Once again, Peter returns to the theme of suffering as a Christian, which is a common occurrence throughout this letter. This time, he pairs it with a call to rejoice. You can see his encouragement in 1 Peter 4:12-13.
The doxology that we looked at last week ended the previous section of this letter, and this passage marks the beginning of a new one for Peter’s readers to think about. Peter has returned to the theme of suffering, which is a common theme throughout this letter, and this section mirrors much of the previous section. This time, however, he seems to take it just a bit deeper, and he reminds us to rejoice.
The first thing Peter does is to remind his readers that suffering as a believer is inevitable, and that we should not be surprised by it. Back in verse 4, Peter stated that unbelievers think it strange when Christians do not participate in worldly behavior. Here, Peter uses the same word, indicating that suffering and persecution are not strange things that catch us off guard, but are things that are to be expected.
Suffering for our faith is a common theme through much of the New Testament, and we can see that it was very common throughout church history as well. We should not be surprised when it happens to us. And Peter tells us why.
Peter has just informed his readers that the return of Christ is coming, and that they need to be prepared, even though they may be facing persecution and suffering. I find it interesting that the very next thing he says is that they should be using their gifts to edify one another. Take a look for yourself in 1 Peter 4:10-11.
Although brief, and much shorter than the other New Testament passages on spiritual gifts, 1 Peter does touch on this topic, and gives some enlightening information about how we should be using our gifts. In the original Greek, this is still a part of the previous verse, and is one sentence. In the first part, Peter states that hospitality is one way of using the gifts God has given us. And Peter’s words here show that these gifts are given so that we may serve others.
Peter is very clear, as is Paul (Romans 12:6-8), that these gifts are give to us out of God’s grace. We are to be using them for God’s glory, to serve one another. Peter’s words here give the idea of stewardship, that our gifts are to be used, or managed, on behalf of the gift giver, who is God. We are to be using these gifts for his glory.
Peter seems to generalize the gifts here, while Paul lists them more specifically. Peter groups them into two categories, speaking and serving. When he states, “If anyone speaks,” he is referring to those with the gifts of preaching, teaching, and prophesying. Those who do so should be careful in their usage, because they are speaking on behalf of God, and should speak wisely.
The entire letter of 1 Peter is focused on the persecuted church and those believers who are experience such times. Peter’s immediate audience was in the first century, but his words apply across time as well. In this week’s passage, he turns to some practical application of how to live in such times. Take a look for yourself in 1 Peter 4:7-9.
This brief section of Peter’s letter can be divided into four parts, and we will look at each one of them in turn. Peter is giving some practical instructions on how the persecuted believers should live, and how they should stand together as they face such times. Already, he has touched on their need to love one another, in 1:22-2:5, in 2:17, and in 3:8. In this passage, he returns to the idea of loving relationships.
The end of all things
He begins with a statement that closely parallels that of James 5:8. Whether or not he had read James’ letter is unknown, but makes little difference. Peter and James are like minded, along with Paul, and other leaders of the early church, in their belief that the Lord’s return was at hand. Of course, the question that comes to mind is this: Peter wrote this over two thousand years ago, so what does he mean by “near?”
In a general sense, Peter could be referring to the fact that all the prerequisite conditions had been satisfied, and Christ could return at any time. But this doesn’t really answer the question, because it fails to take into account Christ’s own statement in Mark 13:10 and Matthew 24:14 that all people will have had a chance to hear the message of the gospel before his return.
From one of the clearest statements Peter makes, which we looked at last week, we move to one of the most difficult statements to understand in his letter. It’s confusing, but it’s in there for a reason. You can see it for yourself in 1 Peter 4:5-6.
Peter has just given his readers a clear and concise statement about why they should abstain from living as the pagans did. He now gives the reason why. Those people who mistreat and persecute believers, and those who choose to live against God’s way, will one day have to answer for their actions. A day of reckoning is coming, and they will have to give an account to God on that day of judgment. This is a scriptural concept that is not isolated in Peter’s letters; it’s found all throughout the New Testament. Peter simply applies it to this specific group of abusive pagans in this context.
