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Thursday, December 7th, 2023
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Bible Commentaries
1 Peter 4

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-11

Sharing Christ’s Sufferings and Sinlessness in the Flesh (4:1-11)

Having established the fact that it is the Christian’s obligation to make Christ his Lord (3:15-17), and further having portrayed the example of suffering which this Lord has undergone "for sins" (3:18-22), in the present passage Peter unhesitatingly exhorts his readers to emulate the sufferings and sinlessness of their Lord. In enjoining this imitation of Christ, as before (2:12) Peter is conscious of the Gentile world surrounding the Christian community as an ocean of evil might surround an island of purity (vs. 3). His readers are to "let the time that is past suffice for doing what the Gentiles like to do." Their actions are not to be affected in any way when these Gentiles "are surprised that . . . [they] do not now join them in the same wild profligacy" in which they indulge themselves (vs. 4), although "abuse" is likely to result. Peter consoles his readers, moreover, with the thought that these Gentiles "will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead" (vs. 5).

It is not suffering in general that Peter has in mind but, as the whole letter shows, it is suffering "for righteousness’ sake" (3:14), the only Christian suffering which could legitimately be parallel to that of the Christian’s Lord. One who has thus vicariously suffered in the flesh may be said to have "ceased from sin," or perhaps better, to have "done with sin." The form of the verb in the Greek suggests an active determination to cease from sin, illustrated in the willingness of the Christian to suffer vicariously for righteousness’ sake. Moreover, this interpretation is borne out by the following verse, which declares that the purpose of the Christian to have done with sin is "so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer by human passions but by the will of God" (vs. 2). Peter is not saying, then, as some of the Jewish rabbis said, that suffering and death on the part of an individual achieved atonement from sin for him. On the contrary, he is saying, if we understand his thought, that suffering "for righteousness sake" is an indication that one has determined once for all to come to grips with the problem of sin and to have done with it, living his life henceforward "by the will of God" (see Romans 6:15-19).

There are a number of parallels in the New Testament to the Gentile sins of which Peter gives a catalogue in verse 3 (see Romans 1:28-32; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:3-5; Colossians 3:5-9; 1 Timothy 1:8-11; Revelation 21:8; Revelation 22:15). The references cited are only a selection of the more obvious passages cataloguing the current sins of the day. It need not startle us that Peter suggests that the Gentiles were "surprised" at Christians for their unwillingness to "join them in the same wild profligacy" (vs. 4) . The high ethical standards set forth in the Scriptures had constantly to battle against the profligacy of the surrounding paganism, in which it was by no means obvious that religion and morals have any necessary relation the one to the other. And Peter as before (3:18) asserts that it was because pagans did not see this connection that "the gospel was preached even to the dead," that they might, so to speak, be given a "chance" to accept the truth. The same difficulty arises in connection with this saying in verse 6 as in 3:18-22. Whatever the expression "to the dead" both here and in the former passage may mean, it is at least clear that here Peter compares human judgment according to standards which are current on earth with the eternal life which is lived in the presence of God. And in the context of the passage as a whole, his meaning is that, whatever may be the standards employed for men’s judgments in this life, his readers should remember that "the gospel" as preached — wherever this is done, whether to the living or the dead — proclaims a life "in the spirit" whose only possible norm or standard is the life of God.

In this passage Peter also presents a short resume of the type of ethical living expected of the Christian in view of the imminence of the divine judgment. "The end of all things is at hand; therefore keep sane and sober for your prayers" (vs. 7). Such statements need not be pressed to mean that the author in question expected that the end of history was just around the corner. All that they need mean is that from the Incarnation forward the Christian Church is living in "the last time" (see 1:5). The certainty of judgment, however, is suggested as a motive for right living, and this same motivation is attributed in the New Testament to Jesus himself (Mark 13:32-37; see also 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11).

Peter sets certain Christian characteristics over against the "human passions" of Gentile living. The formula follows somewhat the pattern set by Paul in Galatians 5:16-24, in which he speaks on the one hand of the "works of the flesh" (vs. 19), and on the other, of the "fruit of the spirit" (vs. 22). And similarly, the "gift," of which Peter speaks as being the product of "God’s varied grace" (vs. 10), reminds one of Paul’s reference to the "varieties of gifts" which are given by "the Spirit" to the members of "the body of Christ" (1 Corinthians 12).

In suggesting that Christians should have "love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins" (vs. 8), Peter may be using a well-known quotation from Proverbs 10:12 (see also James 5:20). Love is prepared to overlook, to forgive, to bear with, and so in a real sense to "cover" the sins of others (see 1 Corinthians 13:7). "Hospitality" (vs. 9) among Christian brethren was a most desirable trait in a community almost isolated from its pagan neighbors (see Romans 12:13; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8; Hebrews 13:2).

The motivation for such Christian living, as is expressed elsewhere in the New Testament in varied forms, is "in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ" (vs. 11; see 1 Corinthians 10:31). The present section, which follows the pattern of catechetical instruction, ends with a doxology: "To him belong glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen" (vs. 11). It is almost identical with that found in Romans 16:27. It is also quite similar to the second-century addition to the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:13, see margin), an addition which is patterned after the doxology found in David’s prayer in 1 Chronicles 29:11-13.

