Scripture reading: First Peter chapter four
We now come to the fourth aspect of the sufferings of Christ and of His people, suffering for obedience to the will of God.
This chapter opens with an exhortation to dedicate our lives to the will of God, as did Christ. It closes with an appeal to commit our souls to His protection in the midst of the sufferings that result from doing the will of God. The first verse means that ceasing from sin results in a life of suffering for the Lord’s sake.
“The will of God” and “the will of the Gentiles” are thrown into vivid contrast in verses two and three. The word “suffice” simply means we have wasted enough time living for the world, and that we should now yield ourselves wholly to God. The will of the Gentiles is described by the six sins mentioned in verse three. These are sins which defile body, soul, and spirit. The first two are sins of the soul; the second two, of the body; and the third two, of the spirit.
Life in the Will of God
Is a life of holiness (V. 4): “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3). The fellowship of Christ’s suffering is entered upon from both the positive and negative sides of the Christian life. Not only because of ceasing from a life of sin, but because of practical holiness which is contrary to the maxims of the Gentiles.
This has been the experience of God’s people in all generations. It is nothing new that they should suffer for their obedience to God. For this very purpose, before Messiah came into the world, was the gospel preached to them that are dead (V. 6). It was preached to them while still alive that believing they might cease from a life of sin and live according to God in the spirit. Men in the flesh judged them unworthy of their society, and cast them out (Heb. 11:36-38). The world is the same today; doing the will of God results in one being ostracized by the world.
Is a life of fellowship (Vv. 7-11): It is fellowship with God (V. 7) and with His people (Vv. 8-11). The word “sober” makes reference to the mind, the thought life, and suggests “sound-mindedness.” The word “watch” means “self-restraint.” These verses exhort all to keep spiritually alert in regard to the practice of prayer.
Brotherly love is again emphasized in the light of Christian fellowship. Love is generous in its attitude to the failures of the saints. It covers a multitude of sins when there is no need to expose them. Love is the more excellent way. Ham would expose the shame of his father, but Shem and Japheth would cover it. How like Ham we become when religious flesh takes hold of us! It is no mark of spirituality to be always prating on the failures of fellow-saints. It brings a curse into our lives, and darkens our whole spiritual perception, destroying our usefulness for God.
Not only is love generous toward the saints in their weakness, but it is a grace ever acting for their comfort (Vv. 9:11). Furthermore, through love everything becomes available for the service of others: our homes, our gifts, and our talents. It recognizes no party barriers. Its sphere of service within is the Household of Faith, and its scope of service without is the whole world. Love is the essence of true Christianity; it opens our homes for the comfort of others, our mouths for the edification of others, and our hearts for the enrichment of others. If our mouths are open to teach, they can only teach what the oracles of God permit. If we minister or serve, we engage all that we have received of the Lord. That truly is consecration. Our hands being filled with what He has given, we return it to the Lord to be dedicated to His service.
Not only do we behold the generosity of love and the service of love here, but we also see the motive of love, “That God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” Where brotherly love is known, and enjoyed, the spirit of God is pleased to dwell and work, and the Gentiles are compelled to glorify God. Where brotherly love is influenced by jealousy and bitterness, the Spirit of God withdraws His gracious operation and leaves us impotent before the face of our enemies.
Is a life of reproach (Vv. 12-14): The believer is not to think it strange that persecution follows a life of holiness (V. 12). Such suffering is for the Name of Christ (V. 14). It is, first, because he is a Christian (V. 16); second, it is according to the will of God (V. 19); furthermore, it is the cause of joy, for it is fellowship in the sufferings of Christ (V. 13). He is enduring from a godless world hostility and hatred similar to that endured by his Lord.
In these verses Peter recalls the words of the Master in Matthew 5:10-12.
Suffering for His Name and suffering for sin are in contrast in verse 14 and 15. In the first, God is glorified and the Spirit of Glory rests upon the sufferer, but the second dishonors God and brings His Name into reproach.
There are four sins of which a Christian should not be guilty: murder, theft, evildoing, and meddling in the affairs of others. The murderer strikes at the life of another, the thief at the property of another, the evildoer at the rights of another, and the meddler or busybody at the affairs of another. Compare these with the four enemies of the sheep in the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel, and notice by contrast the gentle, unselfish, compassionate character of the True Shepherd in whose image we are to grow.
It has been pointed out that the phrase, “A busybody in other men’s matters,” suggests an inspector or overseer. This is “oversight” in an evil sense. The Lord’s dear people have been afflicted with too much of this type of oversight.
Is a life of spiritual development (Vv. 17-19): God tests us to develop character and to train us for the future. It is a purifying judgment that begins at the House of God. The fiery trials are only meant to burn up the dross, and to produce the image of the Master in our lives.
In the midst of suffering the soul finds its refuge in God (V. 19). The word “Creator” describes God in His greatness, and the word “faithful” describes Him in His goodness. The soul finds its comfort in God, and commits itself to Him in well-doing. To trust in the Lord is not acting in indolence. No trial or suffering is to hinder us from living victoriously. The soul draws its encouragement from God who “fainteth not” and “faileth not”, and who “changeth not.”