Peter continues to unpack how God’s grace relates to the suffering Christians experience. In 1 Peter 4.7-19, Peter hones in on what it means to suffer as a Christian, i.e. suffering for the Name of Christ.
Suffering as a Christian (4.7-19)
As Christians suffer they must love & serve their siblings & glorify God by continuing to do good.
7The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.
The end of all things is at hand: Given the Noah reference earlier (3.20), it seems best to understand this as when God makes an end of the wicked who are causing the suffering of these Christians; as in Noah’s day when God brought about “the end of all flesh,” so for the Christians in Asia Minor God would bring an end to all the things they suffer from wicked people. However one interprets this phrase (see Special Study), Peter intended to exhort these Christians to consider the impending judgment which Christ’s coming would bring and live accordingly.
Nowhere does the Bible ever endorse or condone date setting. Rather, the doctrine of the end times is intended to encourage to faithfulness, in a perpetual state of readiness to meet the Lord regardless of when He returns. The Bible also does not advocate for withdrawal from the world into isolation in anticipation of the end. We live in the world as elect exiles; time is short so we must make the most of it. This is the urgency of the imminence of Christ’s return. Also note that there is no call for extraordinary or unusual behavior as we live in light of the end. Peter exhorts us to normal Christian behavior. Indeed, if every day is to be lived in light of the end, then would it not be business as usual for Christians. So pray, love, speak, & serve “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (verse 11).
Therefore be…your prayers: self-controlled has to do with controlling the thought life so that the body acts in a God-glorifying way. Sober-minded or “watchful” (NKJV) emphasizes the calmness of mind & disposition, settled in mind for the purpose of prayers.
When faced with persecution our recourse is not political activism but prayerful action. This is the first thing Peter invites Christians to do in light of the judgment of God upon the wicked & His deliverance of His people. Clear-headed, serious prayer. Acknowledge His abiding presence & providence, confess shortcomings, express gratitude for mercy & grace, offer up our desires & hearts, intercede on behalf of others, including those persecuting us. Prayer is the first duty & essential work of true religion unto God. Prayer is to religion what breathing is to life. When it hardest to breathe in this life is when we must devote ourselves to serious, sober supplication.
Special Study— “The End of All Things”
Several possibilities for understanding this verse have been offered:
1) Destruction of Jerusalem: Just a few years away, these Christians were living with before God brought judgment upon the Jewish through the Romans. But one must wonder why a predominately Gentile church in Asia Minor would need this information.
2) The End of Time/Last Day: The final judgment when rewards & punishments are meted out. The problem with this view is “at hand” means soon to take place & we are nearly 2,000 years since Peter wrote this.
3) The End of Suffering/Wicked: Christ would bring deliverance from their suffering & the evil surrounding them when He came.
4) The End of Their Lives: Barnes & Barclay make similar points that this could be Peter’s meaning.
8Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
Above all: More than anything else for “the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13.13).
Keep loving…earnestly: Jesus warned that with the coming end of the age “the love of many will grow cold” (Matt 24.12). So Peter reminds these exiles living under empire of the priority of love for their brethren. Keep (pres. Part.) indicates this must be the habitual practice of Christians. Earnestly indicates the intensity of this love, a theme repeated from 1.22.
Once more Peter exhorts Christians to not merely love one another (which we are), but to love one another “earnestly” or intensely. “Fervently” says some translations. This cuts right to the heart of the “love, but don’t like” fallacy of the world. “Well, I know God commands that we ‘love one another,’ but I don’t have to like the person I love.” While it may true that you start here or end up here because of circumstances, through willful obedience to the expressed command of God & by the shaping of our feelings by the Holy Spirit within us, the fervency of our love is impacted and changed. The depth & degree of our love is influenced by God working on our hearts so that we not only love someone objectively (an overarching desire to see Christ formed in them) but also subjectively (a positive disposition toward a person so that you enjoy treating them lovingly).
This “love, but don’t like” lie has a negative impact on Christian fellowship. If “love covers a multitude of sins” but I don’t even like a person, then whatever forgiveness I extend will be given begrudgingly at best. “Where love is lacking,” says Grudem (173), “every word is viewed with suspicion, every action is liable to misunderstanding, and conflicts abound – to Satan’s perverse delight.” Further, when a Christian brother or sister does not even like a person or persons, the suspicions, misunderstands, & conflicts are only further intensified & constant. The absence of a positive disposition toward another (or others) so that you enjoy treating him/her in a loving way is akin to the “root of bitterness” which the writer of Hebrews wrote about – not liking someone will spring up & cause all kinds of problems. If this is true, one who “loves, but does not like” another is “defiled” (Hebrews 12.15). Only God’s grace will enable us to overcome the bitter root of “love, but don’t like” which desires to spoil our relationships with one another.
