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Bible Commentaries

The Popular Commentary by Paul E. Kretzmann
1 Peter 4

 

 

Verses 1-6

Admonitions in View of the Second Coming of Christ.

Ceasing from sin:

v. 1. Forasmuch, then, as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind; for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin,

v. 2. that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.

v. 3. For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revelings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries;

v. 4. wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you;

v. 5. who shall give account to Him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead.

v. 6. For this cause was the Gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.

The apostle here resumes the thought connection which he had touched upon in chap. 3:18, that of the sufferings of Christ and its lessons: Christ, then, having suffered for us in the flesh, you also arm yourselves with the same disposition of mind; for he that suffers in the flesh has desisted from sin, When Christ assumed true human nature, when He became a man for our sakes, He was obliged to suffer a great deal in this flesh, not only during His ministry, but especially during His last great Passion. The idea of Christ's acting as our Substitute is brought out also in this case, in order to give additional force to the admonition. We should arm, or shield, ourselves with the same disposition or state of mind, with the same intention and purpose. For he that suffers in the flesh, he that willingly takes upon himself the cross which is the lot of all true Christians in the world, thereby has desisted from sin. If Christians take their cross upon themselves and follow Christ, they have chosen the best way of combating and overcoming sin; in fact, they have left sin behind as a ruling power.

The purpose of being armed with the mind of Christ as with a weapon is now stated by the apostle: In order no longer to spend the remaining part of his life to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. If God inflicts a chastisement, sends some suffering, this will indeed be disagreeable, full of bitterness, to the flesh. But God is acting like a wise physician; for He thereby protects the Christians themselves. Their life, which would ordinarily have been spent in serving the lusts and desires in which the unbelievers delight, is now devoted to battling against the temptations to sin and in fulfilling the will of God. They give up the delights of this short life, but they gain the bliss of everlasting salvation as God's gift of mercy.

This thought is now brought out with all the force of a strong contrast: For the time now gone past suffices that you worked the will of the heathen, conducting yourselves in acts of licentiousness, lusts, carousings, revelings, banquetings, and unlawful, idolatrous acts, in which they are taken aback that you do not run with them into the same overflowing of profligacy, blaspheming This is a picture of the life of unbelievers when they give way to their natural desires and passions and live in every form of sensual sin, as most of the heathen Christians had done before their conversion. Peter reminds his readers that their behavior in their unconverted state certainly was sufficient and more than sufficient to pay the debt which they may have thought they were owing to the flesh. Note the irony in the words. A few of the sins of the flesh are now enumerated. They conducted themselves, they spent their life in acts of licentiousness, or sensuality, in giving free rein to all their lusts and desires. They were wine-bibbers, using intoxicating liquors to excess; they held night revels, with banquets where eating as well as drinking was carried far beyond the limits of decency; they became guilty of all the unlawful, heathen, idolatrous acts and practices whereby the proper honor was taken away from the living God. Of these acts of sensuality, of carnal mindedness, of godlessness, the Christians to whom this letter was addressed were now heartily ashamed, and they were straining every nerve to spend the rest of their lives in such works as were well-pleasing to God. This change of attitude, of course, was a surprise to the heathen, it took them aback in a very unpleasant way. That these former boon companions of theirs should now no longer be willing to accompany them to the places where licentiousness and profligacy went beyond all bounds, that they considered an insult. That the Christians should now consider their former dissolute life with abhorrence and should do everything in their power to forget the indecencies of that period of their life, put them into such a fury of rage that they set out to curse and blaspheme the Christians. Also herein history repeats itself, as many a believer that was converted in adult life will be able to testify.

The apostle wants the Christians not to be intimidated or otherwise influenced by the attitude of the unbelievers: They shall have to give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. A time is coming, and that very soon, when the unbelievers will think of their blasphemous behavior with a regret which will be too late. For the Lord is prepared even now to return for the judging of the living and the dead, for the final Judgment; and from His sentence there will be no appeal. These heathen who now abuse the Christians will then have to answer for their hatred and persecution of the Christians, and since they cannot give an account that will satisfy the holiness and justice of God, their portion will be that of eternal damnation. This fact is a consolation to all believers that are subjected to such maledictions more or less.

