For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER? 1 Peter 4:17-18 (NAS)
We’ve covered the Old Testament quotes found in the earlier sections of Peter’s first epistle in previous installments in our series. Today we’ll consider the last direct quote cited by the apostle in the letter located in chapter four. The original passage is found in Proverbs 11:31 and Peter’s citation of the passage comes from the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament so there are some differences to be noted in verbiage between the Hebrew and Greek. However, the principle is communicated. Actions have consequences. Here’s the Septuagint translation: “If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?”
Reward and recompense
The nation Israel had tremendous advantages in receiving direct revelation from God via His spokesmen. Because they were recipients of His revealed will they also were held to a higher degree of accountability. God didn’t just “lay down the Law”, He also provided a succinct little instruction manual on practical living in the book of Proverbs for all who would heed the principles contained therein, Jew or Gentile. It warned of the wages of waywardness and revealed the rewards of righteous living.
The overarching lessons in the book are that whatever you put into practice, good or bad, are usually what you’ll receive back. What you sow is what you reap. The only variable in the administration of the reward or the recompense was timing-God’s timing. Sometimes it was immediate, sometimes it was delayed. Whenever it was administered, it was designed to communicate that the nation or individuals could take it to the bank that the instruction or warnings from God could be trusted to produce exactly what it promised.
The problem with individuals and Israel as a whole was that they forgot their privileged position as God’s possession, thereby developing proud hearts and weak constitutions. From the Exodus on, the LORD would set things up to test them, to see “whether or not they will walk in My instruction.” (Ex 16:4) It would usually take a failed test to get the attention of others. The people would shapeup for a while but lapse back into idolatry or rebellion before long. Many kings in Judah started out as righteous, faithful men, but the pull of idolatry or the pressure of opposition and persecution would cause them to fall away from the LORD and ignore His instruction. In time, the Law was ignored completely by priest and king alike as the Bible records. They simply forgot if they didn’t remain faithful, there was going to be trouble falling into the hands of the living God. As a result, scarce few were able to remain righteous and be saved. The record among the people was no different.
However, there were those in the Old Testament who suffered for their righteousness and underwent tremendous difficulties for their faith in the LORD, Job and David being two prominent Old Testament examples. Job suffered and persevered in the fierce attacks of Satan and bad advice from friends, David, when receiving his just recompense for his sin, acknowledged it was rightly due and responded appropriately throughout the entire process, up to and including the rebellion led by his son.
Difficulties Come for the Righteous
The issue that the believer will share in the suffering that Christ experienced for His faith, is a theme that is woven throughout the fabric of the apostle Peter’s first letter preserved for our edification. The Holy Spirit moves Peter to focus on developing the right faith picture of who we are in Christ in the earlier chapters so that we will handle the trials, temptations, persecutions and difficulties that will come in order to bring glory to God.
From there, much like the book of Proverbs, the Spirit through Peter provides instruction on Godly living through the example of Christ and practicing right relationships, standing firm for doing what’s right when slandered or persecuted for doing so. It is then that Peter through the Holy Spirit concentrates on the issue of rebuffing the peer pressure of those that want to lead you back down the path of “abominable idolatries” reminding us that all will “give an account to Him who is ready to judge.” (1 Peter 4:5)
Loving one another, leaning on one another and learning from one another the utterances of God (1 Pet. 4:11) is the strength God supplies so that in all things He may be glorified.
Peter then moves to the topic of suffering and the context in which the quote from Proverbs is cited. Fiery ordeals and reviling await the righteous. How we will handle it is by following the example of Christ Jesus, understanding it’s all part of God’s program to save us. It was even prophesied to happen to us. “And I will bring the third part (remnant, the church) through the fire, refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is my God.’” (Zech. 13:9) It is clear from Scripture that saving the righteous is not without difficulties. In the context surrounding the quote of Proverbs 11:31, it is apparent the Spirit through Peter is instructing Christians that God allows judgments to come upon His house, the church, first, to test us just as He did our predecessors the Israelites. Now it’s going to take everything we’ve got, rooted in a strong faith in Christ, to stand firm and resist the pull of the world’s influences to cave. Difficulties will come, focus like Christ did, on the reward. Amen.