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Bible Commentaries
1 Peter 4

Smith's WritingsSmith's Writings

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Verse 1

In the early verses of chapter 4 the apostle continues his theme of suffering for righteousness' sake. Enlarging upon the statement that it is better to suffer for well-doing than for wrong-doing, he draws a contrast between the Christian and the men of this world. He shows that the Christian is to have done with sin, and live the rest of his time to the will of God. Thus his life as a Christian will be a complete contrast to his past life when unconverted, as well as to the life that men are living in the world - the life dominated by sin, or the will of the flesh.

( 1Pe_4:1 ). In order that the Christian may be strengthened to have done with sin, or the gratification of the will of the flesh, the apostle sets Christ before us as our perfect Example. Christ came into the world to do the will of God; and though He never had to meet sin within, as we have, yet He was tempted to the utmost by sin without: every conceivable adverse power was arrayed against Him, the contradiction of sinners, the power of the devil, the claims of natural relationships, the ignorance of disciples, and at last the power of death, all brought to bear upon Christ in the endeavour to move Him from the path of perfect obedience to the will of the Father. He resisted every temptation, and chose death rather than disobedience, and that too when, as it has been said, “death had the character of wrath against sin and judgment. Bitter as the cup was, He drank it rather than not fulfil to the uttermost His Father's will and glorify Him”. Suffering death rather than yielding to the principle of sin, He has by dying done with sin for ever.

It is ever the great effort of the enemy to entrap believers into sin by tempting us to gratify the flesh in some form or other. He knows the particular form of gratification that will appeal to each one, and tempts us accordingly. To meet his temptations we are instructed to arm ourselves against sin by having the same mind as Christ - the mind to suffer rather than yield to sin. If we yield, the flesh does not suffer; on the contrary it is gratified: but we sin, and in due course suffer the governmental consequences of sinning. If we refuse to yield to sin, the flesh suffers, but we cease from sin, and live to the will of God, enjoying the blessedness of so doing.

(V. 2). To cease from sin, however right, is only a negative virtue: the apostle therefore passes on to speak of the positive side of Christian life. Conversion divides the life here into two distinct periods: first , “the time past of our life”; secondly, “the rest of his time in the flesh”. As to the time that is left, it is only consistent, as the apostle says, that we should no longer live to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. We arm our-selves against Satan by making up our minds to suffer rather than sin, and by setting our faces toward God with the desire to do His will.

(V. 3). The time past of our life was marked by doing our own will, and the character of that will was shown by our walk. In the case of these Jewish believers they had walked according to the will of the Gentiles, committing the same excesses, clearly showing that the will of an unconverted Jew is the same as that of an unconverted Gentile.

(V. 4). The men of the world wonder that believers abstain from the indulgences of the flesh, refusing to join with them in pouring their life into the sink of corruption, such as the world without God has become. Having no knowledge of God, nor of the desires and affections of the new nature, which make the lusts of the flesh repellent to the believer, they can only impute some evil motive as actuating those who refuse to join with them in their life of self-indulgence. So the devil, incapable of appreciating goodness, suggested to God that the piety of Job was not real - that he refrained from evil, not because he hated evil or loved God, but simply because he found it paid to refrain from excesses.

In the former chapter we learnt that the world falsely imputes evil to the believer, and then condemns him for doing evil ( 1Pe_3:16 ). Here the world condemns the believer because he refuses to do evil. Thus apart from what the believer may do, or not do, the fallen nature of man is convicted of being in opposition to all that is of God.

(V. 5). Men may indulge the flesh and speak evil of those who fear God; but God is not indifferent to their godless lives, nor their treatment of His people. They will have to give an account to God, who is ready to judge the living as well as those who have already died.

(V. 6). For this cause the Gospel was preached to those who are now dead, so that, on the one hand, judgment may take its course on those who, having been warned, refuse the Gospel and continue to live as regards men after the flesh, or, on the other hand, by receiving the Gospel they might be blessed, and, abandoning their old life, live as regards God, according to the Spirit. God proclaims grace but does not give up His government whereby evil is dealt with in righteousness. The verse does not imply that the Gospel was preached to men after they were dead. It was preached to living men who are now dead. There would be no sense in suggesting that dead men could live, either after the flesh's lusts, or in the power of the Spirit.

