A SURVEY OF PETER’S LETTERS, 4

Living to Serve God, 1 Peter 4:1—19

In Viktor Frankl’s groundbreaking book, Man’s Search For Meaning, he wrote of his experiences while in a German prison camp during the days of World War Two.  The Germans had become experts at giving prisoners “just enough” to live on.  Some prisoners lived, others inexplicably died.  Frankl concluded that a human being can survive even the most horrible living conditions if they had hope; the moment they lost hope they began to die.

Most Americans have more than enough to live on and live for.  It has been noted that we “have means, yet no meaning.”  How many Americans merely go through the motions like drones every day, waiting for the weekend?  How many Americans have lost their child-like wonder of life?  How many Americans feel like they have nothing worthwhile to live or work for?

In chapter 4 of 1 Peter, the Apostle helps believers to put life into perspective and find true meaning in serving God.

1.  Have the mind of Christ, 4:1—6

(a)  Arm yourself, vs. 1, 2

The essence of Peter’s admonition is these verses is two-fold.  First, Christians will likely suffer for the faith.  Suffering is not necessarily a promise, but suffering to varying degrees does seem to the lot for most of the world’s population.  Suffering, of course, takes many forms, but if our Lord did not escape suffering as a human being, then His followers shouldn’t think they will.  The key is undeserved suffering; Christ’s persecution was undeserved and sometimes Christians will be treated the same way.

Second, when this undeserved suffering comes, Christians need to “arm themselves” with the same kind of attitude He had when He faced His undeserved suffering.  The phrase “arm yourselves” is a military phrase having reference to soldiers taking up weapons to fight the enemy.  Christians need to bear Christ’s attitude as they prepare for, not physical conflict, but spiritual conflict.  Christ’s attitude is seen by Peter as an effective weapon in spiritual warfare.

those who have suffered in their bodies are done with sin.  (verse 1b)

This is a difficult phrase that has garnered a lot differing opinion.  What Peter is not suggesting is that somehow physical suffering is virtuous in and of itself or that physical suffering somehow makes one “sinless.”  It is probably good to view Peter’s thought with that of Paul’s—

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.  (Romans 6:6, 7)

With verse 2, Peter gives us a two-fold reason for Christians arming themselves with Christ’s attitude.  First, since believers have identified themselves with Christ in His death—

they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires

And secondly—

[They live]… for the will of God.

(b)  Walk in God’s will, vs. 3—6

Peter contrasts the new life of faith with the reader’s former life of sin, and the new life of holiness is linked with “the will of God.”  When it comes to any and all forms of sin, a Christian has only one course of action open to him:  complete separation in both spirit and practice.  Separation does not mean isolation; Christians are never called to live apart from the world in a physical sense.  When Christians, in their daily lives, adopt the customs of the culture around them, the literally absorb the Satanic spirit that pervades the world.

They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you.  (verse 4)

When Christians live as they ought, in repudiation of the world and its customs, they can expect to be mocked and derided.  Christians are expected by the world to just “go along with it,” and when they don’t the world can’t understand why and treats them accordingly.

This should not come as a surprise to believers.  For too many it does, however, and many Christians find it more desirable to “go along with the world” than stand for his faith against it.

Verse 6 has engendered endless controversy because some scholars are baffled by it.  However, it is simple and straight forward in meaning—

For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

In light of what Peter has been saying and in light of the overall teaching of the Bible, it seems verse 6 is saying that the Gospel had been preached to those who have already died.  Some had accepted it, others had not.  Those who died without accepting the Gospel will be judged according to how they lived “in the body,” those who believe will not; they will live “according to God” in the spiritual realm.

2.  A servant’s heart, 4:7—11

(a)  Watch and pray, vs. 7

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.

Peter encourages his readers to view life in light of the Second Coming.  This is always the case in the New Testament.  The final consummation of salvation and the Second Coming are always given as ways to stimulate faith in believers who, perhaps, were facing discouragement and frustration in their lives of faith.

Peter’s reasoning is sound:  because the end is so near, Christians don’t have the luxury of experimenting with or dabbling in any kind of sin.  Instead, Christians ought to be engaged in prayerful living.

The characteristics Peter gives in verse 7, being alert and sober-minded, are essential for effective prayer.  Those who take their faith seriously are often made fun of, yet if we would please God and be effective as we pray, we must “get a grip” on our minds and emotions.

