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Suffering for Christ (4:12-19)

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Jesus plainly told His disciples that they would be persecuted. He said, “Then they will deliver you up to oppression, and will kill you. You will be hated by all of the nations for my name’s sake.” (Matthew 24:9) In view of this clear warning, what should the attitude of the followers of Christ be towards persecution? The Apostle Peter addresses himself to this question in chapter 4, verses 12 through 19 of his first inspired letter. He writes, “Beloved, don’t be astonished at the fiery trial which has come upon you, to test you, as though a strange thing happened to you. But because you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, rejoice; that at the revelation of his glory you also may rejoice with exceeding joy. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed; because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. On their part he is blasphemed, but on your part he is glorified. For let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evil doer, or a meddler in other men’s matters. But if one of you suffers for being a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this matter. For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God. If it begins first with us, what will happen to those who don’t obey the Good News of God? “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will happen to the ungodly and the sinner?” Therefore let them also who suffer according to the will of God in doing good entrust their souls to him, as to a faithful Creator.”

The first thing that Peter emphasizes is that the followers of Christ should not be surprised that they are persecuted. It is not something strange. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it hated you... Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his lord.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you...” (John 15:18-20)

Peter says that the followers of Jesus should rejoice in the face of persecution. How can this be? One reason is that to share in Christ’s sufferings in this life will enable those who believe in Him to share in His joy when His glory will be revealed. In chapter 1, verse 7 and again in chapter 5, verse 4, Peter says that Christ’s followers will also share in His glory. The more we suffer for Christ in this life, the greater our glory will be in the end.

Another reason for the followers of Christ to rejoice when persecuted is “...because the Spirit of glory and of God rests...” on them. The Apostle Paul explains the nature of this blessing when he writes, “But if the Spirit of him who raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised up Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11) It is this hope in the resurrection that allows the followers of Christ to rejoice even though their persecutors may kill them.

But the followers of Christ must examine their own actions to make sure that the persecution they suffer is not a result of their own wrong doing. Peter makes it very clear that God’s blessing is only on those who are insulted because of the name of Christ. If we suffer because of evil actions, or even because we have meddled in other peoples affairs, then our suffering is on our own heads. Just as the accusations against Jesus were proven false, so too the accusations made against his followers should also prove to be false.

Peter says that no one should be ashamed of suffering for being a Christian. To us this might seem a strange thing to say to the followers of Jesus. We can understand why Peter would say this however, when we take a closer look at the word he uses. Notice first of all, that in this passage from Peter’s letter which we are studying, in the eyes of a persecutor to be a Christian is as dishonorable as being a thief or murderer. The word ‘Christian’ is used only two other times in the New Testament. One mention of this word is in king Arippa’s remark to Paul, “With a little persuasion are you trying to make me a Christian?” (Acts 26:28) We do not know in what tone of voice the king said this, but it is quite possible that he said it contemptuously. We are also told that, “...The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” (Acts 11:26) The word translated ‘called’ refers to a person’s occupation. So the name ‘Christian’ means those who make following Christ their occupation. It is also interesting to note that the name is not something the followers of Christ originally applied to themselves, but was given to them by those outside the faith. In fact, history records that Christ’s followers did not use this name for themselves until about the second century. In view of these facts, and that Peter tells his readers not to be ashamed of this name, it seems reasonable to say that those who gave this name to Jesus’ followers probably meant it as a taunt or abuse.

But there is another side to this. The prophet Isaiah had prophesied that God would give His people a new name. (See Isaiah 62:2) There are many names used for Jesus’ followers, such as disciples (Acts 6:7), saints (Ephesians 1:1), brothers (Acts 15:1, 23) and followers of the way (Acts 9:2). The only name, however, that can be applied exclusively to Jesus’ followers is ‘Christian.’ Peter says that a Christian should praise God that he bears that name. He is bearing the name of Christ, and as scripture says, “... God also highly exalted him, and gave to him the name which is above every name...” (Philippians 2:9). God has taken a name that man intended for insult and ridicule and turned it into something that is a privilege and honor to bear.

Though the followers of Christ may have to suffer persecution, Peter points out that their persecutors will also have to face judgment. Peter calls persecution a judgment. Though it is difficult to face, the persecutors will have to face a far worse one when they stand before God. Peter quotes Proverbs 11:31 from the Septuagint, which is a Greek translation of the Old Testament, to establish that the righteous, that is Christians, will be saved. But if their salvation is difficult, then it is impossible for those who do not follow Christ. In view of this, Peter assures his readers that God, their Creator, is faithful and urges those who are suffering as a result of being a Christian to fully commit their lives to him, and to continue to do good.