You would think that the display of God's kindness through the faithful service of His people (1 Peter 4:7-11) would stimulate gratitude and praise to God. Certainly, that is His intention (Matthew 5:16). But Satan, manipulating people to oppose God's plan, has a totally different objective. Because godly Christians are the best advertisement for Jesus the Saviour, the devil wants to neutralise their impact. Persecution of many kinds, and personal harassment, are the usual tactics to stop Christians being open about Jesus.
Peter was writing to believers who lived in dangerous days, and the hazard would only get worse. The reference to ‘fiery ordeal’ may have pointed forwards to Emperor Nero’s obsession with eliminating Christians, even rolling them in pitch and setting fire to them at his imperial garden parties. The Roman historian, Tacitus, wrote about the persecution of Christians: “Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.”
Peter says that persecuted believers should not think that they had displeased God, or that God had abandoned them. Suffering comes to all true believers at some stage in their lives (2 Timothy 3:12). Jesus said that those who followed Him would suffer (John 15:18-20). Certainly, it is not pleasant, but it is not abnormal and should be expected. When it comes (and of course we need to distinguish trouble for the sake of Christ from distress resulting from our own sins, see 1 Peter 4:15), we should see it as a normal part of being identified with the Jesus who suffered at the hands of sinners. Therefore, we must not lose heart (Hebrews 12:3).
If we do not recognise the attacks against us as really being against the Body of Jesus, of which we are a part, we will become discouraged. Then we will be tempted to stop using the spiritual gifts we have been given. Of course, our persecutors will not understand that they are being stirred to wickedness by the Wicked One. They will just be obsessed by a desire to get at us; yet they will not be satisfied even if we cower before them. So Peter's instruction is helpful. When people turn against us because they refuse to turn to Jesus, remember it is normal. It is simply because we remind them of Jesus. So don't stop serving the Lord even when it gets tough.
© Dr Paul Adams