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Bible Commentaries
1 Peter 4

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verse 11


Since Christians have a particular vocation in the world, certain conduct was essential for Peter’s suffering readers.

"The address, ’Dear friends, I appeal to you,’ in 1 Peter 2:11 marks a shift from the identity of God’s people to their consequent responsibility in a hostile world. If 1 Peter 1:3 to 1 Peter 2:10 expanded on their identity as ’chosen people’ (cf. 1 Peter 1:2), the reference to them as ’aliens and strangers’ in 1 Peter 2:11 serves as a reminder that they are at the same time ’living as strangers’ (again cf. 1 Peter 1:2) in contemporary society." [Note: Ibid., p. xxxv.]

C. Eventual Vindication 3:13-4:6

Peter previously explained how a Christian can rejoice in his sufferings, having set forth his responsibilities and outlined specific conduct in times of suffering. He next emphasized the inner confidence a Christian can have when experiencing persecution for his or her faith to equip his readers to overcome their sufferings effectively.

Verse 1

Peter’s present appeal grew out of what he had just said about Christ’s victory (1 Peter 3:18; 1 Peter 3:21 c, 22). In view of His example of committing Himself to accomplishing God’s will, Peter called his readers to commit themselves to the same purpose (cf. 1 Peter 3:15). Jesus suffered to the extent of dying, and Christians should be willing to suffer to the same extent. Selwyn regarded Peter’s statement here as the keystone of his whole doctrinal arch in this epistle. [Note: Selwyn, p. 195.]

In the second part of the verse, Peter probably meant that his readers had identified themselves with Christ’s suffering and death (in water baptism). They should, therefore, put sin behind them and live a clean life (cf. Romans 6:1-11). Roman Catholic interpreters have seen this verse as support for their doctrine of purgatory. They believe that Peter meant that suffering purifies the life. The aorist participle (Gr. pathon, "has suffered") normally is antecedent in time to the main verb, which here is in the perfect tense (pepantai, "has ceased"). Suffering precedes ceasing, but Peter apparently meant that suffering with Christ should lead to a more holy life (cf. 1 Peter 4:2). It does not inevitably do so.

Verses 1-6

3. Living with the promise in view 4:1-6

Since Jesus Christ has gained the victory, Peter urged his readers to rededicate themselves to God’s will as long as they might live. He wanted to strengthen their resolve to continue to persevere. He resumed here the exhortation that he broke off in 1 Peter 3:17. Generally speaking, 1 Peter 4:1-3 focus on Christian behavior and 1 Peter 4:4-6 on pagan response.

Verse 2

Peter clarified commitment to God’s will in this verse. "Flesh" refers to one’s mortal lifetime on earth, not to carnal living (cf. 1 Peter 3:18; 1 Peter 4:6).

". . . ’the flesh’ is not used here or anywhere else in 1 Peter (it is used seven times; all but one of them are in 1 Peter 3:18 to 1 Peter 4:6) in the Pauline sense of the sinful nature in human beings (as, e.g., in Romans 7-8), but in the normal Jewish sense of human existence as weak, fallen, and therefore subject to pain and death." [Note: Davids, p. 150.]

"We may not always understand what He [God] is doing, but we know that He is doing what is best for us. We do not live on explanations; we live on promises." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:420.]

Verse 3

Peter’s readers had already spent too much time living for self in typically unsaved Gentile practices. Note the prominence of sexual and alcohol related activities here (as in Romans 13:13-14; Galatians 5:19-21). This verse along with others (e.g., 1 Peter 1:14; 1 Peter 2:10) suggests that Peter was writing to a predominantly Gentile audience.

Verse 4

Some of the persecution Peter’s readers were experiencing was due to their unwillingness to continue in their old lifestyle with their unsaved friends. This continues to be a common source of persecution for Christians today.

"Unsaved people do not understand the radical change that their friends experience when they trust Christ and become children of God. They do not think it strange when people wreck their bodies, destroy their homes, and ruin their lives by running from one sin to another! But let a drunkard become sober, or an immoral person pure, and the family thinks he has lost his mind!" [Note: Ibid.]

Verse 5

Peter reminded his readers that God would condemn their unsaved friends’ behavior. Consequently they should not return to it. The Judge was already "ready" to judge (cf. Daniel 3:15 [LXX]; Acts 21:13; 2 Corinthians 12:14). Peter viewed those who slander Christians for their lifestyles as really slandering God, who called us out of darkness into the light.

Verse 6

Because everyone will give account of his life to God (1 Peter 4:5), Christians preach the gospel. We do so to enable people to give that account joyfully rather than sorrowfully (cf. 1 John 2:28). In Peter’s day Christians had preached the gospel to other people who had become Christians who had already died. Even though these brethren had experienced judgment for their sins by dying physically, they lived on in a new spiritual sphere of life since they were believers (cf. 1 Peter 3:18). Physical death is sin’s last effect on believers during their earthly lives.

