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Wednesday, November 29th, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Bible Commentaries
1 Peter 4

Barclay's Daily Study BibleDaily Study Bible

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Verses 1-19

Chapter 4


4:1-5 Since then, Christ suffered in the flesh, you too must arm yourselves with the same conviction, that he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, and as a result of this the aim of such a man now is to spend the time that remains to him of life in obedience to the will of God. For the time that is past is sufficient to have done what the Gentiles will to do, to have lived a life of licentiousness, lust, drunkenness, revellings, carousings, and abominable idolatry. They think it strange when you do not rush to join them in the same flood of profligacy, and they abuse you for not doing so. They will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

The Christian is committed to abandon the ways of heathenism and to live as God would have him to do.

Peter says, "He who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin." What exactly does he mean? There are three distinct possibilities.

(i) There is a strong line in Jewish thought that suffering is in itself a great purifier. In the Apocalypse of Baruch the writer, speaking of the experiences of the people of Israel, says, "Then, therefore, were they chastened that they might be sanctified" (13: 10). In regard to the purification of the spirits of men Enoch says, "And in proportion as the burning of their body becomes severe, a corresponding change will take place in their spirit for ever and ever; for before the Lord of spirits there will be none to utter a lying word" (67: 9). The terrible sufferings of the time are described in 2 Maccabees, and the writer says, "I beseech those that read this book that they be not discouraged, terrified or shaken for these calamities, but that they judge these punishments not to be for destruction but for chastening of our nation. For it is a token of his great goodness, when evil-doers are not suffered to go on in their ways any long time, but forthwith punished. For not as with other nations, whom the Lord patiently forbeareth to punish, till the day of judgment arrive, and they be come to the fullness of their sins, so dealeth he with us, lest that, being come to the height of sin, afterwards he should take vengeance on us. And though he punish sinners with adversity, yet doth he never forsake his people" ( 2Ma_6:12-16 ). The idea is that suffering sanctifies and that not to be punished is the greatest punishment which God can lay upon a man. "Blessed is the man whom thou dost chasten, O Lord," said the Psalmist ( Psalms 94:12). "Happy is the man whom God reproves," said Eliphaz ( Job 5:17). "For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives" ( Hebrews 12:6).

If this is the idea, it means that he who has been disciplined by suffering has been cured of sin. That is a great thought. It enables us, as Browning said, "to welcome each rebuff that turns earth's smoothness rough." It enables us to thank God for the experiences which hurt but save the soul. But great as this thought is, it is not strictly relevant here.

(ii) Bigg thinks that Peter is speaking in terms of the experience which his people had of suffering for the Christian faith. He puts it this way: "He who has suffered in meekness and in fear, he who has endured all that persecution can do to him rather than join in wicked ways can be trusted to do right; temptation has manifestly no power over him." The idea is that if a man has come through persecution and not denied the name of Christ, he comes out on the other side with a character so tested and a faith so strengthened, that temptation cannot touch him any more.

Again there is a great thought here, the thought that every trial and every temptation are meant to make us stronger and better. Every temptation resisted makes the next easier to resist; and every temptation conquered makes us better able to overcome the next attack. But again it is doubtful if this thought comes in very relevantly here.

(iii) The third explanation is most probably the right one. Peter has just been talking about baptism. Now the great New Testament picture of baptism is in Romans 6:1-23. In that chapter Paul says that the experience of baptism is like being buried with Christ in death and raised with him to newness of life. We think that this is what Peter is thinking of here. He has spoken of baptism; and now he says, "He who in baptism has shared the sufferings and the death of Christ, is risen to such newness of life with him that sin has no more dominion over him" ( Romans 6:14). Again we must remember that this is the baptism of the man who is voluntarily coming over from paganism into Christianity. In that act of baptism he is identified with Christ; he shares his sufferings and even his death; and he shares his risen life and power, and is, therefore, victor over sin.

When that has happened, a man has said good-bye to his former way of life. The rule of pleasure, pride and passion is gone, and the rule of God has begun. This was by no means easy. A man's former associates would laugh at the new puritanism which had entered his life. But the Christian knows very well that the judgment of God will come, when the judgments of earth will be reversed and the pleasures that are eternal will compensate a thousandfold for the transitory pleasures which had to be abandoned in this life.


4:6 For this is the reason why the gospel was preached to the dead, so that, although they have been judged in the flesh like men, they may live in the Spirit like God.