For the same reason the apostle adds: For to this end was the Gospel preached also to them that are (now) dead, that they might be judged in the flesh indeed after the manner of men, but might live in the spirit after the manner of God. This statement has no connection with the fact given in chap. 3:19, but belongs into this connection. To certain people that are now dead the Gospel was preached during their life, they became partakers of its wonderful blessings, in order that they, although subject to the general curse of death according to their mortal body, yet might live in the spirit, so far as their soul was concerned, and that after the manner of God, that is, in a spiritual, divine, glorified existence, until the day when God would reunite their bodies with their souls. Thus the purpose of the preaching of the Gospel was realized in the case of those that died in the Lord. The connection of thought, then, is this: While death does not remove the blasphemer from the final Judgment and condemnation, it confirms the hope of the Christians that their souls, which are safe in the hands of God, will be reunited with their bodies on the last day and enjoy everlasting salvation and glory in the presence of God.


Verses 7-11

Christian virtues and works:

v. 7. But the end of all things is at hand; be ye, therefore, sober, and watch unto prayer.

v. 8. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves; for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.

v. 9. Use hospitality one to another without grudging.

v. 10. As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.

v. 11. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth; that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

The apostle here guards against the danger of a false security which may follow his comforting assurances in the case of such as misunderstand the meaning of Christian liberty: But the end of all things has come near; be sensible, then, and vigilant toward prayer. As sure as redemption has been earned and salvation is ready for all men, as sure as the Judge of the living and the dead is prepared for the final Judgment and the apparent delay is only another gracious measure on His part to call men to repentance, so sure it is that the end of all things, of that which we commonly designate as heaven and earth, the visible world, is near. This consideration of the nearness of the end is a strong motive for the Christians to exert all diligence in using the time allotted them in the proper way. Their entire conduct should be one that agrees with sound Christian common sense, with that sober-mindedness which should be the strongest characteristic of the children of God. They must put aside all spiritual drowsiness and be wide awake, vigilant, with regard to prayer. In view of the nearness of the end they will be particularly diligent in their intercourse with their heavenly Father, lest the dangers and tribulations of the latter days overcome them. All the cares, joys, and sorrows of life must not be permitted to interfere with their relation toward God.

The conduct of the Christians toward their neighbors must likewise be in line with these considerations: Above all, have the love toward one another fervent, for love covers a mass of sins. That the apostle stresses this point with such emphasis may easily be understood, especially in view of the conditions as they now obtain in the world. Such is the power of selfishness in these last days that the idea of unselfish altruism, of true love, has practically been lost. It is talked about very extensively, even in the relation of states and nations toward one another, but is practiced very little. Therefore all true Christians should distinguish themselves by making the love which they profess to feel an intense, an assiduous, a fervent, a real love, without a trace of selfishness, having only the welfare of their brother in mind. It is this love which is ready to cover and forget even a mass of sins, a feat which would not be possible if their love were of a kind that does not stand tests. Thus love preserves brotherly harmony and unity. It is not a question of magnanimously overlooking one or two little faults, but of forgiving even a multitude of sins, and in forgiving to forget them.

Another proof of this love is indicated in the words: Be hospitable toward each other without murmuring. This was necessary even more in those days of oppression and persecution than it is today, at least in our country. But as recent events abroad show, the time may well come also in this country when oppression will come upon us, making it necessary for us to open our homes to such as have been driven from their homes by persecution. But in any event Christians will be ready to show true hospitality, to receive their brethren and sisters with open arms whenever there is need of it. They will do this, moreover, not with an unwilling murmuring, but with a cordiality flowing out of true love.

A third admonition concerns the work in the congregation: Every one as he has received a gift of grace,—serve one another therewith, as good stewards of the various graces of God. Mark that the apostle expressly states that every Christian has received some gift of grace, some talent which he should employ in the service of the congregation, of the Church of the Lord. Whether this gift is one of preaching, or of teaching, or of praying, or of exhorting, or of organizing, it should be exercised by the Christian. No talent may be hidden away in the ground for specious reasons. But these gifts are not our own to use as we choose, especially not for selfish purposes, for the advancement of various ambitious schemes. In receiving gifts from God, we have become stewards of God, we are responsible to Him; our gifts, according to His will, should be exercised in serving one another, in proving ourselves useful in the work which we are carrying on at God's command, to the praise and honor of God and to the benefit and salvation of our neighbor.

