Introduction to Part 6
Verse 4:7 begins with “the end of all things is at hand.” Part 5 considered three reasonable possibilities for what Peter means, but concluded that, most likely, he was referring to the end of the world. The remainder of Chapter 4 consists of 2 sets of 4 instructions based on acknowledging that the end of all things is at hand.
The portion of verse 4:7 translated in the ESV as “The end of all things is at hand” if translated literally says the “goal of all things has come near.” God’s plan for this world is drawing to completion. The implication is that the unfolding of end-time judgments and Christ’s return could happen at any moment. This is an attention getting thought. The “any moment” possibility of Christ’s return should be like a bright light shining on us reminding us that our behavior is important, and we should make sure that our behavior matches the seriousness of the time. We need to understand the times in which we are living. Take another look at 4:7 in context.
“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever 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.”1 Peter 4:7-11
Live as Though Christ May Return Tomorrow
Live as if Christ might come today, but recognize that He might not come until long after our mortal life is over.
Peter first instruction is that in light of the coming end-time judgment, believers should “be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” He means we should use good judgment, stay calm, and maintain a spirit of prayer. In other words be disciplined and intentional in all we do, and be calm and don’t panic when things go wrong. We are to be balanced in our approach to life, working to the best of our abilities at all that we do.
Peter’s second instruction is, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” Mutual love and care for one another is a powerful encouragement to strengthen believers encouraging them to persevere even in the midst of unjust treatment, persecution, and confusion. Christian love does not and must not condone sin. However, it is true that fervent, forgiving love “covers a multitude of sins” in the sense that Christian love does not spread the news of sins through gossip and slander, but rather supports our brothers and sisters in Christ as they strive to eliminate sin from their life. In this verse Peter is quoting Proverbs 10:12 “Hatred stirs up strife but love covers all offenses.”
Peter’s third instruction is, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” He urges mutual hospitality among believers, hospitality that flows from earnest love for one another. True hospitality encourages our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Peter’s fourth and final instruction concerning behavior in “end times” is, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies.” This command reminds us that each believer has received at least one spiritual gift. Spiritual gifts are not given for our personal amusement or benefit. God’s intent is that we use our spiritual gifts for the benefit of others. Think about it this way. Each spiritual gift is an investment God makes in us. He showed us what he expects in His parable on talents. As in the parable, the talents held in trust for the Master, Christ intends that we use our gifts in such a way that God receives a spiritual return on His investment.
Especially in light of living in “end times,” believers are expected and encouraged to obey Peter’s four good-behavior instructions to the best of their ability in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, our Savior. To God belong all glory and dominion.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For 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? 18 And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” 19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”1 Peter 4:12-19
A Fiery Trial on the Way
Peter returns to the concept that “willingly suffering when necessary to achieve God’s will” is of great value. The context of his comment is that in this way we share in Christ’s suffering. The “fiery trial” Peter talks about does not appear to be “normal” persecution experienced by individual Christians as a consequence of living in a world hostile to Christ. The “fiery trial,” about to overtake Christians in the Roman Empire, was persecution of the entire church. Indeed such a fiery trial soon came to pass in about a year.
Change of Legal Status for Christians
When Christianity began, Romans considered Christians to be a part of Judaism. Jews were allowed freedom of worship and were not required to participate in emperor worship. The same rules applied to Christians as long as they were considered a part of Judaism, but that was about to change. Jews began to refuse to let Christians use their Synagogues and considered them lawbreakers. The Romans said OK, then Christianity is a separate religion and will no longer be protected by the rules applied to Jews. Under Nero and later emperors Christians by law were required to participate in emperor worship. Because that was forbidden by God, most Christians refused to participate in such worship. That led to severe persecution. Peter is writing to prepare his flock for the worst. He sees signs that a wave of persecution is about to descend on them.
Responding to Persecution
As he did for behavior in “end times,” Peter gives four specific instructions for responding to persecution aimed at maintaining proper behavior during a “fiery trial” soon to arrive.
Peter’s first instruction is, “Beloved, do not be surprised.” Persecution of godly people was not new to the world. People of God have always suffered in the hands of the unbelieving world. A dedicated believer lives life based on Scriptural truth, striving for obedience, humility, holiness, and to glorify God. Much of life in the unbelieving world is incompatible with Christian life. Worldly life is often based on lies, disobedience, pride, pleasure, and a desire to gain more prestige, power, and wealth.
The sharp contrast of lifestyles inevitably produces conflict. Many stories in Scripture illustrate this truth beginning with Cain and Abel. Jesus explained to His disciples that they should expect opposition and persecution from the world as they followed His way of life (John 15:17-16:4). But Jesus also gave them an uplifting promise (John 16:33) “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Persecution and trials do not just randomly happen. They are a part of God’s overall plan and He is in control. God promises He will work even these bad events to our good as we follow Him, steadfast in faith even in adversity.
