Sermon Text: 1 Peter 4:12–19
Preacher: Pastor Brian Sauvé
The God of Fiery Trial
This week, we take up 1 Peter 4:12–19 and the issue of suffering. If you have your Bible, please turn there with me. With this text steeping in my mind this week, Pastor Dan and I had the honor and privilege of bringing communion to Debbie, a wonderful woman of God who calls Refuge home who has been suffering under tremendous physical issues for years and rarely able to leave her house.
And it’s one of those situations where there have been setbacks, and there is no clarity even fully on what is going on, and you just want to reach in and fix it and take it away, but you know you can’t. Please be praying for Debbie. I’m confident she will listen to this, so Debbie, we are praying for you.
One of the things I love about the letter of 1 Peter is that, though Peter is an Apostle—in fact, the first among the Apostles as is widely recognized in the New Testament—he seems to think of himself and present himself first as a pastor. We’ll see that next week in chapter 5.
As a pastor, part of what Peter aims to do in his letter is to pastorally prepare us to suffer well. I’ve told you this before, but that’s part of the pastoral job description; part of my job as your pastor is to prepare you to suffer well—to prepare you for miscarriage, for cancer, for your spouse’s funeral, for your child’s illness, for the company layoff.
In our text today, 1 Peter 4:12–19, our brother Peter, Peter the pastor, would have us see that God has no intention of pretending like suffering is not real, like we need to just buck up or put on a stiff upper lip or just be tougher. We take up the Lord’s word to us in suffering, remembering that God is not a God who is callous to us, but rather a God who has himself willingly taken on the most fathomless depths of human suffering imaginable.
I’m convinced that Peter would this morning have us leave here, not with answers to every particular question of why and how and what God is doing in the midst of our suffering, but to leave here rather trusting that our God is both sovereign and good—to see through our limited and finite perspectives and see the God who calls us beloved.
1 Peter 4:12–19,
“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. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 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? And
‘If the righteous is scarcely saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’
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
Not This, But That
There are many times in the Scriptures where we are instructed along the lines of “not this, but that.” Like when Paul in his letter to the Colossians says that we are to put away anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscenity, etc., and then to put on love, compassionate hearts, kindness, etc.
Not this, but that. Peter does that in our text this morning. There is something he says No! to, then something he says Yes! to. And I feel that maybe we need a warning label on this text, because the not-this-but-that in Peter’s instruction sounds, at first glance, frankly insane. He says, “Do not be surprised [at suffering]… But rejoice.”
In other words, when suffering shows up in this life, Peter would have us be prepared for it, not treat it with shock and surprise, but rather to say, “Ah, I’ve been expecting you,” and smile.
We are to welcome trial as an honored guest, with a smile of gratitude, thanksgiving in our hearts to God, hearts at rest in the hands of our sovereign Lord.
5 Reasons Peter Isn’t Insane
What Peter does throughout this short section is to give us five reasons that this is not insane. Think about it: Where else are you hearing the message, “When suffering comes, rejoice!” There would have to be some compelling reason for that not to be insane advice, right? And that’s exactly what the Apostle gives us.
Five reasons for God’s people to rejoice in suffering:
1. We are, in Christ, God’s beloved.
Suffering doesn’t mean that we are not God’s beloved. Peter, I think, anticipates a certain line of thinking when it comes to our Lord and our suffering.
We might think like this: “God is utterly sovereign; all things are under his hand. Not one thing happens, but that he has allowed it or brought it to be. I am suffering right now. God could have stopped it, but chose not to. Therefore, God must be against me.”
And then we might follow that poisonous thread of thought and think, “God is against me. What have I done? What sin did I commit this week? I must not have done enough to maintain God’s love for me. I’ll go work harder and God will end the suffering and love me again.”
That, friends, is pernicious—pernicious because it is a different gospel. You are saved, not by works of righteousness that you have done, but according to his great mercy. You are justified before God because God has credited to your account the perfect obedience of Christ, his sinless life, vicarious suffering, and victorious resurrection. You don’t suffer because you are less justified. God doesn’t tether his love for you to your works for him; his love for you is tethered to the immovable anchor of the Father’s love for his Son, with whom you are identified by faith.
So some of you need to hear this: Christian, your health problems aren’t because God doesn’t love you. Your financial issues are not because God doesn’t love you anymore. Your cancer, your undiagnosed illness, your marriage struggles, your wayward child—none of those things are related to God’s waning love for you.