Two of such special gifts of grace, of the Holy Spirit, the apostle names: if anyone speaks, let him do so as he who utters the words of God; if anyone ministers, let him do so as out of the strength which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and power forever and ever, Amen. If anyone has received the gift of speaking, if he holds an office in which he is to declare the oracles of God, Rom_12:6; Num_24:4, he should adhere strictly to these revelations of God as they are contained in His inspired Word. For any man to proclaim himself a Christian teacher and then to preach his own human speculations, or only that which he chooses to consider true in the Bible, is an insult to the Lord. All frivolous handling of the Word also, as when a Christian teacher forgets the dignity of the subject which he is laying before the congregation, cannot be excused on any grounds. In a similar way those that are engaged in ministering, in almsgiving, in taking care of the poor and needy, in assisting in the work of Christian hospitals and hospices, in short, all Christians, as they take part in the work of charity carried on in their midst, should remember that it is, in the last analysis, the work of the Lord which they are doing as His stewards. They will, then, certainly not depend upon their own strength nor seek to further any private schemes in their work, nor will they permit their hands to be idle while there is so much work to do. That gift, that power which God has granted them, and which He wants to continue to supply, they are to use energetically, consistently. It is, in other words, the faithful, conscientious employment of the gifts which God has given to a Christian which he desires from every one of them. And the final aim and purpose will always be that God's name may be glorified among men more and more. For it is from Him, as the Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that we have received faith and the fruit of faith, and thus also the power to praise and magnify His holy name through the works which we perform in the building and maintaining of His kingdom. The power of God becomes operative through Jesus Christ, to whom we give all praise and power in all eternity.


Verses 12-14

The Christians partakers of Christ's sufferings:

v. 12. Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you as though some strange thing happened unto you;

v. 13. but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings, that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.

v. 14. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of Glory and of God resteth upon you; on their part He is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.

This section marks the beginning of the third and last part of the letter, in which the apostle once more returns to the theme of the suffering of the Christians: Beloved, do not think it strange because of the ordeal which is in your midst for your testing, as if something strange befell you. St. Peter purposely addresses his readers in the language of intimate friendship, in order to make his words all the more impressive. They should not be surprised or taken aback, they should not look upon it as unusual or strange, that they were just then passing through an ordeal which tried them very sorely. It was just as though the heat of tribulation had become so great in their midst as to cause a fierce fire, an experience which certainly was unpleasant to the flesh. For in reality these experiences were not foreign or strange to them, but were necessary for the proper testing of their faith.

And even more the apostle expects of them: But in the measure as you are partakers of the sufferings of Christ, rejoice, in order that also in the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. The sufferings of the Christians which come upon them as Christians are the same sufferings which struck their Lord and Master, since they are hated and persecuted by the children of the world. For a Christian it is a mark of distinction, and therefore a reason for rejoicing and being happy, to know that he has been counted worthy to follow in his Master's footsteps also in this respect, Act_5:41. The Christians should have this feeling, that their inner happiness must increase to the very point of exultation as their sufferings increase, the culmination being reached on the day when their Lord will be revealed in glory and their everlasting enjoyment of His glory in heaven will begin. This was the secret of the patience, of the steadfastness, of the endurance of the martyrs, this was the power which sustained them in the midst of the most cruel and inhuman sufferings, their joy in the Lord, their certainty that they would become partakers of His glory on the last day.

From the revelation of the last day the apostle returns to the consideration of the present situation: But if you are reproached for the name of Christ, happy are you, for the spirit of glory and of God Himself is resting upon you; with them He is blasphemed, but with you He is glorified, That is the fate of the believers in this world: they are denounced, they are reproached because they bear the name of Christ, because they belong to Him, Mat_5:11. This scorn and contempt of the world is often more difficult to bear than oppression and persecution. The Christians are ostracized and regarded as narrow-minded fools, whose low state of intelligence does not permit men of learning to associate with them. And yet the Christians are blessed in the sight of God, and should consider themselves fortunate, because the Spirit of Glory, the Spirit of God Himself, has made His abode with them, is resting upon them. This Spirit had been promised by the Lord as the great Comforter, who was to give the disciples that assistance which they needed over against the enmity and hatred of the world, Joh_15:26-27; Joh_16:1-4. The Spirit, whom we have received by faith, in Baptism, rests upon us like a protecting hand, which reduces, in a measure, the fierceness of tribulation. He is the Spirit of Glory and therefore always increases the assurance of the believers with regard to their eventual possession of the heavenly glory, Rom_8:23; Eph_1:14. And He is the Spirit of the Father, He knows the heart and mind of the Father, He assures the Christians ever and again that God is still on their side. Thus it is a blessed advantage which the Christians have from their sufferings in the world, and they are brought into closer communion with their heavenly Father with every new day, praising the Holy Spirit as their Comforter and Friend, even though He be blasphemed by the children of the world.