Verses 12-19

Sharing Christ’s Sufferings and Glory (4:12-19)

Some have thought that at this point in the letter Peter learns for the first time that "the fiery ordeal" of persecution is being experienced by the Christians to whom he is writing (vs. 12). The Greek translated "which comes upon you" may be rendered so as to refer to a present experience ("which is presently upon you"). But again, it lends itself also to the meaning "which is about to come upon you." In any case, Peter’s point is threefold: first, whenever "fiery ordeal" of persecution comes upon the Christian he should understand that it is within the will of God and is intended to "prove" him (that is, to "put him to the test"); second, such testing is neither new nor strange; and third, the Christian should always be prepared to "rejoice" at sufferings which mean that he is being "reproached for the name of Christ" (vs. 14), or that he is suffering "as a Christian" (vs. 16). All three points are clearly made by Peter, no matter what the exact experience may be to which he refers in the phrase "the fiery ordeal."

The striking contrast between the two possible causes of suffering — on the one hand, "for the name of Christ" or "as a Christian," and on the other, "as a murderer, or a thief, or a wrongdoer, or a mischief-maker" (vs. 15) — brings before the mind of the reader the picture of Christ between the two thieves. These men apparently were not robbers of the ordinary type; presumably they were revolutionaries or extreme nationalists. And the words in verse 15 may very well describe just such political agitators.

There can be no doubt that the early group of followers about Jesus was at first strongly attracted to the idea of a nationalistic messiah, one who would deliver the Jews from the hands of their oppressors, the Romans (see Acts 1:6). Perhaps we should see in both Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot former members of this inner circle of revolutionaries. It is even possible that Peter’s loss of faith in his Master and the movement for which he stood was due to his own concept of the nationalist movement and its nationalist messiah (see Matthew 26:58; Mark 14:26-31; Mark 14:47-50; John 18:10-27). It would seem likely, then, that in the present passage Peter is concerned to point out to his Christian readers, whatever their background may be, that reproach "for the name of Christ" means something far more significant than suffering for a mere worldly or nationalistic messiah. For Jesus is not a mere nationalistic messiah but rather is God’s Messiah, and to suffer for him is to "glorify God" (vs. 16) because "his glory" is God’s glory, and to share his name and his reproach is to share "the spirit of glory and of God" (vs. 14).

"Glory," in both Hebrew and Greek, stands for the manifested presence of a person, in this case that of God or Christ. In both languages the term was used for the luminous cloud which appeared between the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant (Leviticus 16:2; Numbers 16:42) and on rare occasions was said even to fill the entire Temple itself (1 Kings 8:10-11). Peter has already suggested that Christians are to share in the "praise and glory and honor" of Christ at his appearing (1:7, 13), and no doubt he has that same eschatological event in mind in the present passage (vs. 13). At the same time, he appears to have also in mind that at the very time one is "reproached for the name of Christ," the blessing of "the spirit of glory and of God" is a present experience and "rests upon" the Christian in the very midst of his reproach (vs. 14).

By way of justifying the Christian’s attitude in the face of the fiery ordeal, the reproach, and the suffering "for the name of Christ," Peter now returns to the thought of the coming Judgment. From the time of Amos forward, the prophets and other biblical writers had spoken of "the day of the Lord" or the Day of Judgment (Amos 5:18-20; Ezekiel 30:1-3) as a future prospect. But Christians are conscious of the fact that even now they are living in the "last times," as we have already seen; "the end of all things is at hand" (vs. 7 above) and "the time has come for judgment to begin" (vs. 17). Also from the time of Amos forward the thought had been prominently expressed that God’s people would be the first to experience his judgment (Amos 3:2). Peter voices his agreement with this thought when he says, "The time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God."

God’s people, however, are not to expect anything other than impartiality on the part of God. If God’s people are to be vindicated, it will be because they are prepared to "suffer according to God’s will" and "do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator" (vs. 19). God’s absolute demand that men "do right" regardless of consequences is justified, because God is the "faithful Creator" who fulfills his promises to his people, and therefore they may without reserve "entrust their souls" to him.

The warning to those "who do not obey the gospel of God" (vs. 17) may be taken as the equivalent of the previous warning to those who "disobey the word" (2:8; 3:1, 20). The word in all of these cases is the word as preached, the equivalent of the "gospel." This "word" or "gospel" contains an account not only of God’s redemptive love but also of his wrath against the disobedient who do not accept that love. It is notable that here, as in Hebrews 3, 4, "disobedience" is the cardinal sin because of which men are lost. Accordingly, in the quotation from Proverbs 11:31 (vs. 18) "the righteous man" who is "saved" is the one who accepts the gospel in faith, while "the impious and sinner" will be the one who rejects it and refuses to live out its implications for human living.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 Peter 4". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/1-peter-4.html.
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