1 Peter 4
The letter begins: Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.
Peter deals with the very practical tension between the dignity of being God’s chosen people and the struggle of living as Christians in an alien and often hostile world.
4:19 provides a summary of what has gone before:- So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
Obviously, Peter is not speaking of all suffering here. Verse 15 shows that he is not thinking, for example, of the kind of suffering that murderers, thieves and meddlers might experience if they get caught and punished.
But Peter is talking about suffering that arises, not from doing wrong, but from doing right. He refers, v4, to the abuse that was heaped on them when they refused to join in any more with the riotous lifestyle of those around them. He mentions, v14, the insults that might be hurled in their direction because of ‘the name of Christ.’ He calls the whole situation, v12, the painful trial [fiery ordeal] you are suffering. He is speaking, v16 of suffering as a Christian.
Do people suffer as Christians today? Of course they do. Sometimes, the suffering may be overt, as can be the case when believers are persecuted under a hostile political regime. At other times, Christian suffer not so much because of aggression, but apathy. Our own lives are not under immediate threat because we are Christians. We are not living in daily fear of our homes being raided because we pray together. We are not attacked or thrown into prison because go to church. Nevertheless, to be a faithful Christian in our own land in the present day can be a struggle. We find our beliefs laughed at or misrepresented, and we feel marginalised. We find our attempts to commend Christ to others so often falling on deaf ears, and we feel frustrated. We find ourselves considered ‘odd’ or ‘uncool’, and we feel isolated. We seem to be constantly swimming against the tide and we find it exhausting. All this is suffering of a kind.
Degrees of suffering and forms of persecution will differ from place to place and from person to person. But what we all need to know is that God really can be trusted, and that our efforts to serve him and his people really are worth while.
Peter’s summary, v19, accordingly, identifies two things for suffering Christians to do.
1. They should commit themselves to their faithful Creator
The word for commit means ‘to entrust to a person for safe keeping.’ The ancient world didn’t have anything like our modern banking system. Therefore, someone who felt his life was under threat might deposit his money with a trustworthy friend until the crisis was over. In the same way, says Peter, suffering Christians should entrust their souls to the safe keeping of their faithful Creator.
For God is ready to judge the living and the dead, v5. All the great events in God’s plan of redemption have occurred: creation, fall, the call of Abraham, the exodus from Egypt, the kingdom of Israel, the exile in Babylon and the return, the birth of Christ, his life, death and resurrection, his ascension into heaven, and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit to establish the church. Now all things are ready for Christ to return as king and judge. The great “last act”, the church age, had been on stage for about thirty years by the time Peter wrote. It has continued, in God’s patience, for a further two thousand years. But the curtain could fall at any time, ushering in the return of Christ and the end of the age. All things are ready. The end of all things (the “goal” to which “all” these events have been leading) is near, v7.
How ready? How near? V17 It is time for judgment to begin with the family [house] of God. For persecuted believers, the furnace of affliction is the refiner’s fire. And the same fire that is being used to purify the persecuted will also be used to punish the persecutors. And if the fire of God’s judgement begins with his house, his spiritual temple, the church, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?
Now, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator. Interesting, isn’t it, that Peter refers to God as “a faithful Creator” rather than “a faithful Judge” or even “a faithful Saviour”. Curious, that after Peter and John had been thrown into jail for preaching and healing in the name of Jesus, the church met together for prayer and addressed the Lord as follows ” “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.“ (Acts 4:24). They prayed to their Creator! For our faithful Creator made us for a purpose. Our faithful Creator provides for our needs. And we are convinced that our faithful Creator is able to guard that which we have entrusted to him for that day’.
And along with a foretaste of judgement, the Lord also gives a foretaste of glory. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (v14) Wow!
2. They should they continue to do good
Committing ourselves to God’s care is not passive, but active. It is not just fleeing to God in order to forget our present troubles. It is not just sitting and waiting for better times ahead. That promise that the end of all things is near, v 7, was followed by a therefore…
Continue with the decisive break you have made with sin, vv1-2. He who has suffered in his body is done with sin. Christ, though sinless, suffered in his body to put an end to sin. Christians, arm yourselves also with the same attitude. For the true follower of Christ does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.
Continue making up for lost time, v3. You have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do. ‘Much of our time being already misspent, we had need work the harder for the kingdom of heaven. He who has lost his time at school, and often played truant, had need ply it the harder, that he may gain a stock of learning; and he who has slept and loitered in the beginning of his journey, had need ride the faster in the evening, lest he fall short of the place to which he is travelling. Some are in their youth, others in the flower of their age, others have grey hairs, the almond tree blossoms, and yet perhaps have been very negelctful of their souls and heaven. Time spent unprofitably is not time lived, but time lost. If there be any such here who have misspent their golden hours, they have not only been slothful, but wasteful servants. They had need now to redeem the time, and press forward with might and main to the heavenly kingdom. If we have lost so much time already, let us now work the harder. They who have crept as snails, had need now fly as eagles to the paradise of God. If, in the former part of your life, you have been as trees in winter, barren in goodness, in the latter part, be as ‘an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits.’ Recompense former remissness with future diligence.’ (Thomas Watson)
‘Continue to be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray’ v7. This would have had a special meaning for Peter, for he went to sleep when he should have been watching and praying. Peter now regards prayer as sober, alert, and profoundly thoughtful communication with the Lord.
‘Continue to love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins’ v8. The word translated ‘deeply’ is used for something that has been stretched. Are we willing to ‘stretch’ our love, so that it is wider and deeper than before? Such love is willing to forgive, not just seven times, but seventy times seven. In fact, it keeps no record of wrongs (1 Cor 13:5). A Christian woman was speaking kindly about another person. Someone said, “How can you speak about her like that? Don’t you remember the time she was so cruel to you?” “Oh, no,” replied the woman, “I distinctly remember forgetting that!” It’s nice in some ways to have a good memory, but even more important to have a good ‘forgetory’.
‘Continue to offer hospitality to one another without grumbling’ v9. This would have been important in Peter’s day for persecuted Christians who had been made homeless, and for travelling teachers and missionaries. But it’s still important in our own day. Thank God for all those Christian people who can open the door to unexpected guests, provide them with food, shelter and friendship, and say ‘No problem’, and mean it!
‘Continue, each one of you to use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ’ vv10f.
Such, then is Peter’s message to any who suffer according to God’s will. A mixture of reassurance and practical encouragement. They should commit themselves to their faithful Creator. They should continue to do good.
Keep on keeping on.
To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.