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THE CALL TO HOLY LIVING
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
1 Peter 4:1. In the flesh.—Or to the flesh; i.e., so far as the flesh is concerned. The same sphere in which Christian disciples were called to suffer. Same mind.—Or thought. The same temper of trust, obedience, and submission. Put yourselves into the same disposition. Ceased from sin.—“Hath been caused to rest.” The moral result of the suffering is deliverance from the motions of sins. But it is suffering borne in the mind of Christ’ that alone has its full moral power on us. See Romans 6:7-11.
1 Peter 4:2. This verse explains the previous verse. Suffering, rightly borne, brings a mood of submission to the will of God, and this involves our deliverance from our own self-will. A man ceases to live unto the lusts, desires, of his own heart, when he comes fully to do and bear God’s holy will ἐπιθυμίαις All sensual objects, pleasures, profits, honours, which are repugnant to the will of God.
1 Peter 4:3. Will of the Gentiles.—Almost satirical, as addressed to Jews. It was altogether unworthy of them to take up with the self-indulgent customs of the Gentiles; it was impossible for Jews who had become Christians in any way to keep association with old evil practices. It seems that both Gentiles and bigoted Jews were trying to draw the Christian Jews away from their profession by the enticements of sensual indulgence, and public excitements. If we could understand the state of society in those days, we should readily see how attractive, and how subtle and strong in their influence, those enticements and temptations were, and therefore how needful was the apostolic warning. Those pledged to do the will of Christ must in no sense allow themselves to do the “will of the Gentiles.” To us Christ our Master must be all, or nothing at all. Lasciviousness.—A plural form for all kinds of bodily impurity. Lusts.—See above. Excess of wine.—A contemptuous word is used—“wine-swillings.” Involving loss of due self-restraint. Revellings.—Roystering parties. Banquetings.—Or carousings; drinking-bouts. Idolatries.—With reference to the excitements and immoralities usually associated with idol feast-times. It is evident that licentious Jews had sadly fallen into evil ways, but it is difficult to conceive that the Christian Jews had yielded to such enticements. Perhaps St. Peter only warns them of serious possibilities of temptation.
1 Peter 4:4. Wherein.—In regard to which fleshly life. Christians always excite surprise in persisting in separation from carnal indulgences. Riot.—Or letting loose of bodily passions. The word used may mean, sink, slough, puddle. Speaking evil of you.—Slanderously affirming that you are as bad as themselves. Such slander was part of the suffering of the Christians; and they must take care that they gave no conceivable occasion for it.
1 Peter 4:5. Who.—That is, these revilers and slanderers. They will surely be called to account before God. “They who now demand an account, will one day have to render it.” St. Peter offers the consideration of God’s near judgment, fur the comfort and assurance of Christians unjustly slandered. The early disciples thought of Christ’s vindication as near at hand, “Hence St. Peter includes the slanderers of his day among the living, as just about to be judged” (Bengel).
1 Peter 4:6. Them that are dead.—Not the souls of the dead; but to those who once were alive, and are now dead; e.g., the men of the age of Noah, to whom reference is made in the preceding chapter. This sentence should help us to understand the preaching to the “spirits in prison.” In 1 Peter 4:5 the “quick” and the “dead “are distinguished. The familiar apostolic meaning is the “dead” before Christ’s coming, and the “quick “or “alive “at Christ’s coming. This is the idea of “dead” in this verse. Alford thinks those in their graves are meant. According to men.—That is, the discipline of life, the common experience of human suffering, was God’s gospel preached to them, with a view to their quickening to spiritual life. If they failed to respond, there could be for them but “a fearful looking for of judgment.” St. Peter is comforting tempted and tried Christians, by assuring them that their tempters and persecutors are in the hands of God, in the just judgment of God. “Even such as are now dead had the gospel preached to them, with this result, that the common judgment should pass upon them in the flesh, and yet that they should have a higher life before God by the operation of the Spirit” (W. W.). “They were judged after the manner of men, by the laws by which all men are judged according to their works; but the purpose of that judgment, like that of the judgments that come upon men in this life, was to rescue them from a final condemnation” (Plumptre). Many of the slanderers and persecutors of the Christians would be their personal friends and relatives; and St. Peter would feel it necessary to temper and relieve, as far as possible, his denunciations of them. We all want some ground of hope concerning our unbelieving and ungodly friends.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Peter 4:1-6
Suffering in the Flesh as Help to Ceasing from Sin.—It will be seen how directly adapted, pointed, and practical, St. Peter’s teachings are. They apply precisely to the conditions, sufferings, and temptations of the brethren of the “Dispersion,” to whom the epistle is addressed. St. Peter has not the interest in theology which characterises St. Paul, and he should not be studied in order to find settings of doctrinal truth. His supreme interest is in Christian living, and in truths only so far as they may inspire and guide godly living. And in this epistle he is mainly concerned with the hindrances to Christian living which come from the disabilities and distresses which making a Christian profession then involved. He looks at the sufferings of the brethren from different points of view, and from every point of view he finds encouragement by showing that they always “work together for good.” Here his point of view is the peril occasioned by having to live in the very midst of a licentious Gentile society—a peril all the greater because they once indulged in the unrestrained and degrading customs of Gentile life, and there was some affinity for such things left in their fleshly nature. And he reminds them that suffering in the flesh was the very thing to deliver them from the power of these evils, the very thing to work the very last relics of these things out of their natures, and enable them to cease altogether from sin.
I. Christ’s example of suffering in the flesh.—What was the point of that example? What was the power that sustained Him? And what were the results of His endurance? It was distinctly and precisely such suffering as we have to undergo, suffering in the fleshly, human sphere; bodily and mental suffering, arising from conditions similar to ours; bodily states, sensibilities, oppositions of evil men, etc. It is only too easy to represent Christ as so unique a Being that we cannot see in His any likeness to our own bodily, fleshly sufferings. He was “in all points” tested, disciplined by suffering, even as we are. St. John vigorously pleads for the truth that Christ is “come in the flesh” St. Peter vigorously pleads for the truth that Christ “suffered in the flesh.” As to the power which sustained Him under the suffering, we have to see that the grace of God rested upon Him as it rests upon us; but beside that, and as the special point of interest now, Jesus was sustained—as we may be, and ought to be sustained—by His full loyalty and devotion to God, and absolute resolve to serve Him in righteousness and well doing, whatever that might involve. And as to the result, it may be said that, in entire consecration to God, to righteousness as God’s will, is always found the deliverance of a man from the “motions of sins in his members.” Sin is essentially self-centredness, self-seeking; and a man ceases from self-willedness and sin when he gives himself wholly over, in devotion and service to another. Christ absolutely ceased from the service of self, because He was entirely absorbed in the service of the Father.
II. Deliverance and elevation may come to Christians through their suffering in the flesh (1 Peter 4:2-3).—The acceptance of bodily suffering in doing what we know to be right, and the will of God, is the sign of the highest moral triumph, of deliverance from the self. It lifts a man right up above the plane in which men seek their own pleasures, and indulge their own lusts and passions. To be willing to suffer for righteousness’ sake is proof of self-mastery. No man ever chooses suffering, or submits easily to it, save under the persuasion of some high and holy motive. Illustration may be taken from the case present to the mind of St. Peter. These Christians once had shared in the self-indulgent and demoralising Pagan life around them. On principle they had separated themselves from it all. But the separation was putting them under disability, and causing them suffering. Their loyalty to principle was severely tested, but if they held fast their loyalty, and patiently bore their sufferings, they would surely find that this would perfect the separation, and make it easy to stand quite aloof from every evil feature of the old Pagan life. It is the point which may be set in adaptation to the circumstances of every age. In the earnestness of the Christian life—and earnestness is effectively shown in willingness to endure—lies the true safety from surrounding evils, howsoever they may appeal to the fleshly nature.
