By Sam E. Stone
Persecution was common for the church of Peter’s day. His two letters address both what had happened already and what lay ahead. Christians need not fear, remembering the example of their Lord. In today’s text, Peter returns to his main theme found in 1 Peter 3:14-18, after some parenthetical remarks (vv. 19-22). Once again he focuses on being willing to suffer for Christ.
1 Peter 4:1-6
Jesus’ suffering brought us salvation. His obedient spirit must be ours as well. He died once for all (Hebrews 7:27; 9:28). Since we have the assurance of life eternal, we must strive to defeat sin in our lives now, not wait until it is finally eliminated in eternity. The believer should count his surrendered body as dead, since it has been buried at our baptism. From that moment on we were identified with Christ. Now our lives are to be lived for him alone (Romans 6:14). William Barclay wrote, “(The Christian) shares the sufferings and even the death of Christ; and he shares Christ’s risen life and risen power, and is, therefore, victor over sin.”
This is diametrically opposed to the way in which the pagans live. They are characterized by debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. Sex and alcohol rule the ungodly. Paul described such people by saying, “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame” (Philippians 3:19).
Bible scholars differ on the interpretation of v. 6. To whom is Peter referring when he says, The gospel was preached even to those who are now dead? Some believe it refers to Christian victims of persecution. Jack Cottrell suggests, however, that the dead refers to pagans or unbelievers, the “spiritually dead” (see Luke 15:24, 32; John 5:25; Ephesians 2:1, 5; 5:14; Colossians 2:13). “The gospel was preached (past tense) to them when they were spiritually dead, but they responded to it and are now alive in Christ, i.e. are saved.” Preaching the gospel to the lost is the way by which ungodly pagans can be challenged to repent and be prepared to face the final judgment in hope. The lost must be called to live according to God in regard to the spirit.
1 Peter 4:7-11
When the apostle wrote, The end of all things is near, he is not affirming that it will happen within the next month, the next year, or even the next century. God doesn’t count time the way we do. A. T. Robertson observes, “How near Peter does not say, but he urges readiness (1:5, 6; 4:6) as Jesus did (Mark l4:38) and Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:6), though it is drawing nearer all the time (Romans 12:11), but not at once (2 Thessalonians 2:2).” For every person, the time is near in another sense! Whether we are ushered into Christ’s presence at the moment of our death or remain alive at the moment of his return, the Lord is at hand! Every day must be lived in light of eternity.
This affects what we do in various ways. We must be alert, so that we may pray. We must also love each other deeply. This will be reflected in many ways (1 Peter 1:22; 3:8, 13). Love covers over a multitude of sins. If God’s love covers all of your sins, surely you should forgive the sins others commit against you. Other specific ways to show Christ’s love include offering hospitality to others. Jesus taught his followers to help care for others (Matthew 25:35). Paul listed this quality as a requirement for church leaders as well (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8). Hotels were few and far between in the first century, and this made it even more important to help those who traveled proclaiming the gospel (Romans 16:23; 3
John 5, 8).
Every Christian should use his or her gifts and abilities to bless the church. God empowers the church through the diverse gifts he has entrusted to its people (see Romans 12:6-8; 2 Corinthians 12:12-31). These gifts are not for us alone, but God intends for us to help others by using our talents in this way. He expects faithfulness from all his children (Matthew 24:45-47). Peter illustrates this in two ways—those who speak (teaching, preaching, witnessing) and those who serve (ministering to the needs of others, as in Acts 6:2-4). God provides the strength for us to do this. As long as we live, we must live for him.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.