"I'll never forget the day Sharon came to me for counseling and brought me an article from the magazine Southern Living titled, 'Repurposing Furniture,'" wrote David C. Cooper. "As she handed it to me, she said, 'I ran across this article and I thought of you. Instead of refurbishing furniture, they're talking about repurposing it. Instead of just fixing it up, they're giving it a new purpose.' Then she added, 'That's what a lot of people need.'
"I completely agree. People today desperately need a sense of purpose and significance.
"While imprisoned in Auschwitz, Dachau, and other German concentration camps during World War II, the renowned neurologist Viktor Frankl pondered the plight of those who had 'enough to live by, but not enough to live for.' They had the means by which to live, but their lives held no meaning.
"He discovered that the last and greatest of all human freedoms is the freedom to determine one's own attitude in any given set of circumstances. The ones who survived the death camps were those who chose to find meaning even in the midst of horrible suffering."
Cooper says, "Americans, by and large, have enough to live for. We have means, but no meaning. So many people go through the routines of every week just waiting for the weekend to arrive so they can kick back and relax before they have to get back to the grind on Monday morning.
"Do you have enough to live for? Are you living what Rick Warren calls 'the purpose-driven life'? Or, are you driven by an endless list of demands, enslaved to an overcrowded schedule? Do you feel that your life is out of control? Are you pushed by the pressures of life instead of being led by the Spirit?" (Repurposing Your Life).
In today's lesson, the apostle Peter described the meaningful life as one surrendered to the service of Jesus Christ. In writing to sojourners whose lives had been uprooted because of their faith, he said that having the mind of Christ and a servant's heart gave them purpose for living in this world and also in the world to come.
I. HAVE THE MIND OF CHRIST (1 Peter 4:1-6)
A. Arm Yourselves (vv. 1-2)
1. Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin;
2. That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.
If any human being witnessed the sufferings of Jesus Christ during His life on earth, it was Simon Peter. Peter had seen Jesus go without food as He pursued the Father's will (John 4:31-34); Peter was there in the Garden when Jesus prayed with such passion that His sweat became like "great drops of blood" (Luke 22:44); he tried to intervene when Jesus was arrested (v. 50; John 18:10); he watched from a distance as Jesus was put on trial and then crucified (Luke 22:54). So when Peter wrote to the believers scattered in Asia, "Christ suffered in his body" (1 Peter 4:1 NIV), he was writing with firsthand knowledge.
In light of Christ's sufferings, the believers were to "arm" themselves with a Christlike attitude. Just as His life was lived by the prayer, "Not my will, but thine, be done" (Luke 22:42), so their lives should be submitted to the Lord's will, even if this involved suffering. Since they were already experiencing persecution by being scattered as exiles, Peter's words would assure them that their hardships were not outside the purposes of God.
The proverb "he who has suffered in his body is done with sin" (1 Peter 4:1 NIV) indicates death to sin is part of the suffering Christians must experience. Believers daily kill carnal desires to follow the ways of Christ. Paul wrote, "He who has died has been freed from sin" (Rom. 6:7 NKJV).
The believer's life ("the rest of his time," 1 Peter 4:2) must be occupied with doing the will of God instead of being controlled by "the lusts of men." These lusts, or sinful desires, characterize the fallen human race. The plural word lusts indicates the many cravings of fallen human nature, while the singular will indicates the one purpose of God. An individual discovers the "good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" by becoming "a living sacrifice" unto Him, which involves the transforming of the mind (Rom. 12:1-2). This is the mind God wants each one of us to be armed with.
B. Walk in God's Will (vv. 3-6)
3. For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries:
4. Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you:
5. Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead.
6. For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
Peter's readers were well aware that they had wasted enough time in service to sin. In their lives before Christ, they "wrought the will of the Gentiles" (v. 3). The word will indicates a contrast between the singular will of God and sinful humanity's multiple cravings. The remainder of verse 3 describes specific ways the pagans' desires were lived out. The six evils listed form a dark picture of the life without God.
Lasciviousness refers to excesses of all kinds of evil. The plural form indicates multiple acts of unbridled lust and lawlessness. Lusts is likewise a comprehensive term denoting the depraved cravings and inner vicious desires of fallen human nature that drive individuals to open excesses.
Excess of wine refers to habitual drunkenness. Revellings means a festive gathering, or merrymaking which might be private, public, or religious. Banquetings can be translated as "carousing" (NIV), signifying a drinking party. Abominable idolatries concludes the picture by pointing to the taproot of the evil portrayed—serving false gods.
The evils listed were characteristic of life in Asia Minor in the first century. The pagans therefore saw a profound difference between themselves and the Christians in their midst. The unbelievers thought it strange that their friends who had become Christians would "no longer join them in the wicked things" they did (v. 4 NLT).
The reluctance of the Christians to participate in the routine of contemporary life, civic ceremonies, and other functions which violated biblical standards caused them to be despised, and they themselves were then suspected of illicit practices. They were misunderstood, despised, and defamed.
