Image: P.Oxy 42.3035 is the oldest surviving papyrus where a person is identified as a Christian. It is dated 28 February 256 AD, which is around the time of Christian persecution under Emperor Valerian in 257 to 258. More information about this papyrus here.
For my friends Javed and Josephine, and other Christians in Pakistan.
1 Peter Bible Study Notes, Week 16
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed [makarioi], for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian [christianos], do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. 1 Peter 4:12-19 (NIV)
Things to think about
Have you ever been (or are you being) insulted or persecuted because of your faith in Jesus? What did it feel like? Did you experience joy? Were you aware that you and your faith were being tested? Did you feel especially close to Jesus Christ at the time?
If you’ve never been insulted or persecuted for your Christian faith, why do you think that is?
1 Peter 4:12 marks the beginning of a new section of First Peter. Peter begins this section by directly addressing the Christians as agapetoi (“beloved” or “dear friends”) as he does in 1 Peter 2:11, which also makes the beginning of a new section. In the following few verses, he touches on subjects already mentioned in his letter. He writes about trials and tests, rejoicing though suffering, being blessed, doing good, and judgement.
A Fiery Ordeal – 1 Peter 4:12-13
In Mark’s gospel – the gospel said to have been based on Peter’s oral account of Jesus’ life and ministry – Jesus is recorded as saying “Everyone will be salted with fire.” (Mark 9:49) In this life, everyone will be tested by some sort of “fiery” ordeal. Some, however, will experience more severe situations and trials than others.
Peter makes it clear that these ordeals are tests. In the Old Testament, tests are sometimes compared with the process where precious metals are refined by fire (Job 23:10; Ps. 66:10; Prov. 17:3; Isa. 48:10 cf Ps. 12:6). Peter also makes this comparison and had previously written:
“… for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 1 Peter 1:6c-7 NIV cf. Rev 3:18
The Christians in Asia Minor were being slandered and maligned. Death does not seem to have been a threat at that time. Still, the loss of friends and family connections would be cruelly felt by people whose identity and security were embedded in a community that now ostracised and slandered them. By turning from pagan and Jewish religions to Christianity, the believers were wrenched out of their previous way of life and community, and given a new life with a new identity and a new family. As wonderful as a new life in Christ is, the cost of converting can be high for some Christians, and some converts would have felt pressured to return to their former life
No Surprise – 1 Peter 4:12
Peter had written that the pagans were surprised (xenizō) that the Christians did not join them in their reckless and wild living, and that they were heaping abuse on the Christians (1 Pet. 4:4). Now, a few verses later, Peter tells the Christians that they should not be surprised (xenizō) that they are suffering (1 Pet. 4:12).
The New Testament repeatedly warns that followers of Jesus will suffer for their faith. Some of these warnings came from Jesus himself (Matt. 5:11; John 15:18). Considering these warnings, I am surprised that western Christians are not suffering more.
Why is it that most western Christians are not suffering for their faith in Jesus Christ? Karen Jobes answers this question:
Peter was speaking in a time when Christian values and the resulting way of life contrasted markedly with Greco-Roman society. In that setting, one could hardly be an uncompromising Christian and remain unrecognized as such. Modern Western society has for many centuries been so largely shaped by the Judeo-Christian ethic that acceptable values of Christians and of unbelievers have not necessarily conflicted so sharply. (Jobes 2009:287)
Spirit of Glory – 1 Peter 4:13-14
In 1 Peter 4:13a, Peter again compares the suffering of the Asian Christians with that of Jesus, and he again reminds them of a future glory which will more than make up for their present distress.
A frequent theme of Paul’s letters is that trials and tests help to build our character and make us spiritually mature, but this is not Peter’s point. As well as referring to trials as tests, Peter emphasises that these trials help us to experience the presence of God: “the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (cf. Isa. 11:2).
Peter understands that it is the Spirit of Christ who spoke to the prophets, such as Isaiah, revealing the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow (1 Pet 1:10-12). In 4:14, Peter claims that the same Spirit of God predicted to rest upon the Messiah also rests on the believer who us willing to suffer for Jesus Christ. Peter consoles his readers that because the same Spirit of glory and of God rests upon them, their current suffering is as Christ’s was, a prelude to the glory to follow. (Jobes 2009:288)
The Greek word anapauō, “rests upon”, is used elsewhere in the New Testament with the meaning of relief, rest and refreshment. This relief comes directly from God (e.g., Matt. 11:28) or through his ministers, people such as Philemon and Stephanas (Philem. 1:7, 20; 1 Cor. 16:18; cf. Rom. 15:32; 2 Cor. 7:13). Perhaps Peter’s choice of anapauō has some implication that the Spirit of glory brings spiritual relief and refreshment as he rests upon those who are suffering.
