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COMMENTARY ON 1 PETER Chapter 4

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

Application Of The Previous Theme, And Reminder of the Coming Judgment (4.1-19).

Having portrayed the great and all encompassing victory of Jesus Christ through suffering, Peter now applies the ideas directly to his readers. As previously with the world of Noah and the disobedient angels, judgment is hovering on the horizon. Christians are therefore to live in the light both of His sufferings and of the coming judgment. This is first stressed in 4.1-6, and then expanded on in 4.12-19, while in between we have the call to His people to live as recognising the urgency of the hour.

Christ’s Suffering In The Flesh Should Arm Them For The Battle Ahead With One Eye On The Coming Judgment And On The Resurrection (4.1-6).

Peter tells us that by being made one with Christ in His sufferings we will have our eyes fixed on the right goal, and will avoid falling back into the old useless ways, because His suffering for us constantly reminds us of the judgment that is coming when all will have to give account. However, for us that judgment is no longer to be feared because through His death and resurrection He has brought us to God. Indeed that was why the Gospel was preached to some who have died so that they might know that while men may have condemned them, God will raise them from the dead.

4.1-2 ‘Forasmuch then as Christ suffered in the flesh, you arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that you no longer live the rest of your time in the flesh to the desires of men, but to the will of God.’

Peter now specifically applies his words in terms reminiscent of Romans 6.3-4. Inasmuch as Jesus has suffered in the flesh, in other words has died (3.18), they too are to arm themselves with the same mind and are to see themselves as dead with Him, for then they will cease from sin. They are to recognise that dead men do not sin. So as those who are dead to the world they are no longer to live the remainder of their lives according to human desires but according to God’s will.

Thus Jesus’ suffering unto death is to be the basis of our future lives. We too must recognise that we have died with Him (Galatians 2.20). We too must deny ourselves, take up the cross and follow Him (Matthew 16.24-26). And furthermore we must suffer and die on it. Then, having been made alive by God, we can live in newness of life. For those who have set their minds on Christ, bringing their minds in subjection to Him (arming their minds - compare Ephesians 6.10-18), have died to the normal course of human life and its desires, while those who are alive in the spirit seek only the will of God (Romans 7.25). And part of the thought here is that they are to see any future suffering as a part of this process (1.7).

4.3 ‘For the time past may be seen as sufficient to have wrought the desire of the Gentiles, and to have walked in lasciviousness, lusts, wine-parties, revellings, carousings, and abominable idolatries,’

For they are to recognise that the time for reckless partying is over now that they have something better. They had previously lived vain lives following the desires of the Gentiles. They had walked in ‘lasciviousness, lusts, wine-parties, revellings, carousings, and abominable idolatries’ (what a picture of the lives of many today). But now they had had sufficient of that because they had seen that life had something so much better to offer. They had finished with idolatry and its corrupting festivals, and their lives had taken on a new meaning and significance for the future, for they had died with Christ and were now out to live for Him.

Note the contrast between ‘lasciviousness, lusts, wine-parties, revellings, carousings, and abominable idolatries’, and ‘being fervent in your love among yourselves, using hospitality one to another without murmuring, ministering (the gifts you have received) among yourselves’ (verse 8-11). The love-feast has replaced the lust-feast. Those involved in the latter thought only of themselves, those involved in the former were to think only of one another.

We should also take note of Peter’s reference to ‘abominable idolatries’. This confirms the background of his readers. The force of demonic religion was clearly particularly prevalent in this area. And that is why he has written as he has in order to demonstrate Christ’s victory over these evil forces.

4.4 ‘In which they think it strange that you do not run with them into the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you,’

Nothing would have produced more comment than the change that took place in men and women’s lives in those days when they became Christians. Their friends would have been puzzled. ‘What on earth has happened to you? Why do you not indulge yourself like you used to? Why have you stopped having fun?’ This is not talking to Jewish Christians. Everyone knew that the Jews were funny people and kept what they called ‘the Law’. Nothing they did would have surprised them. They did not expect them to run to excess. But for Gentiles to change like this was remarkable indeed. It was unprecedented. No wonder they thought it strange.