In marriage, this lie takes an even uglier 10-word turn: “I love you, but I’m not in love with you.” How many marriages have been dealt a death-blow by this worldly double-speak? Or “I fell out of love with him/her.” These kinds of statements are the most unloving things one spouse could say to another. “I have love for him/her, but I’m not in love with him/her.” These are worldly statements that even Christians adopt. Those men & women who have heard these words know just how hurtful & cutting they are. Mourning & lamentation accompany these words. Modern psychology tells us when these words are spoken, the end is near because it is next to impossible to reinvigorate the relationship. But “with God all things are possible.” Only through God can a loveless marriage be redeemed, saved by His grace.
Since love…sins: cf. Proverbs 10.12. Since (Gk hoti) gives the reason for earnest love: this kind of love covers a multitude of sins. Without love, fear, mistrust, & suspicion abound to the devil’s delight.
9Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.
Show hospitality to one another: In light of the present persecution & God’s impending judgment upon the wicked, “offer hospitality” to fellow Christians. Perhaps Peter’s readers were growing weary of hospitality; it happens (Galatians 6.9). So Peter says that one way Christians express earnest love to one another is through the ministry of hospitality—opening our homes, sharing our resources, putting roofs over one another’s heads.
Hospitality has a rich heritage in the Old Testament. Abraham, the father of the faithful, showed hospitality to the three visitors (Genesis 18); Lot showed hospitality to the two angels who came to Sodom (Genesis 19.1-3); Job made sure strangers & travelers had a place to stay (Job 31.32). Hospitality was enjoined upon the Israelites throughout Torah (Exodus 22.21; 23.9; Leviticus 19.33). The kind of fasting which pleases the Lord is when His people “share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house,” i.e. show hospitality (Isaiah 58.7).
Hospitality is a key mark of the Lord’s church (Romans 12.13; 1 Timothy 3.2; 5.10; Titus 1.8; Hebrews 13.12). Indeed, it was a noble, worldwide custom to provide for strangers (e.g. Acts 28.7, Publius on Malta “received us and entertained us hospitably for three days”). The stimulus for showing cheerful hospitality was altogether different for Christians. Religion, philanthropy, philosophical ethics, the threat of punishment in the underworld for inhospitality, & a reward in returned hospitality drove hospitality in the world-at-large. This is contrasted with Christian ethics.
A core element of our Lord’s teaching was hospitality toward those who cannot pay you back (Luke 14.12-14) as patterned after the eternal condescending hospitality of God to helpless sinners (Luke 14.16ff). True, Christians have similar reasons for showing hospitality as “outsiders” (e.g. punishment for failure to follow Christ’s commands). However, Christians were to show hospitality not based on a natural sympathy for fellow man (although philanthropy based on love for people is a derivative of “love your neighbor as yourself”) nor for the expectation of reciprocation (“I scratch your back, you scratch mine”), but based upon a theology of hospitality. God through the Son creates a habitable world full of glory & grandeur where we have lodging, food, drink, & plenty that we need, then He invites us to make ourselves at home. Which we do & promptly make a mess of things. Then God through the Son prepares a great banquet where everything we have messed up is put back to order, what we have ruined He has put back to right, & He invites us to come & eat at His table (“taste my banquet,” Luke 14.24). With such an extravagant & generous God how could His people be anything but hospitable? And cheerfully hospitable at that!
Without grumbling: or complaint (NASB) about how hard it is, how much time it is taking, or how much it costs. The Lord loves cheerful hospitality & is Himself one who shows cheerful hospitality to men in their misery (Luke 14.16-24). Cf. Philippians 2.14.
“Without grumbling” or “complaint” (NASB) indicates the Christian is to show hospitality to their brethren with a cheerful disposition. There is to be no secret murmuring in the heart about how difficult it is, how long it is taking, how you wish they would just go, how much they are eating, how you regret ever opening the door or answering the call, or the inconvenience of the whole ordeal. Murmuring robs hospitality of beauty. “Such grumbling is ultimately a complaint against God and his ordering of our circumstances” (Grudem 174). When we grudgingly or unwillingly show hospitality to others, especially to our brethren, we “drive out faith, thanksgiving, and joy.” At a deeper level, when God shows us hospitality, in creation first then in the gospel, He did so without complaint or grumbling. He gladly prepares a world then a table for our enjoyment & His good pleasure.