Shame and Glory – 1 Peter 4:14-16
The Christians in Asia Minor were being slandered and were suffering because they had renounced their former ties and now identified themselves with Jesus Christ and his family of believers. Rather than being constrained by shame, which was the usual outcome of slander, Peter wanted his readers to glorify God. (The word “glory” (doxa) is used three times in this short passage from Peter: in 1 Peter 4:13, 14 and 16.)
Shame and honour were powerful dynamics in Roman society. To be disgraced and shamed meant a loss of honour, status and power, and a demotion in the highly competitive pecking-order of society. Shame and humiliation were not just brief moments of embarrassment; rather, they impacted considerably on one’s family, business, and social life. One way of moving up the honour-shame pecking order was to be publicly praised, or glorified, by someone. But Peter wants the praise and glory to go to God. Peter wanted the Asian Christians to know that their honour and power was not tied to the current system of social dynamics, but to God.
The New Testament teaches a completely different, counter-cultural, way of relating to others. Humility, deference and sacrificial love should be the hallmarks of Christian relationships. The honour-shame dynamic, or any other kind of social hierarchy that disadvantages and discriminates against any of God’s people, has no part in the New Creation (Gal. 3:26-28; 2 Cor. 5:16).
“Blessed” – 1 Peter 4:14
Peter refers to the persecuted Christians as “blessed ones” (makarioi). This is the same word that is used in Matthew’s and Luke’s account of the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12; Luke 6:20-23).
Makarios is usually used in the New Testament in sacred paradoxes, such as the Beatitudes in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and in the context of eschatological salvation where it is contrasted with false happiness and secular values. True happiness is not for the rich and secure, but for the poor and oppressed. God affects a reversal of all human values. (Adapted from the abridged TDNT p. 549)
Jesus, as well as Peter, taught that the true state of blessing, or happiness, has nothing in common with what the world regards as blessed. Parts of Jesus’ sermon were particularly apt for Peter’s readers.
Blessed [makarioi] are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Luke 6:22 cf. Matt. 5:11
“Christian” – 1 Peter 4:16
[The following has been largely copied and pasted from the Introduction.]
1 Peter 4:16 is one of the few places in the New Testament where the word “Christian” is used: “if you suffer as a “Christian.” (The word “Christian” (christianos) is also used in Acts 11:26 and Acts 26:28.)
A few decades after 1 Peter was written, many Christians were tortured and killed simply because they were called “Christians.” In a now-famous letter, Pliny the Younger asked emperor Trajan, “whether the name ‘Christian’ itself, even without offences, or only the offences associated with the name are to be punished.” Pliny was the governor of Pontus and Bithynia from 111 to 113AD. Pontus and Bithynia were two of the provinces where Peter’s letter was sent (1 Pet. 1:1). Among those whom Pliny tortured where two female ministers, or deacons. (Pliny the Younger, Letters 10.96-97)
Being called a “Christian” can be dangerous in some parts of the world today. Many Christians are being persecuted for their faith and are suffering with fiery ordeals. Just recently (22nd of September, 2013) many Christians lost their lives when bombs exploded outside an Anglican church in the Peshawar province of Pakistan. Many more people were injured. [More on this here.] Countless other attacks against Christians, including the torching of their homes and places of worship happen on an almost daily basis, but are rarely reported by the international press. My prayer is that these Christians will know the blessing of the Spirit of God who rests upon them and provides spiritual relief and refreshment.
Image: The aftermath of the Peshawar church bombing in Pakistan on September 23, 2012. More information here. Photo courtesy of Javed Irshad.
Judgement – 1 Peter 4:17-19
In 1 Peter 1:17, Peter warned his readers to live their lives in reverent fear because they would be judged by God. [More on this here.] In 1 Peter 4:17-19 Peter exhorts his readers to persevere in doing good because judgement is coming. This judgement begins with those who belong to the household of God, that is, those who know God, belong to him and obey his will.
We will all be judged; those who have remained faithful to God will be vindicated and the ungodly will be punished. However, the judgement Peter is speaking about here could be understood as the sorting of humanity. Karen Jobes (2009:293) writes that “God will begin his process of judging humanity with his own people, to see which are truly Christ’s. (Compare a similar teaching about God’s judgement in Jesus’ parable where he first judges the sheep and then the goats in Matthew 15:31-46.)”
Life was hard for the Christians in Asia Minor; the tension to stay faithful to God, reject their past, and endure continuing persecution was difficult to live with, so Peter uses his letter to console his readers, to give them hope, and to warn them of judgement. Peter urges his readers to remain faithful to their faithful Creator.
» Week 17 (Pending)