This very difficult passage ends with a very difficult verse. Once again we have the idea of the gospel being preached to the dead. At least three different meanings have been attached to dead. (i) It has been taken to mean those who are dead in sin, not those who are physically dead. (ii) It has been taken to mean those who died be re the Second Coming of Christ; but who heard the gospel before they died and so will not miss the glory. (iii) It has been taken to mean quite simply all the dead There can be little doubt that this third meaning is correct; Peter has just been talking about the descent of Christ to the place of the dead, and here he comes back to the idea of Christ preaching to the dead.

No fully satisfactory meaning has ever been found for this verse; but we think that the best explanation is as follows. For mortal man, death is the penalty of sin. As Paul wrote: "Sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned" ( Romans 5:12). Had there been no sin, there would have been no death; and, therefore, death in itself is a judgment. So Peter says, all men have already been judged when they die; in spite of that Christ descended to the world of the dead and preached the gospel there, giving them another chance to live in the Spirit of God.

In some ways this is one of the most wonderful verses in the Bible, for, if our explanation is anywhere near the truth, it gives a breath-taking glimpse of a gospel of a second chance.

(1) THE DESCENT INTO HELL ( 1 Peter 3:18 b-20;4:6)

4:6 He was put to death in the flesh, but he was raised to life in the Spirit, in which also he went and preached to the spirits who are in prison, the spirits who were once upon a time disobedient in the time when the patience of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being built.... For this is why the gospel was preached even to the dead, so that, although they have already been judged in the flesh like men, they might live in the spirit like God.

We have already said that we are here face to face with one of the most difficult passages, not only in Peter's letter, but in the whole New Testament; and, if we are to grasp what it means, we must follow Peter's own advice and gird up the loins of our mind to study it.

This passage has lodged in the creed in the phrase: "He descended into hell." We must first note that this phrase is very misleading. The idea of the New Testament is not that Jesus descended into hell but that he descended into Hades. Acts 2:27, as all the newer translations correctly show, should be translated not: "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell," but, "Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Hades." The difference is this. Hell is the place of the punishment of the wicked; Hades was the place where all the dead went.

The Jews had a very shadowy conception of life beyond the grave. They did not think in terms of heaven and of hell but of a shadowy world, where the spirits of men moved like grey ghosts in an everlasting twilight and where there was neither strength nor joy. Such was Hades, into which the spirits of all men went after death. Isaiah writes: "For Sheol cannot thank thee, death cannot praise thee; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for thy faithfulness" ( Isaiah 38:18). The Psalmist wrote: "In death there is no remembrance of thee; in Sheol who can give thee praise?" ( Psalms 6:5). "What profit is there in my death if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise thee? Will it tell of thy faithfulness?" ( Psalms 30:9). "Dost thou work wonders for the dead? Do the shades rise up to praise thee? Is thy steadfast love declared in the grave, or thy faithfulness in Abaddon? Are thy wonders known in the darkness, or thy saving help in the land of forgetfulness?" ( Psalms 88:10-12). "The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any that go down into silence" ( Psalms 115:17). "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going" ( Ecclesiastes 9:10). The Jewish conception of the world after death was of this grey world of shadows and forgetfulness, in which men were separated from life and light and God.

As time went on, there emerged the idea of stages and divisions in this shadowland. For some it was to last for ever; but for others it was a kind of prison-house in which they were held until the final judgment of God's wrath should blast them ( Isaiah 24:21-22; 2 Peter 2:4; Revelation 20:1-7). So, then, it must first of all be remembered that this whole matter is to be thought of, not in terms of hell, as we understand the word, but in terms of Christ's going to the dead in their shadowy world.

(2) THE DESCENT INTO HELL ( 1 Peter 3:18 b-20;4:6 continued)

This doctrine of the descent into Hades, as we must now call it, is based on two phrases in our present passage. It says that Jesus went and preached to the spirits who are in prison ( 1 Peter 3:19); and it speaks of the gospel being preached to the dead ( 1 Peter 4:6). In regard to this doctrine there have always been differing attitudes amongst thinkers.

(i) There are those who wish to eliminate it altogether. There is the attitude of elimination. Some wish to eliminate it altogether and attempt to do so along two lines.

(a) Peter says that in the Spirit Christ preached to the spirits in prison, who were disobedient in the time when the patience of God waited in the days of Noah, when the ark was being built. It is argued that what this means is that it was in the time of Noah himself that Christ did this preaching; that in the Spirit long ages before this he made his appeal to the wicked men of Noah's day. This would completely do away with the idea of the descent into Hades. Many great scholars have accepted that view; but we do not think it is the view which comes naturally from Peter's words.

(b) If we look at Moffatt's translation, we find something quite different. He translates: "In the flesh he (Christ) was put to death, but he came to life in the Spirit. It was in the Spirit that Enoch also went and preached to the imprisoned spirits who had disobeyed at the time when God's patience held out during the construction of the ark in the days of Noah." How does Moffatt arrive at this translation?

