Guarded Christian Living: A Strong Faith at the Right Time
Suffering: Trusting a Faithful Creator – Part #2
1 Peter 4:12-19
Turn to 1 Peter 4. We are going to continue with the same passage that we looked at last Sunday (vs 12-19). It is a pleasure for Anne and I to have visiting with us a dear couple from Emmanuel Chatham, Phil and Brenda Laird. Our kids grew up with Phil and Brenda’s. Brenda has been the church administrator at Emmanuel since she was 12. Phil has been on the board for 40 years. He was the teen Sunday School teacher for over 20 years, and they have assisted with so many youth retreats. They are such good friends and have been such a blessing to us. The theme of last week’s message was that we would face “fiery trails,” and it is due to our being faithful to our commitment to Christ. So we learned that: One, Christians are to expect trials (not just random or without purpose, so that our faith would be tested). And our passing of these tests is actually proof to us that we truly do know Christ. Two, Christians share with Christ, so there is a reason for rejoicing. And Peter really highlighted the joy we would experience as believers when we someday stand before Christ, knowing that we have been faithful to Christ. Three, Christians will be ridiculed, so the Holy Spirit comforts them. We bring the same message as Christ. Therefore, we can expect to be insulted because Christ was insulted. Finally, Christians face sufferings without shame, so God is glorified. The promise in the passage is that there is no shame in being rejected for the sake of the gospel, as we rejoice in Christ and His glory.
So understand the context of this passage. That it is addressing the “fiery trials” which will come upon the Christian who is committed to Christ. And this morning we are going to look at the two severe warnings in this passage, and finally, a command. So let’s read our passage together as we will see these warnings within the context. Reading from the Legacy Standard Bible.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you. But to the degree you are sharing the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be put to shame, but is to glorify God in this name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner? Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God must entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing good.”
- Pet 4:12-19 (LSB)
Let’s pray. Father, there are many things that would want to distract us this morning. Yet we understand that You are saying something very important that we need to hear. So help us to heed Your truth this morning, for we ask this in the name of Christ, amen.
Sometimes we can hear a warning and still miss it. Have you ever had a situation where the warnings were so obvious that it would be impossible to miss? When our youngest son Marty was married we were staying in Indiana as this is where our daughter-in-law Kelly lived. And we rented a cabin out in the country with all our crew there, it was beautiful. And to the back of us was a field of horses that were behind a fence. And as I went over to see them, I noticed they stayed a little away from the fence. So I went up to the fence and sort of went, “cluck, cluck.” But for some reason, they stayed back. So I thought I would get closer, so I stepped on the bottom rung of the fence, and put my arms on the top. Well, I got the biggest “zap” of my life. Like an instant jolt! I was stunned! And Anne saw me from a distance and said, “Mark, how did you not see the warning signs?” And they were about every eight feet all around the fence (caution – electric fence). Never saw one of them!
Warning signs and I missed them. Why? Because I was interested in petting the horses. Now some may ignore the warning signs because they do not believe them. In this case if I had seen them, I likely would have not touched the fence. Some people are going to ignore the warning signs this morning. Why? Because deep down, you really do not believe them. Or, some may be just too interested in other things in life that might cause you to miss them. Others, who are not here, just will not hear them, or have no interest in hearing them. And there are really two warnings in these verses. One to the Christian and one to the unbeliever. And what Peter is doing this morning is he gives each warning in verse 17 and then he intensifies the warnings by rephrasing them in different words in verse 18. Look at the beginning of verse 17, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the house of God.”
Warning #1: There will be a season of judgement to come upon the church.
This word judgement is a judicial term and means that there will be judgement for sin. And who is the judgement against? The house of God, the church. And we want to keep all this in context. So look back to 1 Peter 4:7. “The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound thinking and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.” The end of all things is at hand, and now Peter says in vs 17, “it is the time for judgement.” This word time here is not time as next year or in two weeks. No, it is the Greek word Kairos, which means that the church will face a crucial time or a critical moment. A time when the political climate, the opposition to the Bible, the general hatred toward Christianity, will become so hostile, that the condition of the church must be heightened, it must be alerted. This goes along with what we spoke about a few weeks ago, that the easier path for the church or for the individual Christian is coming to an end, and therefore God must intervene. It would be like going to cadet camp and learning some of the skills needed for war, and that is all fine and dandy until there is actually a war. When the rigidness, the drills, the disciplines are magnified. This is the warning here by Peter, that God is ramping up the church, because of the times with which we are in.
And notice that little phrase (vs 17) “and if it begins with us first.” The warning here at the outset from Peter is that you might even think it may be easier to be outside of the church. For God’s face is towards the church and His people. This is exactly what Job faced during a critical time in his life, of all the people in the world, Satan chose Job to pick on. He didn’t choose someone else that had only a halfhearted commitment to God, or no commitment to God. And therefore, Job wonders, why is this happening to me? When those who do not even serve God are thriving. Well in many cases they were, because the Lord through Satan was doing a work in the heart of Job.