III. The misunderstanding those must expect who are willing to suffer in the flesh (1 Peter 4:4).—“Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them into the same excess of riot; speaking evil of you.” The early Christians were, in a remarkable way, exposed to slander and misrepresentation; and these are often harder to bear than actual persecutions affecting body and circumstances. A Christian who is indifferent concerning material things is intensely jealous concerning his good name, because the honour of his Lord is bound up in his keeping his good name. But even this he must be willing to bear; by his persistency in good and gracious living “putting to silence the ignorance of foolish men.” A Christian has always this effective power against the slanderer he can live so that no one can by any possibility credit the slanders. He can live so as to stand in the acceptance of the righteous God, and so as fearlessly to anticipate the time when human lives must be appraised and judged. The apostles, with their anticipation of the immediate return of Christ for judgment, constantly urge that whatever benefits accrue to the faithful will be shared by the Christians who have died before He comes, as well as by those who are alive when He comes. As they contemplated material blessings from the coming, it was necessary to show that those who had died before He came would be placed under no disability. St. Peter in no way refers, in 1 Peter 4:6, to old-world sinners, but entirely to the Christians who had suffered in well-doing right up to death. The gospel—this same gospel of suffering with Christ, and in His spirit—was preached unto them (see Matthew 5:10-12). They were misunderstood, judged, persecuted by men in their fleshly life. But in their loyalty and faithfulness they lived their spiritual life; in their spirits—their inner spiritual life—they kept true to God, and the will of God, as they knew it. And their being dead would prove no hindrance to their sharing the full Divine acceptance with the loyal living, and with Christ, who in the same way “suffered in the flesh.”
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
1 Peter 4:1. Suffering in the Flesh.—A key to the passage is found in the fact that it is addressed to martyrs and prospective martyrs, and through them to all sufferers of bodily woes. Willingness to suffer is the sign of ceasing from sin, the essence of sin being our living according to our self-will, and unto our self-pleasing. Willingness to suffer was a sign of Christ’s life to the will of God, and death to self-will. He was willing to suffer even to extremity, even unto death. That mind of willingness was Christ’s defence and power, and it may be ours. Christ presents the example of putting the body under restraint by the dominion of the will or spirit. His suffering in the flesh was for us, as an example and power upon us. Take these points:
1. Christ’s experience of suffering in the flesh.
2. In what senses this suffering was borne for us.
3. How the mastery of the flesh—which takes such a diversity of forms—can be regarded as one great battle.
4. What are the two possible laws under the control of which human lives can be conducted—the will of God or the will of the flesh?
5. How altogether inconsistent a fleshly life must be to a Christian, seeing he is a regenerate man and born unto God. Paraphrase. “As Christ suffered in the flesh without shrinking, take for your protection and support the same thought which proved a protection and support to Him—viz., that to be rid of sin for ever was the greatest of all possible blessings, and that this is only attainable through the bodily death. And the result of embracing this thought will be that for the rest of your lives on earth (so soon, perhaps, to be cut violently short) you may no longer live to men’s lusts, but to God’s will.”—Ellicott’s Commentary.
Christ’s Sufferings.—The Redeemer of the world is infinitely above us, and in another sense actually beside us. We adore Him as King of angels, and love Him as our Elder Brother. His sympathy is as true as His sovereignty; and because He once suffered being tempted, He is able now to succour them that are tempted. His incarnation was necessary. The suffering humanity of our Lord is the point where we may touch Him. He was a real man, living, sensitive, suffering, sympathetic, and such a Saviour became us. To see His footprints in the path we have to tread inspires us with willingness to endure to the end.
I. Try to understand what the sufferings of Jesus Christ were.—There is a mystery about His sufferings which even far-seeing angels cannot discover. Let reverence walk hand in hand with study.
1. There can be no doubt that Jesus was exempted from many of the physical ills from which we suffer. He was healthy, vigorous, with life replete. Many of our physical sufferings we bring on ourselves. Jesus suffered as a man, but not as a sinner. His whole life was a martyrdom. The pure amongst the impure.
2. His utter loneliness. His was the solitude of a holy soul surrounded by sinners; of a heavenly spirit in contact with things earthly and sensual; of a mind whose higher thoughts not a single being on earth could appreciate; whose truest objects in living and dying as He did none could comprehend.
3. The expression “in the flesh” reminds us of His uncongenial surroundings. The environment of our life has much to do with our happiness or misery. He lived and died among a despised people. At any moment He might have left the world to its sins and sorrows, and risen triumphant above them all. Then He could not have been our Brother, our Great High Priest. Jesus is our Example.
II. How these sufferings were endured by Him.—
1. It is evident that He accepted them as God’s appointment for Him here. “The cup which My Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” indicates His attitude to trouble right through. It was a “cup” measured and proffered by the Father’s hand—a Father whose will was wise and good. The secret of patient, brave endurance of the ills of life is that God rules them, and in the long run will bring Divine issues out of them, as He did out of Gethsemane and Calvary.
2. Our Lord never allows Himself to be absorbed in His own sorrows. Suffering tends to make us self-absorbed. No selfishness in Jesus. He was always ready to enter into other people’s joys and griefs, whatever His own sorrows might be. If a follower of Christ, our couch of pain will be the centre of joy and peace to those who circle round us. Effort for others shall mitigate our own distress. “Arm yourselves also with the same mind.”
III. How can we do this?—
1. By God’s help in answer to prayer. We must set Christ before us as our Pattern. A living example is more helpful than abstract principles. Keep Jesus steadily before you.
2. Jesus is no historic personage, but a Living Presence. “I am with you alway.”
3. He identifies Himself with us. If we suffer with Him, we shall be also glorified together. Trials of faith and patience and temper are not purposeless. Nothing in all this multitudinous world walks with aimless feet. The end of His pathway was not Calvary but heaven. Those who follow it will find at last, not a plunge into an abyss, but a path of ascension to realms sorrowless and sinless, which He entered and claimed for us when He ascended on high and a cloud received Him out of His servants’ sight.—A. Rowland, LL.B., B.A.
1 Peter 4:1-2. The Mind of Christ the Christian’s Armour.—The ruling thought of the text is this: You may be persecuted, you may even be martyred; you may have much to suffer in your flesh, in your circumstances; but so had Christ. You may escape it all by giving up your allegiance to Christ. Live to yourself and to your own self-will, to the indulgence of your own love of ease and safety, and then you need not thus “suffer in the flesh.” But if you have the same mind as Christ, if you are determined to set the will of God first, and bear whatever doing that “will” may involve, then you will find yourself lifted up in spirit so as to look cheerfully on to suffering, even to martyrdom, and you will feel that self-will—the essence of sin—has ceased; it is crushed within you. Christ’s “suffering in the flesh” specially directs our thought to the physical sufferings of the cross. It was from those physical pains that His human nature shrank, and in Gethsemane He triumphed over that shrinking, and won the victory of a perfect and submissive trust in His Father’s will. He suffered, yielding His body to the great and prolonged agony, but able to bear it all calmly unto the end, because the self—the essence of sin—was quite mastered, and He could say, “Thy will be done.” “Arm yourselves with the same mind.” Christ was defended from yielding to bodily suffering, defended, too, from human shrinking from it, by a certain intent, thought, purpose, resolution, which may be sharply expressed in this way: “I shall do and bear the will of God, whatever it may have in it.” We can have that mind. Prospective suffering will show whether we have it. Actual suffering will test its power and influence on us. “Ceased from sin.” Understand “sin” here to stand for that which is the essence of sin, self will, self-pleasing, and the sentence becomes clearer. Live to do the will of God. Set that first, and you will surely find that you become dead to self; you cease from sinful shrinking back; nay, the actual suffering will but help to kill the self in you. The mind of Christ then will arm us for the battle and suffering of life.
