STUDY THIRTEEN: 1PETER 4:1-19 – LIVING FOR JESUS

© Rosemary Bardsley 2018

In 3:14-18 Peter made clear references to suffering that is incurred because of allegiance to Christ. In these verses he made a clear distinction between those who believe in Christ and those who do not. He also wrote of the suffering, death, victory and authority of Jesus Christ, and taught that these are the measure and the motivation of endurance of suffering because of Christ’s name.

In summary:

The substitutionary death of Christ has reconnected us to God [3:18].

The resurrection of Christ has saved us [3:21].

This is the same Christ who by his Spirit preached long ago in the days of Noah [3:19].

He is now at the right hand of God with all angels, powers and authorities subject to him [3:22].

Peter’s intention in mentioning all of this is to encourage us to remain faithful to Christ and in that faithfulness to keep on serving our fellow-believers.

A. 4:1-4: LIVING WITH CHRIST AS LORD

[See previous study for comments on the difficult concepts in verses 1 and 6].

In 3:15 Peter commanded us to ‘set apart Christ as Lord’. In 4:1-6 he details how this will impact our attitude to sin in the context of suffering for Christ’s name.

Read 4:1-4. What do these verses teach us about the right attitude to sin?
Verse 1:

Verse 2:

Verse 3:

 

Verse 4:

Those who have acknowledged Jesus Christ as Lord have, by that acknowledgement, also acknowledged that ‘sin’ is wrong ... that in turning to Jesus Christ they have returned to God, they have repented of the Genesis 3 rebellion that is the foundation sin of which all other sins are expressions. The willingness to suffer because of this allegiance to Christ is evidence of the integrity of our confession of faith in Christ [Verse 1].

As a result of this core repentance, Peter says, our primary goal is to live for the will of God, not for evil human desires [verse 2].

Prior to becoming Christians we did not prioritize the will of God, rather we lived for our own pleasure just as those who are not Christians still do [verse 3].

Because we once lived how they still live they are puzzled by our changed behaviour and values and give us a hard time because of this [verse 4].

 

B. 4:5-19: LIVING WITH THE END IN SIGHT

Peter encourages us to view our lives with a long term perspective. This life, along with suffering experienced because of allegiance to Christ, is not all there is. Peter, like Jesus and Paul, has urged us not to retaliate when we are mistreated. It is God’s role and responsibility, not ours, to exact vengeance. God is committed to avenge the mistreatment of his people. Our role and responsibility, even when mistreated, is to live in such a way that God is glorified.

B.1 The final judgement
The unbelievers who are giving believers a hard time now face a future judgement.

Read verses 5 and 6. What information does it give you about this judgement?

 

 

 

These verses tell us of the potential imminence of the judgement – God is ‘ready to judge’. It could happen at any time. There is no legal reason that it could not happen today. God, the judge, already has all the necessary information. The terms of the judgement have been in place since the beginning of time. The penalty has been defined since the beginning of time. [But as we will see in 2Peter 3, there is a reason, a compassionate reason, that God is delaying it.]

Persecuted believers can live with this certainty, that at the judgement those who have been mistreating those who belong to Jesus Christ will ‘have to give an account’ to God the judge.

The judgement includes both those who are living and those who have already died – ‘the living and the dead’. Death does not remove a person from the judgement. The judgement embraces all – from Cain who murdered his believing brother Abel, right through to those who are currently persecuting Christians.

Because of the certainty of the judgement, Peter says, the Gospel has been preached. The Gospel exists only because of the certainty and reality of the judgement. This ‘gospel’, this good news, is the only way to avoid the judgement.

Those who have heard and believed the Gospel, even though they have already died physically, still live spiritually. And here is an incredible truth, that through the Gospel, even those who have mistreated God’s people can find forgiveness and escape the judgement. Such a person was Paul: before his conversion he persecuted Christians with a view to getting them arrested and even killed. But when he believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, Christ’s death for sin was credited to him so that all of God’s judgement due to him no longer hung over him. Christ had taken it all. Even though now dead according to human assessment of his body, he lives according to God’s assessment of his spirit.

B.2 Living for God’s glory – 4:7-11
The fact that the ‘end’ of all things is ‘near’ [verse 7] should govern our lives as followers of Christ.

The word translated ‘end’ is ‘telos’, which is not primarily about time or termination but about completion. [The related verb was used by Jesus Christ when he cried out ‘It is finished’ [John 19:30]. By his sin-bearing death God’s eternal plan for salvation was accomplished – all the prophetic words, symbols and rituals recorded from Genesis to Malachi were here in this death brought to their intended completion.]

