No doubt you’ve suffered “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Perhaps you’ve been insulted, falsely accused, or unjustly condemned when you’ve tried to do good for others? All alive will at some time suffer one or more of these adversities. However, only those saved by God’s grace can grow as a result of them. The Apostle Peter says in his first letter:
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. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:12-13 English Standard Version (ESV)
Although Peter elsewhere counsels that Paul’s writings are sometimes hard to understand, I find this passage of his difficult as well. Let’s see what John Calvin has to say:
Beloved, think it not strange, or, wonder not. There is a frequent mention made in this Epistle of afflictions; the cause of which we have elsewhere explained. But this difference is to be observed, that when he exhorts the faithful to patience, he sometimes speaks generally of troubles common to man’s life; but here he speaks of wrongs done to the faithful for the name of Christ.
And first, indeed, he reminded them that they ought not to have deemed it strange as for a thing sudden and unexpected; by which he intimates, that they ought by a long mediation to have been previously prepared to bear the cross. For whosoever has resolved to fight under Christ’s banner, will not be dismayed when persecution happens, but, as one accustomed to it, will patiently bear it. [In order] that we may then be in a prepared state of mind when the waves of persecutions roll over us, we ought in due time to habituate ourselves to such an event by meditating continually on the cross.
Moreover, he proves that the cross is useful to us by two arguments, — that God thus tries our faith, — and that we become thus partakers with Christ. Then, in the first place, let us remember that the trial of our faith is most necessary, and that we ought thus willingly to obey God who provides for our salvation. However, the chief consolation is to be derived from a fellowship with Christ.
Hence Peter not only forbids us to think it strange, when he sets this before us, but also bids us to rejoice. It is, indeed, a cause of joy, when God tries our faith by persecution; but the other joy far surpasses it, that is, when the Son of God allots to us the same course of life with himself, that he might lead us with himself to a blessed participation of heavenly glory.
For we must bear in mind this truth, that we have the dying of Christ in our flesh, that his life may be manifested in us. The wicked also do indeed bear many afflictions; but as they are separated from Christ, they apprehend nothing but God’s wrath and curse: thus it comes that sorrow and dread overwhelm them.
Hence, then, is the whole consolation of the godly, that they are associates with Christ, that hereafter they may be partakers of his glory; for we are always to bear in mind this transition from the cross to the resurrection. But as this world is like a labyrinth, in which no end of evils appears, Peter refers to the future revelation of Christ’s glory, as though he had said, that the day of its revelation is not to be overlooked, but ought to be expected.
But he mentions a twofold joy, one which we now enjoy in hope, and the other the full fruition of which the coming of Christ shall bring to us; for the first is mingled with grief and sorrow, the second is connected with exultation. For it is not suitable in the midst of afflictions to think of joy, which can free us from all trouble; but the consolations of God moderate evils, so that we can rejoice at the same time.
One might object that suffering for righteousness sake in the hope of future joy is nothing more than “pie in the sky when we die.” But it is so much more. This kind of suffering shows we are His possession, and if we are His, this world has no hold on us. This momentary light affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.