April 18 – Tranquility in Criticism

If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you.

1 Peter 4:14

 

A pure conscience provides tranquility and vindicates you when you are slandered. It will be free from the task of pointing out any sin, and your godly life will prove any criticisms to be false. When you have a pure conscience, the verbal abuse and insults against you bring shame to your accuser, not you.

The world self–righteously condemns Christianity when it can point to a Christian who has scandalized the faith. Unbelievers enjoy drawing attention to a sinning Christian so they can justify their own sinful behavior. Therefore, live above reproach so that the unbeliever’s accusations will be without any foundation.[1]


Exult in Suffering

but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (4:13–14)

To the degree is a generous way to translate katho (“as,” “according to which”) and thus to show that Christians’ eternal reward is proportionate to their earthly suffering (cf. Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:16–18; Heb. 11:26; 2 John 8; Rev. 2:10). That is a reasonable relationship since suffering reveals faithfulness to their Lord Jesus Christ, who Himself noted this relationship between suffering and reward, saying,

Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. (Luke 6:22–23)

Peter further enriches the endurance of those who are persecuted by stating that they share the sufferings of Christ. That is not in any redemptive sense; neither does it refer only to spiritual union with Him, as Paul describes in Romans 6. But it refers to believers experiencing the same kind of sufferings He endured—suffering for what is right. R. C. H. Lenski rightly elaborates the meaning of Peter’s expression:

The readers [of 1 Peter] are only in fellowship with the sufferings of Christ. This is a thought that is prominent and fully carried out by Paul in Rom. 8:17; II Cor. 1:7; 4:10; Phil. 1:29; 3:10; Col. 1:24. It goes back to Christ’s word (John 15:20, 21).

We fellowship Christ’s sufferings when we suffer for his name’s sake, when the hatred that struck him strikes us because of him. Never is there a thought of fellowshiping in the expiation of Christ’s suffering, our suffering also being expiatory. In Matt. 5:12 persecution places us in the company of the persecuted prophets (high exaltation indeed); here it places us in the company of Christ himself, into an even greater communion or [koinōnia]. Is that “a strange thing” or to be deemed strange? It is what we should deem proper, natural, to be expected, yea, as Peter says (following Matt. 5:12), a cause for joy. (The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude [reprint; Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1966], 203)

Christ who suffered at the hands of wicked men even though He was without sin (Isa. 53:9; Matt. 26:67; 27:12, 26, 29–31, 39–44; John 10:31, 33; 11:8; Acts 2:23) promised believers it would be their privilege to suffer in the same way when He said, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also” (John 15:20).

To the degree that believers suffer unjustly, they should, as their Lord did, keep on rejoicing, a sentiment completely unacceptable to those who have no hope of heavenly reward, but affirmed by the Lord when He declared,

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt. 5:10–12)

The revelation of His glory will come in “the day that the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:30), which refers to Christ’s return. The Lord resumed the full exercise of His glory after He ascended to heaven, but He has not yet revealed it on earth for everyone to see (cf. Matt. 24:30; Phil. 2:9–11; Rev. 19:11–16). (Peter, James, and John did get a preview of that glory when they witnessed Christ’s transfiguration [Mark 9:2–3; cf. 2 Peter 1:16–18].)

Peter’s second use of rejoice (chairō) in verse 13 is qualified by exultation (agalliaō), a reference to rapturous joy. When Christ returns, believers will rejoice with exultation (cf. the discussion of joy in chapter 3 of this volume), and do so in proportion to their share in His sufferings in this life. Those who share His sufferings will also share His glory (5:1; cf. Matt. 20:20–23). The saints’ suffering for righteousness proves them, refines them, and earns for them “an eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17) so that the greater their suffering the stronger their hope, and the richer their joy (cf. 2 Cor. 4:16–18; James 1:2).

The name of Christ is the cause of evil hatred directed toward believers (Matt. 10:22; 24:9). In the early days of the church, His name first became synonymous with the Savior Himself and all that He represents (cf. Luke 24:47; John 1:12; Acts 2:38; 4:17, 30; 9:15; 19:17). In Peter’s sermon before the Sanhedrin, he asserted, “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Later the apostles “went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (5:41). In His vision concerning the conversion of Saul of Tarsus and his subsequent preaching as Paul the apostle, Christ told Ananias of Damascus, “I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (9:16). It is not the name “Christ” that offends the ungodly, but rather who He is and what He said and did that causes hostility from them.

That animosity is summed up in the word reviled (oneidizō), meaning “to denounce,” or “to heap insults upon.” In the Septuagint it described hostility heaped at God and His people by the godless (Pss. 42:10; 44:16; 74:10, 18; cf. Isa. 51:7; Zeph. 2:8). In the New Testament it refers to the indignities and mistreatments Christ endured from sinners (Matt. 27:44; Mark 15:32; Rom. 15:3). In the first century, unbelievers were often exasperated and infuriated that believers were so frequently speaking of Christ, whose indictment of sinners they despised (cf. Acts 4:17–18; 17:1–7).

