1 Peter 4:1-19

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In the “flesh,” or as a human in a body of flesh, Christ suffered. Therefore, his disciples must likewise expect to be afflicted and should “arm” or prepare themselves with the same disposition he manifested when mistreated. Believers who suffer as did Jesus Christ for being loyal to him and his Father demonstrate that they have stopped living a life of sin. Their not continuing to sin as do persons who have no regard for God and Christ is the reason for their suffering as objects of the world’s hostility. (4:1; see the Notes section.)

When desisting from sin, the believer reveals that he is determined to live the remainder of his life “in the flesh,” no longer for the “desires of men, but for God’s will.” From the time of becoming Christ’s disciples, believers should be making it their aim to live the rest of their life on earth in harmony with God’s will and not according to the desires of men. The “desires of men” are the passions and cravings of sinful humans, desires that are out of harmony with the revealed will of God. (4:2)

The time that preceded their putting faith in Christ had been long enough for believers to have acted according to the “will of the nations,” or to have engaged in the base and corrupt practices characteristic of persons who are given to excesses and who lack moral restraint. When they had no relationship to God and his Son, they had lived in unbridled or licentious ways, yielded to wrong desires or lusts, indulged in drinking wine to an excess, participated in excessive feasting or revelries and drinking parties or carouses, and lawless, wanton, or unholy idolatries. The festivities associated with certain deities included unrestrained drinking, feasting, and sexual immorality. God-dishonoring practices were very much a part of social life in the Greco-Roman world. (4:3) The Jewish philosopher Philo (c. 20 BCE to c. 50 CE), in his treatise against Flaccus (136), included the comment, “There are a vast number of parties in the city [Alexandria, Egypt] whose association is founded in no one good principle, but who are united by wine, and drunkenness, and revelry, and the offspring of those indulgencies, insolence.”

Persons among whom believers resided thought it strange that they had ceased “running” or sharing with them in their life of debauchery or dissipation and, therefore, began to “blaspheme,” vilify, or speak abusively of them. (4:4) These puzzled maligners, however, would have to render an account for their abusive words. They would have to face God’s appointed judge, Jesus Christ, who stands “ready to judge the living and the dead.” (4:5; compare John 5:22, 23; 2 Timothy 4:1; see the Notes section.)

On the basis of passages in books other than 1 Peter, the “dead” to whom the evangel was proclaimed may designate persons who were “dead” on account of being sinners and so facing the condemnation to which sin leads. On becoming believers, they ceased to be dead in trespasses and passed from a state of death into life. (John 5:24, 25; Ephesians 2:4, 5; Colossians 2:13; 1 John 3:14) Because all humans must give an account to the one who will be judging the living and the dead, those dead in sins were granted the opportunity to hear the glad tidings and to avail themselves of the divine provision to be judged favorably. “According to men,” they might be judged with reference “to the flesh, but, according to God, they might live to the spirit.” (4:6)

No one is specifically identified as doing the judging with reference “to the flesh.” It could be those who wrongly judge believers from the outward appearance, and so the judgment would be “according to men,” or would be based on faulty human evaluation. Many have understood the expression “according to men” to mean that the judgment of those to whom the good news was declared is like that of all other humans insofar as the flesh or the physical organism is concerned. They die. To live “according to God to the spirit” could mean to live as he would want believers to live, guided by his spirit and in harmony with his will. (4:6)

Among the various interpretations relating to the identity of the dead are those that are based on the belief that rational spirits of the dead were in Hades, either in the favorable position of “Abraham’s bosom” or in a place of torment. (See the consideration of Luke 16:19-31 at http://wernerbiblecommentary.org/?q=node/414.) There also have been those who equated the preaching to the dead to relate to that directed to the “spirits in prison” or to the spirits of those who perished in the flood. This view has little to commend it, for the word for “declare the evangel” in verse 6 of chapter 4 is a form of the verb euangelízo, which incorporates the noun meaning “evangel,” “good news,” or “glad tidings.” Good news was not proclaimed to the disobedient angels.