Now in some ways this would seem strange that judgement would come to the house of God or to the church. But this is exactly what this is referring to, divine judgement by God for sin upon the church or on the Christian. But not eternal condemnation, but cleansing and chastisement and correction. And this is part of the trials that may fall upon an individual, as God’s correcting hand comes upon a believer. We must not get eternal punishment confused with present-day punishment, as Christ’s death saves us from eternal punishment in hell. But it does not keep us from present-day consequences for sin. And this is not judgement because God hates us or that God is against us. No, this judgement is because God desires to cleanse us from our waywardness, because of the Lord’s great love for us.
Proverbs 3:12, “For whom Yahweh loves He reproves, Even as a father reproves the son in whom he delights.” And who of us likes that? Who likes it teens when you get in trouble for doing something wrong? Who likes to be called into the boss’ office at work, and have a privilege taken away or to have to do some extra work or maybe even lose a job or something worse. I wouldn’t like that. Why? Well even if we are wrong, we often do not see it. Or even if we have done something wrong, we can have a terrible time admitting it. And even if we are wrong and we do acknowledge that, our human nature wants to desperately side with self and can come up with so many reasons of why we did what we did.
Sometimes in sports, a player will get suspended for something. Maybe in hockey for hitting from behind. Or in football, for deliberately trying to hurt the quarterback. And a player will get thrown out of the game and then the league will apply maybe a two-game, ten-game, twenty-game suspension. And when that happens the player usually has the right to appeal the decision. Okay, yes, I did do this, but five games? I should only get two games or whatever. Funny, isn’t it, that nobody says I got five games, but I deserved ten games, for our humanness always wants to grant ourselves mercy for what we have done.
So this judgement from God is going to be painful. Why? Because we must go through whatever punishment that God allows, but we also are going to fight our human tendency to feel sorry for ourselves. And though we said that God does not hate us or that God is not against us. But God does hate our sin, and therefore God may allow something quite heavy upon us if we are allowing sin into our lives. God hates your sin, God hates my sin. And God knows that left on that path and that direction may cause grave danger to our own lives and those to whom we influence. So, if my sin and your sin is left unchecked. And God does not intervene in the life of the believer. That would bring great hurt to your life. Therefore, God’s interference is what? A grace! It’s a grace, isn’t it? In other words, if God saw our waywardness and let us fall and destroy ourselves, God would not be the loving heavenly father that He is, and would not be an act of grace. And God’s grace in dealing with our sin is for the purpose of correction. Proverbs 119:67, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word.” There are times when God judges the church and individual believers, “and if it begins with us first.”
And so, sometimes the persecution that we experience is the judgment of God that must come, and it must come first on the household before it comes to the strangers. First, Christ will purify His church, then He will judge the ungodly. And this is why Christ warned His followers to count the cost of discipleship. For coming to Christ is not an easy decision, and we should not make it an easy decision. Faith is an allegiance to Christ, a following after Christ as Lord. And the committed Christian will have to face certain trials that the unbeliever will not, and there will be times when that opposition will not only seem worse for the Christian. And in reality, it will be harder for the Christian, for Peter will re-emphasize the struggle for the Christian. For look in verse 18, “and if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved.” As I mentioned last week, I hope at some point to address the whole theology of the gospel. As we know that many have taught that it means material blessing, health, and wealth. Yet, though we know that is not true, that kind of teaching that has been around for most of us here, and has been so widespread in Christianity that it does influence our understanding of the gospel.
I have been taking a course on the theology of the gospel for school, and in some of our reading, we are being warned of our flippant Western way in which we can treat salvation. During the first coming of Christ, the world was under the control and domination of Rome. And the teaching of Christ and other New Testament writers often spoke of a change in allegiance. The world was saying that Caesar was Lord, but the Christian was willing to stand up under that rule and declare that Christ is Lord. Paul wrote in Roman 1:4, as he spoke about discipleship as the “obedience of faith.” As the understanding in the Bible is that the true Christian will be determined to now serve Christ as our Lord. And I know we have much to address regarding this issue, but the passage we are reading is part of this understanding, that becoming a slave of Christ, that serving Christ is hard and difficult, and Peter wants us to know that. And especially when there will come a time when a season of judgement will come upon the church.
Now if it begins with us first, and it will, what’s going to be the outcome for those who do not believe? God’s judgment does begin at the church level, but it doesn’t end there, for Peter looks down the road to the tragedy of eternal judgment. Verse 17, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” What is he saying? John MacArthur says, “Here’s the point. Get this. ‘It’s far better to endure suffering as the Lord purges the church, and endure it with joy, than to endure suffering in the future which is eternal.’” Christian, you think that serving Christ is hard. That you must love your enemies is difficult? That you must submit to an unbelieving husband is challenging? That you must submit to an unreasonable boss is a struggle? Then just look at your suffering and consider this, “the outcome of those who do not obey the gospel.”
Warning #2: There will be a grave outcome for those who disobey the gospel.
