Strength to Suffer Well (1 Peter 4:1-6)
You probably won’t believe me, but we are actually in the final stretch of 1 Peter. I am looking to finish 1 Peter in the next four weeks. And Living Hope tradition is that at the end of every series, we have a chance to wrap it up by sharing testimonies. Right now, I am looking at October 24 as the wrap-up day. Therefore, I will need four individuals (I know all of you want to jump at this opportunity, but I can only take four) to share on that day as we wrap up and thank God for this series. So start praying and preparing now!
We talked last time about suffering well for the Lord. I want to suffer well for the Lord. The question is not ifsuffering will come to us, but when suffering comes, how will I handle it? For Peter’s audience who were Christians suffering intense persecution in the early first century, life was difficult. So Peter writes this letter to give hope, living hope to people tempted to give up and give in to sin and live for themselves to survive instead of living for God.
But sometimes when life gets hard, we start questioning and doubting our faith. We start to think: “God doesn’t seem to be taking care of me, so I need to take care of me.” Or we live in denial and run away, thinking “I need some relief. I can’t handle this stress. I need to take care of me.” And then all of a sudden, compromise sets in and you let that small leak continue leaking only to find out that a flood of devastation destroys your life. The Enemy’s lie from the beginning is that God is not good and that He is holding things back from us. “Did God really say?” is how he began tempting Eve, questioning God’s Word (Gen. 3:1). And in the desert, Jesus was hungry and Satan came to say, “God is not going to take care of you. You need to take care of you.” He tries to tempt Jesus to meet legitimate need illegitimately.
Today it is no different. If we do not suffer well and prepare to suffer well, we are going to be in big trouble. Suffering does not create character as so much as it reveals it. I think what it boils down to is this: DO I WANT LIVE FOR WHAT I WANT OR FOR WHAT GOD WANTS FOR ME? So Peter here gives us motivations to stand strong in the Lord in our suffering, so that we can suffer well. How can I stand strong in following the Lord when hard things come my way? There are three things I see from this text on how to receive strength to suffer well:
I. Choosing what God wants over what I want (1 Pet. 4:1-2)
Peter continues to say here that Christ should be our model and Christ’s model and motto for living through suffering was always “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus Christ chose what God wanted over everything else. Peter breaks down how we can choose what God wants over what we want:
a) Purposeful prepared attitude in light of the cross
He starts off with “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh.” He is connecting us back to 1 Pet. 3:18ff. Jesus died on the cross for us. He willingly gave Himself up for us and suffered to the point of death. Not only did He die, His death was subsequently followed by His triumph over sin, the forces of hell and of death. The cross of Christ was proof that suffering for the Lord will be followed by triumph if you persevere. The cross is where we come to, first of all. The cross is where the power of “what I want” is destroyed. Perhaps you have heard me say, “The cross is a huge “I” crossed out!” I love how Eugene Peterson translates Gal. 2:20: “Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” I love the phrase, “My ego is no longer central.”
John Stott says, “Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to be saying to us, ‘I am here because of you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.’ Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is there, at the foot of the cross that we shrink to our true size.” If you are now living like you want to do what you want to do instead of what God wants, go to the cross every day. After you sat there for a while, you will rise up in power, purpose and a prepared attitude. When was the last time you reflected on the cross of Christ? I cannot imagine a believer coming to the cross leaving that place wanting to live for self and do what he wants!
So Peter says, since that was how Christ persevered through His suffering, you need to have the same mentality. Notice the word “arm yourselves.” This image is “that of a soldier who puts on his equipment and arms himself for battle.” One commentator notes that, “Peter does not use the Greek word for light armor here but the word for heavy armor. We need all of the protection we can get to prepare ourselves for the battles ahead. God does not promise to carry us to the skies on flowery beds of ease. God does not hand out colorful brochures offering good health, prosperity, wide popularity, and a long life to those who accept Christ. Those who array themselves in such flimsy robes are in for a shock.”
I think most of us live day-to-day wearing the flimsy robes of self-reliance and independence. We are not choosing what God wants in the day-to-day. We often act as practical atheists, living for ourselves and our pleasure, lazy in the things of God and complacent. So when suffering hits us, we are paralyzed. Here Peter calls for decisive, get-on-that-right-now action. There is personal responsibility behind it. There is intentionality and purpose behind it. There is a choice to do it. This preparation is so that when the dart of suffering hits you, you might fall down, but you are not out.
What is the heavy armor we are to arm ourselves with? Notice, we are to arm ourselves, “with the same way of thinking.” It starts with our attitude and mindset. Our outlook will determine the outcome. Right living comes from right thinking as Peter told us back in 1 Pet. 1:13.What was Christ’s mindset? In context, I think it is simply, “I will be faithful to the Father for the pathway to glory is the pathway of suffering. I will do life and face life God’s way.” The cross comes before the crown. So I choose what God wants when I remember that though choosing the hard route now is hard, it will lead to eventual victory one day. Secondly,
b) Look ahead to the presence of sin being destroyed
I think that will help us understand this difficult phrase, “for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.” Some have said this means that it is like what Paul teaches that Christ’s death has brought the end of the power of sin in our lives. The problem is 1) language is different from Paul’s 2) The perfect tense verb emphasizes a permanent condition free from sin. Therefore, it is not the power of something that is being broken as Paul would teach. Others say that just as Christ dealt with sin (our sin not His) and persevered and was done with sin when He died, believers too will one day though suffering now and dealing with sin, upon persevering, will be done with sin upon death. This makes more sense to me.
