I Peter 4:7–5:14. The Causes and Consequences of Persecution.
Key Notes: Persecution should not surprise. Effect of persecution on the early church. The temptations of persecution.
Previously, Peter advised us about persecution in several ways.
•3:21–25 We are to walk in Christ's steps in our suffering.
•3:8–12 We are not to fight back, but to bless.
•3:13–17 We should be prepared to make a defense.
•4:1–11 We are to be sober and abstinent.
•4:12- We are to take into account the causes of persecution and its rewards.
4:12–14 Suffering persecution should not come as a surprise.
Human beings are capable of almost anything, from the most magnanimous to the most satanic. Although people at the scene of some multiple murder are reported in the newspaper as being shocked, we know that "the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked". (Jer.17:9)
4:15–16 But Christians must not take the law into their own hands as murderers or thieves or those who stir up the pagans against the Christians as some did in the early Church.
4:17 Judgment begins at the house of God and ends with the pagans.
•"When the Lord has finished all His work on Mt. Zion and on Jerusalem, He will punish the arrogant boasting of the King of Assyria...." (Isa.10:12)
•"I begin to work evil at the city which is called by my Name, and shall you go unpunished? ...I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth, says the Lord of Hosts." (Jer.25:29)
•"Pass though the city after him and smite...but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary." (Ezek.9:5–6)
4:19 Those who suffer do so according to God's will.
5:1–6 Many pastors are unsure in persecution whether they should stay or run. (Generals must live to fight another day.) Peter instructs leaders to tend the flock without compulsion, reward or love of power. The younger should be subject to them. Humility is God's will and He exalts us in due time.
5:8–11 Satan is involved in the experience of believers' suffering and he must be resisted. Our contest is not with flesh and blood, but principalities and powers. Eph.6:12
5:12–14 Silvanus (Silas) wrote the letter. "She at Babylon" may be Peter's wife, or the Church at Rome.
What is the point of persecution?
"To prove you" (4:12)
"...the genuineness of your faith more precious than gold which is perishable is tested by fire." (1:7)
What powers are involved in persecution?
God is the Judge. "For the time has come for judgment to begin at the House of God...." (4:17).
Eusebius described the cleansing effect of persecution on the prosperous, quarrelsome, indulgent church in his generation, about 250AD.
•It reset the Church's priorities.
•It purged the church of nominal attenders.
•It raised up witnesses with heroic faith.
•It proved the power of the Gospel against the most vicious acts that the Roman Empire could do.
•It helped leaders resist heresies like Arianism as they had resisted Roman oppression.
•It confirmed God's promises to his people of overcoming the world.
Satan is the adversary of souls, and will do all in his power to destroy the Church. "Resist him...knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world." (5:9). The context of Satan going about as a roaring lion is the persecution of the Church.
There are ill effects of persecution beside pain and loss.
•Some fail the test and fall into apostasy.
•Others deny their faith and then are in spiritual agony as they attempt to be reinstated. Church conflict later arose over whether defectors should be taken back.
•Christians failed to learn that they were not to become the persecutors when they came into power. (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE), Persecution, p.773–4).
If severe persecution fell upon Christians in America, what would the temptations be? How would Peter answer?
•Why me, why us? We don't deserve this. We did nothing wrong.
"Don't be surprised...." (4:12)
•I'll get them for this, killing my children, raping my sister.
"Do not return evil for evil." (3:9) [The Armenians have never forgiven the Turks for their wanton attacks.]
•I'm going back to my old friends--sex, drugs and booze.
"Let the time that is past suffice for doing what the Gentiles like to do...." (4:3)
•I quit. All religions are the same, anyway.
"You were ransomed by the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without spot or blemish, destined before the foundation of the world...for your sake." (1:18)
•Where is God?
"Without having seen Him, you love Him...and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy." (1:8) "Now you are God's people...you have received mercy." (2:10)
•God is not good.
"Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous , that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh.... (3:18)
•God is too weak to protect us.
"Let those who suffer according to God's will..." (4:19)
What should be our stance now?
"Have no fear of them, nor be troubled. In your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. "Always be prepared to give a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you...." (3:14–15).
The Christians won over the Roman Empire because they insisted on the truth. The Emperor was not a god, but a man, and not worthy of worship. "Caesar is Lord" was opposed by "Jesus is Lord." A tiny minority won the day.
"And they have conquered him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony for they loved not their lives even unto death." (Rev.12:11)