10As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:
As each has received a gift: The Giver of a gift (Gk charisma) is the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12.8-9). Received (aorist tense) points back to a specific point in the past, i.e. baptism. So at baptism the Holy Spirit gave each of these Christians a spiritual gift.
At the baptistery every Christian in every church is given a spiritual gift from the Holy Spirit that God intends for us to use & develop into a ministry for the church at-large. No one is exempted or overlooked. The purpose of the gifts is not for self-congratulations or mutual back-patting as we congratulate how well we serve to stroke our ego or boost our self-esteem. Rather, the gifts are given for ministry – to serve, edify, strengthen, & help other members in their walk with Christ. This is how we are “good stewards” or use God’s gifts responsibly.
There are five lists of spiritual gifts found in the New Testament. In Romans 12.6-8, the gifts listed are 1) prophecy, 2) service, 3) teaching, 4) exhortation, 5) giving, 6) leadership, 7) mercy showing. In 1 Corinthians 12.8-10, the gifts listed are 1) wisdom, 2) knowledge, 3) faith, 4) healing, 5) miracles, 6) prophecy, 7) distinguishing spirits, 8) languages, 9) interpretation of languages. Later, in 1 Corinthians 12.28-30, the gifts listed are 1) apostles, 2) prophets, 3) teachers, 4) miracles, 5) healing, 6) helping, 7) administrating, 8) languages. In Ephesians 4.11, the gifts listed are 1) apostles, 2) prophets, 3) evangelists, 4) teaching shepherds. In 1 Peter 4.11, the gifts listed are 1) proclamation of God’s message, 2) serving by God’s strength. 1 Corinthians 7.7 could be added which includes celibacy & possibly marriage (called charismata by Paul). No list contains all the gifts & no gift shows up on all the lists.
Use it to serve one another: The purpose of God the Holy Spirit gifting each member of the church is to equip Christians for service to the body (see Ephesians 4.12). Serve (Gk diakonountes) touches both speaking & duty roles of Christian service (v.11). Thus, the service rendered could be counsel, advice, & preaching (speaking) or rendering assistance, help, or aid in menial tasks (duty).
As good…grace: or “the manifold grace of God” (NASB, NKJV). This means there is a rich variety to God’s grace. So also there is a wide variety of spiritual gifts God gives His church by His Spirit. The Christian’s responsibility is to be found as good stewards. That is, Christ needs to find Christians building up others with God’s gifts, not building themselves up.
11whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Functionally, Peter breaks spiritual gifts down into two (2) categories: speaking & serving.
Whoever speaks…of God: The speaking done here includes both the formal setting of public instruction as well as an informal setting of private conversation among saints. Whatever the occasion the speaking should be in accordance with what the oracles of God—Holy Scriptures—say.
Whoever serves…God supplies: The service rendered includes both service on a large scale to many members as well as in a private one-on-one setting among brethren. Whatever the service it must be rendered in accordance to the strength God makes available & provides.
Given that this epistle was for a 1st century audience gifted with the miraculous demonstration of the spiritual gifts, the speaking & serving in view may be miraculous in nature. For us, while the spiritual gifts may not be miraculous, they are nevertheless supernatural (i.e. they are not mere natural abilities). Thus, the Holy Spirit is the originator & enabler of the exercise of each gift. As such, we must be willing participants who yield to the influence of the Holy Spirit so that our speech is God’s speech & our service rendered with God’s strength. In this way, God will get the glory through Christ Jesus.
Breaking this down a bit further, we can see how all spiritual gifts fall under either of these two categories & that all Christians are addressed here. If we speak wisdom or knowledge, it must be wisdom or knowledge which accords with God’s word. If we serve giving or helping, it must be giving or helping which comes from God’s strength. Each gift could be examined in this way, but these suffice to show that all gifts fall under these categories & therefore all Christians addressed.
It should be noted that while Christians are to speak the oracles of God, neither the original audience nor we should view our utterances as part of the revelatory account, i.e. God’s revealed word. Rather, our speech is in accordance with or is in line with the revealed word of God, esp. the gospel. Further, Christians must never rely upon our own power to serve others, but must minister with & in the power God provides. One key way we do this is through prayer where can appeal for & tap into the power of God.
