ARMING OURSELVES WITH A CHRISTLIKE ATTITUDE 1 Peter 4:1 – 6, September 17, 2020
Reflection | Chapter 4 of Peter’s first letter to the churches in Asia Minor builds on what he has shared thus far: “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude” (verse 1). Throughout this letter, Peter has openly acknowledged that suffering is an inevitable but not hopeless part of the Christian walk of faith. Part of the reason God came to us in Christ was to suffer – to endure the worst of our humanity in order to unleash the fullness and best of who we were created to be through Him.
Peter writes Christians should arm themselves with a Christlike attitude before any and all adversity. If we listen and observe what Christ both said and did in the four gospels, we discover Jesus expected to suffer. He clearly perceived experiencing sorrow was built into His purpose here on earth. As a result, Jesus was not surprised when hardship came. And even though He prayed for the possibility to avoid it, Christ ultimately trusted in God’s greater redemptive power in the face of His suffering and therefore didn’t run from it.
Likewise, Peter calls we who follow Jesus to bear the same posture that He did in the face of His trials. We cannot be surprised when we experience difficulties. We must not be unprepared for the inevitable blows we will take. We should not be tempted either to collapse in defeat or to run away from the challenges laid before us. Instead, we are, like Jesus, thanks to the empowerment of the Spirit of the Living Christ in us, to trust that there is nothing in this world that could ultimately, eternally harm or destroy us.
While Jesus broke the power of sin, death, and the devil through the labor of the Cross and the victory of His Resurrection, the making of all things new – including us – is a work in progress. The final outcome of our faith journey is not in doubt. It is certain and set in stone. But the road we trod in following Jesus to get to that finish line is marked with challenges, hardships, and yes, even full-scale assaults. All of these obstacles are the byproducts of two factors – evil that persists in defiance of God despite its certain defeat and ignorance on the part of those who do not know and have not heard the good news of the Gospel in Christ. In the face of both the evil and the ignorance of this world, we are called to bear witness to the truth about Jesus and to do so through acts of love and not retaliation or abuse.
To endure in this way to the end is, according to Peter, to reflect that we are “done with sin” (verse 1). It is important to understand what is and is not being expressed with this statement. Peter is not suggesting Christians who have suffered or who are willing to experience hardship have somehow achieved a perfect life. Wrongly interpreting this verse in this manner has led some believers throughout the history of the Church to wrongly pursue and even self-inflict pain upon themselves as a means of purifying themselves of sin.
Again, Christians are not perfect. Growing and maturing in the faith, we are being perfected by the Holy Spirit into the character of Jesus. During this progression of our lives, we will continue to make sinful choices – ideally, less rather than more! Peter’s point is, choosing to follow Jesus, and thus, to openly ready ourselves to be uncomfortable and to experience suffering like Christ, prevents one from going down a different road, the opposite path – of a life lived indulging in sin.
Our mindset impacts our motivation for living. For Peter, the byproduct of followers of Jesus adopting a Christlike attitude is to “not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God” (verse 2). We need to honestly wrestle with the nature of our relationship with Jesus. It is one thing to associate ourself with Christ, but it is quite another to be a disciple of Jesus.
Believing in Christ is where we begin but if we are not following Jesus, then we’ve never really gotten started. If we aren’t seeking to be like Jesus, through abiding in the Word and the Spirit to develop the mindset of Christ, then our motivation for facing each day is not going to be living for Jesus. It will be living for ourselves.
Those who merely associate themselves with Jesus, those who are Christians in name only, are not driven by the will of God. They are driven by different pursuits – seeking fulfillment through pleasure, material possessions, and/or status and significance in the eyes of others. God is good in their eyes as long as God maintains or enhances their status quo. Any experience of loss or deprivation will be received as fodder for their doubts about God’s goodness and faithfulness.
Whereas, disciples of Jesus get up each day and pick up the cross of Christ. While they aren’t looking to suffer, they are prepared to endure struggles for sake of promoting the Kingdom of God. They enjoy the fruits of this life like everyone else. But their motivation for living is not to pursue these fruits but instead to find their fulfillment in God’s provision of what is good and of what is needed. Walking by faith, disciples of Jesus follow Christ in doing the will of God, even if it hurts. Mindful of both the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ, they trust that whatever pain or loss they experience along the way will not be in vain but will be redeemed.
