. How could God have allowed suffering on such a grand scale? If God is all-powerful, why does he not stop suffering? While the questions arising from the problem of evil have existed as far back as Job, there has been a switch in contemporary thinking. Once individuals thought of suffering as the result of evil, now it is common for persons to think of suffering itself as an evil. Therefore, anytime there is suffering, questions about the goodness of God abound.

1 Peter’s counsel is for the believer to not be surprised at the suffering that happens in life. Frequently, suffering does come suddenly. Sometimes it comes as a diagnosis, sometimes it comes as a tragic event, and sometimes it comes as a godly dream that dies. Whenever suffering comes, it is not to be treated as strange. It is to be treated as a common part of the human experience, as normal for those in Christ, and particularly common for other believers around the world. Suffering is not evidence of God’s lack of power or lack of goodness. Suffering is part of living in a fallen world.

Shockingly, this passage argues that suffering is a cause for rejoicing. In suffering, the believer shares in the suffering of Jesus. Those who endure it can rejoice when the glory of Jesus is revealed.

In 5:6-11, the passage begins a set of maxims that can look loosely connected to the context on first inspection. The maxims, however, are directly tied to the thrust of the argument the author is making about how to live in the face of suffering. The passage argues for the believer to be humble before God during the suffering that is in their life. 4:19 is helpful in illustrating the point. It reads, “Therefore, let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator while continuing to do good” (NRSV). The interpreter should be careful to note that this passage does not argue for the omnicausality of God. It is not saying that all the suffering that happens in the life of the believer comes from God. It notes that suffering in the life of the believer is allowed by God, and when believers suffer they should trust God and continue to do good works. It is humility that will accept the suffering and draw closer to God, and not be driven away. The humble know that at the right time, perhaps even in the life to come, God will exalt them.

Beginning in 5:8 the passage introduces another spiritual actor, the devil. The devil is an enemy who, like a lion, is looking to devour believers. His tactics are intimidation and suffering. Even with the devil’s ability to harm, believers are encouraged to resist. Believers can resist the evil one because his power is not ultimate. They are eternally safe in God through Christ Jesus.

Peter’s closing is illustrative of his point. Suffering is temporary; God is eternal. Those who suffer in Christ have promises of God. They are promised that God will restore, support, strengthen, and establish them.

1 Peter’s emphasis on suffering can seem a little morbid or even off-putting. After all, who among us wants to think about suffering regularly? Most would rather not deal with the topic of suffering until they are actually suffering. Teaching a Christian response to suffering, however, is a responsibility of the minister because suffering is a part of life. 1 Peter provides a wealth of resources about the Christian and suffering and therefore should be used by the careful minister.


Dr. Layne Wallace
Senior Pastor Rosemary Baptist Church






Tags: humility, suffering, response, minister

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