1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
Recipients of this letter are experiencing trials, harsh treatment, and suffering (1:6-7; 2:18-20; 3:13-17; 4:1-4, 12-19; 5:10). Peter encourages them with a vision of “an incorruptible and undefiled inheritance that doesn’t fade away, reserved in Heaven for you” (1:4), and calls them to live holy lives (1:15; 2:9). He holds up the prospect of the rewards that they will experience in the future (1:8)—and encourages them to stand fast in their faith in the midst of adversity.
In 2:18-25, he spoke at length about the example of Christ’s suffering, “leaving you an example” (2:21).
In 3:8-22, he addressed the issue of suffering for doing what is right.
In chapter 4, he said, “Forasmuch then as Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind; for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (4:1). He talked at length about people who “walked in lewdness, lusts,” etc. (4:3). Such people would see Christian behavior as peculiar (4:4). “But the end of all things is near. Therefore be of sound mind, self-controlled, and sober in prayer. And above all things be earnest in your love among yourselves, for love covers a multitude of sins” (4:7-8).
Verse 11 ends with a benediction, which is probably the reason that our lectionary reading begins with verse 12. However, as you will see from this “Context” segment, there is much continuity between what went before (1:1 – 4:11) with what follows (4:12 – 5:11) in the emphasis on handling persecution (4:12-14) and holy living (5:6-11).
1 PETER 4:12-14. DON’T BE ASTONISHED AT THE FIERY TRIAL
12 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. 13 But because you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, rejoice; that at the revelation of his glory you also may rejoice with exceeding joy. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed; because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
“Beloved, don’t be astonished at the fiery trial (Greek: pyrosis) which has come upon you, to test(Greek: peirasmos) you, as though a strange thing happened to you” (v. 12). The Greek word pyrosis means fire or to burn. The word “trial” is not in the Greek, but is implied by the context. These people have walked through the fire of persecution for their faith.
Peter advises them not to regard those fiery trials as something peculiar. Christians can expect such things.
“to test (peirasmos) you” (v. 12b). God often tests people to give them a chance to prove their faith:
• God tested Abraham by telling him to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19). Abraham passed that test with flying colors (Hebrews 11:17-19).
• God tested the Israelites in the wilderness to humble them, to prove them, and to learn what was in their hearts—whether they would keep God’s commandments (Deuteronomy 8:2) and whether they would love God with all their heart and soul (Deuteronomy 13:3; see also Exodus 15:25; 16:4; 20:20; Judges 2:22; 3:1, 4). We might think of these testings as a quality-control procedure. Yahweh needed to expose flaws in Israel’s faith and faithfulness so that he might provide the necessary discipline to restore them to proper faith and faithfulness. The testing was intended to do them good rather than harm, but the corrective discipline was usually painful.
• God also tests Christians (Matthew 26:41; Luke 8:13; James 1:2; 1 Peter 4:12). The person who passes those tests today can expect to be spared testing at the end of time (Revelation 3:10).
• God tested these Asia Minor Christians to give them opportunity to prove their faith.
“But because you are partakers (Greek: koinoneo) of Christ’s sufferings, rejoice“ (v. 13a). Christ’s suffering wasn’t random or masochistic. It had a purpose. Christ suffered “for us”—on our behalf—in our place. The sin was ours, so the suffering should have been ours. But, in keeping with the sacrificial code prescribed by Torah law, Jesus became “the Lamb who has been killed” (Revelation 5:12)—”the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)—”Christ, our Passover, …sacrificed in our place” (1 Corinthians 5:7)—the “faultless and pure lamb” whose precious blood redeemed us (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Now Peter tells these Christians that they are partakers (koinoneo) in Christ’s sufferings. This word koinoneo (partakers) is related to the more familiar word koinonia (fellowship) that we use for fellowship groups. Koinoneo (partakers) suggests an intimate connection—a situation where everyone embraces the joys or sorrows of the other members of the group.
In this instance, these recipients of Peter’s letter have been persecuted for their faith in Christ. In the beginning, they might not have realized that the active exercise of their faith would lead to persecution. They might even be tempted now to repudiate their faith so that they might bring a halt to the persecution.
However, Peter calls them to an altogether different response. He calls them to rejoice, because they have been honored to participate in Christ’s sufferings—to experience a bit of what he experienced—to gain an appreciation of the sacrifices that he made in their behalf. Also, as we will see in the last half of this verse, they can rejoice because of the reward that they can expect “at the revelation of his glory.”
According to tradition, Peter was later crucified in Rome—upside down at his own request, because he didn’t feel worthy to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus. While there is no scriptural record of that event, it would be in keeping with the spirit of this verse.