We can fully understand why people who were slaves or lived at a low level of poverty, (which was true of most Christians - 1 Corinthians 1.26), ran to join in the excesses of the time as soon as they had a free moment. It was the only thing that made life worth living. And because it was connected with their religious worship they could get time off for it. And nowhere was it more available than in heathen temples, where uncontrolled sex, food and drink were all at hand. So we can see why they could not understand why their friends, who had also once behaved in this way, no longer did so. And very soon, for such is the heart of man, they began to speak evil of them for it made them feel guilty themselves and they felt that it was showing them up and condemning them, especially once the Christians had given them an answer to their question. No one likes to be shown up and given an uneasy conscience. And the result would be persecution.

4.5 ‘Who will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.’

Peter now gets to the heart of what the reason was, and no doubt this was part of the Christians’ explanation for their behaviour. It was because they knew that they would have to give account to Him Who is ready to judge the living and the dead. They recognised that their lives would be called to account. They would have to explain what they had done, whether good or bad. Compare 1.17; Romans 14.10-12; 1 Corinthians 4.5; 2 Corinthians 5.10; James 5.9; Hebrews 12.23.

4.6 ‘For to this end was the gospel preached even to the dead, that they might be judged indeed according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.’

His reference to the judgment of the dead raised a question that puzzled many early Christians concerning the position of believers who had died before the expected coming of Christ (compare 1 Thessalonians 4.13). Why had the Gospel come to them if they had not lived to see its final fulfilment? And this was especially so for those who had been martyred, like Stephen and James (Acts 7 & 12). There may well have been in mind here some who had recently died violently for Christ in the area to which Peter was writing, victims of mob violence, or of the scourges of cruel masters. What was the situation with regard to them? Had they lost out? Peter now gives the explanation. The reason why the Gospel had been preached (before they died) to those who were dead was precisely so that while as human beings it might have been their destiny to be called to account in order to be judged by men, a judgment which might even have ended in martyrdom, they would then like Jesus go on into the afterlife and live according to God in the spirit, being with Him Who had been made alive in spirit, as ‘the spirits of just men made perfect’ (Hebrews 12.23). We should note in support of this interpretation that ‘the dead’ in verse 6 must surely be seen in the light of ‘the dead’ in verse 5.

It will be noted in fact that these ‘dead’ are following in the footsteps of Christ Himself. He too had been judged according to men in the flesh (3.18), after which He had been ‘made alive in the spirit’ (3.18). And that will be so for all who follow Him. We ‘follow in His steps’ (2.21). If we are judged and put to death, we will live again with Him.

An alternative is to see this as referring to both the living and the dead referred to in verse 5, with a double meaning being given to ‘dead’. Thus some have now physically died, whereas others are ‘dead in Christ’ (verse 1). But in either case they have been subject to the judgment of men and they also now participate in His new life in the Spirit. This dual aspect of life and death is in fact found in the teaching of Jesus in John 5.24-29. There Jesus’ teaching concerning being ‘made alive’ includes receiving new spiritual life (‘eternal life’) in this life (John 5.24-26) with judgment in mind (John 5.27), and receiving everlasting life in the future (John 5.28-29). So both are true.

In The Light Of The Coming Judgment And Resurrection They are To Live With A Sense Of Urgency (4.7-11).

In view of the urgency of the times therefore they are to live out their Christian lives accordingly, revealing true love and hospitality, ministering to one another by means of the gifts given to them, and speaking as from God. And all so that God might be glorified through Jesus Christ the eternal King.

4.7 ‘But the end of all things is at hand. Be you therefore of sound mind, and be sober unto prayer,’

However, not only did the dead need to be prepared for that future judgment, but so also did the living. For that judgment, which would bring in the end of all things, could come at any time. It was ‘at hand’. For some it could come through death, as it had for those described in verses 5-6. But for all it was imminent. None knew or can know when it might come. Prophecy having reached its fulfilment in Jesus Christ, all that now awaits is the final summing up. As Peter tells us in 2 Peter 3.9, it is only the longsuffering patience of God that holds it back. Just as the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, so does His longsuffering wait even now, until the number of His elect are gathered in. Christians are thus ever to live in the light of His coming (see Matthew 13.29-30, 39-43; 24.42; Luke 12.35-40; Romans 13.12; 1 Corinthians 7.29; Philippians 4.5; Hebrews 1.2; 10.25; James 5.8-9; 1 John 2.18; Revelation 22.20).

