A Bible Lesson on 1Peter 4:12-5:11

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

We’ll jump now to 1st Peter Chapter 4, verse 12, and more of what Peter has to say about the proper response to suffering in this world.

1Peter 4:12 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.

Peter needs here to answer a semi-reasonable question. He has said how wonderfully blessed Christian people are, inheriting the promises of God to His chosen people. So, a reasonable question to the natural mind, is “If this is all true, then how come life is full of suffering for me?” Peter lets us know that our thinking that makes “suffering” the opposite of “being blessed” is wrong. Rather, like it or not, it is for our good and God’s glory and is a normal part of Christian discipleship.

13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

Rejoice as you share/participate in the sufferings of Christ. There is an amazing thought. Not that in any way you and I add to Christ’s atoning work, but that we do have the great privilege of demonstrating to the world a measure of His mind and heart. We follow Him in suffering, and the people who see us acting properly under suffering are given an inkling of what He did on their behalf. In that sense, what Christians suffer helps bring people to God.

Do this so that you may rejoice/be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. This is in at least two senses. In one sense, God’s glory is presently seen in His people reflecting His nature. In a second sense, we will in the future be overjoyed when His great glory is revealed to the whole universe at His return and we are found to belong to Him.

Paul says similar things in Romans.

Romans 8:17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

You are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. That reminds of Stephen. As he was being stoned, the visible glory of God was seen in his face. The word “blessed” is the same word Jesus used in the beatitudes.

Matthew 5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Modern flabby notions that suffering is the opposite of blessedness just reveals failure to listen and apply Biblical categories in reasoning.

15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.

16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.

17 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?

18 And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

Right thinking Christians from the start have counted it a privilege to suffer for Christ.

Acts 5:40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.

41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.

Acts 16:22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods.

23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely.

24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,

Philippians 3:10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

2Timothy 2:11 The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him;

12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us;

Suffering for Christ both brings Him honor and confirms to our hearts that truly we are His. Peter’s advice would be “Neither seek it nor run from it. Live as if you weren’t going to experience it. But if God ordains that you should, His grace is sufficient. There will be joy and His glory in it. Count it a blessing.”

In Chapter 5, Peter addresses relationships in Christ’s church and gives encouragement in suffering. He describes how we who belong to Christ should live with each other, recognizing that we are pilgrims and sojourners, strangers in a hostile world, on our way to a glorious inheritance in eternity. He begins with instructions to elders.

1Peter 5:1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed:

Peter says “To the elders among you.” The word translated “elder” here is one with a rich and important history. In the history of the Jews, beginning in Numbers 11:16-30, there were men who functioned in the community under God as spiritual and civic leaders. Moses appointed 70 to help him lead the Israelites. As time went on, there were elders in every town who dispensed justice, administered the synagogue and saw to it that there was good government and order in the synagogue. In Christian history, the concept is there almost from the start. Paul, on his missionary journeys appointed elders in the churches he established, to provide for order, soundness of doctrine and nurture of the congregations. There were elders in the church at Jerusalem, etc.   These same people are sometimes called “bishops” or “overseers” elsewhere in the New Testament. For the well-being of the church, this was and is an important function and responsibility/office that has 4000 years of Jewish and Christian history.

Notice how Peter makes his appeal here. He appeals in a manner consistent with what he is urging of his hearers. Humanly speaking he has the “right/authority” as an apostle and one commissioned by Christ to speak from “above” those to whom he writes, but he doesn’t. He speaks humbly and as a peer, as a fellow elder and witness of Christ’s sufferings. It’s worth noting too that in light of Peter’s denial of Jesus the morning before the crucifixion (and after he’d sworn that HE would never fail Jesus) the memory of Christ’s sufferings would have been doubly painful. To call them up demonstrates a real humility of spirit on Peter’s part. But he writes too as one who has in common with his readers a sure hope of glory with Christ in eternity.

2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;

The NIV renders this “Be shepherds of God’s flock.” The ESV is closer to the literal “shepherd God’s sheep.” A shepherd sees that the flock has food and water. He sees that it is protected from wild animals and human thieves. He finds shelter for the flock in the time of storm. He puts the well-being of the flock before his own well-being, standing personally between danger and the flock. In those cases where the flock is not his own, he answers to the owner for how he tends the flock. Remember the context here. Peter is speaking in or immediately before times of serious government-sponsored persecution of the church. This is a serious commission.

And it is, after all, “the flock of God that is among you.” Peter speaks as an under-shepherd to fellow under-shepherds in God’s service. Recall his specific commission from the risen Christ.

John 21:16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

It is significant that Peter was given this commission only after he had confessed his love for Jesus. And now Peter speaks as one of many who have in the context of their love for Christ been given a solemn trust or responsibility from God. Hebrews 13:17 alludes to the responsibility that an elder carries in the most serious of terms, as keeping watch over souls and needing to give an account to Christ.