Generally speaking, we have the opposite problem today in the American church. According to a recent annual study of Christianity by the Barna Research Group, 83 percent of Americans identified themselves as Christians, yet only 49 percent of these individuals described themselves as absolutely committed to Christianity. And when the beliefs and practices of those who called themselves committed Christians were explored, the result was very disturbing. David Kinnaman, who directed the study, said, "The spiritual profile of American Christianity is not unlike a lukewarm church that the Bible warns about."
In verse 5 of our text, Simon Peter warned about the coming judgment against the unbelievers who were persecuting Christians, saying, "They will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead" (NIV). No one will escape final judgment. Hebrews 9:27 says, "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment."
Peter's reference to the dead who would be "judged according to men in the flesh" (1 Peter 4:6) might concern believers who had been martyred for their faith. While ungodly men had deemed them worthy to die, they would live eternally "according to God in the spirit." This promise of eternal life is for all followers of Christ.
II. HAVE A SERVANT'S HEART (1 Peter 4:7-11)
A. Watch and Pray (v. 7)
7. But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.
To give perspective to the many losses they had suffered, Peter's readers were encouraged to anticipate Christ's promised return. In the first chapter of this letter, Peter referred to "the last time" (v. 5) and "the revelation of Jesus Christ" (v. 13). Now he referred to that time with the words "the end of all things is at hand" (4:7), which summarizes the Christian's anticipation concerning the future.
Christian responsibility is indeed a serious matter, especially in view of the end time. So Christians are urged to be sober, which here means "to be free from the influence of intoxicants" (W. E. Vine). The sober person is self-controlled and clear-minded instead of being under the mastery of anything devilish or worldly. Paul wrote, "Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit" (Eph. 5:18).
The believer is also to "watch unto prayer" (1 Peter 4:7). The word translated watch is related not to sleepiness but to drunkenness. It is a call to remain alert and in full possession of one's thoughts and emotions, and giving oneself to prayer.
More than once Jesus commanded His disciples to "watch and pray" (Matt. 26:41; Mark 13:33; 14:38; Luke 21:36). If they did not commit themselves to prayer, temptation would "overpower" them (Matt. 26:41 NLT). The same is true for us. Larry Richards writes: "Jesus' command to watch and to pray reminds us that . . . obedience is necessary if we are to overcome our human weaknesses. . . . In prayer we turn our eyes away from ourselves and our situation to focus our attention on the Lord. We acknowledge our dependence and call on Him for strength" (Every Prayer and Petition in the Bible).
B. Love Deeply (vv. 8-9)
8. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.
9. Use hospitality one to another without grudging.
Peter prefaced his exhortation to love one another with the words "above all." He insisted that such love should be fervent, which means to be "stretched out; extended to reach the person loved." This is the divine love produced in our heart by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5; Gal. 5:22). Love is the life-giving spirit behind all our duties to God and others. Its practice among Christians is the chief way in which they are distinct from others, truly children of God and followers of Christ (cf. 1 John 3:14; 4:7-8; John 13:34-35).
This love extends to others in a spirit of forgiveness. Peter echoes the words of Solomon, "Love covereth all sins" (Prov. 10:12). Sins refers to all that misses the mark and so falls short of the standard of right; it may thus include sins of weakness and moral shortcoming as well as overt wrong actions. A "multitude of sins" calls for a love that is fervent and willing to forgive "until seventy times seven" (Matt. 18:22). Love does not condone the sins of others, but forgives and is reluctant to see or to announce their faults. Our Lord taught that only those who forgive others may expect to continue to enjoy God's forgiveness (6:14-15).
Another practical expression of Christian love is hospitality to others (1 Peter 4:9). Hospitality was greatly needed at the time of Peter's writing. The public inns were often the scene of drunkenness and impurity, causing Christians to stay away. Meanwhile, many believers ceased to enjoy the welcome and assistance of former friends who refused Christ. Had not Christians been willing to befriend each other, even though strangers, many early Christians might have perished from hunger and exposure.
Also, for the first two hundred years of the Church there were no church buildings; each local body would meet in the home of one of the members. That practice would put hospitality to the test. "Without grudging" is a frank recognition that the practice of hospitality could easily become costly, burdensome, and irritating. Rather than being resentful and complaining, opportunities to host a congregation or to shelter traveling Christians should be embraced as a Christian privilege.
C. Use Your Gifts (vv. 10-11)
10. As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
11. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
It is implied in verse 10 that every Christian has received some gift from God that is to be used to minister to others. Here the word gift is a translation from charisma and refers to the spiritual endowments given to Christians to help them in the performance of the duties to which God has called them. Each believer has his or her share in being "good stewards of the manifold grace of God." Manifold depicts the many-colored gifts in their infinite variety.
A steward is "one who governs a household"—one to whom has been entrusted gifts, talents, and opportunities to be distributed and used in regard for his master and for the blessing of fellow believers. Paul said, "Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful" (1 Cor. 4:2).
Peter gave two main types of ministry to the church in verse 11 of the text: (1) the ministry of the spoken word, such as preaching, teaching, prophesying, and encouraging; and (2) the ministry of deeds, or acts of practical kindness, such as the hospitality mentioned in verse 9.