In verse 5, the mention of the dead applies to persons who are literally dead. For this reason, many believe that, in the next verse, one should likewise consider the reference to the dead to designate dead persons. This, however, is not necessarily the case. In John chapter 5, verses 24 and 25, Jesus spoke of those who passed from death to life upon heeding his word and believing the Father who had sent him. The “dead” who would hear Jesus’ words were living persons, but were dead in sin. Thereafter the Son of God commented about those who were actually in the tombs but would be resurrected. (John 5:28, 29)

Nevertheless, numerous translations convey meanings that indicate the preaching to have been to those who were actually dead or to believers who had died since hearing the good news about Christ. This application to the literal dead has also resulted in a variety of renderings about living “to the spirit.” (4:6)

“That’s why the good news was preached even to people who are now dead. Human judges said they were guilty as far as their bodies were concerned. But God set their spirits free to live as he wanted them to.” (NIRV) “For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.” (TNIV) “For also to the dead the message of salvation was declared. What they had done brought them — as to all humans — death. Their body had died, but God wanted that their spirit would live eternally.” (Denn auch den Toten ist die Botschaft der Rettung verkündet worden. Was sie getan hatten, brachte ihnen — wie allen Menschen — den Tod. Ihr Körper war gestorben, aber Gott wollte, dass ihr Geist ewig lebt. [German, Hoffung für Alle]). “Therefore the message was even preached to the deceased, so that, although their body was punished with death, they could nevertheless have eternal life in the spirit.” (Deshalb wurde die Botschaft sogar den Verstorbenen gepredigt, damit sie — obwohl ihr Körper mit dem Tod bestraft wurde — trotzdem im Geist ewiges Leben haben können. [German, Neues Leben]). “Therefore, it was namely also not in vain that the evangel was proclaimed to those of us who had died meanwhile. It was proclaimed to them, that now, according to God’s plan, they can lead a life in the spirit, even if they — as pertains to their earthly life — must die according to God’s judgment, as is the case with all humans.” (Deswegen war es nämlich auch nicht umsonst, dass denen von uns, die inzwischen gestorben sind, das Evangelium verkündet wurde. Es wurde ihnen verkündet, damit sie jetzt nach Gottes Plan ein Leben im Geist führen können, auch wenn sie — was ihr irdisches Leben betrifft — nach Gottes Urteil sterben mussten, wie das bei allen Menschen der Fall ist [German, Neue Genfer Übersetzung]).

Believers do not know just when Jesus Christ will return with power and splendor as King of kings and Lord of lords. So they need to live in expectation of the climax of the age and what that would mean for them. It is with a sense of immediacy and with confidence in the certainty of the coming “end of all things” that believers perceive this end as having drawn near. The realization that it could come at any time has a direct bearing on how they should be living their lives. They should be sensible, sound in mind, or use good judgment in conducting their affairs of life, maintaining their focus on being in an approved condition before God and Christ. This would require that they be diligent about working to care for their needs, not becoming idlers because of a distorted view about the nearness of the end. (4:7; compare 1 Thessalonians 4:11, 12; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12.)

Moreover, their living with the realization that the “end of all things has drawn near” would call for being sober, alert, watchful, or vigilant, not succumbing to a state of drowsiness when it comes to discharging their responsibilities as disciples of Jesus Christ. This would include responding compassionately to the needs of others. (4:7)

When believers live their lives in a manner that reflects sound judgment and sobriety or alertness, they are serious about praying because of recognizing their continued need for aid and guidance. A literal rendering of the admonition would be, “Be sensible, therefore, and be sober for prayers.” The expression “for prayers” (literally, “into prayers”) appears to denote that being sensible and sober or alert are prerequisites for acceptable prayer. (4:7) Translators have variously rendered the admonition. “Therefore to help you to pray you must lead self-controlled and sober lives.” (REB) “So think clearly and control yourselves so you will be able to pray.” (NCV) “So be serious and be sensible enough to pray.” (CEV) “You must be the boss over your mind. Keep awake so you can pray.” (NLB) “Therefore be sober-minded and temperate, so that you may give yourselves to prayer.” (Weymouth) “Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” (NIV) “Therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers.” (NRSV)

“Above all,” or of greatest importance, believers needed to have love for one another, a love that was not restricted but all-embracing and constant (ektenés). The Greek word ektenés conveys the thought of being earnest, fervent, or unwavering. Individually, believers are subject to human failings. So within the community of believers, all need to be forbearing and willing to forgive transgressions. Love makes this possible, “for love covers many sins.” When sins are forgiven, they are covered or completely banished from sight. (4:8; compare Proverbs 10:12.)

