The theme of Peter’s epistle is our sanctification. He stated his thesis in chapter one, quoting the Lord who said, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” Sanctification is being set apart in salvation for holiness. By justification we are reckoned as holy by what Christ did for us on the cross. In sanctification we live out that holiness as Christ lives in us. It’s living holy, because He is holy, and He is Lord of our lives and lives in us and through us. Sanctification is submitting first of all to the Lord in doing His will. It’s being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ who is holy and blameless.
Now this is the goal of our sanctification. Now that we are justified by the blood of Jesus Christ shed on our behalf, we are set apart for holy living, to be ambassadors for the Kingdom of God. And as we live sanctified lives under the authority and leading of the Holy Spirit, even as Christ lived during His time upon the earth, then we are going to experience suffering that comes from this world in response to our life, even as Christ suffered for righteousness sake.
So in that regard, Peter continues in his letter to the church writing to prepare them in regards to the suffering that will be a part of the process of sanctification. He wants them to know what the reaction of the world will be in regards to living a sanctified life.
First of all, he says we should expect suffering. Vs.12, “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.” The irony should be obvious to all. Living righteously, living holy lives, ends up bringing on trials. You would think that living as Christians, living as Christ lived when He was on the earth, would cause people to love us. After all, we should be prime examples of good citizens. We should be pillars of the community, doing good to the poor, compassionate to and helping those who are misfortunate. We should be paying our taxes, submitting to the governing authorities. We should be the kind of neighbors that every one would wish for. The kind of employees that every company looks for. We should be loved by the world.
But Peter, as well as many of the other gospel writers, tells us that is not going to be their response. Instead they are going to hate us. Jesus Himself said in John 15:18-19 “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before [it hated] you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.”
So don’t be surprised. Expect it. The world loves those who love sin, who love pride, who love sexual immorality, who love money, who love fame. They love the Bonnie’s and Clydes of this world. And they despise those who live holy lives.
That’s the problem with the “relevant church” strategy prevalent today with which we are trying to get the world endeared with Christianity. We try to lower our standards and mimic the world’s practices hoping that the world will like us and want to become Christians like us. That doesn’t work. You just end up with a worldly church.
And that’s the problem with trying to soften the offense of the gospel message. Take out sin and don’t speak of hell or judgment, and just tell the unsaved how much God loves them just the way they are. That is the strategy of many churches today in hopes of getting the lost to like us and want to become a Christian. But it’s not going to work, because they are not going to be saved unless they first realize that they are sinners and hopelessly lost and condemned to die in their sins. And that’s an unpopular, offensive message.
So when we are living out our Christianity as Christ lived in the world, then we can expect that the world will treat us the way Christ was treated. Notice also that Peter calls this suffering a “fiery ordeal.” Some commentators have said that this was a veiled reference to the burning of Rome which may have happened shortly before Peter wrote this letter. You will recall that Nero intentionally set Rome ablaze, and then blamed it on the Christians and began a time of severe persecution. That may or not be what Peter had in mind.
Personally, I think it harkens back to chapter one vs 7 in which Peter talks about the proof of our faith, even tested by fire. It’s a refiner’s fire that Peter has in mind, I believe. It’s a trial by fire in which that which is unholy is burned up, so that which is left is pure. Fire in the Bible is associated first of all with the holiness of God. Moses saw a burning bush in which God spoke from telling him to take off his shoes for it was holy ground. Fire was on Mt. Sinai, so that the mountain was enveloped with fire and smoke and the people trembled at the sight and from which God spoke. Fire is associated with the burnt offerings which were offered for sin. The law is full of references to the requirements for an offering by fire. And so just in those references to fire, we can assume that the trials and ordeals which the Lord leads us through are meant to cleanse us, to refine us, to purify us so that we might be sanctified for holy purposes.
There are a number of references in scripture regarding a refiner’s fire being used of God. Let me share a few. Job 23:10 “But He knows the way I take; [When] He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.
Pro 17:3 The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, But the LORD tests hearts.
Isa 48:10 “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
Zec 13:9 “And I will bring the third part through the fire, Refine them as silver is refined, And test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, And I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ And they will say, ‘The LORD is my God.'”
