Read the Passage: 1 Peter 4:1-19
Pattern of Suffering (4:1–6)
In 1 Pet. 3:13–17 Peter taught his readers that righteous suffering (or undeserved suffering) is itself a blessing from God (cf. 1 Pet. 3:14). Peter notes that bearing such suffering properly is a testimony to “the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15). In 1 Pet. 4:1–6 Peter appeals to the example of Jesus’ suffering as a pattern for believers. Note that Peter had started to discuss Christ’s suffering at 1 Pet. 3:18, before digressing into a discussion of Jesus’ descent and ascent in 1 Pet. 3:19–22. Peter resumes his teaching on suffering as he writes, “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, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Pet. 4:1–2). Peter had made a similar appeal to right thinking earlier (cf. 1 Pet. 1:13).
In 1 Pet. 4:3–4 Peter recounts the kind of lifestyle that believers abandon when they come to Christ, and he notes the persecution that believers often experience from their old colleagues on account of their unwillingness to continue in a sinful lifestyle. Note Paul’s similar teaching at 1 Cor. 6:9–11; Eph. 2:1–3. In this passage Peter writes, “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. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you.” In 1 Pet. 4:5–6 Peter notes that such persecutors will be judged for their actions, and some may even be saved. Note Peter’s reference to the preaching of the gospel here is a reference to the words and actions of those who are suffering (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15).
Rationale for Suffering (4:7–11)
In keeping with the theme of God’s judgment that he had mentioned at 1 Pet. 4:5–6, at 1 Pet. 4:7 Peter reminds his readers, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers.” Peter’s point here is that believers cannot afford to be lax regarding their sanctification and Kingdom work, for the consummation of the ages is at hand. Indeed, to quote John the Baptist, “The kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15), or as Jesus himself said, “The kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21). In other words, the Kingdom of God has arrived and is to be manifest through believers who are the visible the Body of Christ. While Christians, especially persecuted believers, may be tempted to shrink back from the world and hide in a Christian ghetto, the gospel requires cultural engagement. This ought to be a focus in our prayers.
In 1 Pet. 4:8–9 Peter gives some specific instructions on having the mind of Christ (cf. 1 Pet. 4:1). First, in quoting Prov. 10:12, he urges his readers to “Have fervent love for one another” (1 Pet. 4:8). The idea here is to choose to put another’s spiritual good ahead of oneself, even at great personal cost—this is agape love. Second, Peter urges joyful hospitality, which entails meeting another’s needs (cf. 1 Pet. 4:9). Scripture teaches that Christians should be hospitable, even to strangers (cf. Heb. 13:2). Third, believers are to develop and skillfully utilize their spiritual gifts (cf. 1 Pet. 4:10–11). The apostle alludes to two categories of gifts—that is, gifts of speaking (i.e., prophesy, teaching, wisdom, exhortation) and gifts of ministry or service (i.e., helping, giving, leading, mercy). Of course, there are more types of gifts (cf. Rom. 12:6–8; 1 Cor. 12:8–10, 29–30; Eph. 4:11).
Result of Suffering (4:12–19)
In 1 Pet. 4:12–16 Peter again returned to the theme he had been unfolding since 1 Pet. 3:13, which is the idea of suffering. In 1 Pet. 4:14 the apostle reiterates a fact that he mentioned in 1 Pet. 3:14—that is, the idea that suffering itself is a blessing from God, or in Peter’s own words, “If you are reproached . . . blessed are you.” Of course, when believers suffer, God provides enabling grace (cf. 2 Cor. 12:7–10). Suffering is not easy, nor should we purposefully seek it. In order to make sure that his readers understood that he was not speaking about just any kind of suffering, in 1 Pet. 4:16 Peter notes that he is speaking of “suffer[ing] as a Christian.” By way of encouragement, in 1 Pet. 4:17–19 Peter concludes his teaching by noting that the suffering experienced by his readers was God’s way of chastening and purifying the church and was ultimately the will of God.
- How can a believer arm himself with the mind of Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 2:16; Phil. 2:5)? How do we know the mind of Christ?
- How does a right reaction to suffering testify to the hope of gospel (cf. Rom. 8:16–18; 2 Cor. 4:16–18)?
- When you face hardships, do you have more of a bunker mentality (i.e., getting through it) or a Kingdom mentality (i.e., sanctifying the situation for Christ)?
- Why is it important that we employ our spiritual gifts? What is your spiritual gift? How can we better develop our spiritual gifts?
- Why is it hard for many Christians to accept the idea that suffering may be the will of God? Why do we equate the will of God with personal flourishing?