"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" (1 Peter. 4:12).
Peter was writing to Christians, "to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia; Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia" (1:1-2!; as well as for all Christians of all places of all ages to come. Hence, his instruction has application to us today. We should consider carefully what the apostle said, take it to heart, and order our lives and our service to God accordingly.
First, he tells them not to be surprised at the painful trial they were suffering. Perhaps the surprise should be if such does not come. Peter and all the NT writers seem to take it as a cause and effect matter that persecution and suffering are a definite part of a Christian's life. Just as certain as night follows day, so such reaction comes to the "action" of the Christian. Evil has always opposed good; and good has always opposed evil. Light and darkness are opposites. "For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds shall be exposed" (John 3:20). Truth and error, light and darkness are diametrically opposed to each other.
Persecution'? What else do you expect? If -- and here is where the problem lies -- we are true and faithful Christians, we can expect to be persecuted and suffer for the Lord even today. Persecution is inevitable for the faithful disciple! Truth is not passive and neither is error. We greatly err if we think so. All that is needed for the triumph of evil and error is for the disciples of Jesus to do nothing! This means that Christians are to be found actively opposing error and evil anywhere and everywhere; in themselves as well as in others. They absolutely cannot remain silent or passive!
Peter says that "the fiery ordeal" (persecution) "comes upon you for your testing." God allows it and we need it. The thing about it is that if we are His servants, living and teaching as we should, the painful trial of testing is inevitable. Paul puts it plainly: "And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Tim. 3:12). Are you being persecuted? If not, you may well consider the question of "why not?" Let it be understood that we should not try to generate opposition and persecution by being obnoxious, arrogant, hateful, mean or ugly in our efforts to lead others to Christ. "With love, go and win them," and even then persecution will often come.
Jesus in His teaching makes it clear that as a matter of course, natural reaction, His disciples will be "persecuted for the sake of righteousness." He was and if we are faithful to Him, so we will be. He put it as a matter of course:
"Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matt. 5:11-12).
Perhaps it is well to be reminded that God's prophets were not persecuted by those in the heathen world, but by God's own people to whom God sent these prophets to tell them of their sins and apostasy. God's prophets were persecuted and killed by God's people! Can you imagine that? They were set in their ways and they hardened their hearts. They refused to see the error of their ways and return to God's way. They reacted to God's efforts to reform them with eyes that see not, ears that hear not, and hearts that refused to understand and accept truth. They killed those God sent to plead with them and warn them of their evil doings. So it has ever been.
Question: On account of your opposition to sin and error and the militant advocacy of the truth, have you, my brother or sister, been persecuted, maligned, or thrown out by those you sought to help? If not, you may do well to examine why not?
Moreover, Peter says don't be surprised, as ii' it is some "strange" reaction or happening. It is to be expected and accepted as a consequence of faithful confrontation with the world and its evils; and the dedicated effort to turn people from darkness to light, from the power of Satan unto God. Christians are not, they cannot be passive. They are freedom fighters! They have a message -- the gospel of' Christ -- that the world desperately needs. They are not silent pacifists, but aggressively opposed to evil and error. They are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Christians make a difference in the world, they cannot and will not be ignored. They are not mere pew-sitters and attendees at "worship services." They must "preach the word, be instant in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort with great patience and instruction" (2 Tim. 4:2). And my brother and sister, that is not the obligation of some preacher/clergy class; it is your duty.
Today's Christian is largely caught up in the things of this world -- making money, being successful, earning a living, pleasure, cars, recreation, etc. There is little personal involvement in preaching/teaching the word, seeking the lost (but we can lustily sing about it!, recovering those who have erred from the truth, fighting error and evil, and truly being His followers.
The Christian today has learned to go along to get along. The "fire" and fight are gone. They do not want any controversy over anything. Debates are condemned as evil. Let's have peace and harmony -- at any price. He wants to live and let live.
The modern church member trails along after the pacifist leaders and our "fireball" preachers with that Robert Schuller "positive approach" that makes everybody feel real good, happy and satisfied. This is the approach of the modern "church builders" who talk about "how to grow a church."
The "C of C Christians" have had their "teeth" pulled by weak, compromising (no negative, no opposition, no fight) preaching. The C of C Church has no real influence or effect in the world. It is ignored! It is easy to ignore those who are pacifists relative to sin, evil, and false doctrines. No wonder there is no persecution or fiery trial for saints in this day.
Let me close with Peter's word (1 Pet. 4:13-16): "but to the degree that you share in the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ [that is, in His service], you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler, but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God."
In verse 19 Peter adds: "Therefore, let those who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right."
How is it with you? Are you reviled for the name of Christ? Do you suffer for doing what is right? If you are "doing what is right," you can count on it. -- CAH