Mal 3:3 “He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness.
As I have said repeatedly, suffering is not the goal, but it’s the process by which the goal is reached. And the goal is sanctification, without which, Hebrews 4 tells us, no one will see the Lord.
Notice also Peter says these fiery trials come upon you for your testing. Again, that testing correlates to the proof of your faith mentioned by in chapter one. Let me read that for you again, in chapter 1:6-7 “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, [being] more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
So it’s obviously not just a situation in which the world or the devil persecutes a Christian and God is helplessly standing by saying “just hold on till it’s over.” But what this indicates is that God is using even the ungodly who persecute you, He is using the various trials which come upon you that make take all sorts of forms such as poverty or hunger, or imprisonment, or bad health, whatever form it takes, God is using it and superintending over it, to use it for good.
Now that’s hard to fathom, especially when you are suffering in a major way and you don’t think you deserve it or you don’t understand why God would allow you to suffer in this way. Our prayers are usually “Lord get me out of this situation quick!” But what we have to remember and even find the means of rejoicing in, is that God uses the suffering which we experience to form us into the character and image of Jesus Christ and as such His will is often to let us go through it that it might conform us to Christ. A good illustration of that is when Joseph was unjustly incarcerated and mistreated in prison for 13 years. When he finally was released, and he saw his brothers who had sold him into slavery many years before, he said, “you meant it for evil, but God used it for good.”
And that’s what Peter is saying here. God will use the trial by fire to conform you into the image of His Son. And don’t forget, that it pleased the Father to crush Jesus, putting Him to grief. God chose suffering as the path for His beloved Son. And He often choses suffering for us as well that we might be like Him. So, Peter says, don’t think it’s strange when suffering happens to you. It’s to be expected. Unfortunately, a lot of Christians fall because they don’t expect suffering to be a part of their Christian experience. They were expecting to live their best life now. Instead, they got suffering. Peter says, don’t be surprised. Don’t think it strange. It’s par for the course.
So rather we are to rejoice, Peter says. Funny thing, James said to rejoice in suffering as well. James 1:2-3 “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” The question though is how can we rejoice in suffering? It’s painful. It’s stressful. It’s not an experience that we want to go through. How can we rejoice in it?
The answer is that we rejoice by looking beyond the suffering. That’s how. It is said of Jesus in Heb. 12:2 “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” We don’t fix our eyes on our circumstances, on how bad we have it, on how bad we are being treated or how bad we feel, but like Jesus we fix our eyes on the joy set before us. The joy that is ultimately our reward when Christ returns.
2Cor. 4:17-18 says, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Paul says compared to the glory in eternity that will be ours, the present suffering is temporary, momentary and light in comparison.
So as Jesus looked beyond the suffering of the cross, He considered the joy set before Him. In the same way, we look beyond the suffering we experience in trials, and consider that glory which is far beyond all comparison.
The next point that Peter makes is that there are two types of suffering. There is the suffering for righteousness, and the suffering for unrighteousness. First the righteous suffering is stated this way; vs 14, “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” This is the type of suffering that will come upon a person who is living righteously, who is walking in the way that Jesus walked, who is conformed to the image of Christ. Such a person even though they are reviled for the sake of Christ, they will have a blessing, because they are living a Spirit filled life. They are filled with the Spirit, and thus they will enjoy the blessings of such a life.
But then Peter contrasts that with the person who is suffering as the wages of unrighteousness. He says in vs 15, “Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler.” In other words, there are consequences to sin not only in eternal judgment, but in this world as well. God has appointed government to wield the sword of justice, and there are punishments that will be exacted by those governments for such offenses. We have been studying the ten commandments on Wednesday nights for the last couple of weeks and we commented that all civilizations legislate much of the second table of laws. Murder and stealing are pretty much illegal in every society and every civilization and the punishments for such are quite severe.
