1 Peter 4:1-11 - Armed Thankfulness and the Will of God

December 1, 2013 Speaker: Series: 1 Peter

Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: 1 Peter 4:1–4:11

[Text: 1 Peter 4:1-11] “Armed Thankfulness and the Will of God”

One of my favorite cartoons is of a medieval knight’s recurring nightmare. He’s surrounded by battle – armored men with long swords fighting viciously. And there he is; naked except for a cardboard shield and sword held together by tape, trying to pick his way through the fight. Okay, so maybe it’s not that funny in the telling. But sometimes we feel like that knight in our Christian life – unarmed and exposed. But is that really true?

[Pray – Father, in our weakness we come to you for strength. In our fears we come to you for assurance. Meet us here in your Word, speaking into our lives by the power of your Spirit so that we might comprehend your love shown in the form of a suffering Savior. Help us to hear and understand and respond. And may your powerful words be heard though they be spoken in weakness. Amen.]

[Read 1 Peter 4:1-11]

Sometimes we get confused and think, “Okay, so I believe Jesus died and rose again. For that I’m deeply thankful. But what next? I’ve checked off the first thing. What am I supposed to move on to now? What is the next level?”

Here’s the thing that I have such a hard time remembering – It’s the thing that Peter wants us to understand here – we don’t get past the cross of Jesus. There isn’t really anything that is “next.” Of course, we believe in his resurrection and ascension. Those truths are part of our hope. But the cross of Jesus is the moment of a new reality breaking into this world and it’s the moment that changed (and still changes) everything.

Today we are talking about Christ crucified and what that means for those who hope in it. We are talking about our weakness meeting his strength. We are talking about lies being beaten back by his truth. We are talking about what it means to be united with Christ in his victorious death – his victorious death that means the end of self-service and the beginning life as it was meant to be.

This is the grace that meets us in weakness and suffering, empowering us to live as followers of Christ.

If you’re not a Christian at this point in your Story, I want you to know that you are absolutely welcome here. And I want you to listen in on this to hear a little more about what Christianity is all about – to understand that this isn’t about rules to follow. It isn’t about comparing ourselves to others. It’s about following a person, Jesus, and living in light of the new, ultimate reality he ushered into this world when he hung bloody and dead on the cross.

Ultimate reality is what Peter has been writing about throughout this letter to early Christians. It runs beneath every idea. It is the foundation for every word of encouragement and instruction in this letter. And in the wider context of 1 Peter, ultimate reality is what helps these early Christians think properly about the suffering they were experiencing.

And they were absolutely suffering. Suffering temptation from their own desires. Suffering beneath a government who counted them as dangerous rebels. Suffering mocking and threats with the expectation of more suffering to come. Their circumstances were telling them that their faith was misplaced, that Jesus simply wasn’t worth the suffering they were facing.

Peter understood their situation. When he writes to them, we see he was well aware of what they were going through, knowing about their “various trials” (1:6) and expecting that more of the same was on the horizon (4:12). But at the same time, Peter saw there was more to the story. And he wants to keep what he sees in front of these Christians to empower them to live in line with ultimate reality.

This is what he wants them to see, what he wants us to see; this is what is supposed to be the filter through which we see every temptation and every suffering: “Christ suffered in the flesh.”

“Christ suffered in the flesh.” It’s such a simple statement, but it is ultimate reality in its most condensed form. It’s the ultimate reality that changed (and will always change) everything. And in the context of this passage, it’s the ultimate reality that is supposed to strengthen Christians to live differently in this world.

It strengthens us to live differently because of what we understand from the end of chapter three, which is the foundation for chapter four. In 3:18 Peter writes, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit….”

There it is again. The suffering of Christ. And here we see the purpose of his suffering. It was “for sins, the righteous [suffering] for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” From there Peter goes on to see that the suffering Jesus experienced in his death was the way he entered into his victory – victory with us as his spoils; victory over all his enemies. And Peter also understands that when we come to Jesus in faith – when we plead for God to give us a clean conscience by applying the saving work of Jesus to us – by faith in Jesus we are so united to him that what is true of him becomes true of us. Here, that means because he is the righteous one we are counted as righteous in him; because he is the victorious one we are counted as victorious in him.

But in chapter four, Peter opens up a new vista into what it means to be united with the suffering Christ:

“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking [or with the same attitude; disposition], for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.”

For the Christian, a new, ultimate reality has come. We are supposed to arm ourselves with it at all times – in temptation, in suffering, and in good times alike – we are supposed to arm ourselves with the Good News of Jesus that says he suffered in the flesh. Through his suffering he broke the power of sin over his people so that we might do the thing we haven’t been able to do since the Fall. He suffered so that we might live for the will of God instead of ourselves.

