God’s Grace & Suffering, part 3

Peter continues to unpack how God’s grace relates to the suffering Christians experience. In 1 Peter 4.7-19, Peter hones in on what it means to suffer as a Christian, i.e. suffering for the Name of Christ.

Suffering as a Christian (4.7-19)

As Christians suffer they must love & serve their siblings & glorify God by continuing to do good.

7The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.

The end of all things is at hand: Given the Noah reference earlier (3.20), it seems best to understand this as when God makes an end of the wicked who are causing the suffering of these Christians; as in Noah’s day when God brought about “the end of all flesh,” so for the Christians in Asia Minor God would bring an end to all the things they suffer from wicked people. However one interprets this phrase (see Special Study), Peter intended to exhort these Christians to consider the impending judgment which Christ’s coming would bring and live accordingly.

Nowhere does the Bible ever endorse or condone date setting. Rather, the doctrine of the end times is intended to encourage to faithfulness, in a perpetual state of readiness to meet the Lord regardless of when He returns. The Bible also does not advocate for withdrawal from the world into isolation in anticipation of the end. We live in the world as elect exiles; time is short so we must make the most of it. This is the urgency of the imminence of Christ’s return. Also note that there is no call for extraordinary or unusual behavior as we live in light of the end. Peter exhorts us to normal Christian behavior. Indeed, if every day is to be lived in light of the end, then would it not be business as usual for Christians. So pray, love, speak, & serve “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (verse 11).

Therefore be…your prayers: self-controlled has to do with controlling the thought life so that the body acts in a God-glorifying way. Sober-minded or “watchful” (NKJV) emphasizes the calmness of mind & disposition, settled in mind for the purpose of prayers.

When faced with persecution our recourse is not political activism but prayerful action. This is the first thing Peter invites Christians to do in light of the judgment of God upon the wicked & His deliverance of His people. Clear-headed, serious prayer. Acknowledge His abiding presence & providence, confess shortcomings, express gratitude for mercy & grace, offer up our desires & hearts, intercede on behalf of others, including those persecuting us. Prayer is the first duty & essential work of true religion unto God. Prayer is to religion what breathing is to life. When it hardest to breathe in this life is when we must devote ourselves to serious, sober supplication.

Special Study— “The End of All Things”

Several possibilities for understanding this verse have been offered:

1) Destruction of Jerusalem: Just a few years away, these Christians were living with before God brought judgment upon the Jewish through the Romans. But one must wonder why a predominately Gentile church in Asia Minor would need this information.

2) The End of Time/Last Day: The final judgment when rewards & punishments are meted out. The problem with this view is “at hand” means soon to take place & we are nearly 2,000 years since Peter wrote this.

3) The End of Suffering/Wicked: Christ would bring deliverance from their suffering & the evil surrounding them when He came.

4) The End of Their Lives: Barnes & Barclay make similar points that this could be Peter’s meaning.

8Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

Above all: More than anything else for “the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13.13).

Keep loving…earnestly: Jesus warned that with the coming end of the age “the love of many will grow cold” (Matt 24.12). So Peter reminds these exiles living under empire of the priority of love for their brethren. Keep (pres. Part.) indicates this must be the habitual practice of Christians. Earnestly indicates the intensity of this love, a theme repeated from 1.22.

Once more Peter exhorts Christians to not merely love one another (which we are), but to love one another “earnestly” or intensely. “Fervently” says some translations. This cuts right to the heart of the “love, but don’t like” fallacy of the world. “Well, I know God commands that we ‘love one another,’ but I don’t have to like the person I love.” While it may true that you start here or end up here because of circumstances, through willful obedience to the expressed command of God & by the shaping of our feelings by the Holy Spirit within us, the fervency of our love is impacted and changed. The depth & degree of our love is influenced by God working on our hearts so that we not only love someone objectively (an overarching desire to see Christ formed in them) but also subjectively (a positive disposition toward a person so that you enjoy treating them lovingly).

This “love, but don’t like” lie has a negative impact on Christian fellowship. If “love covers a multitude of sins” but I don’t even like a person, then whatever forgiveness I extend will be given begrudgingly at best. “Where love is lacking,” says Grudem (173), “every word is viewed with suspicion, every action is liable to misunderstanding, and conflicts abound – to Satan’s perverse delight.” Further, when a Christian brother or sister does not even like a person or persons, the suspicions, misunderstands, & conflicts are only further intensified & constant. The absence of a positive disposition toward another (or others) so that you enjoy treating him/her in a loving way is akin to the “root of bitterness” which the writer of Hebrews wrote about – not liking someone will spring up & cause all kinds of problems. If this is true, one who “loves, but does not like” another is “defiled” (Hebrews 12.15). Only God’s grace will enable us to overcome the bitter root of “love, but don’t like” which desires to spoil our relationships with one another.

In marriage, this lie takes an even uglier 10-word turn: “I love you, but I’m not in love with you.” How many marriages have been dealt a death-blow by this worldly double-speak? Or “I fell out of love with him/her.” These kinds of statements are the most unloving things one spouse could say to another. “I have love for him/her, but I’m not in love with him/her.” These are worldly statements that even Christians adopt. Those men & women who have heard these words know just how hurtful & cutting they are. Mourning & lamentation accompany these words. Modern psychology tells us when these words are spoken, the end is near because it is next to impossible to reinvigorate the relationship. But “with God all things are possible.” Only through God can a loveless marriage be redeemed, saved by His grace.

Since love…sins: cf. Proverbs 10.12. Since (Gk hoti) gives the reason for earnest love: this kind of love covers a multitude of sins. Without love, fear, mistrust, & suspicion abound to the devil’s delight.

9Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.

Show hospitality to one another: In light of the present persecution & God’s impending judgment upon the wicked, “offer hospitality” to fellow Christians. Perhaps Peter’s readers were growing weary of hospitality; it happens (Galatians 6.9). So Peter says that one way Christians express earnest love to one another is through the ministry of hospitality—opening our homes, sharing our resources, putting roofs over one another’s heads.

Hospitality has a rich heritage in the Old Testament. Abraham, the father of the faithful, showed hospitality to the three visitors (Genesis 18); Lot showed hospitality to the two angels who came to Sodom (Genesis 19.1-3); Job made sure strangers & travelers had a place to stay (Job 31.32). Hospitality was enjoined upon the Israelites throughout Torah (Exodus 22.21; 23.9; Leviticus 19.33). The kind of fasting which pleases the Lord is when His people “share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house,” i.e. show hospitality (Isaiah 58.7).

Hospitality is a key mark of the Lord’s church (Romans 12.13; 1 Timothy 3.2; 5.10; Titus 1.8; Hebrews 13.12). Indeed, it was a noble, worldwide custom to provide for strangers (e.g. Acts 28.7, Publius on Malta “received us and entertained us hospitably for three days”). The stimulus for showing cheerful hospitality was altogether different for Christians. Religion, philanthropy, philosophical ethics, the threat of punishment in the underworld for inhospitality, & a reward in returned hospitality drove hospitality in the world-at-large. This is contrasted with Christian ethics.

A core element of our Lord’s teaching was hospitality toward those who cannot pay you back (Luke 14.12-14) as patterned after the eternal condescending hospitality of God to helpless sinners (Luke 14.16ff). True, Christians have similar reasons for showing hospitality as “outsiders” (e.g. punishment for failure to follow Christ’s commands). However, Christians were to show hospitality not based on a natural sympathy for fellow man (although philanthropy based on love for people is a derivative of “love your neighbor as yourself”) nor for the expectation of reciprocation (“I scratch your back, you scratch mine”), but based upon a theology of hospitality. God through the Son creates a habitable world full of glory & grandeur where we have lodging, food, drink, & plenty that we need, then He invites us to make ourselves at home. Which we do & promptly make a mess of things. Then God through the Son prepares a great banquet where everything we have messed up is put back to order, what we have ruined He has put back to right, & He invites us to come & eat at His table (“taste my banquet,” Luke 14.24). With such an extravagant & generous God how could His people be anything but hospitable? And cheerfully hospitable at that!

Without grumbling: or complaint (NASB) about how hard it is, how much time it is taking, or how much it costs. The Lord loves cheerful hospitality & is Himself one who shows cheerful hospitality to men in their misery (Luke 14.16-24). Cf. Philippians 2.14.

