Commentary on 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
In 1 Peter 4-5, the apostle continues to care for the souls of the early church in the midst of the fiery trials of faithfulness in a faithless world. When we, like the early Christians, come face to face with suffering, it can cause us to weaken in our trust of God, to feel abandoned by God, or at the very least, to reckon that we are the victims of God’s arbitrary allowance of suffering. Peter’s pastoral encouragement here reminds us: the afflicted church is not the abandoned church; the afflicted church is the authentic church. It is the afflicted church that is formed in the way of Christ’s sufferings so that we might be transformed by Christ’s subsequent glories (1 Peter 1:11).
The afflicted church, it is worth noting, is instructed to be sober minded, watchful, and to stand firm in the faith, in resistance—not merely to human agents—but to our “adversary the devil” who prowls around like a lion waiting to devour us (5:8-9). The primary source of suffering is often satanic. It is striking, therefore, that Peter’s method for combatting the devil is, in part, accomplished by maintaining an immovable fidelity to sound doctrine. Here, “your faith” (New Revised Standard Version) is better translated “the faith” (New International Version) because there is no immediate second person pronoun “your” modifying “faith” in the Greek text. Peter’s teaching here is similar to what we find in Ephesians 4 and 6. There the “deceitful schemes” (Greek methodeia) that toss the children of God around to and fro through human cunningness “by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14) are the same “schemes” that require believers to put on “the whole armor of God” so that we might be able to “stand against” the “schemes” or “methods” of the devil.
1 Peter 1:6-7 reveals that the “various trials” that we undergo as Christians are not futile; they are formative. Through resilience in the midst of our many struggles, our faith is tested precisely so that it might persevere and reach its intended goal, namely, “praise and glory and honor” when Christ returns. The formative power of resilient virtue during seasons of suffering was not an idea that originated with Christians like Peter and Paul (see also Romans 5:1-8). Virtue ethics, the idea that acting in righteous ways builds habits and dispositions that result in the formation of virtuous character was an ethical principle that was ubiquitous amongst the ancient Greco-Roman moral philosophers.
Yet, Peter offers something more here than a simply Christianized version of Aristotle. The uniqueness of Peter’s claim can be observed in 1 Peter 5:10-11. There we observe that the telos of resilient Christian suffering is not merely temporal ethical character or, as Aristotle proposed, “happiness” (Greek eudaemonia). No, for Peter, the end result of Christian resilience is glory. Glory! It is such a glorious word, isn’t it? But in our willingness to glory in the gloriousness of the word glory, we are often so familiar with the term that we never stop to ask if we can define it. We’re on a train bound for glory, we’re flying away to glory, but what is glory, and what is its larger significance in 1 Peter?
In the Old Testament God’s glory (Greek doxa; Hebrew ḵāḇôḏ) is often associated with the splendor and majesty of God’s visible presence manifested to his people. In Exodus 16:10 “the glory of the LORD” appeared to the people of Israel in a cloud (see also Exodus 24:16; Leviticus 9:3; Numbers 6:19; Isaiah 40:5). Later, Moses prays to God: “Please show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18). In the New Testament, when the Son of Man returns, he will come “in clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13:26). Believers “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). And, similar to 1 Peter, the apostle Paul teaches that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). As we behold “the glory of the Lord” with an unveiled face, we are “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). This glory is none other than “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
Other times, however, when the New Testament talks about “glory” it is referring to “honor,” “respect,” or “reputation.” The word doxa, for example, can refer to the head-coverings of a woman as “her glory” (1 Corinthians 11:15). In Philippians 1:11, our righteous acts are said to bring “glory and praise” to God. Here “glory,” refers to “reverence” and “honor” that is directed toward God as a result of the morally virtuous behavior of human beings.
Glory is operative in 1 Peter as both the visible manifestation of God’s majestic nature and “honor/respect.” It is crucial to a contextually precise interpretation of this letter that we recognize the function of “glory” as “honor” in the midst of Christian suffering and persecution. In the ancient world, the concept of shame was a significant ethical motivator. The opportunities and experiences afforded to an individual, and by extension to their entire family, were directly related to the reputation of the family name. Bringing shame on a family was not just a matter of causing damage to an individual’s personal feelings, but of disrupting their very livelihood. There was a direct link between shame and social ostracization.
When we think of glory only as the totality of our spiritual state in the presence of God, we miss the paradox presented by Peter: suffering is supposed to lead to shame, but in Christ Jesus suffering will result in everlasting glory, honor, and respect. The abiding antidote to suffering in the present is the defeat of suffering’s shame in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Far from being cast off due to a shameful reputation, God will himself “restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish” us by nothing less than his own “power” (1 Peter 5:10) and “glory” (4:11).
May 21, 2023