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When Fiery Trials Come

October 25, 2012

OUTLINE:

  1. Expect fiery trials. 1 Peter 4:12
  2. Receive encouragement for suffering. 1 Peter 13-16
  3. Trust God explicitly. 1 Peter 4:17-19

 

INTRODUCTION:

There is a growing trend in our culture to openly ridicule those who follow Christ. Christians are often maligned by the mainstream media, public educators, and politicians for their stand for right. While it is a new trend in our country, Christians throughout the centuries have experienced everything from ostracism to martyrdom. Peter wrote to believers who were scattered in exile for their faith. In this week’s Sunday School text he gave instruction and encouragement to those suffering fiery trials because of their faith.

I Expect Fiery Trials Come. [vv. 12] 

Peter began this portion of his letter with a reminder to the scattered church that they can expect severe trials. [v.12] “do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you.” First, “do not be surprised…” would indicate that fiery ordeals can be expected when you live for Christ. The Greek word translated, “surprised,” is the same word used in verse four for the unbelievers who were surprised that the believers do not enter into their lifestyle. Because the Christians did not join them, unbelievers maligned them. In verse twelve Peter showed the other side of that coin, the believer is not to be surprised, amazed, that trials come into their lives. Jesus warned “But beware of men for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues” (Matthew. 10:17)

 Paul catalogued his many trials in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27. Peter wrote that trials should not be viewed, “as though something strange were happening to you.” In Christ believers can expect trials to come their way. Rather than be surprised when trials come, believers in these end days ought to be prepared for such trials. 

Second, don’t be surprised, “at the fiery ordeal among you.” [v.12b] Peter is obviously speaking of the intense persecution of the believers of the diaspora. He is not talking about life’s normal bad times. To put it another way, not every difficulty is a “fiery trial,” caused by one’s obedience to Christ. Life has it’s challenges that come to everyone. Peter is speaking to the ordeals that come as a direct result of someone living faithfully for God. The very idea of fire being used is frightful! The writer of Proverbs classified fire as one the the things “that never says ‘Enough!” [Proverbs 30:16]  In the Scripture fire was present on the sacrificial altar, and on the altar of incense, it covered the top of Mount Sinai when God gave the law to Moses, and it is pictured as the purifier of precious mettles. Peter saw the fire as a refining process.

Third, these trials, “come upon you for your testing.” [v.12c] The trials that God ordains in our life are for testing. They test the purity of our faith, they refine faith, and just as heat hardens steel, so trials toughen the believers resolve to follow Christ. Today’s minor trial prepares us for tomorrow’s fiery ordeal by purifying and strengthening our faith. 

II. Encouragement for living through fiery trials. [vv.13-16] 

Peter gave encouragement to those living for Christ in times of persecution. His first encouragement was to, “keep on rejoicing.” [v.13b] Circumstances have a great deal to do with the believers rejoicing, but not in the assumed way. The usual thought is that bad circumstances are joy killers and good times will generate joy. Not so in Christ. When the circumstances are those of suffering for Him, as He suffered, the degree of the sharing in His suffering sets the degree of rejoicing. “To the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing,” [v.13a]The words, “to the degree that” mean “according to.” The indicator is not the degree to which a believer suffers, but the degree to which the believer “shares” in the suffering of Christ.  It is a word derived from the Greek word, “koinōneō,” often translated “fellowship.” It is the believer’s identification with Christ that produces great joy. Paul wrote, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship {koinonia} of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; “ 

 Sharing with Christ in His suffering results in: Rejoicing, 1 Peter 1:6; fellowship with Christ, Philippians 3:10; being glorified with Christ, Romans 8:17; and reigning with Him, 2 Timothy 2:12. “Keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” [v.13c] Peter encouraged those suffering with a word of hope, those who suffer with Him, will with Him experience glorification! 

Peter’s second encouragement, if you are reviled, slandered, for the name of Christ, you are blessed. [v.14] If a believer is insulted for his faith in Christ he is blessed! Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.” [Matthew 5:11] The idea of slander and blessing being partnered is foreign to the world, but is quite common in the Scripture. Jesus coupled them in the Sermon on the Mount, Paul included them in his letters on suffering, Philippians 3:10, et.al and James spoke of trials and joy in the same breath. In this verse Peter added the reason, “because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you,” [v.14b] It’s a quote from Isaiah 11:2 which speaks of the Messiah.  This verse can be translated “for the presence of the glory, even the Spirit, rests on you.”

