Peter’s discussion of suffering, which he has woven throughout 1 Peter, comes to a climax in this section. The thread of conduct that allows us to stand firm in God’s grace (1 Peter 5:12) and the thread that suffering does not mean you are outside of God’s grace (1 Peter 5:12) are tied together in these few verses (read about the importance of 1 Peter 5:12 here).
Peter begins in verse 12 by telling them not to be surprised by suffering. He can say this plainly now because he has already established that they were called “to do good in suffer, ” that Jesus is our example in how we handle suffering, and that their Christian conduct leads to suffering (1 Peter 2:21 and 4:4). Therefore, Peter has made it clear that the Christian life will include suffering. Thus Christians should not be surprised when they face it.
So if we are not to be surprised by suffering, then what should our reaction to suffering be? Peter responds that the reaction should be that we rejoice. This is the counter-intuitive point he has already made in chapter 1. The point is suffering brings joy.
The reason we rejoice is because if we share in Christ’s suffering now, then we will also share in His glory later. This is why suffering is called a blessing in verse 14, because suffering shows that the Spirit of glory and God is upon us. If we are suffering as Christians, then it is clear testimony that we are God’s people and will participate in God’s future glory. Suffering does not mean that God is against us, nor does a lack of suffering mean that God is for us. Rather suffering as a Christian means that God’s Spirit rests on us and that we will participate in the glory to come.
Ashamed and Unashamed Suffering
Peter makes a distinction between suffering as a Christian and suffering for one’s own sin. I have witnessed people in prison, who have committed crimes, thank God for their suffering, as if that suffering was God honoring. Peter makes the point that if you suffer for your own sin, then it is not God honoring suffering, rather it is shameful. Suffering as a Christian brings no shame though (4:15, 16).
The Two Judgments
Peter makes an argument in verses 17 and 18 that is from the lesser to the greater. The argument is that since Christians do not avoid suffering in this world, then we should expect a worse kind of judgment for the ungodly and sinners who do not obey the gospel.
My conviction in that the phrase “if the righteous is scarcely saved” is not referring to salvation of ones soul, but rather salvation from suffering. The point Peter is making is that if Christians are not spared suffering by God, then God will not spare a greater suffering to befall those who do not follow Christ. This seems to be an allusion to hell.
What then do we do while we are suffering? We know it will happen. We know it should only come as a result of our righteousness and not our sinfulness. So what do we do when we face it? Peter says we entrust our souls to God and do good.
This has been the basic admonition of 1 Peter. When you sufferbe like Jesus and the Psalmist (Psalm 31:5 cf. Luke 23:46) and put your life squarely and God’s hand and go on doing the good that God to which God has called you!