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Today's Study

1 Peter 4:14: The Spirit of Glory and of God?

No one likes being insulted. It is certainly not the time in life when a person usually experiences either God or glory, yet 1 Peter seems to associate the two. In 1 Peter 4:12-18, Peter encourages his readers to be faithful under persecution and not to think of it as something foreign to their Christian experience. In the middle of that section is 1 Peter 4:14. It seems strange because it makes us wonder if the Spirit "of glory" in any way differs from the Spirit "of God." Also, why should the Spirit rest on people just because they are insulted?

This phrase in 1 Peter is unusual. In fact, it is so grammatically difficult that some of the scribes tried to "clean it up" by making various "corrections" to the text. Yet the context is clear, and it is this context that enables us to understand what Peter is getting at.

Immediately before this verse the author has called the sufferings that these Christians are experiencing a participation in the sufferings of Christ (1 Pet 4:13). They have identified with Jesus and are experiencing sufferings (such as persecution) on earth parallel to those he received. But this participation in his sufferings will lead to participation in his glory. Suffering is not virtuous in itself, but when it is endured because of one's faithfulness to Christ it is the path to glory.

Now Peter makes the nature of some of those sufferings clear; they are being "insulted because of the name of Christ." These Christians claim to be serving Christ, and their neighbors are making fun of them or perhaps slandering them (with all types of rumors about what Christians really did in their services). That enduring such rejection brings a blessing is something Jesus made clear when he said, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me" (Mt 5:11; compare Lk 6:22). The world around them is rejecting them, but Jesus is accepting them. He has called them blessed.

It is also clear that the only persecution that will result in this blessing is that which results from their faithfulness to Christ. In the next verse Peter notes that suffering as a criminal or a meddler in the affairs of others will not bring a blessing (unless, of course, the accusation is false, an excuse for punishing them for being Christians). Sometimes Christians are persecuted because they are obnoxious, not because they are faithful!

When genuine persecution happens, 1 Peter promises that the Holy Spirit will rest upon them. This may recall Jesus' promise "When they arrest you, do not worry . . . for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you" (Mt 10:19-20; compare Mk 13:11; Lk 12:11-12). At times this glory could be visible to the Christian (Acts 7:55) or to others (Acts 6:15; compare Stephen's term for God in Acts 7:2). Yet note that this "glory" did not always get the person out of trouble; it was the vision of glory that led to Stephen's being stoned! In other words, through the Spirit of God, the Christians undergoing persecution for Christ will experience in the present a taste of the glory they will have in its fullness later (1 Pet 1:7; 5:4 refer to the coming glory).

There is another reason for the dual name for the Spirit. The people insult the Christians; God causes his Spirit of glory to rest on them. Instead of insult they receive glory in the eyes of God. The people persecute because of the name of Christ; it is the Spirit of God himself that rests upon them. They have been faithful to Christ, so God is happy to let his name be identified with them. The balance in this passage is impressive.

What, then, is Peter saying? The call to Christ is a call to come and die. Part of the dying with Christ includes persecution for Christ. But the Christian is not alone in persecution. While the world is heaping up insult and shame, God is placing his Spirit of glory upon them. It is no surprise that this is the reported experience of many of the martyrs of the first centuries of the church. And because they have identified with the name of Christ, God identifies with them through his Spirit. Thus Peter can say, "Praise God that you bear that name [for which you are suffering]" (1 Pet 4:16). Rejection is never pleasant, nor is it to be sought, but when it comes out of faithfulness to Christ it brings with it the presence of the Spirit. It is this idea that our strange expression brings out. And it is in this, not in the suffering itself, that a Christian can truly rejoice and praise God.

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