LIFE IN GOD’S WILL 1 Peter 4–5
“Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ” (1 Peter 4:12–13).There is meaning in the suffering of the Christian.
Live for the will of God (4:1–6). Love and serve each other (vv. 7–11), and find joy in suffering as a Christian (vv. 12–19). Elders are to shepherd God’s flock (5:1–4). All are to be humble and self-controlled (vv. 5–9), and look confidently to God (vv. 10–14).
Understanding the Text
“They think it strange that you do not plunge into the same flood of dissipation” 1 Peter 4:1–6. “But what do you do for fun?” is something we Christians hear quite often. At school teens ridicule Christian young people for not being involved in drinking and premarital sex. Coworkers can’t understand why we don’t stop off at the local bar after work to get drunk on Friday night. Manufacturers shout “censorship!” when Christians band together and pledge not to purchase products advertised on TV programs that exploit sex and violence. Just the other day I heard a radio ad for a TV daytime soap, which promised to provide “all of the sin, and none of the guilt” that listeners desire! And yet so many non-Christians quite sincerely ask, “What do you do for fun?” They think it strange that we don’t plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation. And, as Peter warned, they do more. They “heap abuse on you.” When that happens, remember that the world remains the same. But you are different. Adopt Christ’s attitude and determine to be done with sin. No matter what the cost. “They will have to give account” 1 Peter 4:5–6. Peter described Christ preaching through the Spirit to the “spirits in prison” who “disobeyed long ago” in the days of Noah (3:19–20). Genesis tells us that it took Noah 120 years to build the ark. All during that time the curious gathered, and Christ, speaking through Noah, preached to them. They paid no attention, however, and when the great Flood came, only Noah and his family entered the ark and were carried to safety. Today too the Gospel is being preached “to those who are now [spiritually] dead.” Their very failure to hear and respond demonstrates that God is right to judge and to condemn them. The heart that is open to God will respond to the Gospel. Failure to trust in Jesus is evidence of a hardened heart, and of divine judgment to come. “Above all, love each other deeply” 1 Peter 4:7–10. The more hostile the world is to us, the greater our need for support and encouragement. The antagonism of outsiders has the effect of bringing us closer and closer to others who think and feel as we do. Peter pictured the Christian community as a close, warm, and supportive fellowship, where we can find encouragement and strength to get on with life in the grim outside world. While we may not appreciate the importance of Christian fellowship until persecution or suffering comes, support from other believers is important at all times. We need each other’s love to reassure us of our worth and of God’s forgiveness. We need each other’s gifts to help us grow. And we need to exercise our gifts in ministry to others. If you are missing the warmth of fellowship with other Christians, you lack something essential to your growth and well-being. “Do it with the strength God provides” 1 Peter 4:11. It’s not easy, this living by “the will of God” (v. 2). When Pete’s mother called Marti, and asked her to come over, Marti hesitated. At the Bible study that week Pete’s mom had stayed behind and talked to her, pouring out the pain caused by her husband, who said he wanted to stay married but insisted on keeping a mistress too. The talk had helped. But now Pete’s mom was feeling desperate again, and wanted Marti to come over to talk and pray with her. Marti put down the phone. She wanted to help. But she was afraid to go too. She had always been like that: honestly wanting to help, but fearful of taking any initiative. Like the time she’d taught the women’s Bible study. Afterward she was asked to teach again and again. But she never would do it. She wanted to. But the thought of taking responsibility made her anxious and upset. We may feel fearful when opportunities to minister come. But we can’t make Marti’s choice, and draw back. We have to “do it with the strength God provides.” That verse is not only a challenge, but also a promise. When you and I do step out to minister, God will provide the strength we need. Don’t expect the strength while you’re standing there, struggling to decide. Decide to do God’s will, and expect the strength to be provided when you need it. “Not lording it over those entrusted to you” 1 Peter 5:1–4. Leaders are servants, not masters. This New Testament theme is reaffirmed here, with a word about leaders’ motives. Leaders must want to serve; indeed, they must be willing, and even “eager to serve.” People have many different motives for wanting to be leaders. But a passionate desire to serve others is a basic qualification for Christian leadership. “Humble yourselves” 1 Peter 5:5–6. Here as earlier in this letter submission is viewed as a virtue. But never mistake either submission or humility as a weakness. Only the truly strong can control their natural desire to dominate rather than to submit; to appear powerful rather than pliant. “Cast all your anxiety on Him” 1 Peter 5:7. Old and New Testaments both have much to say about anxiety. But this brief verse effectively sums it all up. Let God worry about you, because after all, He does care for you. If you and I know that God is watching out for us, we have nothing left to worry about, and can get on with the business of living by the will of God. “After you have suffered a little while” 1 Peter 5:10–11. It’s hard not to be anxious when we’re suffering. Leaving everything to God then seems difficult indeed. But Peter has a promise that will help. Suffering lasts only for a little while. God will restore you, and make you strong. And in His time will call you up to heaven to share in His own eternal glory. Whatever today’s pain, we have the promise of strength, and the prospect of glory—forever.
We Share(1 Peter 4:12–19)
Remember the story of the little red hen? She wanted to bake bread, but none of the barnyard animals would help. So she did it herself. Of course, when the bread was baked, they all gathered around wanting a piece. But the little red hen ate it all herself. The children’s story is a commentary on human rather than animal nature. We’re not enthusiastic about the work. But we sure like to reap the benefits! In a way, this is true of Christians. We tend to look foward to heaven, and plan to enjoy eternity there. But we’re not too wild about experiencing any suffering down here. Yet Peter reminds us that suffering and glory are bound together inseparably. It was Jesus’ total dedication to doing the will of God, even though that will led Him to Calvary, that vaulted Him to glory. The Resurrection was made possible by the Cross. So Peter tells us not to be surprised if we too suffer painful things. Suffering isn’t strange. It’s natural for the person who participates in Christ’s suffering. Jesus’ commitment to do God’s will brought Him into conflict with this world. If we share that commitment, we will come into conflict with the world and suffer too. You and I aren’t to go out of our way to find suffering. We are simply to commit ourselves fully to God, and continue to do good. Then, if suffering comes, we can praise God indeed! Suffering as Christians, and for Christ, will mean glory for us when His glory is fully revealed.
Bearing Christ’s name may mean carrying His cross.
“The worst part of martyrdom is not the last agonizing moment; it is the wearing, daily steadfastness. Men who can make up their minds to hold out against the torture of an hour have sunk under the weariness and the harassment of small prolonged vexations. There are many a Christian bereaved and stricken in the best hopes of life. For such a one to say quietly, ‘Father, not as I will, but as Thou wilt,’ is to be a martyr.”—F.W. Robertson