1 Peter 4:1-6
1. Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. 3 For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. 4 With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; 5 but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.
One of the gifts of any real preacher is that they are able to say the same thing over and over again and not only hold people’s attention but drive the truth of what they are saying into the hearts of their listeners. Peter is a true preacher, for he continues in this section to make one simple point. It is a point that he has made before and lies at the very heart of his concern for us. It is a message, sadly, that falls on many a deaf ear, particularly in the west today.
The one thing that he so desperately wants us to come to terms with is this: to be a Christian is to suffer in this world. That’s it.
It’s a huge part of his teaching. You could argue it is almost the sum and total. But it is a great truth that so many of us who profess to follow Jesus, still try to avoid.
We need to pay very careful attention to Peter, if we value our salvation today.
You will suffer, v.1-2 if you no longer live yourself for the passions of this world. If you are decided and determined to live according to the will of God, you will suffer.
You will suffer in v.3-5 if you no longer approve of what others do who live only for this world. While these new Christians may have been carried away, unthinkingly, by the cultural currents of their day, those times are now past for them. Peter is very clear on this and we should be too. No longer are we as Christians to be swept along in a tide of sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties and lawless idolatry. There ought to be a difference, a discernible difference between us and the world, and we ought to expect to be misunderstood. In reality, Peter actually expects us to be maligned.
You will suffer v.6 for obeying a gospel which may appear to make no ultimate difference as you too will die in this world, even while you still profess to have the gift of eternal life.
You will suffer. You will suffer. You will suffer. Peter is very, very clear. You are going to suffer for being a Christian.
It is a message for the most part, lost, I feel, on the western church. Many, myself included, are yet actually to hear it and accept it. But it is a message that is written deeply and almost defiantly into the pages of the New Testament.
I fear even to draw attention to Peter’s encouragements, lest I should weaken his impact on us weak willed Christians. He does offer comfort by drawing attention to the end of our suffering. Suffering as a Christian is to become more like Jesus and is only for the short time we have here in the flesh (v.1-2). While maligned in this present age we will one day escape the judgement that is certainly to come (v.3-5). Though we all must die, having obeyed the gospel we have been made alive in the spirit and in death will certainly be with our God (v.6).
Peter is as gentle a pastor as he is brave a prophet. Depending on your suffering today, you may need the comfort or the challenge. But certainly, none of us should seek to revise, update, or change his message. It comes to us stamped ‘urgent’. If you are to be a Christian in any Biblical sense today, you will suffer.
Lord God whose blessed Son our Saviour gave his back to the smiters and did not hide his face from shame: Give us grace to endure the sufferings of this present time with sure confidence in the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.