Live For The Will of God, Be Prepared to Suffer Because of it.
Section 4.2 of 1 Peter (1 Peter 3:18-4:2)
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;
in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.
Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.
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.
Peter ends the first sub-section of the fourth section of the First Letter of Peter stating, “For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.” (1 Peter 3:16). One might respond to this statement with the question, why? “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;” This is one of the consistent themes we find throughout this letter by Peter. He is trying to get the intended recipients to understand that their experience of suffering, trials, and persecution is not experienced in isolation. Christ also died to bring people to God. As these Christians live their life justly in obedience to God, their actions can also bring people to God. However, by doing so, there will be those who desire for such things to never happen. Just as Christ died once for the sins of all of us, we too may die in our efforts to spread this truth so that others may be saved.
This may seem bizarre to us today, however, for the intended recipients of this letter, this has a very strong impact. The sense of honor and duty of Jewish and Roman peoples of the first century was something very strong and in stark contrast to the views of our ‘modern’ age. To die for something that is noble, just, and good was viewed as the most virtuous thing a human being could do. Given that context, calling the people to understand the tremendous act of Christ on the cross would bring out of them their own since of honor and duty to be willing to do the same. Peter has already reminded them of the inheritance they have saved up for them in heaven. He has reminded them that God’s eyes and ears are on them for their righteous behavior in obedience to Him. They know they have forgiveness of their sins because of their love for Christ. So, Peter is reminding them that they do not lose these things should they be brought to suffer for seeking to spread the truth so that all may come to have the freedom that God offers to those of faith.
From here, Peter appears to somewhat side track a little in his praise giving message that follows, “in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah…” Here we see Peter’s theology introduced regarding what happened to Christ after his death on the cross. This is where much of Christian doctrine explains what happens to those who died before Christ. Peter explains that after Christ died on the cross, He descended into Hell to proclaim the gospel message to those who died in their wickedness in the past. He refers to those who died due to the flood of Genesis 7. This section also provides for us the understanding that what was considered ‘scripture’ to the Apostles was what we now call the Old Testament. This section, in addition to all of the other references in the New Testament, allows us to understand why the Old Testament remains so important to us today. The New Testament can only make since in light of the Old Testament, and all that is claimed in the New Testament can only be true if what is contained in the Old Testament is true. We can not have the Gospel without the Old Testament.
Continuing, “…during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.” This is where Peter gives some greater specifics in order to help his recipients understand what he is presenting to them. Peter continues on, “Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you- not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience…” Peter is clarifying what Baptism represents. We’ve seen a few other mentions of “good conscience” already, (1 Peter 2:19; 3:16 NASB). This is where Baptism is separated from that which acts as the actual ‘saving grace’ of God. Baptism is not what provides us with salvation. The act of Baptism is but a declaration and act of affirmation of your faith in Christ. When we decide to be Baptized, it is symbolic of the actions of Christ washing away our sins. It places in our mind a moment where we choose to repent, dying to our old self, and starting new, with a fresh conscience, clear of the feelings of guilt and remorse, standing now forgiven before God because of our faith.
Peter continues on with this aside, “..through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to him.” This is another long-winded affirmation of what occurred to Jesus at His resurrection. The Christian understanding of Christ Himself is often referred to as Christology (rather convenient, no?). This is an example of Peter providing some clarity to his recipients regarding the nature of Christ. During the early days of the church, many individuals attempted to hijack the newly found way of life, attempting to mold it to their own preconceived worldview. So, we find in many of the Apostles’ writings, hints of clarity like this one, which given their authority as apostles, helps to clear up any false teaching at the time.
After this aside, Peter gets back on track, “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose…” Now here we see something interesting. Peter uses the term ‘arm yourselves.’ How exactly do we ‘arm’ ourselves with the same purpose? Peter has mentioned before about being on the alert and ready for action (1 Peter 1:13 NASB) and we see him speaking of being armed now with this purpose. This hints at the need to be ready for a fight, but not so much a physical one as an internal spiritual one. While experiencing these persecutions, they will feel the urge of the tempter drawing them away from God’s desire for them. To fight against this temptation, we see this word usage being selected, where one prepares themselves for the purpose of experiencing suffering so that they will not give themselves away to their former lusts.
Peter continues, “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.” This is the reason we are to share in that purpose. If we too must suffer in the flesh, it is so that we may “die” in our desires to please the lusts of men. When we feel suffering in a fleshly manner, it is because we are choosing to reject our former desires in order to seek only to please God. Thus, the reference to Baptism previously, as it is understood to be a symbol of dying to our old selves, and living new in obedience to God. Within the context of the intended recipients, this can be understood that because they no longer desire the lusts of men, those men who formerly controlled them will naturally come to slander them. So, if we experience suffering in the flesh because of our decision to no longer behave in a manner that suits the world around us, it is because we have chosen to no longer satisfy those whom we formerly set ourselves before. We come to cease our conscious desire to sin. Instead, though we make mistakes because of our nature, we whole-heartedly desire to live true to God.
This sub-section was identified as separate from the others because of its difficulty for many. Isolating it in this manner may aid in increasing our understanding of Peter’s reasoning for including it in the context of this letter. As we move into the next sub-section, you will see how the ideas from this sub-section flow into the next, making the whole fourth section have a smooth flowing concept that Peter is attempting to convey. Much of the First Letter of Peter is focused on getting the recipients to understand that they are different from those they are around for a reason. That reason is something good. While they must bear the burden of those around them slandering them, it is not because they have done anything wrong. By choosing to be obedient to God, they are setting themselves apart because they have been saved through Christ. This was not merely for their own sakes, but so that they could be an example to those around them, confronting the fleshly lusts of men in order to save them from their sinfulness. As they live out their righteousness (given to them by God alone, not through works) they set an example that will make those who slander them be exposed for the frauds they are. Though they suffer for their efforts, those who are good around them may come to see their strength in that suffering, and because of it, be brought to God, just as Christ’s sufferings brought them to God.
This is the truth for all Christians of all time. Today, we must live in obedience to God even if it means we must suffer the slings and arrows of fleshly men. We address their slander in a manner that is from a heart of gentleness and kindness, seeking only to bring them to the truth of the salvation that is freely offered to them also. We must always remember we live justly because we are saved. By living in obedience, we are not ‘earning’ our way to salvation. We live in obedience because we have been saved. It is not to flaunt our stuff, or to be above others. It is so that others may be saved as well. We must be willing to handle the suffering, arming our hearts and minds so that we can fight off those feelings of doubt and fear. We must stand true, and not allow the wicked ways of those who are against us to draw us out of the grace God has given us. We must expect it to happen, and not allow it to surprise us when it comes. Be strong in your faith, know the reasons for the hope that is in you and be ready to explain it to those who challenge you. God will always be with you.