What does it mean to disobey the gospel? Well, we need to know what is the gospel. The gospel is God’s plan from the very beginning that one day His Son would come, live on the earth, die on a cross, be buried in a tomb, and raise from the dead. Why? Because in the beginning, after the creation man chose to sin against God. And God promised that His Son would come and die for the sin of the world. And that is the gospel. That is the plain gospel. So, the question that Peter is asking, is what is the outcome for those who reject the gospel? That Christ came and died for sin and rose again, and it has no effect on the person who rejects it. Again, we notice that small phrase, “if it begins with us first.” Notice the grace here, that God is at work of correcting and judging the Christian. But not the unbeliever. In other words, who is watching over the unbeliever? Who is disciplining, who is fathering the unbeliever? Here is the scary answer. No one! In other words, he is left on his own for the course of his life. And where does he end up? Final judgement. And final judgement in the Bible is called the Great White Throne Judgement.
“Then I saw a great white throne and Him [Christ, the One who was rejected] who sits upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. Then I saw the dead, the great and the small [includes all], standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them, and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Rev 20:11-15 (LSB)
Is there mercy for those who reject Christ? Yes, but the promise is only for today. That today you must give your heart and life to Christ. Then Peter will highlight his warning again in verse 18, “And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner?” Peter says, “And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved.” Difficulty refers to the hard time that persecution brings to the believer. And again, that judgment will continue in the church. And if it’s so difficult, and there’s so much suffering as a Christian being purged, what will become of the godless, unpurged man and the unforgiven sinner? He asks, what kind of suffering will they endure if we have to endure this? And the answer is a far greater suffering. For they will be cast into the lake of fire which burns with fire and brimstone forever and ever where the worm dies not, the fire is not quenched. And this we know, because this is the Word of God. Two grave warnings. One to the Christian and one to the unbeliever. And now a command. Verse 19, “Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God must entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing good.”
Command: The Christian must entrust himself to a faithful Creator.
Verse 19, “Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God.” Here again we read as in week #17, according to the will of God. And we learned that much of what the Christian wishes to place in the will of God, are often things which the Lord has given us freedom. Again, choosing such things as location, homes, cars. These are all things the Bible has little to say. And sometimes in our Western society, they can override those things which are central to the Lord’s will. Things such as obedience, sanctification, ministry, deepening of one’s faith, being the kind of parent the Lord desires, working hard, as these are all things that are the Lord’s will for us as they are commanded throughout all the Bible. Agreed, some of these secondary choices that we have freedom such as where we may choose to live may put us in a better place to do ministry well or one job may enable us to serve Christ better than another. But there really is little mystery to the Lord’s will for you and I, because that is to serve Him wherever we find ourselves.
However, we did say there is some mystery to the Lord’s will in the area of suffering, as we do not know what the Lord may allow into our lives. Now the response to these trials is clear, for it is the Lord’s will that we would respond with perseverance and joy. Yet we do not often know the reason behind the suffering that the Lord chooses for us, and so this can be difficult and we can often feel lonely and abandoned. And when Peter says, those also who suffer according to the will of God; this is an understanding that suffering will be due to opposition, and persecution, but will also be due to the Lord chastening of His people for their sin. And the fact that the Lord gives these warnings confirms the truth that this will not be easy for the Christian. And therefore even through very difficult times, the Christian must believe that God is faithful. Two warnings: one, there will be a season of judgement to come upon the church, and two, there will be a grave outcome for those who disobey the gospel. And a command, the Christian must entrust himself to the faithful Creator. Lord, be with us in these days. Might we be known individually and as a community of believers, as a people who trust You in all things. For we ask this in the name of Christ, amen.
Think about this wording here by Peter. The Christian “must entrust [his or her soul] to a faithful Creator in doing good” or as the New American Standard says “in doing what is right.” Entrust. What is that? That’s faith. Yes, there is faith in the Word of God. In other words, God says something in His Word and we believe it. That is a big part of our faith. But faith really goes beyond that. Because in reality if we believe in the Bible, we know those things to be true. Agreed, that is a certain level of faith. Yet remember the story of Thomas after the resurrection. That he would not believe in the risen Lord unless he placed his hand in Christ’s side. And Jesus said this, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are those who did not see, and yet believed.”
That is another level of faith, isn’t it? Where even those who have never seen the resurrected Lord, believe in Him. And I also have to think of so many Old Testament saints who had little or no Scripture, yet trusted in God. We spoke about Enoch the other Sunday night who walked with God. A man who had no Bible, yet he believed by faith. That is another level. And in this passage, Peter is speaking about entrusting ourselves to God or having faith that God does everything right and good. Even when I am treated unfairly by others, even when I sin and the Lord corrects me, even when I am serving Christ and the Lord allows opposition and persecution. Because this is about faith when we do not always know what God is doing. Faith that still believes that God will do all things justly and right.
Listen, God must deal with every living soul and their eternal destiny. This includes all people, for all time, of every age, and every understanding. From the youngest to the oldest. From the most brilliant to the most simple. And that there are degrees of reward in eternity is certain because we are told this in the Bible, and that there are degrees of punishment is certain as well, as the Bible speaks about those who are more accountable than others. But we do know this, that only faith in Jesus Christ will save a soul. So with the many unanswered questions outside of the Scriptures, we must what? Trust that God does what is right. Before the Bible was ever written Moses said this, “shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Answer, yes, a thousand times yes. Ans is it good that we remind ourselves of this? Absolutely! And all God’s people said, amen.