1 Peter 4:12-19
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you:…
I. HAPPINESS CONNECTED WITH THE FIERY TRIAL.
1. The fiery trial not a perplexity. "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial among you, which cometh upon you to prove you, as though a strange thing happened unto you." With an affectionate address the subject is appropriately introduced. There was a fierce trial not coming on them, as the old translation bears, but already in the midst of them, as the revised translation bears. The word used ("fieriness") expresses the sharpness of the persecution to which they were subjected. They were mercilessly attacked in their dearest earthly interests. We do not know the details of the persecution; but it was a reality as of fire carried into the midst of the Christians, laying hold upon one here and upon another there, and distressing the whole circle. By severe suffering there has often been suggestion of the way of the Divine dealing. The apostle here supposes that they might be inclined to think it strange that they had the fire of persecution in the midst of the loved circle. The word expressive of the feeling of strangeness was formerly used with regard to the miraculous change of life introduced by Christianity. Former companions thought it strange that they did not continue to overleap the bounds with them. Now, the supposition is of them that did not overleap the bounds, but put on restraints, thinking it strange that the fire should be allowed to come among them. How did this consist with their Christian standing, character, destiny? Were they not the objects of covenant love? Were they not sincerely striving to honor the Divine ordinances? Were they not looking forward to a glorious, blood-bought inheritance? Why, then, was the fire working its work among them? It was justified, Peter points out, by its probationary use it was upon them, and not yet fully spent, not to pain them simply (which would be inconsistent with covenant love), but by its very painfulness to Trove them, i.e. to bring out their sincerity, and also their greater excellence, and therewith their deliverance from remaining impurity. The fire makes us feel the reality of life. It tends to make us thoughtful, earnest, humble. There is a knowledge of God, of Divine things, of the Divine promises, which enters only by the door of suffering. "Knowledge through suffering entereth." It is as sufferers that we obtain the richest experience, even of the tenderness of God, and that our love in its greatest tenderness is drawn out towards him. Let us not, then, think the fire strange, even as though a strange thing were happening unto us. It is not strange when it works toward such an end. And we may trust the All-wise God to proportion the intensity of the fire to what our spiritual requirements are.
2. The fiery trial a rejoicing. "But insomuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings, rejoice; that at the revelation of his glory also ye may rejoice with exceeding joy." The apostle rises here to jubilation. Not merely is the fiery trial not a reason for bewilderment; it is even a reason for rejoicing. We are to rejoice in that we are partners with Christ; we are to rejoice in that we are partners with Christ even in his sufferings, i.e. those which he personally endured on earth. He endured the sharpness of persecution, ending in "the sharpness of death;" and what made his death so difficult to endure was not the fire of persecution, but the penal fire of God. There was a solitariness in Christ's sufferings; and yet our sufferings can be joined to his sufferings, and it is an honor to have them so joined. We are to look even at the degree or measure in which our sufferings can be placed along with Christ's sufferings. For there is the quantitative word used - meaning "in proportion as." There is thus exegetical value in the remark of Leighton, "What does the world, by its hatred and persecutions and railings for Christ, but make me more like him, give me a greater share with him in that which he did so willingly undergo for me?" The persecuting world thus in a way defeats itself; it makes the Christian suffer, but only to add to his joy in making him a greater sharer with Christ in what he suffered. "Rejoice," then, is the word of command to the persecuted; but now the end of the present rejoicing is seized on. "Rejoice; that at the revelation of his glory also ye may rejoice with exceeding joy." There is a present rejoicing; there is also a future rejoicing; and the one is with a view to the other. Both, it seems to be implied here, and is certainly elsewhere taught, go upon partnership, and in this order - first partners with Christ in his sufferings, and then partners with Christ in his glory. The future rejoicing is to be at the revelation of Christ's glory. There is a glory of Christ which is at present concealed - concealed from the world. There is even a glory of Christ which is not yet possessed - the glory expressive of the final vindication of his mission, the final triumph of his cause. Then he is to get glory from the saints; but then, also, he is to be in a position to bless his saints, without any hindrance, according to his heart's desire, according also to the thought of the Father from all eternity; and he is to bless them by making them partners with him in his glory. Their very bodies raised are to take after his glorified body: how can it, then, be aught but Christ's glory that is to shine forth in their spirits? The word for the present is "rejoice," but at the revelation of Christ's glory it is to be rejoicing with exceeding joy, rejoicing beyond the measure of the present, rejoicing far beyond our present power of conception. Now it is rejoicing in the midst of persecutions; then it will be rejoicing when the persecutions are all over for ever and sublimated, and the glorious realities are in actual possession.
