Peter writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12, ESV). It would be a mistake to look at this verse through the lens of later state persecutions in the Roman Empire. Our minds shouldn’t conjure up the images of Christians being thrown to the lions or burned as torches in Nero’s garden. The “fiery trial” likely refers to 1:7 and the refiner’s fire that purifies gold.
When we look at the letter in detail, Peter is addressing the problem of Christians facing slander.
- when they speak against you as evildoers, 2:12
- by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people, 2:15
- Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless… 3:9
- when you are slandered, 3:16
- they malign you, 4:4
- If you are insulted for the name of Christ, 4:14
The situation is not so much physical persecution as mental — facing slander. Failure to see this may cause us to minimize the problem of slander while the New Testament takes it very seriously.
What happens when the Christian is slandered for being a Christian? The group slanders to get the Christian to conform to the group’s standards or in other words, the standards of the world. They are attempting to get the Christian to give up his or her faith or so compromise the faith that it no longer offends the prevailing culture. In the circumstances of slander, a Christian will possibly re-evaluate commitment to Christ. The Christian may stand firm, lash back with slander, or stop the slander by conforming to the group.
What lessons do we learn from 1 Peter to help us face slander? First, Peter emphasizes the value of salvation. When we begin to ponder whether living as a Christian is worth it, Peter reminds us of what God has done for us (1 Peter 1:3-12). Salvation is precious.
Second, Peter warns us that pressures will come. We shouldn’t be surprised by it. He forewarns us, so that we are better able to hand it. It is a mistake to think that being a Christian will always be easy.
Finally, Peter cautions us not to retaliate in kind. We will win over the slander, not with slander, but with a quality of life that demonstrates Christ (1 Peter 3:8-4:19).