(b)  Love deeply, vs. 8, 9

Holiness is practical, and it manifests itself in how we treat others, especially members of the Church—the Body of Christ.  This reminds of Proverbs 10:12—

Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs.

If there is pure love towards God, then Christians will love each other with the same kind of love.  Where love comes first, all other duties and responsibilities will be done.  When Peter writes— love covers over a multitude of sins—is he suggesting that we may ignore sin for the sake of love?  Not at all!  The motive in “covering” sins is not to conceal or hide them, or deny their reality, but rather to forgive them and, as a result, stop any strife or problem caused by that sin.

When Christians are living soberly, keeping their eyes open, praying, and loving each other, they will live generously, offering hospitality to other members of the Body of Christ as they need it.  This does not limit our generosity merely to providing room and board, Peter is just giving a very practical example of love in action.  It costs nothing to tell somebody, “I love you,” but letting that person live with you—feeding them and housing them—might be very costly indeed, but that demonstration of love must come without forcing it or complaining about it if it is to be considered “love.”

(c)  Use your gifts, vs. 10, 11

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.  (verse 10)

Every believer is in some way able to minister to others, even if they don’t have a room to let.  Every believer has been given gifts by God; these gifts are not spiritual gifts.  Here, Peter is specifically making reference to practical gifts and abilities we may possess.  The gifts that we possess—gifts of making money, gifts of being able to teach or sell or comfort—are a trust from God to be employed as He intended for “faithful servants,” namely, in blessing others.  This kind of service, rarely seen as spiritual in nature, is, in fact, intensely spiritual.

3.  Commit yourself to God, 4:12—19

(a)  Reason to rejoice, vs. 12—14

But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.  (verse 13)

Peter returns to his dominant subject, suffering for the faith, as a way to experience joy.  In direct opposition to the conventional wisdom of our society, Christians ought to see suffering as a reason to rejoice.  Does this mean Christians should be happy because they are being mocked or otherwise persecuted on account of their faith?  Of course not!  What Peter means is that if a Christian is treated poorly because he is a Christian, that is cause to rejoice because it means that he is living right.

One thing becomes very evident:  suffering is supposed to be the norm for the believer.  Modern Christians seem to think the days of suffering for the faith are long past; yet the Word of God is timeless.  If we, as Christians in the 21st century are not suffering at the moment, we may rejoice for that; but if it comes, we should not be surprised and complain bitterly to God, instead we should rejoice for the peace we had and for the suffering we are experiencing because it shows we are living as God would have us live.  As in everything, Jesus is out example.  He lived for most of His life in simple obscurity, not rocking the boat or making any waves.  But when the suffering came, Jesus carried on, being obedient to His Father every step of the way, not complaining once.

(b)  Unashamed and unmoved, vs. 15—19

Not all suffering is good, though.

If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.  (verse 15)

Sadly, this is the kind of suffering most of us are familiar with.  Christians are not blessed for this kind of suffering.  It is suffering for the sake of Christ that brings blessing and joy.

And suffering for the right reason—Christ—should never embarrass a Christian.

However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.  (verse 16)

In the present trials and tribulations, Peter seemed to sense the beginning of a long period of judgment—

For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household…(verse 17a)

When we read the Old Testament, we see a familiar pattern:  God always disciplines and judges His people first in order to reveal His standards to the rest of the world (see Isaiah 10:12, 13; Jeremiah 25:29; 49:12; Ezekiel 9:6).

When we, as children of God, pass through ordeals of fire, it is to purge the ranks and show those on the outside looking in what God expects from those who claim to love Him.   Christians who are living in obedience to Word and will of God need to take extra care in how they react to “unjust suffering.”  When a believer suffers, he should not be surprised or ashamed but instead  should praise God that he is a Christian.  God’s judgment begins with believers to strengthen them and purify the Body of Christ, and then His judgment reaches out to those who are not a part of the Body of Christ.

Verse 19 is a good verse for living—

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

When suffering is part of God’s discipline, and when it is not the result of personal wrongdoing, it is according to God’s will, and it should be endured with the right attitude; Christ’s attitude.  Those Christians who may be, at the moment, suffering in this way, are to “commit themselves” to God and “continue to do good.”  The rewards for faithfully serving God far outweigh any momentary suffering we may be undergoing.

(c)  2010 Witzend

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