This sense of imminence pervades the New Testament, which does, however, also emphasise what is to be done before His coming. Not only had Jerusalem to be destroyed (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21), but also the Gospel was to reach out ‘to all nations’ (Mark 13.10; Matthew 24.14), and the Jews were to face their great tribulation which would sactter them among the nations after the destruction of Jerusalem (Luke 21.24). Thus there was urgency combined with the recognition of a task to be done.

In view of this it was now necessary for them to live lives of obedience, in contrast with those who do not obey the Gospel of God (verse 17). And to this end they needed to be of sound mind, (‘God has not given us the spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind’ - 2 Timothy 1.7), and be sober in their thinking and their lives, in such a way that they would continue in prayer. In other words they were to think sensibly, and behave sensibly in the light of His coming.

‘Soundness of the mind’ is seen as of great importance in the New Testament. Christians were to have the mind which was in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2.5). It is with the mind that we serve the Law of God (Romans 7.25). Thus we are to set our minds upon things above (Colossians 3.2). The mind thus indicates the direction in which the heart is going. And it goes along with sobriety of living.

‘Unto prayer.’ They had after all much to pray for. ‘Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest that He send forth labourers into His harvest’ (Matthew 9.38’). ‘In this way pray you, “Let your name be made holy, let your kingly rule come, let your will be done, on earth as in Heaven” ’ (Matthew 6.9-10). ‘How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him’ (Luke 11.13). ‘Men ought always to pray and not to faint’ (Luke 18.1). ‘Will not God avenge His elect who cry to Him day and night, and He is longsuffering over them?’ (Luke 18.7). ‘Pray for those who use you badly’ (Matthew 5.44). ‘This kind goes out only through prayer (i.e. a life of continuing prayer)’ (Matthew 17.21). ‘Take heed, watch and pray, for you do not know when the time is’ (Mark 13.33). All these are injunctions by our Lord to pray, which are later further emphasised in Acts and the following letters. Prayer is to be the very centre of the Christian life.

4.8-9 ‘Above all things being fervent in your love among yourselves, for love covers a multitude of sins, using hospitality one to another without murmuring,’

Instead of indulging in ‘lasciviousness’ (‘lustful living’ - verse 3) they were to be fervent (‘at full gallop’) in Christian love among themselves, because love counters much sin. And instead of indulging in wine-bibbing and revelry (verse 3) they were to offer true hospitality towards one another in full unity and harmony, ‘without murmuring’. Such love would provide great strength in difficult times, and the hospitality might well have been necessary for those who were being persecuted, and even possibly having their houses burned and their goods spoiled. In their problems they were to turn to each other, and find help from each other. (Note that the hospitality is ‘one to another’ as much as to those from outside).

‘Without murmuring’ may indicate that they must not be grudging in their hospitality, or it may indicate that their hospitality must not be used as a means of backbiting, gossiping, talking about other people’s sins behind their backs, making subversive plans or spreading rumours.

‘For love covers a multitude of sins’ might be seen as having as a background Proverbs 10.12, ‘love covers all transgressions’, which in the form in which Peter cites it may well have become a popular proverb. It is probably not a direct quote from the Old Testament because it is not in accordance with LXX, and it is the LXX which Peter usually quotes in this letter when citing the Old Testament, but if the words in MT had become an established proverb in Greek form well known in the churches then we can understand him citing it here, while at the same time having the Hebrew or Aramaic text of Proverbs in mind.