Verses 15-19

Suffering as Christians:

v. 15. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evil-doer, or as a busybody in other men's matters.

v. 16. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.

v. 17. For the time is come that Judgment must begin at the house of God; and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the Gospel of God?

v. 18. And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?

v. 19. Wherefore, let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator.

Having shown what advantages the Christians enjoy in the very midst of suffering, the apostle now teaches, in a paragraph full of warning, that only genuine Christians are included in this category of blessed people: For let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evil-doer or as a prayer into other men's matters. If anyone calling himself a Christian and belonging to the Christian community should become guilty of actual wrong-doing, it would be impossible for him to claim martyrdom. Such sins as murder, or theft, or deliberate performing of evil, or the assuming of authority or oversight in matters which were none of the Christians' concern would very naturally and properly bring punishment upon the perpetrator, and such a person was but obtaining the just reward of his deeds. Note: It is a foolish and dangerous thing for Christians to meddle into affairs for whose administration they are not called, functions of the government, of some other church-body, etc. Such behavior will not only cause bitterness, but will usually frustrate even the good intentions which such a meddler may have had.

On the other hand, it remains true, and the apostle here repeats: But if as a Christian, he need not feel ashamed, but let him praise God in this name. See Mar_9:41. If disagreeable things strike the believer in his capacity as Christian, for the reason that he is a Christian, because of his confession of the name of Christ, because he lives up to the precepts of God's holy will, then he has nothing to be ashamed of, then that which would under other circumstances be a disgrace to him becomes a matter of pride to him. Incidentally, the Christian will in no way seek his own glory in a case of this kind, in order to have his name extolled as that of a martyr for the cause of Christ. His attitude will rather be such as to give all glory and honor to God alone.

In a very solemn statement the apostle adds the reason for the Christian's equanimity in sufferings: For the time is come that the Judgment be held, beginning with the house of God; but if first with us, what will be the end of those that are disobedient to the Gospel of God? Even now the Judgment of God, the judgment of condemnation upon the unbelievers, whose culmination will be reached on the day when the Lord will return in glory, is beginning. It is in the house of God, in the Church of God, in the sufferings of the children of God, that it is seen. But what for the Christians is a judgment of refining, to test out their faith, what they accept as a beneficial chastisement at the hands of God, will, as directed toward the unbelievers, be a punishment of wrath unto everlasting damnation. For, as St. Augustine writes, if the sons are being chastised, what will happen to the slaves? What will be the fate of the unrighteous, if God does not even spare the righteous, His intention being to instruct and train them? The believers are hardly, but certainly saved; those, however, that have refused to be obedient to the Gospel, that were unbelievers from choice, will miss the salvation of Christ, will go away into everlasting destruction, Rev_17:11. That is what the apostle calls out in impressive warning: If the righteous is hardly saved, where will the godless and the sinner appear? Evidently all the hopes which people of that kind have had are futile, have no foundation, as they will find out to their terror.

St. Peter, therefore, concludes: Wherefore let also those that suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to Him, as to the faithful Creator, in doing good. Because the Judgment has begun in the house of God, because the last time of suffering has begun for the Christians, therefore all those that are suffering in conformity with this will of the Lord should not despair, but should deposit their souls into God's care, entrust them to the protection of the Lord. This is an instance where the Christians show their confidence in the Lord as the almighty Creator of the universe, as the faithful Provider for all their wants. They know that He will not tempt them above that they are able, 1Co_10:13. But they do not sit down in supine carelessness, waiting for. His promises to come true, but they are diligent in the exercise of good works; that is the sphere in which they move, in which they conduct themselves. As Luther says, God, having created our souls without our worry and assistance, is surely able also to keep them safely to the end. That is our comfort in life and in death.

Summary

In view of the nearness of the end, the apostle admonishes the Christians to cease from Sins, to be diligent in Christian virtues and works, to be partakers of Christ's sufferings, but to be sure that this is done in all Christian sincerity.

 


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Bibliography Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on 1 Peter 4:4". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/kpc/1-peter-4.html. 1921-23.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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