As the world shifts further into a stance against God, I wanted to do a series of lessons to help strengthen our faith and encourage our hearts to remain steadfast in this culture. The apostle Peter writes his first letter to Christians who are going through suffering because of their faith in Jesus. So Peter writes to give them practical ways to handle their circumstances and give them the understanding they need to continue to be strong in the faith. Open your copies of God’s word to 1 Peter 4 and we are going to look at the first few verses of this chapter.
Different Thinking (4:1)
Peter begins this section of his letter telling us to have a different way of thinking. Peter says to prepare ourselves by putting on armor. Peter says in 4:1 that we need to arm ourselves with the same way of thinking. So what is this armor we are putting on? The armor that we need to put into our minds is that Christ physically suffered (4:1). Peter has repeatedly noted Christ’s suffering as the basis for our faith when suffering. Back in 1 Peter 2:21, Peter wrote, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” The suffering of Christ in the flesh is put forward to us as an example for how we need to look at our own lives. Peter uses this example of Christ’s suffering as our armor for life. Arm yourselves with the same understanding and attitude. We must prepare ourselves for suffering like Jesus.
Why? Why must we arm ourselves with the same way of thinking? Why must we prepare ourselves for suffering when we are Christians? The rest of verse 1 explains, though the statement can be misunderstood. Peter says, “For whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.” Let’s explain what Peter is pointing at. Peter is saying that when you choose to stop sinning that this is going to be a cause for suffering. We can read the opposite of Peter’s statement to help make the point. Whoever has not suffered in the flesh has not stopped sinning. Peter is connecting suffering with avoiding sinful living. The rest of the paragraph is going to explain why this is true. Choosing to stop living for sin is going to cause you problems in this world. So we need to prepare ourselves by having this understanding. Choosing not to sin is going to cause you hardships and difficulties in the world.
Different Passions (4:2-3)
Now we see this idea explored further in verses 2-3. We are choosing to live the rest of our lives no longer for human passions but for the will of God. This is an important truth that Peter puts forward to us. Being a Christian means that we are making a decision to no longer live the rest of the time we have on this earth obeying our passions and desires. Rather, disciples choose to live the rest of their lives living for God’s will. The Christian has a new passion. The Christian has a new desire. The desire is not to do what we want to do. The new desire is to do what God wants us to do. You are making a break with sinning. The Christian chooses to say no to the human passions.
Notice the attitude that we are to have in verse 3. We look at our lives and realize that we have wasted too much time in our lives living like the rest of the world does. We have wasted too much of our time living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. Notice that Peter does not describe the Christian longing to go back to those sins. Rather, the Christian looks at those activities as foolishness. There has already been too much time in our lives spent doing the sinful things of the world that proved to be empty and useless. We do not want to waste the rest of our time on earth doing these empty, sinful activities. The heart of the Christian is wanting to spend what time is left doing the will of God.
Peter describes a mature awareness of life. As we age we start to realize all the more that we do not have as much time as we think we have. When we are young we feel like we have all the time in the world. But then we get older and can realize how much time is wasted in useless, sinful things. Following your passions is an empty pursuit. We do not want to do those things anymore. We are not pulled by those sins anymore because we want to live for God. We are not pulled by those sins anymore because we do not want to waste any more of our time on this earth doing pointless, empty, or sinful things.
Different Outcome (4:4)
Now why is making a break from sin such a problem for us? Why does it matter to the world that we make a choice to not agree with their sinful pursuits? Peter explains this in verse 4. They are surprised when you do not join them in same kind of living. They are surprised that you join them in their reckless living. You are going to shock them that you do not live your life the way that they do. They are going to be surprised that you are not living for your human passions. They are going to be surprised that you do not join with them in drinking parties and carousing. They are going to be shocked that you do not join them in following your sensuality, lusts, and evil desires.
Again, I want us to hear something that Peter is assuming. The Christian does not participate or agree with the way the world lives. We cannot condone sensuality, passions, drunkenness, unrestrained behavior, drinking parties, and idolatrous living. We cannot agree with it. We cannot participate in it.
So what is the problem by living a surprising life to those in the world? Look at the end of verse 4. They are going to slander you when you do not join with them. They are going to verbally abuse you. They are going to malign you. They are not going to say, “Well, I think that is a great choice for you to make.” They are going to try to verbally destroy you when you do not join with them. They are not going to leave you alone. They are not going to let you believe what you want. They are going to abuse you.
Please hear what Peter is saying. The reason for the suffering is because we do not join with them. The reason for the abuse is because we do not agree with how they are living. When the maligning and the abuse begins, we cannot cave in because we do not want to suffer. This is how Peter started the paragraph. We are to arm ourselves with the same way of thinking that Christ did. We are going to suffer for doing right. We are going to suffer for not joining with them. The temptation is going to be to avoid the suffering and maligning by going along with it.
