1 Peter 4:1–6
Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. And in all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excess of dissipation, and they malign you; but they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.
The Great Commission and Suffering
There are a good many reasons in the Scriptures to believe that the Great Commission will not be completed without suffering. One of these reasons is that when Jesus said that the gospel will be preached throughout the world as a testimony to all the nations, he also said in the same context, "You will be hated by all the nations" (Matthew 24:9, 14). In other words, wherever you go among the nations, your efforts to bring good news of everlasting life will be met with joy in some and anger in others.
Another reason to believe that the Great Commission will not be completed without suffering is that Paul calls evangelism the "filling up of what is lacking in Christ's afflictions" (Colossians 1:24). In other words, God's purpose is that the afflictions of Jesus that purchased our salvation be imitated and demonstrated in the propagation of that salvation.
A third reason to believe that the Great Commission will not be fulfilled without suffering is that Jesus sent out the first evangelists by saying, "As the Father has sent me, so send I you" (John 20:21). "If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household" (Matthew 10:25).
A fourth reason is that Paul said to Timothy, as he carried on the work of church planting in Ephesus and spread the gospel throughout Asia (Acts 19:10), "Do not be ashamed, but share in suffering for the gospel in the power of God . . . Take your share of suffering as a good soldier of Christ . . . Endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist" (1:8; 2:3; 4:5).
Those are four reasons from the Bible—and there are many more—why we should expect to suffer if we are a part of God's advancing rescue operation—what Paul calls turning people "from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God" (Acts 26:18). I know I want to be a part of that operation and I believe you do too. That's why the book of 1 Peter is so relevant for us today. Its main aim is to help Christians endure suffering and choose suffering over sin and over silence.
Five More Pieces of Armor for Suffering
In today's text Peter gives five more encouragements to help us choose suffering for the sake of an authentic Christian testimony. The main point of the text is in verse 1: "Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose." Thoughts and purposes arm us. They protect us and help us get victories. The purpose Peter has in mind is the purpose to suffer if God should will it (as 3:17 says) for righteousness' sake. If you choose that purpose, you are armed. One reason is that you will not be so taken off guard when it comes. And another reason is that you will have prepared yourself for what's coming.
That's what this text and this sermon are for. To help you do that, and so to be well-armed when the struggle comes.
There are five encouragements—we could call them five pieces of the armor.
Piece #1: Christ Suffered
Verse 1: "Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose." Our first encouragement to choose suffering if necessary is that Christ did. It didn't merely happen to him, he chose it. "No one takes my life from me, I lay it down of my own accord" (John 10:18).
In his book One Hundred Prison Meditations Richard Wurmbrand, who spent 14 years in prison as a Romanian pastor, wrote,
I have accepted this proposal. Christians are meant to have the same vocation as their King, that of cross-bearers. It is this conscience of a high calling and of partnership with Jesus which brings gladness in tribulations, which makes Christians enter prisons for their faith with the joy of a bridegroom entering the bridal room.1
This fact in our text is the centerpiece of our armor: Jesus—the creator of the universe, the sustainer of all things, the Savior of the world, the perfectly Innocent One, the Son of God—chose suffering as his vocation and called us to take up our cross and follow him, and so find real and everlasting life. Our purpose is to suffer with him.
Piece #2: Making a Clean Break with Sin
Verse 1b: "Arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin." I'm not completely sure, but I believe what this means is that if you trust God enough to suffer for doing what is right (as 3:17 says), then you have made a decisive break with sin.
In other words, choose suffering because if you don't, you will choose sin. But if you do, you will prove that your bondage to sin has been broken. Get the thought and the purpose in your head that Christ is worth suffering for; live out that conviction when the choice comes between suffering and sin; and in suffering sin will be defeated and you will be triumphant. If you come to the point where you suffer for righteousness' sake, you have ceased from sin—not perfection, but a clean break with the past of sin.
That break is described in verse 2: " . . . so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God." When you suffer for what's right, it's a sign that you have renounced sinful human desires and embraced the will of God as a higher value. So for the sake of righteousness and freedom from sin, arm yourselves with this purpose.
Piece #3: Any Amount of Past Sinning Is Enough
Verse 3: "For the time already past is sufficient [it's enough!] for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries." This is a simple and remarkable statement: The time already past is sufficient for sin. It's enough. So don't do any more. Suffer if you must. But don't do any more sin.