Hebrews 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

The intent in verse 2 is that this is to be done not because you must, but because you are willing as God wants you to be. The office of elder should not be one that people vie, grasp, and campaign for without any real self-examination. But there is also a way of agreeing to a responsibility in a grudging fashion that takes the life out of good that one might do. The idea is that Christian people ought to be eager to serve Christ’s church, all the time aware of their own fallibility and inadequacies, but willing to put their hearts into what they’re called on to do.

An elder is to not be greedy for money, but to be eager to serve. This doesn’t say that pastors ought not be paid. It does say that the motivation for an elder or pastor ought not in any way be what can be gotten out of it in this life (in terms of money, or anything else for that matter). Rather, the motivation ought to be service to Christ and His people.

3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.

Now here is a vital authentically Christian contrast, the contrast between ordering people around and leading by example. It’s a common saying and true, that one can’t lead where one has never been. This is a tremendous responsibility. Peter is saying that an elder must strive to have qualities of life that people can admire and emulate. That has implications about moral excellence of character and devotion to Christ. It also implies that when there is work to be done or service to be rendered, an elder ought to be there first so that others will see the example and follow.

Peter speaks of those “in your charge”/”entrusted to you.” Apparently the Greek verb has overtones of being allotted without special merit. The duties of and elder are those allotted by God, by grace without any intrinsic merit on the part of the elder. It’s God’s choosing, not man’s assembling of the proper resume or somehow inherently possessing the right talents. Inherent in an understanding of that ought to again be humility on the part of those who serve as elders in Christ’s church.

4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

 Peter refers to “when the Chief Shepherd/Jesus, the Good Shepherd appears” (at the 2nd coming). An elder not only tends a flock that belongs to someone else (God), but he’s really only an assistant to Jesus Christ himself.

There is in it a crown of unfading glory. This probably doesn’t refer to a crown of gold that a king would wear, but rather to a crown of laurels that a champion athlete or military hero would wear. In this present life, such a crown will dry up and become nothing but a dead branch. But the crown promised to an elder that serves well is one of sharing in Christ’s victory that is eternal and unfading.

The point of serving properly here and now, isn’t to get a goody later. It’s not to be unselfish now so that one can be selfish in eternity. That would be a perversion of the truth. The promise of eternal reward is encouragement in a time of trial where a frail human being might be caused to ask whether there is really any point in going on. Peter is saying “Yes there is eternal consequence in the work that one does. It is part of the grand work of God that will in the end be successful, not for our glory or for our pleasure, but for the glory of God.” That’s reason to go on when times and circumstances are hard.

In discussing the role of elders, Peter now deals briefly specifically with the matter of how members of the church body ought to cooperate with elders.

5a Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders.

The NIV here does a bad job of translation, referring to “those who are older” instead of saying “the elders.” The word here is the same word translated “elder” in verse 1. This is not about respect for the aged, it is a continuation of what Peter has already been talking about. The specific address here is to young men … but no one thinks that the injunction somehow applies only to them. Rather, if anything, it is a matter that they would be the group most likely to cause trouble for the leadership of the church, so Peter speaks with special emphasis to them.

Peter says “be subject to/be submissive.” The Amplified Bible says “you that are younger and of lesser rank, be subject to the elders, giving them due respect and yielding to their counsel.” Of course that doesn’t mean that the leadership in a church is never wrong. But the point is that our old nature tends to rebellion and we are to curb it. When there appears to be a problem or oversight, it should be approached with humility and proper respect. We ought to listen seriously to the advice of church leaders. In almost all cases, where there is a dispute with a church’s leadership over something that is doctrinally nonessential, and a decent, humble inquiry doesn’t change things to our liking, the right thing to do is to let the buck stop with the elders. This is strange advice to ears such as ours in the 21st century where people quite honestly believe that they can pretty much make up their own “religion” a la carte. But this is the Word of God.

Peter goes on now to discuss relationships in the church in general, not just between the elders and others. There is simply no reason to limit the application of what he’s thinking about to what goes on between elders and the people of a congregation. The same principles of deference of one’s personal preferences and agenda in light of the common good apply across the board.

5b All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

All of you clothe yourself with humility toward one another. The word translated “clothe” is apparently an interesting one. It has two distinct meanings that come together in this passage in a wonderful way. For one thing, it meant “to knot around” as a servant would knot a towel or cloak around himself in order to perform some menial task like washing feet. On the other hand, it could also mean “to pull on a long stole-like garment” (which was a sign of great honor). The meanings come together here. We are to knot on humility and service, and in the process end up pulling on great honor in Christ.