In Greek, the word for being hospitable (philóxenos) denotes having love or affection for strangers. So the hospitable person recognizes a stranger as someone in need of being welcomed and responds in a loving manner. Not infrequently believers suffered from persecution, being deprived of their homes and possessions. Other adversities also plunged individuals into poverty. Additionally, there were believers who traveled to different locations, often as representatives of congregations. Some were apostles of congregations, and others represented apostles. Fellow believers would open their homes to needy ones and those who came from other areas, providing them with food and lodging. For those who extended hospitality, this could have resulted in their being inconvenienced or experiencing a measure of stress. Therefore, believers were admonished to be hospitable “without grumbling,” not complaining about what might be perceived as an imposition or a burden. (4:9)

The community of believers is a household or a family of faith. Within that household, individuals have specific gifts or endowments. Each possessor of a gift is said to have received it. So the gift is an endowment from God. Its possessor had the obligation to use it to serve fellow members in the household of faith, doing so as would “good stewards of the varied favor of God.” The variety of gifts that God has granted are an expression of his gracious favor or unmerited kindness, and so the proper use of the specific gift would have been in keeping with the position of a steward, a servant entrusted with responsibilities to be discharged for the benefit of the household of which he himself was a member. (4:10)

If the gift proved to be “speaking,” teaching, encouraging, admonishing, or consoling, the speaking was to be done in a way that revealed God as its source. The individual should have spoken in a manner appropriate for one who was speaking the words of God and so functioning merely as his serviceable instrument. If one’s gift was to minister or to render service to fellow believers in response to their needs, this was to be done with full reliance on God to supply the essential strength for fulfilling the required tasks. (4:11)

In keeping with this admonition, the possessors of the gifts would have minimized their own role so that God might be “glorified in everything through Jesus Christ.” All the credit for activity that benefited the community of believers would have been given to God. This would have been done “through Jesus Christ,” for believers are his disciples and look to him for guidance and aid in discharging the trust that has been committed to them. The Father is the one who granted the capacity and the strength for individuals to serve. Rightly, then, to him is to be ascribed “the glory [honor or praise] and might [as the ultimate source of strength] for ever and ever [literally, ‘into the ages of the ages’]. Amen [So be it].” (4:11)

In the Greco-Roman world, numerous gods and goddesses were worshiped, and the established rituals associated with these deities did not result in persecution to those who engaged in them. Those who became disciples of Jesus Christ, however, found themselves in the position of persons who were no longer accepted in the community as they had been when they practiced their previous forms of worship. So it must have been puzzling to them that their having adopted a way of life that was based on love for others made them objects of hatred. Peter commented on this, directing his words to fellow believers as “beloved ones.” He told them not to consider it strange that a trial as by fire (literally, a “fire toward trial” or “test”) had occurred among them, that a “strange thing” had befallen them. (4:12)

Translators have variously rendered the expression “fire toward trial” as “fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you” (NRSV), “fiery ordeal which has come to test you” (REB), “fiery ordeals which come to test your faith” (J. B. Phillips), “terrible trouble which now comes to test you” (NCV), “testing that is like walking through fire” (CEV), and “a trial by fire” (NAB). The suffering of believers seemingly proved to be like a refiner’s fire that tested their faith in and devotion to God and Christ. Like the fire of a refiner, the distress and hardships served to purify them, contributing to their having a stronger faith, greater sympathy for others who suffer and a better understanding of their plight, and an enhanced appreciation of the importance of relying on God and Christ for strength to endure and for the help that comes to them by means of the holy spirit. Believers were suffering for what was right and good, making their painful ordeals seem strange to them. Still, the trials were to be expected, for they were living among those who were in a state of alienation from God. (4:12)

Instead of becoming despondent on account of the distress and hardship they were facing, believers could rejoice in being able to share in the “sufferings of the Christ.” This could mean that, by enduring affliction for living a life that honored God, they were undergoing the same kind of sufferings that Christ did and so were sharing with him in the same experience. Another possible meaning is that Christ regards the suffering of his disciples as his own, making the painful experiences of believers a participation in Christ’s suffering. The rejoicing of his disciples would be because of the honor associated with being a participant in his sufferings, the sufferings of their Lord who died for them. (4:13)

Faithful endurance of suffering for being devoted to God and Christ would also result in future rejoicing. At the “revelation of the glory” of the Son of God, his disciples would have reason to rejoice exultingly. This revelation designates the time when Jesus Christ is to return in all his glory or splendor as the King of kings and Lord of Lords and when believers are to be united with him, to enjoy a never-ending relationship with him and his Father as sinless persons. The realization of their God-given hope will then result in unparalleled rejoicing. (4:13)

In view of the honor of being able to share in the sufferings of the Christ and in the incomprehensibly great future joy at the time when he returns in glory, believers have good reason to consider themselves fortunate when they are reproached, reviled, maligned, or vilified for “the name of Christ.” They can be “happy” or experience an inner sense of joy and well-being because of suffering for his name, that is, for suffering because of being identified as belonging to him. Additionally, believers can have a sense of joy and well-being because, when they suffer for belonging to Christ, “the [spirit] of glory, the spirit of God” (or “God’s spirit of glory”) is resting upon them. While humans alienated from God treat them with contempt, persecuted believers are honored by having his spirit upon them, aiding them to endure and to manifest the patient endurance that brings praise to him and his Son. If they were not divinely approved, God’s spirit would not be upon them. So, with the spirit “of glory” resting upon them, they are identified as divinely approved and thus the reproach they bear is transformed into glory, splendor, honor, or dignity. (4:14)