No, God is for you in Christ. Meaning this, listen carefully: God is exerting his whole will in accordance with his whole power through all of his limitless resources, bending all things together to serve you. He is working with his divine power to love you in the most perfect, flawless, limitless way he could possibly love you.
To be beloved of God means that you are the object of God’s illimitable divine love. That love is not limited like our love is limited. We love, but lack the power, the resources, and the will to fully and consistently display that love towards our beloveds.
I love my wife. I love my children. But I cannot bend time and space and history to ensure the flawless perfection of my love—not even to mention the sheer weakness of my not-yet-glorified affections. I cannot prevent the rogue cell from going malignant in their bodies. I cannot prevent the asthma of my son. My love is deeply limited.
God’s love is not limited like that, period, and in Christ it rests on you permanently. God’s special, saving love for his Bride is permanent and omnipotent love. Listen to Paul in Romans 8:31–39,
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
But that leaves the question hanging, doesn’t it: Why, then, is there suffering for God’s people? The question still isn’t answered, is it? Peter helps us here, particularly in verses 12 and 17. Number 2, rejoicing in suffering is not insane, because…
2. Our Savior has a chain and collar on suffering. He is even suffering’s Master—it is serving him and therefore us.
Look again at verse 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.”
-1 Peter 4:12
There are two phrases in this verse you ought to underline: “fiery trial,” and “to test you.” Both of these phrases assure us in different ways that God is the true Master of suffering. Let me explain.
There are trials that are coming, and they are fiery trials. Fiery trial is the language of divinely ordained trials; God is the one who sends fire, and he does so to do two things, both of which are good:
Number one, he judges his enemies in fire. Over and over again in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, fire is connected with the judgment of God over his enemies. As in Isaiah 66:16, “For by fire will the LORD enter into judgment…” Or in Hebrews 12:29, quoting Deuteronomy 4:24, the LORD our God is a consuming fire.
What I’m saying is that the fiery trial is God’s thing. Yes, it may come through evildoers—as when the wicked nations sack Jerusalem and send Israel into exile—but even those wicked nations are functioning like a sword in the hand of God. God asks the rhetorical question in Amos 3:6, “Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?” The answer obvious to the prophet being a resounding, “No!”\
This is tremendously good news for us, though it is one of those angular teachings of Scripture that has sharp edges. Because the SECOND thing God does with fiery trial—which we see directly in that second phrase—is to prove and purify his people through the fire or trial. It come’s upon us, Peter says, “to test” us.
God has enslaved suffering and trial to serve us. He uses it as he did with Job, to prove the authenticity of our faith. So when you suffering trial and cling to God in faith through it and refuse to curse God, but rather bless God, you are magnifying his glory as he proves out the authenticity of your faith.
This is what is going on in 1 Corinthians 3, where Paul imagines our life’s work as passing through the flame of judgment at the end, and finding out what was wood, hay, and stubble, and what was precious metal. God proves out what is of us and what is of him through trial.
And he also purifies us through trial. He burns off self-trust. He burns off sin. He burns off things that were killing us, weighing us down, and not serving us. How easy is it to trust in our own hands and our strength until the day they flee from us like chaff in the wind? How hard it is to trust in our own strength once the Lord graciously allows illness to burn off the illusion!
Rejoice in your suffering, not only because your Lord is its true Master, but because as its true Master, he will only ever allow it to serve you, not destroy you.
3. All who share in Jesus’ suffering share in Jesus’ glory.
We’ve covered this quite a few times in Peter’s letter, since it is one of the great themes of the letter, so we won’t spend as long on this one. But look again at verses 13–16,
“But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.”
-1 Peter 4:13–16
This is the promise of this passage: It is an impossibility in the redemptive working of God that any of his people should experience the suffering that comes with identification with Jesus without experiencing the subsequent glory of identification with Jesus.
The one who dies with Christ in ignominy rises with him in glory. If you suffer for his sake, you will share in glory for his sake. If you are insulted as a fool and a bigot and a narrow-minded loser for the sake of Christ’s name, then “…you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”
God delights to bless those who are maligned in his name and for his sake, since it shows that his approval is more essential to you than theirs. Don’t suffer for the sake of criminality or sin and then try to claim the Spirit of glory! No, but for Christ’s name? God guarantees glory to the sufferer.