I. What is that mind?—Like the early Christians, we find that in the Christian lot there is the “needs be” for what answers to their persecutions and martyrdoms. And we cannot control our circumstances. “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will.” Indeed, no man can master his circumstances until he has mastered himself; but then, even if he never can alter the things, he can alter the set and tone of his mind and feeling towards the things, and mate and master them thus. For, after all, the various things of life are to men according to their mind and feeling towards them. Things hurt us in one mood of mind which we do not at all feel in another; and by differences of disposition men’s troubles vary. The one most impressive of all lessons learned from the human life of the Lord Jesus is this: He could not change His circumstances or surroundings; He would not have done so if He could; and yet He really mastered them all by the inward feeling and purpose of submission and obedience which He so fully cherished. Nothing can master the disabilities of a human life but soul-strength; nothing can give and keep soul-strength save the simple, cheerful determination that everywhere and in everything we will do and bear God’s will. Here is the answer to the question, What shall arm us for the battle and sorrow of life? It is “the mind of Christ,” the set of soul towards God, and so towards holy things, which was characteristic of Christ. Can we yet more fully see what that prevailing mind and purpose of Christ was? Look at His childhood. There we often find the fore shadowings of the life; and in such a child as Jesus we may well expect to see the prophecy of the life. The thought evidently abiding in Him was this: Life for Me is My Father’s business. He began with something in His mind—with an idea and a resolution that lifted Him above the thought of suffering. Upon our Lord, during His ministry, there came awful visions of the woe awaiting Him in the Holy City, and He plainly saw, at the centre of all that woe, the agonising cross; and yet, what was His mind? It is revealed at once in this: “He set His face steadfastly towards Jerusalem.” Strong to go forward, even into the mists and the darkness, because He must simply do God’s will. Gethsemane is the place where the mind of Christ is so fully revealed. It was Calvary without the bodily pain. There came upon the frail and worn human nature of our Lord the full vision of the awful scenes of the next day, and that human nature cried out in its shrinking, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me.” But quickly after it comes the triumph-cry of the soul’s set purpose: “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” That is the mind of Christ which armed Him for all bearing work. And He was victorious right to the end. The last words that broke from His dying lips showed how thoroughly He had ceased from sin; He was dead to all self-will, all self-seeking—“Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.” Get that spirit or mind of Christ. Be like Him, and it will not be hard to live the rest of life in the flesh, not to the lusts of men, not to the self-seekings of our own hearts, but to the will of God.
II. How may this mind be gained?—Christ’s suffering in the flesh was intended to bring closely home to us His kinship with us. Suffering is the common lot of humanity. However we separate Christ from us in His Divine nature, we must keep Him quite near in His human nature. We cannot be like Him in degree, we can be in kind. How can the mind of Christ be gained? We must have the same thought of God that Christ had. That only comes out of personal relations. We must have the same thought of self that Christ had. Self second, God first. We must have the same thought of life that Christ had. Life, the sphere of God’s mission. We must have the same thought of suffering that Christ had. The testing of the full obedience and trust.
III. How will this “mind” practically help us?—See how it will make us soul-strong
(1) in cases of bodily depression;
(2) in those changes that involve suffering;
(3) in perplexed, anxious times;
(4) when called to part with beloved friends. We might cover all human woes, and show how the medicine for all is the “mind of Christ”; we shall only cease from self as we can get it. It is the uplifted face of the Son to the Father, and the trembling cry from the bitter cross—“As Thou wilt.” But neither Christ, nor we, can ever feel it, or ever say it, until our souls get a vision of the Father’s hands. All is well then. We can suffer and be strong.
1 Peter 4:6. Preaching to the Dead.—Having just spoken of Christ as the judge of the living and the dead, he now affirms that the dead—those who are now dead—will be judged according to men in the flesh; that is, as those now living will be judged. But to those now living the gospel has been preached. They have heard of the redemption provided for them in Christ Jesus, and have, therefore, been placed in the most favourable circumstances for preparing for the judgment, and escaping final condemnation. Is this the case also with the dead? with the heathen world, who, indeed, ran to all kinds of excess in sin, but never had the light of revelation? The apostle answers in the affirmative, for the gospel was preached to them also; for when Christ, in His disembodied spirit, went into Hades, He proclaimed to them the good tidings of salvation, and offered to them deliverance from their prison, and a title to eternal life. St. Peter goes back to the former passage (1 Peter 3:18), and re-affirms the fact of Christ’s preaching to the inhabitants of the unseen world; and further, he affirms the object of the preaching, that they, being judged as having merited death, might, notwithstanding, live as regards the spirit. St. Paul affirms, “The body is dead because of sin; but the spirit is life because of righteousness” (Romans 8:10), meaning that the body, even of a Christian, dies on account of sin, but that the spirit lives because of the righteousness it has obtained through Christ. Even so have all past generations died, whilst the antediluvians especially, and others who died in a state of alienation from God, were judged to imprisonment in Hades, until Christ came and offered them salvation. If any of them accepted it—and perhaps many of them did—they already live in the spirit, having entored upon a state of blessedness which Christ prepared even for them.—Thornley Smith.
The Dead and the Living.—The dead here, contrasted with the living, must naturally mean those who were in the state of the dead when this message came to them. It sounds like an unexpected and mysterious extension of the gospel message, so that not living men alone, but the departed also, came directly within the range of its proclamation. The change was to affect their state, not in the sight of men but of God alone. The men in the days of Noah, the dwellers in the cities of the plain, the Egyptian host, the Canaanite armies, to the eye of men were all swept away in one indiscriminate judgment. Yet in each case there may have been a secret and powerful work of repentance, by which a remnant turned to God in the hour of calamity and desolation. To all such the message of mercy might come, when our Lord, in His separate spirit, preached to the dead, to the spirits in prison; and the destined result was attained, “that they might live according to God in the spirit,” or gain a firm hold of that Saviour and His finished sacrifice, on whom, as the promised seed of the woman, with a dim and starlight faith they had learned to put their trust in the hour of judgment, when all their refuges of lies were swept away.—Birks.
Alive and Dead.—The remarkable expression used by St. Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:15, “We that are alive, that are left unto the coming of the Lord, shall in no wise precede them that are fallen asleep,” indicates a prevailing sentiment in the early Church which materially helps in the understanding of this difficult verse. When the visible coming of Christ was daily expected, those seemed to be placed at grave disadvantage who were taken away by death before He came. In this way Christians mourned over their dead fellow-Christians, as having missed the great Christian hope and privilege. St. Peter intends to comfort such distressed souls. He is speaking of dead Christians and living Christians. He bids the troubled ones be quite sure that as the gospel was preached to their dead friends, and they found the eternal life through it, they do live, according to God’s thought for them, that very spiritual life into which we all are to be brought at Christ’s coming, though, in the ordering of God’s providence, they had died. The mistakes in apprehending both this and the previous passage arise from our putting our modern ideas into St. Peter’s mind, instead of simply endeavouring to discover what actually was in his mind.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 4
1 Peter 4:2. Lawful Pleasure.—Undoubtedly there is a degree of natural pleasure, connected with the exercise of the appetites, which is lawful. But it is very obvious that self is the natural man, which, in always seeking for pleasure, without regarding either its nature or its lawfulness, has polluted everything here. It is in connection with the appetites in their unsanctified state that we find one of the strong ties which bind man to his idols, and which subject his proud spirit. This strong bond must be sundered. No one can be acceptable to God who does not crucify and reject every form of attraction and pleasure from this source which is not in accordance with the intentions of nature, and does not receive the Divine approbation and sanction.—Upham.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
1 Peter 4:7. End of all things.—Jews naturally thought of the end of organised Judaism as the “end of all things,” The end of one great æon, or dispensation was nigh at hand, and this fact was properly used as an incentive to watchfulness Man is not capable of attaching a definite meaning to the term, “end of all things.” He can understand the “end of his things.” Sober.—letter, “be of sound mind, and be sober unto prayer.” Keep a good check on all bodily desires and passions; sober, or self-restrained, and so able to make everything an occasion of prayer.
1 Peter 4:8. Charity.—Or love; but it is love as influencing Christian fellowship. Distinguish from the love of sex. Charity suggests the mutual consideration, and mutual service, which are the essential elements of social love. Fervent.—Or intense. It is important that the love should be more than cherished good feeling. It should find free expression in daily intercourse. The difficult circumstances of the Churches made mutual confidence, mutual interest, and mutual helpfulness, unusually important. Cover the (a) multitude.—See James 5:20. The idea is, that love tries to hide the faults and failings of brethren; or, love others, and you will find it easy to forgive, and pass over, faults. “It is a truth from which we need not shrink, that every sin which love hides from man’s sight, is hidden in God’s sight also” (Alford), One writer thinks the idea of the sentence is, that the exercise of this grace of charity, or love, makes up for a great many other shortcomings in the man.