In order to continue to have God’s spirit resting upon them, individual believers need to be determined not to suffer for the wrong reasons, for being a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or a meddler in the affairs of others (allotriepískopos). The Greek designation allortiepískopos is a compound that could mean an “overseer of what belongs to someone else” and so could apply to a busybody or a person who meddles in the affairs of others. Some have concluded that the Greek term here must denote a more serious wrong, one comparable to the others that are mentioned. Possibilities that have been suggested are “one who hides stolen property,” a “spy,” or an “informer.” Translators have variously rendered the Greek word as “intriguer” (NAB), “mischief maker” (NRSV), “informer” (NJB), “spy” (J. B. Phillips), “busybody” (CEV), and “meddling in other people’s business.” (REB) There is a possibility that “busybody” or “meddler” is the intended significance. Believers, based on what they had come to know about right conduct, may have been tempted to tell others how they should be running their affairs. Their doing so could easily have angered those who disapproved of their unsolicited advice or their censures, resulting in abusive or even violent responses. Regardless of how a particular word may be understood, the basic thought is that believers should not be conducting themselves in a manner that would merit disapproval or punishment. (4:15)

If, however, believers suffered as “Christians,” persons who belonged to Christ as his followers, they “should not be ashamed but glorify God in this name.” When subjected to suffering for belonging to Christ, believers glorify God or honor him by maintaining their faith and patiently enduring the affliction while relying on him to strengthen and sustain them by means of his spirit. There is no reason for shame because of being called “Christian” or being identified with Christ. While unbelievers may have used the designation when speaking contemptuously of believers, the believer, as a person to whom the name Christian was applied, could glorify or honor God. (4:16)

It appears that the suffering of believers is viewed as pointing to the certainty of deliverance for them, the deliverance or salvation being expressed in terms of imminence. Therefore, the “time for the judgment to begin with the house of God” seems to be spoken of as being at hand. Although not in the Greek text, the verb in the present tense is implied (“for [it is] the time”). Judgment can have both a favorable and an unfavorable outcome. For faithful members of the “house” or “household of God,” the time for judgment would be a time for being united with Christ as God’s approved children. Any among them who proved to be unfaithful would be judged adversely. Since the judgment first starts with believers, what would be the “end of those who disobey the evangel of God?” The “evangel of God” is the good news about Christ, and is the message that has God as the ultimate source. One’s disobeying the good news constitutes rejecting its source, God, and so merits his adverse judgment. Accordingly, for the disobedient ones, the end or outcome would be condemnation. (4:17)

Evidently because of the afflictions and hardships believers experience, they, as upright ones, are referred to as being saved with difficulty. Their ultimate salvation, complete deliverance from sin, requires vigorous exertion in conducting themselves in a divinely approved manner in whatever circumstances they might find themselves, always relying on God and Christ for strength to endure trials. This raises the question, “Where will the impious and sinner appear?” The answer to this rhetorical question is that godless ones and those who live a life of sin will not make a favorable appearance before God. (4:18; see Proverbs 11:31, where the identical thought is expressed in the Septuagint.)

In view of the certainty of the impartial judgment of all, suffering believers need to be concerned about enduring faithfully and continuing to conduct themselves in a divinely approved manner. To this end, they need God’s help. So, while experiencing suffering “according to the will of God,” or because he may permit it, the afflicted believers need to commit “their souls,” or themselves, to him, the “faithful Creator,” while continuing to do what is good. As the “faithful Creator,” God is completely dependable and will never fail to strengthen and sustain his people in their time of distress. Believers commit themselves to him when they confidently look to him for aid, continuing to petition him in faith to help them in their time of need and to avoid yielding to any desire to repay evil to those responsible for causing them pain. (4:19)

Notes:

With reference to Christ’s suffering (in verse 1), numerous manuscripts add either “for us” or “for you.”

In verse 5, the one to whom the account is to be given is not specifically identified. There is a possibility that God is here being referred to as the ultimate judge who will be acting through his Son, the judge whom he has appointed.

Many manuscripts, in verse 14, add “and power” after “glory.” Then, at the end of this verse, numerous manuscripts add, “indeed according to them, he is blasphemed; but according to you, he is glorified.”