“Without grumbling” or “complaint” (NASB) indicates the Christian is to show hospitality to their brethren with a cheerful disposition. There is to be no secret murmuring in the heart about how difficult it is, how long it is taking, how you wish they would just go, how much they are eating, how you regret ever opening the door or answering the call, or the inconvenience of the whole ordeal. Murmuring robs hospitality of beauty. “Such grumbling is ultimately a complaint against God and his ordering of our circumstances” (Grudem 174). When we grudgingly or unwillingly show hospitality to others, especially to our brethren, we “drive out faith, thanksgiving, and joy.” At a deeper level, when God shows us hospitality, in creation first then in the gospel, He did so without complaint or grumbling. He gladly prepares a world then a table for our enjoyment & His good pleasure.

10As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:

As each has received a gift: The Giver of a gift (Gk charisma) is the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12.8-9). Received (aorist tense) points back to a specific point in the past, i.e. baptism. So at baptism the Holy Spirit gave each of these Christians a spiritual gift.

At the baptistery every Christian in every church is given a spiritual gift from the Holy Spirit that God intends for us to use & develop into a ministry for the church at-large. No one is exempted or overlooked. The purpose of the gifts is not for self-congratulations or mutual back-patting as we congratulate how well we serve to stroke our ego or boost our self-esteem. Rather, the gifts are given for ministry – to serve, edify, strengthen, & help other members in their walk with Christ. This is how we are “good stewards” or use God’s gifts responsibly.

There are five lists of spiritual gifts found in the New Testament. In Romans 12.6-8, the gifts listed are 1) prophecy, 2) service, 3) teaching, 4) exhortation, 5) giving, 6) leadership, 7) mercy showing. In 1 Corinthians 12.8-10, the gifts listed are 1) wisdom, 2) knowledge, 3) faith, 4) healing, 5) miracles, 6) prophecy, 7) distinguishing spirits, 8) languages, 9) interpretation of languages. Later, in 1 Corinthians 12.28-30, the gifts listed are 1) apostles, 2) prophets, 3) teachers, 4) miracles, 5) healing, 6) helping, 7) administrating, 8) languages. In Ephesians 4.11, the gifts listed are 1) apostles, 2) prophets, 3) evangelists, 4) teaching shepherds. In 1 Peter 4.11, the gifts listed are 1) proclamation of God’s message, 2) serving by God’s strength. 1 Corinthians 7.7 could be added which includes celibacy & possibly marriage (called charismata by Paul). No list contains all the gifts & no gift shows up on all the lists.

Use it to serve one another: The purpose of God the Holy Spirit gifting each member of the church is to equip Christians for service to the body (see Ephesians 4.12). Serve (Gk diakonountes) touches both speaking & duty roles of Christian service (v.11). Thus, the service rendered could be counsel, advice, & preaching (speaking) or rendering assistance, help, or aid in menial tasks (duty).

As good…grace: or “the manifold grace of God” (NASB, NKJV). This means there is a rich variety to God’s grace. So also there is a wide variety of spiritual gifts God gives His church by His Spirit. The Christian’s responsibility is to be found as good stewards. That is, Christ needs to find Christians building up others with God’s gifts, not building themselves up.

11whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Functionally, Peter breaks spiritual gifts down into two (2) categories: speaking & serving.

Whoever speaks…of God: The speaking done here includes both the formal setting of public instruction as well as an informal setting of private conversation among saints. Whatever the occasion the speaking should be in accordance with what the oracles of God—Holy Scriptures—say.

Whoever serves…God supplies: The service rendered includes both service on a large scale to many members as well as in a private one-on-one setting among brethren. Whatever the service it must be rendered in accordance to the strength God makes available & provides.

Given that this epistle was for a 1st century audience gifted with the miraculous demonstration of the spiritual gifts, the speaking & serving in view may be miraculous in nature. For us, while the spiritual gifts may not be miraculous, they are nevertheless supernatural (i.e. they are not mere natural abilities). Thus, the Holy Spirit is the originator & enabler of the exercise of each gift. As such, we must be willing participants who yield to the influence of the Holy Spirit so that our speech is God’s speech & our service rendered with God’s strength. In this way, God will get the glory through Christ Jesus.

Breaking this down a bit further, we can see how all spiritual gifts fall under either of these two categories & that all Christians are addressed here. If we speak wisdom or knowledge, it must be wisdom or knowledge which accords with God’s word. If we serve giving or helping, it must be giving or helping which comes from God’s strength. Each gift could be examined in this way, but these suffice to show that all gifts fall under these categories & therefore all Christians addressed.

It should be noted that while Christians are to speak the oracles of God, neither the original audience nor we should view our utterances as part of the revelatory account, i.e. God’s revealed word. Rather, our speech is in accordance with or is in line with the revealed word of God, esp. the gospel. Further, Christians must never rely upon our own power to serve others, but must minister with & in the power God provides. One key way we do this is through prayer where can appeal for & tap into the power of God.

In order…Jesus Christ: This is the grand, glorious purpose in the exercise of spiritual gifts, indeed, in everything that Christians do: God glorified through Christ. As Christians prayerfully await the end of all things, loving one another & showing hospitality while serving & speaking to one another, they make known the wisdom, power, holiness, sovereignty, & riches of the gospel of Christ which produces honor & praise to God the Father.

The guiding principle in the life of every true Christian is the glory of God the Father through Christ the Son. Every sober-minded prayer, every occasion in which we exercise self-control, every sin covered by brotherly affection, every time we open our homes with gladness, every word we speak, every act of service, every breath, everything – it all down to bringing God glory through Jesus Christ.

To Him…ever. Amen: Him seems to refer to Christ. So just as “all things” are “through” & “for” God (Romans 11.36), glory is through & belongs to Christ forever & ever. This is the goal of the cosmos: glory to the Father & to the Son & to the Holy Spirit. Christ also has dominion, which is the power to rule. Indeed, Christ is King of Kings & Lord of Lords. Amen shows Peter’s agreement.

12Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

Beloved: Peter loves these brothers & sisters. The command to love is more than talk for Peter.

Do not…test you: cf. 1.6-7. These Christians may be surprised that God would allow His “chosen people” to endure intense trials & tests, but Peter assures them this is not unusual nor unheard of. In fact, the persecution of the church seems normative & universal (4.17; 5.9). But the fires of persecution would burn off the dross & impurities, as gold in the refiners fire.

As though…to you: Strange is the noun word for surprised which is the same word for the pagan reaction in verse 4 (“they think it strange”). The pagans think it strange Christians do not join in their wicked works & therefore “they malign you;” Christians should not think it strange when pagans return evil for the good they are shown.

Sometimes when Christians today endure trials & hardship they will question, “Why?” “Why me?” They will lament as though something strange is happening to them. They are surprised that God would allow the trials & testing to come upon them. This is the very opposite reaction we should have according to Peter. No matter how intense the trials or testing may be, nothing strange or unheard of is occurring. In fact, it is par for the course as we live as Christians in the world. It should be expected. Suffering for Christ is a common motif in the New Testament (e.g. John 15.18-21). Darkness hates light, the world hates holiness. When Christians walk with their Father in holy light they become the targets for the hatred of the wicked. Nevertheless, the fires of trials are the testing of our faith.

It should be noted that Peter gives no theodicy, no explanation for the suffering in the world, especially the suffering experienced by Christians. We ask “Why?” Philosophers & theologians have offered answers. However, in Scripture no answer is given as to why an all-powerful, all-kind, all-knowing God would allow His children to endure intense & severe persecution. We are told it is normative & universal (4.17; 5.9). We are told that it is cause for joy as we reveal His glory (4.13, 16). But a detailed theodicy explaining the presence of evil & suffering in the world is not given. One thing is certain: the intense sufferings are not a sign of God’s absence, but of His purifying presence. He is with His people as they suffer.

13But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

But rejoice…Christ’s sufferings: But (Gk alla) indicates a strong contrast. Rather than surprise, these Christians must rejoice. How can a Christian rejoice in “fiery trials”? They share Christ’s sufferings. These are sufferings which are the result of pledging allegiance to Christ (cf. Acts 5.41). The present tense indicates the ongoing habitual practice of both of these: insofar as you keep on suffering with Christ, keep on rejoicing.

Suffering for Christ is a clear indicator that we are Christ’s. To “share His sufferings,” “suffer with Him” are reasons to rejoice because as we experience suffering we are experiencing the presence of Christ. Indeed, we stand in His place as His representatives. Saul of Tarsus was asked, “Why are you persecuting me?” He was breathing murderous threats against the disciples, dragging men & women off to prison for their allegiance to Christ, but it was ultimately Jesus whom Paul was persecuting. So also when we suffer for the Name it is Christ who suffers with us.

