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1 Peter: Godly Suffering, Part 2

October 18, 2009

Martyrdom.

That sobering subject may have been part of what the Holy Spirit had in mind when Peter wrote to the scattered saints about godly suffering. The book was most likely written between AD 60-64, during the reign of Nero. Peter may well have been writing to prepare the disciples for the persecution that would occur in AD 64 under Nero. In that year, a great fire broke out in Rome, and a substantial portion of the city was burned. Some of the Roman people began to attribute blame to Nero himself. Nero responded by deflecting the blame to the Christians. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote:

…they were covered with the hides of wild beasts, and worried to death by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set fire to, and when the day waned, burned to serve for the evening lights.

That such cruelty was done to saints of God seems unimaginable to our modern western minds. Nero’s cruelty was shocking even to many Roman witnesses in that day. But that is what happened within a short time after Peter’s first letter was written. It is hardly surprising that Peter would write to prepare the believers for what was about to come.

With that bit of historical background, let’s consider what Peter said on the topic of suffering in his first letter.

1Pe 1:6-7 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Peter introduced the subject of Christian suffering early in the first chapter. He compared the suffering of Christians to the refining of gold by fire — certainly suggestive of a fiery test of their faith. (He came back to the fiery imagery in 1 Pet 4:12) Peter indicated that there would be “all kinds of trials” which would prove the genuineness of their faith. There would be a reward of praise, glory, and honor for those who passed the test — a reward to be received when Jesus returns.

1Pe 2:18-20 Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.

Of course not all would personally face martyrdom at the hands of Nero. Some would face suffering of a different kind. Maybe this comes closer to the kind of suffering that modern Christians in western countries might face – unjust treatment because of faith in Jesus. But in reality, very few of us actually face beatings for our faith, as some first century slaves apparently did. Peter instructed them to “bear up under the pain” because they are conscious of God — in other words, to stand resolutely on their faith even when it cost them a beating, in order to receive the commendation of God.

1Pe 2:21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

Christ suffered even to the point of death in order to fulfill God’s purpose. Therefore, Peter taught, Christians should likewise refuse to back down in the face of persecution.

1Pe 3:13-14 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.”

Persecution forces Christians to choose whom they will fear. In the above passage, Peter referred to the words of God recorded by Isaiah the prophet:

Isa 8:12 “Do not call conspiracy
everything that these people call conspiracy;
do not fear what they fear,
and do not dread it.
Isa 8:13 The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
he is the one you are to fear,
he is the one you are to dread,
Isa 8:14 and he will be a sanctuary;

It seems that Peter, like Isaiah, had in mind a kind of persecution that could cost a person his life. Consider the following familiar passage in the context of that kind of suffering:

1Pe 3:15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,
1Pe 3:16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
1Pe 3:17 It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

They were to set apart Christ as Lord. That title was to be reserved for Christ alone, and not to be applied to the emperor. Each Christian was to be resolved in his or her own mind how to answer if faced with the awful choice of martyrdom or denial of Christ. They were to be prepared in advance to answer with gentleness and respect, and to embrace the suffering rather than to commit the great evil of denying Jesus.

1Pe 4:12-13 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. [ESV]

Clearly there was a “fiery trial” that was about to confront them. Peter was concerned that the believers might be frightened into denying the faith during the coming trial.

1Pe 4:15-16 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

He anticipated that they would face punishment for their belief in Jesus. He warned them about being ashamed and admonished them not to shrink back from testifying that they bear the name of Christ. For some of them, such testimony would cost them their lives. Peter remembered the words of Jesus:

Mar 8:38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

He also undoubtedly remembered his own denials of Christ during the Savior’s last few hours on earth. He must have remembered the Lord’s words at that post-resurrection breakfast on the shore, recorded in John 21, asking Peter if he truly loved the Lord. He remembered the kind of death that Jesus had predicted for him. He had spent the subsequent 30 or so years getting ready to face his own personal test. And he charged all his readers with being ready for similar testing.

1Pe 4:17-18 For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?
And,
“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

The coming persecution was a judgment on the family of God. It would separate those with genuine faith from those who lacked it. It would be hard for the righteous to be saved. This was no lightweight test. The only way to pass was to be willing to die for the faith.

How would we fare under such a test? Would our faith survive the fiery trial? Do we survive the much lighter trials we actually do face? Sobering questions.

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2 comments

  1. Wonderful series Alan.I enjoy reading your blog again.I am back online at home so will be reading your blog often. It has been such a blessing to my life brother. I hope we would survive. I doubt it. We get to comfortable as American Christians I believe. We don't really understand what it truely means to be persecuted and face the suffering that Peter and the the Christians that he addressed faced. Complacency and comfortableness of our times in American Churches don't and won't prepare us for what Peter endured and the 1st century believers endured. I pray that when the hour of persecution and Godly suffering comes that we will be steadfast, strong, unwavering. Thank you again brother for all you do. Your series on Godly Suffering has been a blessing to me.


  2. Suffering seems to be a key part to our christian walk. And I agree, we are not prepared like Peter and the early christians. I hope when the time comes, we will be steadfast in Him. God bless you my brother and thankyou for the encouragement.



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