When is the believer in a permanent condition free from sin? Upon death or the return of Christ. Then sin is forever vanquished. So Jesus for the joy set before Him endured the cross (Heb. 12:2), so prepare yourself with that same attitude in suffering. Look forward to the day the presence of sin is gone from your life. And if your persecutors kill you, that is great because sin will be forever gone from your life. John Macarthur adds, “The point is this, the worst that your persecutors can do to you is kill you and if they kill you, the battle is over. Does that sound inviting? It should. That’s the idea. And if you’re armed with that idea, you will not recant, you’ll have courage and boldness and confidence and strength in the midst of any trial, any difficulty, any persecution, any threat.”
What God wants for us is so great! What He has prepared for us, we cannot imagine and then to enjoy it without sin? Wow! So reflect on the past work of Christ on the cross and anticipate ahead of the future life without sin. Now in the present, I must “live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” The will of God in Scripture deals more with what kind of people we should be instead of what we should do with our lives. The will of God comes from the heart of God and therefore is an expression of God of God’s love. And though “we may not always understand what He is doing…we know that He is doing what is best for us. We do not live on explanations; we live on promises.” And maybe that’s why we end up doing what we want instead of what God wants?
“Live” refers to our earthly existence. “Passions” refers to “passionate longing” or evil desire. When you choose to arm yourselves over and over again, sometimes failing, sometimes victorious, you start to grow in the Lord and you will welcome suffering. That is God’s will for you. The spiritually immature is not one who has armed themselves and fell, but the one who does not care about arming themselves at all.
The heart of sin is wanting to do what I want instead of what God wants. The cure for that is to start by coming to the cross. So to apply this, pray to the Lord looking at the cross in your daily devotions. There you will say like the hymn writer, “All the vain things that charm me most Lord, I sacrifice them to His blood.” There you will have a hatred for sin. There you will Jesus who died to help you live a life for what God wants. From there, go to the empty grave. Thank the Lord that victory will be accomplished there. You want to choose what God wants for your life, come back to the cross and you’re your eye on the future victory. Secondly,
II. Realizing that the time to do what I want is over (1 Pet. 4:3-4)
Peter then explains why believers should live the rest of their lives for God’s will. He reminds believers to leave behind all that was in their past. Look at the phrase “suffices.” The idea there is that “more than enough.” You had more than enough time to indulge in the excesses of sin. Peter had called this “a futile way of life” (1 Pet. 1:18). “Gentiles want to do” here refers to the God-less lives of the unsaved. These are people who do what they want to do. Isn’t it amazing 2,000 years later that people are still into the same things?
He gives a list here of a life of people doing what they want to do. Interesting that these people might tell you they are free. They might say they are free from any God trying to control them. But the more you look at it, the more slavery you see. They are addicted to themselves and pleasure. Sensuality and passions here refers to unrestrained, unbridled, out of control, no boundaries, no shame, excessive indulgence in pleasure (also called debauchery). Sensuality might the act, but the motive is passions or lusts, wanting more and more. Such a person is always trying, but never satisfied. Drunkenness refers to habitual intoxication, your soul controlled by an outside substance thus fueling uncontrolled sexual desire with multiple partners at the same time (orgies) and then drinking more and more and giving oneself to idolatry.
Peter then says, it is not surprising that doing what God wants is not really popular with those who are doing what they want. You no longer run with the same crowd. Pleasure is not your god anymore and that makes people uncomfortable, resentful and guilty, so they make fun of you or speak evil of you, the idea of the word “mild.”
One of the ways the Enemy works is by promising much, but delivering nothing. In CS Lewis’ classic work The Screwtape Letters, one devil is talking to his disciple and he says, “I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which he has forbidden…. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula…. To get a man’s soul and give him nothing in return—that’s what really gladdens Our Father’s heart.” Did you notice that “an ever increasing craving for a ever diminishing pleasure.” This is what unbelievers live for and die for. It is the I-do-what-I-want reality and disappointment.
Notice “idolatry” is mixed in their lifestyle. You worship what you serve. And before we pat ourselves on the back thinking we don’t do these things, remember that sin is not simply doing bad things. Tim Keller talks about how sin is making good things ultimate things. Pleasure is a good thing, but when pleasure becomes ultimate, it becomes god and thus a breaking of the first commandment, “you shall have no other gods before me.” The same goes with work, school, career, parents, marriage, children, preaching, etc.
When God says, “don’t have any other gods before me,” He’s saying, “If you put other things as the ultimate thing, they will disappoint you. They will fail you. They will hurt you. I’m trying to protect you from devastation and pain.” Your identity, meaning and significance comes from God alone. For Peter’s audience, Peter says, “Enough making other things ultimate. Enough trying to do things your way. Live for what God wants for your life.” Especially when you hit suffering, temptations of relief will flood your heart and soul, but all of them are sugar-covered poison.