1 Peter 4:9. Hospitality.—Suggested by the word “charity,” and an important form of it in those days, when Christians were often turned out of their homes, and dependent on the shelter and kindness of Christian friends. Grudging.—Murmuring, fretting under the claim put upon you. Circumstances of family life often make offering hospitality a great strain on feeling.
1 Peter 4:10. The gift.—Better, a gift, any gift. Each renewed man is thought of as being endowed with some gift, which he is to put to use for the general edification. Activity in the employment of our Christian gifts provides the best security against temptation. Minister.—In the general sense of “use in-service.” Stewards.—Men put in trust. A steward is in no sense a possessor. Manifold.—Various. God’s gifts take various forms, and so the whole circle of the Church’s need is adequately provided for.
1 Peter 4:11. Speak.—Referring to the gift of tongues, which took form as preaching. prophecy, ecstatic utterance, counsel, etc. (See Romans 12:6-8; Romans 1:0 Corinthians 12-14). Oracles of God.—R.V. “speaking as it were oracles of God.” Two ideas are suggested, but the latter is probably the one in the apostle’s mind.
1. Speaking in harmony with what was already received as oracles of God; or,
2. Speaking only as inspired by oracles of God. The teacher is to keep himself strictly open to Divine leadings; to speak as one possessed of powers not his own. Minister.—Serve in the Church as the first deacons did. “Serve tables.” General helping in meeting the various claims and duties, perhaps with special reference to the poor. There is a gift of practical ministry to which attention should be directed. God giveth.—It makes all the difference whether we are using our strength, or a God-given strength. The gift of working for others comes from God. Glorified.—Compare Matthew 5:16; 1 Corinthians 10:31. Praise.—Glory. Ever and ever.—Ages and ages.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Peter 4:7-11
Immediate Duty in Relation to Christian Graces and Christian Gifts.—As the apostle is directly addressing persecuted and imperilled Christians—men whose lives were in danger on account of their steadfast loyalty to Christ—we must understand him as adapting his persuasions to their particular thoughts and fears. There is an end to all things. There is an end to suffering in the flesh. That end may be martyrdom—it is in some cases. That end may be death—it is in all cases; and the uncertainty of death is a constant persuasion to energy and persistency. “Be ye always ready.” It may be true that the early Christians anticipated the end of their sufferings in Christ’s coming rather than in death, and that we have learned to see death as Christ’s coming; but the fact remains, whatever may be the forms under which it is presented, that whosoever suffers in well-doing, suffers but for a time, and he never knows any day how near the end of his sufferings may be. He may find cheer in the thought of that uncertainty. He may be inspired to do and suffer well by that uncertainty. He ought to be full of supreme anxiety to make the very best of the “little while” of possibilities that is given to him. St. Peter urges upon these persecuted Christians that they ought to be—
I. Nourishing all Christian graces.—The moderation of a careful self-restraint and self-management needs to be cultivated and exercised. “Be ye therefore sober.” The term implies the harmony of affections and desires with reason, and the due control of passions. Perhaps the idea prominent in the apostle’s mind was that the last days—as he imagined them to be—would be full of commotions, surprises, and calamities, occasioning great alarm and distress. It should be characteristic of the Christians that they preserved their calmness at such times, “in their patience possessing their souls.” Watchfulness of themselves should be joined with prayer. Lit. “be sober unto prayers” (προσευχάς) Recalling our Lord’s words in Gethsemane, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.” “Men are to be sober with a view to prayer. Desires of all kinds, above all, those of man’s lower nature, are fatal to the energy, and therefore to the efficacy, of prayer.” “There can be no preparation for the duty of prayer when the mind is absorbed either in the pursuit of pleasure or in the pursuit of riches, or even in the pursuit of the arts and sciences. He only can bow the knee in a right spirit, and hold real fellowship with God, who is able to throw off all temporal affairs like a loose garment, and, free from distracting thoughts, at once address himself to his Father who is in heaven.” The grace of which Christians in all ages need to be most anxious, the grace which they should most diligently and experimentally cultivate, is the grace of charity, using that term in the sense of love to another finding daily expression in service one of another. “And above all things—as the chief and all-essential thing—having your love toward one another intense, because love covereth a multitude of sins.” There was special need of cultivating this mutual patience and sympathy and helpfulness of brotherly love in times of peril and persecution. It is an important point of St. Peter’s advice that he sees in this cultivated and freely exercised brotherly love the one thing that can master the misunderstandings, and prejudices, and estrangements that inevitably come up in all associations of frail and imperfect men. Christian love can cover, correct, or remove these evils. Hospitality is a Christian virtue which at a peculiar time, and under particular circumstances, found befitting expression for the brotherly love. Jewish Christians scattered abroad would be very dependent on the kindness of Jewish Christians in the countries they visited, or resided in. Hospitality is still a Christian grace, that should be cultivated and exercised, but it must find expression within the limitations and conditions of modern civilised life.
II. Exercising all Christian gifts.—“According as each hath received a gift, ministering it among yourselves, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” The apostles thought of the bestowment and sealing of the Holy Ghost as including the imparting to the believer of some special gift, or ability, which he was to use for the edification of his fellow-believers. Every converted man is an endowed man, placed under the responsibility of a trust. His gift is nothing for him to glory in or boast over, it is his possibility of service; whatever it is, it is to be cultured into efficiency, and exercised with all wisdom, prudence, and energy. “All gifts involve reponsibilities, yet it is an honour to possess them, and if we have also grace to employ them aright, they will be doubled to us in a future life.” The gifts are classified by St. Peter under two heads—
1. Speaking gifts.
2. Ministering gifts. Gifts relating to the tongue. Gifts relating to the hand, or visiting the sick and needy, teaching children, helping those in trouble, etc. And in exercising our gifts it is important to be reminded that there is no absolute standard by which the exercise must be judged; each must minister his own gifts, in his own way, “as of the ability that God giveth.” No man of them must judge his brother. This supreme anxiety should possess them all, that they should not serve themselves in the use of their gift, nor even serve others only; they must keep, as the one inspiring idea in the exercise of all gifts, that they should glorify God through Jesus Christ, whose name they bore, and whose servants they were. “We are often actuated in our Church life by personal motives, seeking our own honour, and anxious to obtain the praise of men; and sometimes we are actuated by mixed motives, having God’s glory partly in view, but not losing sight of our own. When our motives are thoroughly purified, and we learn to live and act only for the Divine glory, how lofty will be our piety, and how transparent our character and our lives” (Thornley Smith).
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
1 Peter 4:7. The End Then and the End Now.—
1. In what sense was it true then, that “the end of all things was at hand”? In the widest and most literal sense that the expression will bear, it was not true, for upwards of eighteen centuries have passed away, and the end has not yet come. “Of that day and hour knoweth no man.” The precise period of the final judgment was one of those mysteries which even St. John, in the Apocalypse, did not unfold. Is it surprising, then, if the apostle supposed that the end of all things was nearer than it really was? Some think he referred to the end of that age—to the end of the Jewish dispensation. Some think he meant the end of all these things is at hand—the follies of the wicked, and the persecutions of the righteous. Death would soon put an end to both, and all would soon be called before the Judges 2:0. In what sense is it true now? We are living in the nineteenth century of the Christian era; is the end of it approaching? or is an end of the present dispensation near? Some interpreters of prophecy believe that the manifestation of Christ from heaven is at hand, when He will raise the bodies of the sainted dead, change those that are alive, and commence His millennial reign on the earth. The conception is a grand one, and possibly it may be realised; but the personal reign of Christ on the earth, as the earth is at present constituted, is difficult to imagine; nor does the language of any of the apostles teach it. When He comes the saints are to be caught up to meet Him in the air, and they are to live and reign with Him a thousand years; but it is nowhere said that this will be on the earth. We cannot, however, affirm positively that these events are nigh.—Thornley Smith.
