I Peter 4:1 – Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,
In the prior chapter, Peter addresses the issue of Christians who are suffering. He made a distinction between suffering because of doing wrong, and suffering for the sake of righteousness.
When believers suffer righteously, they are to follow the example set by Jesus. This was discussed at length in our prior posts from chapters 2 and 3.
Up until now, the suffering that Peter was referring to was physical and/or mental suffering. In chapter 4, Peter changes direction. Still using Jesus as the ultimate example, he now begins to discuss a different type of suffering.
Before and during his crucifixion, Jesus allowed his physical body to suffer. If you followed our study on the gospel of Matthew, you recall that Jesus was slapped, spit upon, whipped, humiliated, punched, had a crown of thorns smashed into his head, and was nailed to a tree. This extraordinary suffering had a purpose – our redemption.
Peter now teaches that in light of the suffering Jesus submitted to in his physical body (due to our sin), we also should submit ourselves to suffering – that is, we should crucify our fleshly desires and abstain from sin. This is a different kind of suffering than what was discussed in chapters 2 and 3, but it is suffering nevertheless.
Just as Jesus did not shrink back from the literal crucifixion of his flesh, so we should not shrink back from crucifying the lusts and sinful desires of our flesh.
In chapter 4, Peter will go on to teach that this involves a two-fold process. Not only must we abstain from sin, but we must also embrace righteousness. We will discuss this more at the appropriate point in our study. For now, I just want us to note that ‘crucifying our flesh’ has both a negative side (abstention) and a positive side (embracing righteousness).
So here in verse 1, believers are to arm themselves with the same mind, or ‘way of thinking’ that Jesus displayed.
What mindset did Jesus display? He was committed to submitting to the Father’s will, no matter what kind of suffering this caused. He was willing to pay the price for our sin, no matter how painful. His mind was resolutely set against sin and toward holiness.
Likewise, we should be committed to allowing Holy Spirit to make us over into the image of Christ. As we already mentioned, part of this entails abstaining from evil desires, which will be painful for us at first. Nevertheless, we should be fully committed to this because it is our heavenly Father’s will. We too, must gain control of our minds and set them fully against sin and fully toward holiness.
Here is why that is important:
As humans, we all have a mind, a will and a set of emotions. If we allow our mind to be in charge, it will determine the best course of action based on the word of God. Once we make a decision to follow biblical principles, our will ‘gets on board’ or gets in agreement with our mind. In this scenario, our emotions will then be forced to come into agreement with the mind and will.
Alternatively, if we allow our emotions to rule us, they will make a decision based on how our flesh feels, regardless of what the word of God tells us is true. Once our emotions are in control, our will ‘gets on board’ with the emotions, and the mind is then forced to come into agreement.
Let’s consider an example – fasting.
The Christian discipline of fasting is biblical. It entails denying your flesh something it wants to have for the purposes of seeking or hearing from God. Although fasting from food is the most common observance, you can fast anything that your flesh craves such as television, shopping or even Facebook!
Let’s suppose that you are reading the Bible and you feel a nudge from Holy Spirit to fast about an issue. For the first few hours, everything is fine. But soon you start to get hunger pains. Your stomach is calling for nourishment – now!
If your mind is committed to the fast, it will receive support from your will. They become like partners. When your emotions begin to whine and complain and scream for food, they will be silenced by the mind/will. They will be forced to comply with the decision that the mind has made. You should be able to resist the temptation to give up on the fast by eating a piece of pie.
However, if your mind is not in control, then your emotions will be in charge. As the stomach begins to demand food, the emotions grab a hold of the will, and together they decide what will happen – and the mind will be forced to comply by rationalizing the behavior the emotions demand. To make a long story short, you will find yourself in the drive thru at Taco Bell, telling yourself that you didn’t really hear from Holy Spirit!
The beginning of all true self denial and mortification of the flesh begins in the mind, not the body.
We are going to want to ‘arm’ ourselves with the same mind or way of thinking as Christ – allowing our minds to be in control, rather than our emotions.
In this passage ‘arm’ refers to armor which men used to wear in battle. Armor is normally considered a defensive weapon that protects a soldier from the strikes of his enemy. In the same way, if believers are mentally prepared to suffer (crucify the flesh), then that mental preparedness is like armor, which will help protect us from the pressures of temptation.
