1 Peter 4:12 - Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you. (Read 1 Peter 4:12-19.)
The Bible never commands or exhorts Christians to pray for persecution. But the Bible very definitely tells the growing Christian to expect persecution. 1 Peter 4:12 emphatically states that "we are not to be surprised" when persecution comes, or think that "some strange thing" is happening to us when we are persecuted as Christians. (See also Acts 14:22; Philippians 1:29; 2 Timothy 3:12; 1 John 3:13.) Persecution is "part of the package" of our salvation! By no means is such a statement meant to imply that the salvation of our souls is earned or merited through suffering a certain amount of persecution. No, the Bible clearly teaches that salvation is a personal gift from God and persecution is not part of the price. The price of our salvation was fully paid by God Himself when our Lord Jesus suffered and died on the cross for our sins. But while persecution is not part of the purchasing price of our salvation, it certainly is part of the "path of progress" of our salvation. We do not "get saved" by suffering persecution, but when we are saved we will suffer persecution. Such a concept as "saved to suffer" may rattle us a little at first. It may even cause us to experience a few wrong thoughts of our God. But such negative vibrations are cancelled out when we see from Scripture that God has a number of purposes for permitting His children to be persecuted. In the book of 1 Peter, God tells us a lot about persecution. In fact, this book of the Bible could be called a handbook on suffering persecution. It was written just before the outbreak of the Roman persecutions under Nero in 64 A.D. In this connection, 1 Peter 4:12 could be looked on as a prophecy of the coming Roman persecutions of the Christian Church. But of course, 1 Peter 4:12 is applicable to Christians of all time. Christians of the 20th century should expect to be persecuted for their faith as were the Christians of the 1st century. It should be stressed at this point that wherever the book of 1 Peter talks about suffering, it is not "any old kind of suffering" that is in view. Christians suffer heart attacks and car accidents and depleted bank accounts and missed appointments and bad colds, but these are not the kinds of suffering that Peter has in mind. These are problems, to be sure, and in the Christian's life God can use all these things for our ultimate benefit. (See Romans 8:28-29.) However, the sufferings of 1 Peter are persecutions that come upon the Christian precisely because he is a Christian--slander, reproach, mockery, scorn, put-downs, cut-downs, verbal flak, verbal abuse, social ostracism, physical torture, and even some martyrdom. Have you ever experienced any non-physical persecution and hate on your campus or on your job because you're a Christian? Maybe you've suffered a lower grade in a course or even lost a job or promotion because of your Christian testimony. This is all part of normal Christian living and should be expected. In some countries even physical persecution is a way of life for Christians. Several of God's reasons for permitting His children to suffer persecution are given in the verses immediately following 1 Peter 4:12. First of all there is the reward of blessing. Verse 13 speaks about the blessing of future glory and verse 14 refers to the blessing of present glory. If we are willing to share in the sufferings of Christ now, we will share in His glory when He returns. Romans 8:17 says that "we suffer with Him in order that we may be glorified with Him." The Lord Jesus said in reference to persecution for His sake, "Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great" (Matthew 5:10-12). The Bible does not tell us all the specifics of what's involved in our sharing of Christ's glory. However, we do know that when the effects of sin are completely erased from this universe, the untainted glory of God will be manifested through-out His creation forever. This glory will be focussed and centered in the Person of Christ and His redeeming work. (See Philippians 2:5-11.) We have the opportunity now of investing in that future glory. Just think: today we are being given the privilege of participating in, and contributing to, the future honor and praise and splendor of our Savior--if we are willing to suffer a little persecution. Such a high and holy calling should help us to endure the "Holy Joe" and "religious nut" scorn that we often experience, or should experience! It should be emphasized that the sharing in the sufferings of Christ mentioned in verse 13 in no way has to do with Christ's sufferings on the cross. Those sufferings were for our sins and were completed when Christ proclaimed triumphantly from the cross, "It is finished" (John 19:30). The sufferings of Christ in which we share now are sufferings for the sake of Christ--namely, persecution. They are called the sufferings of Christ because the body of Christ on earth (which is the Church) suffers whenever Christians are persecuted for the name of Christ. (See Colossians 1:24.) Remember that the resurrected Christ questioned Saul on the Damascus road, "Why do you persecute Me?" as Saul was on his way to persecute Christians. But the Church persecuted now will be the Church glorified when Christ's body on earth is united with her Head in heaven. There is also a present glory associated with being persecuted for Christ. Verse 14 informs us that the Holy Spirit of glory rests upon us when we are reviled for the name of Christ. All believers have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them (Romans 8:9-11; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 1:13), but persecuted believers have the Holy Spirit resting on them. The persecuted Christian comes to know more of the reality of the presence of God in his life. The relationship becomes deeper and more intimate--much more than is possible if the believer is unwilling to suffer. The relationship that develops between two soldiers going through the thick of battle together is much closer than a "peacetime" friendship. Remember, it's only now on earth that we have the privilege of enlarging our relationship with our Lord in this way. There is no persecution in heaven! After stressing (vs15-16) that suffering for the sake of Christ has nothing whatsoever to do with suffering for our own wrong-doing, Peter moves on to mention another reason why God allows persecution. In verses 17-19 the emphasis is on the renewal of commitment that results from the suffering of persecution. In verse 17 the emphasis is on collective commitment, while in verse 19 the emphasis is on individual commitment. "Judgment of the household of God" (v17) is not discipline in the punitive sense, but rather discipline in the preventative sense. The persecution of the Church, God's household, is a safeguard against worldliness and waywardness. Persecution has a purifying effect on the Church. Tertullian, a second century Christian, said that "the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church." Throughout her history, the Church has not only survived during times of persecution, but she has been purified. If the Church in America today were to undergo extreme physical persecution, we would see quite a few nominal Christians and other hangers-on "leave the ship". Persecution is the "test by fire" that proves our faith (1 Peter 1:7). Widespread and prolonged persecution will produce renewal of commitment of the Church as a whole, and any persecution endured by the individual Christian will generally result in greater personal commitment to the Lord. There will not only be a "ceasing from sin" and a more holy life (1 Peter 4:1-4), but there will be more "entrusting of the soul to the Creator while doing what is right" (v19). What words could better describe what Christian renewal is all about? Social ostracism and slander and scorn from fellow-students and fellow-employees will not turn off the growing Christian; it will drive the believer closer to the Lord Jesus. Although persecution of the believer is to be expected and is "according to the will of God" (v19), let us remember that this is a family matter. We are the "beloved" (v12) children of a "faithful Creator" (v19) Who always has our best interests in view. Verses 17 and 18 remind us of the vast difference between the persecution of the believer in this life and the punishment in the next life of the godless unbeliever who refused to obey the gospel of God. The Christian who understands God's reasons for allowing persecution not only expects to be persecuted but is willing to suffer persecution.