The fiery ordeal
Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you, as if something unusual were happening to you. 1 Peter 4:12 CSB
During the course of the first century, Jews who had put their faith in Jesus Christ withstood the rough edge of persecution from their countrymen. “For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, since you have also suffered the same things from people of your own country, just as they did from the Jews” (1 Thessalonians 2:14). But for Gentile Christians who have not endured persecution, for them persecution for the sake of Christ was a trying experience. This is why Peter addresses this matter and provides an encouraging word to them as if he figuratively stands next to the Christians who are experiencing persecution. He tenderly addresses them, “dear friends,” which in the original means “beloved.” By using this term, Peter expresses his personal love and interest in the readers of his epistle. He tells them “Don’t be surprised” when they endure persecution for Jesus warns them that the unbelieving world hates His followers. “‘If the world hates you, understand that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you’” (John 15:18–20). Then, Peter indicates with the expression, “fiery ordeal” referring to the trials that Christians will experience, not so much to convey the figurative connotation to his readers of the circumstances but to emphasize the purpose of these trials. As alluded to before, Peter once again intimates that as gold is refined by fire so the believer’s faith is tested through suffering. “You suffer grief in various trials so that the proven character of your faith—more valuable than gold which, though perishable, is refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6–7). God wants to test the genuineness of the Christian’s faith, for faith in God is “more valuable than gold” (1:7). The believer, then, should be fully aware of God’s purpose in his life and not be surprised. Therefore, Christian should not question God’s providence when unexpected suffering strikes him. He should not blame God for failing to intervene in his behalf. Certainly, God is in control of every situation and has the power to shield a Christian from impending suffering. But God works out His own purposes to strengthen the believer’s faith through suffering. Christians must understand that God wants to separate true faith from pretense and uses the instrument of suffering to accomplish His purpose. Christians should apply Jesus’ words to themselves: “You are blessed when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5:11–12a).
Isaac De Guzman