It may well be significant that in Proverbs the clause is preceded by, and in contrast with, ‘hate stirs up strifes’. This latter would tie in with Peter’s ‘without murmuring (i.e. without causing strifes)’. Thus ‘love covers a multitude of sins --- using hospitality without murmuring’ can be seen as conveying the sense of the whole verse in Proverbs, both positive and negative, but in reverse order from Proverbs (although not necessarily in reverse order from the proverb that had resulted from it). It is a reminder that love and hate are not actually simply revealed by what we profess, (what hypocrites we can be), but by how we truly behave, how we think about people and what we say behind people’s backs. This connection with Proverbs would favour the meaning here that true love is the love that does not look censoriously upon the sins of others, but rather makes every reasonable excuse for them, and under no circumstances talks about them behind their backs (compare 1 Corinthians 13.4-13). Thus it ‘covers up a multitude of sins’ in the right way. In other words love makes us ready to overlook people’s many faults and thus be forgiving and merciful towards others. That does not mean that the sins do not matter. It means that we remember that we too are sinners.

But an added possible meaning of the words is that if we show true love towards our brothers and sisters by forgiving their sins in this way, then we can be sure that God will show His love for us in forgiving a multitude of our sins. This would tie in with Jesus’ words in connection with the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6.14-15. ‘For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you your trespasses.’ Those words similarly provided an encouragement to show genuine love in this way. In other words the loving fellowship of Christians is one in which forgiveness is gladly given to others, covering up a multitude of sins, and is in turn joyously received from God, as He covers up for us an even greater multitude of our sins.

Comparison with James 5.20 may also, however, suggest the inclusion of a third thought and that is that by demonstrating love Christians will to some extent be compensating for a multitude of their own failures. All this explains why Jesus saw love as so important. It makes us better people, it makes us more considerate towards others, and it makes us the kind of people whom God can more easily forgive. >p> ‘Using hospitality one to another without murmuring.’ This could well particularly have in mind the needs of Christians who were being dispossessed by persecution and required shelter (Acts 8.1; Hebrews 10.34), or, in a time when churches met in people’s houses, the need for their homes to be always open to their brothers and sisters. Such hospitality was to be given unstintingly and without any grumbling. But hospitality was in fact a regular requirement for Christians (Matthew 25.35; Hebrews 13.2; Romans 12.13; 1 Timothy 3.2; Titus 1.8), and was a necessity for visitors because of problems related to inns, which were not of the highest standard and notorious as places of sin. And thus the exhortation must also be seen as having a more general application as well. But underneath it all is intended to lie the need for a willingness of heart to show practical love and concern for others.

4.10-11a ‘According as each has received a gift, ministering it among yourselves, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God; if any man speaks, as it were oracles of God; if any man ministers, as of the strength which God supplies,’

The same earnest love will also ensure our right use of whatever gifts God has given us. Having received gifts through the loving compassion and unmerited goodness of God, we are to dispense them with loving compassion and goodness. We are to use them as good stewards (those who are managing Someone else’s goods wisely), with our thoughts not being on our own status and reputation and benefit, but only on making the best use of such gifts to bring the greatest blessing to many. Our concern is to be to serve others.

We can compare Jesus’ words to Peter and the other disciples, ‘Who then is that faithful and wise steward whom his Lord has set over his household?’ (Luke 12.42). And the responsibility of that steward is to ‘give them their portion of food in due season’. There it very much applies to those set over the church of God as they live in the light of His coming, but is finally an injunction to all servants. Here in Peter all are seen as stewards, for all have received some gift from God.

Such ‘gifts’ were widely defined. See for example Romans 12.6-8. And they covered all Christians. There were two ways in which they could express themselves. Firstly in words and secondly in actions. The two together make up the way in which we live our lives.

Thus when we speak, whether publicly or privately, we must ensure that we do so as from God, ensuring that we are fully in tune with Him and that we do it through the power and enduement that He has given. We should note here that the verb refers to ‘speaking’, words that come from the mouth. It does not just mean public speaking, although the word can be used of that. It means that all our conversation should be such that it comes to people as from God, through the Spirit, and should constantly have in mind the blessing of others.

