“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (I Peter 4:12).
For the fourth time in his letter Peter speaks to Christians about the reality of trials in their lives specifically because of their testimony for Jesus Christ. Peter has acknowledged that trials may grieve the believer (I Peter 1:7), but he has also encouraged the faithful to look at the example of Jesus Christ and how He handled the trials and persecutions He encountered (I Peter 2:18-25; 3:13-17).
Peter tenderly addresses his readers as beloved (ἀγαπητός; agapetos) from the root word agape meaning the object of one’s affection or the one who is prized and dearly and self-sacrificially loved. We do not know if Peter was personally acquainted with these to whom he wrote, but it didn’t matter. He loved them just the same as if it was Jesus Christ speaking to them; and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that’s exactly who was speaking to them then, and to us today.
Peter says that there are four attitudes believers must have when experiencing trials. First, Christians should not be surprised when trials come into their lives. The phrase “do not be surprised (μή ξενίζω; me xenizo) is a commandment. We are never to be taken by surprise when trials come, unlike a person who answers the door and is surprised by a friend who has come to visit. The word surprise means to experience a sudden feeling of unexpected wonder. This is not a problem when opening gifts on Christmas Day, but it should not be our response when difficulties occur in our walk with Christ.
Jesus said in John 16:33 that believers would experience trouble in this world. However, He also told His disciples to be encouraged because He had already overcome the world. Our view of trials says less about how we view our circumstances and ourselves, but more about how we view God. If we acknowledge and believe the biblical truth that God is sovereign, then we must view trials as being within the sovereign plan and purpose of Almighty God in our lives.
Make no mistake. Peter says trials (πειρασμός; peiriasmos) and testing’s will come, and that they will be fiery (πύρωσις; pyrosis) painful and intense. This cuts against the grain of the health/wealth peddled message preached by so many pastors in America today. Yet, anyone with half a brain can see that such a popular soft-soap message flies in the face of hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and flooding which many in the United States, and the world, have encountered. What Peter is writing in I Peter 4:12 isn’t popular, but it is truth.
Inherent in the word “trials” is that they are times of testing and examination. Peter implicitly, and explicitly, explains that this is a fact believers must accept because trials are something they will experience. Our trials show God, and ourselves, how mature, or immature, we are in our faith.
There are some who say that when trials come, it is because of sin. Not necessarily. Peter says that trials should be not viewed as something strange were happening in our lives. The word happening means to occur by chance or fate. Trials are to be understood as the normal and expected destiny for each Christian.
How do you view your trials? Are you surprised by suffering? Honestly, I think most of us are, in spite of the commandment in I Peter 4:12 to not be shocked and dismayed. Make it a priority of your prayers that you will ask God to help you obey the commandment found in this text from I Peter. It may not be easy at first to not be taken by surprise when trials eventually come, but continue to ask, seek and knock (Luke 11:5-13) for God’s strength to be faithful to His Word. Do so boldly and shamelessly. God will answer your persistent prayer.
Soli deo Gloria!