The name of Enoch does not appear in any Greek manuscript. But in the consideration of the text of any Greek author, scholars sometimes use a process called emendation. They think that there is something wrong with the text as it stands, that some scribe has perhaps copied it wrongly; and they, therefore, suggest that some word should be changed or added. In this passage Rendel Harris suggested that the word Enoch was missed out in the copying of Peter's writing and should be put back in.

(Although it involves the use of Greek some readers may be

interested to see how Rendel Harris arrived at this famous

emendation. In the top line in italic print, we have set down

the Greek of the passage in English lettering and beneath each

Greek word its English translation:

thanatotheis ( G2289) men ( G3303) sarki ( G4561)

having been put to death in the flesh

zoopoietheis ( G2227) de ( G1161) pneumati ( G4151)

having been raised to life in the Spirit

en ( G1722) ho ( G3588) kai ( G2532) tois ( G3588)

in which also to the

en ( G1722) phulake ( G5438) pneumasi ( G4151)

in prison spirits

poreutheis ( G4198) ekeruxen ( G2784)

having gone he preached.

(Men ( G3303) and de ( G1161) are what are called particles;

they are not translated but merely mark the contrast between

sarki, G4561, and pneumati, G4151) . It was Rendel Harris'

suggestion that between kai ( G2532) and tois ( G3588) the

word Enoch ( G1802) had dropped out. His explanation was that,

since most manuscript copying was done to dictation, scribes were

very liable to miss words which followed each other, if they

sounded very similar. In this passage:

en ( G1722) ho ( G3588) kai ( G2532) and Enoch ( G1802)

sound very much alike, and Rendel Harris thought it very likely

that Enoch ( G1802) had been mistakenly omitted for that reason).

What reason is there for bringing Enoch ( G1802) into this passage at all? He has always been a fascinating and mysterious person. "And Enoch walked with God; and he was not; for God took him" ( Genesis 5:24). In between the Old and New Testaments many legends sprang up about Enoch and famous and important books were written under his name. One of the legends was that Enoch, though a man, acted as "God's envoy" to the angels who sinned by coming to earth and lustfully seducing mortal women ( Genesis 6:2). In the Book of Enoch it is said that he was sent down from heaven to announce to these angels their final doom (Enoch 12: 1) and that he proclaimed that for them, because of their sin, there was neither peace nor forgiveness ever (Enoch 12 and 13).

So then, according to Jewish legend, Enoch did go to Hades and preach doom to the fallen angels. And Rendel Harris thought that this passage referred, not to Jesus, but to Enoch, and Moffatt so far agreed with him as to put Enoch into his translation. That is an extremely interesting and ingenious suggestion but without doubt it must be rejected. There is no evidence for it at all; and it is not natural to bring in Enoch, for the whole picture is of the work of Christ.

(3) THE DESCENT INTO HELL ( 1 Peter 3:18 b-20;4:6 continued)

We have seen that the attempt at the elimination of this passage fails.

(ii) The second attitude is limitation. This attitude--and it is that of some very great New Testament interpreters--believes that Peter is indeed saying that Jesus went to Hades and preached, but that he by no means preached to all the inhabitants of Hades. Different interpreters limit that preaching in different ways.

(a) It is argued that Jesus preached in Hades only to the spirits of the men who were disobedient in the days of Noah. Those who hold this view often go on to argue that, since these sinners were desperately disobedient, so much so that God sent the flood and destroyed them ( Genesis 6:12-13), we may believe that no man is outside the mercy of God. They were the worst of all sinners and yet they were given another chance of repentance; therefore, the worst of men still have a chance in Christ.

(b) It is argued that Jesus preached to the fallen angels, and preached, not salvation, but final and awful doom. We have already mentioned these angels. Their story is told in Genesis 6:1-8. They were tempted by the beauty of mortal women; they came to earth, seduced them and begat children; and because of their action, it is inferred, the wickedness of man was great and his thoughts were always evil. 2 Peter 2:4 speaks of these sinning angels as being imprisoned in hell, awaiting judgment. It was to them that Enoch did, in fact, preach; and there are those who think that what this passage means is not that Christ preached mercy and another chance; but that, in token of his complete triumph, he preached terrible doom to those angels who had sinned.

(c) It is argued that Christ preached only to those who had been righteous and that he led them out of Hades into the paradise of God. We have seen how the Jews believed that all the dead went to Hades, the shadowy land of forgetfulness. The argument is that before Christ that was indeed so but he opened the gates of heaven to mankind; and, when he did so, he went to Hades and told the glad news to all the righteous men of all past generations and led them out to God. That is a magnificent picture. Those who hold this view often go on to say that, because of Christ, there is now no time spent in the shadows of Hades and the way to paradise is open as soon as this world closes on us.