We should probably take a minute to note that this defense is only part of the equation. The process of crucifying the flesh will require more than just a mindset – it requires help and strength from Holy Spirit too.
Peter then concludes that those who have suffered in the flesh, have ceased from sin. In other words, the believer who has been inwardly and truly conformed to the image/sufferings of Christ has ceased, or been delivered, from sin.
I Peter 4:2 – so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.
Because of the forgiveness that Jesus purchased for us on the cross, we should live the rest of our earthly lives turning away from (crucifying) our corrupt and sinful desires. Pride, envy, lust, hate, greed, etc are all part of our sinful nature and we must put an end to them in our lives.
But what happens then? Should we be walking around like robots without any feelings, emotions, goals or desires? Of course not!
Have you ever heard the phrase ‘Nature abhors a vacuum’? This saying expresses the idea that unfilled or empty spaces go against the laws of nature, and that every space needs to be filled with something.
Peter seems to have understood this concept, because immediately after instructing Christians to get rid of corrupt and sinful desires, he tells us to fully embrace the will of God in our lives.
As old sinful desires are pruned away, good and holy desires must be grafted in. Hate is replaced by godly love, pride is banished by a humble spirit, greed gives way to generosity and so on.
For example, if you want to remove gossip from your life, you can’t just stop talking. That may work for a short time, but not for long. Instead, you need to embrace the will of God by changing what you say – speak encouragement and life into people instead of death/gossip. In fact, prayer is a great way to fill the vacuum that will occur when you stop gossiping!
So crucifying the flesh has two parts – the removal of what is sinful and the addition of what is holy.
It’s a good thing we have the rest of our lives to make these changes, because there is a lot to work on!
I Peter 4:3 – For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.
In this case, the term Gentile is a generic term that stands for heathen or sinner. All of us were sinners before we served Christ. During that time we lived in the indulgence of corrupt passions, including (but not limited to) drunkenness, sexual sins and idolatry.
As sinners we did this because we were ignorant of God’s ways. But once we accepted Christ and were forgiven, we became a new creation; it would be unreasonable for us to continue in the ways of sin.
Now we must live in faith as soldiers for Christ, redeeming or making good use of the time we have left on planet earth.
Ephesians 5:15-16 – Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
Although our past is behind us and cannot be changed, it can still be a useful reminder to spur us on to greater holiness.
I Peter 4:4 – With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you;
When we become new creatures in Christ it makes perfect sense to us to put off wickedness and sin. However, our friends and family, who are still living as sinners, may not understand this.
In their eyes, it seems strange that you would give up the pleasures of this world for a life that seems to promise anything but happiness and ease. Because they are not in touch with the eternal world, they cannot understand or appreciate the conduct of those who live with regard to the next life.
They find nothing wrong with the sinful pleasures of this world, and they may find it strange that we reject practices that seem innocent, harmless and pleasurable to them. It may seem especially strange because we used to enjoy these things too.
The world often reacts to this situation by condemning Christians. We are often labeled as hypocrites, fanatics or fools. These terms are meant to injure/condemn the character and reputation of Christians who no longer align themselves with the world.
I Peter 4:5 – but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
The ‘living and the dead’ is a metaphor which speaks to the inclusion of all people, regardless of whether or not they still walk the earth. Peter’s aim in this verse is to comfort and encourage believers. We should patiently and righteously bear the opposition we face from unbelievers because our heavenly Father sees and hears it. There is no need for us to attempt to avenge ourselves; at the proper time God will vindicate his children and judge the wicked.
Although we don’t know the exact time when this will take place, we are reminded that Jesus already sits at the right hand of God, and he is ‘ready’ to judge even now.
Romans 14:12 – So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
Peter was encouraging his spiritual children to live as though the return of Christ was imminent. We should still be living with that same attitude. Even if Jesus tarries another thousand years, we are always living ‘in the last days’ in a sense, because we never know when our last day on earth will be!
I Peter 4:6 – For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.
The interpretation of this verse varies widely, depending on how you define ‘dead’.
Some feel that ‘dead’ refers to people who are spiritually dead in trespasses – ordinary sinners, who are physically alive right now (Ephesians 2:1). In this case, the interpretation would be that the gospel was preached to sinners when they were spiritually dead, so that each person might strive against, mortify and subdue their own carnal appetites and lusts. As they do, God makes them spiritually alive.
