12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” 19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:12-19)
Two days ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that marriage will be redefined in our country to include same-sex couples. We do not yet know what all the practical implications will be for Christians who hold and will hold to a biblical view of marriage, one man, one woman for life. There will be implications for sure, but how they will come about we just don’t know. We can speculate, but only time will tell. We do know that God has not been caught off-guard, nor is He surprised.
This Supreme Court decision has caused a stir that has left many Evangelicals sort of shell-shocked and wondering what to do. There will be many practical things to do, but today I want us to look at how we are to think. I want us to hold on to a biblical, Christian perspective when faced with trials.
If we understand who we are in Christ, our true identity in Christ, and are assured of it because of Christ, then the challenges of life can be lived with a perspective that is unusual and foreign to those who are not in Christ. My prayer is that we will be refreshed in our minds, in our hearts, knowing that we belong to the One who goes with us in power and in strength through every detail that we face. In every detail, He is with us. Jesus said…
29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31)
His watchful, loving eye, His power and His might, His comfort and His compassion are with His children, you and me, forever.
Peter writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
Beloved, or dear friends, loved ones, do not be surprised. Peter was writing to those he loved and those who were loved by God, companions in the faith. That is the spirit in which he wrote to these Christians. He loved them dearly.
There are different kinds of surprises. Some surprises are shocking, or even could be described as a paralyzed shock. Something that suddenly happens that leaves you stunned. If you are driving down the road and a car comes out of nowhere and plows into you, you never saw it coming, just all of the sudden you are shockingly surprised. That is a type of surprise, but that is not really what Peter is saying here. There is another kind of surprise, and maybe it began with something shocking, but it turns into a continued attitude of surprise. Kind of like saying, as a way of life, “I can’t believe this is happening.” Over and over again, “I can’t believe this is happening, I can’t believe it, I can’t believe this is happening to me.” And whatever it was, it passes, and the next thing comes and it starts all over again. This seems to be what Peter is warning against. An attitude that indicates surprise that trials really do come is what Peter is helping them to fight against. “Don’t be surprised! Don’t be surprised by trials.”
Some people live in perpetual surprise, lamenting over trials that come in life. If that is where we live, then it is really hard to deal with them biblically. If I am constantly questioning the wisdom of God in my trials, or doubting His love in my trials, then will I really trust Him to carry me through them? Jesus had predicted for us such experiences like in John 15:20 – “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”
What God is prohibiting here is the natural human response to suffering. We have seen again and again in the Bible, as with Peter’s teaching here, that we are to respond to the circumstances we face in a way that puts on display the truth that we are not ruled by our own hearts, but that we are ruled by God. That is the only way we can respond to trials and not be surprised.
And lest we think these trials were minor, Peter refers to them as “fiery trials.” That is a good translation, “fiery.” Your translation may say “painful” trials, but the word really denotes a process of burning. In Revelation this word is used of a literal burning of Babylon. Here Peter used the term figuratively to denote the severity of the experience his readers were undergoing, an experience comparable to pain, caused by exposure to fire.
Part of the plan for avoiding the surprise of fiery trials must be that we understand that they are trials, difficult trials, that have a purpose of testing us. Take physical exercise for example. You have been working out really hard for a while, but how do you know if you are getting stronger? Well, there must be some testing right? How did you perform prior to the fitness program and then how did you do at its conclusion?
I think we can take that as a spiritual analogy. How do we know if we are growing in our faith with Christ? How do we know? Well, one way we can get an idea is by answering this question: how are we handling trials today versus a year ago? Or maybe you are dealing, today, with a trial much like you dealt with it last year, or five years ago. Are there any differences? Is your faith and trust in God stronger today than it was then?
Trials allow us to see where we are, to see how we are doing, to either prove our spiritual growth or give us cause for concern. These trials aren’t to help God to know anything, but to help us by way of encouragement or as a red flag that perhaps we are not moving beyond spiritual milk to the meat of the Christian life. These trials are not strange, they should not be foreign to us, but they are for our good, at least in part to build us and others up in the faith. Trials help to serve that purpose!
Peter gets more radical. Not only are they, are we, to not be surprised at fiery trials that come into our lives, but quite the opposite we are to what? Rejoice!
There are all kinds of trials in life. It seems clear to me that Peter is talking about specific types of trials here, trials associated with living the Christian life in a pagan culture, or dealing with the consequences from others for living counter to cultural trends. And as they do that, as we do that, as we are persecuted by the world, Peter says, this is cause for rejoicing because in a practical and visible way it ties us to Christ. Or as Peter puts it, we are sharing in the sufferings of Christ! And so Peter says, “Rejoice!” – “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
Peter was simply teaching what Christ had taught him years ago at His inaugural sermon on the side of a hill. Jesus had said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Peter heard this from Jesus and later it was confirmed in his own experience in Acts 5:41. After his arrest and confrontation by the religious counsel we read, “they left the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And everyday, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”
Many of you are suffering right now through trials, or you will suffer through trials. For some perhaps you are facing abandonment from friends or family because of your faith. You may be wondering why. You may even wonder if it is worth it. You may feel the inner pain that comes from being rejected by someone you really care for. If this is the case for you, I want to encourage you along with Peter and the Lord Jesus Christ and say, “Rejoice.” Christ has counted you worthy to suffer for His name’s sake. And through this trial your faith is being refined, Christ is giving you the power to live and speak for Him, He is being glorified in you. Your identity is being confirmed as a follower of Jesus Christ.