To those Christians who continue to be seduced by the allure of living for yourself, Peter admonishes, “you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry” (verse 3). What Peter outlines here is more than a list of forbidden sins. He details some of the earmarks of addiction – the manifest behaviors of those who have become consumed or controlled by their unchecked desires. The kind of life Peter describes is not truly pleasurable or comfortable. It is, in the end, a life on enslavement – enslavement to self.
Unfortunately, as we all know, misery loves company. Or as Peter frames it, “They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you” (verse 4). To be clear, following Jesus is a double-edged sword. For some, as Peter earlier encouraged us in this letter, Christlike character will attract others to know Jesus. For others, as Peter acknowledges here, Christlike character will negatively provoke those who want to live for themselves first. In response, non-believers will first apply social pressure to conform. When this is unsuccessful, those who follow Jesus will suffer by being maligned and persecuted for their choice to not to succumb to wild, reckless and ultimately selfish living.
Peter is not talking in abstractions. Many of those to whom he writes in Asia Minor previously lived a very different lifestyle. As the saying goes, “being in Rome, they did what Romans do.” Local custom and culture centered around raucous feasts and licentious festivals. Popular forms of entertainment in the empire included gladiator fights and chariot races – replete with violence, blood, and gore. Choosing not to participate in such activities would have been viewed as being anti-social at best and at worst, treasonous – threatening the Greco-Roman way of life. In this crucible of both intense societal pressure and unrelenting, public critique, Peter is telling his readers to remain rooted in Christ.
He assures these Christians that those who pass judgment on them “will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (verse 5). God is paying attention. And God always gets the last word. That word can be one of grace or one of judgment.
One of the most common arguments of those who live primarily for themselves is “You only live once, so live your best life today!” But Peter insists, along with the whole of the Bible, there is another life coming. Everyone will give an account of both the words and actions of their life.
There should be no delight in God’s judgment upon others. There also should be no avoidance or denial of the fact that God holds us accountable for how we choose to relate to Jesus Christ. If we choose to be ruled by God’s will, then we are choosing God’s grace – according to the life of Christ. If we choose to be ruled by our own will, then we are choosing to be judged according to how we have lived.
Peter underscores all of this with our final verse for today: “For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit” (verse 6). The dead that Peter are referring to are those who died after accepting the Gospel. He is specifically speaking of those who were put to death because of their faith – being judged by human standards. However, in the end, those who choose to live for God, to suffer for Christ’s sake while alive, will see such human judgments reversed and thus will be resurrected by the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
Abiding in the mindset of Christ fosters our motivation for following God’s will. Making such a choice daily means being prepared to encounter resistance and inevitably suffering along the way. In a world fractured by sin, there can be no avoidance of pain. But there is a difference between the hurt we inflict upon ourselves and others and the pain that results from God’s resetting of a fractured world. One form of pain kills. The other leads to life – eternal life.
Consider & Discuss | Most of the time—our immediate response to suffering is one of questioning, or even shock. We often think, “How could this be happening to me???” Or “What did I do to deserve this?” How might this attitude that Peter is calling us to adopt change the way we view or respond to suffering when it comes?
What is your motivation for living? What drives you to get out of bed each day? Is it living for Christ or living for yourself? How is your life different from that of most non-Christians?
Prayer Focus | Suffering God, thank You for Your loving-kindness, that in my times of deep distress and suffering, You know what it is like to hurt – to be ridiculed, to be wronged, to be condemned. You endured the Cross in order to set all of us free from our addiction to ourselves. Teach and guide us in taking up Your Cross so that we can live out of the freedom that You have given us. Help us to remember and to be prepared for the obstacles and the trouble we will encounter as we follow You. Protect us from the temptation to go back to who we once were. Guard us against the pressure and even the abuse to conform not to Your character but to our basest and unchecked desires. Distract us, enliven us with the preoccupation and the habit of living out of Your grace. When we ache remind us You are the God who heals. When we lament, speak to us again of the hope that is ours in Christ. Amen.