In order…Jesus Christ: This is the grand, glorious purpose in the exercise of spiritual gifts, indeed, in everything that Christians do: God glorified through Christ. As Christians prayerfully await the end of all things, loving one another & showing hospitality while serving & speaking to one another, they make known the wisdom, power, holiness, sovereignty, & riches of the gospel of Christ which produces honor & praise to God the Father.
The guiding principle in the life of every true Christian is the glory of God the Father through Christ the Son. Every sober-minded prayer, every occasion in which we exercise self-control, every sin covered by brotherly affection, every time we open our homes with gladness, every word we speak, every act of service, every breath, everything – it all down to bringing God glory through Jesus Christ.
To Him…ever. Amen: Him seems to refer to Christ. So just as “all things” are “through” & “for” God (Romans 11.36), glory is through & belongs to Christ forever & ever. This is the goal of the cosmos: glory to the Father & to the Son & to the Holy Spirit. Christ also has dominion, which is the power to rule. Indeed, Christ is King of Kings & Lord of Lords. Amen shows Peter’s agreement.
12Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
Beloved: Peter loves these brothers & sisters. The command to love is more than talk for Peter.
Do not…test you: cf. 1.6-7. These Christians may be surprised that God would allow His “chosen people” to endure intense trials & tests, but Peter assures them this is not unusual nor unheard of. In fact, the persecution of the church seems normative & universal (4.17; 5.9). But the fires of persecution would burn off the dross & impurities, as gold in the refiners fire.
As though…to you: Strange is the noun word for surprised which is the same word for the pagan reaction in verse 4 (“they think it strange”). The pagans think it strange Christians do not join in their wicked works & therefore “they malign you;” Christians should not think it strange when pagans return evil for the good they are shown.
Sometimes when Christians today endure trials & hardship they will question, “Why?” “Why me?” They will lament as though something strange is happening to them. They are surprised that God would allow the trials & testing to come upon them. This is the very opposite reaction we should have according to Peter. No matter how intense the trials or testing may be, nothing strange or unheard of is occurring. In fact, it is par for the course as we live as Christians in the world. It should be expected. Suffering for Christ is a common motif in the New Testament (e.g. John 15.18-21). Darkness hates light, the world hates holiness. When Christians walk with their Father in holy light they become the targets for the hatred of the wicked. Nevertheless, the fires of trials are the testing of our faith.
It should be noted that Peter gives no theodicy, no explanation for the suffering in the world, especially the suffering experienced by Christians. We ask “Why?” Philosophers & theologians have offered answers. However, in Scripture no answer is given as to why an all-powerful, all-kind, all-knowing God would allow His children to endure intense & severe persecution. We are told it is normative & universal (4.17; 5.9). We are told that it is cause for joy as we reveal His glory (4.13, 16). But a detailed theodicy explaining the presence of evil & suffering in the world is not given. One thing is certain: the intense sufferings are not a sign of God’s absence, but of His purifying presence. He is with His people as they suffer.
13But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
But rejoice…Christ’s sufferings: But (Gk alla) indicates a strong contrast. Rather than surprise, these Christians must rejoice. How can a Christian rejoice in “fiery trials”? They share Christ’s sufferings. These are sufferings which are the result of pledging allegiance to Christ (cf. Acts 5.41). The present tense indicates the ongoing habitual practice of both of these: insofar as you keep on suffering with Christ, keep on rejoicing.
Suffering for Christ is a clear indicator that we are Christ’s. To “share His sufferings,” “suffer with Him” are reasons to rejoice because as we experience suffering we are experiencing the presence of Christ. Indeed, we stand in His place as His representatives. Saul of Tarsus was asked, “Why are you persecuting me?” He was breathing murderous threats against the disciples, dragging men & women off to prison for their allegiance to Christ, but it was ultimately Jesus whom Paul was persecuting. So also when we suffer for the Name it is Christ who suffers with us.
That you may…revealed: Lit. “you might rejoice being glad.” This is nearly verbatim from the lips of Jesus regarding the reward for enduring persecution for His Name (Matthew 5.12). The revelation of Christ’s glory is nearly universally assumed to be His future return by commentators. “The promise of future joy, in fact, energizes the joy that will be theirs in the future” (Schreiner). However, glorifying God in Christ’s Name is the present aim & reality of Christians (v.17). Glad-hearted rejoicing occurs when Christians realize that Christ’s glory is being revealed in their suffering.