We hear the same idea from Paul in Romans 6. When he considers the new reality that comes through faith in Christ he says, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.” (Romans 6:6-7)

The truth that Christ suffered in the flesh speaks into our deepest need – our need to be set free from the sin that has controlled us ever since the Fall when Adam decided what he wanted was more important than what God said. From that time forward, humanity became willing slaves to our own desires. Augustine, a North African bishop in the 4th century, said of the state of humanity after the Fall that we were “not able not to sin.” That is, we are only able to sin.

But “Christ…suffered once for sins,” Peter wrote (3:18) and he did the will of God by suffering. It was the will of God to ransom us from futile ways of living in order for us to be built up into a spiritual house for God’s own dwelling; to be God’s chosen people and royal priesthood and citizens in his kingdom of light! All this was accomplished through Christ suffering in the flesh. And when we arm ourselves with that Good News, we are strengthened to suffer for his sake, which in this passage means learning to say “no” to sin (vv.1-6) and “yes” to life that displays the goodness of our God (vv.7-11).

We say “no” to all the ways of life that don’t fit with what we know to be ultimate reality. Now, this isn’t teaching some sort of sinless-perfection for Christians. But it is saying there should be a visible family resemblance (1:14) between Christ and his people.

But Peter isn’t saying that these Christians are better than anyone else if they avoid all the things listed here. In fact, there’s the assumption that these Gentile Christians used to participate in all of these things. So when we hear him say in v.3, “The time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry,” we have to understand him to mean that these things (which God has said are not pleasing to him) do not fit with life following the crucified Christ.

Now, if that ultimate reality we call “the Gospel” isn’t true, then those other ways of living make perfect sense. They’re fine. But if Christ suffered in the flesh, then those other ways don’t actually fit with true truth, which is why Peter says in v. 3, “The time that is past suffices for doing [all those things].” Those things don’t belong in the new, ultimate reality for those who are united to Christ.

So, when we face temptation to go back to what we used to do and if we find ourselves doing those things that we hate then we are supposed to say once again, “Enough.” We’re supposed to agree with the Lord that we’ve spent enough time living in those broken ways that don’t fit with our hope in the Christ who suffered. And we’re supposed to give thanks to him for his mercy in sending Christ to suffer to deal with our sins. And we’re supposed to arm ourselves with the Gospel and step back into the struggle, knowing that it doesn’t really matter what others think. Let the world mock your pursuit of holiness. Don’t be afraid because what matters is what God thinks. And when you suffer with your faith in Jesus, while trying – sometimes falteringly – to do his will because you love Jesus, then you can know what God thinks of you. He loves you deeply and he proved it because Jesus suffered in the flesh.

That’s the message of Christianity. That’s the message Peter is talking about in v. 6. Some have understood Peter to speak of a second chance to respond to the Gospel after death. But that’s not what this says. This speaks to the importance of preaching the Gospel of Jesus so that even if we suffer and die, our bodies undergoing physical death after the manner of all things, even in death we have the hope of new life following the pattern of Christ’s own life: suffering and death followed by life in the spirit with the resurrection just on the horizon.

Fundamentally, the reality of Christ’s suffering and our freedom from sin in him is meant to empower us to live as the people of God; to learn more and more how to say no to sin. Another pastor put it this way:

“What this means is that the death of Jesus Christ, when understood, comforts me profoundly when I have fallen, but it can never, never, never lead me to temptation. To the one who is considering disobedience, Jesus cries out from the cross, ‘I did all this and completely so you would die to sins and live to righteousness. How, then, can you do this sin?

Will you put your own hands around my throat? Have I not been struck enough by those who broke my skin open with fists and said, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” Will you hit me one more time? Will you account what I have done of so little value that you will do this to me? Will you design to frustrate and disappoint the very goal and aim of all my suffering for you?’ How can you deeply grieve somebody who has done this for you?

There is no more powerful motivation to avoid sin, to endure temptation, to stick with holy living through the dry and tough and disappointing times, than if you look at how he dealt with the dry and tough and painful and stuck with you. See, the incentive to live a holy life isn’t based on fear; it’s based on his love. It’s not that his love is weak and conditional and look out you might lose it. No, it’s because it’s infallible and voluntarily set on you at incredible cost that a real Christian finds the thought of aggravating his pain fills you with such grief that sin loses all power over you. There is no more powerful incentive for righteousness than that.”[1]

Christ suffered in the flesh, setting us free from sin so that we might live for the will of God. So far, we’ve talked more about freedom from sin and less about the positive side of this. So, let’s keep going. Because Peter understands that the suffering of Christ is not only meant to lead us away from sin, but it begins to lead us into life as it was meant to be.