That you may…revealed: Lit. “you might rejoice being glad.” This is nearly verbatim from the lips of Jesus regarding the reward for enduring persecution for His Name (Matthew 5.12). The revelation of Christ’s glory is nearly universally assumed to be His future return by commentators. “The promise of future joy, in fact, energizes the joy that will be theirs in the future” (Schreiner). However, glorifying God in Christ’s Name is the present aim & reality of Christians (v.17). Glad-hearted rejoicing occurs when Christians realize that Christ’s glory is being revealed in their suffering.

How we respond to suffering is likewise a clear indicator of whether we truly belong to Christ. Some who claim the name of Christ have turned their back on Him when they experienced even a modicum of pain & suffering. But it does not have to be full blown apostasy; some grumble & murmur, complain about the suffering. But to rejoice in suffering, praising God for the pain…this is foreign to our Western sensibilities.

14If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

If…: In light of present context & overall context of the book, this is better understood as “since.”

You are insulted for Christ’s Name: Insulted is unjustified defamation & reviling. Much of the persecution these Christians faced was verbal abuse (2.12, 15, 23; 3.16).

[You are] blessed: The bliss of God belongs to insulted Christians. “The harsher the reproaches, the sweeter this heavenly verdict” (Lenski).

#blessed. American Christianity says you are blessed if you have a nice place to live, a reliable car, a good job, overachieving kids, and/or things are just going swell all-around. Peter says that the blessed life is one of insult for our devotion & allegiance to Christ. When is the last time someone update their social media with an account of how they were insulted for Jesus’ sake? Most of us would not consider that a blessing. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to realign our values. This is why God has given “the Spirit of God’s glory” to rest upon us – so that we might hold to a proper perspective regarding suffering, pain, persecution, & insult.

The insults Peter refers to are unjustified verbal assaults. When’s the last time someone cussed you out for being a Christian? I’m not talking about them verbally chastising you for being obnoxious with your faith; that might be justified. I’m talking about the backlash that occurs like when The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, an evangelical coalition, released the Nashville Statement in August 2017. With reverence & in humility the coalition issued the statement. The statement was essentially a creedal statement affirming 14 beliefs about human sexuality, all of which are based on Scripture. Evangelical Christians were castigated as hateful bigots, homophobes, &, as one tweet reads, the statement “is the most unchristian piece of garbage I’ve read in a long time.” The (pagan) internet ruthlessly insulted & disrespected Christians who believe what the Bible teaches about marriage being exclusively between a man & woman, human sexuality, & gender.

Another instance: I do not agree with hardly anything that comes out of his mouth, but an example of what we are talking about occurred during & shortly after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. All over social media Joel Osteen & Lakewood Church where he is pastor were being heavily criticized for closing their building due to flooding. Twitter erupted in outrage expressed in less than 140 characters. Memes circulated accusing Osteen of being a money-grabbing selfish religion killer. Quasi-investigative reporters took to the streets with video camera in hand to show that there was no flooding at Lakewood Church. The (pagan) internet insulted this man mercilessly for his “unchristian” behavior.

Because…upon you: cf. Isaiah 11.2. Isaiah’s prophecy has now been fulfilled in Christ & the church. As the Spirit rested upon “the root of Jesse” (Jesus), so He rests upon Christ’s persecuted followers. In contrast with the inglorious insults, Christians have the glorious indwelling Spirit, even the Spirit of God. God’s glorious Spirit who comforts, strengthens, & blesses abides with & in these Christians.

See Isaiah 11.2. The world heaps insults, but the Spirit rests upon us. The world counts us foolish, but we have the Spirit of wisdom. The world counts us dimwitted, but we have the Spirit of understanding. The world counts us ill-informed, but we have the Spirit of counsel. The world counts us weak-minded, but we have the Spirit of might. The world counts us ignorant, but we have the Spirit of knowledge. All of this is ours because we fear & revere God & He delights in resting His Spirit upon us.

15But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.

But let none…as a meddler: cf. 2.19-20; 3.17. Peter’s constant refrain has been that Christians must not suffer for evil, but for good. Peter lists four (4) evils by which men may suffer: murder (premeditated taking of innocent life), theft (taking other people’s property), evildoing (or “criminal” [NIV], general term for bad behavior), & meddling (intruding into other people’s affairs). Christians must not suffer for any of these.

People suffer for evil; they suffer punishment from the justice system as well as the affliction of the conscience, esp. if unrepentant. Suffering deserved as punishment for wrongdoing is inglorious. This is not how Christians are to suffer. Of course Christians should not suffer for serious criminal offenses like murder & theft (both of which are prohibited throughout the Bible) & Peter knows Christian people would never engage in such evildoing, but the temptation to pry into other people’s business is a very real possibility. So he rhetorically sets major violations against something very much in the realm of possibility: annoyingly intruding into other people’s business. This would cause someone to be considered a pest worthy of mistreatment.

Martyr’s complex – some people can turn just about any event into an occasion for suffering. They are the victim of some injustice, even if they are the perpetrator of some offense. It is so easy for people to rationalize deserved punishments as suffering “as a Christian.” Peter addresses this complex here – suffering is neither invented nor is it self-caused for bad behavior. If you live as a Christian, suffering will find you.

“Meddler” – stay in your lane! While the exact meaning of this word is difficult to nail down because of its rarity (used only here & two other places in 4th & 5th century documents), it seems to be a term describing someone who involves themselves into the affairs of others, inviting themselves into issues not their own. A buttinski. In Spanish, entrementido. Suffering for being a buttinski is beneath a Christian. Stay in your lane!

Notice the company meddlers keep – murders, thieves, criminals! Strange company, right? Well, not really. A meddler can assassinate the character of another; they can rob a person of their good name & reputation; their practice is in line with evildoers. May meddlers be banished from Christ’s church!

16Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.

Yet if…a Christian: Believers “were first called Christians” in Antioch (Acts 11.26), a name which probably originating among the unbelievers. Suffering as a Christian would be to endure persecution as a follower of Christ. It seems this was a term of ridicule rather than respect, a label used for believers by those outside looking in.

Don’t focus on the shame, focus on His Name! The name “Christian” was a derogatory term in Peter’s day. It was the equivalent of “holy roller” or “Bible thumper” today. These are intended to make us feel ashamed, to make us feel bad for being a follower of Christ. Peter is telling us: don’t focus on the shame, focus on His Name. Peter has already told us that the main thing is “that in everything God may glorified through Jesus Christ” (v.11). “Foolish people” will “speak against you as evildoers” (2.12, 15). They will “revile your good behavior,” & cause you to “suffer for doing good” (3.16, 17). “Do good & suffer for it” (2.20). When all this happens glorify God. Focus on His Name & exalt it, confess it, praise it, lift it up, glorify Him.

Let him not be ashamed: Even though society at large treats Christians in an undignified & disgraceful manner, the Christian need not feel shame. Unlike the murderer, thief, evildoer, or meddler, there is nothing shameful in bearing the name of Christ. Rather…

But…in that name: By bearing the name of Christ publicly & bearing whatever reproach society heaped on them, these believers would honor & praise the glorious name of Christ.

Only by “the Spirit of glory…of God” are we able to endure the mistreatment & abuse of the world and find joy in glorifying God in that suffering. The Holy Spirit sanctifies the suffering, if we let Him. The Holy Spirit strengthens us to endure suffering, if we let Him. The Holy Spirit supplies the necessary means to cope with suffering (“the fruit,” Galatians 5.22-23), if we let Him. He is the promised Helper, but we must willingly submit to His direction.

17For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

For…household of God: household of God is the “spiritual house” made of “living stones” “precious” in the sight of God (2.4-5), i.e. the church. While Peter borrows OT allusions (see Ezekiel 9.6; Malachi 3.1-5), his whole meaning is shifted. The judgment of God upon God’s house is not intended to be for condemnation, but for purification, i.e. refinement through trials leading to glorification of God (1.6-7; 2.12; 3.14, 17; 4.16).

How we as Christians view the trials & suffering we endure matters. Notice that it is not “punishment” which begins with the “house (family, NIV) of God” but judgment. Christ has suffered our punishment & therefore when we experience pain & persecution in the world, God is not punishing us for our sins. Christ did that. He endured the wrath of God. Rather, judgment begins from the house of God (lit.); God’s people are the jumping off point, the point of departure for God’s judgment. Seeing we have “ceased from sin” (4.1) He moves on to those who are not His family, that is, “those who do not obey the gospel of God.” Worse affliction will be visited upon the unbeliever, specifically exclusion from the presence of God.

And if…us: There may be a parallel to Jesus’ own description of the judgment which begins with the sheep (saved) & passes onto the goats (lost). Yet even now this judgment has begun.