(V. 7). In this verse the apostle sums up the Christian attitude to the world that he is passing through. It is a world of excess and riot in which men do their own wills, gratify their lusts, and speak evil of the Christian, who is made to suffer for righteousness' sake, who suffers patiently, and who suffers in the flesh rather than yield to sin. In the presence of the world's evil and his own suffering, the Christian is to remember that the end of all things is at hand. The end, with all that it involves, whether of judgment for the unconverted or blessing for the Christian, calls for sobriety and watchfulness with prayer, sobriety in view of the end to which all is leading, watchfulness as to all that is around, and prayer in relation to God.


The Christian Circle

( 1Pe_4:8-11 )

In the preceding portion of the Epistle we have had a solemn picture of the world abandoning itself to the gratification of the flesh, in contrast to those who do the will of God and suffer rather than sin. In these verses we pass within the Christian circle to learn the conduct that becomes believers among themselves.

(V. 8). If lust marks the world sphere (verse 2), love is the out-standing mark of the Christian company. Other qualities will shine in that circle, but the crowning quality - the one without which all else is vain - is love; therefore, says the apostle, “above all things have fervent love among yourselves”. For the third time in the course of his Epistle, the apostle presses love as the outstanding quality of the Christian company. (See 1Pe_1:22 ; 1Pe_3:8 ).

Love is far from being indifferent to sin; but love does not necessarily expose sins, or gloat over the failure of others. If possible, love will deal with sins privately, so that they do not needlessly become public. When they are dealt with, and judged, love will no longer speak of them or spread them abroad. Love does not make mischief, or lead people to act as busybodies. Love covers a multitude of sins, as the wise man says, “Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins” ( Pro_10:12 ).

(V. 9). Moreover, in a circle where we are no longer strangers to one another, but drawn together by the bonds of Christ, love will delight to use hospitality, as the opportunity arises, and, where fervent love prevails, the hospitality will be without murmuring.

(Vv. 10, 11). Passing from the use of temporal means, the apostle gives practical directions as to the use of spiritual gifts. Each one, as he has received a gift, is responsible to use it in relation to God as a steward of the grace of God. If any man speak, it is to be as the oracles of God, with the conviction that he is ministering a message that conveys the mind of God for the moment. It is not simply that he speaks the truth according to the oracles of God, but he gives the mind of God “as the oracles of God”.

The apostle further distinguishes between ministry and speaking. Prejudiced, it may be, by what obtains in Christendom, we are inclined to limit ministry to speaking, whereas ministry includes much service to the Lord's people in which speaking has little or no part. It is not, indeed, that the spoken word is not ministry, but that ministry is more than speech.

Whatever form the ministry takes, it is to be exercised according to the ability that God gives. Thus natural ability is recognised as given of God. In grace God gives spiritual gifts, but He does so “to every man according to his several ability” ( Mat_25:15 ). It is true, as one has said, that “no ability constitutes a gift; but the spiritual gift does not supersede natural ability”. As we can see, in giving Paul his gift, God recognised his natural ability, so that he is able to present doctrine in an orderly way. Peter, probably more fitted by his natural ability to deal with everyday practice, is given a gift in accord with this ability; his ministry, therefore, is almost wholly practical.

Whatever the spiritual gift, whatever form the ministry takes, whatever the natural ability, all is to be used for the glory of God “that God in all things may be glorified”. We are to beware of the vanity of the flesh that would seek to use these things for the exaltation of self.

This beautiful picture of the Christian circle presents a company of believers marked above all by love for one another, where hospitality meets temporal needs, and where the varied gifts of the manifold grace of God are used for the spiritual blessing of the company and the glory of God in “all things”, all being bound together “through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen”.


Suffering for the Name of Christ

( 1Pe_4:12-19 )

Already the apostle has spoken of suffering for conscience' sake ( 1Pe_2:19 ), and suffering for righteousness' sake ( 1Pe_3:14 ). Now he speaks of suffering for the Name of Christ. The confession of Christ in life and testimony had brought upon the Jewish believers the fire of persecution.