How we respond to suffering is likewise a clear indicator of whether we truly belong to Christ. Some who claim the name of Christ have turned their back on Him when they experienced even a modicum of pain & suffering. But it does not have to be full blown apostasy; some grumble & murmur, complain about the suffering. But to rejoice in suffering, praising God for the pain…this is foreign to our Western sensibilities.
14If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
If…: In light of present context & overall context of the book, this is better understood as “since.”
You are insulted for Christ’s Name: Insulted is unjustified defamation & reviling. Much of the persecution these Christians faced was verbal abuse (2.12, 15, 23; 3.16).
[You are] blessed: The bliss of God belongs to insulted Christians. “The harsher the reproaches, the sweeter this heavenly verdict” (Lenski).
#blessed. American Christianity says you are blessed if you have a nice place to live, a reliable car, a good job, overachieving kids, and/or things are just going swell all-around. Peter says that the blessed life is one of insult for our devotion & allegiance to Christ. When is the last time someone update their social media with an account of how they were insulted for Jesus’ sake? Most of us would not consider that a blessing. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to realign our values. This is why God has given “the Spirit of God’s glory” to rest upon us – so that we might hold to a proper perspective regarding suffering, pain, persecution, & insult.
The insults Peter refers to are unjustified verbal assaults. When’s the last time someone cussed you out for being a Christian? I’m not talking about them verbally chastising you for being obnoxious with your faith; that might be justified. I’m talking about the backlash that occurs like when The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, an evangelical coalition, released the Nashville Statement in August 2017. With reverence & in humility the coalition issued the statement. The statement was essentially a creedal statement affirming 14 beliefs about human sexuality, all of which are based on Scripture. Evangelical Christians were castigated as hateful bigots, homophobes, &, as one tweet reads, the statement “is the most unchristian piece of garbage I’ve read in a long time.” The (pagan) internet ruthlessly insulted & disrespected Christians who believe what the Bible teaches about marriage being exclusively between a man & woman, human sexuality, & gender.
Another instance: I do not agree with hardly anything that comes out of his mouth, but an example of what we are talking about occurred during & shortly after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. All over social media Joel Osteen & Lakewood Church where he is pastor were being heavily criticized for closing their building due to flooding. Twitter erupted in outrage expressed in less than 140 characters. Memes circulated accusing Osteen of being a money-grabbing selfish religion killer. Quasi-investigative reporters took to the streets with video camera in hand to show that there was no flooding at Lakewood Church. The (pagan) internet insulted this man mercilessly for his “unchristian” behavior.
Because…upon you: cf. Isaiah 11.2. Isaiah’s prophecy has now been fulfilled in Christ & the church. As the Spirit rested upon “the root of Jesse” (Jesus), so He rests upon Christ’s persecuted followers. In contrast with the inglorious insults, Christians have the glorious indwelling Spirit, even the Spirit of God. God’s glorious Spirit who comforts, strengthens, & blesses abides with & in these Christians.
See Isaiah 11.2. The world heaps insults, but the Spirit rests upon us. The world counts us foolish, but we have the Spirit of wisdom. The world counts us dimwitted, but we have the Spirit of understanding. The world counts us ill-informed, but we have the Spirit of counsel. The world counts us weak-minded, but we have the Spirit of might. The world counts us ignorant, but we have the Spirit of knowledge. All of this is ours because we fear & revere God & He delights in resting His Spirit upon us.
15But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.
But let none…as a meddler: cf. 2.19-20; 3.17. Peter’s constant refrain has been that Christians must not suffer for evil, but for good. Peter lists four (4) evils by which men may suffer: murder (premeditated taking of innocent life), theft (taking other people’s property), evildoing (or “criminal” [NIV], general term for bad behavior), & meddling (intruding into other people’s affairs). Christians must not suffer for any of these.
People suffer for evil; they suffer punishment from the justice system as well as the affliction of the conscience, esp. if unrepentant. Suffering deserved as punishment for wrongdoing is inglorious. This is not how Christians are to suffer. Of course Christians should not suffer for serious criminal offenses like murder & theft (both of which are prohibited throughout the Bible) & Peter knows Christian people would never engage in such evildoing, but the temptation to pry into other people’s business is a very real possibility. So he rhetorically sets major violations against something very much in the realm of possibility: annoyingly intruding into other people’s business. This would cause someone to be considered a pest worthy of mistreatment.