What will…gospel of God?: those who do not obey the gospel are unbelievers. “All unbelief leads to disobedience” (Schreiner). The order of righteous first then the unrighteous is maintained from Malachi 3.1-5 & through Christ (Matthew 25.31-46). This rhetorical question is answered…

18And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

And “If…saved”: Quoted from Proverbs 11.31. Scripture is offered as proof positive of what Peter is saying: God’s judgment in the end will be worse than any suffering Christians face from unbelievers. In fact, unbelievers will have it worse due to their disobedience. Scarcely does not point to the uncertainty of a Christian’s salvation; rather, the word can also mean “with difficulty.” This echoes the preaching of Paul & Barnabas in Acts 14.22. Salvation is with difficulty because of the suffering, trials, & persecution Christians endure from unbelievers.

“What will…the sinner?”: Ungodly refers to a person who does not love God nor do they worship Him. Sinner is one who scoffs at God’s self-evident laws & violates them. What will become of such individuals? The reader is to supply the obvious answer: they will be lost.

Never underestimate the value of the Word of God in the midst of suffering. Peter quotes Proverbs to help his readers maintain an eternal perspective & to help their theological viewpoint. God is the final Judge, not man. Those opposed to Christians are opposed to Christ & will face the eternal consequences of their rejection of Him. Many Christians will suffer the loss of their work but preserve their soul at the end. Many Christians will be saved “only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3.15). Therefore, “the righteous are scarcely saved.” So it will be worse for “the ungodly & sinner.” We enter by the narrow gate; it snags us, catching at our clothing. Since this is so, the ungodly sinners who refuse to obey God’s gospel & so be saved only have eternal punishment to face.

Taken together, verses 17 & 18 bring clearly & unmistakably the awful terror of the final fate of the wicked. The righteous endure difficulty in this life, but it is with the promise that these are temporary trials of this world. Unbelievers, on the other hand, “can reasonably count on nothing but unmixed misery, everlasting perdition” (Brown 3:175). The reasonable expectation for those who do not obey God’s gospel is eternally worse than anything a Christian would experience in this world. Just as certainly as our entrance into God’s kingdom comes with many trials & suffering, so it is certain that eternal punishment awaits the ungodly sinner. Just as it is God’s will we suffer, so it is God’s will that the wicked be shut out of His presence eternally.

19Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

Therefore…God’s will: those who suffer according to God’s will are Christians who suffer because it is what God has willed. While at first blush this may seem harsh, it is actually intended to bolster faith. The duration & intensity of suffering is under God’s control. What Christians suffer is for their good because it is according to “His good, pleasing, & perfect will” (Romans 12.2).

Suffering according to God’s will means to “share Christ’s sufferings” (13), to be “insulted for the name of Christ” (14), & to glorify God by suffering as a Christian (16). God’s will is not that we suffer as an evildoer (15). Christ’s suffering in the flesh is the model for Christian suffering. Nothing happened to Christ apart from the Father’s sovereignty & love. This means that nothing that befalls us happens independent of God’s sovereignty & love. He is in control of everything. Any suffering we endure is not the result of an uncaring & indifferent universe randomly selecting us for pain. Our suffering is not accidental nor the result of dumb luck. Suffering is not purposeless but purposeful. Our suffering is under the watchful & loving eye of sovereign God. Our suffering is “according to God’s will,” that is “His good, pleasing, & perfect will” (Romans 12.2, NIV).

Entrust…faithful Creator: Just as Jesus entrusted His spirit to His Father at death (Luke 23.46), Christians are to entrust their souls to a faithful Creator for care in this life. That is, we give our souls to God for safekeeping so that no matter what happens in this life, that part of us which lives on after death is kept safe by the power of God (cf. 1.5).

So then Christians should “entrust their souls to a faithful Creator.” God is our Creator – He has created us body & soul. He is the Father of our spirits who saw our unformed substance (Hebrews 12.9; Psalm 139.16) as well as the One who forms our inward parts & knitted us together in our mother’s wombs (Psalm 139.13). Further, in Christ Jesus we are a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5.17). This means we belong to Him body & soul. We are His own possession & God takes care of what is His. Therefore, He is a faithful Creator. Who better to entrust the keeping of our souls than the One who not only crafted them, but also redeemed & saved them? Our lives, even our very souls, are hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3.3).

…while doing good: How does a Christian show that they are trusting God? By continuing to do good. They do not stop doing good. Acts of loving service & mercy. This not merely a duty, but a privilege rendered not only to other people, but ultimately to God. Retaliation may be the response from the flesh. By God’s glorious Spirit who rests upon us (v.14) we resist that impulse so that we may do good to all men. Doing good is a common refrain in this epistle (2.15, 20; 3.6, 11, 17).

“So you see, the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from their trials, even while keeping the wicked under punishment until the day of final judgment.”
(2 Peter 2:9, NLT)

God’s Grace & Suffering, part 2

Peter continues his exploration of the relation between God’s grace and the suffering Christians experience at the hands of unbelievers. In the midst of this larger context are couched two of the most enigmatic and problematic verses in the New Testament (3.19; 4.6). While commentary will address these verses and work through them with a particular interpretation, the overall thrust of these verses, viz. suffering as Christians after the model of Christ, will be the primary emphasis.

Suffering & Christ (3.18-4.6)

Christ is the example for Christians of suffering according to God’s will.

18For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,

For Christ…the unrighteous: Peter appeals to Christ as the model for his readers to follow. Christ also suffered even as you now suffer. Though similar, Christ’s suffering was unique in that He suffered once for sin, a common theme in the NT (Heb 9.28; 10.10, 14). It was not “once upon a time,” but “once for all.” It was not for His sins; He was sinless (2.22). But for our sins did He suffer. He was righteous, that is He was wholly conformed to the holy Law of God. So He was innocent whereas man was guilty of breaking God’s Law, i.e. unrighteous. By His unique suffering…

Just as Jesus fearlessly suffered to accomplish God’s purposes so we must face suffering fearlessly that God’s purposes might be accomplished in us. His vicarious sacrifice on the cross (the doctrine of atonement) animates & stimulates our patient endurance in suffering. “Just as suffering was the pathway to exaltation for Christ, so also suffering is the prelude to glory for believers.”[1] Doctrines embody the duties; duties are animated by the doctrines.

[1] Schreiner, Thomas R. 1, 2 Peter, Jude. Vol. 37. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003. Print. The New American Commentary.

“Christ suffered once for sins” and no more. Contrary to what Catholicism teaches concerning the Mass – that Christ is sacrificed all over again each time Mass is held.

The sinlessness of Christ – His absolute moral perfection – is stressed here as elsewhere. The purity of Christ was never soiled or stained in the slightest degree. “Though exposed to the assaults of the great author of evil, that adversary did not prevail against, that son of mischief did not overcome him. Though in a world full of temptation and sin, he remained untainted; though tried both by its smiles and its frowns, its terrors and its allurements, he never in the slightest degree imbibed its spirit or imitated its manners. He kept himself ‘unspotted from the world,’ being ‘in it, not of it;’ and he died, as he lived a stranger to guilt and depravity. No action, no word, ever escaped him, no thought, no desire, ever arose in his bosom, inconsistent with the requisitions or with the spirit of the divine law. He left this world as he entered it, ‘holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.’” (John Brown, Expository Discourses on First Peter, Vol. 2, p.385-386)

That He might bring us to God: This is the result of Christ’s suffering for our sins—access to the immediate presence of God. Our sins had separated us from God; His suffering brought us near to God. We may draw near to God by the new & living Way Christ provided by the cross.

Note: Nothing in the atonement changed the inherent nature of God. While Christ showed us the Father in Himself, He did not bring God to us. On the contrary, Christ brought us to God by His suffering on the cross.

“That He might bring us to God”: Peter is preparing to venture off into turbulent waters. The verses ahead have given scholars pause & headaches probably since Peter put pen to parchment. It is difficult & obscure. Whatever is meant by the next few verses, one thing is clear: by His death, resurrection, & exaltation Christ has provided us with immediate & direct access to the presence of God the Father.

Being…in [the] spirit: So Peter clearly identifies the sufferings of Christ—specifically His painful & violent death “in the body” (NIV) on the cross. Made alive (i.e. reanimated) “by the Spirit” (NIV) is resurrection language. This is similar to Paul in Romans 1.3-4 & 1 Timothy 3.16 in both structure & meaning. While Christ’s suffering on the cross brought death to His body, He was raised from the dead by the Holy Spirit.