The telos of all things is the attainment of the goal, the accomplishment of the purpose, of all things. God has a purpose for the universe and for everything in the universe. In Study 8 section D we saw that God’s purpose is glory. We were created for his glory. We have been saved for his glory. After the judgement and the termination of all that entered the world in Genesis 3 there will be nothing but glory. The glory of God will be fully seen. The glory of the human will be fully expressed. Creation will be released from its bondage to decay and its full glory will burst forth. Nothing contrary to glory, nothing that appears to deny God’s glory will remain.

Because this telos is ‘near’ – that is ‘at hand’, ready, just like the judgement, to break through from eternity into time at any moment, Peter directs us to live our lives consistent with this glory that could break through at any moment.

In just a few words – ‘to him be the glory’ [verse 11] – Peter draws our attention to this under-girding principle of the Christian life.

Read these verses. What is the foundational motivation for godly living?
1:7

2:9

2:12

4:11

This earnest desire for the praise and glory of God puts a boundary around our lives, outlawing everything outside the boundary (attitudes and actions that dishonour him), and affirming everything within the boundary (attitudes and actions that honour him). It encompasses ‘all things’.

If our aim, our purpose, our commitment, is the glory and praise of God, this will, Peter says, change what our life looks like.

From these verses, what will our lives look like if we are committed to God’s glory?
4:2

4:3,4

4:7

 

4:8

4:9

4:10

 

4:11

We will not claim that any of these actions are to our personal credit, but in all things will acknowledge that both the gifting and the strength to employ the gift are from God.

So at every moment of our days two questions establish where the boundary is:

Will this attitude or action honour God?
Or, will this attitude or action dishonour God?

If we have already committed ourselves to always try to live for God’s glory our basic decision has already been made. All we have to do at any point of choice, is to determine the answer to these two questions.

But Peter also breaks this down into a number of other questions:

Are we thinking clearly? [verse 7] Are we seeing life and reality as God sees them? Or have we allowed our thinking to be distorted by our surrounding culture or by the pressures we are suffering?

Are we in control of ourselves? [verse 7] Or have we allowed ourselves to become so overwhelmed by life that we do not even remember to pray?

Are we prioritizing deep love for our fellow believers? [verse 8] Such deep love that we forgive their sins and bear with them even as God for Christ’s sake forgives us and bears with us?

Are we willingly helpful to our fellow Christians in need? [verse 9]

Do we consider that the gifts God has given us are instruments of his grace? [verse 10] Do we realize that they have been entrusted to us to use in the service of others – that through our use of these gifts the grace of God is extended to others?

Are we using our gifts for his glory? [verse 11] If it is a speaking gift are we using it to speak the words of God? If it is a serving gift are we depending on God’s strength as we use it?

But, sometimes, because we are sinners who live in the midst of sinners, it seems that every option open to us will in some way dishonour God. Even to do nothing would dishonour God. There seems no way out, no clear way to glorify God rather than dishonour him. In such circumstances, where any choice of action, including inaction, involves some element of wrong, even here, trapped in circumstances generated by our corporate human sinfulness, we can, by our attitudes honour and glorify God.

To rest in his grace given to us in Christ and refuse to be cowed by condemnation.

To live at peace in his presence knowing that through Christ he has permanently reconciled us to himself.

To rejoice in him because he has in Christ demonstrated that he is for us, that nothing can separate us from his love.

B.3 Present suffering in the light of eternal blessedness
Peter has, in his first letter, said quite a lot about suffering, particularly unjust suffering. In 4:12-19 he focuses on suffering that is caused by allegiance to Jesus Christ: suffering ‘because of the name of Christ’ [verse 14], suffering that is ‘as a Christian’ [verse 16].

The first thing he says is that such suffering should not surprise us. Suffering because of the name of Christ is not some strange, unexpected thing. Jesus himself actually told his followers to expect the same kind of suffering that he experienced during his three years of ministry.

Read John 15:18-21. What does Jesus say about suffering because of allegiance to him?

 

 

Jesus identified the clear distinction between unbelievers and believers that is the cause of this hatred:

‘I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world’ [John 17:14].

But this clear distinction that generates the antagonism of unbelievers also makes even that antagonism a cause of rejoicing, both now and in the future. Peter says several things to help us to view such suffering in a positive, even joyful, way:

To attract hatred because of the name of Christ, to share the same kind of rejection that he suffered, confirms our union with him and the certainty of our secure standing on the Day of judgement – that we will ‘be overjoyed when his glory is revealed’ [verse 13]. Therefore, even though we might be enduring a ‘painful trial’ now because of our faith in Christ, even that pain is a cause for rejoicing.