Look at how going your way worked out for you? Think about the times you took the steering wheel of your life and tried to drive your life. Has that ever worked? Has living for anything other than the Lord truly brought you joy? No it hasn’t and never will! The time to do what I want is over? Why go to these things to fill you, when all they do is empty you more than you were before? And worst of all, look what this kind of living did to Jesus? How can you go back or to these things?
Perhaps you may have heard of this illustration. Suppose a woman’s husband was killed trying to save her from the attack of a rapist who was infected with AIDS. It would be absurd for the woman, after her husband’s funeral, to call up the rapist and say, “Let’s meet at a motel.” Having been rescued from that which would destroy her, why would she want to go back to it? Peter’s argument is, since Christ gave Himself to deliver us from the sin which would destroy us, why go back to live in it?
No, the time to do what I want is over. That door is a closed door! Lastly, you can receive strength in suffering by:
III. Knowing God will judge and reward accordingly (1 Pet. 4:5-6)
Peter ends by giving us the end of the road of those who wanted to do what they wanted to do and then those who lived for what God wanted. Those who live for what they wanted will have to give an account. There will be nothing hidden then. Every careless word, sinful thought, every moment of living for self will have to be paid for. “The living and dead” is a phrase that means no one is excluded. Right now we may see the lost making money, having a good time, doing whatever they please, etc. But judgment is coming. What’s the standard God will judge them on? Perfection. And no one will pass. This is the standard we are judged on, but we have the perfect righteousness of Christ imputed to us for our salvation. Praise God!
Then we have another tricky verse in 1 Pet. 4:6. Peter is comforting here of the hope of eternal life for the righteous. Remember persecution had brought many of their loved ones to death. And some believers thought that if their loved ones died before Christ’s return, they were lost forever. But Peter says the gospel was preached to those who once lived and are now dead and though they were physically put to death (which is what the phrase “though judged in the flesh the way people are”), death does not have the last word. They are alive more than ever, living and experiencing true life. John Macarthur adds, “Peter’s point is that believers, even under unjust treatment—including death—should be willing and unafraid to suffer, knowing that all death can do is triumphantly bring their eternal spirits into everlasting life in heaven.”
You live for what God wants and you get what God wanted for you all this time. You live for what you want and you get what you never wanted ever for your life. We don’t have much time folks. The curtain is going to close. We want to make sure we are living for the right thing. There is a way that seems right unto man, but the end thereof is death (Prov. 16:25). Let’s make sure we are on the right road!
Frank Sinatra, the late American singer who died about 12 years ago, once wrote a song called “My Way.” No offense to anyone who likes Sinatra, but the words to this song are truly sad. Here is some of what he says:
And now, the end is near,
And so I face the final curtain.
My friends, I’ll say it clear;
I’ll state my case of which I’m certain.
I’ve lived a life that’s full –
I’ve travelled each and every highway.
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.
I planned each charted course –
Each careful step along the byway,
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way. .
For what is a man? What has he got?
If not himself – Then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way.
Yes, it was my way.
Notice the words, “and not the words one who kneels.” I sense he is boasting that he is not accountable to any God. I don’t know if he turned to Christ at the end, but if he didn’t, he will quickly realize that his way was a dead end. There is a way that seems right unto man, but the end thereof is death. I want to live life God’s way. As I conclude, I want every one of us living life for what we want right now to come back from that wandering path. You are going to shipwreck or crash your life. The end of this road is not promising. You are chasing bubbles like a little child. In our heart, the kingdom of self wants us to go our way. The flesh wants us to make good things ultimate things. Perhaps you have made some good things ultimate things. This is idolatry. Perhaps you have not come to the cross recently. Go back there. There idolaters and lawbreakers and pleasure seekers find forgiveness, love and power. We can leave the cross armed with His strength to be faithful to God no matter what comes our way. The way of doing what I want is over. Enough is enough. Let’s surrender our hearts and will to do what God wants and thus experience true joy. True joy is putting God where He belongs in my life and putting me where I belong in life. Let’s come and experience that in full measure today.
Stott, John (1986). The Cross of Christ (12). Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1 Pet. 4:1).
Phillips, John as quoted by Bruce Hurt, “1 Pet. 4:1-6 Commentary,” http://preceptaustin.org/1peter_verse_by_verse_41-9.htm#4:1 accessed 16 September 2010.
MacArthur, J. (225).
Macarthur, John. “The Memory that Shuns Sin, Part 2” http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/60-40.HTM accessed 16 September 2010.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1 Pet. 4:1).
As quoted by John Piper in “Hell never produced a single pleasure,” http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/hell-never-produced-a-single-pleasure accessed 16 September 2010.
Keller, Tim (2008). The Reason for God (168).
Cole, Stephen. “Intent on Holiness,” http://www.fcfonline.org/content/1/sermons/102592m.pdf accessed 16 September 2010.
MacArthur, J. (231).
Lyrics taken from http://www.lyrics007.com/Frank Sinatra Lyrics/My Way Lyrics.html on 18 September 2010.