(4) THE DESCENT INTO HELL ( 1 Peter 3:18 b-20;4:6 continued)

(iii) There is the attitude that what Peter is saying is that Jesus Christ, between his death and resurrection, went to the world of the dead and preached the gospel there. Peter says that Jesus Christ was put to death in the flesh but raised to life in the Spirit, and that it was in the Spirit that he so preached. The meaning is that Jesus lived in a human body and was under all the limitations of time and space in the days of his flesh; and died with that body broken and bleeding upon the Cross. But when he rose again, he rose with a spiritual body, in which he was rid of the necessary weaknesses of humanity and liberated from the necessary limitations of time and space. It was in this spiritual condition of perfect freedom that the preaching to the dead took place.

As it stands this doctrine is stated in categories which are outworn. It speaks of the descent into Hades and the very word descent suggests a three-storey universe in which heaven is localized above the sky and Hades beneath the earth. But, laying aside the physical categories of this doctrine, we can find in it truths which are eternally valid and precious, three in particular.

(a) If Christ descended into Hades, then his death was no sham. It is not to be explained in terms of a swoon on the Cross, or anything like that. He really experienced death, and rose again. At its simplest, the doctrine of the descent into Hades lays down the complete identity of Christ with our human condition, even to the experience of death.

(b) If Christ descended into Hades, it means that his triumph is universal. This, in fact, is a truth which is ingrained into the New Testament. It is Paul's dream that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things in earth and things under the earth ( Php_2:10 ). In the Revelation the song of praise comes from every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth and under the earth ( Revelation 5:13). He who ascended into Heaven is he who first descended into the lower parts of the earth ( Ephesians 4:9-10). The total submission of the universe to Christ is woven into the thought of the New Testament.

(c) If Christ descended into Hades and preached there, there is no corner of the universe into which the message of grace has not come. There is in this passage the solution of one of the most haunting questions raised by the Christian faith--what is to happen to those who lived before Jesus Christ and to those to whom the gospel never came? There can be no salvation without repentance but how can repentance come to those who have never been confronted with the love and holiness of God? If there is no other name by which men may be saved, what is to happen to those who never heard it? This is the point that Justin Martyr fastened on long ago: "The Lord, the Holy God of Israel, remembered his dead, those sleeping in the earth, and came down to them to tell them the good news of salvation." The doctrine of the descent into Hades conserves the precious truth that no man who ever lived is left without a sight of Christ and without the offer of the salvation of God.

Many in repeating the creed have found the phrase "He descended into hell" either meaningless or bewildering, and have tacitly agreed to set it on one side and forget it. It may well be that we ought to think of this as a picture painted in terms of poetry rather than a doctrine stated in terms of theology. But it contains these three great truths--that Jesus Christ not only tasted death but drained the cup of death, that the triumph of Christ is universal and that there is no corner of the universe into which the grace of God has not reached.

THE APPROACHING END ( 1 Peter 4:7 a)

4:7a The end of all things is near.

Here is a note which is struck consistently all through the New Testament. It is the summons of Paul that it is time to wake out of sleep, for the night is far spent and the day is at hand ( Romans 13:12). "The Lord is at hand," he writes to the Philippians ( Php_4:5 ). "The coming of the Lord is at hand," writes James ( James 5:8). John says that the days in which his people are living are the last hour ( 1 John 2:18). "The time is near," says the John of the Revelation, and he hears the Risen Christ testify: "Surely I am coming soon" ( Revelation 1:3; Revelation 22:20).

There are many for whom all such passages are problems, for, if they are taken literally, the New Testament writers were mistaken; nineteen hundred years have passed and the end is not yet come. There are four ways of looking at them.

(i) We may hold that the New Testament writers were in fact mistaken. They looked for the return of Christ and the end of the world in their own day and generation; and these events did not take place. The curious thing is that the Christian Church allowed these words to stand although it would not have been difficult quietly to excise them from the New Testament documents. It was not until late in the second century that the New Testament began to be fixed in the form in which we have it today; and yet statements such as these became unquestioned parts of it. The clear conclusion is that the people of the early church still believed these words to be true.

(ii) There is a strong line of New Testament thought which, in effect, holds that the end has come. The consummation of history was the coming of Jesus Christ. In him time was invaded by eternity. In him God entered into the human situation. In him the prophecies were all fulfilled. In him the end has come. Paul speaks of himself and his people as those on whom the ends of the ages have come ( 1 Corinthians 10:11). Peter in his first sermon speaks of Joel's prophecy of the outpouring of the Spirit and of all that should happen in the last days, and then says that at that very time men were actually living in those last days ( Acts 2:16-21).

