I have a pastor friend who has tattoos on each wrist. On one wrist he has the Greek word pathēma, which means suffering. On his other wrist he has the Greek word doxa, which means glory.
I asked him about those tattoos. He told me they remind him that the degree to which he will share in Christ’s coming glory depends on how much he willingly suffers for Christ in this life.
First Pet 4:12-19 teaches precisely that. Peter wants his believing Jewish readers to know that being persecuted for Christ is normal; it is not “some strange thing” (1 Pet 4:12).
Of course, it is not automatic that Christians grasp this. Many of us who are ridiculed for their faith in Christ have a hard time seeing that as a good thing.
But not only are believers not to view suffering for Christ as some strange thing (v 12), they are to rejoice (v 13). We are to rejoice when we suffer for Christ because “to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings that when His glory is revealed you may also be glad with exceeding joy.”
Present sufferings for Christ will result in increased glory and joy for us in Christ’s kingdom. Many Christians think that all Christians will have the same share of Christ’s glory forever, no matter what degree we shared in His sufferings. But that is wrong. Our eternal experience will vary depending on our present service and suffering for Christ.
Peter and the Apostles took this to heart when they were beaten for preaching about Jesus: “When they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:40-42).
Peter goes on to warn born-again people not to suffer as murderers, thieves, evildoers, or busybodies (1 Pet 4:15-16). Did you notice that Peter thinks it is appropriate to warn believers not to be murderers? Many today say that a believer can’t be a murderer, or that if he is, he loses everlasting life. Not so for Peter.
The issue with Peter is not eternal destiny. The issue is eternal reward.
In his commentary on First Peter Ernest Best says, “We should not judge the crimes of which members of the early church might be capable by the respectability of the twentieth century” (p. 164). It could be argued that believers today are even more likely to commit serious crimes than believers in the first century.
I am a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary. It has often been quipped that DTS could have an alumni chapter in the state prisons in Huntsville, TX. There are scores of DTS graduates in prison for major crimes like rape, murder, and theft. The same is true of all leading conservative seminaries.
One reason why it is so bad to suffer for wrong things we do is because those things do not result in us having fuller lives now or in the life to come. Indeed, those things lessen our quality of life now and in the coming kingdom.
When we commit crimes, resulting in suffering, we bring dishonor to the name of Christ. When we profess our faith in Christ, resulting in suffering, then we honor His name.
Peter had been alluding to the Judgment Seat of Christ in verses 13-14. Now he specifically mentions judgment: “the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God” (1 Pet 4:17).
This might refer to judgment in this life. Or it could look ahead to the Bema.
The words “the time has come” suggest that Peter is thinking of the last days. In 1 Pet 4:7 he said, “the end of all things is at hand.”
In his DTS class notes on First Peter, Zane Hodges says regarding verse 17,
The suffering finds its basic explanation in the eschatological perspective…The divine decision (krima, judgment…) is that human trial should begin with His people and move outward to the unregenerate. If the righteous man only passes into the world to come with hardships and trials, how sure is the doom of the unbeliever which follows in verse 18.
Concerning verse 18 Hodges says, “It is with difficulty and suffering that the righteous realize the salvation of their souls (or lives).” The saving of the soul in First Peter and in the entire Bible is not the same as being born again and being guaranteed you will go to heaven when you die.
The saving of the soul, Hodges says as he comments on 1 Peter 1:9, refers to “achieving a fullness of life now and a resplendent glory in the age to come. For this, sufferings are as necessary for us as they were to our Lord. For Him, the path to glory led through the cross. So also for His followers…”
Hodges continues, “This is the great lesson of 1 Peter: As Christ won glory through suffering, so do we through our suffering.”
Peter concludes in verse 19 by urging his believing readers to “commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.” This too is a reference to the saving of our lives, the gaining of abundant lives forever.
So don’t think God is mad at you if He allows you to suffer for Christ. Think that God is pleased with you. He has considered you worthy to suffer for His Son. And realize that the degree to which we suffer for our Savior is the degree to which we will share in His coming glory.