Similarly, to attract the world’s hatred because of the name of Christ confirms that ‘the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you’ [verse 14], and that therefore we are blessed. Although the world’s hatred is painful, its hatred actually affirms the Christian’s blessedness. Behind Peter’s comments are two significant truths:

[1] Paul taught that the indwelling Holy Spirit was God’s seal of ownership and guarantee of our salvation [2Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:13,14].

[2] Jesus taught that the Holy Spirit within the believer convicts ‘the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment’ [John 16:8, read also verses 9-11]. The presence of believers in the world exposes the world’s unbelief and the world does not like it.

Suffering is never pleasant. However, when we suffer because of allegiance to Christ this should not cause us to feel ashamed. Rather, it should cause us to praise God that we bear that name [verse 16].

God’s judgment is inescapable. Even ‘the family of God’, ‘the righteous’, are saved only by the mercy and grace of God. Even they do not have any merit by which to save themselves. Those who are ‘the world’ – those who have not obeyed the Gospel, those who are still ungodly and unsaved sinners – have no means to escape the judgment. This, Peter says, is motivation to endure the suffering incurred because we have obeyed the will of God by obeying the Gospel and believing in the Lord Jesus Christ [verses 17-19].

With these strong words to encourage us when we suffer because of the name of Christ, Peter gives us two commands [verse 19]:

Commit yourselves to your faithful Creator. In other words, trust God. He is faithful. And he is your Creator. The suffering you are experiencing because of the name of Christ is not something out of his control. Nor is it something that questions or denies either his power or his love. As Paul has stated so powerfully in Romans 8:31-39, God is for us. Nothing that sets itself against us has any power or any authority to accuse us in God’s presence or to sever us from God. Nothing can separate us from his love.

Continue to do good. Remain faithful to the name of Christ. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Stand firm in the strength that God supplies.

As we read in the letter to the Hebrews:

‘... let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart’ [Hebrews 12:2-3].

B.4 An additional look at 4:17-18
These verses refer to judgement beginning ‘with the family of God’ and how hard it is for even ‘the righteous to be saved’.

If we look at these verses apart from the grace of the Gospel we could fear that we also, along with ‘the ungodly and the sinner’ – along with those who have never received the Lord Jesus Christ – would not survive the judgement.

Read 4:13-18. How does Peter refer to believers?
Verse 13:

Verse 14:

Verse 16:

Verse 17:

Verse 18:

 

Given these descriptions, full of the Christian joy and sure expectation of glory, it is out of order to interpret verses 17 and 18 to suggest that these people stand under threat of being condemned at the final judgement. To suggest such an outcome is also to contradict the clear meaning of Jesus’ and Paul’s teaching.

Check these verses. How do they express the sure survival of the judgement of those who believe in Jesus Christ?
John 3:18

John 5:24

Romans 5:9

Romans 8:1

This leaves us with the question ‘What is Peter talking about when he says that it is time for judgement to begin with the family of God?’ and ‘What does he mean when he says it is hard for the righteous to be saved, a rough reference to Proverbs 11:31?’

B.5 Judgement begins with the family of God
The New Testament refers to three things that could be termed ‘judgement’ in reference to believers:

Judgement for rewards. For a comprehensive study on rewards go here - http://www.godswordforyou.com/individualstudies/698-the-promise-of-rewards.html

The fact that on the last day, Christ will send his angels to gather the elect [Matthew 24:31]. This makes a separation between believers and unbelievers. Similarly, Revelation 7 speaks of a separation immediately prior to the final judgement, and Revelation 20 pictures ‘all the dead’ awaiting judgement from ‘the books’, from which only those whose names are found in the book of life escape.

A judgement by which the Holy Spirit assesses our need for change and growth in the continual process of making us more and more like Jesus.

Peter has been speaking of the suffering believers were experiencing because of their allegiance to Christ. It is quite likely that it is this suffering that he is identifying as the ‘judgement’ that had begun. As we have seen in the texts above, this cannot be punishment for sin. That punishment was all taken by Jesus Christ in his substitutionary, sin-bearing death.

However, although we are deemed ‘perfect’ in Christ [Hebrews 10:14], in ourselves we are far from perfect. The New Testament makes it clear that God still assesses the lives of believers, and by his Spirit works at refining us. One of the avenues through which this sanctifying work is done is our suffering.

What do these texts teach us about this corrective work?
Romans 5:3-5

 

2Corinthians 1:3-11

 

2Corinthians 4:7-18

 

 

Hebrews 12:4-11