Some people have incorrectly understood this verse as teaching that after a person dies he or she will have a second chance to believe the gospel. [Note: E.g., Barclay, p. 295.] This interpretation clearly contradicts the revelation of Scripture elsewhere that there is no second chance after death (Hebrews 9:27). [Note: See Millard J. Erickson, "Is There Opportunity for Salvation after Death?" Bibliotheca Sacra 152:606 (April-June 1995):131-44.]

"Peter does not say that the gospel is being preached even to the dead but was preached.

"These are not all of the dead who shall face the Judge at the last day but those to whom the gospel was preached prior to Peter’s writing (by the gospel preachers mentioned in 1 Peter 4:1; 1 Peter 4:12 [sic 1 Peter 1:12]), who at this writing were already dead [cf. 1 Peter 3:19-20]." [Note: Lenski, p. 186. Cf. Fanning, p. 448.]

The verses in this pericope are a strong encouragement to endure suffering. Christ has assured our ultimate victory, and to turn back is to incur God’s punishment.

Verse 7

Like the other apostles, Peter believed the return of Jesus Christ was imminent (i.e., it could occur at any moment; cf. James 5:8; Romans 13:11; Hebrews 9:28; 1 John 2:18). This fact should have made a practical difference in the way his readers lived. Eschatology has ethical implications. They were to remain clear-headed ("of sound judgment"), self-controlled ("of sober spirit") primarily so they could pray properly. This statement illustrates the importance of prayer. Prayer is the most noble and necessary ministry that God entrusts to His children, but it is also the most neglected ministry (cf. 1 Timothy 2:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Hebrews 4:15-16). [Note: D. Edmond Hiebert, Working With God: Scriptural Studies in Intercession, p. 7.] Jesus’ praying in the Garden of Gethsemane may have impressed this truth on Peter (cf. Matthew 26:40-41). Jesus prayed when the end of His life was near. The Greek word Peter used for prayer (lit. prayers, proseuchas) is the general word for prayer and indicates that Peter had all kinds of praying in mind.

". . . proper prayer is not an ’opiate’ or escape, but rather a function of clear vision and a seeking of even clearer vision from God. It is only through clear communication with headquarters that a soldier can effectively stand guard." [Note: Davids, p. 157.]

"To charge Paul or Peter with false prophecy for saying 1900 years ago that the end is near, is to treat them unfairly. They, as we, had to live in constant expectation of Christ’s sudden return." [Note: Lenski, p. 193.]

"With the Messiah’s first advent the reality of the eschatological kingdom broke on human history; but with the King’s rejection, His eschatological kingdom was not established. It awaits the day of His return. But that eschatological encounter introduced a new element into the nature of history. Human history now moves under the shadow of the divinely announced eschatological kingdom." [Note: D. Edmond Hiebert, "Living in the Light of Christ’s Return: An Exposition of 1 Peter 4:7-11," Bibliotheca Sacra 139:555 (July-September 1982):245.]

Verses 7-11

D. The Importance of Mutual Love in End-Times Living 4:7-11

To prepare his readers to meet the Lord soon, Peter urged them to make the best use of their time now that they understood what he had written about suffering.

Verse 8

In relation to their fellow Christians, Peter considered it most important that his readers keep their brotherly love at full strength (1 Peter 1:22; Romans 13:8-10; 1 Thessalonians 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 John 4:7-11). The same expression occurs in non-biblical Greek to describe a horse at full gallop and a runner straining for the tape at the finish line of a race.

The person with this kind of love is willing to forgive and even covers a multitude of the sins of others committed against himself or herself rather than taking offense (Proverbs 10:12; James 5:20). We cannot compensate for our own sins by loving others. Peter was not saying that. The proper way to deal with our sins is to confess them (1 John 1:9).

"Love hides them from its own sight and not from God’s sight. Hate does the opposite; it pries about in order to discover some sin or some semblance of sin in a brother and then broadcasts it, even exaggerates it, gloats over it." [Note: Lenski, p. 195. Cf. 1 Corinthians 13:5.]

Verse 9

Offering hospitality without complaining is one way to demonstrate love for the brethren (cf. Matthew 25:35). A host might incur persecution by giving hospitality to a known Christian in Peter’s day.

"In certain cultures that are strongly family-oriented, the bringing of strangers into a house may be somewhat shocking. Yet Christians overcome these conventions because God’s love has made them into a single great family." [Note: Blum, p. 246.]