What many do not notice is that Peter’s continual references to the end times, and that coming judgment, are a common theme through his letters. Peter knows that Christ’s return is eminent, and he calls his readers to be ready. But take note of the fact that Peter is not addressing the unbelieving pagans in this statement. He is addressing believers. That is to encourage them to stand strong in the face of such treatment, knowing that God is in control, and to not succumb to such behavior themselves.
He then goes on to make a statement that has several different interpretations, much like his comments about Christ preaching to the spirits in prison back in chapter 3, verse 19. Here, Peter states that the message of the gospel was preached to the dead. There are three main interpretations of this concept among theologians and scholars.
This passage of 1 Peter is one of the clearest statements that Peter makes that he is writing to people who are not Jewish, but Gentile and pagan. You can see his statement in 1 Peter 4:3-4.
Peter uses a very general word here that can be translated either or “pagans” or “Gentiles,” from which we get the word “ethnic.” It is a general word, and most of the time, it is translated as “Gentiles,” but the usage of “pagan” here is appropriate, because it speaks more to the immoral behavior of the culture than an ethnic description. Peter is writing to people who were once a part of that behavior, and have since repented and walked away from it. However, they still live in such a society, and the draw of temptation and the world’s pull is a strong one. So Peter writes to encourage them.
Those who have watched his readers leave that lifestyle simply don’t understand it. It makes no sense to them, and they think it strange that someone would deliberately not join in with them in such reckless living. It disturbs them to the point that they “heap abuse” on believers, which is the Greek word for “blaspheme.” This indicates that not only do they defame and slander believers, but they do the same to the God of those believers as well.
Once again, as 1 Peter 4 begins, Peter encourages his readers to stand strong in the face of persecution, and to continue living for God. In doing so, he makes some extraordinary statements! Take at look at the first part of this chapter in 1 Peter 4:1-2.
Peter realizes that the temptation for believers to fall back into their old lifestyles of sin is strong. As he begins this next section of his letter, he encourages his readers to stay strong, and to avoid that. It was true then, and is still true today, that the pull of our culture is a strong force. We feel the pressure to conform to the “norm,” regardless of what that may be. And when we stand up against it, our culture heaps abuse and torment upon us.
Peter’s encouragement here is to follow Christ in spite of this. Christ suffered “in his body.” This is a very similar phrase to what Peter wrote in 3:18, where he says Christ “was put to death in the body.” Peter’s connection is clear, and his point is that we need to arm ourselves with the same attitude that Christ had, and be willing to face such suffering when it comes. This sounds very similar to Paul’s admonition to take the same attitude as Christ in Philippians 2.
Peter’s next statement is a mind blowing concept, one which I think many present-day Christians forget all too often. He states that when we suffer for doing God’s will, we demonstrate that we are done living in defiance of God’s will, we are done with sin. We show the world that we are ready to live for God, even if it involves suffering and persecution. In other words, sin holds no power over us, because we belong to God. When we take up the same attitude as Christ, we long for his will, and no longer long for sin. We have decided to stop sinning.
In this final passage of 1 Peter 3, Peter makes a very clear statement about baptism and draws a close connection to salvation. You can see this passage for yourself in 1 Peter 3:21-22.
Peter’s statement here is startlingly clear: “Baptism now saves you.” Peter connects baptism as an essential piece of the salvation process.
He has just spent the previous verses giving a comparison of Noah’s flood; here he connects the two and draws his conclusions. Peter uses a literary device known as a type and antitype. The type is the event that foreshadows the antitype, the reality. In this case, Noah’s flood foreshadows salvation through water, which for people in the New Testament age, is baptism. Peter shows how Noah’s Flood points forward to the reality of baptism.
Just how does Noah and the Flood point to the reality of baptism? This can be a difficult thing to understand, and many reject it out of hand. But what Peter states here is that Noah and his family were brought safely through the waters of the flood, and were saved. And while this, in itself, is very interesting, it is only the comparison. The question of how baptism saves has yet to be answered.
Peter knows this and gives his answer in the next sentence. Ultimately, it’s through the divine power of the resurrection of Jesus that this can effect our salvation. But in a more immediate fashion, Peter gives another comparison, a contrast. Baptism doesn’t save because it removes dirt from the body, but because it is an appeal to God for a good conscience.