The way in which we will ensure that we do this will be by resting on Him and walking with Him daily, and it will be through humility, and prayerfulness, and ensuring that all that we say is in accordance with the Scriptures. In other words, all our words are to be golden words coming from the throne of God. To put it another way we should always in all circumstance say what we consciously believe that Jesus would have said in our place, as Christ lives out His life through us. We should ensure that our words are always God-given. We are to speak as ‘oracles of God’. The requirement is a demanding one, but Peter no doubt had in mind Jesus’ words that ‘for every idle word that people shall speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment’ (Matthew 12.36), whether it be good or bad (2 Corinthians 5.10).

And the second part of his words refers to our actions. We should act as true servants, servants of God and servants of men, in such a way that all that we do is through God’s strength, and to His glory. Our light must so shine before men that they see our good works and glorify our Father Who is in Heaven (Matthew 5.16). Thus the slaves service to his master (2.18), the wife’s service to her husband (3.6), the husband’s loving response to his wife (3.7), the service of each to all (3.8-12), is to be performed through His strength and His enabling. And the world is to see in the words and service of each Christian, the fullness of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4.6)

4.11b ‘That in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, whose is the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.’

For Peter’s final concern is that in all things, in both our words and our actions, glory might continually be brought to God through the continual magnifying of Jesus Christ in what we say and do, and rightly so, he says, for it is to Him that all glory and dominion belongs for ever and ever.

This doxology is not a signing off. Rather it is demonstrating how overwhelmed Peter is at the thought of what he is asking. Possibly he is remembering back to how his beloved Master had so often spoken to His disciples. Now he is conveying the same message to them. And it makes him end up by glorifying Jesus Christ. Possibly there broke in on him at this moment the thought of the glory of Jesus as revealed in His transfiguration (compare 2 Peter 1.16-18).

Note how glory and dominion go together. Peter is aware that he will be a partaker of His glory (5.1), but is equally aware that he is under His dominion. We cannot have the glory without the dominion. The two go together. ‘May Your Name be hallowed, may Your Rule be established’ (Matthew 6.9-10). And he wants us all to be aware of the same.

We are thus not to see this doxology as designedly ‘ending a section’. It is simply that Peter has been lifted into the heights by the very thoughts that he has been contemplating, the glory of the fully obedient life of God’s true people. and what it is signifying. We can compare the similar experience of Paul when writing his letters (e.g. Romans 11.36; 2 Corinthians 9.15; Ephesians 3.20-21; 1 Thessalonians 3.11-13).

That we all come short of this ideal is unquestionable. But if we walk in His light, as He is in the light, we will have oneness with one another in love and service, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son will continually cleanse us from all sin, and then our cry will truly be, ‘His is the glory and dominion for ever. Amen!’.

Persecution Is A Necessary Result Of Their Being United With Christ In His Sufferings For It Is The First Stage In The Judgment That Is Coming On All (4.12-19).

Peter still has his eye firmly fixed on the fact that Judgment is coming for all men (verse 18). And he sees what is happening to God’s people through persecution as the beginnings of that judgment (verse 17). Through this judgment they will be spared the greater judgment, for it will purify and establish their faith (1.6-7). But they must be careful to ensure that it comes on them for the right reasons, for His sake (verse 14).

4.12-13 ‘Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial among you, which is coming on you to prove you, as though a strange thing happened to you, but in as much as you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, rejoice; that at the revelation of his glory also you may rejoice with exceeding joy.’

The strength of Peter’s feelings now comes out in his addressing them again as ‘beloved’ (compare 2.11 where he had reached a similar peak). As he thinks of their self-giving, self-sacrificial lives lived out in Christ in the face of difficulties his warm heart goes out to them, especially as he returns to the theme with which he began the chapter, ‘Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves therefore with the same mind’. For he loves them fervently too. It is because those who have suffered in the flesh with Christ have ceased from sin that such a life as he has described can be possible as they live their lives out in the will of God (4.1-2).

Thus they are not to think it strange that they are outwardly having such a hard time. As we know from 1.7 this is part of his central message, for there also he spoke of the fiery trial that was to prove their faith. But such fiery trial is necessary if they are to be presented perfect before Him. It is this fiery testing that will help to rid them of all the dross that mars their lives, and will bring them fully into the obedience of Christ as ‘children of obedience’ (1.14). It is when His judgments are in the world that people learn righteousness.