(Vv. 12-14).That the world, living according to its lusts without fear of God, should come under judgment is manifestly righteous; but that the believer, who refrains from lust, seeks the will of God, walks in sobriety and watchfulness, seeking in all things that God should be glorified, should be allowed to pass through a fiery trial, might appear as a strange thing. It would, however, only appear strange to those believers who viewed the trial in connection with themselves. Viewing the trial in connection with Christ, the One in whom they believed, who had become precious to them, and whom they loved, it would no longer appear some strange thing that could not be explained. For the Christ that the believer follows is a rejected Christ who suffered in this world, and whose Name is reproached by men. The fire of persecution these believers were passing through was because they confessed the Name of Christ, and above all showed forth in their lives the excellencies of Christ, as the apostle says, “On your part He is glorified”. In these believers there was an answer to the Lord's prayer when He said to the Father, “I am glorified in them” ( Joh_17:10 ).

It is this that calls forth the opposition of the devil and the world. Any witness to the glory of Christ is intolerable to the world and the devil. The more faithful the witness to Christ and His excellencies, the more believers will suffer.

As the suffering is for Christ's sake, it should be a matter of joy rather than wonder. “Rejoice”, says the apostle, “inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings”; and again, “If ye be reproached for the Name of Christ, happy are ye”. Moreover, even as the sufferings and reproach of Christ have an answer in glory, so those who suffer for His Name's sake will share His glory in the day of His revelation. This coming glory, if realised in its blessedness, would lead the saint in the midst of trial to “be glad also with exceeding joy”. Every bit of suffering that God may allow His people to pass through for Christ's sake is a pledge of coming glory. The Spirit of glory, the Spirit of God who had come from glory, rested upon these suffering saints, and was the earnest of the coming glory. The world may speak evil of Christ, but, in the power of the Spirit of God, He is glorified on the part of the saints.

Some might argue that such persecution could easily be explained in the days of the apostle, when believers were faced with the deadly opposition of Judaism and the awful corruptions of heathenism, but that all is changed today, when we are living in Christendom where Christ is owned. This argument could only be advanced by those who view Christendom in outward appearance. It is true that Christendom has erected many magnificent buildings, professedly in honour of Christ, and carries on vast benefactions under His Name, and we might be deceived into thinking that Christ is in honour, and no longer in reproach. We know, however, that Christendom has become wholly corrupt, and that the great profession is nauseous to Christ. As in the day of the apostle, so now, “He is evil spoken of” by the mass of the religious world. Any true witness of Christ is obnoxious to the officialism of men's ecclesiastical systems, to the gross materialism of Protestantism, as well as to the superstition of Rome. The mere profession, whether papal or protestant, always has been, and always will be, a persecutor of the true witness for Christ. It is still true that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution”.

(Vv. 15, 16). We are then warned against the possibility of the believer suffering as an evildoer. Though Christians, if we do evil, we shall suffer under the government of God, indeed, all the more so because we are Christians. We may escape the grosser evils and yet suffer “as a busy-body in other men's matters”. This will only bring shame upon ourselves. To “suffer as a Christian” is no shame, but rather an occasion of glory to God.

(Vv. 17, 18). The solemn possibility of a believer suffering for wrong-doing is a proof that the government of God is not confined to the world. As we have seen, the world will have to give an account to God, who is ready to judge the living and the dead. Here, however, that judgment begins even now at the house of God. It would be contrary to the nature of God to allow evil to pass unnoticed in His own house. This judgment of God, in connection with His house, is wholly governmental and applies to the present time. It has reference to believers, for the apostle does not contemplate any but “living stones”. We have a solemn instance of this governmental dealing in the case of the Corinthian assembly. On account of the unworthy ways of some, God acted in chastening, as we read, “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” ( 1Co_11:30 ).

Further, if God does not spare His own people, “what shall the end be of them that obey not the Gospel of God?” If the righteous are with difficulty brought through the trials, the opposition, and the dangers of this world, into the full salvation of glory, what possibility of escape is there for the ungodly and the sinner?

(V. 19). If such are the difficulties, the dangers, and the opposition in the path of the believer, it is evident that in his own strength he never can come safely through this wilderness world. Only the power of God can sustain him. Well it is for us to reach this conclusion, and, in the presence of every form of suffering, commit the keeping of our souls to Him. But let this be accompanied with “well doing”, even if it involves suffering; only as we are doing well shall we have the confidence that can cast all upon God. It is here a question of being preserved in this world, and therefore we turn to God “as unto a faithful Creator”, One who is “the preserver of all men, specially of those that believe” ( 1Ti_4:10 ).

Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on 1 Peter 4". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/1-peter-4.html. 1832.
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