Echoing the forward looking refrain of 1 Peter, v. 7 announces “The end of all things is at hand.” But instead of leading us into retreat; instead of throwing off restraints, the future hope we have in Christ should lead us to “be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of (our) prayers.”

That’s not to say that God won’t hear our prayers when we struggle and fail. It means that we won’t pray as we ought if we’re running back into those old ways of life that don’t fit with the reality of a Savior who suffered to set us free. Always coming back to the cross of Jesus in repentance and in faith is the way for us to learn self-control. It sobers us up and gives us Gospel-sanity when we see what it cost Jesus to rescue us. We can see sin for what it really is when we look at the cross.

But what is driving Peter in this section, vv.8ff, is the positive side of what it means to follow Christ. This is a picture of what life is supposed to look like as we follow the Savior who loved us enough to suffer for us.

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” These are instructions for the church, for brothers and sisters in the family of God. And what is striking here – it’s something we often forget – is Peter’s assumption about life together. He assumes that we will sin against one another and need love to cover over the offense. That’s suffering. That’s life in the church with fellow sinners. That’s where we once again need to go back to Christ who suffered in the flesh to learn what true love really is – a love that endures when it is wronged.

And again Peter says something striking; “Show hospitality to one another [but only if it’s easy and only to people you like].” No, that’s not what he says. He says, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Peter is a human being. If hospitality is “the business of turning strangers into family,” then Peter understands; that is hard work sometimes. We could even say that it is sometimes a form of suffering. But Jesus turned us strangers – enemies – in to his own family and he did it without any grumbling. On the contrary, it counted it as a joy. So, may we learn how to joyfully turn strangers into family because that is what we are in Christ.

As Peter moves on thinking about what the suffering of Jesus means for the people of God today, he turns his attention to the spiritual gift “each has received.” He calls every believer to use their gift “as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” (v.10)

Have you considered that you have been given a gift? A gift that is put into your charge? A gift that God expects us to use for the good of others (and ultimately for His own glory)?

There are numerous lists of spiritual gifts in the New Testament but Peter here divides them into two basic categories: speaking and serving. Those who speak don’t get to say whatever they want; they speak as one who speaks only the word of God. Those who serve don’t serve in their own strength – that can only get you so far before you burn out. Rather, those who serve are to serve “by the strength that God supplies.” So, whether we speak or serve, we keep no glory – no credit – for ourselves. Whatever we have we have by the hand of God, coming to us because Christ suffered in the flesh.

What Peter is showing us in this section is a picture of the new life that is ours in Christ. If you’ve ever thought of Christianity as a burdensome, stifling religion, does this picture fit that view? Or do you see a picture of a beautiful life? If you do, then you’re beginning to understand what it means to follow a crucified Savior, who gets good for his people by suffering himself. Though we are often slow to follow him (for which we ought to repent), he is leading us out of selfishness, out of a life completely focused on “me.” And he is leading us to even be willing to suffer for his sake. We know that Christ suffered and God used it for good. How might he use our suffering? We don’t know what good might come. But if through our suffering we can show just a glimpse of his goodness, then can’t we count that as worth it?

When Jesus suffered in the flesh, he absolutely rescued us. That one act on the cross became the central act of our salvation. But that doesn’t mean that it is something to relegate to the past as if it has no further meaning after we are saved. It always remains in the center of our thought, always remains at the center of our hope, always remains as a motivating force to help us live today as his followers. Because when we suffer like him – even though that might mean our death – we can take heart that our lives are simply following the pattern of his. It’s the pattern Peter wrote about in (1:11), the pattern of suffering followed by glory. Christ suffered in the flesh, but do you see how this section ends? We love God and love one another “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

For Christ and for his people, suffering doesn’t have to hold any ultimate fear for us. It is through suffering that God’s will is accomplished, both in Christ and in his Church. So, look to your Savior who suffered in the flesh. Set your hope in him alone. And follow him wherever he leads. Even though that might be into suffering for now, you know that is not where your story ends. Peter writes (in 5:10-11),

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

[Transition to the Lord’s Supper]

As we come to this meal, we come back to the truth of Jesus that transforms us. This meal is the sign and confirmation he gave to us that through his suffering a new, ultimate reality broke into this world. It is the truth of sins forgiven and slaves set free in him; the truth of righteousness given to people who don’t deserve it and the gift of new life in him. And to eat this meal you don’t have to be perfect. On the contrary, this meal is for sinners, people who know they don’t have it all together and yet come to Christ by faith saying, “If I don’t have you, Jesus, then I don’t have anything. If you don’t save me then I can’t be saved. But you suffered and died for me. I believe that is ultimate reality and I’m willing to set my hope on that and come back to it every hour of every day.”


[Benediction, from 1 Peter 5:10-11]

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”


[1] Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).


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