Unlike the Jews, ex-Gentiles would not be used to religious persecution. To them it was indeed ‘strange. For it arose specifically from their worship of God and of Christ as the only God exclusive of all others. The Gentiles did not mind others having a different religion, but when that religion began to claim uniqueness it was a different matter. Thus Christians specifically suffered for the Name of Christ (compare Matthew 5.11).

There is nothing in this language to necessitate more than local persecution of a kind revealed in Acts. The trial is ‘fiery’ because it acts like a refining fire (1.7), not necessarily because actual fire is seen as at work, although the burning of people’s houses has often been the reaction of the mob, even back to ancient times (Judges 15.6). But whatever happens they are to recognise that in suffering as Christians they are becoming partakers of Christ’s sufferings, and are to rejoice. Then when His full glory is revealed their rejoicing will be beyond measure. We can compare here Matthew 5.10-12. ‘Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in Heaven, for so persecuted they the prophets who were before you’.

4.14 ‘If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you; because that which is of glory and the Spirit of God rests on you.’

For if it is for the name of Christ that they are misused and reproached and persecuted then they can take it as an indication that they are truly blessed, because it will be an indication that they are indwelt by the glory of God, and have the Spirit of God resting on them, as was promised to the Coming One of old (Isaiah 11.2; compare Acts 2.1-4). From the beginning persecution had arisen because men followed ‘the Christ’ (Matthew 10.22; Mark 13.13; Luke 21.17; and compare Mark 9.41). That was the cause of the persecution in Acts 7-9. It was what differentiated them from others.

‘That which is of glory.’ Peter may have in mind here the glory of the transfiguration (2 Peter 1.15-18) combined with the promise of His coming in glory (verse 13), and thus be meaning ‘the Christ of glory rests on you’. Or he may have in mind the Shekinah glory which originally rested on the Tabernacle and Temple, and which now abides in their hearts because they are His, as it originally accompanied His people through the wilderness (Exodus 40.34-38). In that case the thought is that ‘the very glory of God Himself rests on you’ (compare 2 Corinthians 6.18-20). Or he may be signifying the glory of the Holy Spirit as revealed at Pentecost in the flaming tongues of fire (Acts 2.1-3), at work in them through His power (2 Corinthians 3.18). Indeed he may have included all. The glory of the triune God through the Spirit of God would rest upon them.

‘That which is of glory and the Spirit of God.’ There is a bringing together here of the ideas of ‘the manifested glory of God’ and of ‘the active Spirit of God’, the one resting on His people the other active through His people, which is elsewhere in mind when Christians are seen as the Temple of the Holy Spirit. They are the evidence of God’s glorious presence in the world, and the means by which He exercises His power. And indeed it is by the Spirit of the Lord that His people grow from one degree of glory to another as they behold and reflect the glory of Christ in their lives (2 Corinthians 3.18). They are to be the means by which God is glorified (Matthew 5.16).

‘Rests on you.’ Compare Isaiah 11.2 LXX, ‘And the Spirit of God shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and godliness shall fill him, the spirit of the fear of God.’

Some translate as ‘the Spirit of glory and of God’ The above still applies.

4.15-16 ‘For let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evildoer, or as a meddler in other men’s matters, but if a man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this name.’

Once again we have a Petrine contrast, typical of what we have seen all the way through his letter. They are ensure that they only suffer for the right reason. They should not suffer as those who have behaved badly, as those who really are murderers, or thieves, or evildoers or as those who meddle in the affairs of others. But if they should suffer because they are Christians, then they need not be ashamed but rather are to glorify God in Christ’s Name by their response. Note the continuing emphasis on ‘glory’. As those who have received the glory of God they are to bring glory to Him.

The word ‘Christian’ was applied to followers of Christ almost from the beginning of the spread of the Gospel (Acts 11.26; compare Acts 26.28). It was probably initially intended in mockery. But to Christians it became a name of honour. It marked them off as ‘Christ’s men’.

