1 Peter 4.12-19
12Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. 14If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. 15But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker. 16Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name. 17For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, what will be the end for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18And “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinners?” 19Therefore, let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good.
The author continues – the Christians should not be surprised that they are being persecuted (The reference to a “fiery ordeal” is most likely a metaphor referring to the purification of valued metals, such as gold, rather than a literal description of whatever trial they are enduring.) But Christ himself was persecuted, and they should consider it a joy to share in his sufferings. If they are to be reviled, let it be for Christ, not for doing bad or criminal things. Such criminal behaviors are disgraceful, but suffering as a Christian is not disgraceful, but a privilege.
Again, the author tells his readers/hearers that the end is near, “the time of judgment” is beginning with the Christians. He pities those who are ungodly and sinners. And he says those suffering in accordance with God’s will should simply trust God. Let’s talk a little about these assumptions – first, what sort of suffering were these people enduring? Historians say there was not a lot of overt, systemic, persecution of Christians during this time; it was more likely that they had been expelled from synagogues, and were harassed by local governments and their neighbors. Perhaps they had witnessed the annihilation of Jerusalem and lost family members there; that would certainly be a fiery trial! Peter and Paul were killed by Nero, and a number of Christians with them, after the burning of Rome, as Nero sought to make Christians the scape-goats. But the time of many Christian martyrs was yet a hundred years away, when Rome would systematically feed Christians to the lions. So – one doubts that the author here was preparing the people to be martyrs. He is rather saying that they should think of their harassment, their punishment and ridicule, as ways to test their faith – a test or a trial is not sent by God, but is a consequence of human behaviors that God gives them the strength to endure. (James says, “Let no man say that God tempts him”.) Thus, their faith is tried, but God gives them the strength to endure the trial.
The last sentence here, “Let those suffering in accordance with God’s will” does not mean that it is God’s will that they suffer, but that they are suffering for doing God’s will. Those persecuting them do not like the way they live, are fearful of the Christians. Yet, they can trust God, who is faithful, and they can continue to do good.