The first feature of suffering for the faith that Peter mentions is that it is a test. Peter here highlights one of the benefits of suffering, which is that it will usually reveal whether or not a claim to faith is genuine. Persecution is not the only way in which a person is tested, but it is mentioned frequently in the Bible. It is a fact that in everyday life anything that claims to be valuable has to be tested for genuineness, otherwise we can be deceived. Suffering will usually get rid of hypocrites from a church because the individual concerned will conclude that the deprivations or punishments connected to persecution are not worth enduring. Indeed, a little suffering will achieve this as Bunyan noted in his Pilgrim’s Progress when he describe the easy way in which Pliable gave up an interest in the Christian faith. In contrast, true Christians will usually persevere despite the consequences of persecution.
Peter says that his readers should not be surprised if they find themselves in a situation of suffering. Some of them might have been surprised at the ferocity of the persecution; after all, they were not a physical threat to the government. Indeed, they prayed for their rulers and wanted to obey them as long as their requirements did not transgress God’s law. Yet if they are surprised, it is because they have forgotten or ignored clear evidence that such persecution will take place. What is the evidence they should have noted? They should not be surprised, firstly, because Jesus often taught that his followers would suffer. Many times he said that his disciples would endure opposition, as did the apostles in their letters. A second reason for them not to be surprised is the reality that behind many of the ideas of a society is the devil and he will always want to damage the people of God. Thirdly, they should not be surprised at persecution because the world does not understand them and will want to get rid of them. A wise Christian will always be ready for the possibility of opposition.
Of course, we may be surprised by the purpose of the persecution, which Peter reminds us is testing to see if we are genuine. An easy exam in a college is no use because it does not reveal what the student knows or does not know. Similarly, a Christian life without trials from the devil or the world is worrying because it would indicate that God in his providence is not testing the genuineness of the person’s faith in Christ. This does not mean that God does not know which professing disciples are genuine. He does know, but he is also determined that genuine disciples should know that they are the real thing.