"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you" (1 Peter 4:12)The Greek uses a very interesting word for "surprised" and "strange thing", they share the same root that means to host or to be a guest in another's home. The idea here is that, if we wake up one day and find some stranger living in our home, we should not be too surprised that we have been chosen to be their host. We all go through periods in our life where less than pleasant times come into our lives and, like an unwanted guest, take residence with us for longer than we would wish. All of us have known times when suffering has become our new house guest. When this happens, Peter warns us not to be surprised, but simply to face it head on like we would anything else in our lives.
Some people believe that good things happen to good people and bad things to bad people, yet Peter reminds us that, from time to time, even bad things happen to good people. Some people use happiness and blessing as a measure of spiritual maturity, thus implying suffering and sadness as a measure if spiritual immaturity, but the truth is that even spiritual giants, from time to time, go through difficult times that bring suffering and sadness. Even Paul said, "For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life." (2 Corinthians 1:8) and certainly no one would accuse Paul of being spiritually immature. Difficult times are part and parcel with our Christian life and we should not be quickly shaken when they come.
Peter also reminds us of the reason for our sufferings and trials. He calls them "fiery trials" sent to "try" us. The idea is to be placed in a smelting furnace to prove the quality and purity of our metal; that metal being our faith. Nothing we go through is without purpose or reason. God would not allow us to be harmed or suffer unless there was something precious to be gain through the experience. We must recall that Peter has already taught us that such trials bring about the "proof of your faith" and that our faith is "more precious than gold." (1 Peter 1:7)
"but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation." (1 Peter 4:13)
Some translators translate this verse as not referring to the degree to which we suffer, implying that some suffer more and some less, but simply reminding us that, when we suffer as Christians, we are sharing in Christ's sufferings. We should be able to take great courage from this fact, realizing that the suffering we now endure, Christ has already endured and, in enduring, He has also overcome and, in His overcoming, we too can be overcomers. In the end, those who have shared in His sufferings will also share in His glory. This is our hope that, as Paul put it, these "momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison." (2 Corinthians 4:17)
"If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you." (1 Peter 4:14)
Sometimes, when we suffer, we cry out "why oh God why?" but perhaps we should cry out "thank you God for counting me worthy to suffer!" If we were just like everyone else in the world then we would not be legitimate sons of the Father and there would be no reason for the Father to train and discipline us. The writer of Hebrews says, "But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons." (Hebrews 12:8) Also, if we are not sons, then there is no reason for the world to hate us or for our enemy, the devil, to try and tempt us away from our faith. Jesus Himself taught us, "If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you." (John 15:19) So, in a way, our fiery ordeals prove to confirm our sonship with the Father and our new life in Christ. We should rejoice that we have been counted worthy to share in such suffering and disciple of which all true sons and daughters are partakers.
"Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name." (1 Peter 4:15-16)
Finally, Peter reminds us that, what he has been talking about up until this point, assumes that we are suffering for what is right not what is wrong; that we are suffering for our faith and not for our sins. If we are suffering for our sins then we should "wake up" and repent and amend our ways, but if we are suffering for Christ sake, then we should glorify God who has made us worthy of sharing in His Son's sufferings. These are the sufferings that change lives and purifies faith.