Friends, we are beginning to be hard pressed in our culture right now regarding approving the sexual sins of our time. We are living in a time when the world is going to be surprised that you do not agree with them and join them in their behaviors. They are shocked that you are not with them and it will lead to you being maligned by them. So we arm ourselves with the same way of thinking that Jesus had, an attitude of being ready to suffer.
Different Response (4:5)
So how are we going to endure this? Look at verse 5. “But they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” This is such an important teaching that we must not forget. They are going to be surprised at your righteous living. They are going to malign you for not joining with them in their sinning. You are going to be made an outsider because you are not part of them. But they are going to have to give an account for this. How did Jesus deal with his suffering and still did not commit sin? Listen to what Peter said:
He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:22–23 ESV)
Jesus entrusted his life to the Great Judge who judges justly. Peter also told us not to repay evil for evil or insult for insult (1 Peter 3:9). Not only this, Peter said that we are to bless those who do evil to us and insult us so that we would receive a blessing. How are we supposed to bless when people curse us? We know that those who malign us will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. The apostle Paul taught the same message to the Christians in Rome.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:14–21 ESV)
The point that we are being taught is that no one is getting away with what they are doing. We can live different because we know that God is going to sort it all out. We know that God will judge the living and dead. We know that everyone will be accountable for their actions. This is how we can love our enemies. This is how we can do good for them. This is how we cannot respond with retaliation. This is how we can live peaceably with all. This is how we cannot avenge ourselves. This is how we can overcome evil by doing good. We are going to continue to avoid sin and not join in with them, knowing that this is going to cause suffering in our lives. But we know that they will give an account for the suffering they inflict on us.
Different Judgment (4:6)
This is the conclusion Peter draws in verse 6 for us. Verse 6 begins that this is the purpose of the gospel. Verse 6 is a tough sentence to work through. But as we work through it I want us to see that Peter says that this is why the gospel is preached. I think the CSB reading gives the best sense of what Peter is saying. The NET Bible has a similar reading.
For this reason the gospel was also preached to those who are now dead, so that, although they might be judged in the flesh according to human standards, they might live in the spirit according to God’s standards. (1 Peter 4:6 CSB)
…so that though they were judged in the flesh by human standards they may live spiritually by God’s standards. (1 Peter 4:6 NET)
What is the gospel? What is the good news? The good news is that your God reigns (cf. Isaiah 52:7). So what is the point of that? Peter says that the point of the good news is that you will be judged by the world according to their worldly, human standards. You are going to be judged as wicked by people. You are going to be judged as intolerant by the world. You are going to be called narrow-minded. You are going to suffer abuse because you do not conform with this world’s standards. But guess what? They are not the ultimate judge. They are not the final say. They do not give the final decree. We will be judged by human standards and even die outside of their favor or even be killed for not agreeing with them (I think this is the reason they are “now dead). But you live according to God’s standard and are judged to be righteous and have life. The good news is that you do not measure your life by the world’s standards. What good news that is since the world’s standards are constantly changing! What was right 20 years ago is now wrong! What was wrong 20 years ago is now right! But you are not concerned about living for the world’s standards. You live for God’s standards and the good news is that you will be deemed righteous before God because he is the ultimate judge, not them. We may be put to death in the flesh but we will be made alive in the spirit (cf. 1 Peter 3:18). In summary, you will be judged by the world by human standards, pronounced wicked and given death. But the world is not the ultimate judge or authority. But you will be judged by God by his standards, pronounced righteous and given life. The good news is that God is the ultimate judge and authority, not the world.
Peter is calling for us to arm ourselves with a new way of thinking about the world. What is the new way of thinking? First, when we strive to stop sinning we are going to suffer (4:1). We know that turning away from sin is going to cause problems (cf. 2 Timothy 3:12). When people give their lives to Jesus and are baptized for the forgiveness of their sins, I tell them that their troubles are going to begin. When you try to get your life right and try to live right, it is going to be hard and there is going to be resistance. Be mentally ready for it.
Second, the world is going to be surprised when you are done wasting your time with the foolish and empty sins of the world. They are going to malign you when you decide to live the rest of your days for the will of God and not for our own fleshly passions. It will not make sense to them and they are not going to like it. Darkness does not like light. People love the darkness and are not going to happy to have light exposing their darkness. You are going to lose friends. You are going to have to make tough decisions about your worldly friends who will turn against you when you stand up for righteousness. Be ready because they will resist you.
Third, you can live righteously and do good because you know that they will have to give an account for the harm they did toward you. In fact, the gospel message is that you will be judged by the world as a sinner worthy of be canceled from our culture, but God will judge you alive to him for all eternity. God will make you alive even though you must be dead to the world. So live different and be ready for resistance. But do not cave to the maligning and mistreatment. This is the way of Christ.