These gifts are to be used in "the strength God provides" (NIV), not in our own power. Genuine ministry is not something we carry on for God; instead, it is service that we allow God to carry on through us. The Holy Spirit gifts the believer and provides opportunities to use those abilities, and He alone must get the praise for what is accomplished.
III. COMMIT YOURSELF TO GOD (1 Peter 4:12-19)
A. Reason to Rejoice (vv. 12-14)
12. Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:
13. But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.
14. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.
Because we live in a sinful world, we live in a suffering world. Some suffering has virtue and value, while some does not. Here Peter reminds his readers that when they suffer because of their faith in Christ, they should not be surprised, but instead they should rejoice because such persecution brings glory to God.
By addressing his readers as "beloved," Peter encourages them with the fact that though persecution may come, they are dear to him and beloved of God. It appears that these believers were surprised at the hostility facing them. But this should not be considered unusual, for Jesus had experienced and foretold such hostility (John 16:33). He said, "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you" (15:18). The "fiery trial" they were experiencing was permitted by God for their testing and purification.
Even more significant, enduring persecution for the Gospel's sake brings Christians into fellowship with the suffering of Christ. They should rejoice that they could be identified with Jesus in this way. To suffer with rejoicing now is to prepare for greater joy at the revelation of Christ (Rom. 8:17-18; 2 Thess. 1:4-7; Titus 2:11-13).
In verse 14 of our text, Peter's use of the word reproached indicates the character of his readers' suffering as resulting from persecution. It is translated as reviled in Matthew 5:11-12, where Jesus said, "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven." Both in Jesus' words and in Peter's letter we see that suffering for Christ's name is an occasion for being "happy" or "blessed," which means "prosperous." Thus, to be persecuted by the world is an indication of spiritual prosperity.
B. Unashamed and Unmoved (vv. 15-19)
15. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters.
16. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.
17. For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?
18. And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?
19. Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.
These verses provide a warning for the insincere and the ungodly. The necessity to warn Christians against committing the crimes mentioned in verse 15 is an indication of the character of the social environment and also the previous history and habits of these converts to Christ. Violence, thievery, other criminal activities, and even meddling in other people's affairs belonged to the past lives of these believers. They should not reap the negative consequences of those kinds of misbehaviors.
However, to suffer persecution for living as Christians was nothing to be ashamed of (v. 16). The term Christian is used only two other times in the New Testament. It was first given to the believers in Antioch (Acts 11:26) perhaps as a nickname in contempt. Then it was used by King Agrippa when he said that Paul had "almost" persuaded him to be a Christian (26:28). In each case it indicates that the believers claimed to be followers of Christ and were Christlike in their conduct. To the world this might be seen as derogatory, but to believers it is the greatest compliment that can be given.
In verse 17 of the text, Peter says, "It is time for judgment to begin with the family of God" (NIV). In this context, judgment evidently refers to the persecution being experienced by believers to purify their lives. As challenging as this suffering might be, how grave will be the judgment "of them that obey not the gospel of God"? A. M. Stibbs asked, "If God, the righteous Judge, so hates evil, and must deal with it, in that He judges His redeemed people, what will be the fate of unbelievers when His full wrath against sinners is revealed?"
When Peter says, "If the righteous scarcely be saved . . . ?" (v. 18) he is suggesting that the believers were being saved with difficulty. If it was necessary for God to purify the lives of the saints by the drastic means of persecution and suffering, what can be said for the position of the unsaved? If the righteous need disciplinary corrections, what about the unbelievers whose actions merit God's anger? It is probable that Peter is drawing freely here from Ezekiel's vision of God's judgment on Jerusalem where disciplinary action was to begin at the sanctuary and proceed throughout the city (Ezek. 9:6–7).
In times of adversity as well as in times of prosperity, God's children are under the tender care of a loving heavenly Father (1 Peter 4:19). We should learn submission not because suffering is inevitable, but because it is according to His will, for the purpose of our salvation and sanctification. Let us make sure we are committed to the will of God, for "we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28).
We will experience suffering in this world. But as Christians we can take courage from the fact that suffering for righteousness' sake is both a purpose and a privilege. This is the perspective by which Christ wants us to live. Let us have the mind of Christ, have a servant's heart, and commit ourselves fully to God's will.
GOLDEN TEXT CHALLENGE
"THE END OF ALL THINGS IS AT HAND: BE YE THEREFORE SOBER, AND WATCH UNTO PRAYER" (1 Peter 4:7).
When Peter writes that "the end of all things is near" (NIV), he obviously is thinking of Christ's second coming to bring to a consummation the present order of things. He undoubtedly had fresh in his mind the solemn teachings of the Lord on the Mount of Olives regarding His second coming. There Jesus prophesied about wars, rumors of war, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, betrayals, martyrdom, false prophets, coldhearted believers, and more sobering realities (Matt. 24:6-12).
In view of these prospects, sobriety and watchfulness in prayer are primary and personal duties of believers. Believers who will be ready for Christ's return must keep their head and conscience clear and not lose their mental and moral balance.