Arm yourself with this thought: any amount of past sinning is enough. If you sinned a little before you were converted, it's enough. If you sinned a lot and for many years before your conversion, it's enough. You can never sin so little that you could say, "I need some more time to sin." How many people say, "I know I need to get right with God and make a break with sin. But just a little more time. A little more time with sin." Peter says, arm yourself with this thought: the time you've spent sinning is sufficient. Make the break; choose the will of God. And suffer for it if you must.
The suffering he has in mind here is mentioned in verse 4: "And in all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excess of dissipation, and they malign you." There it is—they malign you. They slander you. They make you look the fool. Better to embrace that like Jesus did, if it is God's will, than to choose sin. The time that you've spent sinning is sufficient. It's enough.
Piece #4: Adversaries Will Be Brought to Justice
When you suffer for righteousness sake, you do not need to resort to sinful vengeance. You do not need to have the last word. Or the last silent glower. God stands ready to settle all accounts. And he will do it far better than we.
Verse 5: "But they [that is, those who malign you] shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead." One of the greatest temptations when we suffer for doing right is to cry out that it is unjust and to call the other person to account. There may be times when that is right to do: parents must do it for disobedient children (Proverbs 13:24), policemen must do it for law-breaking citizens (Romans 13:4); employers must do it for slacking employees (2 Thessalonians 3:10); and elders must do it in church discipline (Hebrews 13:17). But most of the time when you suffer for righteousness' sake, God's will is not that you do the calling to account, but that you hand over to him who judges justly, as Peter said in 1 Peter 2:23. "They shall give an account to God."
When we hand over our case to God like that, our judicial sentiment cries out for some assurance that justice will be done. That is what Peter is giving here in verse 5: They will give account someday. Nothing will be swept under the rug. Nothing will be forgotten. And the judge will be God.
And lest we think that death might rescue a person from judgment, Peter says: He is ready to judge the living and the dead. Death is no escape for the sinner. Hebrews 9:27 says, "It is appointed to men to die once and after that the judgment." The evil deed may be long forgotten by men. The repentance which was never carried through may be forgotten by men. Death may have come after a long and comfortable life of sin. But then comes judgment before the all-remembering God.
So when you suffer wrongly, and you feel that someone "gets away with murder," leave it in the hands of God. He will judge justly the living and the dead. Arm yourselves with this assurance: it is better to suffer for doing right and to leave judgment to God.
Piece #5: We Will Triumph over Death
Verse 6 is difficult to understand. I think it's referring to people who heard the gospel and then died (not who heard the gospel after they died) but lived again in the spirit with Christ. It says,
For the gospel has for this purpose [namely, referring back to verse 5, to save people from the judgment] been preached even to those who are [now] dead [not that they were dead when they heard the gospel], that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.
The point of this verse is to encourage us that even though there is a judgment coming beyond the grave, and even though all of us die, nevertheless those who hear and believe the gospel will "live in the spirit according to the will of God."
Probably one of the ways that the adversaries were maligning the Christians was by saying: "Ha! You say that you have such good news. You say that you escape judgment. You say your God is great and saves you and gives you joy. Well all we've got to say is: you are missing a lot of parties and you die just like everybody else. So if you die and go to the worms, and we die and go to the worms, we say, Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die!"
Peter's armor against this slander and his fifth word to help us embrace suffering like Jesus is simply: The gospel was not preached to your dead Christian friends in vain. The reason the gospel was preached to those who have died is so that even though it looks like they have been judged like everybody else, they haven't. They are alive in the spirit. They are with the Lord. And the sufferings that they experienced here are not worthy to be compared to the glory that has been revealed to them (Romans 8:17f.).
Arm Yourself for the Purpose of Suffering
The word from the Lord for us this morning is: Arm yourselves with the purpose to suffer for righteousness' sake if that should be God's will. The pieces in this armor that support us and encourage us and sustain us are:
Piece #1: Christ, the one we love and follow suffered.
Piece #2: When we suffer, we make a clean break with sin.
Piece #3: Any amount of past sinning is sufficient. It's enough.
Piece #4: The adversaries will be brought to justice.
Piece #5: We who embrace the gospel will triumph over death.
There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Follow him this week, wherever he leads, whatever it costs.
1 Richard Wurmbrand, One Hundred Prison Sermons (Middlebury, IN: Living Sacrifice Books, 1982), p. 3.