Watching for the Advent.—It must be held as a first principle that, ever since the appearing of Christ, there is nothing left to the faithful but, with wakeful minds, to be always intent on His second advent.—Calvin.
1 Peter 4:7. The End of All Things.—Respecting the transactions of the last day, many entertain the view that a moment will come when the present order of things will abruptly terminate, to be followed by a general destruction of the present material order. The prophetic language used in reference to those transactions, and the poetic garb in which they are couched, have tended to nourish such a conception; but the true end of things is not an abrupt suspension of their functions, but a completion—a perfect finish—of the ideal purposes for which these materials were created. Moral ends are the highest ideals of all things and all beings. To their fulfilment we must look for the terminus of the railway of time, and not exclusively to their physical constitution, although the movement may be conterminous in both. Human life is the highest of all purposes, and fitted to accomplish the highest and most definite ends. Its course has run for thousands of years, but, having regard to the regeneration of the whole race, we do not see the end of the present order very near. Nevertheless, it is certain, and the fact must have its place among the subjects of contemplation. If, however, we think of the duration of human life, and the uncertainty thereof, to us the “end of all things is at hand.” When this life is over, it will be like the final dissolution of the universe: we shall have none of the present interest in it. Our course will soon be at an end. There is but a step between us and the grave. The contemplation of such a serious step demands soberness, with watching and prayer. “Be ye ready,” is the Master’s call; to which we ought to answer, Ready, Lord.
I. A grave crisis.—“The end of all things is at hand.” There is a terminus in view towards which all things converge. There are no such things as “eternal rounds” for finite creatures, but one straight course, with a sharply defined beginning and ending. In order to take a general view of the subject, we notice four particulars or departments of God’s works which are daily moving towards a finale.
1. Human life. The contemplation of the end of our present life ought to cause no regret. Time and facilities enough will be granted to every man to work out the ideal manhood on which his whole life is based. Time wasted, and circumstances frittered away, will cause sorrow; but the improvement of time and the right use of opportunities will bear a peaceable fruit. Life is a germ, to be developed day by day, and when Death puts in the sickle, the abundant harvest should amply repay the trouble of sowing. He who builds up character according to the Divine model will lay in heaven the topmost stone, with “grace, grace unto it.” It is necessary to keep the end in view, to avoid the waste of time and the abuse of talent. A life in earnest will bring death in pence.
2. Moral means. Within a definite period, either long or short, the foundations of faith must be laid, obedience to God rendered, service to mankind given, and a general assimilation of purpose to the nature and tendency of the gospel made. It is a great work, and must be accomplished within its own period. It is true that we cannot comprehend eternity, or know all the ultimate purposes of God; but those who have abundant opportunities for repentance and faith now, cannot expect a period of probation hereafter. The offer of mercy through Jesus Christ is made within its own term, and the gospel will utter its last word to every sinner in this world. Are there more effective means beyond death—means that will be more certain to produce reformation? In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus there are these words: “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rise from the dead.” Take a more emphatic answer from the parable of the barren fig-tree: “Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it; and if it bear fruit thenceforth, well; but if not, thou shalt cut it down.” There is a time set, and means ordained for securing the peace of God, and our obvious duty is to “take the tide at the flood.”
3. The course of nature. The heavens and the earth shall pass away. There are material evidences to show this. We do not build our faith on scientific truths, but we receive them in corroboration of the teaching of the Book. Nature’s course, though long, is terminable. Suns, moons, stars, and the earth will one day declare, We have finished our task. A graphic description of that day is given by St. Peter in the second epistle and the third chapter. After reading these words, the one impression left on our mind is, that the eternal God has created all things for definite purposes in connection with the life and salvation of the human race; and the call is to prayer and to diligence.
4. Moral administration. The course of sin will be arrested, and every discordant note will cease. To-day, sin meets with a series of checks, but then, a complete annihilation. This will necessitate a change in many departments of moral government. The mediation of the Saviour will cease in its intercessory character. The day of forgiveness will end. The unclean will remain so, and the regenerate will rise to a state of perfection. The whole gospel dispensation will advance from its preparatory stages to the final condition of harmony and beauty in God the Father. This will take place after the resurrection and the last judgment. “And when all things have been subjected unto Him, then shall the Son also himself be subjected to Him that did subject all things unto Him, that God may be all in all.” Seeing that things, material and moral, are working towards that grave crisis, we ought to awake out of sleep, for our salvation is nearer than when we believed.
II. An earnest exhortation.—“Be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.” The end must be in view, that the means appointed fur its attainment may find a legitimate place in the economy of human life. This reminds us of a motto which a gentleman had inscribed over every door in his house: “Whatever you do, consider the end.”
1. Seriousness. To be sober-minded is to look at human life in all its bearings and responsibilities. Men are liable to several kinds of intoxication, and there are many drunken, but not with alcohol. Some are intoxicated with pride, others with pleasure, others with wealth, and many with imaginary greatness. St. Peter exhorts us in the text to avoid frivolity. Trifling with serious matters is a grave offence against morality, as well as an injury to the soul.
2. Watchfulness. Care must be taken to conserve the good we possess, and to entrench ourselves firmly in every position we occupy. There must be no “unguarded hours” in the Christian’s year. There may be enough courage to fight sin in open battle, where there is not enough caution to retain the advantage. Our Saviour exhorts us to “watch and pray.” The roaring lion is about, seeking us for his prey. Watchfulness is the compass by which the vessel is steered. Thousands have made a shipwreck of the faith because they neglected to look at the compass. Let us watch our very thoughts, fearing they should be vain. Let us watch every emotion of the heart, fearing they are sinful. Let us watch every step of the foot, fearing it may be outside the narrow path. Watch all your moments, and at all times. Temptation is your greatest foe; watch against your besetting sin. Keep yourselves spotless from the world. “Love not the world, nor,” etc.
3. Prayerfulness. The aspirations of prayer are heavenward. God has promised to help us. Prayer leads on to the grand end of moral perfection and eternal joy. “For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end” (Hebrews 3:14). Then pray on. Many of you may look with fear to the end. You are not confident that yours will be peace and joy. It may be that such a blessed assurance is not given to most of the saints until the time comes. But one thing is certain: we must pray on. Prayer leads the way. We enter on holiness by prayer. We secure every blessing by prayer, because we take the name of Jesus with us to the throne of mercy. Prayer leans on His breast. “Pray without ceasing.” Brethren, let us keep the glorious end of our faith in view, even the salvation of our souls. We need to feel the coming of the end in every service, and in every religious exercise, as the sailor sees the beacons of his native land coming in sight when nearing the shore. Bend to the oar, and pull for the shore. Watching and praying will soon be over. Look to the end of these, for there you will see the crown and the Saviour.—Anon.
1 Peter 4:8. The Pre-eminence of Charity.—The grace of charity is exalted as the highest attainment of the Christian life by St. Paul, St. Peter, and St. John. These three men were very different from each other. Each was the type of a distinct order of character. And it is a proof that the gospel is from God, and that the sacred writings are inspired from a single Divine source, that personal peculiarities are not placed foremost in them, but the foremost place is given by each to a grace which certainly was not the characteristic quality of all the three. Love is over all and above all, above intellect, freedom, courage.
I. What charity is.—Charity has become identified with almsgiving. Love is appropriated to one particular form of human affection, and that one with which self and passion mix inevitably. Philanthropy is a word too cold and negative. Charity may be defined as the desire to give, and the desire to bless.
1. The desire to give. Not to get something, but to give something. The mightier, the more irrepressible this yearning to give is, the more truly is the love love. Sacrifice, in some shape or other, is the impulse of love, and its restlessness is only satisfied and only gets relief in giving. For this, in truth, is God’s own love, the will and the power to give.