Notice the end of verse 13 – “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” Peter adds a comment here about rejoicing and being glad when His glory is revealed. We do rejoice now and we can rejoice now as we share in the sufferings of Christ, but there will be, in the future, an exceeding joy. This joy will exceed current joy. It is a different word than rejoice earlier in the verse. It adds the idea of jubilation or overflowing with shouts of delight. This is an, “I can’t believe the extent of this joy I am experiencing right now!” And the present tense of the word indicates it will be an enduring joy. So at the return of Christ, we will be so joyful that we cannot hardly stand it – we might say the joy of all joys – and it won’t just be a passing experience, but an enduring one. The joys that we experience today are only shadows, I believe, of the joys we will experience at the return of Christ. It will be unbelievable.
Why does Peter insert that here? I mean, talking about a joy way off in the future somewhere? Because it is a coming reality, and we need to begin living in it now. To believe that is what awaits us, you and me, a jubilant, overflowing, ecstatic, bubbling over joy that will endure forever helps us to today live joyfully even in our trials. To meditate on what is to come for us who are in Christ is to grasp His love, and it inspires an unswerving loyalty to the Lord and promotes a readiness to suffer for Him now.
And so Peter can say, “Don’t be surprised by passing trials, even the fiery ones; they are tests for you, they are not strange happenings. Rejoice in them for Christ also suffered, you are identifying with Him, and doing this, as every Christian is called to do, you will also rejoice along with all the redeemed with a joy that exceeds what you have ever experienced when He returns, and not only at that moment, but forevermore.”
As we choose to stand for biblical truth in our society that is moving even further away from God’s truths, we must remember that God is near, He is with us and He is for us, and in that we can stand and we can rejoice!
In closing this morning, I want to encourage you further with comments from two wise men regarding trials, suffering, the Supreme Court ruling, and our all-powerful God. Al Mohler from Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky wrote…
“In one sense, everything has changed. And yet, nothing has changed. The cultural and legal landscape has changed, as we believe this will lead to very real harms to our neighbors. But our Christian responsibility has not changed. We are charged to uphold marriage as the union of a man and a woman and to speak the truth in love. We are also commanded to uphold the truth about marriage in our own lives, in our own marriages, in our own families, and in our own churches.
We are called to be the people of the truth, even when the truth is not popular and even when the truth is denied by the culture around us. Christians have found themselves in this position before, and we will again. God’s truth has not changed. The Holy Scriptures have not changed. The gospel of Jesus Christ has not changed. The church’s mission has not changed. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.”
This next quote is from Hershael York, also from Southern Seminary…
“I am excited. While I would not choose this direction for our country or our culture, and though I lament the very real harm that this Supreme Court decision will do in millions of lives, I also believe that a sovereign God rules supreme in human affairs and He is at work making of the nations a heritage for His Son. The Triune God has not called an emergency session and will not be announcing a strategy of response to the latest development. He is working all things—even and especially this—to His glory for our good.
Because of this Supreme Court ruling Christians who have contented themselves with a nebulous theology and a generic commitment to the parts of the Bible they deem palatable will now be pressed to probe the Scriptures and their own presuppositions like never before. Congregations who have survived on a cultural predisposition toward churches are about to discover what it means to thrive on Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ. Believers who have worked to keep their faith separate from the rest of their lives will discover that they can no longer be secret disciples because they are going to be asked bluntly and sometimes with great hostility.
Two exhilarating possibilities emerge: revival among believers and a greater gospel impact beyond our walls. Think about it like this: has the church in the United States ever had a more advantageous time to stand in stark contrast to the world, to distinguish itself from the prevailing understanding of morality, to present a true counter-culture, to model the gospel? When we had greater numbers and political influence the world thought our great concern was with numbers and political influence. If we profess Christ and stand on the Word when it costs us dearly, however, then even our detractors and persecutors will see that it’s not about us, but about our Savior.
I anticipate that the churches who stand firmly and lovingly on the Word of God, who focus on the gospel of Christ and preach the necessity of genuine faith and repentance for salvation, are about to experience an indisputable and authentic movement of God’s Spirit. The Christ-modeled balance between an unyielding commitment to the Word and a lavish love of people will offer the world something that they desperately need but cannot find anywhere else.
People are no more lost now than they have ever been, and Jesus is no less Lord now than He will ever be. We dare not cower in our churches as though God has lost anything. The only decision handed down that matters is that the gates of hell cannot prevail against His church!
The first marriage was between a perfect man and a perfect woman. The last marriage will be between a glorified man, the Lord Jesus, and his sanctified bride, the church. Between those two weddings, humanity has marred and defaced the institution of marriage in many ways, including this new way. But the Lord Jesus will have the last say. Until then, I am doing all I can to make my marriage reflect the love of Christ for his church and to share the gospel of grace with everyone. No handwringing, no fear, no hatred, no bitterness. Just love of the Lord Jesus, of the truth, of my wife, of the Lord’s church, and of my neighbor–ALL of my neighbors. Though something in our culture has definitely changed, everything in the Word of God remained the same. I rest in that.
It may seem like we’ve hit the bottom. By God’s grace, we are about to discover there’s a Rock down there.”
And Peter wrote…
12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13)