However, all the hatred and violence of the world against Christians does not diminish their blessedness. Actually they are more blessed for such suffering, not only for the eternal reward they will receive but for the present blessing, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on them. It is not merely because of suffering that the Holy Spirit will rest on believers, as when He came on and departed from an Old Testament prophet, but rather that He, already being in believers permanently (Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 6:19–20; 12:13), gives them supernatural relief in the midst of their suffering. Because the Spirit is God, divine glory defines His nature (cf. Pss. 93:1; 104:1; 138:5). Glory recalls the Shekinah, which in the Old Testament symbolized God’s earthly presence (Ex. 24:16–17; 34:5–8; 40:34–38; Hab. 3:3–4). When the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant were brought to Solomon’s newly dedicated temple, “the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:11). As the brilliant cloud of the Shekinah rested in the tabernacle and the temple, so the Holy Spirit lives in and ministers to believers today. Rests (from the present tense of anapauō) means “to give relief, refreshment, intermission from toil” (cf. Matt. 11:28–29; Mark 6:31), and describes one of His ministries. “Refreshment” comes on those believers who suffer for the sake of the Savior and the gospel. The Spirit gives them grace by imparting endurance, understanding, and all the fruit that comes in the panoply of His goodness: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22–23).

That kind of refreshment and divine power came upon Stephen, a leader in the Jerusalem church and its first recorded martyr. As he began to defend his faith before the Jewish leaders, they “saw his face like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15). His demeanor signified serenity, tranquility, and joy—all the fruit of the Spirit—undiminished and even expanded by his suffering and the Holy Comforter’s grace to him. The Sanhedrin became enraged as Stephen rehearsed redemptive history to them from the Old Testament, an account that culminated in the atoning work of Jesus the Messiah. Stephen’s Spirit-controlled rest was evident as “he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’ ” (Acts 7:55–56). As his enemies stoned him to death, Stephen “called on the Lord and said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!’ Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them!’ Having said this, he fell asleep” (vv. 59–60). Truly the Spirit of glory elevated him above his suffering to sweet relief. That powerful work of the Spirit was the cause of Paul’s later testimony in 2 Corinthians 12:9–10, “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”[2]


4:13 The privilege of sharing Christ’s sufferings should cause us great rejoicing. We cannot of course share His atoning sufferings; He is the only Sin-Bearer. But we can share the same kind of sufferings He endured as a Man. We can share His rejection and reproach. We can receive the wounds and scars in our bodies which unbelievers would still like to inflict on Him.

If the child of God can rejoice today in the midst of suffering, how much more will he rejoice and be glad when Christ’s glory is revealed. When the Savior comes back to earth as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, He will be revealed as the Almighty Son of God. Those who suffer now for His sake will be honored then with Him.

4:14 The early Christians rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Christ (Acts 5:41). So should every Christian who has the privilege of being reviled for Christ’s sake. Such suffering is a true indication that the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon us. This is the Holy Spirit who rests upon persecuted Christians as the glory cloud rested on the tabernacle in the OT, indicating the presence of God.

We know that the Spirit indwells every true child of God, but He rests in a special way upon those who are completely committed to the cause of Christ. They know the presence and power of the Spirit of God as others do not. The same Lord Jesus who is blasphemed by the persecutors is glorified by His suffering saints.[3]


13 Rather than be shocked or surprised at suffering, the readers are told to rejoice. The writer is not hereby glibly suggesting that one rejoices in suffering qua suffering. It is rather “in the Lord” (Php 4:4) that one rejoices. Believers “participate in the sufferings of Christ” (cf. Php 3:10, which speaks of “the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings”), based on the believer’s union with Christ, and therefore can emit a response of “rejoicing.” The believer is united with Christ in his death as well as his resurrection (Ro 6:5–14), not in the sense of paying for our sins, as only the Son of God could do, but in the sense that “our old self was crucified with him … that we should no longer be slaves to sin … but alive to God” (Ro 6:6, 11). Rejoicing and shock stand at opposite ends, and a deep awareness of our union with Christ—and all that it entails—preserves the Christian from surprise that metastasizes into disenchantment and disillusionment. To expect suffering, it should be emphasized, is not to welcome it in some blindly fatalistic way; it is, however, to be realistic about our union with Christ.

The attitude of rejoicing in the context of suffering is further magnified by the cognizance of the coming revelation of Christ’s glory. Peter writes, “so that you may be overjoyed [lit., ‘that you may rejoice exultingly’] when his glory is revealed,” using the same strengthened form of “rejoice” (agalliaō, GK 22) as earlier (1:6, 8), and in the same context (Christ’s return). His theological rationale squares with that of Paul: “if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Ro 8:17); “if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Ti 2:12). Suffering for Christ is a privilege and not a penalty (so Barclay, 258). In Petrine thinking, eschatology informs Christian ethics.

14 Peter further reminds his readers that they are “blessed” if they are “insulted [oneidizō, GK 3943; used of Jesus’ experience on the cross, Mk 15:32] because of the name of Christ.” His assertion is expanded with the somewhat strange statement that “the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” This language is frequently used in the book of Exodus to describe the glory of the Lord as it descended on Mount Sinai (24:16), in the desert (16:10), on the tabernacle (29:43; 40:34) and ark (Lev 16:2), or when it filled the temple (2 Ch 7:3). Indeed Paul resorts to similar language and imagery in describing the glory of the new covenant (2 Co 3:7–18). Significantly, Stephen’s countenance is depicted in this way in Luke’s account of his martyrdom (Ac 7:55; cf. 6:15). Peter would seem to be suggesting that the presence of God is particularly notable in those times when the saints are being persecuted. The Spirit glorifies Jesus (Jn 16:14); therefore, as believers experience persecution on account of Christ, they are filled with the Spirit’s presence, and in so doing they are glorifying God.[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 123). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2004). 1 Peter (pp. 251–254). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2278). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Charles, D. J. (2006). 1 Peter. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 349–350). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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