2. The desire to bless. Even weak and spurious love desires happiness of some kind for the creature that it loves. What we call philanthropy is often calm and cool—too calm and cool to waste upon it the name of charity. But it is a calm and cool desire that human happiness were possible. It is, in its weak way, a desire to bless. Now, the love whereof the Bible speaks, and of which we have but one perfect personification—viz., in the life of Christ—is the desire for the best and true blessedness of the being loved. It wishes the well-being of the whole man—body, soul, and spirit; but chiefly spirit. The highest love is the desire to make men good and Godlike. Concerning this charity, notice
(1) It is characterised as fervent. Literally, intense, unremitting, unwearied. Fervent charity—Christ’s spirit—does not tire, and cannot be worn out; it loves its enemies, and does good to them that hate it.
(2) It is capable of being cultivated. We assume that, simply because it is enjoined. How shall we cultivate it? (a) Love cannot be produced by a direct action of the soul upon itself. You cannot love by a resolve to love. Effort of heart is followed by collapse. Excitement is followed by exhaustion. It is as impossible for a man to work himself into a state of genuine, fervent love as it is for a man to inspire himself. (b) We may, however, cultivate charity by doing acts which love demands. It is God’s merciful law that feelings are increased by acts done on principle. If a man has not the feeling in its warmth, let him not wait till the feeling comes. Let him act with such feeling as he has; with a cold heart if he has not got a warm one: it will grow warmer while he acts, (c) We cultivate Christian love by contemplating the love of God. Love begets love. Love, believed in, produces a return of love; we cannot love because we must. “Must” kills love; but the law of our nature is that we love in reply to love.
II. What charity does.—It covereth a multitude of sins. But whose sins? Is it that the sins of the charitable man are covered by his charity in God’s sight? Or is it the sins of others over which charity throws a mantle, so as not to see them? The latter must be meant. There are three ways, at least, in which love covers sin.
1. In refusing to see small faults.
2. By making large allowances. It understands by sympathy. It is that glorious nature which has affinity with good under all forms, and loves to find it, to believe in it, and to see it. Those with such natures—God’s rare and best ones—learn to make allowances, not from weak sentiment, which calls wrong right, but from that heavenly charity which sees right lying at the root of wrong.
3. By tolerating even intolerance. Let no man think that he can be tolerant or charitable as a matter of self-indulgence. For real charity and real toleration he must pay the price.—F. W. Robertson.
1 Peter 4:11. In All Things Glorifying God.
Apply this rule—
I. To the labours of the understanding.—We may read all things, and yet read as God’s scholars; drawing even from the writings of those who thought but of evil, or at least were utterly careless of God, a food for holy and spiritual principles to be nourished with.
II. To our labours of charity, or our acts of kindness to our neighbours.—If we give but a cup of cold water to one of the humblest of our brethren, let it be done for Christ’s sake. Too often our charity is very unsanctified; we think of our suffering brethren only, without remembering who it is that puts Himself forward in their persons to receive our love, and, if we will but see Him, to take, in their behalf, the office of over-paying all that we can do to them. Apply this rule—
III. To all our more general conduct, the things which do not come under the two previous divisions.—There is no real goodness, there is even no safety from condemnation, unless we glorify God through Jesus Christ. With regard to the employment of our time, the exercise of our bodily faculties, the government of our tongues, how soon shall we be satisfied, and into how much of real sin shall we continually be falling, if we do not, in all these matters, remember that we are but stewards of God’s manifold bounties; that our time, our bodies, and the wonderful faculty of speech, were all only lent us to improve them—lent us to glorify Him who gave them.—T. Arnold, D.D.
God Seeks His Own Glory.—The glory of God, or the showing forth of His nature and attributes, is necessarily His own chief end in all His works of creation and providence. It is so especially in the wondrous constitution of the Church, and must therefore be her chief end also in all the service that she renders to His name. And as God’s love to her flows ever in the channel of Christ’s mediation, and Christ’s presence with her by His word and spirit is the sole cause of her life and activity, so, likewise, it is “through Jesus Christ” that her answering tribute of praise reaches the eternal throne.—Lillie.
1 Peter 4:12. The Vindication of Suffering.—Suffering fills a large place in our present system. It is not an accident, it enters into every life. A great amount of suffering may be traced to human ignorance and guilt, and this will gradually disappear in proportion to the progress of truth and virtue. Still, under the imperfections which seem inseparable from this first stage of our being, a great amount of suffering will remain. God intends that we shall suffer. It is sometimes said that He has created nothing for the purpose of giving pain, but that every contrivance in the system has good for its object. All this is true, and a beautiful illustration of kind purpose in the Creator. But it is also true that every organ of the body, in consequence of the delicacy of its structure, and its susceptibility to influences from abroad, becomes an inlet of acute pain. And how much pain comes from the spirit, and from the very powers and affections which make the glory of our nature! Suffering comes to us through and from our whole nature. It cannot be winked out of sight. It cannot be thrust into a subordinate place in the picture of human life. It is the chief burden of history. It is the solemn theme of one of the highest departments of literature, the tragic drama. It gives to fictions their deep interest. It wails through much of our poetry. A large part of human vocations are intended to shut up some of its avenues. It has left traces on every human countenance over which years have passed. It is, to not a few, the most vivid recollection of life. We are created with a susceptibility of pain, and severe pain. This is a part of our nature, as truly as our susceptibility of enjoyment. God has implanted it, and has thus opened in the very centre of our being a fountain of suffering. One of the most common indications of Divine benevolence is found in the fact that, much as men suffer, they enjoy more. We are told that there is a great balance of pleasure over pain, and that it is by what prevails in a system that we must judge of its author There is a grand vindication of God’s benevolence, not reaching, indeed, to every case of suffering, not broad enough to cover the whole ground of human experience, but still so comprehensive, so sublime, that what remains obscure would be turned into light, could all its connections be discerned. This is found in the truth that benevolence has a higher aim than to bestow enjoyment; and this requires suffering in order to be gained. As long as we narrow our view of benevolence, and see in it only a disposition to bestow pleasure, so long life will be a mystery; for pleasure is plainly not its great end. Amidst the selfish and animal principles of our nature, there is an awful power, a sense of right, a voice which speaks of duty, an idea grander than the largest personal interest—the idea of excellence, of perfection. Here is the seal of Divinity on us; here the sign of our descent from God. It is in this gift that we see the benevolence of God. It is in writing this inward law on the heart, it is in giving us the conception of moral goodness, and the power to strive after it, the power of self-conflict and self-denial, of surrendering pleasure to duty, and of suffering for the right, the true, and the good—it is in thus enduing us, and not in giving us capacities of pleasure, that God’s goodness shines; and of consequence, whatever gives a field, and excitement, and exercise, and strength, and dignity to these principles of our nature, is the highest manifestation of benevolence. The end of our being is to educate, bring out, and perfect, the Divine principles of our nature. We were made, and are upheld in life for this as our great end, that we may be true to the principle of duty within us, that we may put down all desire and appetite beneath the inward law; that we may enthrone God, the infinitely perfect Father, in our souls; that we may count all things as dross, in comparison with sanctity of heart and life; that we may hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for daily food; that we may resolutely and honestly seek for and communicate truth; that disinterested love and impartial justice may triumph over every motion of selfishness, and every tendency to wrong-doing; in a word, that our whole lives, labours, conversation may express and strengthen reverence for ourselves, for our fellow-creatures, and above all for God. Such is the good for which we were made; and in order to this triumph of virtuous and religious principles, we are exposed to temptation, hardship, pain. Is suffering, then, inconsistent with God’s love? I might show how suffering ministers to human excellence; how it calls forth the magnanimous and sublime virtues, and at the same time nourishes the tenderest, sweetest sympathies of our nature; how it raises us to energy, and to the consciousness of our powers, and at the same time infuses the meekest dependence on God; how it stimulates toil for the goods of this world, and at the same time weans us from it, and lifts us above it. I do not, then, doubt God’s beneficence on account of the sorrows and pains of life.—W. E. Channing, D.D.
