It is The Will Of God That You Suffer (1 Peter 3:17-4:6)

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After some great opening chapters about how we can move deeper into the holiness God has given us by living lives of honor and integrity, and how that movement can silence critics and point people toward Christ, Peter follows up with another important truth about life in the Kingdom:

17 “For if it is the will of God that you suffer, then it is better to suffer for doing what is right than for doing what is wrong.” 

In other words, living with integrity does not promise people will like you. It will just not justify their dislike of you. Now comes the theological explanation of why this will happen: it’s the pattern Jesus demonstrated.

18 The Anointed One suffered for sins once for all time—the righteous suffering for the unrighteous—so that He might bring us to God. Though He died in the flesh, He was made alive again through the Spirit. 19 And in the Spirit, He went and preached to those spirits held captive. 20 It was these who long ago lived in disobedience while God waited patiently as Noah was building the ark. At that time, only a tiny band—eight people—was spared from the flood.[1]

 21 The water through which the ark safely passed symbolizes now the ceremonial washing through baptism that initiates you into salvation. You are saved not because it cleanses your body of filth but because of your appeal to God from a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King. 22 Now He has entered heaven and sits at the right hand of God as heavenly messengers and authorities and powers[2]submit to His supremacy.

I could probably spend an entire morning talking about that passage, but for our purpose, note that the main point is that the Jesus suffered to free those who are unrighteous, captive to sin, and doomed. Now, back to the narrative.

 (4:1) Since the Anointed suffered in the flesh, prepare yourselves to do the same—anyone who has suffered in the flesh for the Lord is no longer in the grip of sin—2 so that you may live the rest of your life on earth controlled not by earthly desires but by the will of God.

What does it mean that ‘if we suffer in the flesh for the Lord we are no longer in the grip of sin’?

There seem to be two main ideas about how to understand this:

  1. It implies that if we take a stand and do not deny Jesus in the midst of persecution, it is a sign that our allegiance to God is a far greater power in our lives than the ‘grip of sin’ that would cause us to reject God to escape pain.
  2. If we resist the strong urge of temptation, it will be clear that the sins that once enslaved us no longer do.

I suspect Peter was referring to our struggle against temptation, since he follows with a specific contrast of their former life of sin and their current life in Christ. However, that is a form of ‘not denying Jesus’ as well, so I think it’s safe to say that what Peter wrote covers all the ways in which we pay a price for taking a stand for Jesus. Back to the text:

You have had enough in the past of the evil things that godless people enjoy--their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols.4 Because of this, they consider it strange of you not to plunge with them into the same flood of reckless indiscretion, and they heap abuse on you. Someday they will have to give an account of themselves to the One who judges the living (those alive in Christ) and the dead (those dead in their sin).[3] This is why the good news had to be brought to those who are now (spiritually) dead so that although they are currently judged by their life in the flesh, they have the opportunity, because of Christ, to live in the spirit in the way that pleases God.[4]

We will talk about this in a bit, but I want to back up first.

“…prepare yourself to suffer in the flesh for the Lord…that you may live the rest of your life on earth controlled not by earthly desires but by the will of God.”

Why would we be willing to suffer? Because the will of God for our lives is amazing. It’s for our good and His glory, and it serves as a witness to those far from Christ that God’s design for life is beautiful and holy, and thus the God who designed it is as well. We see this become clear as we look what Peter highlights from the sinful pasts of those in his audience. Peter is not doing this to shame, but to contrast.

They walked in immorality and lust (strong appetites of all kinds).They were controlled by their urges. They were addicted to sin. One of the things the #metoo movement has brought to light is the reality of so many people who cannot seem to control their sexual urges. There is no filter, no self-control. They cannot seem to stop themselves. That’s a biblical notion, by the way. God sometimes gives people up in the lusts of their hearts. (Romans 1:24)

That’s what it means to be a slave to sin. We can reach a point where we so give ourselves over to our habits and lusts that God gives us over to them. This is not life. This is death.

If you have ever been there, you know the haunting despair this brings. You are never satisfied; you are always on the prowl, always on edge.  You always know you are going to go to porn again no matter how long you fight temptation. You are always covering up, always wondering how long you can maintain this. Maybe it was worse: you stopped worrying, because you didn’t care. This is death, not life.

