“There’s Something Strange in Your Neighborhood”
1 Peter 4:12-5:11
Many people will remember the movie Ghost Busters that came out in the 1980’s. I still walk around singing that theme song by Ray Parker,
If there's something strange
in your neighborhood
Who ya gonna call?
If there's something weird
and it don't look good
Who ya gonna call?
Peter begins the final section of his letter by telling them that if the suffering they are enduring appears strange, it shouldn’t because suffering is the consequence of being a follower of Jesus. He writes,
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God's household.
Peter refers to a “fiery ordeal” that has come upon his listeners. It seems that his listeners are confused about why it is that this ordeal has come their way. In 1Peter it is difficult to know exactly what this “fiery ordeal” The theme of suffering is quite prevalent throughout the book.
(1) Suffering in general 3:14,17,4:15, 19,5:10
(2) Physical violence 2:19-20
(3) Slandering 2:12, 3:16
(4) Insulting 3:16
(5) Reproaching 4:14
(6) Reviling 2:23, 3:9
Instead of complaining about suffering, Peter tells them they should rejoice. The reason they should rejoice is because Peter reminds them that by suffering, they are participating in the suffering of Jesus. This theme of suffering runs throughout the book of 1 Peter and the suffering or “fiery ordeal” has come to them because of their commitment to Jesus.
Just as Peter talks often about suffering, he also mentions the benefits of persevering through the persecution. For example,
(1) Receive an Inheritance that will never fade 1:4
(2) Salvation of your soul 1:9
(3) Silence non-believers 2:15
(4) Conversion of non-believers 3:1
(5) Inherit a blessing 3:9
(6) Imitate Jesus 2:21, 4:13
(7) Be holy 1:13-16, 2:9-10
Next, Peter distinguishes between two types of suffering. He in essence says there are two types of suffering that followers of Jesus could experience. They could suffer because of their faith and doing what is “right.” Or, they could suffer due to being disobedient to the laws, such as criminal activity. Peter then adds the term “meddler” to the mix as the wrong cause of suffering.
I looked up the meaning of the word “meddler” and found that the Greek word literally means “one who busies himself in the affairs of others in an unwarranted manner.” Other translations use the words, “busybody”, “informer”, and “prying into other’s affairs.” Basically this means to put your nose where it does not belong so as not to bring trouble on yourself. I cannot count the number of times that I bring suffering to myself by doing things I have no need in doing.
The other day I was playing basketball with some college students (mistake #1: They are in a lot better shape than I am) and I left the gym with a carpet burn from my ankle to my knee. This all came about because Justin, a college student who is by far faster than I am, told me that if he guarded me I would never get the ball, much less score. Just so you know, I got the ball about 10 times and I scored once. At one point, I somehow got open and got the ball and decided that I could get by Justin and either make a nice pass or score. (Mistake #2: Justin was much faster and quicker than me, although I blame this on my age) When I went to make my move, I realized that my mind was about two steps ahead of my body (mistake #3: I am not as young as I once was), causing me to trip and slide across the carpeted floor.
For the next week and a half, I have suffered from the worst carpet burn of my life and my wonderful wife has been reminding me that this suffering was brought on by ME! It was not due to any heroic act or by any medical condition that I could not help, but by my trying to be younger than I actually am.
In the same way, oftentimes we bring suffering on ourselves by our own actions. So many times I have heard well meaning Christians talk about how much they suffer when oftentimes this suffering is due to things they bring upon themselves with stupidity. Peter is not interested in self-inflicted suffering.
Peter moves on the verse 17, which to me is a very difficult thing for us to hear. He tells his listeners that God’s judgment will happen to those in the church first, before God judges those outside the church. Think about this statement. Those on the outside of the church are the ones persecuting those on this inside and Peter tells the church that while they may be waiting for those persecuting them to be judged, God is going to begin with those on the inside first. He says this to them so that they will realize how important it is for them to stay committed to God.
Peter then concludes this section of the letter, after telling the elders about their responsibilities, by saying,
Humble yourselves therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you…. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.
I think Peter understood the importance of these words personally and knew that this was how he needed to end a letter to people who were suffering so much for their faith. The same God who will judge them first, will be the same God who will lift them up. He will be the same God who will care for them. He is the same God who wants them to casts their anxiety on him. He will restore them and make them strong, firm, and steadfast.
In his book Everything Must Change Brian McLaren tells the story of Graciela and Luiz. There were in South Argentina and they decided to drive up into the mountains and they discovered that many of the ingenious people lived up there and they seemed to be suffering terribly. Their hearts broke for the people so Graciela asked them what they needed most and the people told them that the needed a school. Graciela and her family brought in an architect and they built a school, which changed the whole community. Brian McLaren then asks Graciela why they had never built a school before if that seemed to be the thing that brought life into the community. She answers him by saying, “When people have no hope, all they think about is scraping by for one more day.”
I think churches and people all think the same way. When we loose hope, we loose faith that God can actually bring us out of our despair. We loose heart that God can actually use our church to do more than run the air conditioner in the summer. We loose spirit that God can use us to make a difference. When we are reminded that we have hope, we can change a village, change, our communities, and even change our own lives.