New Life, New Gifts, New Purpose
1 Peter 4:1-11
Tom J. Nettles
Introduction: Peter looks at the death of Christ as the inauguration of the age to come in which sin, death, and Satan are utterly overthrown. Look at such words as “ceased” (1), “the time that is past suffices” (3), “ready to judge” (5), “the end of all things” (7), “glory and dominion for ever and ever” (6). You might look forward also to verse 13 “when his glory is revealed” and verse 17 “It is time for judgment to begin at the household of God.” All that was needed to justify God in his mercies toward sinners has been accomplished, the certainty of judgment for sin has been manifest, the reign of sin has been broken, and the return of Christ now awaits only the calling and sorting out of the elect (2 Peter 3:9) in their separation from the values and perversions of this rebellious, but already-judged (2 Peter 2:3, 4, 10), age.
I. The Clasp of this world is broken – 4:1-6 – These verses appear to be a brief commentary on 2:24. Christ bore our sins in his own body. That is, all that sin, both original and existentially embraced, has done to the sinner for whom Christ died has now been removed. Both its penalty and its tyranny have been broken. The full manifestation of the glory of God looms on the horizon; Take your position, even now, in mind and heart and conduct, as inhabitants of that age of divine glory.
A. In righteous suffering sin ceases – 4:1, 2
· That the perfect state of humanity consists of a unified whole of rational spirit and body is emphasized in the Bible’s emphasis on the body’s participation in sin, that is, that the mind hostile to God exhibits its anti-God rage through the body. It is in the body that appropriate elements of the final wrath of God will be displayed. Redemption, therefore was not simply a mental or purely rational transaction, but necessarily called for an incarnation. Paul wrote of reconciliation as being done “in his body of flesh, by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless” (Colossians 1:22). Though the seat of sin is in the affections, or heart, its manifestation is through the body.
· As our substitute, therefore, Christ suffered in the flesh. While his soul was exceeding sorrowful, and in his mind and heart he sensed the abandonment of all divine pleasure and the infliction of wrath sufficient to satisfy divine justice, none of this could have happened in right proportions and in the appropriate arena had it not taken place in a body, a human body as well as the full human nature, in which sinners will experience divine wrath at the end of the age after the resurrection.
· The suffering of Christ, in Peter’s logic, has so satisfied the sin problem, that Peter can view Christ’s suffering as having put an end to sin and all its extensive and destructive connections. As Paul said, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24) “Whoever has suffered in the flesh,” Peter says, “has ceased from sin.”
· In Christ’s death for sin, he removed not only the condemnation that we are under, but secured the reversal of the spiritual corruption that was a part of the punitive aspect of the fall. Our freedom from sin now being secured, and completely accomplished in future glory, the privilege that we have now is to rise above the destructive pull of depraved passions in the contemplation of things above. “Abstain from the passions of the flesh which wage war against your soul” (2:11).
· What a marvelous transformation has grace brought. Now we are urged, and indeed have such a life implanted, to live no longer for human passions but for the “will of God.”
B. Rejecting the way of the world, brings judgment from the world -4:3, 4
· Peter refers to the “time that is past.” That is, not only their former life, but the time when sin dominated prior to the suffering and resurrection of Christ. The Gentile way of life, a life given over to the grasp for pleasure by the fulfilling of immediate passions—drunkenness and sexuality—must now give way to the pursuit of true pleasure, living in the presence of the glory of God, giving love to Him and receiving assurances of his love as demonstrated in the death of Christ in our stead.
· Since the “Gentiles” really believe that such sensual conduct is really the only meaning that can be gained in life, they are confused by a lifestyle that finds more satisfaction out of this world that in it. For people to look to “the right hand of God” where Christ is seated and revel in the joy of such a meditation and such “assurance of things hoped for” and find within their consciences the true “evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1) is completely counter-intuitive to them. That the suffering of Christ has gained for believers all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ and has made them long for those blessings more than the temporary corruptible trinkets of the world baffles, and enrages, the value system of the unregenerate. They are surprised and think that this is indeed strange.
· Not only so, but “they malign you.” Those that find the world to their satisfaction are not content merely to leave the heavenly-minded alone as strange birds, but they feel that they must ridicule the commitments to purity and personal holiness. In the case of these Christians, not only ridicule was involved, but the world’s distaste often flamed into persecution.
