Some events in life change you. A new job changes where you go and what you know. Getting married changes where you live and what you do. Each of us carry around both smiles and scars from events that changed our life forever.
For the Christian the pivotal event in life is salvation. It was that moment we were plucked out of orphanage of sin and adopted into the family of God. It formed a continental divide between the desert of worldliness and the abundant life that is in Christ. Our salvation changed everything.
Peter compares our salvation to the experience of Noah (1 Peter 3:18-22). Noah lived in a world dominated and damaged by sin, but one day Noah stepped into the ark and everything changed. God’s wrath removed the sin, and when Noah emerged the world was a very different place. That is what happened in baptism. We entered the water of baptism scared by sin, but by the power of Christ’s resurrection we emerged a changed people.
That salvation changed the way we think about sin (1 Peter 4:1-6), and service (1 Peter 4:7-11). Wherever salvation is present these two fruits will be found in abundance.
Salvation Changes Your Attitude About Sin (4:1-6)
The light of God’s grace exposes the ugliness of our sin and drives us from its presence (John 8:11, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more”). How can we look at what Jesus suffered to eradicate sin and want anything to do with it? Yet, a life of holiness requires several important decisions.
Holiness requires a willingness to suffer (:1-2). After all, it was Jesus’ suffering that removed our sin in the first place (3:18), and it is our willingness to suffer for righteousness that will keep sin from returning. Our willingness to suffer the insults of the world and the attack of our own sinful desires is an emphatic cry that we are finished living for sin. We have made the settled decision to use the rest of our lives to serve the will of God, come what may. If not, sin is pressing in at the door of every believer who desires comfort and pleasure above the purposes of God in every moment.
Yet, a willingness to suffer does not come easily, so Peter gives us three reasons why we should embrace suffering for righteousness sake. These reasons are rooted in the past (:3), present (:4), and future (:5-6); thus surrounding us with motivation for holiness in all directions!
Holiness rejects what the world calls “fun” (:3). Believers who smile fondly at the values of the world are doomed to slide into its trap. Instead we are to see its futility (1:18). Peter’s description of a society obsessed with sex, alcohol and parties is a clear picture of our own. The believer, however, peers through the tinsel on the tree to see the deadness beneath. What the world calls fun is a fraud. It destroys the body and it empties the soul. Most of all it disrespects the cross.
Holiness does not seek to please people (:4). The darkness never likes the searching light of righteousness (John 3:19-21), and therefore it seeks to ostracize those who live by it. The world thinks believers are “strange” and they speak of them as “fools” and treat them with disrespect. Disciples who value the acceptance of people above the approval of God will quickly melt in the presence of such dislike. Doctrines will be dropped and behaviors changed so as not to upset the critics. Holiness is abandoned in the pursuit of acceptance.
Holiness looks to the judgment (:5-6). Seeking to please the world is a misguided effort since we are all racing toward judgment. God stands at the ready and no one will escape His righteous rule. What seems popular, powerful and irresistible today doesn’t stand a chance before the Judge of heaven. Worldliness is a shack on the beach waiting the hurricane of God’s wrath…don’t buy into it! (see note on verse 6 below)
Salvation changes us, not only by taking some things out, but also by putting some things in. Our Salvation changes our attitude toward sin, and we rid ourselves of its love and practice. But, in the void we place something much more precious; a loving service to others.
Salvation Changes Your Attitude About Service (4:7-11)
God’s grace awakens within us a desire to share the love He has shown us. Years earlier Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, and she responded immediately by getting up and serving others (Mark 1:29-31). So it is with all who are touched by His grace. This service takes several, practical forms. [Please note the collective responsibility these verses require. They reveal that we need each other if we are going to make it in this world.]
Serve up prayer (:7). Living for Jesus in a sinful world is often scary and sometimes painful, but we never walk alone! We can pray. Peter may remember the time he and John were threatened by the Sanhedrin and ordered not to preach about Jesus again. They left, assembled with the saints, and prayed, and then preached with more boldness than ever before (Acts 4:31). Or perhaps he remembers when James was killed by Herod, and he was arrested to be the next one to die. But, the church gathered and prayed and he was delivered (Acts 12:1-19). People in times of pressure need prayer. It is a service we all can do.
Serve up your love (:8-10). The words of prayer are not enough; service requires action and not just when it’s easy. 1) We are to show love to others even when they sin (:8). We bear with the wrong, and forgive the hurt, and patiently endure the pain without broadcasting the sin to everyone who will hear. 2) In addition, we show our love by helping those in need (:9). Intimately and personally show hospitality to people in their moment of need, and do it without grumbling. 3) Finally, use all the blessings and abilities God has given you for the good of others (:10). This kind of service causes the full spectrum of God’s grace to be seen through our lives.
Such service is not always easy because we are weak and people are difficult. So, Peter gives us two great motivations. First, “The end of all things is at hand” (:7). The time is short. So, rid yourself of any bit of sin and fervently serve others with love because you don’t have much time! Second, “do it with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified” (:11). Holiness is hard, no doubt. Serving is difficult, for sure. But, we do not face these things alone. God supplies the ability. He will give you the strength and not allow you to be tested beyond your ability to bear it. So, go ahead and live a holy life and serve others. The world needs to see His glory!
“Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:14)
Verse 6 – “For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” This is broadly recognized as a difficult text. Here are some thoughts for your consideration. The purpose of the verse seems to hinge on the meaning of the word “dead.” Is Peter talking about physical death? Or, is Peter talking about spiritual death?
If Peter is talking about spiritual death, then he seems to be saying, “They were dead in sin, but they believed and were saved. As a result, they were judged harshly by men, but they live in the spirit.” This meaning fits the context of the slander of verse 4, and there is no doubt that Paul often talks about life outside of Christ as “spiritual death” (Eph. 2:1-ff; Col. 2:13). However, nowhere in Peter’s letters does he use “dead” in the spiritual sense, unless this verse is an example.
If Peter is talking about physical death, then he seems to be saying, “The gospel was preached to believers who are now dead, perhaps even as a result of persecution. The world would judge them as foolish for believing in Jesus. However, today they are alive in the spirit!” This meaning fits the context of the judgment of verse 5.
In either case the point is clear: “Only God’s judgment stands, so don’t worry about what the world says.”