“that at the revelation of his glory (Greek: doxa) you also may rejoice (Greek: agalliao) with exceeding joy“ (v. 13b). Glory is characteristic of God, and refers to God’s awe-inspiring majesty.
God shared this glory with Jesus. Like God’s glory, Christ’s glory is revealed in his presence with us, in his salvation work, and in judgment. We saw Jesus’ glory revealed at the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36) and through his death and resurrection (Luke 24:26). At the parousia (the Second Coming), Jesus will return “in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27). At that time, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).
When Christ’s glory is fully revealed, these Christians “may rejoice” (agalliao) with exceeding joy” (v. 13b), because they will be fully vindicated. They can expect that Jesus will tell them, “Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:21; see also Matthew 5:11-12; Luke 6:22-23; Hebrews 10:32-39; 1 Peter 1:6-7).
The Greek word agalliao (rejoice) is wonderfully expressive. It speaks of exultation—leaping and dancing joy. When Peter tells these Christians that the day will come when they will “rejoice with exceeding joy,” he paints the picture of great celebration.
“If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed“ (v. 14a). Jesus stated this principle in the Sermon on the Mount, saying, “Blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).
Suffering contempt or humiliation can be as painful—even more painful than physical injury. Being reviled or insulted or slandered penetrates to the heart. Children say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” but that is a lie. Words have the capacity to wound us emotionally as surely as a knife has the capacity to wound us physically. Most of us still carry emotional scars from words that someone said years ago.
Damage to one’s reputation can also be disastrous professionally and financially. Nobody wants to do business with a person of questionable reputation.
But Christ was reviled on the cross (Matthew 27:38-44; Mark 15:29-32), and his followers can expect to suffer insults as well. When that happens, Jesus says, “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven, for their fathers did the same thing to the prophets” (Luke 6:22-23). He also assures them that they won’t need to be anxious about what they will say, “For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you”(Matthew 10:20).
But in this verse Peter is talking about present blessings. Opponents of these Christians might revile them, but God is blessing them—blessing them now.
“because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you“ (v. 14b). “The Spirit of glory and of God” is unusual wording, but refers to the Holy Spirit.
The word “rests” is present tense. These Christians already possess the Spirit of God. It rests on them now, providing strength and guidance as needed.
1 PETER 5:6-7. HUMBLE YOURSELF—GOD WILL EXALT YOU
6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; 7casting all your worries on him, because he cares for you.
Verse 5 (not included in this reading) says: “You younger ones, be subject to the elder. Yes, all of you clothe yourselves with humility, to subject yourselves to one another; for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble'” (quoting Proverbs 3:34). Verse 6 is based on that Proverbs verse.
“Humble (Greek: tapeinoo) yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (v. 6). This is an example of a reversal—a frequent theme throughout both Old and New Testaments.
• God chooses little Israel to be his people rather than mighty Egypt or Rome.
• God chooses little David to slay giant Goliath.
• Reversal is a primary theme in Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).
• The Beatitudes are a series of reversals (Matthew 5:1-12).
• The last hired becomes the first paid (Matthew 20:1-16).
• Jesus says, “So the last will be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16).
• “What things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ” (Philippians 3:7).
Paul uses the Greek word tapeinoo to describe Christ bringing himself low—humbling himself—taking a lower place than he could rightly have occupied (Philippians 2:8). He did this himself. No one forced him to do it. He was not brought low due to circumstances beyond his control. Nor was he being punished. He did this voluntarily in accord with God’s plan of salvation.
Now Peter calls these Christians (and us) to humble themselves (ourselves) “under the mighty hand of God”—in accord with God’s plan for our lives. Peter promises the reward of exaltation to those who comply—but only in “due time,” which could mean “in the last days”—or “at the end of time.”
However, the rewards of faith and faithfulness are often rewarded in the near term as well. As I consider Christians I have known, I believe that they have enjoyed blessings in the here and now—freedom from fear—faith in the future, to include faith in live beyond death—moral strictures that helped them to avoid many of the potholes that fill the broad paths that lead to destruction (Matthew 7:13).
“casting all your worries (Greek: merimna) on him, because he cares (Greek: melei) for you“ (v. 7). It would be better to translate this verse, “casting all your cares on him, because he cares for you.” The word merimna can be translated “worries,” but “cares” preserves a useful wordplay. We can cast our cares on God, because God cares for us.
This is in keeping with Jesus’ counsel, “Don’t be anxious, saying, ‘What will we eat?’, ‘What will we drink?’ or, ‘With what will we be clothed?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first God’s Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:31-33; see also Luke 12:22-32).
1 PETER 5:8-11. BE SOBER—WATCHFUL!
8 Be sober and self-controlled. Be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Withstand him steadfast in your faith, knowing that your brothers who are in the world are undergoing the same sufferings. 10 But may the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. 11 To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.
