15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And
“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Pe 4:15–18). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
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 ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the household 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? (4:15–18)
Not all suffering brings Holy Spirit relief. Trouble stemming from lawless actions obviously does not constitute suffering for righteousness. If any believer is a murderer, or thief (capital crimes in the ancient world), he or she has no right to complain about being punished, nor any right to expect the Spirit’s graces. The same applies if any should suffer as an evildoer (kakopoios), a more general term that encompasses all crimes without exception (cf. 2:14; 3 John 11).
The surprising inclusion of the term rendered troublesome meddler (allotriepiskopos), used only here in the New Testament, and at first seemingly minor in comparison to Peter’s previous terms, shows that all sins, not just crimes, forfeit the Holy Spirit’s comfort and rest. The word literally means, “one who meddles in things alien to his calling,” “an agitator,” or “troublemaker.” Paul’s exhortations to the Thessalonians illustrate the word’s meaning:
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you. (1 Thess. 4:11)
For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. (2 Thess. 3:11–12)
Christians are never to be troublemakers or agitators in society or in their places of work (cf. 1 Tim. 2:1–3; Titus 3:1–5). They may confront the sins in the lives of other believers, help administer church discipline, challenge unbelievers with the gospel, and exhort fellow saints to greater levels of godliness; but regarding others’ private matters that do not concern them, believers should never intrude inappropriately. More specifically, Peter was referring to political activism and civil agitation—disruptive or illegal activity that interferes with the smooth functioning of society and government. Such activity would compel the authorities to mete out punishment (Rom. 13:2–4; for a broader discussion of these issues, see chapter 13 of this volume). It is wrong for believers to view that punishment as persecution for their faith. If they step outside the faith and bring trouble, hostility, resentment, or persecution on themselves, they have no more right to expect Holy Spirit relief than if they were murderers. That Peter here includes allotriepiskopos in his list of sins may mean that some disciples, in their zeal for the truth and resentment of paganism, were causing trouble in society for reasons beyond a sincere and legitimate concern for the gospel.
I remember a conversation I once had with a Russian pastor who had suffered greatly under Soviet communism. I asked if he or his fellow Christians ever rebelled against that form of government. He replied that it was all their convictions that if they were ever resented and persecuted by the secular authorities, it would be for the gospel only. The Russian church actually grew strong in that environment, and he wondered how pastors in America could have holy people without their suffering for the gospel.
If anyone suffers as a Christian his suffering qualifies for Holy Spirit blessing. He should not feel ashamed (aischunō, “dishonored”), but rather because of this benediction of supernatural comfort he is to glorify God in this name (Christian). First-century believers referred to one another, such as “brethren” (Acts 1:15–16; 6:3; 9:30; 12:17; 15:13), “saints” (Acts 9:13; Rom. 8:27; 15:25; 1 Cor. 16:1), and those of “the Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). Ironically, however, Christian was not a name first assumed by believers themselves; instead, because it was originally a derisive designation given them by the world, it was associated with hatred and persecution (cf. Acts 11:26; 26:28). It has become, and should remain, the dominant and beloved name by which believers are known—those who belong to Christ.
To glorify God in this context means to praise Him for the privilege and honor of suffering for this name, because of all He has done, is doing, and will forever do for His saints. Not only does this kind of suffering produce joy over heavenly reward and the blessing of God, it also purifies the church. Here Peter’s thought returns to the Malachi 3:1–3 imagery (see comments on v. 12, earlier in this chapter). The Lord will purge His temple, His people. It is time (kairos), designating a decisive, crucial moment—in this context, the season—for judgment to begin. The Greek for judgment is krima and refers to a judicial process that renders a decision on someone’s sin. The word identifies a matter for ajudication (cf. 1 Cor. 6:7) and is used especially for divine judgment (cf. Rom. 2:5; 5:16 11:33). Divine judgment on believers is the decision God renders on their sin, which includes chastening and leads to cleansing (cf. 5:9–10) of the household of God, but not eternal condemnation:
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1).
But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world. (1 Cor. 11:32)
Household is Peter’s reference to the church; other New Testament verses also make that meaning plain (cf. 2:5; Gal. 6:10; Eph. 2:19; 1 Tim. 3:15; Heb. 3:6; 10:21).