Feasting, drunkenness, and wild parties.Literally, they were inflamed continually by what they brought into their bodies and then expressed theirinternalchaos with external chaos. Loud, chaotic, empty, angry, meaningless parties, followed by a bitter fruit of excessive drinking and drunken hookups.

The terrible worship of idols.In Peter’s context, this was typically temple orgies. It was not just a rejection of God; it was a debasement of people, the ruin of personal lives on the way to toppling an empire (just read the history of how Rome fell from within)[5]. Ultimately, people worshiped at the idol of ME, and the idol of “ME” will dominate and destroy everything around me.

  • Who suffers most:The one who indulges as Peter described, or the one who, with God’s help, resists this, ‘suffering’ by denying themselves for the sake of Christ? Who has “abundant life”?
  • Who suffers most:those who live around the self-indulgent and destructive worshiper, or the one who lives around those surrendered to the will of God and the path of life?[6]

God’s design for our good reflects reality– it should, because God created and designed it all, so he knows how it’s meant to work. I’m thrilled that the message of Christianity is entirely counter-cultural on these issues.

  • God’s commands, not earthly pleasures, revive our souls. (Psalm 19)
  • Life is found not when we indulge, but when we take up a cross. (Luke 9:23)
  • Life is found not in selfishness, but in laying down our lives for others. (John 15:13; Eph. 5:25)
  • Self-control, not indulgence, is a fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. (Galatians 5:22-23)
  • Life is found not in lawlessness but in the boundary of good moral laws. God’s commands are a ‘school master’ to guide us in the path of life, not keep us from the good stuff. (Galatians 3:24)
  • It's when we reject the life of the world that we find eternal life. (John 12:25)
  • It’s in service, not power, that we find an honorable life. (John 12:26)

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So, ’suffering’ by resisting sin - even at the cost of being mocked or persecuted -  is a small price to pay in exchange for living in the goodness that God has offered to us. Christ offers life; the Kingdom of God is meant to be a place where humanity flourishes as they are saved by Christ, filled with His Holy Spirit, guided by His word, and connected with His people.

“Would that men might come at last to see that it is quite impossible to reach the thicket of the riches and wisdom of God except by first entering the thicket of much suffering, in such a way that the soul finds there its consolation and desire. The soul that longs for divine wisdom chooses first, and in truth, to enter the thicket of the cross.”  - St. John of the Cross

  • We ‘suffe'r by resisting the desire to gossip, but the fruit is friendship. Our suffering is redemptive rather than destructive.
  • We ‘suffer’ by confronting our addictions, but the fruit is all kinds of health.
  • We ‘suffer’ by forgiving those who are hard to love, but the fruit is internal peace rather than anger and bitterness.
  • We ‘suffer’ by being generous with money we want to keep, but the fruit is that we will worship God, not money.
  • We ‘suffer’ by biting our tongue when we want to lash out, but the benefit is not burning bridges and wounding others.
  • We ‘suffer’ by humbly repenting of our failures, sins and stupidity, but the fruit is maturity.
  • We ‘suffer’ by aligning our sex lives with God’s design, but the fruit is honor and purity.
  • We ‘suffer’ by taking a stand for our faith in the midst of criticism and mockery and even persecution, but the fruit is that we “live the rest of your life on earth controllednot by earthly desires but by the will of God.”

But it’s not just about us. Peter has been making the argument for several chapters that our lives open the door for our words. He’s been saying this for the entire letter, and I think he closes this section in the way he does to remind us that this isn’t just for our good and God’s glory, it’s part of our fulfillment of the Great Commission. Our lives open the door for us to bring the good news of salvation so others, too, can live in the in will of God through the blood of Jesus and the power of his Holy Spirit.

Someday they will have to give an account of themselves to the One who judges the living (those alive in Christ) and the dead (those dead in their sin).[7] This is why the good news had to be brought to those who are now (spiritually) dead so that although they are currently judged by their life in the flesh, they have the opportunity, because of Christ, to live in the spirit in the way that pleases God.