Verse 10

God has given every Christian at least one gift (ability) that he or she can and should share with other believers and in so doing serve them. The gift in view is evidently one of the so-called spiritual gifts (cf. 1 Corinthians 12-14; Romans 12; Ephesians 4). "Manifold" means many faceted or variegated. God bestows His grace on different people in different ways. The gifts (Gr. charisma) are aspects of God’s grace (Gr. charis). No Christian can claim that he or she has nothing to offer the church. [Note: For defense of the view that spiritual gifts are ministries rather than abilities, see Kenneth Berding, "Confusing Word and Concept in ’Spiritual Gifts’: Have We Forgotten James Barr’s Exhortations?" Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 43:1 (March 2000):37-51.]

"The Lord of the church has distributed His bounty with masterly variety to enable His people successfully to encounter the ’manifold trials’ (1 Peter 1:6) to which they are subjected." [Note: Hiebert, "Living in . . .," p. 250.]

Verse 11

Peter offered two basic ways of serving that represent two types of gifts as examples. Those who can share a word from God should do so by presenting what they say as God’s Word, not just as their opinion. Obviously God’s words are more important, and the way we present them should reflect their significance.

Those who can serve by providing some other kind of help or assistance should do so realizing that God has made their service possible. [Note: See Robert A Pyne, "Antinomianism and Dispensationalism," Bibliotheca Sacra 153:610 (April-June 1996):141-54.]

The reason for acknowledging one’s words and works as from God is that God then gets the credit. [Note: Cf. Best, p. 161.] This is only fitting since He deserves all glory (i.e., praise) and might (power) forever (cf. Revelation 1:6). About this there can be no question. "Amen!" So be it!

"This passage is transitional. Looking backward, it serves as a kind of postscript to 1 Peter 2:11 to 1 Peter 4:6 (and in particular to the promise of vindication developed in 1 Peter 3:13 to 1 Peter 4:6). Its closing doxology forms an inclusion with 1 Peter 2:12: God is ’glorified’ in the ministry of Christian believers to one another, just as Peter had earlier envisioned their enemies glorifying God on ’the day of visitation.’ Looking ahead, the passage also anticipates on a small scale the issues to be developed more fully in 1 Peter 4:12 to 1 Peter 5:11." [Note: Michaels, p. 254.]


Peter now broadened his perspective and reminded his suffering readers of their corporate responsibilities.

Verse 12

Some Christians feel surprised when other people misunderstand, dislike, insult, and treat them harshly when they seek to carry out God’s will. Peter reminded his readers that this reaction is not a strange thing but normal Christian experience. Their persecutions were fiery (burning) ordeals in the sense that they were part of God’s refining process and were uncomfortable (cf. 1 Peter 2:11). It was for their testing (Gr. pairasmos, proving), to manifest their faith, that God allowed their sufferings (cf. James 1:2-4).

Verses 12-14

1. Suffering and glory 4:12-14

Verses 12-19

A. The Fiery Trial 4:12-19

Peter reminded his readers of how sufferings fit into God’s purposes to encourage them to persevere with the proper attitude (cf. James 1).

"The section which began at iii. 13 is here concluded in a passage which recapitulates much that has been said-on persecution, on Christ’s sufferings, on Christian duty, on the imminence of the End and of divine Judgment-and which reflects the intensity of the author’s eschatological faith." [Note: Selwyn, p. 220.]

Verse 13

We can also rejoice in these sufferings because when we experience them we share in Christ’s sufferings. That is, we experience what Jesus did during His time on earth as He continued faithful to God’s will. God will glorify us just as He will glorify Jesus. Therefore we can rejoice now at that prospect (cf. 1 Peter 1:6-7; 1 Peter 1:10-11; 1 Peter 2:21; Acts 5:41). The revelation (uncovering, Gr. apokalypsis) of Jesus Christ’s glory is most likely a reference to the Second Advent that includes the Rapture and the Second Coming (cf. 1 Peter 1:7; 1 Peter 1:13). At both of these appearings His glory will become manifest, to the church at the Rapture and to the world at His second coming.

Our present experience as we suffer for Christ’s sake is similar to a pregnant woman who feels discomfort and even pain as she anticipates her due date. When she gives birth, however, joy at the delivery of her child replaces the pain that she felt during her pregnancy. Similarly we groan now, but the hope of future joy should encourage us to hang on (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

Verse 14

When people revile, insult, and reject us for being followers of Jesus Christ, they may curse us, but their curses are really blessings from God (Matthew 5:11-12).

"To be insulted is not simply to receive a rebuke (1 Peter 2:12; 1 Peter 3:16; 1 Peter 4:5), but . . . it means to be rejected by the society (or even by humanity)." [Note: Davids, p. 167.]

Their curses become blessings because the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of glory, already indwells us. The "and" here (Gr. kai) may be ascensive, meaning "even." Peter’s thought was that the indwelling Holy Spirit is already part of our glorification, the firstfruits of our inheritance. As the Israelites enjoyed the presence of God in the fiery pillar even during their wilderness testing, so we enjoy His presence during our wilderness experience.