Peter poses the comparative question, if [judgment] begins with [believers] first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? The answer is plain: judgment concludes with Christ’s final condemnation of the ungodly at the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11–15; cf. Matt. 7:21–23; 25:44–46). Though God chastens His own people now, His future judgment of the lost will be infinitely more devastating (cf. Dan. 12:2; Matt. 13:41–42, 49–50; 22:11–14; 25:41; Mark 9:44–49; Luke 13:23–28; 16:23–24; Rev. 14:10–11).
It is infinitely better for people to endure suffering with joy now as believers being purified for effective testimony and eternal glory than to later bear eternal torment as unbelievers (cf. Luke 16:19–31). Peter reinforced that point for his readers with a quotation from the Septuagint rendering of Proverbs 11:31, And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved what will become of the godless man and sinner? With difficulty is the adverb molis (related to molos, “toil”), which means “hardly” or “scarcely” (see uses in Acts 14:18; 27:7, 8, 16) and reveals the difficulty with which believers are brought to final salvation through the fires of unjust suffering, divine purging, and God-ordained discipline:
It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (Heb. 12:7–8)
Paul affirmed this necessity in response to his own severe suffering at the hands of the wicked Jews who stoned him at Lystra. Luke gives the account of the suffering and Paul’s response in Acts 14:19–22,
But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city. The next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe. After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
That was only one incident in a long list of unjust pains that the apostle endured, chronicled especially in 2 Corinthians 1:3–11; 4:7–18; 6:4–11; 7:5; 11:23–33, and culminating in 12:7–10, in which Paul reveals that his suffering was to humble and thereby strengthen him:
Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. 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.
Jesus said believers would have tribulation in this world, including being persecuted even to death (John 16:2–3, 33), and that such suffering would come to them because it came to Him (Matt. 10:24–25) to make “the captain of their suffering perfect through sufferings” (Heb. 2:10, kjv; cf. 1 Peter 1:11). It was hard for Jesus to be the Savior because of the immeasurable pain He endured from exposure to this sinful world and His having to be under the curse of God for all the sins of all who would ever believe. If it was with excruciating difficulty that He gave Himself to redeem sinners, and with painful difficulty that the redeemed endure to their final glory, does anyone think the godless man and the sinner, who has lived his life without suffering for righteousness’ sake (because he is unrighteous), will simply die and go out of existence or be given a place in heaven because God is nothing but loving and forgiving? That is a foolish thought. Peter is saying the ungodly’s eternal suffering, compared to the godly’s temporal suffering, is far greater. Paul draws the distinction between the earthly sufferings of the saints and the endless punishment of the lost this way:
[Persecution] is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power. (2 Thess. 1:5–9)
16 Nevertheless, some instances of suffering are undeserved, such as our identification with the name of Christ. In such cases, that person should not “be ashamed, but praise [i.e., glorify] God that you bear that name.” And among the early disciples, it is Peter who knows—agonizingly so—the truth of this fact: there is honor in the name. The painful memories, though lying many years in the past, serve to motivate the Christian elder statesman: do not be ashamed (as I was as a young man), but glorify God in the present context. Believers will need to be reminded that persecution, as Goppelt, 322, has pointed out, is due not so much to particular behaviors per se as to faith and character.
4:16 / While it is obviously a disgrace if a professing believer is guilty of besmirching the name of Christ by getting involved in any sort of civil crime, there is no cause for shame if suffering is due solely on account of being a Christian. The earliest disciples were known as Nazarenes, after the home-town of their Master Jesus (Acts 24:5). The nickname Christian was first popularly applied to his followers at Antioch on the Orontes in Syria (Acts 11:26). That was no doubt due to the name Christ being frequently used by believers when referring to their Master, but it will also reflect the fact that the messiahship of Jesus was recognized by the general public as a prominent factor in the apostolic preaching (“Christ” is, of course, simply the Greek version of the Hebrew term “Messiah”). Whatever the reason for opponents calling them by the name Christian, let believers praise God when they are so labeled.
By the translation that you bear that name, the niv has paraphrased the Greek (which literally is simply “in this name”) and assumes that name refers back to the title Christian earlier in the verse. For readers familiar with the ot, however, name can be a technical term for the presence of God (Deut. 12:11; Ps. 74:7; Isa. 18:7; Jer. 7:10–14 and passim). Peter’s assurance that you can praise God “in this name” may therefore be intended to convey the meaning “the divine presence is evident in your lives, and you can rejoice in relying on the presence of God being with you through whatever suffering you may face on account of your faith.”
