The Promise Of Exceeding Joy

adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 14 Sep 2012


12 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: 13 But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:12-13).

The first epistle of Peter was probably written around AD 64 or 65. In AD 64, the wicked Roman Nero began to persecute Christians. Many Christians suffered and died in those terrible days. Nero was wicked enough to murder his own mother. He had no qualms about torturing Christians whom he used as a scapegoat to blame for the great fire in Rome. Most Romans believed that He was the one who ordered the fire.

Peter was writing to encourage the Christians,—both Jews and Gentiles,—scattered throughout five Roman provinces of Asia Minor (1 Pet 1:1). Most of these early believers were being gripped by fear and apprehension as news of persecution elsewhere began to reach their ears and affect their lives. Indeed, some of them might even have begun to face sorrow and hardship as Nero’s madness began to harass churches and believers in the land.

Peter writes to lift up their spirit and to advise them how they should conduct themselves in those difficult days. If you read through this letter, you will notice how many times Peter urges to his readers to rejoice in the midst of their adversity (e.g. 1 Pet 1:6-8).

In this study, the Lord helping us, we want to consider one of these statements. I am referring to those beautiful words in chapter 4, verses 12-13—

12 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: 13 But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.

Contained in these words is a wonderful promise. It is not merely a promise of deliverance, but a promise of exceeding joy or joy unspeakable.

Peter says at least three things in these words. First, he reminds us that we should not be surprised to suffer as Christians. Secondly, we should rejoice when given the opportunity to suffer for Christ. And thirdly, when Christ is revealed we shall be glad with exceeding joy.

1. Think it not Strange

Peter says:

12 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you

In other words, do not be surprised if a fiery trial comes upon you. What kind of trial is Peter thinking about? Well, the context of the letter makes it very clear that Peter is thinking of persecution.

In James chapter 1, the trials that are referred to, include any kind of adversities. Here, Peter is specific. He is speaking about being persecuted and suffering for Christ. He tells us specifically that he is not talking about suffering on account of sin or foolishness (v. 15). Rather he is referring to being reproached for the name of Christ (v. 14) or suffering as a Christian (v. 16).

But is Peter’s statement applicable only to the first century Christians facing the prospect of Nerodian Persecution, or is it applicable to all Christians?

It appears from the Greek that Peter is alluding to use of fire in torture by Nero. The Greek word for “fiery trial” literally means “a burning” (purôsis). Nero was known to have covered Christians with tar, impaled them on stakes and used them as living torches. So it seems that Peter is alluding specifically to the Nerodian persecution.

But does the Holy Spirit intent the words of Peter to be directly applicable to us today? There is a view that they are not, for it is thought that persecution is really an aberration rather than a norm for believers living under the New Covenant. If that is the case, then believers should not expect persecution, and therefore, would understandably be surprised if it befalls them.

However, it appears to me that Peter’s advice is timeless for he seems to be alluding to the words of the Lord Jesus in His sermon on the Mount. I believe this sermon has timeless application. In this sermon, our Lord says in the conclusion of the beatitudes—

10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Mt 5:10-12).

I believe the Lord includes the experience of persecution in the beatitude because Christians who are actively walking in the way of the Lord will suffer some degree of persecution.

“Sunday Christians” will face no opposition and no persecution. But those who seek to live an authentic Christian life as witnesses for the Lord will, no doubt, begin to experience one degree or another of persecution. Just ask our young people who have gone door-to-door tracting how many people received them warmly and how many rejected them rudely, and you will get an idea.

The same is true in the office, in school or in the army. If you desire peace, do not rock the boat. Do not refuse to do what everyone does, and you will be fine. Seek to do what is right for Christ sake, and suddenly you will find yourself alienated. Try refusing to perform at your company’s Christmas party when requested to do so because you are a Christian, and you can be sure that you will be labelled with bigotry. Try admonishing your colleague for using swear words or for using the name of God in vain, and while you may get a courteous reply, you can be sure that you would also have won some unflattering titles in office chatter.

Well-meaning brothers and sisters will tell you that you ask for it by these unsocial behaviour. But the alternative is to be salt that has lost it saltiness and light hidden under the bushel.

Therefore, think it not strange if you have to suffer mild persecution or even fiery trials should you seek to be obedient to Christ and to stand up for Christ in everything. And do not be surprised if persecution intensify in this land as it has in many places around the world—whether in the West or in the Middle East or in the East. Think it not strange if you or your children are called to suffer for Christ.