The Mystery of Pain.—We must accept pain as a fact existing by a deep necessity, having its root in the essential order of the world. If we are to understand it, we must learn to look on it with different eyes. And does not a different thought suggest itself even while we recognise that the others fail? For if the reason and the end of pain lie beyond the results that have been mentioned, then they lie beyond the individual. Pain, if it exist for any purpose, and have any end or use—and of this what sufferer can endure to doubt?—must have some purpose which extends beyond the interests of the person who is called upon to bear it. For the ends which have been mentioned include all that concerns the individual himself. That which surpasses these rises into a larger than the individual sphere. From this ground it becomes evident again that to know the secret of our pains we must look beyond ourselves.—Howard Hinton.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 4
1 Peter 4:8. “Fervent.”—Literally intense, unremitting, unwearied. Now, there is a feeble sentiment which wishes well to all so long as it is not tempted to wish them ill, which does well to those who do well to them. But this, being mere sentiment, will not last. Ruffle it, and it becomes vindictive. In contrast with that, St. Peter calls Christ’s spirit which loves those who hate it, “fervent charity,” which does not tire, and cannot be worn out; which loves its enemies, and does good to them that hate it. For Christian love is not the dream of a philosopher sitting in his study, and benevolently wishing the world were better than it is; congratulating himself, perhaps, all the time on the superiority shown by himself over other less amiable natures. Injure one of these beaming sons of good-nature, and he bears malice—deep, unrelenting, refusing to forgive. But give us the man who, instead of retiring to some small, select society, or rather association, where his own opinions shall be reflected, can mix with men where his sympathies are unmet, and his tastes are jarred, and his views traversed at every turn, and still can be just, and gentle, and forbearing.—F. W. Robertson.
1 Peter 4:9. Eastern Hospitality.—I was beginning to make my meal upon the food we had with us, when in came nine people, each bearing a dish. A large tray was raised on the rim of a corn-sieve placed on the ground, in the centre of which was placed a tureen of soup, with pieces of bread around it. The stranger, my servant, and a person who seemed to be the head man of the village, sat round the tray, dipping their wooden spoons or fingers into each dish as it was placed in succession before them. Of the nine dishes, I observed three were soups. I asked why this was, and who was to pay for the repast, and was informed it was the custom of the people, strictly enjoined by their religion, that, as soon as a stranger appears, each peasant should bring his dish, he himself remaining to partake of it after the stranger—a sort of picnic, of which the stranger partakes without contributing. The hospitality extends to everything he requires; his horse is fed, and wood is brought for his fire, each inhabitant feeling honoured by offering something. This custom accounts for the frequent recurrence of the same dish, as no one knows what his neighbour will contribute. Towards a Turkish guest this practice is perfectly disinterested, but from an European they may have possibly been led to expect some kind of return, although to offer payment would be an insult. The whole of the contributors afterwards sat down and ate in another part of the room.—Fellows.
Grudging.—The word that is here translated “grudging” signifies murmuring, or unwillingness in doing anything, as if it were torn and forced from one, rather than proceeded from a free inclination. And this hateful, churlish way of almsgiving St. Paul likewise expressly forbids, and says our charity must not be shown grudgingly, or of necessity (2 Corinthians 9:7; Romans 12:8). And here we cannot but admire and adore the infinite goodness of God, who has not only obliged us to the substance of this duty, but has so ordered the very circumstantials of it that the necessitous may be relieved with as much decency and to themselves as can be, and the alms of others look rather like their own propriety, as the payment of a debt, or restoring of a pledge, or bestowing of a reward; and that their souls might not be grieved by frowns, and taunts, and unkind language, when they receive supply for the needs of their body.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
1 Peter 4:12. Strange.—Do not be surprised, as if something unreasonable had happened. No form of suffering can come to Christians as accident. God, with a purpose of grace, is behind all. Fiery trial.—Burning fire. R.V. “among you, which cometh upon you to prove you.” Whether “fiery” is intimation of intensity, or strictly descriptive, does not appear. The word as a symbol is more probable. Martyrdoms by fire may not have begun so early.
1 Peter 4:13. Rejoice.—In one point of view of the sufferings, they bring you into the experience which led to the sanctifying and glorifying of Christ. It will lead through to yours also. Inasmuch as.—Better, “in as far as.” We get the true blessing of affliction only so far as we enter into the mind of the suffering Christ.
1 Peter 4:14. If ye be.—This form of expression hints that they had been, were, and might be. Slander and reproach are often harder to bear than suffering in body or in circumstance Spirit of glory.—“Of glory and of power and of God.” The spirit which marks you out as an heir of glory. “The argument is, that reproach for the name of Christ is a proof of glory in reserve, or rather, already belonging to the man.” On their part.—This closing part of the verse is omitted in R.V. The words are an undoubted interpolation. They are not found in the best MSS. and Versions (see “Variorum Bible.”).
1 Peter 4:15. The word translated “busy-body” is a peculiar one, and seems to have been coined by St. Peter,—ἀλλοτριοεπίσκοπος—lit. “Bishops of other men’s matters,” claiming rights in matters with which he has no proper concern. Interference is a fruitful source of trouble in all religious, as well as other communities.
1 Peter 4:16. Christian.—St. Peter recognises this as the known name of the sect. This fact helps to date the epistle. On this behalf.—In this matter, or in this name; in being “counted worthy to suffer in this name.”
1 Peter 4:17. Judgment must begin.—Compare 1 Peter 4:5; 1 Peter 4:7. “Just about to begin.” House of God.—See 1 Timothy 3:15 : 1 Peter 2:5. End be.—Not the final doom, but the end of the judgment dispensations that St. Peter knew were about to begin.
1 Peter 4:18 Scarcely.—With difficulty. Keep association with the calamities immediately coming, which would centre round the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. Apostles thought of this as God’s judgment on the wicked. Illustrate by the singing of the Christians, headed by Olynthus, when the fires of Vesuvius were destroying Pompeii, as given by Bulwer Lytton:
“Woe to the proud ones who defy Him;
Woe to the wicked who deny Him;
Woe to the wicked, woe!”
1 Peter 4:19. According to the will of God.—Recognised as permitting, over-ruling, and even apportioning, our suffering lot. Suffering borne for God is sanctified by God. “Stress is laid upon the attribute, or act of creation, as the ground of confidence. He who made the soul is also He who hateth nothing that He hath made.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Peter 4:12-19
Christian Suffering No Surprise.—The burning fire is the symbol of afflictions and persecutions. The mind of the apostle goes back once more to those afflictions which the Christians of the Dispersion were, at that time, called to endure (1 Peter 1:6-7, 1 Peter 2:19-21, 1 Peter 3:15-17). All who profess the faith in Christ must take into full account the fact that only “through much tribulation” can any man enter the kingdom.
“The path of sorrow, and that path alone,
Leads to the place where sorrow is unknown.”
Christian suffering should be no surprise because—
I. It is needed for proving us.—“The fiery trial cometh upon you to prove you.” That is not precisely the same thing as to discipline you. The cases of Abraham, Job, and the Lord Jesus, show that proving the good, by suffering experiences, is the condition of advance in spiritual life and power. The poet “learns in suffering what he teaches in song.” And the Christian’s power to serve is a product of his trying experiences.
II. It does but bring us into the line of Christ.—We have solved the mystery of our sufferings when we have solved the mystery of His. “Though He were a son, yet learned He obedience by the things that He suffered.” He was “made perfect through suffering to be a bringer on of sons to glory.” Moral power cannot be gained, save in Christ’s way.
III. It is the medium for conveying special grace to us (1 Peter 4:14).—“The Spirit of glory and the Spirit of God resteth upon you.” These afflictions are the special agencies of the Spirit, and signs of unusual interest in you, concern for you, and purposes for you.
IV. It is best seen as part of the Divine judgment on the race.—Which you are bearing vicariously, in order that you may be ministers of the Divine mercy that always blends with judgment.
V. It may be difficult to endure these afflictions well.—“The righteous is scarcely saved.” You must put your whole heart and effort into the enduring, since the perils are so extreme. Life well-nigh masters everybody, with its strain and stress. Only the grace of God, sanctifying the most constant and careful watchfulness, gets even the righteous man through. Christian living is no easy thing.