If we accept that, it means that in Jesus Christ the end of history has come. The battle has been won; there remain only skirmishes with the last remnants of opposition. It means that at this very moment we are living in the "end time," in what someone has called "the epilogue to history." That is a very common point of view; but the trouble is that it flies in the face of facts. Evil is as rampant as ever; the world is still far from having accepted Christ as King. It may be the "end time," but the dawn seems as far distant as ever it was.

(iii) It may be that we have to interpret near in the light of history's being a process of almost unimaginable length. It has been put this way. Suppose all time to be represented by a column the height of Cleopatra's Needle with a single postage stamp on top, then the length of recorded history is represented by the thickness of the postage stamp and the unrecorded history which went before it by the height of the column. When we think of time in terms like that near becomes an entirely relative word. The Psalmist was literally right when he said that in God's sight a thousand years were just like a watch in the night ( Psalms 90:4). In that case near can cover centuries and still be correctly used. But it is quite certain that the Biblical writers did not take near in that sense, for they had no conception of history in terms like that.

(iv) The simple fact is that behind this there is one inescapable and most personal truth. For everyone of us the time is near. The one thing which can be said of every man is that he will die. For every one of us the Lord is at hand. We cannot tell the day and the hour when we shall go to meet him; and, therefore, all life is lived in the shadow of eternity.

"The end of all things is near," said Peter. The early thinkers may have been wrong if they thought that the end of the world was round the corner, but they have left us with the warning that for every one of us personally the end is near; and that warning is as valid today as ever it was.


4:7b-8 Be, therefore, steady and sober in mind so that you will really be able to pray as you ought. Above all cherish for each other a love that is constant and intense, because love hides a multitude of sins.

When a man realizes the nearness of Jesus Christ, he is bound to commit himself to a certain kind of life. In view of that nearness Peter makes four demands.

(i) He says that we must be steady in mind. We might render it: "Preserve your sanity." The verb Peter uses is sophronein ( G4994) ; connected with that verb is the noun sophrosune ( G4997) , which the Greeks derived from the verb sozein ( G4982) , to keep safe, and the noun phronesis ( G5428) , the mind. Sophrosune ( G4997) is the wisdom which characterizes a man who is preeminently sane; and sophronein ( G4993) means to preserve one's sanity. The great characteristic of sanity is that it sees things in their proper proportions; it sees what things are important and what are not; it is not swept away by sudden and transitory enthusiasms; it is prone neither to unbalanced fanaticism nor to unrealizing indifference. It is only when we see the affairs of earth in the light of eternity that we see them in their proper proportions; it is when God is given his proper place that everything takes its proper place.

(ii) He says that we must be sober in mind. We might render it: "Preserve your sobriety." The verb Peter uses is nephein ( G3525) which originally meant to be sober in contradistinction to being drunk and then came to mean to act soberly and sensibly. This does not mean that the Christian is to be lost in a gloomy joylessness; but it does mean that his approach to life must not be frivolous and irresponsible. To take things seriously is to be aware of their real importance and to be ever mindful of their consequences in time and in eternity. It is to approach life, not as a jest, but as a serious matter for which we are answerable.

(iii) He says that we must do this in order to pray as we ought. We might render it: "Preserve your prayer life." When a man's mind is unbalanced and his approach to life is frivolous and irresponsible, he cannot pray as he ought. We learn to pray only when we take life so wisely and so seriously that we begin to say in all things: "Thy will be done." The first necessity of prayer is the earnest desire to discover the will of God for ourselves.

(iv) He says that we must cherish for each other a love that is constant and intense. We might render it: "Preserve your love." The word Peter uses to describe this love is ektenes ( G1618) which has two meanings, both of which we have included in the translation. It means outstretching in the sense of consistent; our love must be the love that never fails. It also means stretching out as a runner stretches out. As C. E. B. Cranfield reminds us it describes a horse at full gallop and denotes "the taut muscle of strenuous and sustained effort, as of an athlete." Our love must be energetic. Here is a fundamental Christian truth. Christian love is not an easy, sentimental reaction. It demands everything a man has of mental and spiritual energy. It means loving the unlovely and the unlovable; it means loving in spite of insult and injury; it means loving when love is not returned. Bengel translates ektenes ( G1618) by the Latin vehemens, vehement. Christian love is the love which never fails and into which every atom of man's strength is directed.

The Christian, in the light of eternity, must preserve his sanity, preserve his sobriety, preserve his prayers and preserve his love.