C. Rejecting the way of God, brings judgment from God – 4:5, 6.
· Note the radical contrast: “They malign you, but they will give an account.” While they judge the lifestyle and the commitment of the Christian according to their commitment to the pursuit of immediate pleasure, God hovers over history, having already judged sin in Christ’s suffering for the elect ready to show also to the rest the perfect justice of his judgment. The words are truly terrible for one that has loved the world and ignored God, “They will give account.”
· God, through Christ, will judge not only those now living but he will judge the dead also. His purview is unlimited and is perfectly equitable. While the unbeliever holds his petty court in maligning the godly, God calls on the whole world and all the present living and all those that have died to look at his docket and see their name there.
· So, though many that have heard and believed the gospel died in the midst of ridicule and rejection being “judged in the flesh the way people are,” their day of vindication before the whole world is coming. They were not fit for worldly company according to the values of the world, but Christ’s suffering has given them life in the presence of the truly spiritual glory of God. Their death did not issue in the cessation of their existence or even their consciousness. Though the body awaits the day of Christ when we shall be raised incorruptible, even now the spirit—their conscious rationality and expanded affections—prosper with joy having been ushered into the power of the Lord’s proposition, “God is Spirit, and those that worship Him must worship Him in sprit and in truth” (John 4:23, 24).
II. The Bonds of a New Community are Established – 4:7-11 – While the “rules” of the community of this world are well established and non-conformity to those rules and values brings rejection and sometimes violence, God is building his own community, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” that have been called “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (2:9, 10) He defines that community by a set of principles and by specially gifted servants.
A. Live on the edge of Eternity – 4:7
· Though the delay of the coming of the Lord means that there are many displays of providence, many human discoveries of the wondrous beauty, intelligence, and power invested in the created order, and that God has not yet called all his elect to Himself, within the realm of having fully vindicated his Law and justice, and fully set forth the glory of his mercy and grace, and fully endued his Son with the glory of the offices of prophet, priest, and king, nothing remains to be done. “The end of all things is at hand.” The writer of Hebrews said that “In these last days, [God] has spoken to us by his Son.”
· Now, that the end of all things is near, prayer should become a treasured discipline and the time spent in prayer should be viewed as an engagement with a conquering King poised to flood the world with his glory, ready to divide the sheep from the goats, ready to fulfill the prophecy, “For the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). In that light, live a life under control of the eschaton virtually present with us, and pressing to be fully realized, but for the moment kept back by the sovereign and wise mercies of God. Peter showed this same kind of concern for prayer in telling husbands how to live with their wives (3:7).
B. Live under the graces of divine love – 4:8, 9
· If we properly invest our hearts in prayer, we will also invest our affections in the encouragement and well-being of one another. In our failings in the constant challenge, and gracious privilege, of Christian pilgrimage, our failures and shortcomings are multitudinous. Our savior intercedes for us, his blood is cleansing us from all sin (1 John 1:7 and 2:1, 2), and our Christian brethren love us. We leave God to deal with these constant failures, and in our fellowship we cover the failures with love. God’s love has covered our sins with the blood and righteousness of Christ; we cover the sins of the brethren, including our own, with the fellowship of Christian love.
· We must not allow our tendency to privacy and the pressure of schedule make us slow to hospitality or resentful when it is pressed on us. Since we are brethren and, by adoption, have the same Father, and live in the same anticipation of the completion of the end, we should increase in our desire to cultivate the knowledge of and well-being of those that God, through Christ, has forgiven. We have the great privilege to show hospitality to one another without grumbling.
C. Maximize the potential of divinely bestowed gifts. 4:10, 11a
· While the admonitions given above point to community virtues appropriate for everyone, now Peter shows that individual gifts must be exercised for the good of the whole (“serve one another”) and to the glory of God. One can see that gifts concern a development of the entire church into conformity with the two great commandments. Using gifts for one another focuses on loving our neighbor as ourselves. That “God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” focuses on loving God with all the heart, mind, soul and strength.