VI. Suffering in well-doing can only be borne to right issues when there is full trust in God, and the absolute committal of ourselves to Him in well-doing.—“In the acceptance of sufferings as being according to the will of God, much more is meant than the mere submission to an inevitable destiny. If we really think of pain and persecution as working out God’s will, permitted and controlled by Him, we know that that will is righteous and loving, planning nothing less than our completeness in holiness (1 Thessalonians 4:3), the will of which we daily pray that it may be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Dean Plumptre).
A. J. Mason, in “Ellicott’s Commentary,” paraphrases 1 Peter 4:19 thus: “Consider the mildness of these trials compared with the terrors overhanging the sinful. Even if the worst should come to the worst, and you must die a martyr’s death, it is but the execution of God’s plan for you. View your life as a deposit lay it confidently in His hands, to be returned to you again when the time comes, and you will find Him faithful to what a Creator ought to be.” The “will of God,” in accordance with which they “suffer,” is part of the act of creation. The term “faithful Creator “contains the idea that the act of creation mposes duties and responsibilities on the Creator. In the Greek the words “in well-doing” are made emphatic by being placed last in the sentence. Punishment is the word for suffering which attends on wrong-doing. Discipline is the word for suffering which comes to frail-doing. Sanctifying is the proper word for suffering which is associated with well-doing.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
1 Peter 4:15. Busybodies.—It is but one word in the original (meaning), as bishops in another’s diocese, as pryers into other men’s matters, as pragmatical persons that meddle with other men’s concernments, without cause or call. It is not suffering for evil-doing, but suffering for well-doing, that carries the crown (2 Timothy 2:12). It is not just, but unjust suffering, that hath the recompense of reward annexed to it (1 Peter 3:14; 1 Peter 4:14). It is not sufferers for the evil of sin, nor sufferers of the evil of sin; but sufferers of the evil of punishment, for the avoiding of the evil of sin, whose cause is good.—Brooks.
Bishops of Those Without.—“Others, through excess of zeal, declaimed aloud against the Pagans, and cast their vices in their teeth. Their more sensible brethren humorously called them “bishops,” or “overseers of those who are without” (Renan). Such is, indeed, the meaning of the droll word which St. Peter here gives: except that, instead of “bishops of those without,” it means “bishops of other men’s matters.” It denotes those prying and self-important people, who fancy they can. set everything to rights, and that everybody they come across is under their personal jurisdiction. Such persons would tend to make Christianity unpopular among the unbelievers, and in case of persecution would be the first to “suffer” (i.e., to be picked out for martyrdom); and while flattering themselves for the boldness with which they had spoken out, they would incur St. Peter’s censure, and their martyrdom would be reckoned no martyrdom by the Church. “Cruel mishaps,” continues M. Renan, “befell them; and the wise directors of the community, so far from extolling them, told them pretty plainly that it did but serve them right.”—A. J. Mason, M.A.
1 Peter 4:17-19. The Time of Visitation.—A new reason is here introduced why Christians should suffer gladly for their Lord’s sake. He will deliver them from the terrible judgments which are about to burst on the ungodly, and their souls will find rest in God, to whom they commit themselves as to a faithful Creator.
I. The visitation of judgment.—
1. Its beginning. When St. Peter wrote, the city and temple of Jerusalem were still standing, but were threatened. The coming visitation affected believers as discipline, before it affected the ungodly as judgment.
2. Its progress. “What shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God.” If the sons are chastised, what have the rebels to expect? Not with impunity shall any one, on any grounds whatever, disobey the gospel of God.
3. Its results. The righteous are saved with difficulty. In consequence of the severity of the trial, and their own weakness, they barely escape the judgments of the Most High (illustrated by the haste of the escape of the Christians to Pella). The ungodly are those who care not for God; sinners are those who make a trade of sin. What will be their doom?
II. The lesson to believers.—Drawn from these facts:
1. An exhortation to those who suffer according to the will of God. They never suffer but when God wills, and He will not always chide, nor lay upon them more than they are able to bear.
2. What are such sufferers to do? Commit the keeping of their souls to God, and put all their strength into well-doing.
3. The encouragement to do this arises from the fact that He is “a faithful Creator.”—Thornley Smith.
Suffering a Common Experience.—All Christians are not tried as the Christians to whom Peter wrote—the Christians at the close of the Jewish dispensation; but all Christians meet with afflictions, and meet with afflictions because they are Christians; all suffer, and all suffer as Christians. We must never think ill of a cause merely because it is persecuted, nor indulge dark thoughts respecting the spiritual state and prospects of men merely because they are very severely afflicted. The absence of trial is a worse sign than what we may be disposed to think the excess of trial. It is not exposure to trial, but the endurance of trial, in “a patient continuance in well-doing,” that is a characteristic mark of those who obey the gospel of God.—Dr. J. Brown.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 4
1 Peter 4:16. The Name “Christian.”—“There are only three places in the New Testament where the name Christian occurs. It is plain that for a long time there was no commonly recognised term of this kind. Hence they are called variously, “they that believed” (Acts 2:44), “the disciples” (Acts 6:1), “those of the way” (Acts 9:2), etc. Again, the name of Nazarenes was applied to them by the Jews, as a term of reproach, but plainly arose before the extension of the faith to the Gentiles. It was at Antioch that the large accession of Gentiles first made it impossible to look upon them merely as a Jewish sect, and required the use of some more distinctive title. It was natural, therefore, that the use of such a title should first prevail at Antioch. When the book [Acts of the Apostles] was written, towards the close of Paul’s imprisonment at Home, the formation of churches in the chief cities of almost every province would awaken inquiry as to the origin of this new name, that was already in every one’s mouth. How suitable, then, would be this passing remark of the historian (Acts 11:26), to show when and where it began to be current!—Birks.
Called Christians.—The word χρηματίσαι, used by St. Luke (“they were called”), implies the thing to have been done by some public and solemn act and declaration of the whole Church; such being the use of the word in the imperial edicts and proclamations of those times, the emperors being said χρηματἱζειν “to style themselves,” when they publicly proclaimed by what titles they would be called.… Such being the general acceptation of the word, St. Luke (who was himself a native of this city) makes use of it to express that solemn declaration whereby the disciples of the religion entitled themselves to the name of Christians.—Cave.
1 Peter 4:17. The Danger of Unbelief.—In one of the popular books of the present day there is a story told of “The Sunken Rock.” A vessel, named the Thetis, was cruising in the Mediterranean, in search of a shoal or bank, or something of that kind, said to exist beneath the treacherous waters. The captain, after he had adopted all the means he thought necessary, having failed, abandoned the enterprise, declaring “that the reported danger was all a dream.” An officer on board formed a different judgment, went out by himself on an expedition afterwards into the very same latitude and longitude, and there discovered a reef of rocks, which he reported to the Admiralty, and it was inserted in the charts, the discoverer being rewarded with a high appointment. The intelligence came to the captain’s ears; he would not believe in the discovery. He was a shrewd, clever, practical man, but unscientific, incredulous, and obstinate. “The whole thing is a falsehood,” he exclaimed; adding, “If ever I have the keel of the Thetis under me in those waters again, if I don’t carry her clean over where the chart marks a rock, call me a liar and no seaman.” Two years after, he was conveying in the same vessel the British Ambassador to Naples. One windy night he and the master were examining the chart on deck by the light of the lantern, when the latter pointed out the sunken rock on the map. “What!” exclaimed the old seaman, “is this invention to meet me in the teeth again? No; I swore I would sail over that spot the first chance I had, and I’ll do it.” He went down into the cabin, merrily related the story to the company, and said, “Within five minutes we shall have passed the spot.” There was a pause. Then, taking out his watch, he said, “Oh, the time is past. We have gone over the wonderful reef.” But presently a grating touch was felt on the ship’s keel, then a sudden shock, a tremendous crash—the ship had foundered. Through great exertions most of the crew were saved, but the captain would not survive his own mad temerity, and the last seen of him was his white figure, bareheaded, and in his shirt, from the dark hull of the Thetis, as the foam burst round her bows and stem, He perished, a victim of unbelief. So perish multitudes.
1 Peter 4:18. Scarcely Saved.—There is such a fate as being saved, yet so as by fire, going into the brightness with the smell of fire on your garments.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Peter 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13