19in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison,

In which: or in Whom also (kai). The Holy Spirit is in view as the inspiration for proclamation.

He went: Who? Christ. Christ’s Spirit has always been the initiator of divine revelation (1.11). This going is after His death in the flesh and resurrection. Therefore, this is His ascension back to the Father.

Proclaimed to the spirits in prison: One of the primary interpretations of this text since Augustine has been that this refers to when Christ’s Spirit proclaimed (aor) in the days of Noah to those souls which were alive at the time but are now in prison (NASB) since they died in the flood. Indeed, this was this author’s view. However, upon further evaluation and following Dalton, this “refers to Christ’s self-presentation as risen Lord to the hostile angelic powers in the heavens on the occasion of his ascension.”[1] This idea is continued in verse 22 when Peter explains the subjection those same spirits, i.e. “angels, authorities, and powers,” to the resurrected Christ.

[1] William Joseph Dalton, Christ’s Proclamation to the Spirits: A Study of 1 Peter 3:18–4:6, vol. 23, Analecta Biblica (Roma: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1989), 26.

Preaching to Spirits in Prison

While the above exposition seems the best explanation for this difficult text, other explanations have been offered:

1) Christ’s Spirit in Noah’s Day: Christ’s Spirit went & preached in the days of Noah to those disobedient ones then alive but who are now dead & in prison, i.e. tartarus. This view incorporates the reference to Noah in verse 20.  A nuance of this view is that “in prison” described their state in the days of Noah, i.e. they were in bondage to sin.

2) Christ in Hades: He then went to the hadean realm (see Acts 2.24, 27, 31) where He proclaimed a message of victory over the forces of evil to the evil angels who did not keep their proper place (Jude 6). A variation of this view says Christ proclaimed to dead saints in paradise or to those who repented just before the flood but went to Purgatory, which is the “prison” (Catholic).

3) Christ’s spirit went to the hadean realm to preach the gospel to all the dead, thereby giving all a second chance at salvation. This universalist view stands in contradiction with several key biblical texts, esp. Hebrews 9.27.

20because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.

Because they formerly did not obey: This phrase with the accompanying time stamp of “days of Noah” in the next positively identifies the “spirits in prison” of v.19 as human spirits. God’s judgment in the flood was upon human sin (Genesis 6.5-7).

When…being prepared: Never are angels given time to repent; only with man does God patiently wait for repentance. So while the ark was being prepared God waited patiently for disobedient men to repent before His judgment came in the flood.

God is patient. [If God is love & love is patient, then God is patient.] By my calculations it took Noah about a hundred (100) years to build the ark. 100 years. A lot can happen in 100 years. People live whole lifetimes in 100 years. We have gone from the inability to fly to manned space flight & landing on the moon in less time. We’ve gone from telegraph to telephone to cell phone to iPhone in 100 years. Computers went from massive machines that took up hundreds of square feet to wristwatches in 100 years. Technologically man can literally leave our solar system in 100 years. Yet…spiritually given 100 years man will still persist in his rebellion & disobedience to God. For 100 years Christ through Noah preached repentance & judgment. By faith Noah built his ark. But according to extra-biblical literature & through our own experience with the callous hearts of mankind all Noah received back was derision: “Old man, what is this ark for?” And still God waits patiently as Christ through His church continues to preach and prepare for the judgment & eternity.

In which a few…through water: It must be noted that Peter affirms the historical nature of the Noah account (Genesis 7.13, 23). Two facts emerge from the example of Noah: 1) Few were saved; 2) The salvation came through water.

The example of Noah was selected by Peter (even the Holy Spirit) to encourage his readers (and even us) to faithfulness in the midst of suffering. Noah’s family was an oppressed minority surrounded by hostile unbelievers; so were Peter’s readers; so are most Christians today the world over. Noah was faithful to mission of God; so Peter exhorts his readers to faithfulness to God’s mission by calling them to set Christ apart in their hearts & being willing to give an answer for their inward hope (3.15). In Noah’s day judgment was soon to come and did come in the flood; so for Peter’s readers judgment was soon to come and would come (4.5, 17). God was present with Noah by the Spirit of Christ; so God would be with Peter’s readers, empowering them in their work; so they should not fear (3.14). These parallels in like manner should encourage our hearts: though we are the minority, the “few,” God is faithful, He will save us, and final judgment will come.

21Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

Baptism…now saves you: The waters of the flood is that which corresponds to baptism as a type or figure (Gk antitupon). The flood of Noah’s day “prefigures” (NET) or “symbolizes” (NIV) the baptism of Peter’s readers. How? Just as Noah & his family escaped the corrupt world & entered into the renewed world, so Christians escape from the corruption of the world & enter into renewed life with God. Just as in the flood, in baptism evil is washed away & continues to save us (present tense). Baptism “brings us into a state of salvation, into covenant with God” (Caffin 137).

“The basis of their assurance is their baptism, for in baptism they have appealed to God to give them a good conscience on the basis of the crucified (v. 18) and risen (v. 21) work of the Lord Jesus Christ.”[1] “Baptism now saves you.” “But it is only the beginning, the birth; the growth must follow; the death unto sin, the new birth unto righteousness, must be realized in actual life” (Caffin 137). John Gill, good Baptist that he was, saw the inescapable conclusion of this text when he wrote, “the sense seems plainly this; that then is baptism rightly performed, and its end answered, when a person, conscious to himself of its being an ordinance of Christ, and of his duty to submit to it, does do so upon profession of his faith in Christ, in obedience to his command, and “with” a view to his glory; in doing which he discharges a good conscience towards God: and being thus performed, it saves.” Albert Barnes, good Presbyterian that he was, likewise recognized the immediate meaning of this text when he wrote, “The sense is, that baptism, including all that is properly meant by baptism as a religious rite – that is, baptism administered in connection with true repentance, and true faith in the Lord Jesus, and when it is properly a symbol of the putting away of sin, and of the renewing influences of the Holy Spirit, and an act of unreserved dedication to God – now saves us.” Barnes goes on to call baptism “the indispensable condition of salvation.” Indeed, we cannot be in Christ without baptism.

[1] Schreiner, Thomas R. 1, 2 Peter, Jude. Vol. 37. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003. Print. The New American Commentary.

Now the flood of Noah’s day did a couple things: 1) It brought catastrophic disaster & judgment after a long period of patience and 2) It saved Noah & his few family members. This became a type of Christian baptism for baptism likewise does a couple things: 1) It marks out for judgment those who refuse it through disobedience & rebellion and 2) It brings glorious salvation to those who submit. What was true in Noah’s day was true in the 1st century is true today: the same waters that bring salvation to the faithful likewise condemn the unrepentant. We have escaped the judgment & have experienced the grace of God; indeed, it is the same favor Noah found from God. God is still perfectly capable & willing to save His people who are facing ridicule & hardship from unbelievers.

Not as…the body: But this is no mere ceremony. Peter is quick to squelch any “magical” notions about baptism. It is not a bath to remove dirt from the body (Gk sarkos), indicating the true meaning of baptisma as an immersion since a few drops sprinkled would not cleanse the body. Rather, while an outward action is being performed (immersion ), an inward attitude must be maintained (faith).

But as…a good conscience: But (Gk alla) indicates a strong contrast. As an appeal can also be translated “the pledge of.” So is baptism a petition or a promise? Commentators note how difficult the language of this verse is. Perhaps this was intentionally done by Peter so that both petition & promise come into view. On the one hand, when one is baptized he/she is asking God for a good conscience—something only He can give by the blood of Christ (cf. Hebrews 9.14; 10.22). At the same time, when one is baptized he/she is pledging to maintain a good conscience before God through a life of service to Him. Both of these fit well with Peter’s overall theme.

“The inner meaning of baptism is not that the flesh puts away its filth, but that a good conscience inquires of God. The outward and visible sign doth not save if separated from the inward and spiritual grace” (Caffin 137). Or as the writer of Hebrews puts it, “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22, ESV) The body must be washed with pure water, but the heart must also be sprinkled clean.

In baptism we are pleading with God to forgive us our sins, make us clean by the blood of Jesus, wash us inwardly of sins so that we are whiter than snow, and put us in right relationship with Him. It is no wonder that the one writing this epistle is the same one who told the crowd on Pentecost to “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2.38).

At the same time, in baptism we are promising God that we will walk Him, renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil, dedicate ourselves to Him fully, & consecrate our hearts to service in His kingdom. So it is no accident that the one writing this epistle is the same preacher who warned the crowds on Pentecost to “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation” (Acts 2.40).