4. Those who cause your suffering will not be able to withstand God’s furious judgment.
Look again at verses 16–18, if you would,
“…if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 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? And
‘If the righteous is scarcely saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’”
-1 Peter 4:16–18
The flow of Peter’s argument here runs like this: Verse 16, there are going to be people outside the Church who bring suffering into your life. I say that Peter is referring to suffering brought on by people outside the Church, because he’s talking about suffering “as a Christian,” and then goes on to speak in verses 17 and 18 about those who “do not obey the gospel of God.”
Then, in verse 17, he brings us back to the idea of verse 12, namely, that these trials—even though they are coming through unbelievers—are being used of God to test, to prove, to purify. Judgment begins with the house of God, with Christians, in other words, to prove out who is really of the house of God and to purify the house of God.
That’s one of the things God is doing, so you know, through suffering at Refuge Church. He is proving out our genuineness and purifying us. He is proving out who is his and who is not, and he is purifying his own.
But then notice verse 18, the comfort that God aims to give us. Because we might say, “Ok, I understand what you’re doing through the hatred and persecution of the world in us, but what about them? What about the persecutors, those who hate and revile and reject us for the sake of Christ?”
And Peter responds by paraphrasing from the Proverbs, to assure us that God will not be mocked, that his people will not go unvindicated. This is another way of telling us that we don’t need to be in the business of vengeance against those who hate us—God will take care of them.
So rejoice when you suffer hatred or rejection or persecution for the sake of Christ, and don’t try to get even or get revenge, because those who cause the suffering of God’s people will not withstand his fury when their fiery trial arrives.
5. Your Shepherd is both utterly sovereign and utterly faithful (12; 19).
Peter just won’t let us leave this section without emphatically assuring us of this truth, will he? The text is clear: There is no maverick suffering in the lives of God’s people. Verse 12 tells us that the trials come “…to test you.” Who is doing the testing? God is. He’s proving out your faith and purifying you for his use. And verse 19 calls us “…who suffer according to God’s will.” These things are a part of his will.
All of our trial and suffering—all of it, every particle—is under the hand of a sovereign God. Therefore, rejoice.
Why? Because in your sovereignly shepherded suffering, you are entrusting your should to your faithful Creator. Faithful—to what? To himself. To his own word. To his own promises. To his own nature. To his own steadfast love and infinite mercy. To his own intention to finish what he began in you. To his own divine insistence on loving you entirely and perfectly.
If these three things are true—that God is totally sovereign and that God is totally for you and that God is totally faithful—then not only can we move from fear and doubt in our suffering, but we can move to faith and joy in it.
Our Creator is faithful. He is for us. He is all-powerful. What could go wrong?
Not a Question of “When”
Listen, some of you are—and I mean right now, whether you’re listening online or sitting here in this church right now—right now in the midst of tremendous suffering. Sometimes we who are not in the midst of that suffering can forget that this isn’t just theory; it’s reality and even present reality for our brothers and sisters.
Some of you are dealing with infertility, miscarriage, disease, marriage troubles, relational strife. Some of you are dealing with the degrading effects of the Curse on your physical body—thinking back to the time when you took things like pain-free existence for granted.
What we all need to see and reckon with is that it’s not a question of whether or not suffering will break into your life, but rather when it will.
We live in a world that is redeemed, but not yet fully restored. We live between the coming of the Kingdom in Christ and the finished glory of the Kingdom—when Jesus will defeat all his enemies, then stand up from his throne and come down to destroy that last enemy death.
So listen: Be ready. Stand firm. Be ready in season and out of season to believe that the Lord is for you, that he is good, and that nothing comes through his hand and into your life that is not ultimately somehow part of his love for you. Do you believe that? Are you prepared by faith to confess that in the midst of trial?
Be prepared now to refuse the whispering of the world, the flesh, and the devil—who will creep in on the day of suffering like Job’s wife, “Curse God and die. Disbelieve that he is good. Would a good God do this? Allow this? If God was as good and powerful as he says he is, why this?”
Be ready on that day to pull out the shield of faith to extinguish the fiery darts of the enemy: “Jesus is conquering and subduing and enslaving even these things and making them serve him and even to serve me. Heart: Trust your Lord.”