Another interpretation is that ‘dead’ refers to people whose physical bodies are literally dead. In this case, the interpretation would be that the gospel was made known to them when they walked the earth, so that they might have a chance to crucify their sinful desires and live for God. These people were made spiritually alive by the gospel, while their flesh was put to death by men (martyrs).
There are also some who interpret ‘dead’ to mean those who had died long ago (the antediluvians), and had their spirits imprisoned down in Hades/Sheol/the grave. Those who accept this interpretation also believe that Jesus went down to Hades after his physical death and preached to the lost (see one of the explanations of I Peter 3:19-20).
In any case, the apostle is again offering hope and comfort to the believer. By the world’s standards, physical death means total destruction. But for the Christian, physical death simply means life in the Spirit with God.
I Peter 4:7 – The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.
What does the phrase ‘the end of all things’ refer to? It may be a reference to the end of the world/the conclusion of human affairs. In this case, Peter’s meaning would be that the end of the world (the return of Jesus) was near.
Alternatively, we know from history that the city of Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed in 71 AD, effectively bringing an end to the Jewish way of life and worship. This occurred less than a decade after Peter penned his epistle, and thus may have been the event he was referring to.
However, the phrase may also refer to the physical death of each individual. In this case, his meaning was that so far as his readers were concerned, the end was near. As we mentioned earlier, even if Jesus tarries another thousand years, the end of all things is still at hand for each individual because they do not know the time of their death.
In any case (personal demise, destruction of Jerusalem or the return of Christ), the point is that our time on earth will quickly draw to a close. In light of this, Peter goes on to give a series of exhortations to believers.
The first exhortation is that we ought to be sober minded and have self control. In other words, we should be actively involved in crucifying our fleshly desires, as mentioned back in verse 3 and giving up the wicked practices we engaged in before we came to Christ.
Instead of indulging in the vain cares and pleasures of earth, we should be good stewards of all we posses, including resources, time and talents. We should be constantly in a state of prayer, making sure that we are ready for eternity.
I Peter 4:8 – Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
And, more than anything, we need to have a warm affection and brotherly love towards other Christians. We must practice this love earnestly, and with fervor. What does this mean?
It means that our love for each other should be active and tangible. It should not only manifest in our words, but in our deeds. For example, if our Christian brother or sister has experienced the death of a spouse, we should not only tell them how sorry we are; we should show them. We can do this by giving them a hug, coming to the funeral, bringing a gift of food or flowers, etc. Our tangible actions can really ease the burden they are experiencing.
Why, exactly, are we to practice such fervent love? Because it covers a multitude of sins.
This is true with respect to ourselves. If we are busy ministering to our brothers/sisters, we are much more likely to have compassion towards them, as opposed to judging them. We are much more likely to overlook or pass by their faults and failings which tend to irritate and anger us.
It also covers or hides their sins from the eyes of the world. If we expose every single fault within the church, nonbelievers will be happy to discredit the church as well as the cross of Christ. It is better to suffer wrongs than stir up strife.
Proverbs 10:12 – Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins.
However, we must exercise caution – if we cover up sins using flattery or falsehood, that is not only a disgrace but a sin in and of itself. And there are some sins which, if covered up, will fester into bigger problems or cause destruction in the church. These sins cannot be covered over, but they can be dealt with in love. These are the duties of the Christian life.
Let me offer you some encouragement:
Remember, the war against your sinful nature/flesh begins with your mind. You will need to renew or reprogram your thinking with the word of God. Meditating on scriptures and making daily declarations are a good way to begin the process. However, you don’t need to try and figure this out all by yourself. Many excellent Christian books have been written on this topic, and are readily available. I encourage you to check some out.
Let me offer you some relief:
Crucifying your flesh is not an instantaneous transformation. It is a process over time. You may fail a time or two before you gain the victory, but victory will come if you don’t give up. You might want to consider finding a prayer/victory partner for yourself as you work through the process. They can be there to offer encouragement and prayer when needed.
Let me offer you some strength:
The Bible says that nothing is impossible with God and that includes gaining control over your sinful nature. Confess your sin and repent before the Lord. Ask Holy Spirit to be involved in the change you are committed to making. He probably prompted you to make the change in the first place, because he is interested in making you over into the image of Christ. He will give you the strength to overcome!