Through…Jesus Christ: Here is the power of baptism—Christ’s resurrection. Everything related to our “living hope” is connected to Christ’s resurrection (1.3). This includes the good conscience & deliverance from sins one receives from God through baptism. Christ earned these for us by His resurrection. As He was raised from the dead, so are Christians raised from spiritual death.

22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

Who has…of God: Christ’s ascension & exaltation are in view here. Following the 40 days He was with His disciples after the resurrection, Christ was “lifted up” & taken out of sight by a cloud (Acts 1.9) to go back to heaven to intercede on our behalf (Hebrews 7.25). Has gone is the same word as “went” in verse 19 (cf. Ephesians 4.10). Being seated at the right hand of a king in antiquity indicated that one acted with the authority & power of the king. So Christ acts on the authority of the Father; power and honor belong to Him. Also, this is an allusion to Psalm 110.1.

“Just as Noah was delivered through the stormy waters of the flood, believers have been saved through the stormy waters of baptism by virtue of Christ’s triumph over death.”[1] Peter brings his readers & us back to the main point of this section: Christ’s victory over all His (and our) evil foes. Christ triumphed over sin, over death, and over angelic beings. “Now who (or what) is there to harm you?” (v.13) Christ is all-powerful, since the holy angels worship Him & evil angels tremble at His name. If even these mighty creatures are subjected to Him, what can harm us that He cannot overcome? Further, God will bless you for suffering while doing good (v.14) and, like Noah, God will ultimately deliver you from all the corruption of the world.

[1] Ibid.

With angels…subjected to Him: See Ephesians 1.20-21. Angels, authorities, and powers can refer to spiritual beings both good and evil. All these powerful creatures regardless of rank have been subjected to Christ, that is, through His resurrection, ascension, & exaltation He brought them into submission even those which were not willing.  Christ is the cosmic sovereign Ruler over every power; “Now who is there to harm you…?” (v.13). Peter has answered His question by tracing the example of Christ clearly for his readers to see the exalted Lord. Summing up, Peter exhorts his readers to follow Christ’s example in suffering and be encouraged that the Lord will deliver them from all enemies be they of flesh or spiritual.

1Since 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,

Since…in the flesh: cf. 3.18. Peter returns to where he started in presenting Christ’s suffering (Gk. Root pascho) as an example for these Christians suffering persecution. The aim here will focus more on the eschatological glory to come for suffering for Christ.

Arm yourselves…thinking: i.e. think as Christ thought about obedience & suffering. Arm yourselves is military language for the resolution needed to venture forth into battle.

Why do we do what we do? Do we behave a certain way in order to avoid suffering & minimize hardship? Or is obedience to God our supreme motivation? Peter exhorts us to obedience to God in spite of hardship & suffering. Since it is true that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” and therefore cannot be avoided, we need military grit & discipline to live the Christian life. Battle is inevitable for soldiers; similarly, persecution is inevitable for believers. This is the nature of God’s dealings with peoples. Therefore, prepare for war.

For whoever…sin: This is the 1st main emphasis Peter wants to impact his readers—suffering frees us from sin. Ceased from sin in that Christians make a clean break from sin & obeying God is the supreme motivation for all of one’s actions. The next verse explains further.

“Ceased from sin” is further detailed in verse 2 when Peter explains how we are “to live…for the will of God” as opposed to “for human passions.” Hence, in view here is the process sanctification. The aorist tense indicates a clean break from sin whereby obedience to God becomes our chief aim in all we do (as opposed to no longer sinning, a notion which fails to account for a number of verses which teach the complete opposite).

2so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.

So as…human passions: the rest of the time in the flesh is the time God gives. Human passions at the desires they had before they were converted (3). They “no longer live for themselves” (2 Cor 5.15).

It is important to keep Peter’s theme of suffering for righteousness or “for doing good” in view as we read about suffering in the flesh (3.14, 17). This would exclude all “human passions,” i.e. “the lusts of men.” We are yet “in the flesh” or “fleshy” (sarki). So long as we are alive, we still live “in flesh.” At the same time, we should be living in the flesh so as to glorify God by doing His will as opposed to being controlled by & gratifying the flesh.

But for the will of God: However many years God may give these Christians, God’s will is to be their highest priority. God’s will & “the lusts of men” are always opposed to each other (Gal 5.17).

Christians are exiles in whatever country they live, hostile government or not. God’s will is to be priority #1 wherever we live. The goal must not be to avoid suffering; rather, the goal should be to use suffering as a means to sanctification. Regardless of regime or who sits on the throne, this is the purpose of our suffering: to live for the will of God.

3For 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.

For the time…want to do: Why live for God’s will? They have spent enough time in the other. Since Christians are New Israel (1.2; 2.9-10), Gentiles here means those who are not Christians.

However long you were without Christ & however much sin you committed; whether it was one sin or a grossly profligate lifestyle given over to sin, Peter is blunt – that time was sufficient for sin. It was enough! So we should not want to live any longer, not a day, hour, minute, or second more in it. We have done enough of living “for doing what the Gentiles want to do.” That life was not right. So let us be done with it. There is no reason to continue in it.

Living in sensuality: No moral restraint in sexual acts or physical violence.

Passions: or “lusts” (NASB). These are unnatural, ungodly desires for sex or property.

Drunkenness: excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages; intoxication.

Orgies: typically linked with drunkenness (Gal 5.21), these parties encouraged immoral behavior.

Drinking parties: these were social gatherings where drinking games were played (cf. Isa 5.22).

Lawless idolatry: Pagan worship which was against God’s law & resulted in immorality.

God’s word still speaks a powerful word into our current social situation. Where there is all manner of ungodly behavior being engaged in, God demands holiness from His people. In our culture, greed is still good & sometimes celebrated. Covetousness is used in commercials to sell products. Sex sells. Men still want women who are not their wives & women want men who are not their husbands. People still have unnatural, ungodly, evil desires. Drunkenness is still a blight upon our society today, along with other serious substance abuse. Typically this kind of behavior is accompanied by sex, in some cases forced and others consensual with multiple partners (our modern definition of orgies). There are drinking parties which include a host of drinking games (beer pong, et al). All of these “lusts of men,” these “human passions,” are diametrically opposed to the will of God. They are thoroughly non-Christian (i.e. Gentile) activities. Enough with these!

4With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you;

With respect…debauchery: They are surprised or “think it strange” is a sudden amazement or wonder the unbeliever has given the life change which has taken place in the Christian. The same flood of debauchery is all the sins listed in verse 3. Christians seek to do God’s will.

The “surprise” is one of eyes wide, mouth agape astonishment. Whoa! The unbelievers are taken aback at the radical change which has taken place in the life of the believer. This is the way it is supposed to be. For the unbeliever it is strange because they feel no guilt or remorse over sin nor do they have any sense of obligation to God. Their obligation is to self-gratification, the philosophy of “if it feels good do it,” get all you can now because this life is all there is. The Christian, on the other hand, has been awakened to the spiritual reality of God, heaven & hell, & the folly of sin. They have sought to abandon the gratification of the flesh for actions which are pleasing to God.

The malign you: Or “speaking evil of you” (NKJV). Or “they vilify you” (NET). Surprise turned to anger.  The Christians became the objects of the pagan unbeliever’s wrath.

The unbeliever’s puzzlement turns to outrage. Unbelievers consider the “flood of debauchery” as normal behavior. Therefore, since Christians do not engage in what they consider normal behavior, and so engage what is for them unnatural behavior, they speak evil of the Christians. They criticize, defame, revile; they name-call, belittle, & teardown. We see this in our own society where Christians are typically presented as unenlightened prudes who do not really contribute to thoughtful dialogue about issues since they are usually blinded by bias. “In a world of sin, Christians are strangers, especially if they were formerly part of that world.”[1]

[1] Kistemaker, Simon J., and William Hendriksen. Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude. Vol. 16. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001. Print. New Testament Commentary.

5but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

[But] they will give account: The reviling of the unbelievers is not the last word; they will give back “a word” to God. In other words, they will answer to God for maligning Christians. In this the suffering of the Christians will be vindicated.

The reviling & evil speech, even blasphemy, of the unbelieving world is never the final word. Indeed, the final word anyone will have to give back to God is “Jesus is Lord” spoken either to their vindication or condemnation at the last day. Furthermore, there is always a sense from the NT writers that the Judge would appear at any second, as though He were “standing at the door” ready to break forth onto the grand stage of history to bring the final act to a close. We today must live in confident expectation that at any moment the Lord will appear in glory.