Peter’s second instruction is, “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings.” Suffering which we endure because of our stand with Christ is valuable and worthy of joy. Because the world has never experienced the saving grace of God, the world is bewildered when we show an attitude of joy in the face of persecution. Suffering for standing firm for Christ means fellowship with Christ now and glory in the future. Suffering for the cause of Christ intensifies the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our life.
Peter’s third instruction is, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed.” We need to examine our life and make sure the life we are living is honoring to God. Why do we suffer? Well, sometime suffering is deserved. We should always be on guard against allowing our own sinful actions to be the cause of our suffering. Other times suffering simply comes from evil in the fallen world in which we live.
Four Offenses of Which no Christian Should be Guilty
Peter mentions four offenses which can lead to suffering and of which no Christian should ever be guilty. The first two offenses, namely, murder and thievery, are extreme and clear legal infractions that will bring justified punishment from governmental authorities. The second two offenses, namely, committing evil and meddling, don’t appear to be secular lawbreaking offenses but rather they are moral and social offenses.
Sometimes, to our shame, believers behave badly as though they have forgotten who they are in Christ. Rather than being a conduit of righteousness they become instruments of wickedness. Peter says stay focused on activities compatible with whom we are as Christians. Don’t engage in activities which bring reproach to the name of Christ. Such actions may cause offenders to miss out on God’s blessing. We should never be ashamed of Christ. We should constantly seek to glorify Christ in all that we do. As he dictated these comments to Silas, Peter no doubt vividly remembered his own shameful denial of Christ. We should never be ashamed of Christ. We should actively seek His glory.
Peter’s fourth instruction is, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” When we suffer for standing firm in the faith, we should entrust our souls to God our faithful Creator. The word used for “entrust” is a banking term that means “to deposit for safekeeping.” Commitment to our Creator should not be thought of as a single action, it is to be a continuing entrusting. While we are entrusting our souls to our Creator, we are to continue to do good. Peter reminds his readers that judgment begins in the family of God, but the brunt of judgment will fall on unbelievers. What believers suffer now is not to be compared to the enormity of what the unrighteous will suffer later.
Summary of 4:12-19
In summary, as we make the difficult spiritual journey through our mortal life, believers will sometimes suffer “according to the will of God.” But God will use both good times and bad times to grow us in godliness. We are to have total confidence in both the goodness and the power of God. His ultimate purpose will be accomplished.
“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”1Peter 5:1-4
Peter turns from addressing the practical needs and obligations that every Christian experiences during tough times to address those in spiritual leadership positions. The context for Peter’s discussion of spiritual leadership remains that of a coming time of persecution, bad enough to be called a “fiery trial.” Peter exhorts elders. Elder may mean Pastor or others chosen for spiritual leadership. Peter’s admonitions are directed at all spiritual leaders.
In times of persecution and stress God’s people need the right kind of leadership. It is essential there be strong spiritual leadership which will stand fast in the faith no matter what the circumstances. Leaders are to model godliness, hope, love, and faithfulness to the flock. The way believers actually live their lives in this hostile, unholy world is significantly affected by the way spiritual leaders function as shepherds. Peter is just such a leader. Though he faltered on the night Jesus was arrested, Peter was restored by Jesus after the resurrection and became the first Christian spokesman to preach the risen Christ and with great effectiveness. Scripture tells us that some 3000 souls were saved on that day.
As a longtime friend and disciple as well as a witness of the sufferings of Christ, Peter had a vital personal relationship with Christ. Every spiritual leader needs to have their own vital personal relationship with the Lord. It will not be the same experience as Peter’s, but it needs to be a life-changing experience which provides the energy and fervor to carry out their calling as a spiritual leader.
Peter says leaders are to act in humility with no hint of pride of position. Peter walked with Christ. He was a close friend who personally witnessed most of the events of Jesus’ ministry. He was designated an Apostle by Jesus. Yet, Peter refers to himself merely as a fellow elder.
Peter warns it is altogether too easy for spiritual leaders to fall into the trap of pride of position. They serve and speak on behalf of God. They address large groups of people on a regular basis. People look up to them and make major life decisions based on their teaching. Most people trust them. Very few carefully examine what they do to hold them accountable. Peter’s rules for spiritual leaders set a worthy example which needs to be followed.
Peter pinpoints a potential problem in the duties of spiritual leadership with the instruction to “shepherd the flock of God.” Spiritual leaders often speak of “their flock” but spiritual leaders do not have a flock of their own. The flock entrusted to their leadership is God’s flock, and the spiritual leader is accountable to God to lead them with a good shepherd’s heart. This requires “exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” Spiritual leaders should have attitudes of willingness, eagerness, and meekness. These powerful attitudes are of great benefit both to the flock and to the spiritual leader. Being a spiritual leader with these qualities and attitudes will bring an unfading crown of glory when the chief Shepherd appears.
Having just emphasized that elders must carry out their ministry of leadership with humility, Peter now says that in a like manner others should be subject to the elders and clothe themselves with humility toward one another.
“Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”1 Peter 5:5-7
Subjection to Those Wise in the Lord
The point of Peter’s admonition to younger Christians to “be subject to the elders” is that younger believers should not depend only on their own knowledge and authority but should submit (listen carefully and respectfully) to those who have proven themselves to be wise in the faith. In support of his call for humility and submission, Peter quotes Proverbs 3:34. We are not called to submit to everyone. We are to submit to those who have proven wise in the faith, those who follow Christ and point us to Christ. God opposes the proud because God hates the sin of pride which precedes so many other sins.
Peter’s second admonition is to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. God’s mighty hand is a metaphor in the OT for his power as displayed in discipline and deliverance. To humble ourselves before the mighty hand of God means we follow God wherever He leads, down smooth roads or roads full of potholes. We follow whether we are being disciplined or delivered. We cannot humble ourselves before others until we have humbled ourselves before God.
The third admonition is to cast all our anxieties on the Lord because He cares for us. God cares for us! What a blessing. We are to place ourselves under the mercy and care of God whose grace will sustain us. Peter’s reminder is that it is safe to cast all our anxieties on the Lord because He is trustworthy and cares for us.
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”1 Peter 5:8-11
Satan is Real and Dangerous
As he comes to the end of the letter, Peter pauses to remind his readers that Satan is real and truly the adversary of every believer. As Christians living in difficult times, we must be prepared to resist him.
Satan must be taken seriously and be resisted by standing firm in faith, trusting in our all-powerful God. We can rely on God to enable the defense to allow us to stand firm in the face of the wicked works of Satan. Satan’s style is to prowl like a lion and pounce when least expected. That is why believers must be constantly sober-minded and watchful. We do not fight alone. Throughout the world, all believers face the same adversary and the same kind of suffering we experience. God is with us and a great army of saints from ancient times until now have fought and do fight the same battle against unrighteousness. Even though victory is certain, Peter reminds us that there will be suffering and pain as we battle. The benefit of fighting the battle is overwhelming. When our battle is over the God of all grace will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us.
“By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it. 13 She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son. 14 Greet one another with the kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.”1 Peter 5:12-14
The final three verses were written by Peter himself in the original document. To this point Silvanus (Silas) has written what Peter dictated, but now Peter takes the pen himself.
With these words Peter completes his letter written to hurting Christians telling them why they should stand firm in God’s grace with hope in their hearts. He says that Silvanus (Silas) was the one who wrote down what he, Peter, dictated “exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.”
The intended meaning of verse 13 is somewhat problematical, but most likely Peter means that he is writing from Rome (nicknamed Babylon by Christians of the first century) and that it is the church in Rome that sends greetings. The church is invariably referred to as feminine. The Mark referred to is most likely John Mark. It was John Mark who wrote the Gospel of Mark based on Peter’s knowledge and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
A Backward Look at 1 Peter
Peter’s letter presents a true picture of what it is like to live as a believer in an unbelieving world. Like life itself, the letter constantly reminds us of the reality that Christians will suffer as they journey through life in a world that is eager to marginalize, suppress, and prove believers wrong. As our Lord Jesus told us, we will have tribulation as long as we live in this world, but take heart because He has overcome the world.
In the first part of his letter (1:1-2:12) Peter stresses the truth that all believers have a living hope. The redemptive work of our Lord, His resurrection and His promises to us are the basis for that living hope. Grace and peace can be ours as we claim that living hope (1:3-12), even in the midst of persecution. Likewise, we can walk in holiness (1:13-25) and grow in Christ-likeness (2:1-12). In this part of the letter Peter presents Christ as the source of our hope.
In the second part of his letter (2:13-4:11), Peter exhorts us to live our lives in hope in spite of the reality of suffering both in our lives and the lives of those around us. He urges us to submit to various official authorities (2:13-3:7), to be humble in spirit (3:8-22), to endure (4:1-6), and to glorify God in all that we do (4-11). These are Peter’s principles for Christians to live successfully in a hostile world. Peter emphasized the necessity of God’s grace to enable us to stand firm in faith and exhibit a calm hope. In this part of the letter Peter presents Christ as our example for our hope in hurtful times.
In the final section of his letter (4:12-5:14), Peter interweaves his two motifs of hope and struggle in a hurtful world. There is comfort and hope for those who struggle in fiery trials. In the difficult journey of a spiritual life, believers suffer but only “according to God’s will” (4:19) with the purpose of growing in godliness. In their ordeal believers are sustained by the power and goodness of God. Believers should not be surprised at difficult circumstances (4:12), but should rejoice at being included as a part of Christ’s suffering. They should entrust their lives to God (4:19), casting all their anxieties on Him because He cares for them (5:7). Believers endure the trials that come upon them, not as an isolated individual, but as a member of a flock tended by faithful shepherds. Satan is a dreaded but defeated foe. Yet, though he is defeated, we must be sober minded and prepared to oppose his attacks. In this last part of the letter, Peter presents Christ as the loving shepherd who has overcome the world.
Peter’s message is that through mutual love and concern, through absolute reliance on the power and love of God, the fiery trials, intended to consume and destroy us, will only serve to purify and strengthen us. Stand firm in your living hope!