II. THE CONDITION OF HAPPINESS EMPHASIZED.
1. Being reproached for the Name of Christ. "If ye are reproached for the Name of Christ, blessed are ye; because the Spirit of glory and the Spirit of God resteth upon you." The condition which has been implied is now expressed. There are reproachful words, and there are reproachful acts. To be reproached for the Name of Christ is to be interpreted in the light of our Lord's own words, "In my Name, because ye belong to Christ." We are not, then, to understand the Beatitude as connected with what Christians suffer in the ordinary course of providence, but with suffering that they could avoid but do not avoid because the Name of Christ does not permit it. Blessed are they who are not intimidated, who are willingly reproached, when it is demanded by Christian principle, nay, by loyalty to him who has been manifested as their Savior, and entitled to be served before and above every other. Blessed are they, because the spirit resting upon them is not the reproach-avoiding spirit of the world, but the Spirit of glory, who is also the Spirit of God. When Paul prays for the Ephesian Christians that they may have a worthy conception of the future glory, he calls God "the Father of glory" (Ephesians 1:17); so here Peter says that there rests upon the reproached for the Name of Christ the Spirit of glory, i.e. whose nature is glory, and who, according to his nature, imparts glory. Granted that they do not by worldly compliance avoid reproach: have they not infinite compensation in what the possessed Spirit of glory will yet make to shine forth in them?
2. The condition in what it excludes. "For let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evil-doer, or as a meddler in other men's matters." "For" is explanatory. Let the characterization of the condition be noted; for there is a suffering with which the Beatitude is not connected. "Let none of you [Peter is here directly personal] suffer for his own faults." "Let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or [generally] an evil-doer." By the second "as" a fourth class is marked off by itself. "Let none of you suffer as a meddler in other men's matters;" literally, "a bishop or overseer within what belongs to another." The word, which may have been of Peter's own coining, is sufficiently expressive. The Christian, with his superior knowledge, saw many things around him which needed to be rectified. Let him not thereby be betrayed into stepping beyond his proper sphere. Thus meddling, he was not to be classed with the evil-doer; but for his interference he might suffer heavily enough.
3. The condition further elucidated. "But if a man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this name." This verse is remarkable for the introduction of a name which occurs in only two other places in the New Testament. At first the followers of Christ were confounded with the Jews; when the distinction could be made, they were very naturally named Christians. This was the name current when Peter wrote. It was a name which exposed its bearer to suffering. But if he suffered in this name, let him not consider himself disgraced. He was disgraced if he suffered as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evil-doer, or even as a meddler; but not if he suffered as a Christian. On the contrary, says Peter, "let him glorify God in this name." He might have said, "Let him consider himself honored," but, going beyond that, his thought is, "Let him render the honor of such suffering to God."
