1 Peter 5:10 promises four things to believers after a period of suffering.
Here is the full verse:
The God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory through Christ will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little.(New American Bible, Revised Edition).
Peter’s comment on a little suffering echoes other passages from Paul, such as Romans 8:18, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.”
Also, 2 Corinthians 4:17, “For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
But Peter goes beyond Paul in attaching a promise of four specific things Christians can expect after suffering. Some of these things may not come until the end times, like restoration, but others, such as strengthening us, necessarily must happen in this life, as one commentator points out.
We can look forward to these four—restoration, confirmation, strengthening, and establishment. But what, specifically, is Peter referring to by these terms?
In Greek, the verb is katartizō. It can also refer to perfection, mending, and preparation. In Matthew 4 and Mark 1 the verb is used to describe future disciples mending their nets. In 2 Corinthians 13:11, the verb is rendered as perfect—which is what Paul is telling his readers to be.
Finally, in Hebrews 10:5 katartizō appears with the meaning of preparation. In this context, the writer is discussing how God the Father prepared a body for Christ in the Incarnation. The verb is fittingly used since it also has the meaning of perfection, which Christ was. Christ’s body was also the beginning of the restoration of all humanity.
According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, the word also means to put things in order, to bring someone to completion, or to make things what they ought to be.
All of the above meanings are wrapped into the idea of restoration. Our restoration in Christ will repair the faults of our nature, make us what we were always meant to be, and bring us to such a state of perfection that we will be prepared for the beatific vision.
It goes without saying, but is still worth repeating, that we do not have to wait to the end times for all of this to happen. Some of it must happen in the life. And St. Peter suggests that suffering is the pathway to restoration.
Although the word is rendered above as confirm, and elsewhere as establish, it’s really better to think of it as strengthen. In Greek the word is stērizō and is defined as ‘to make stable, place firmly, set fast, fix’ and ‘to strengthen, make firm,’ according to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon.
In the New Testament it has the sense of strengthening to the point of completion, or of being firmly established in something—perhaps the way that a critical support beam in a building is sufficiently strong to hold up the rest of the structure. For example, in 1 Thessalonians 3:13, Paul calls on the Lord to “establish [or fully strengthen] your hearts in blamelessness and holiness before our God and Father.”
Stērizō is a verb that is related to the adjective, stereos, meaning ‘strong, firm, immovable, solid, hard, rigid,’ according to one concordance. Stereos is the ultimate source of our word steroid, referring to the drugs people take, often illicitly, to gain extra strength beyond their normal abilities. Perhaps we could think of grace as a kind of spiritual steroid—one, albeit, that is licit!—that enables us to go far beyond what nature could do. But there is also a kind of secrecy to it. Our grace-fueled actions should prompt people to ask, “How does he or she do it?”—in much the same way that people question how certain athletes can bat a certain average or achieve other seemingly impossible milestones.
If katartizō is the what then stērizō is more about the how. So what do the two other terms add to the picture?
In Greek the word is sthenoō, whose root means ‘bodily vigor’ although most dictionaries seem to think that here it is employed in more of a spiritual sense to refer to the strength of the soul. It might seem redundant for Peter to bring up strengthening again, but that may be by design. Hebrew writers often repeated words for emphasis and that could be what’s going on here: you really will be strengthened. But this isn’t a repeated word so much as a synonym. And, notably, it is the only time the Greek word appears in the New Testament.
According to commentators, this strength is in contrast to the weakness we could experience in suffering.
Its relationship to the above word seems to be one of exterior versus interior strength. To go back to our analogy of the supporting beam, stērizō, refers to the beam being fixed in place. Sthenoō then describes the internal constitution of the beam—the word is strong and not weak, it is not rotten, it does not have holes or weak spots, and so on. As one commentator writes, “literally, we will be ‘filled with bodily strength.’”
Another commentator elaborates:
It’s like bodily discipline through exercise which toughens up a flabby body, replacing fat with muscle. That’s what God’s doing to us through suffering. In our suffering we have the perspective of the Olympic athlete who is in training because he is shooting for the gold medal. He knows that’s where he’s headed, he knows that’s the purpose in all of his pain and difficulty.
In Greek, the word is themelioō. It has the sense of being settled in the grounded or firmly established, like the foundation of a house. In fact, that’s exactly how it’s used in Matthew and Luke in Jesus’ story of a man whose house withstands a storm because it was founded on a rock. In Hebrews 1:10 the Greek word refers to the ‘foundation’ of the earth during the creation. St. Paul uses it to talk about being ‘grounded’ or ‘founded’ in faith, hope, and love (Ephesians 3:17, Colossians 1:23).
To continue with our support beam analogy, themelioō refers to the ultimate foundation on which it rests, such as concrete or stone.
Themelioō thus fittingly comes at the end of the list. It is the end result of being restored and strengthened exteriorly and interiorly—we are firmly established in faith, hope, and love, having built our foundation on the rock, which is Christ Himself (1 Corinthians 10:4).
We can understand Peter’s promise that suffering will bring restoration, confirmation, strengthening, and establishment through the analogy of a support beam. Our wood—our nature—has been weakened and corrupted by sin and the absence of God. Through suffering God will restore us, making us incorruptible. The beam that was once rotten is now made new.
God will also strengthen us by fixing in us in place in His house and giving us the inner strength to remain steadfast. Again: the beam is fixed in place and the wood is strong.
Finally, that beam will be firmly established. The wood has not just been rendered incorruptible, set in place, and strengthened. It is immovable. It is grounded. It rests on a solid foundation.
Ultimately the beam analogy is one that speaks directly to our faith. For, we might say, it is by means of the wood of the cross that we are restored, confirmed, strengthened, and established in God.
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