Suffering and the Spirit of Glory - 1 Peter 4:12-19

Peter encourages Christian exiles and sojourners to stand firm and endure suffering for the sake of the gospel. The main way that he has done this is by reminding them that suffering leads to glory, just like it did for Jesus. Suffering now, glory later.

But in 1 Peter 4:12-19, Peter deepens that message by adding another layer: if you suffer for Christ’s sake, then the Spirit of glory rests on you right now. There will be fullness of glory and an end to suffering when Christ is revealed, but you don’t need to wait to experience glory. Suffering doesn’t just lead to future glory; suffering for Jesus is in itself a glorious blessing. Because of this, Christians should not be shocked by suffering; they should rejoice insofar as they share in Christ’s sufferings. Christians do not just endure suffering, they rejoice in suffering.

To understand how Peter can say this, though, we need to have a few key Old Testament passages in mind. Peter’s use of the images of fire, the Spirit of God resting on you, and the Church as the household of God are all drawn from the Old Testament, especially 2 Chron. 7:1-3, and Malachi 3:1-5. These passages show that the fiery presence of God is cause for rejoicing, and that the fiery presence of God’s Spirit purifies the Church before judging her enemies. When the fire of judgment comes, believers are purified and unbelievers are destroyed. Since this suffering is according to God’s will, what the persecutors mean for evil, God uses for the good of those who love Him. Persecutors are playing with God’s fire, and they are the ones who ultimately end up burned.

Everyone must go through God’s fire. The righteous are purified and (barely) saved. The ungodly are destroyed. What makes the difference is what name you suffer in. Only suffering for Christ reveals gold; suffering as a sinner simply leads to destruction. So, Peter says, let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or a meddler, since look what happens to them!

Now, it seems a bit over the top for Peter to tell a bunch of Christians that they shouldn’t be murdering people or doing evil, but in light of Peter’s final exhortation in vs. 19, it makes more sense. In verse 19, Peter tells the suffering exiles to entrust their souls to a faithful creator while doing good. The opposite of entrusting your souls to the Creator is taking matters into your own hands through actions that seem like they would eliminate suffering, possibly even murder, theft, evildoing, meddling, but also things like denying the name of Christ, joining unbelievers in their worldly lifestyle, or returning reviling for reviling.

Some of these sins seem extreme, but only to those who have never known extreme suffering. To a persecuted church, impoverished, starved, hunted, abused, and killed, desperation makes unthinkable actions seem thinkable. But Peter quickly rebukes such thoughts as temptations to sin, not as legitimate methods for bringing suffering to an end. Do not entrust your soul to worldly methods of overcoming evil. Do not suffer under the name of Murderer, or Thief, or Evildoer, or Meddler. Trying to end suffering by these means instead of enduring suffering is a rejection of Christ, and the person who responds to suffering in this way is not a Christian, but a sinner. And this was Peter’s point in v.17-18: it is better to endure suffering as God’s purifying judgment, and to come forth as gold, as difficult and painful as it is, than to adopt sinful methods to end suffering and face God’s punishing judgment as an evildoer.

Instead of taking matters into your own hands and becoming an evildoer, entrust your soul to God, like Jesus did in 1 Peter 2:23. When you do this, the fiery trials that you experience can been seen for what they truly are: the flame of God’s glorious Spirit, at work in the house of God to purify His priestly people.

The same fiery trials that seem to be signaling the absence of God if not the curse of God, are revealed to be indicators that the Spirit of Glory is resting on God’s house. God uses fiery trials of persecution to purify His people, so that the glory of God that impurity hides might shine forth in those who patiently endure suffering while entrusting their souls to God.

Persecution confirms that the Spirit is resting upon God’s house. So rejoice, and stop trying to “fix” your suffering. Instead, joyfully entrust your souls to your faithful Creator. When you do this, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

Posted on Wednesday, October 26, 2016 by CJ Bowen