III. UNHAPPINESS CONNECTED WITH DISOBEDIENCE.
1. The order of judgment. "For the time is come for judgment to begin at the house of God: and if it begin first at us, what shall be the end of them that obey not the gospel of God?" This follows up not being ashamed, but glorifying God. There is to be, in accordance with ver. 7, which is not yet lost sight of, a speedy rectification of things. There is the actual arrival of the time for judgment to begin. With this there is a passing on to the order of judgment. The object of judgment is first the house of God, i.e. believers collectively. The language is taken from the temple at Jerusalem, which was probably still standing. The objects of judgment are next - they that obey not the gospel of God. We are not to think of those with whom the gospel has not been brought into contact. We are rather to think of men refusing the gospel when presented to them. We are especially to think of men showing active hostility to the gospel as persecutors. The gospel is here called "the gospel of God," not as coming from the heart of God, but rather as that with which God has to do in judgment in respect of the treatment it receives. There is judgment upon the house of God. We are not to think of condemnatory judgment, but rather of the corrective judgment referred to in 1 Corinthians 11:32, "But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world." The judgment was to be regarded as taking place in the persecutions to which they were subjected as belonging to the house of God. These were fitted to remind them of their sins, their shortcomings. Because they were not pure enough, the fiery trial was sent upon them to act as a refiner's fire, separating the unworthy, and also from the genuine all unworthy elements. There is also to be judgment upon them that obey not the gospel of God. This is of the nature of condemnatory judgment. There is to be final judicial dealing with them for their ungodly deeds, for their hard speeches. There is especially to be final judicial dealing with them for the treatment they have given the gospel, the preachers of the gospel, the Christian communities, the Christian members. Stress is laid on the order of the judgment. The starting-point is noted. It begins at, or from, the house of God. The language is used in Ezek. ix. 6, "Begin at my sanctuary." Upon this an argument is founded. It is similar to what is found in Jeremiah 25:29, "For, lo, I begin to bring evil on the city which is called by my Name, and should ye be utterly unpunished?" The argument has a consolatory side to them that belong to the house of God. "If it begin first at us," says Peter, referring to himself and the persecuted to whom he wrote. It was only to begin first at them; it was not to stay with them. It was to pass on to them that obeyed not the gospel of God - and how? We may understand, with increasing severity; for the question is ominously asked, "What shall be the end of them that obey not the gospel of God?" They experienced the beginnings of the storm: what would be their experience upon whom the storm, gathering volume as it proceeded, at last burst in all its fury?
2. Old Testament reference. "And if the righteous is scarcely saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?" The reference is to Proverbs 11:31, "Behold the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth: much more the wicked and the sinner." The language is properly from the imperfect Septuagint rendering. The singular individualizes. The righteous is he who stands in a right relation to God. The New Testament bearing is he who stands in right relation to God in view of the revelation made in the gospel. The Old Testament equivalent to "obeying not the gospel of God," is "the ungodly and sinner," i.e. he who has not the fear of God on him, and therefore acts presumptuously. It is said of the righteous that he is scarcely saved. Two men have a task assigned to them - climbing a hill; the task to be accomplished in a given time. It would require of both all their might to reach the top in the given time. One sets himself to it, and when the time expires he has scarcely reached the top What is to be said of the other, who all the time has gone after his own pleasure? God has assigned to all, as he has a right to assign, a task; this task is the salvation of the soul. To accomplish it in the time appointed requires working with all the might. Here is one who sets himself to the task. He works while it is day; and when the night of death comes down on him the task is scarcely accomplished, there is still purification that needs to be done. It is not said of him that he shall not appear before God in the issue of judgment; rather may we understand that he shall appear, though there may be withheld from him the highest reward in the presence of God. Here is another who misjudges life, who spends the day of grace in idleness and pleasure, who has not fear for the God who is to judge him, who throws off restraints. This ungodly man and sinner, where shall he appear? The question is ominously left unanswered; but we may take the answer as given in the first psalm, "The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish."
IV. CONCLUSION SHOWING HOW THEY WERE TO DO UNDER THE FIERY TRIAL. "Wherefore let them also that suffer according to the will of God commit their souls in well-doing unto a faithful Creator." "Also" is to be connected with "wherefore," and is to be taken as indicating something additional in the way of conclusion. By the will of God we are to understand, not so much the Divine appointment, as the Divine requirement. It is the will of God that we should suffer even as confessors and martyrs rather than deny Christ. Let them that thus suffer according to the will of God follow this course. Let them commit their souls to God. Thus it was with him who pre-eminently suffered according to the will of God. In dying he said, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." Let them commit their souls in well-doing unto a faithful Creator. There can be a falling back, not only on Fatherhood, but even on Creatorship. In creating us he constituted us so that in a course of well-doing we should be happy. Let us do well, and we may be assured that God wilt be faithful to his part of the covenant. "All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shall call, and I will answer thee; thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands (Job 14:14, 15). - R.F.
Parallel VersesKJV: Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: