One challenge in applying Scripture is that we live far removed from the original audience. We have noted repeatedly in 1 Peter that our suffering as South African Christians, in many ways, does not hold a candle to the suffering of Peter’s readers. The COVID-19 pandemic has, in a strange way, brought this reality into sharp relief.
Christians around the world, facing the consequences of violating health mandates, have rejoiced that they have suffered for Christ. Sadly, we cheapen the suffering of early and contemporary Christians when we pretend that our suffering is directly analogous to theirs. This temptation stands before us as we come to 1 Peter 4:12–19.
Peter writes of “the fiery trial” that his readers faced. South African Christians do not live in anticipation of an imminent “fiery trial” for their faith. While we may be concerned about certain legislations that have been proposed in recent times, we still move about freely without fear of widespread persecution for our faith.
Nevertheless, faithful Christians are not so removed from this text as to make it entirely meaningless. While we don’t typically fear imprisonment or physical assault because of our faith, Peter alludes to those who “are insulted for the name of Christ.” The word translated “insulted” carries the idea of shame and a loss of status or privilege. Many ancient societies were honour-shame cultures in which shame (or insult) carried deep, social implications. To experience shame in those cultures was more than a sense of mild embarrassment. Shame invited a loss of social status, which was frequently attended by economic and relational consequences.
South African Christians sometimes face similar shame, even if it is not to the same degree. Christians have been known to lose status for no other reason than their stand for biblical principles. Some have lost out on promotion. Others have suffered loss of employment. Others have missed out on leadership positions or lost friends because they would not compromise their Christian convictions. Others have faced sharp insult from unbelieving colleagues because of their commitment to righteousness. In a society that is quickly losing any sense of biblical mooring, we should not expect such insult to improve.
So how do we approach being “insulted for the name of Christ” with hope? Peter offers some helpful insight.
First, don’t be surprised when you are insulted for the name of Christ (v. 12). It is hardly “strange” for a world opposed to the gospel to oppose those who are loyal to the gospel. God’s people have always been opposed for righteousness and we should not think we will be any different.
Second, realise the privilege of being insulted for the name of Christ (v. 13). Suffering shame from an unbelieving world places us in a position of honour before God. Christ, having suffered himself, sympathises with our suffering, and we should “rejoice” when we suffer as he suffered.
Third, as you are insulted for the name of Christ, be consciously thankful that God has given you his Spirit to enable your perseverance in suffering (v. 14). The “Spirit of glory” enables you to persevere in doing good and thereby bringing glory to God.
Fourth, as you are insulted for the name of Christ, examine your heart and life to ensure that there is no just cause for the insult (v. 15). Peter has exhorted since 2:10 regarding honourable behaviour before unbelievers. We must be sure that our suffering is not for dishonourable, but for honourable, behaviour.
Fifth, as you are insulted for the name of Christ, remember the great privilege you have of being counted among his followers (v. 16). Insult is a small price to pay for the privilege of being known as a Christian.
Sixth, as you are insulted for the name of Christ, remember that all things will be made right at the final judgement (vv. 17–18). There is no need to defend ourselves to the bitter end. Every bit of suffering for the name of Christ will be vindicated at the final day.
Seventh, as you are insulted for the name of Christ, continue to do good (v. 19). Obedience is not a virtue only when things are going well. In suffering, temptation quickly surfaces to neglect the righteousness that has invited suffering, but Peter exhorts his readers, as Christ did, to continue “doing good” while “entrust[ing] their souls to a faithful Creator.”
As you meditate this morning on 1 Peter 4:12–19, and consider it in light of the insults that you face for the name of Christ, bear these principles in mind and continue pursuing righteousness as you entrust your soul to your faithful Creator.