 It speaks of the shinning glory of the Messiah, His spirit rests on the reviled. Luke gave the account of the stoning death of Stephen, “But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing standing at the right hand of God;” [Acts 7:55] Only those who share in His suffering as He suffered can fully grasp the blessing they experience. 

Peter’s warning, “Make sure that none of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler.” [v.15] While it is an honor to suffer for the name of Christ, it is dishonorable for the believer to suffer because of his own sin. Peter said don’t suffer as a murderer, everyone said, “Amen!” He said don’t suffer as a thief or evildoer, and everyone said, “Preach it brother!” Then he said, don’t be a troublesome meddler, and no one said anything! We understand clearly all of these, and fully agree a Christian ought not do them, well at least the first three. Peter included the “troublesome meddler,” this is one who oversees others affairs, a nosey busybody! Paul used the same word to describe younger widows who, “At the same time they also learn to be idle, as they go around from house to house; and not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention.” [1 Timothy 5:13] Peter’s warning, don’t get caught up in any of these behaviors. 

Peter’s third encouragement: stand fast in faith as you glorify God. [v.16]  He wrote, “but if anyone suffers as a Christian…” First it was a general all inclusive application, “anyone,” any faithful believer. Second, he is still talking about suffering, notice that “anyone and suffers,” are italicized meaning they are not in the Greek but added for clarification. Peter is still on the subject of suffering. Third, “as a Christian,” one of only three times this word is used in the New Testament. [see Acts 11:26, & Acts 26:28] Although it may have been used as a derisive tone in that day, and certainly is in our day, it is a great descriptive of those who follow Christ, the “Christ ones.” Forth, the negative, don’t be ashamed. The world, the slanderers of Christians, seek to shame the follower of Christ for not conforming to their sinful lifestyle, but Peter reminded them there is no need for shame. Jesus our Encourager, bore our shame on the cross, we can strand firm in His victory. Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”  [Roman 1:16] Fifth, the positive, “but is to glorify God in this name.” [v.16b] Not ashamed, but ready to give glory to God! The word “glorify” is the word from which we get our word for doxology, to praise. That’s the way I want to live, suffer, and die. 

 III. Trust God explicitly. 1 Peter 4:17-19

In these last three verses Peter gave a contrast of the complete assurance the believer has and the hopelessness of the nonbeliever. His message, is in times of suffering God is faithful to His own, trust Him! 

Earlier Peter referred to persecution and suffering as trials that refine and strengthen one’s faith. [1 Peter 1:6-7] Now in verses 17-19 he added that God allows, even sends, persecution and suffering as a matter of disciplinary judgment to cleans and strengthen the family of God, “household of God.” [v.17] God’s judgments are used to prepare His people for what lies ahead that they will stand in faith. The writer of Hebrews wrote, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.” (Hebrews. 12:7). I’ll explain it this way, God intimately knows His church, He knows what every believer needs to become more Christlike. He orchestrates that into our lives in the form of the Holy Spirit opening His Word, teaching and preaching designed to change our thinking, and even physical, emotional, or spiritual suffering. His judgment produces a more mature, “household of God.”  Peter’s question then is, “if it, judgment, begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the Gospel of God?” [v.17b] The answer of course is there is no hope for those who do not obey His gospel. 

Peter emphasized that question with a quote from the Greek translation of Proverbs 11:31 “And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner?” He is not saying that great works are needed for the righteous to earn salvation, [salvation is all of grace] but that even those who are saved are not exempt from temporal disciplinary judgments which are the natural consequences of sin. Warren Wiersbe writes, “When a believer suffers, he experiences glory and knows that there will be greater glory in the future. But a sinner who causes that suffering is only filling up the measure of God’s wrath.” Therefore as believers our focus should not be on our own plight, but on those who have no hope, that they might hear and receive the gospel of God. 

Peter’s final application, “Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.”  [v.19] When we suffer according to the will of God we can commit our soul to His keeping. The word commit is a banking term, to deposit for safe keeping. He always pays with eternal dividends!   

There are times when the Lord leads His followers, Christians, through the fire. Those times offer opportunity to rejoice in His presence, receive the blessing of His presence, and experience His work of reformation in our lives. To God be the glory!

 [NOTE:I'm taking a few week's off, next post will be end of November. Have a great Thanksgiving! Elbert White]

 

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