"The world believes that the absence of suffering means glory, but a Christian’s outlook is different. . . .

". . . suffering Christians do not have to wait for heaven in order to experience His glory. Through the Holy Spirit, they can have the glory now. This explains how martyrs could sing praises to God while bound in the midst of blazing fires. It also explains how persecuted Christians (and there are many in today’s world) can go to prison and to death without complaining or resisting their captors." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:425.]

Verses 15-16

However, we should not take comfort in suffering that we bring on ourselves for sinning in contrast to suffering that we experience because we take a stand with Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Peter 2:20). Peter felt ashamed when he denied the Lord in the high priest’s courtyard, but he learned his lesson, stopped feeling ashamed, and urged his readers not to feel ashamed. We glorify God as we stand up as disciples of Christ both visually, as others view our lives, and verbally, as we explain our commitment to them.

"Clement of Alexandria tells of a favourite disciple of St. John who became captain of a band of robbers . . . There were men in the Apostolic Church who had been kleptai [thieves], and were still in danger of falling back into evil ways, see I Cor. vi. 10; Eph. iv. 28." [Note: Bigg, p. 177.]

Verses 15-19

2. Suffering as Christians 4:15-19

Verse 17

In this verse and the next Peter gave two encouragements in suffering by comparing our suffering as believers with the suffering that unbelievers will experience. This verse focuses on the time of these two experiences of suffering. Our suffering is now, but theirs will be when they stand before God in judgment. Our judgment by unbelievers now is lighter than their judgment by God will be later. Our sufferings are part of the opening scene in the last act of God’s redemptive drama. More severe judgment will follow on the ungodly. It helps to see our sufferings in the context of God’s end-times plan. They are not an accident but an assurance of His sovereign control.

One writer argued that Peter was alluding to Malachi 3:2-3. [Note: D. E. Johnson, "Fire in God’s House: Imagery from Malachi 3 in Peter’s Theology of Suffering (1 Peter 4:12-19)," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 29 (1989):285-94.] This seems unlikely since Malachi referred to a purifying judgment that would come on Israel whereas Peter wrote of one that Christians experience now. Peter previously called the church a spiritual household (1 Peter 2:5).

Verse 18

In this verse Peter contrasted the intensity of the two experiences of suffering, by disciples now and by unbelievers in the future. It is with difficulty that righteous people pass through this phase of our existence into the next phase because this phase involves suffering for us. "Saved" (Gr. sozetai) here means delivered in the sense of being delivered from this life into the next. Yet it will be even more difficult for godless people to pass from this phase of their lives to the next because they will have to undergo God’s wrath. Their future sufferings will be more intense than our present sufferings.

The purpose of Peter’s quoting Proverbs 11:31 loosely was to show that the Old Testament also taught that both the righteous and the wicked will receive from the Lord. The point in the proverb is that since God rewards the righteous on earth how much more can we count on His rewarding wicked sinners. If God disciplines His own children, how much more severely will He deal with those who are not His children. Our sufferings are light compared with those the ungodly will experience in the future.

Verse 19

"Therefore" draws these encouragements to a conclusion and introduces a command in view of them. In view of these reasons we should respond to suffering by entrusting ourselves to the God who created us (cf. Matthew 27:50; Luke 23:46). He will bring us through our sufferings safely (cf. Philippians 1:6). God is faithful to do this. Furthermore we should keep on doing what is right (e.g., submitting to government rulers, obeying masters, submitting to husbands, loving wives, etc.) rather than doing evil (1 Peter 4:15). "Souls" (Gr. psychas) again refers to our total persons (cf. 1 Peter 1:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 Peter 2:11; 1 Peter 2:25; 1 Peter 3:20).

"Peter described God as the ’faithful Creator’-an unusual designation because only here in the NT is God called ktistes [Creator] . . . The combination of ’faithful’ and ’Creator’ reminds the believer of God’s love and power in the midst of trials so that they will not doubt his interest or ability." [Note: Blum, p. 249.]

Peter brought together four reasons for suffering in this section. First, God allows us to suffer to demonstrate our character (1 Peter 4:12). Second, those who identify themselves with Jesus Christ will share in the sufferings of our Savior (1 Peter 4:13; cf. Philippians 3:10). Third, our sufferings will be an occasion of God blessing us (1 Peter 4:14). In addition, fourth, our suffering will glorify God (1 Peter 4:16). Peter then redirected our perspective on suffering by reminding us of the time and intensity of our sufferings, compared with those of unbelievers (1 Peter 4:17-18). Finally, he concluded with an exhortation to trust God and do right (1 Peter 4:19). Peter thus encouraged his readers by revealing God’s perspective on their sufferings.

"The most striking feature of this section is its bold emphasis on the sovereignty and initiative of God, even in the suffering of his own people." [Note: Michaels, p. 274.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Peter 4". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/1-peter-4.html. 2012.
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