“Be sober and self-controlled. Be watchful“ (v. 8a). A literal translation would be “Be sober! Watch!” Just as soldiers in combat face deadly enemies, so also do Christians. Just as a soldier’s life depends on his alertness to the dangers around him, so also the Christian’s life depends on staying alert to the genuine dangers that are likely to assail from every side. We are surrounded by people who are actively hostile to Christ. They would like nothing better than to subvert our faith.
Jesus took his inner circle of disciples—Peter, James, and John—to the Garden of Gethsemane, telling them to stay and watch while he went off by himself to pray. When he returned, he found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you sleeping? Couldn’t you watch one hour? Watch and pray, that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:37-38). “Watch and pray!”
“Your adversary, the devil” (Greek: diabolos)“ (v. 8b). The Greek word diabolos is the equivalent of the Hebrew word satan. In the Old Testament, Satan is an accuser in the heavenly court. In the New Testament, the devil takes on the character of a tempter here on Earth (Matthew 4:1-11; 1 Thessalonians 3:5).
“walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour“ (v. 8c). Paul used similar language to elders at Ephesus. He said, “After my departure, vicious wolves will enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Men will arise from among your own selves, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore watch!” (Acts 20:29-31a).
Jesus came to destroy the devil’s work (Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8), but that victory awaits its final consummation (1 Corinthians 15:24-26; Hebrews 10:12-13). Only in the last days will the devil be thrown into the eternal fire for his final denouement (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:10).
But at present, “the devil walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour”—an apt metaphor. Lions might roar, but they also stalk—quietly and with great stealth. They don’t always succeed in bringing down their prey, but they prowl relentlessly until their prey succumbs and their bellies are full. When they feel hungry again, they restart the process, looking for new prey, striking again and again.
In like manner, the devil pursues us relentlessly—skillfully assessing whether we might be most easily tempted by high things or low—whether we might be most easily persuaded to go an inch in the wrong direction—or a mile.
“Withstand him steadfast in your faith, knowing that your brothers who are in the world are undergoing the same sufferings“ (v. 9). We are not defenseless. James says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:7-8).
How can we defend ourselves from the devil’s wiles? Traditional spiritual disciplines help—public worship—private prayer—scripture study—devotional reading. We will do well to choose our friends carefully, because peer pressure has enormous power to influence our behavior. We need to choose friends who will help us to act in accord with God’s will rather than tempting us to act against it.
Peter suggests that we take heart in our suffering, knowing that other Christians have undergone the same trials—and are doing so now. We would do well to read biographies of Christian men and women, both past and present. We would do well to familiarize ourselves with the persecutions that Christians are undergoing throughout the world today. We would do well to render all possible support to persecuted Christians. Doing so will strength them—and strengthen us as well.
The following verses from Ephesians 6 spell out in broad brushstrokes how to resist evil:
“Put on the whole armor of God,
that you may be able to stand
against the wiles of the devil.
For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood,
but against the principalities, against the powers,
against the world’s rulers of the darkness of this age,
and against the spiritual forces of wickedness
in the heavenly places.
Therefore, put on the whole armor of God,
that you may be able to withstand in the evil day,
and, having done all, to stand.
Stand therefore, having the utility belt of truth
buckled around your waist,
and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,
and having fitted your feet
with the preparation of the Good News of peace;
above all, taking up the shield of faith,
with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts
of the evil one.
And take the helmet of salvation,
and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;
with all prayer and requests, praying at all times in the Spirit,
and being watchful to this end
in all perseverance and requests for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:11-18).
“But may the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little while“ (v. 10a). The contrast here is between the short time that we will be expected to endure suffering and the eternity in which we will be able to enjoy God’s glory.
“perfect (Greek: katartizo), establish (Greek: sterizo), strengthen (Greek: sthenoo), and settle (Greek: themeliosei) you“ (v. 10b). Peter’s prayer is that God might help these Christians in four ways:
• “perfect” (katartizo). The word katartizo is a craftsman’s word, and means fit or restore or finish or perfect. Peter prays that God will fit these Christians perfectly for the challenges that they will face.
• “establish” (sterizo). Peter prays that God will set these Christians firmly in place—that he will establish them permanently so they cannot be moved.
• “strengthen” (sthenoo). Peter prays that God will strengthen these Christians—will give them health and strength and endurance.
• “settle” (themeliosei). This word has to do with founding something—with laying the foundations. Peter prays that God will set these Christians on firm footing so they cannot be uprooted or moved.
“To him be the glory and the power (Greek: kratos) forever and ever. Amen“ (v. 11). A literal translation would be “To him belongs the kratos (power, dominion) forever. Amen. This is similar to the doxology in 4:11.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2014, Richard Niell Donovan