1 Peter 4

Those of you who have carefully followed our Scripture Portion thus far, have possibly noticed that the thought of suffering, both for Christ Himself and for His followers, has been very prominent from 1 Peter 2: 11, where we started the practical and hortatory part of the epistle.

That suffering must be expected by the Christian is very clear. His life is to be one of well doing, but he may suffer for doing well (1 Peter 2: 20). It is to be a life of righteousness, but he may suffer for righteousness' sake (1 Peter 3: 14). The first verse of chapter 4 reverts to this matter, and instructs us that we are to be armed for the conflict with the mind to suffer. It was the mind that animated Christ. He suffered for us in the flesh, and that even unto death (3: 18). There is, of course, a difference. He suffered for us in atonement, and this we can never do. He "suffered being tempted" (Heb. 2: 18), because being perfectly holy, the very thought of sin was abhorrent to Him. We suffer in refusing temptation and in ceasing from sin, because, alas! sin is alluring to the flesh within us. If we gratify the flesh we do not suffer, but we sin. If we refuse temptation and have done with sin, the flesh suffers instead of being gratified. But it is just that suffering that is incumbent upon us.

In our unconverted days we lived in the gratification of our natural desires without any reference to the will of God. Now we are on exactly opposite lines, as verse 2 indicates. We do well to remember that God divides up our lives into two parts; "the time past of our life," and "the rest of our time in the flesh," the hour of conversion marking the boundary between them. In the earlier part we wrought the will of the nations who never were put under the law of God. Now we are to carry out the will of God, which has been made known to us not merely in the law but in Christ.

By the very fact however that we do not act as the world does we are open to the world's dislike and criticism. There are always many to be found who think and speak evil of what they cannot understand. This need not disturb the believer for there is One who is ready to judge the living and the dead and the accusers will stand before Him.

Now the ground of all judgment will be the testimony as regards God and His truth which may have been rendered to those who are subject to judgment; in other words, the responsibility of each will be measured by the divine testimony they have heard. "The gospel" of verse 6 is not the Christian gospel in particular. It is just "glad tidings" such as has at different times been preached to people of bygone ages, now dead. In particular it refers to the glad tidings of salvation by the ark through the flood, for "the dead" refers to the same people as the Apostle had alluded to in 1 Peter 3: 19 and 20. All through the bygone ages there was also glad tidings of a coming Deliverer and always then, as now, the glad tidings separates those who hear it into two classes; those who refuse or neglect it and have to stand their judgment as men in the flesh, and those who receive it and consequently live in the spirit as regards God. Those who thus pass from death to life by the hearing of Christ's word of glad tidings do not come into judgment, as another Scripture assures us.

Now we Christians have to remember that we have come to the end of all things. Obviously Peter did not mean that when he wrote-somewhere about A.D. 60,- the end of this dispensation was reached, but rather that the end dispensation was reached, that it is "the last time." The judge is quite ready as verse 5 has told us. He stands "before the door" (Jas. 5: 9), ready to enter the court and take His seat so that the judgment may begin. All things then were quite ready for judgment at the very start of this epoch in which we are living, and it is only the longsuffering of God which holds the judgment back as Peter's second epistle tells us. How sober and watchful unto prayer should we therefore be.

More than this, we should be marked by fervent love amongst ourselves, and the utilization of every gift and ability to the glory of God, from whom all such things proceed. The world is a cold and critical place, the Christian circle should be a place of warm love. When love amongst Christians exists in fervour it expresses itself passively in covering a multitude of sins and actively in giving and hospitality. There are alas many sins even with true believers. The antagonistic world delights to advertize the sins of believers, proclaiming them upon the housetops. Love in the Christian circle feels them as though they were its own and covers them. When a Christian busies himself in advertizing the sins of some other Christian, he thereby advertizes his own carnal condition. Many of us would be rather careful not to advertize the sin of some other believer who happens to meet with us in our public gatherings. Are we as careful in regard to believers who do not meet with us?

Whatever we may have received from God we are to hold it in trust for the benefit of all saints. The grace of God is very manifold and various. This one may speak, that one may serve. He who speaks is to speak as God's mouthpiece. He who serves as in strength that God supplies; and thus those who benefit by the speaking or serving will trace all up to God and glorify Him and not the one who happens to be the vessel or channel of supply. Speaking "as the oracles of God" does not mean, "according to the Word of God," though of course we always should so speak. It means, speaking as a mouthpiece of His word. If a speaker comes to us telling us what he thinks, what are his impressions and conceptions, we end by thinking him a very wonderful man, and doing him homage as a kind of spiritual hero! If he, on the other hand, just gives us what really is the word of God, we are subdued and we glorify God instead of glorifying him.