Martyr’s complex – some people can turn just about any event into an occasion for suffering. They are the victim of some injustice, even if they are the perpetrator of some offense. It is so easy for people to rationalize deserved punishments as suffering “as a Christian.” Peter addresses this complex here – suffering is neither invented nor is it self-caused for bad behavior. If you live as a Christian, suffering will find you.
“Meddler” – stay in your lane! While the exact meaning of this word is difficult to nail down because of its rarity (used only here & two other places in 4th & 5th century documents), it seems to be a term describing someone who involves themselves into the affairs of others, inviting themselves into issues not their own. A buttinski. In Spanish, entrementido. Suffering for being a buttinski is beneath a Christian. Stay in your lane!
Notice the company meddlers keep – murders, thieves, criminals! Strange company, right? Well, not really. A meddler can assassinate the character of another; they can rob a person of their good name & reputation; their practice is in line with evildoers. May meddlers be banished from Christ’s church!
16Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
Yet if…a Christian: Believers “were first called Christians” in Antioch (Acts 11.26), a name which probably originating among the unbelievers. Suffering as a Christian would be to endure persecution as a follower of Christ. It seems this was a term of ridicule rather than respect, a label used for believers by those outside looking in.
Don’t focus on the shame, focus on His Name! The name “Christian” was a derogatory term in Peter’s day. It was the equivalent of “holy roller” or “Bible thumper” today. These are intended to make us feel ashamed, to make us feel bad for being a follower of Christ. Peter is telling us: don’t focus on the shame, focus on His Name. Peter has already told us that the main thing is “that in everything God may glorified through Jesus Christ” (v.11). “Foolish people” will “speak against you as evildoers” (2.12, 15). They will “revile your good behavior,” & cause you to “suffer for doing good” (3.16, 17). “Do good & suffer for it” (2.20). When all this happens glorify God. Focus on His Name & exalt it, confess it, praise it, lift it up, glorify Him.
Let him not be ashamed: Even though society at large treats Christians in an undignified & disgraceful manner, the Christian need not feel shame. Unlike the murderer, thief, evildoer, or meddler, there is nothing shameful in bearing the name of Christ. Rather…
But…in that name: By bearing the name of Christ publicly & bearing whatever reproach society heaped on them, these believers would honor & praise the glorious name of Christ.
Only by “the Spirit of glory…of God” are we able to endure the mistreatment & abuse of the world and find joy in glorifying God in that suffering. The Holy Spirit sanctifies the suffering, if we let Him. The Holy Spirit strengthens us to endure suffering, if we let Him. The Holy Spirit supplies the necessary means to cope with suffering (“the fruit,” Galatians 5.22-23), if we let Him. He is the promised Helper, but we must willingly submit to His direction.
17For 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?
For…household of God: household of God is the “spiritual house” made of “living stones” “precious” in the sight of God (2.4-5), i.e. the church. While Peter borrows OT allusions (see Ezekiel 9.6; Malachi 3.1-5), his whole meaning is shifted. The judgment of God upon God’s house is not intended to be for condemnation, but for purification, i.e. refinement through trials leading to glorification of God (1.6-7; 2.12; 3.14, 17; 4.16).
How we as Christians view the trials & suffering we endure matters. Notice that it is not “punishment” which begins with the “house (family, NIV) of God” but judgment. Christ has suffered our punishment & therefore when we experience pain & persecution in the world, God is not punishing us for our sins. Christ did that. He endured the wrath of God. Rather, judgment begins from the house of God (lit.); God’s people are the jumping off point, the point of departure for God’s judgment. Seeing we have “ceased from sin” (4.1) He moves on to those who are not His family, that is, “those who do not obey the gospel of God.” Worse affliction will be visited upon the unbeliever, specifically exclusion from the presence of God.
And if…us: There may be a parallel to Jesus’ own description of the judgment which begins with the sheep (saved) & passes onto the goats (lost). Yet even now this judgment has begun.
What will…gospel of God?: those who do not obey the gospel are unbelievers. “All unbelief leads to disobedience” (Schreiner). The order of righteous first then the unrighteous is maintained from Malachi 3.1-5 & through Christ (Matthew 25.31-46). This rhetorical question is answered…
18And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
And “If…saved”: Quoted from Proverbs 11.31. Scripture is offered as proof positive of what Peter is saying: God’s judgment in the end will be worse than any suffering Christians face from unbelievers. In fact, unbelievers will have it worse due to their disobedience. Scarcely does not point to the uncertainty of a Christian’s salvation; rather, the word can also mean “with difficulty.” This echoes the preaching of Paul & Barnabas in Acts 14.22. Salvation is with difficulty because of the suffering, trials, & persecution Christians endure from unbelievers.