THE POWER OF LOVE ( 1 Peter 4:7 b-8 continued)

"Love," says Peter, "hides a multitude of sins." There are three things which this saying may mean; and it is not necessary that we should choose between them, for they are all there.

(i) It may mean that our love can overlook many sins. "Love covers all offences," says the writer of the Proverbs ( Proverbs 10:12). If we love a person, it is easy to forgive. It is not that love is blind, but that it loves a person just as he is. Love makes patience easy. It is much easier to be patient with our own children than with the children of strangers. If we really love our fellow-men, we can accept their faults, and bear with their foolishness, and even endure their unkindness. Love indeed can cover a multitude of sins.

(ii) It may mean that, if we love others, God will overlook a multitude of sins in us. In life we meet two kinds of people. We meet those who have no faults at which the finger may be pointed; they are moral, orthodox, and supremely respectable; but they are hard and austere and unable to understand why others make mistakes and fall into sin. We also meet those who have all kinds of faults; but they are kind and sympathetic and they seldom or never condemn. It is the second kind of person to whom the heart more readily warms; and in all reverence we may say that it is so with God. He will forgive much to the man who loves his fellow-men.

(iii) It may mean that God's love covers the multitude of our sins. That is blessedly and profoundly true. It is the wonder of grace that, sinners as we are, God loves us; that is why he sent his Son.


4:9-10 Be hospitable to one another and never grudge it. As each has received a gift from God, so let all use such gifts in the service of one another, like good stewards of the grace of God.

Peter's mind is dominated in this section by the conviction that the end of all things is near. It is of the greatest interest and significance to note that he does not use that conviction to urge men to withdraw from the world and to enter on a kind of private campaign to save their own souls; he uses it to urge them to go into the world and serve their fellow-men. As Peter sees it, a man will be happy if the end finds him, not living as a hermit, but out in the world serving his fellow-men.

(i) First, Peter urges upon his people the duty of hospitality. Without hospitality the early church could not have existed. The travelling missionaries who spread the good news of the gospel had to find somewhere to stay and there was no place for them to stay except in the homes of Christians. Such inns as there were were impossibly dear, impossibly filthy and notoriously immoral. Thus we find Peter lodging with one Simon a tanner ( Acts 10:6), and Paul and his company were to lodge with one Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple ( Acts 21:16). Many a nameless one in the early church made Christian missionary work possible by opening the doors of his house and home.

Not only did the missionaries need hospitality; the local churches also needed it. For two hundred years there was no such thing as a church building. The church was compelled to meet in the houses of those who had bigger rooms and were prepared to lend them for the services of the congregation. Thus we read of the church which was in the house of Aquila and Priscilla ( Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19), and of the church which was in the house of Philemon ( Philemon 1:2). Without those who were prepared to open their homes, the early church could not have met for worship at all.

It is little wonder that again and again in the New Testament the duty of hospitality is pressed upon the Christians. The Christian is to be given to hospitality ( Romans 12:13). A bishop is to be given to hospitality ( 1 Timothy 3:2); the widows of the Church must have lodged strangers ( 1 Timothy 5:10). The Christian must not forget to entertain strangers and must remember that some who have done so have entertained angels unawares. ( Hebrews 13:2). The bishop must be a lover of hospitality ( Titus 1:8). And it is ever to be remembered that it was said to those on the right hand: "I was a stranger, and you welcomed me" while the condemnation of those on the left hand was: "I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me" ( Matthew 25:35; Matthew 25:43).

In the early days the Church depended on the hospitality of its members; and to this day no greater gift can be offered than the welcome of a Christian home to the stranger in a strange place.

(ii) Such gifts as a man has he must place ungrudgingly at the service of the community. This again is a favourite New Testament idea which is expanded by Paul in Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:1-31. The Church needs every gift that a man has. It may be a gift of speaking, of music, of the ability to visit people. It may be a craft or skill which can be used in the practical service of the Church. It may be a house which a man possesses or money which he has inherited. There is no gift which cannot be placed at the service of Christ.

The Christian has to regard himself as a steward of God. In the ancient world the steward was very important. He might be a slave but his master's goods were in his hands. There were two main kinds of stewards, the dispensator, the dispenser, who was responsible for all the domestic arrangements of the household and laid in and divided out the household supplies; and the vilicus, the bailiff, who was in charge of his master's estates and acted as landlord to his master's tenants. The steward knew well that none of the things over which he had control belonged to him; they all belonged to his master. In everything he did he was answerable to his master and always it was his interests he must serve.

The Christian must always be under the conviction that nothing he possesses of material goods or personal qualities is his own; it all belongs to God and he must ever use what he has in the interests of God to whom he is always answerable.


