Stay the Course

 

Week of March 27, 2011

 

Bible Verses:1 Peter 4:1-2; 7-19.

 

Lesson Focus:In this lesson Peter set down principles that should guide Christians to develop a resolve to remain clearheaded, disciplined in prayer, and to ultimately stay the course in the face of suffering.

 

Live in Light of the End:1 Peter 4:1-2, 7-11.

 

[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. [7]The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. [8]Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. [9]Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. [10]As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: [11]whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies--in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.[ESV]

 

[1-2]The word therefore draws a conclusion from the previous verses [3:18-22], where Christís victory over hostile powers by virtue of His death and resurrection is featured. The connection between the two sections is this: since Christís suffering is the pathway to glory, believers should also prepare themselves to suffer, knowing that suffering is the prelude to an eschatological reward. The main point of the verse is that believers are to arm themselves with the intention to suffer. The term arm yourselves has military connotations, and in other texts the Christian life is compared to the life of a warrior. This language indicates that discipline and grit are needed to live the Christian life, particularly in view of the suffering believers encounter. Indeed, believers must arm themselves with the attitude that suffering is inevitable. The first clause in the verse explains the reason the readers should expect to suffer: Christ suffered in the flesh. Christís suffering here focuses on His death as in 3:18 and 2:21-24. Further, as in 2:21-23 Christís suffering is exemplary for believers, providing the pattern they should imitate. The most difficult part of the verse is the last phrase, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin. The whoever refers to believers and relates back to the imperative to prepare themselves for suffering. Peter explained why they should prepare themselves to suffer, seeing the commitment to suffer as evidence that they have broken with a life of sin. The point is not that believers who suffer have attained sinless perfection, as if they do not sin at all after suffering. What Peter emphasized was that those who commit themselves to suffer, those who willingly endure scorn and mockery for their faith, show that they have triumphed over sin. They have broken with sin because they have ceased to participate in the lawless activities of unbelievers and endured the criticisms that have come from such a decision. The commitment to suffer reveals a passion for a new way of life, a life that is not yet perfect but remarkably different from the lives of unbelievers in the Greco-Roman world. Christians should arm themselves with the intention to suffer, so that they live the remainder of their lives in carrying out Godís will instead of fulfilling the human lusts that dominated their lives before conversion. Believers are summoned to suffer in the sense that they are called to do Godís will and to turn away from a life of sin. Whatever the span of life God grants, believers are to live zealously for God as long as life endures.

 

[7-11] The previous paragraph ended with a reference to the final judgment [5], death, and the resurrection [6]. Hence, it is not surprising that verse 7 opens with a reference to the end of history. The reason the end is near is that the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ have inaugurated the last days. All the following exhortations in this paragraph draw an inference from the coming of the end. Because the end is near, believers should live in the following way. We have a typical feature of New Testament eschatology here. Nowhere does the New Testament encourage the setting of dates or of any other kinds of charts. Eschatology is invariably used to encourage believers to live in a godly way. Nor does the New Testament ever invite believers to withdraw from the world because the end is near and to gaze at the skies, hoping that the Lord will return soon. The imminence of the end should function as a stimulus to action in this world. The knowledge that believers are sojourners and exiles, whose time is short, should incite them to make their lives count now. We might expect a call for extraordinary behavior, thinking something unusual would be demanded in light of the arrival of the end. Peter exhorted his readers, however, to pursue virtues that are a normal part of New Testament teaching. Peter summoned his readers to be self-controlled and sober-minded which are virtually synonymous and should be understood together. The nearness of the end has led some believers to lose their heads and act irrationally. On the contrary, believers should think sensibly as they contemplate the brevity of life in this world. Their sensible and alert thinking is to be used for prayer, for entreating God to act and move in the time that still remains. The realization that God is bringing history to a close should provoke believers to depend on Him, and this dependence is manifested in prayer, for in prayer believers recognize that any good that occurs in the world is due to Godís grace. The imminence of the end should also provoke believers to love earnestly. When believers contemplate how to spend their lives in light of the Lordís coming, they should remind themselves of the priority of love. In the second half of verse 8, the reason love should be pursued is since love covers a multitude of sins. Did Peter mean that love covers over or atones for oneís own sins? This interpretation should be rejected. It flies in the face of the rest of the New Testament and even 1 Peter [1:18-19; 2:24-25; 3:18] to see the love of believers as somehow atoning for their own sins. Instead the meaning is that when believers lavish love on others, the sins and offenses of others are overlooked. The theme of love continues in verse 9. Hospitality was one of the marks of the Christian community [cf. Rom. 12:13; 1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8; Heb. 13:2]. Hospitality was particularly crucial for the Christian mission in a day when lodging could not be afforded, and hence the advance of the mission depended on the willingness of believers to provide bed and board for those visiting. Furthermore, hospitality was necessary in order for the church to meet in various homes. The words without grumbling acknowledge that those who open their homes may grow tired of the service. Hence, they are exhorted to be hospitable gladly, not caving in to the temptation to begrudge their charity to others. The theme of ministering to one another continues in verse 10, but the emphasis shifts to gifts believers have received by Godís grace. The word gift implies that the gifts believers have are the result of Godís grace, and the word received confirms this judgment. Believers cannot boast about the gift they have, for otherwise they contradict its gracious character, thinking that somehow they merit its bestowal. The gifts are manifestations of Godís grace in its various forms. It is also implied that each believer has received at least one spiritual gift, for Peter addressed his words to each one. Even though every believer possesses at least one gift, the gifts are not necessarily the same. Godís grace manifests itself in various forms, so that the diversity of gifts reveals the multifaceted character of Godís grace. What is most important, of course, is the purpose for having gifts. Gifts are not given so that believers can congratulate themselves on their abilities. They are bestowed to serve one another. The point is that spiritual gifts are given to serve and to help others, to strengthen others in the faith. They are bestowed for ministry, not to enhance self-esteem. When believers use their gifts to strengthen others, they are functioning as good stewards. Spiritual gifts are not fundamentally a privilege but a responsibility, a call to be faithful to what God has bestowed. The gifts are divided into two categories, speaking and serving gifts. It must be said immediately, from verse 10, that all gifts involve serving and edifying others, and Peter was not denying that emphasis here. Instead, here he examines the gifts functionally, observing that some involve speaking and others serve fellow believers in a variety of ways. Those who speak should endeavor to speak the oracles of God, which refer to the words God has given His people. Using speaking gifts to minster to others means that the one speaking endeavors to speak Godís words. How easy it is to think that we can assist others with our own wisdom, but those who are entrusted with the ministry of speaking should be careful to speak Godís words, to be faithful to the gospel. Similarly, those who minister and serve others must not rely on their own strength. They must minister by the strength that God supplies, relying on His power to carry out their tasks. When those who speak utter Godís words rather than their own and those who serve do so in Godís strength rather than their own, God through Jesus Christ receives the glory. God receives the glory because He is the one who has provided the wisdom and strength for ministry. The provider is always the one who is praised. If human beings are the source of wisdom and strength for ministry, they deserve to be complimented. But if understanding and energy come from the Lord, He gets the glory as the one who empowers His people. This passage appropriately closes with a doxology of praise. Even though Peterís readers may feel powerless within the hostile situations they face, the doxology reminds them that all power belongs to the God they serve in the name of Christ.