4.17 ‘For the time is come for judgment to begin at the house of God: and if it begin first at us, what shall be the end of them that obey not the gospel of God?’

In context the ‘judgment beginning at (or more literally ‘from’) the house of God’ refers to the persecution that they are undergoing. It is a precursor to, and picture of, the judgment that will come on all men. Peter may well have in mind here the vivid picture in Ezekiel 9.6 where judgment began at the house of God and then spread outwards from there. The difference here is that those in the house of God here have hope because Another has suffered on their behalf.

The idea behind ‘judgment’ is that they are experiencing the milder form of God’s judgment against sin, that which chastens and purifies (1.7). Compare Malachi 3.2. He has come to His temple and ‘He is like a refiner’s fire and a launderer’s soap.’ And if that is necessary for those who have become children of obedience (1.14), how much greater will be His judgment against those who do not obey Him and are not open to being cleansed. Thus what is happening to them now, will happen to all men later. There is irony here in that the people’s judgment of the church, will bring God’s judgment upon them.

We note again the underlying theme of the letter, the purpose of the persecution is to bring into the obedience of Jesus Christ (1.2) those who believe, while the following judgment will then be on those who are disobedient to the Good News from God. And the point is that the saving suffering of His people on the one hand will finally issue in an unsaving suffering to be meted out on the ‘disobedient’.

4.18 ‘And if the righteous is scarcely saved (‘be saved with difficulty’), where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?’

This is a citation of Proverbs 11.31 LXX. The saving of the righteous is no easy task. They are ‘saved with difficulty’. Peter is very much aware of how great the cost of our salvation has been (1.18-19; 2.24; 3.18; 4.1). Only God could have accomplished it. Salvation may be free for us but we must never forget the great effort and cost that God put into it on our behalf. It was by no means easy for Him. And if that be true, what hope is there for Christ-rejecters who do not have the benefit of His saving work? They will appear on the wrong side of God’s judgments.

4.19 ‘Wherefore let them also that suffer according to the will of God commit their souls in well-doing unto a faithful Creator.’

Believers suffer in order that they might be purified and cleansed. Thus their suffering is in the will of God. It is because He is working in them to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2.13). And as a result, in their sufferings, they can commit their whole beings to Him as One Who is a faithful Creator, in the same way as in His sufferings Jesus committed His spirit to Him as His Father (Luke 23.46; compare also the Psalmist in Psalm 31.5). And they do it by themselves doing good and revealing Christlikeness towards their enemies, for they are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has foreordained that they should walk in them (Ephesians 2.10). God’s creative work is at work within them and is coming towards its conclusion in their being made ‘perfect and complete in all the will of God’ (Colossians 4.12) and their revealing it in the world.

This idea that God’s creative work is coming to its fulfilment through the bringing of His creations to Christlikeness through suffering is a reminder that God’s creative work, while in one way complete (Genesis 1.31-2.3), is still in another way in progress. In other words history has not just been a sad accident. It has all been a part of His bringing His elect to Christlikeness through suffering in accordance with His purposes.

So those who are elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by sanctification in the Spirit, are being brought to the obedience of Jesus Christ as a result of the sprinkling of His blood (1.1-2), and their partaking with Him in His sufferings (1.7; 4.1), through which they are brought to God (3.18), so that they may live unto righteousness (2.20). Out of seeming judgment will come ultimate victory and triumph.

It is possible that Peter has in mind here 2 Samuel 22.31-33 LXX, ‘As for the Mighty One, His way is blameless. The word of the Lord is strong and tried in the fire. He is a protector to all who put their trust in Him. Who is strong, but the Lord? and Who will be a Creator except our God? It is the Mighty One who strengthens me with might, and has prepared my way without fault.’ In these words also we have mentioned the trial by fire for those involved in the going forth of His word, combined with the idea of the protection of God our Creator (Greek: Creator; Hebrew: Rock), the only use of the word in the Greek Old Testament. This usage in 2 Samuel suggests that behind the word ‘Creator’ is the idea of One Who is mighty and powerful, and totally dependable in the faultless way which we have to take.

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