4:11 If anyone speaks, let him speak as one uttering sayings sent from God. If anyone renders any service, let him do so as one whose service comes from the strength which God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ to whom belong glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.

Peter is thinking of the two great activities of the Christian Church, preaching and practical service. The word he uses for sayings is logia ( G3048) . That is a word with a kind of divine background. The heathen used it for the oracles which came to them from their gods; the Christians used it for the words of scripture and the words of Christ. So Peter is saying, "If a man has the duty of preaching, let him preach not as one offering his own opinions or propagating his own prejudices, but as one with a message from God." It was said of one great preacher: "First he listened to God, and then he spoke to men." It was said of another that ever and again he paused, "as if listening for a voice." There lies the secret of preaching power.

Peter goes on to say that if a Christian is engaged in practical service, he must render that service in the strength which God supplies. It is as if he said, "When you are engaged in Christian service, you must not do it as if you were conferring a personal favour or distributing bounty from your own store, but in the consciousness that what you give you first received from God." Such an attitude preserves the giver from pride and the gift from humiliation.

The aim of everything is that God should be glorified. Preaching is not done to display the preacher but to bring men face to face with God. Service is rendered not to bring prestige to the giver but to turn men's thoughts to God. E. G. Selwyn reminds us that the motto of the great Benedictine Order of monks is four letters--I-O-G-D--which stand for the Latin words (ut) in omnibus glorificetur Deus (in order that in all things God may be glorified). A new grace and glory would enter the Church, if all church people ceased doing things for themselves and did them for God.


4:12-13 Beloved, do not regard the fiery ordeal through which you are passing and which has happened to you to test you, as something strange, as if some alien experience were happening to you, but rejoice in so far as you share the sufferings of Christ so that you may also rejoice with rapture when his glory shall be revealed.

In the nature of things persecution must have been a much more daunting experience for Gentiles than it was for Jews. The average Gentile had little experience of it; but the Jews have always been the most persecuted people upon earth. Peter was writing to Christians who were Gentiles and he had to try to help them by showing them persecution in its true terms. It is never easy to be a Christian. The Christian life brings its own loneliness, its own unpopularity, its own problems, its own sacrifices and its own persecutions. It is, therefore, well to have certain great principles in our minds.

(i) It is Peter's view that persecution is inevitable. It is human nature to dislike and to regard with suspicion anyone who is different; the Christian is necessarily different from the man of the world. The particular impact of the Christian difference makes the matter more acute. To the world the Christian brings the standards of Jesus Christ. That is another way of saying that he inevitably is a kind of conscience to any society in which he moves; and many a man would gladly eliminate the troublesome twinges of conscience. The very goodness of Christianity can be an offence to a world in which goodness is regarded as a handicap.

(ii) It is Peter's view that persecution is a test. It is a test in a double sense. A man's devotion to a principle can be measured by his willingness to suffer for it; therefore, any kind of persecution is a test of a man's faith. But it is equally true that it is only the real Christian who will be persecuted. The Christian who compromises with the world will not be persecuted. In a double sense persecution is the test of the reality of a man's faith.

(iii) Now we come to the uplifting things. Persecution is a sharing in the sufferings of Jesus Christ. When a man has to suffer for his Christianity he is walking the way his Master walked and sharing the Cross his Master carried. This is a favourite New Testament thought. If we suffer with him, we will be glorified with him ( Romans 8:17). It is Paul's desire to enter into the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ ( Php_3:10 ). If we suffer with him, we shall reign with him ( 2 Timothy 2:12). If we remember that, anything we must suffer for the sake of Christ becomes a privilege and not a penalty.

(iv) Persecution is the way to glory. The Cross is the way to the crown. Jesus Christ is no man's debtor and his joy and crown await the man who, through thick and thin, remains true to him.


4:14-16 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed because the presence of the glory and the Spirit of God rest upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evil-doer or a busybody. But if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him by this name bring glory to God.

Here Peter says the greatest thing of all. If a man suffers for Christ, the presence of the glory rests upon him. This is a very strange phrase. We think it can mean only one thing. The Jews had the conception of the Shekinah, the luminous glow of the very presence of God. This conception constantly recurs in the Old Testament. "In the morning," said Moses, "you shall see the glory of the Lord" ( Exodus 16:7). "The glory of the Lord settled upon Mount Sinai, and the cloud coverer it six days," when the law was being delivered to Moses ( Exodus 24:16). In the tabernacle God was to meet with Israel and it was to be sanctified with his glory ( Exodus 29:43). When the tabernacle was completed, "then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle" ( Exodus 40:34). When the ark of the covenant was brought into Solomon's temple, "a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord" ( 1 Kings 8:10-11). Repeatedly this idea of the Shekinah, the luminous glory of God, occurs in the Old Testament.