 

Endure Suffering with Joy:1 Peter 4:12-16.

 

[12]Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. [13]But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. [14]If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. [15]But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.

[16]Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.[ESV]

 

[12-16]Verse 12 begins a new section of the letter. This is evident because the previous section closes with a doxology, and the new section is introduced by Beloved and an imperative as was the new section in 2:11. In addition. Peter again took up the subject of suffering, tackling it from a fresh and final angle, giving another perspective on what has been discussed earlier. Peter began here by admonishing them not to be surprised at the fiery trial they were enduring. If they were astonished at the suffering that occurred, they may have been overwhelmed, concluding that God did not love them. An advance warning of suffering helps the readers to be prepared for suffering, so that their faith is not threatened when difficulties arise. They should not consider the suffering as if something strange were happening. Such suffering is to be expected because its purpose is to test you. Peter returned here to the theology of 1:6-7, where suffering is allowed by God to refine the faith of believers. God uses the trials of life to strengthen the character of believers and to make them fit for His presence. The use of the word test links this verse back to the same word translated trials in 1:6. Verse 13 functions as a contrast to verse 12, as is indicated by the word but introducing the verse. Instead of being shocked that they were suffering, they should rejoice at the privilege, to the degree that they share Christís sufferings. The sufferings of Christ refer to sufferings that come because of their allegiance to Christ. The purpose clause introduced by that points readers to a future joy: when his glory is revealed. Rejoicing in their present suffering is mandated, precisely so that believers will have joy in Godís presence at the day of judgment. How believers respond to suffering, in other words, is an indication of whether they truly belong to God at all. The promise of future joy, in fact, energizes the joy that will be theirs in the future. The intensity of joy in the future is reflected in the two words that are used for joy: rejoice and be glad. The two terms used reflect the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5:12. The revelation of His glory almost certainly refers to the second coming of Christ. Peter exhorted readers to rejoice in their present sufferings so that they will be able to rejoice and exult forever when Christ returns. By implication those who do not rejoice in their sufferings do not truly belong to Jesus Christ. If they groan about sufferings now, they will presumably be disappointed on the future day. In verse 13 believers are commanded to rejoice in their present sufferings, but verse 14 adds a distinct point, emphasizing that believers are blessed by God if they are insulted because of their allegiance to Jesus Christ. The sufferings of believers are described here as being insulted for the name of Christ. The word insulted is important and helps us understand the fiery trial in verse 12. This term might suggest that believers were being put to death and were experiencing some kind of physical torture for their faith. Peter certainly wanted the readers to be prepared for such experiences. The evidence of the letter does not support the idea that suffering had yet reached such an intense state. The opposition was mainly verbal at this stage. They were insulted by others for their devotion to Christ. The main point of the verse emerges in the second clause. Those who are insulted as Christians are actually blessed. They may be insulted by human beings, but they are blessed by God Himself. Peter was almost certainly recalling the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:11. Believers who suffer are blessed because they are now enjoying Godís favor, tasting even now the wonder of the glory to come and experiencing the promised Holy Spirit. The but introducing verse 15 explains that believersí joy and blessing is conditioned upon truly suffering as Christians. Not all suffering qualifies one for Godís blessing and joy, for human beings also suffer when they do what is evil. The realism of Peter and of the early Christian movement manifests itself here. He knew how easily people can rationalize punishments that are deserved and explain them as Christian suffering. The first two sins listed are blatant examples of falling short of Godís standards. Indeed, murder and stealing are not only sins, but also crimes in society. Blatant sins are listed so that believers will distinguish between genuine Christian suffering and suffering that is a consequence of misbehavior. The third sin, evildoer, refers to doing wrong in general and cannot be limited to criminal acts. The fourth word is translated as meddler or busybody, mischief maker. Peter realized that most Christians will not be guilty of obvious sins like murder and stealing, and so he concluded by encouraging believers to even refrain from annoying others by being a meddler or busybody. Verse 16 now examines the other side. The call to renounce shame focuses on actions that are shameful. Specifically, Christians would act shamefully by denying Christ before unbelievers or by failing to persevere in the faith. Hence, those who are ashamed would be guilty of apostasy. By way of contrast believers glorify God by confessing and praising His name publicly.