An evildoer I suppose just covers everything else not covered by murder and stealing. It means a lawbreaker. One who does evil. And there are laws and punishments for evildoers. There is one other word though that bears mentioning, and that is translated as “troublesome meddler.” That’s an unusual term. It has in mind an overseer, but not in a good way. It’s someone who gets involved in things that they shouldn’t be involved in. Someone who is stirring up trouble, looking for trouble. Trouble is one thing that if you look for it you will find. I’m always looking for things I have misplaced somewhere. Usually I’m looking for things because my wife has decided to straighten up my desk or something. I know where all my junk is and I can’t find it when my wife cleans up. But you know, if you look for trouble, you will usually find it. If you’re trying to find fault, you will find it.
Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands just as we commanded you.” In other words you’re not to be a troublesome meddler. You’re not to look for faults in others. As much as it is possible with you be at peace with all men. You’re not to stir up your society. You’re to lead a quiet life. You are to attend to your own business and to work with your own hands. Stay out of other people’s business. In 2 Thessalonians 3:11 he says to the Thessalonians, “For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all but acting like busybodies.” Don’t stir up trouble by being a busybody.
Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, Matt. 7:3-5 “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” So there you go. Don’t be a troublesome meddler. It will cause suffering not only for others, but it will also cause suffering for you as well.
There are inherent consequences to sin. Ultimately, there is an eternal consequence to all sin, but even in the world there are consequences for sin. And as Christians, there is no exemption from temptation to sin, no barrier to keep you from sin. Though Christ will forgive you from sin, you may still have to pay the consequences of your sin here in this world. And that is a shameful and tragic consequence for a Christian to have to face.
However, Peter assures us that as a Christian who suffers for righteousness there is no shame in that. Vs. 16, “but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.”
I am told that in the beginning when they were first called Christians, it was intended as a slur. But in time the early church began to glory in that name. And what Peter is saying there is that they are not to be ashamed of being called Christians, but to glorify God in the name of Christians. That means that they have to act like Christ, since they take the name of Christ. And that is precisely what being sanctified indicates; that we are like Christ, thus Christians.
The next point that Peter makes is that this is the appointed time for suffering. We should expect it, we should not be surprised by it, we should not be ashamed of it, and it is the appointed time for it. Vs. 17, “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?”
We notice first of all that suffering is a measure of God’s judgment. As Christians, we sometimes think that we are not going to deal with any sort of judgment. But in actuality, Peter is saying that judgment begins with the house of God. A faithful Father disciplines His children, does He not? Heb 12:6-11 says “FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.” It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom [his] father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He [disciplines us] for [our] good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
There’s so much in that passage, but notice that the results of the Father’s discipline it says is holiness and the fruit of righteousness. That’s our sanctification. That’s what the Father is doing in our lives by allowing suffering. As I keep saying, the goal is not suffering, but sanctification. Suffering is the means, not the goal. The goal is that you have all the dross, all the sin, all the world, all the pride, all the ego burned away, that Christ might shine in you.
And this is the time for such suffering to begin. It is necessary to begin with us, that we might share His holiness and be His ambassadors to the world. But woe to the world. The man of the world thinks his sin is unseen, he thinks he has gotten away with it. He thinks that he can live any way he wants and there are not going to be consequences. But the fact is that God sees, and has appointed a time for all men to die and after that the judgment. And at the judgment, there will be a terrible price to pay, an eternal price to pay.
It is with difficulty that the righteous are saved. We have been saved by the suffering of Christ on our behalf. Those that reject Christ must pay their own penalty. And what a terrible penalty it is.
The blessing that the righteous has though is that they belong to a faithful Creator. We are as Peter says, the house of God. We are children of God. And even if we die in this body, yet we live in the Spirit. Peter uses the title “faithful Creator” I believe in order to emphasize the faithfulness of God to keep His promise to us of eternal life, and to remind us that as Creator God made life, and all life has it’s being through Him. And so we can entrust our eternal soul to a faithful Creator who will raise us up on the last day, and change this corruptible body into an incorruptible body, so that we may share in His glory for eternity.
There is a reward for those that belong to Christ. In this world we will have tribulation. But Peter encourages us to rejoice in it, knowing that God will use it to refine us so that we might share in HIs holiness. I encourage you to look beyond the present circumstances to the glory set before us and keep on keeping on, having as your commitment to be found pleasing to God. May the grace of our Lord enable you to do so and may you be found faithful when He comes.