It is Peter's conviction that something of that glow of glory rests on the man who suffers for Christ. When Stephen was on trial for his life and it was certain that he would be condemned to death, to those who looked on him his face was as the face of an angel ( Acts 6:15).

Peter goes on to point out that it is as a Christian that a man must suffer and not as an evil-doer. The evils which he singles out are all clear enough until we come to the last. A Christian, Peter says, is not to suffer as an allotriepiskopos ( G244) . The trouble is that there is no other instance of this word in Greek and Peter may well have invented it. It can have three possible meanings, all of which would be relevant. It comes from two words, allotrios ( G245) , belonging to another and episkopos ( G1985) , looking upon or looking into. Therefore, it literally means looking upon, or into, that which belongs to another.

(i) To look on that which is someone else's might well be to cast covetous eyes upon it. That is how both the Latin Bible and Calvin take this word--to mean that the Christian must not be covetous.

(ii) To look upon that which belongs to another might well mean to be too interested in other people's affairs and to be a meddling busybody. That is by far the most probable meaning. There are Christians who do an infinite deal of harm with misguided interference and criticism. This would mean that the Christian must never be an interfering busybody. That gives good sense and, we believe, the best sense.

(iii) There is a third possibility. Allotrios ( G245) means that which belongs to someone else; that is to say, that which is foreign to oneself. Along that line allotriepiskopos ( G244) will mean looking upon that which is foreign to oneself. That would mean, of a Christian, entering upon undertakings which do not befit the Christian life. This would mean that a Christian must never interest himself in things which are alien to the life that a Christian should lead.

While all three meanings are possible, we think that the third is the right one.

It is Peter's injunction that, if a Christian has to suffer for Christ, he must do so in such a way that his suffering brings glory to God and to the name he bears. His life and conduct must be the best argument that he does not deserve the suffering which has come upon him and his attitude to it must commend the name he bears.

ENTRUSTING ALL LIFE TO GOD ( 1 Peter 4:17-19 )

4:17-19 For the time has come for judgment to begin from the household of God. And, if it begins from us, what will be the end of those who disobey the good news which comes from God? And, if the righteous man is scarcely saved, where will the impious man and the sinner appear? So, then, let those who suffer in accordance with the will of God, entrust their souls to him who is a Creator on whom you can rely, and continue to do right.

As Peter saw it, it was all the more necessary for the Christian to do right because judgment was about to begin.

It was to begin with the household of God. Ezekiel hears the voice of God proclaiming judgment upon his people, "Begin at my sanctuary" ( Ezekiel 9:6). Where the privilege has been greatest, there the judgment will be sternest.

If judgment is to fall upon the Church of God, what will be the fate of those who have been utterly disobedient to the invitation and command of God? Peter confirms his appeal with a quotation from Proverbs 11:31: "If the righteous is requited on earth, how much more the wicked and the sinner!"

Finally, Peter exhorts his people to continue to do good and, whatever happens to them to entrust their lives to God, the Creator on whom they can rely. The word he uses for to entrust is paratithesthai ( G3908) , which is the technical word for depositing money with a trusted friend. In the ancient days there were no banks and few really safe places in which to deposit money. So, before a man went on a journey, he often left his money in the safe-keeping of a friend. Such a trust was regarded as one of the most sacred things in life. The friend was absolutely bound by all honour and all religion to return the money intact.

Herodotus (6: 86) has a story about such a trust. A certain Milesian came to Sparta, for he had heard of the strict honour of the Spartans, and entrusted his money to a certain Glaucus. He said that in due time his sons would reclaim the money and would bring tokens which would establish their identity beyond doubt. The time passed and the sons came. Glaucus treacherously said that he had no recollection of any money being entrusted to him and said that he wished four months to think about it. The Milesians departed sad and sorry. Glaucus consulted the gods as to what he ought to do, and they warned him that he must return the money. He did so, but before long he died and all his family followed him, and in the time of Herodotus there was not a single member of his family left alive because the gods were angry that he had even contemplated breaking the trust reposed in him. Even to think of evading such a trust was a mortal sin.

If a man entrusts himself to God, God will not fail him. If such a trust is sacred to men, how much more is it sacred to God? This is the very word used by Jesus, when he says "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit" ( Luke 23:46). Jesus unhesitatingly entrusted his life to God, certain that he would not fail him--and so may we. The old advice is still good advice--trust in God and do the right.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

Bibliographical Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on 1 Peter 4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dsb/1-peter-4.html. 1956-1959.
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