 

Prepare for Godís Judgment:1 Peter 4:17-19.

 

[17]For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? [18]And "If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?" [19]Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. [ESV]

 

[17-19]The for beginning verse 17 reaches back to the idea of suffering in verse 16. We have already seen in 1:6-7 that the trials and difficulties of the righteous are designed to purify and refine believers so that they will receive their final reward. The judgment that begins with Godís people purifies those who truly belong to God, and that purification comes through suffering, making believers morally fit for their inheritance. The judgment here is the final judgment, but this judgment begins even now, in the present evil age. Peter proceeded to argue from the lesser to the greater. If even those who are going to be saved are purified and judged by suffering, then the outcome or result of those who reject the gospel will surely be a greater punishment. Unbelievers are described here as those who do not obey the gospel of God. Peter could have written about judgment falling on those who disbelieved the gospel, but here he wanted to focus on the failure to obey, for all unbelief leads to disobedience. Believers, on the other hand, are characterized by obedience. Verse 18 restates the truth of verse 17 in proverbial form. Peter was not saying that the righteous are scarcely saved, as if they were almost consigned to destruction and were just pulled from the flames. What he meant was that the righteous are saved with difficulty. The difficulty envisioned is the suffering believers must endure because God saves His people by refining and purifying them through suffering. It is implied here that salvation is eschatological, a gift that believers will receive after enduring suffering. If the godly are saved through the purification of suffering, then the judgment of the ungodly and the sinner must be horrific indeed. The verb will become refers to the eschatological judgment of unbelievers. A conclusion from all of 4:12-18 is now drawn in verse 19 with therefore. Those who suffer according to Godís will are those who share in Christís sufferings [12], who are insulted in Christís name [14], and who suffer as Christians rather than for doing something evil [15-16]. The reference to Godís will here as in 3:17 indicates that all suffering passes through His hands, that nothing strikes a believer apart from Godís loving and sovereign control. When suffering strikes, believers should entrust their souls to a faithful Creator. Christ modeled what Peter enjoined, for when He was suffering, He entrusted Himself to God. The reference to God as Creator implies His sovereignty, for the Creator of the world is also sovereign over it. Therefore believers can be confident that He will not allow them to suffer beyond their capacity and that He will provide the strength needed to endure. Such confidence can be theirs because He is a faithful Creator, faithful to His promises and faithful to His people, never abandoning them in their time of need, always vindicating the righteous and condemning the wicked. The way believers will reveal that they are trusting in God is by continuing to do good even in the midst of suffering.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† What should the Christian's attitude towards suffering for the sake of Christ be? What does Peter mean by whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin? In 4:7-11, how does Peter say we should act in the midst of suffering for Christ? (Note the connection between individual behavior and serving God with the spiritual gifts He has given to each believer.) How can you use your spiritual gifts so that only God gets the glory?

 

2.†††††††† Note in these verses that Peter is not necessarily talking about physical suffering or being a martyr for Christ. Instead he has in mind the ridicule, loss of friendships, social standing, business opportunities, etc. that come from standing up for Christ in a sinful world. Why does Peter say that believers should rejoice and be glad when suffering for the name of Christ?

 

3.†††††††† Peter recognizes that there is a type of suffering when believers continue in sin and God disciplines us. How can a believer tell which type of suffering they are experiencing? What does Peter mean by obeying the gospel of God? What is the relationship between faith and obedience?

 

References:

1 Peter, Karen Jobes, ECNT, Baker.

1, 2 Peter, Jude, Thomas Schreiner, NAC, Broadman.