"4:16 But if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but glorify God that you bear such a name. 4:17 For it is time for judgment to begin, starting with the house of God. And if it starts with us, what will be the fate of those who are disobedient to the gospel of God? 4:18 And if the righteous are barely saved, what will become of the ungodly and sinners? 4:19 So then let those who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator as they do good." (1 Peter 4:16-19)
When we read or know about someone being insulted because of some Christian principle brushing up against their sensitivities, and they form a coalition of like-minded persons to ban some Christian practice as a result, then the Christians across the country rise up in protest. Sometimes we hear these stories in the context of "Christians being persecuted."
When the Apostle Peter wrote to the Christians in his letter we call 1 Peter, the Christians were being persecuted for real. They were hated by the Roman government and officials as well as the Jewish hierarchy at that time. Their persecution included real harm personally and to their families. During the time of Nero the persecution included death to Christians. Through the centuries since then we have all read about the atrocities committed to others in the name of religion, and sometimes even the name of Christianity.
For sure when sensibilities are ruffled and we believe we are being persecuted we should speak up and challenge those who are trying to stifle anyone's faith. In the Western world it is generally accepted that there is a freedom extended to all citizens to practice their perspective faith. In America especially there is an individual freedom to practice one's faith. So, at least in the current, modern era, we are not experiencing the same type and intensity of persecution experienced by the people who listened as the Apostle Peter's letter was being read. As will all history and the passage of time, however, this may not always be the situation.
In our explosive world of radicalism and explosiveness that executes war with weapons up to, and including, the atomic weapons we have, it is not completely out of the question that many who call themselves Christian will be targeted for persecution, perhaps even to the point of death. As the radicalism of other cultures who repeatedly call upon the annihilation of various people groups continue to flourish, the words of the Apostle Peter will become decidedly more comforting.
It is possible that as Christians we might be called upon to glorify God and not be ashamed to bear the name Christian. In the midst of the most severe persecution we must accept the fact that God's judgment will start with the epicenter of Christianity. Peter warns us, "if the righteous are barely saved, what will become of the ungodly and sinners?" ( a quote from Proverbs 11:31) So no matter what happens there is nothing we can do to save ourselves; our task is to remain righteous by remaining in Christ. Only then will the Apostle Peter's words be the most comforting: "So then let those who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator as they do good." (1 Peter 4:19)Jim Killebrew