To Him…the dead: He who is ready to judge is Christ. The living & the dead means everyone; some will be alive when He comes in final judgment while others will have died. For ready see James 5.9.

Notice how Peter speaks of Christ/God: “Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” Paul does a similar thing (e.g. Romans 8.11 – “Him who raised Jesus from the dead”). They do not come out and simply say “Christ” or “God.” They focus on a certain aspect of what makes God God or Christ Christ. It amplifies the subject. It is a way of magnifying God & Christ. So Christ is magnified as the judge of all people, living & dead. How we talk about God matters!

6For 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.

For this…who are dead: Since Christ will judge the dead, what about the faithful dead, i.e. Christians who have already died esp. those who suffered martyrdom in persecution. The gospel was preached (aor) indicates this took place in the past. Those who are dead are those who obeyed the gospel preached & have since died (whether by persecution or not).

That…people are: That (Gk hina) shows the purpose of the proclamation of the gospel: on the one hand (Gk men) judged (and condemned) by men in [the] flesh or…

In the same way that Christ was judged worthy of reviling, malignity, & death by fleshly men, so too are Christians across time & space deemed worthy of the same. But just as God did not abandon His soul to Hades so that He saw life, so too are Christians promised life with God both now & forever.

They might…God does: on the other hand (Gk de) they might live according to God in [the] spirit. So while alive, these Christians were judged by fleshly men as worthy of reviling, malignity, & even death, but God, who is Spirit, gives them life even in death.

Both the judgment of men & life with God have consequences for the present & eschatologically (now & not yet). These men who judge Christians as worthy of rejection & as despicable themselves heap up condemnation on their own life and will one day stand & give account for their blasphemy. In the meantime, they stand condemned, lest they repent & are saved (e.g. Saul/Paul). Christians, as they endure this treatment, live for God’s will as supreme in their life & thereby live with Him even now. As this world gives way to the next, we will enjoy life with Him even more.

Special Study—The Gospel Preached to the Dead

1) Following His death & before His resurrection, Jesus went to the unseen spiritual realm (Hades) & preached the gospel to the spirits of the dead. However, this removes the teeth out of the promise of vindication in v.5 if there is a second chance.

2) The “dead” are those “dead in trespasses & sin,” i.e. spiritually dead. The aorist tense works against this; why not say “the gospel is preached” since this is what was taking place even as Peter wrote?

3) Those who heard & obeyed the gospel but have since died (perhaps via persecution). This seems the best understanding.

Growing in Your Walk with Christ, part 7

Ephesians 5.15-21 contains a verse much disputed in the church. Verse 19 is a passage used to prohibit the use of musical instruments in worship services. Intensive word studies, exhaustive exegetical articles, and not a few early church essays have been written on that single verse. Frankly, it is a tragedy that the rest of the context surrounding this verse tends to be ignored. It is rich with how to wisely navigate life in the Spirit.

A Wise Walk (5.15-21)

Living with Christ means seeking His wisdom & will.

15Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,

Look carefully…walk: Then indicates that Paul is continuing his exhortation to these Christ to be what they are in Christ. They do that by walking carefully or “circumspectly” (NKJV). A careful walk is one which includes strict attention to detail & complete obedience to the standard.

To “walk…carefully” carries the idea of accuracy, precision, & diligence. It is a life lived in strict conformity to the Christian ethic. Half-hearted or lackadaisical discipleship is more in line with the unwise behavior of the world than it is with the heart & desire of God. A Christian’s walk is to careful not carefree.

Not as unwise but as wise: This is once more a contrast in cultures: the heathen culture is unwise whereas the Christian ethic is wise. Cf. Colossians 4.5

We teach our children to “Stop, look, and listen” when crossing the street. How much more is this true when living the Christian life? We must be intensely vigilant as we walk with Christ knowing that there are deadly consequences to evil actions. Armed with that knowledge, we can wisely navigate our lives.

One word of caution: There may be a threat toward legalistic rule keeping. This is not what Paul is advocating at all. He is saying, “Do not walk loosely, without fixed principles of actions; but make sure that you rules are of the true kind” (Pulpit Commentary 210). Many people are very strict & rigged but they are not wise in that rigidity. They have rules, very strict rules, but they are not good rules. So that is a key difference between what Paul is exhorting us to and legalism which Paul would never be in favor of.

16making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.

Making…the time: Lit. “Redeeming the time.” Several scholars see here an allusion to the marketplace: a merchant would buy up the good articles & products. So the Christian must seek the precious pearls of time and purchase those, i.e. use every opportunity for good.

And so we sing, “Your empty, wasted years/ He will restore;/ and you iniquities/ remember no more.” As Longfellow has said, “Life is real; life is earnest/ and the grave is not its goal./ ‘Dust thou art, to dust returnest,’/ was not spoken of the soul.” Life is urgent! We must consider how we spend our time, what little we have left. Paul seems to be saying, “embrace every opportunity to glorify God, save your own souls, and do good to men.” (Clarke) “How wise, then, to seek to make out of every passing moment eternal gain!” (PC 236) Why?…

Because the days are evil: there was trouble & temptation all around. These Christians lived in a very pagan world with much immorality.

The more things change, the more they stay the same – the days are still evil! In fact, as Paul says elsewhere, “evil people go from bad to worse” (2 Tim 3.13). Or as one country preacher once put it – “evil people go from worse to worser!” So in 2,000 years since Paul penned these words, our world has gone from bad to worse, worse to worser. Society progresses further into secularism. Evil is good and good is evil. Religious formalism where the letter of Law stifles the Spirit of the Law permeates much of Christendom. Philosophical skepticism which for the most part is anti-God, anti-Christian, and anti-supernatural has a choke hold on many people. So if ever there was a time when Christians need to make the best use of their time, it is now.

17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Therefore, do not be foolish: Therefore here has a summation quality of the foregoing context. Since you are to be imitators of God (1-2), children of holiness (3-7) & light (8-14), do not be “senseless” or “unthinking.” Again, this is old self & “outsider” behavior.

But…Lord is: But (Gk alla) is a strong, sharp contrast. Those “in Christ” make it their career to understand (pres. Imp.) the Lord’s will. This is more than just hearing and knowing. Involved in understanding is careful consideration and private pondering so as to take it to heart.

Here is the purpose-driven life – understanding God’s will and walking accordingly. Any other life is “foolish” & “unwise,” purposeless & aimless. But a life devoted to the pathway of God which He has marked out by His stated will revealed by His word has purpose, direction, and progress. We will spend the rest of lives seeking to “understand what the will of the Lord is.” The present tense indicates this is a lifelong pursuit, the ongoing practice of every wise saint.

18And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,

Do not get drunk with wine: Some pagan religious cults would become intoxicated during their worship (ex. Dionysus) in order to express spiritual elation (usually in erratic behavior). That kind of pagan revelry should not mark the Christian. In fact, we have a better way (i.e. the Spirit).

“Intoxication with wine has a degrading effect; intoxication with the Spirit (cf. Acts 2.13) can have an uplifting effect upon Christian community” (Patzia 264). We are to be filled with the Spirit not drunk on spirits. Getting drunk is not wise (Proverbs 20.1).

For that is debauchery: “Both the wastefulness and the lack of self-control implied by [debauchery] are things which should not be seen in the lives of those who have found in Christ the source and the way of wisdom” (Foulkes 158).

A word about drinking: Drunkenness is categorically condemned in Scripture (Deut 21.20; 1 Cor 5.11; Gal 5.21). Especially if you were a leader in the church it is condemned (1 Tim 3.3, 8; Titus 1.7; cf. 2.3). Granted, total abstinence is not mentioned except in the case of special vows (for example the Nazarite vow, Num 6.3). Hmm… but aren’t we people who have taken a special vow? Drinking is a habit which sends everything to wreck and ruin.

But be filled with the Spirit: In typical fashion, Paul replaces the negative with the positive. Be filled (present passive imperative) indicates 1) this should be the ongoing lifestyle of the Christ, 2) it is God (with the Holy Spirit) who fills the Christian, 3) every Christian must be filled with/by the Holy Spirit.

19addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,

Addressing one another: One another indicates that this “speaking” (NASB) is an expression of our being filled with the Spirit. Though some are quick to apply this to the worship service (almost exclusively), “the meetings would seem to have been for social Christian enjoyment rather than for public worship of God” (PC 211). Context bears this out since the overall lifestyle of the Christian is what Paul has been discussing (5.1-18).

Psalms…spiritual songs: Some have found subtle distinctions between these words, however, Jimmy Jividen says, “There is no evidence in the New Testament or the writings of the early church that distinction is to be made between psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” (Worship in Song 11).