· The combination of a general admonition to graces given to all in the context of the recognition of the isolation of some gifts to specific individuals is a pattern in the New Testament. We see the combination in Romans 12:3-13. It also in clearly in mind in 1 Corinthians when Paul places the discussion of love in the middle of his discussion of special gifts. These same ideas give form to Paul’s discussion in Ephesians 4:1-16. All Christians are called on to be loving, to be kind, to seek peace, to show hospitality, to forgive one another. Specific individuals are given particular gifts to accomplish needed developments in the body of Christ.
· Peter recognizes that these special gifts come from the multi-faceted grace of God. No single individual can do all that is needed in the church of the living God, so God distributes his gifts with the indication that “each one has received a gift [cf. Ephesians 4:16 “when each party is working properly.”] It is not for us, therefore, to decide whether or not we will use this gift, for God has given it for a purpose, we are stewards of it, and we are to be good and faithful stewards.
· Peter mentions two gifts though in the other texts mentioned, the number is expanded. It may be that God gives gifts even for specific needs in cultural contexts that might not be present in every church. The two here seem to be universally needed, however, for both of these functions are at the center of God’s purpose in the church. One gift is speaking. In this age, it probably refers to the gift of receiving special revelation for the purpose of teaching and preaching. If one has this grace granted him, he is to realize that the well-being of the church depends on the expanding revelation of God in explaining the theology of Christ’s fulfillment of the New Covenant. Today that gift would be expressed in a call to teach and preach. In both cases there must be a deep confidence in the truth and power of the revealed word of God—“whoever speak as one who speaks the oracles of God.” The second gift Peter mentions is service. Perhaps he is speaking of the office of deacon; Even if he is speaking more broadly for the desire and aptitude for service in general, it doubtless includes the function of deacon. Since service calls for much self-abnegation in considering others better than ourselves and, because of God’s favors to others includes his desire and provision for their growth, this service calls for “the strength that God supplies.”
D. Live to the glory of God – 4:11b
· Peter relates these ministries of teaching and serving to God’s desire for his own glory. As both of these ministries involve the transformation of character to be more like Christ, they are rightly seen as promoting God’s glory. One area of giftedness concerns the ministry of truth and the other the ministry of love. Both of these peculiarly relate to the character of the triune God. He alone is true and knows exhaustively the truth, for He alone has absolute and non-dependent being and so by his own will, power, and wisdom gives being to everything else. He knows each individual thing, whether object or event, fully and he knows his purpose in the contrivance of all their connections. Thus it is only by divine revelation that we learn the mind of God and his purpose, especially in the realm of redemptive truth (1 Corinthians 2:9-16). Service of love is necessary in a fallen world for restoration of hope and godly encouragement. God’s love is manifest in his redemptive actions [Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:1012], and thus service to the saints is in itself a participation in redemptive love.
· In particular, God’s glory is promoted “through Jesus Christ.” The biblical theology of seeing the divine glory in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4-6) is rich and central to the whole of divine revelation. According to John 1:14-18. our only access to knowledge of God other than a knowledge of the reality and certainty of wrath (Romans 1:32-2:5) is found in the incarnation of Christ and the final culmination of the purpose of the incarnation (John 12:23-28)
· The doxology, “To Him be glory and Dominion forever and ever” is to Christ. For other doxologies addressed specifically to Christ see Romans 9:5, 2 Peter 3:18, 2 Timothy 4:18, and Revelation 1:6. In Romans 16:27 and Jude 25 we see doxologies addressed to God the Father through Jesus Christ. Others are addressed to God the Father [1 Peter 5:10-11; Romans 11:36; Philippians 4:20; Ephesians 3:20, 21; Hebrews 13:20, 21; Revelation 5:13 [to the Father and to Christ]; Revelation 7:12. In a doxology like 1 Timothy 1:17, as well as 6:16, the focus of the praise is difficult to discern. It is clear in all of these, however, that no such praise and adoration would be coming from sinful lips unless we knew God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
· The doxology indicates the confidence that Peter has that Christ’s suffering has secured the final triumph of the Redeemer over all his sinful opposition. The world and its ways will not survive but will be subjected to God as an eternal display of his justice and the futility of all attempts to oppose his truth, ridicule his grace, and ignore his Son (Psalm 1 and 2}