4:16. Legitimate suffering for the name of Christ is again mentioned in this verse in direct contrast to the behavior pattern described in the previous verse. Christian appears only three times in the New Testament, but in each case it identifies the true followers of Jesus. Peter connected this name with true and valuable suffering. Some readers were suffering because of their faithful identification with Jesus Christ through their lifestyle choices or their verbal testimony. Faithfulness to Christ will produce suffering and persecution. The reverse also seems to be true: a lack of persecution in a believer’s life may suggest a less-than-faithful lifestyle and testimony.
16. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.
- “As a Christian.” The contrast between the preceding verse and this one is marked by the adversative however. Peter indicates that the suffering which a Christian at times experiences is not because of criminal activities or misdemeanors. When a Christian suffers persecution, he must have a clear conscience, so that he is able to defend himself without shame.
The name Christian occurs three times in the New Testament. During the early years of the fifth decade, believers “were called Christians first at Antioch” (Acts 11:26). They were known as followers of Christ and as the verb called indicates, the name did not originate with the believers but with “the unconverted population of Antioch.” Before that time, Christians described themselves as “disciples” (e.g., Acts 6:1), “believers” (see Acts 4:32), and those “who belonged to the Way” (Acts 9:2).
Some fifteen years after the name Christian was first used in Antioch, Herod Agrippa II asked Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28). The use of this name seems to have evoked ridicule rather than respect. Moreover, its use spread rapidly throughout the Roman Empire. When Peter wrote his epistle, presumably from Rome, the term Christian appears to have been well known among the Gentiles. Peter composed his letter when the persecutions instigated by Nero were at hand and the name Christian was an accusation. Two Roman historiographers, Tacitus and Suetonius, report on Nero’s cruelties toward Christians after the burning of Rome in a.d. 64. Tacitus writes, “Nero substituted as culprits, and punished with the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men … whom the crowd styled Christians.” Suetonius comments that “punishment was inflicted on the Christians.”
Peter exhorts the readers to suffer as Christians and tells them that they ought not to be ashamed of the name by which they are called.
- “Do not be ashamed.” As a wise pastor, Peter knows the heart of man. When a believer meets scorn, ridicule, and contempt because of his faith, shame often prevents him from witnessing for Christ. Accordingly, Peter instructs the reader to overcome shame.
Ashamed of Jesus! that dear Friend
On whom my hopes of heaven depend!
No; when I blush, be this my shame,
That I no more revere His name.
- “Praise God that you bear that name.” The opposite of shame is praise. Shame for Jesus turns a man into a coward, but praise for God makes a man bold. The apostle, who personally had denied Jesus three times in succession (Matt. 26:69–75), now urges his readers to praise God in the face of suffering for Christ (Acts 5:41).
What is the meaning of the term name? It refers either to Christ (as is evident from the broader context—“If you are insulted because of the name of Christ” [v. 14]) or to the believer who bears the name Christian. Because of the significance of the name Christian for the bearer, especially in Peter’s day, many scholars prefer this interpretation. A literal reading of the text is, “But in that name let him glorify God” (NASB). The phrase in that name can mean “in his capacity as a Christian.”
Practical Considerations in 4:16
When the Christian faith permeates society, one of its effects is that the Christian name is a title of respect. At times, politicians seeking votes among their constituents point out that they are church-attending Christians. Many people are of the opinion that if they are known and recognized as a Christian, they improve their status and promote their influence in a Christian community.
But when Christians are a minority group in society, they frequently are the objects of scorn, reproof, attack, and even persecution. They take the brunt of the devil’s fury directed against the followers of Christ. In the early church, the bold confession I am a Christian was often heard on the lips of martyrs. In their suffering they praised God.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2004). 1 Peter (pp. 254–258). Chicago: Moody Publishers.
 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, p. 350). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Hillyer, N. (2011). 1 and 2 Peter, Jude (p. 132). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Walls, D., & Anders, M. (1999). I & II Peter, I, II & III John, Jude (Vol. 11, p. 76). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude (Vol. 16, pp. 178–179). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.