“What will…the sinner?”: Ungodly refers to a person who does not love God nor do they worship Him. Sinner is one who scoffs at God’s self-evident laws & violates them. What will become of such individuals? The reader is to supply the obvious answer: they will be lost.
Never underestimate the value of the Word of God in the midst of suffering. Peter quotes Proverbs to help his readers maintain an eternal perspective & to help their theological viewpoint. God is the final Judge, not man. Those opposed to Christians are opposed to Christ & will face the eternal consequences of their rejection of Him. Many Christians will suffer the loss of their work but preserve their soul at the end. Many Christians will be saved “only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3.15). Therefore, “the righteous are scarcely saved.” So it will be worse for “the ungodly & sinner.” We enter by the narrow gate; it snags us, catching at our clothing. Since this is so, the ungodly sinners who refuse to obey God’s gospel & so be saved only have eternal punishment to face.
Taken together, verses 17 & 18 bring clearly & unmistakably the awful terror of the final fate of the wicked. The righteous endure difficulty in this life, but it is with the promise that these are temporary trials of this world. Unbelievers, on the other hand, “can reasonably count on nothing but unmixed misery, everlasting perdition” (Brown 3:175). The reasonable expectation for those who do not obey God’s gospel is eternally worse than anything a Christian would experience in this world. Just as certainly as our entrance into God’s kingdom comes with many trials & suffering, so it is certain that eternal punishment awaits the ungodly sinner. Just as it is God’s will we suffer, so it is God’s will that the wicked be shut out of His presence eternally.
19Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
Therefore…God’s will: those who suffer according to God’s will are Christians who suffer because it is what God has willed. While at first blush this may seem harsh, it is actually intended to bolster faith. The duration & intensity of suffering is under God’s control. What Christians suffer is for their good because it is according to “His good, pleasing, & perfect will” (Romans 12.2).
Suffering according to God’s will means to “share Christ’s sufferings” (13), to be “insulted for the name of Christ” (14), & to glorify God by suffering as a Christian (16). God’s will is not that we suffer as an evildoer (15). Christ’s suffering in the flesh is the model for Christian suffering. Nothing happened to Christ apart from the Father’s sovereignty & love. This means that nothing that befalls us happens independent of God’s sovereignty & love. He is in control of everything. Any suffering we endure is not the result of an uncaring & indifferent universe randomly selecting us for pain. Our suffering is not accidental nor the result of dumb luck. Suffering is not purposeless but purposeful. Our suffering is under the watchful & loving eye of sovereign God. Our suffering is “according to God’s will,” that is “His good, pleasing, & perfect will” (Romans 12.2, NIV).
Entrust…faithful Creator: Just as Jesus entrusted His spirit to His Father at death (Luke 23.46), Christians are to entrust their souls to a faithful Creator for care in this life. That is, we give our souls to God for safekeeping so that no matter what happens in this life, that part of us which lives on after death is kept safe by the power of God (cf. 1.5).
So then Christians should “entrust their souls to a faithful Creator.” God is our Creator – He has created us body & soul. He is the Father of our spirits who saw our unformed substance (Hebrews 12.9; Psalm 139.16) as well as the One who forms our inward parts & knitted us together in our mother’s wombs (Psalm 139.13). Further, in Christ Jesus we are a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5.17). This means we belong to Him body & soul. We are His own possession & God takes care of what is His. Therefore, He is a faithful Creator. Who better to entrust the keeping of our souls than the One who not only crafted them, but also redeemed & saved them? Our lives, even our very souls, are hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3.3).
…while doing good: How does a Christian show that they are trusting God? By continuing to do good. They do not stop doing good. Acts of loving service & mercy. This not merely a duty, but a privilege rendered not only to other people, but ultimately to God. Retaliation may be the response from the flesh. By God’s glorious Spirit who rests upon us (v.14) we resist that impulse so that we may do good to all men. Doing good is a common refrain in this epistle (2.15, 20; 3.6, 11, 17).
“So you see, the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from their trials, even while keeping the wicked under punishment until the day of final judgment.”
(2 Peter 2:9, NLT)