Why does this all make sense? It is because fundamentally it is stubborn human pride that is the root of the sin that keeps us from God. The Scriptures are plain that God hates that attitude in us. It must be done away with. Peter quotes Proverbs 3:34 Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor.

6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,

The Amplified Bible says humble (demote, lower yourselves in your own estimation). Once again, the point is not that somehow by temporarily behaving ourselves we can satisfy God so that at a later date He will allow us to be as selfish as we please. Rather, the point is that we are to know that if life is at present hard and we are tempted to give up, we should not. In His time frame, we will find that the suffering was worth it for Christ’s sake.

Do this “under God’s mighty hand.” That is a favorite Old Testament phrase connected in thought with God’s deliverance of His people. The application here is that He can and will intervene in human affairs and bring blessing out of our acceptance of the humble part, and even out of suffering if we will bear it correctly.

7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Some English Bibles start a new sentence here where the ESV does not, making the first phrase here a command. But good commentaries make a pretty convincing case that that the ESV rendering is right. That is, “casting all your anxieties on him” is a participial phrase explaining how verse 6 is done. We humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand by casting ourselves upon Him. This is not a separate thought, but finishes the one in verse 6. It answers the natural question “Well, but if I concern myself with others, who’s going to take care of me?” The answer is that God, who is far more able than we, cares for us and will by His mighty hand do so. That frees us to cease constantly looking out for ourselves and to indeed be humble and concerned with others. Peter is here quoting from Psalm 55.

Psalm 55:22 Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.

“Cast” here is a strong word. “Hurl” might better convey the sense of what is being said. Truly if God is God and He does care for His children, we can cast our cares on Him. In fact, that’s the only thing that makes any sense to do.

Verse 7 is, of course, not an invitation to goof off.

8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Be self-controlled/sober. Be well-balanced, sane temperate, sober-minded, not given to either laziness or mental intoxication which injures spiritual concentration on God’s revealed truth.

Be alert/vigilant/watchful/wide awake. Why? Because there is real danger out there! There is a real enemy of our souls seeking to bring us to a horrible, eternal spiritual death, trying to convince us to walk away from our gracious God, the only source of life and light in the whole universe. Christian people are to both trust God and at the same time put their energy and vigilance into living for Christ. There is no contradiction between casting ourselves on God and being vigilant.

9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.

Resist the devil. James says in James 4:7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Do this standing firm in the faith. The word translated “firm” is used to describe solid material objects. No lightweight airy faith will do here. Christians are to be solid and rocklike. The idea is that we are to bear up under suffering and persecution. In those places that the devil would like to persuade us to throw in the towel, we are to instead resist. Christians are to persevere in the faith, in the fundamental apostolic teachings about who Jesus is and what He has done. There are two equally serious errors as regards our thinking about the work of Satan. One is to ignore his working and think that he doesn’t exist. There truly is an enemy of our souls in the universe. But the other error though is to give him too much credit. By God’s grace and in His strength and dressed in the armor of God, we can and must resist him.

Peter wants his readers to understand that what they are enduring is not unusual, but rather is the common experience of Christians. Our brethren around the world face the same things (and in most cases much worse things than) we encounter in the way of suffering and persecution. The suffering believer is not alone. The believer is joined to his or her brethren around the world, is experiencing an inherent part of the faith, and can draw encouragement from the testimony that the suffering gives evidence that God’s promised final deliverance is nearer every day.

10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

The God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ will act. Peter’s admonition to persevere is allied with the promise of God’s preservation. If it is indeed God who has called us to share Christ’s glory, we ought to ultimately be able to rely upon Him to bring us safely through this present life.

After a short (by the standards of eternity) period of suffering, God will 1) restore, 2) confirm, 3) make strong, and 4) establish/make steadfast.

1) God will Himself restore you. The word rendered “restore” is one that is used to describe the setting of broken bones, the mending of fishing nets, the repair of ships damaged in a storm. It is to supply that which is missing. It is to supply that which is broken. It is to complete/put in order/make right. God, through suffering that is accepted in humility and trust, can supply that which is missing in us in the way of character.

2) God will confirm you/make you firm. This is to make as solid as granite. Christians emerge from suffering tempered like hardened steel, toughened up, and made into something substantial.

3) God will strengthen you/make you strong. He will fill us with strength (including that of purpose). A life that needs no effort or discipline is one that is flabby, weak, and susceptible to injury. God’s intent for a Christian’s suffering is good, not harm.

4) God will establish you/make you steadfast. The Greek verb is apparently “to lay the foundations.” When we meet sorrow and suffering, we are driven to the very bedrock of faith. We get down to what is really unshakable and primary, a humble consistent reliance upon God.

If we accept suffering in trusting certainty that a loving Father will never allow us to suffer without purpose or beyond what will be for our good, then out of it will come things that can be developed in no other way. To what end? The end is always the glory of God!

11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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