We have the opportunity to preach the good news of the Gospel, a gospel which will lead to a righteous, healthy and holy life lived in the power of the Spirit now and in the glorious presence of Jesus

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[1]3:19 “The three most common views on this passage are: (1) Between Jesus’ death and resurrection, he preached to the dead in Hades, the realm of the dead (the view of many church fathers, citing 4:6)… (2) Christ preached through Noah to people in Noah’s day (the view of many Reformers). (3) Before or (more likely) after his resurrection, Jesus proclaimed triumph over the fallen angels (the view of most scholars today, citing v. 22) Early Christians nearly always used “spirits” for angelic or demonic spirits rather than human ones, except when explicitly stating the latter. The Spirit raised Jesus; by the Spirit (and thus, in this context, presumably after his resurrection) Jesus “made proclamation”; in v. 22, his exaltation declared his triumph over fallen angels. Most ancient Jewish readers believed that Ge 6:1 – 3 refers to angels who fell in Noah’s day (v. 20); after the flood, they were said to be imprisoned (so also 2Pe 2:4Jude 6).”  (NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible)

[2]“Angels and authorities and powers - That is, all creatures and beings… are put under subjection to Jesus Christ…He alone can save; and he alone can destroy…. Well may his enemies tremble, while his friends exult and sing…If angels and authorities and powers be subject to him, then he can do what he will, and employ whom he will... We can conceive nothing too difficult for Omnipotence. This same omnipotent Being is the friend of man. Why then do we not come to himwith confidence, and expect the utmost salvation of which our souls and bodies are capable?”  (Adam Clarke Commentary)

[3]“There are four main interpretations of the "dead" in this passage (cf. comment on 3:18-22). (1) Christ, while in his three-day death, went and preached salvation to all the dead, offering salvation to those who lived in pre-Christian times. (2) Christ, while in his three-day death, went and preached salvation to the just of OT times. (3) The apostles and others on this earth preached the Gospel to those who were spiritually dead. (4) The dead are Christians, who had the Gospel preached to them and who then died (or were put to death). (Expositor's Bible Commentary (Abridged Edition): New Testament) I am partial to #3, because it makes sense in light of the next verse, which is best translated as, “the good news had to be brought to those who are now dead…”

[4]Three possible translations of this confusing verse:

  • "For this indeed was the effect of the preaching of the Gospel to the dead, (the unconverted Gentiles), that some will be punished as carnal men; but others, (those converted to Christianity), lead a spiritual life unto God." - Wakefield.
  • "For this purpose hath the Gospel been preached even to the dead, (i.e. the Gentiles), that although they might be condemned, indeed, by men in the flesh, (their persecutors), yet they might live eternally by God in the Spirit." - Macknight.
  • "For this cause was the Gospel preached to them that were dead; that they who live according to men in the flesh, may be condemned; but that they who live according to God in the Spirit, may live." - Knatchbull.

My rendering seeks to do justice to all the ideas bouncing around :)

[5]"Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, said that the following five attributes marked Rome at its end: first, a mounting love of show and luxury (that is, affluence); second, a widening gap between the very rich and the very poor (this could be among countries in the family of nations as well as in a single nation); third, an obsession with sex; fourth, freakishness in the arts, masquerading as originality, and enthusiasms pretending to be creativity; fifth, an increased desire to live off the state. It all sounds so familiar."Francis Schaeffer- How Should We Then Live

[6]Living a lifestyle of sin is notthe good life. We don’t even need to read the Bible to see this. I could talk about a lot of things, but I will just point out the things Peter specifically calls out to demonstrate that when the Bible talks about life, the Bible tells you the truth about life.Even those outside of the church see what the Bible revealed long ago.

[7]“The interpretation of this verse is often linked to 3:19, but the vocabulary of the text and its context differ. There are four main interpretations of the "dead" in this passage (cf. comment on 3:18-22). (1) Christ, while in his three-day death, went and preached salvation to all the dead, offering salvation to those who lived in pre-Christian times. (2) Christ, while in his three-day death, went and preached salvation to the just of OT times. (3) The apostles and others on this earth preached the Gospel to those who were spiritually dead. (4) The dead are Christians, who had the Gospel preached to them and who then died (or were put to death). (Expositor's Bible Commentary (Abridged Edition): New Testament) I am partial to #3, because it makes sense in light of the next verse, which is best translated as, “the good news had to be brought to those who are now dead…”

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