Singing…your heart: All worship (in the assembly or not) is always directed to the Lord. Jividen finds no distinction between singing and making melody, both referring to the melodic utterance of words. He does note that your heart is the only instrument for our singing (Worship in Song 11, 62).

While certainly applicable to the assembly of the saints every Lord’s Day, what is view here is any expression of worship in which saints engage in. Our whole lives are music of a specific kind to the Lord. Be it a small group study, and in-home Bible study, or just sitting around the campfire, we can address one another and worship our Lord in song from the heart. It is the heart not the harp which is the appropriate instrument for our worship.

20giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Giving thanks…Jesus Christ: Contextually, we do this by and in our singing. However, that is not the only avenue by which we give thanks to God. It is always (at all times) and for everything (all things) that we give thanks to God the Father, Who is Himself the source of all blessings. Our Lord Jesus Christ is our mediator to the Father.

“Spirit-filled Christians live in a continual attitude of gratitude for everything” (Patzia 264). At its core, sin is basically ingratitude. We need to affirm that all that we have is from God. When we truly give thanks, from that will flow ethics and right behavior. Further, thanksgiving has a transformative effect. It is nearly impossible for a person to be both spiteful (harboring resentment) and grateful, giving thanks unto God. When we realize we have been set free from our old self and have been infused with the life-giving Spirit, how could we not be thankful?

21submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Submitting…for Christ: The habitual practice of Christians is willing submission to each other. Mutual Christian submission is born out of  “fear” (Gk phobos, respect & awe) for Christ.

Here is still another key factor to living a Spirit-filled life. Pride in a Christian is an oxymoron. Pride is the heart leaves no room for the Spirit of God. Pride kills fellowship. Thinking of ourselves as better or too highly is destructive to true, authentic Christian fellowship. “In humility count others more significant than yourselves” and look “to the interests of other” (Phil 2.3-4). So humble mutual submission is the key to unlocking how to live as husband & wife (5.22-33), parenting effectively (6.1-4), and how to behave on the job (6.5-9).

Submission for all Christians is the divine calling upon our lives to honor & affirm Christ’s leadership and serve Him according to grace He has given to each one of us. The word “submit” was a military term used to describe the various soldiers under the command of their leader. It is interesting that Paul ends this epistle utilizing the military motif (6.10ff). Further, this word had a non-military usage for voluntarily giving in and cooperating to carry a burden. It is to voluntarily yield ourselves to Christ in love. This kind of mutual submission is illogical when disconnected from Christ. Only through the cross can we proper express submission. By uniting with Christ and dying to self we can submit as we ought to His lead.

See You Tomorrow

“See you tomorrow.” “See you next week.” “See you next time.” We say these things so effortlessly and (sometimes) thoughtlessly. We take for granted that we will be alive to see so-and-so tomorrow, next week, next time. Someone has said, “Man proposes, but God disposes.” James addresses the thoughtlessness of first century Christians who assumed too much. Since they made such a grand assumption, they became arrogant and over-confident in self. This section of Scripture “prohibits an arrogant, boastful attitude that neglects to take into account the transitoriness of this life” (Moo 153). James’ typical style is to ask pointed questions. In honor of that, the following outline is presented in question format.

James 4.13-17 (ESV)

13Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—

14yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

15Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

16As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

17So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

What are you saying? (13-14a)

Verse 13 opens in a rather abrupt fashion. First, James begins “come now” which was a “popular” form of address in Greek literature and prose. Second, “you who say” combined with “come now” gives this a rather curt feel. Third, whereas James has addressed his readers as “brothers” throughout this letter (even while in the midst of correcting them, 4.11), here James omits that title with simply “the ones saying.” All this combines into a rather brusque transition. No doubt his readers recognized this; it was designed to arrest their attention.

Based on what these people are saying, it would seem they may be considered at least in part with the rich whom James will address in 5.1ff. These are people who plan to engage in extensive travel for the purpose of carrying on business in order to “make a profit.” This seems to indicate they are at least well off. But James does not condemn their wealth or even their ability to get gain – what is condemned is a haughty and prideful attitude. They do not even know “what tomorrow will bring” and yet they are boasting over what their plans. James is critical of the relative ease in which they leave God in the rear view mirror as they venture forward in life. This world is transitory and insufficient in and of itself. To make plans with only this realm in mind is a crucial mistake. One must always live and act in a manner which demonstrates that life is ordered around the unseen spiritual realm, especially God. Surely James is directing the attention of his readers to a familiar passage of the Old Testament to emphasis this (see Proverbs 27.1).

What is your life? (14b)

Here is James’ pointed question directed squarely at the heart of his readers: what is your life? The answer depends upon which version of the Bible you read. The NASB says it is a “vapor;” the ESV says it is a “mist;” the NET says it is a “puff of smoke.” It seems best to understand this as a vapor or mist caused by steam. Truly the emphasis is on the brevity of the existence of the misty vapor: it is here for a moment and then disappears. The Scriptures are rife with this principle. Indeed, it is all over the Old Testament (2 Sam 14.14; 1 Chron 29.15; Job 7.16; 8.9; Psa 78.33; 102.11; 144.3-4). All of this should have been familiar to this Jewish audience to which James writes and yet they are in need of reminder. “Illness, accidental death, or the return of Christ could cut short our lives just as quickly as the morning sun dissipates the mist or as a shift of wind direction blows away smoke” (Moo 155).

What should you say? (15-16)

Yet again the shepherd heart of James comes to the forefront as he instructs the flock concerning what they ought to say in view of the transient nature of this present realm. Instead of saying what you’re saying, say this – “If the Lord wills…” Typically, especially today, this verse and phrase is boiled down to be somewhat of a charm or magical (mystical) formula. “Lord willing,” we say. However, when James instructs these Christians (and all Christians across time and space), it is significant. Even heathens of antiquity invoked this formulaic phrase. So we must rescue these words from such base usage. Several times this phrase is used by Paul (Acts 18.21; 1 Cor 4.19; 16.7). Our life and our every moment is dependant upon One – the Lord God. If it please Him that we even live another day then we will do thus and such. But only if He permits.

Contrast this with what these arrogant boasters have been saying and we see just how theologically blinded these poor brethren had become. These Christians believed that things continue on as from the beginning which is not Christian thinking (see 2 Pet 3.4). The fact is they had no basis whatsoever for feeling so assured of living into tomorrow. They boasted in this false and baseless pride. Typical of James, he pulls no punches – this kind of bragging is evil! Purely wicked and from the devil, the evil one. To boast in the Lord is a good thing; to boast in self is sinful.
What should you do? (17)

“Therefore” is how verse 17 starts indicating that this principle is clearly connected with the preceding instruction. Here and contextually James has made known “the right thing to do” (“You who say…ought to say…”) and failure to do it “is sin.” So just do it! That is, acknowledge the providential care and continued sustenance of the Lord God. Cease and desist in living as though you are guaranteed tomorrow or even the strength to do what you have planned tomorrow. Depend upon God for all future plans. Deo volente.

Nevertheless, commentators and scholars are in near agreement that this phrase was a principle which was in circulation among Christians. In fact, some suggest that in back of this Christian principle are the words of Jesus from Luke 12.47: “that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating.” How often we know the right thing to do and not do it!

Lenski on this verse presents a brief discussion about of the doctrine of probabilism, a Jesuit doctrine which essentially says that if one can find any cause for doubt concerning the moral law, then it is acceptable to follow one’s inclinations. Lenski wraps up the argument: “Not to do when one knows is not sin as long as one can on at least some father’s say-so or on some apparent ground cast some doubt on what one knows one should do. How many Protestants follow the same principle in order to justify their own sins of omission or of commission!”[1]

Brothers, this is sin. And there can be no excuse making. Ignorance is not an excuse. There is no, “yeah, but…” James is clear and emphatic. The principle is clear and emphatic. Herein is the sin of omission:

“It is not only sinful to do wrong; it is also sinful to lose an opportunity of doing good. God means us not only to be harmless, but also to be useful; not only to be innocent, but to be followers of that which is good. How miserable is the satisfied acquiescence in the thought, ‘I never did anybody any harm’ – a thought which is falsely used as a consolation at many a death-bed.The slothful servant who hid the talent in a napkin did no wrong with it, but nevertheless he was condemned. He failed to do good. So God claims from all of us, not merely that we should ‘cease to do evil,’ but also that we should ‘learn to do well;’ for ‘to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin’” (Pulpit Commentary 58).


[1] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and of the Epistle of James (Columbus, O.: Lutheran book concern, 1938). 643.