But secondly,…

2. Rejoice as Partakers of
Christ’s Suffering

13 But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings…

To be persecuted for the Gospel sake is to be “partakers of Christ’s sufferings.” But what does it mean to be a partaker of Christ’s suffering?

The word translated “partakers of” is the word koinôneô, which speaks of fellowship and sharing. To partake of something with someone is to share in the same with the person. When you share something personal with someone, you identify yourself with the person. To partake of the suffering of Christ is to identify with him, and to be counted as one who represents him.

The atoning sacrifice of Christ was completed at the Cross, but God has appointed that until the last day, there shall be more suffering for those who are redeemed by the blood of Christ. Paul speaks of these suffering as “that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ” (Col 1:24). And he tells the Philippians: “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Phil 1:29).

The Lord Jesus tells us that we are blessed if we are persecuted for His sake, and He urges us to “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad” (Mt 5:12). Peter is telling us the same thing. “But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings” he says.

Notice how Peter is calling upon us to rejoice? James tells us to “Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations” (Jas 1:2). Peter is telling us to rejoice particularly when we have to suffer persecution.

What is it to rejoice? To rejoice (Gk. chairô) is to be glad. It is almost like saying “be happy” except that calling a person to “be happy” is to tell the person to smile and to ignore whatever is happening around. To rejoice is different. It is to be motivated by good reasons which stir up a positive feeling in the heart.

To rejoice is an act of the will based on sound reasoning. Peter desires us for to exercise our will in a positive, optimistic way when facing persecution for Christ’s sake.

The natural man recoils at pain—whatever kind of pain it may be, whether physical or emotional. The emotion is like a wild horse, it will rear itself and run helter-skelter when it encounters pain. Peter is telling us to reign the horse, calm it down and gallop forward conquering and to conquer.

To do this involves self-control, discipline and right thinking. We are made in the image of God. We are spiritual and rational beings redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. We must not allow ourselves to function merely according to natural impulses. We must rather function according to a sound mind and a renewed heart.

Think for a moment how your life has been? Has it been a roller coaster of emotional ups and downs. Is it dictated by external circumstances in your life? Seek the Lord’s help to reign in your emotions, rejoice in all circumstances.

Especially, seek to rejoice if you are called to suffer for Christ. For God has given you an exceptional reason to rejoice. Not only are you promised that all things will work together for good to them that love God; we are also assured of exceeding joy in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, it would appear that the more profound our suffering for Christ today is, the more intense will our joy be in that day.

This is the promise of the text; for we are promised here that such as are called to suffer for Christ are also given a …

3. Hope of Exceeding Joy

13 But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.

When would the glory of Christ be revealed? It will be revealed to us personally and privately when we go to Him at death. It will be revealed to the world publicly at the Resurrection and Judgement on the Last Day when He comes again in His glory.

On the day that we depart to be with the Lord, we shall experience great joy. But the fullness of joy, even exceeding joy will have to wait for that great and glorious day.

Paul reminds us that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” in that day (Rom 8:18).

In that day, we shall be openly acknowledged, vindicated and rewarded for all that we have to endure in this life for Christ’s sake.

That day, dear child of God, is a day when all wrongs will be righted. All tears will be wipe away; all injustice corrected; all toil rewarded by grace; all desires fulfilled.

Therefore, let us bear patiently with every trial, especially trials due to persecution for the sake of Christ. Are you suffering because you seek to be obedient to the Lord? Do not allow your emotions to drag you down. Rejoice in the Lord. “Look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” (Lk 21:28).

Christ our Lord has promised you a reward. It is no ordinary reward. It is a reward for serving the King of kings, and Lord of lords. And God is perfectly just. He “is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Heb 6:10).

If in the presence of the LORD there is fulness of joy and pleasures for evermore for every child of God (Ps 16:11), then how much more it will be so for the children of God who are called to suffer for the LORD along the way to heaven.

Conclusion

We may not,—at present,—be called to suffer as intensely as the Christians in the first century during the reign of Nero. But I am sure, if you are denying yourself and taking up the Cross daily to follow Christ, you can expect suffering. This is why a cross is called a cross!

Indeed, the more you would deny yourself and take up the cross, the more you suffer. The saltier you are and the brighter you are in the world, the more likely you are to suffer persecution.

But learn to take everything in stride. Humble yourself under God’s mighty hand and cast your cares upon Him because He cares for you. Most of all, seek the Lord’s grace to rejoice today even as you anticipate everlasting and exceeding joy. May the joy of the LORD be your strength as you seek to live an authentic Christian life! Amen. W