“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. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (I Peter 4:12-13).
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).
Some commentators believe that Peter wrote this letter shortly before, or after, the burning of Rome by the Emperor Nero in A.D. 64. Nero’s act of blaming Christians for a fire he was responsible for marked the beginning of 200 years of Christian persecution by Rome.
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 presents on one’s birthday, but it should not be our response when difficulties occur in our walk with Christ.
Second, we are to rejoice in our trials. Let me repeat that; we are to rejoice in our trials. The word rejoice (χαίρω; chairo) means to be glad in your soul. We are to rejoice and be glad in how we think about our trials, along with how we feel about them and the decision to rejoice while in the midst of them. This is also a commandment which we are to continually obey.
This is the same paradox Peter shared in I Peter 1:6-7: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Peter says we can rejoice for a particular reason while we are in a season of trials. Our attitude of rejoicing stems from the fact that we share in Christ sufferings. Let’s not romanticize this. The word suffering (πάθημα; pathema) means to be in pain. Jesus used this word when He was speaking to His disciples during the Passover meal the night before He was crucified. He was describing His death on the cross. We may experience real pain for following Jesus Christ and being committed to biblical truth. Isn’t it awesome to consider that we may be persecuted for our faithful identification with Jesus? That’s something to seriously consider when facing persecution.
But Peter is not yet done. He continues by saying that there is another reason for rejoicing. That will occur when Jesus Christ returns in His glory. The word revelation (ἀποκάλυψις; apokalypsis) means to disclose and to make fully known. Glory (δόξα; doxa) means splendor and brightness. We are to rejoice now in our trials because soon and very soon we will rejoice in the revelation of Jesus’ glory when He returns. We can therefore be triumphant in persecution.
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. Are you rejoicing in your trials? Again, I think most of us don’t in spite of the commandment in I Peter 4:13. We become anxious, fearful and despondent when tough times come.
Make it a priority of your prayers that you will ask God to help you obey the commandments found in this text from I Peter. It may not be easy at first to not be taken by surprise or to rejoice 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!