If fervent love prevails we shall not only give one another our due but give God His due also. Things will be right within the Christian circle even if the world without is very antagonistic.

In verse 12 the Apostle returns to the matter of suffering for the Christian, and he speaks of it with increased plainness and with prophetic foresight. There lay before these early Christians a "fiery trial," it was indeed already upon them. It very soon became as we know literally a trial by fire. They were not to account it "some strange thing." We are taught by this remark that suffering from the world is the normal thing for the Christian. We may hardly realize this, living, as we do, in a land of christianized culture and toleration. We may easily come to regard a life of ease and pleasantry in the world as the normal thing for us and persecution as a very abnormal thing. Then should persecution come upon us we would feel aggrieved and scandalized.

It is this wrong view of things and the "softness" which shrinks from "hardness" (2 Tim. 2: 3) which largely accounts for the great weakness of today. Only a small minority of Christians are prepared to stand up for anything, or stand out against anything in the world. A weak spirit of compliance and compromise is in the air. Suffering is avoided but power and joy are lost.

How does Peter present this matter of suffering? In verse 13 he holds out to us the honour of partaking in Christ's sufferings-i.e., we enter into sufferings that have the same character as those which He endured as the great witness to God in a rebellious world. This is, according to his account a matter of rejoicing,-and here he only preaches what he himself practised as recorded in Acts 5: 41. We are to rejoice now, while the suffering proceeds, and thus shall we be manifestly conquerors in the presence of our foes. The day of Christ's glory hastens on however and then we shall be glad "with exceeding joy." We shall "rejoice with exultation," the suffering being over and the day of reward having arrived. Christ's supreme sufferings are to be crowned with His supreme glory. It will be our honour and joy to share in both. Which shall we see to be the greater honour in that day? Let us call shame on our faint and cowardly hearts!

But we shall get not only persecution in the world, but reproach, and often this is the harder to bear. Well, supposing reproach rolls in upon us, are we to be specially commiserated? Not at all. We are declared to be happy or blessed if the reproach be "for" the name, or "in" the name of Christ; which means that the world sees in us His representatives. The Lord Jesus was once in this world as the Great Representative of Jehovah, and He consequently had to say "The reproaches of them that reproached Thee are fallen upon Me" (Ps. 69: 9). That was assuredly no disgrace to Him, and to be reproached in the name of Christ is an honour to us. Men may blaspheme Him and reproach us, but we glorify Him and the Spirit who indwells us rests upon us as the Spirit of glory and of God. Many a Christian who has been through reproach of this sort looks back afterwards to the occasion as a time of the greatest spiritual exaltation and blessing.

We are to be most careful not to suffer for evil doing of any sort but only as Christians. Then we have no need to be ashamed for we can glorify God "on this behalf," or "in this name." Here we have the Spirit of God accepting and sanctioning the name Christian as applied to believers. It was first used as a descriptive nickname at Antioch (Acts 11: 26). It had come into general use later (See, Acts 26: 28) and now is formally accepted by the Spirit of God. We may accept it therefore, and as Christians we glorify God even as Christ Himself did.

One further thought as to suffering is expressed by the Apostle in verse 17. Though it comes upon Christians from the world it is overruled of God to serve the ends of His government-the government of which he had spoken to us in 1 Peter 3. Now God's governmental dealings especially apply to His own. He is of course the Judge of all, and beneath His judgment all will ultimately come. But He keeps specially short accounts with those acknowledged as in relationship with Him, those who are of His household. When failure supervenes and sin invades the holy precincts of His house He begins to make the weight of His judgment felt in the way of His governmental dealings.

That this is God's way was manifest in Old Testament times. Read Ezekiel 8 and 9 and see. Judgment was to be set in Jerusalem and the instruction was "Begin at My sanctuary." So it had begun to be in the church of God. These early Christians had to accept these fires of persecution as permitted by God for the purifying of His house. We all know there is nothing like persecution for weeding the false out of the midst of the true.

But if judgment thus starts at God's house, if God does not spare these, what about those that are not in relationship with Him at all? What shall their end be? If the righteous is saved with difficulty where shall the ungodly and sinner appear? These are tremendous questions which only admit of answers of most terrible import.

The righteous may come through with difficulty, as many an Old Testament Scripture illustrates, but he IS SAVED, nevertheless. He may have even to suffer to the extreme point of death according to God's will, as verse 19 indicates. If so he has but to go on doing well and thus commit his soul into the hands of God "as unto a faithful Creator." We know God not merely as Creator but as Saviour and Father. Still we do not lose the benefit of knowing Him as Creator, and as faithful to His own handiwork.

How happy for us to know God in all these varied ways.