13 November 2015

1 Peter 4:1-8

“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered has finished with sin).” (v. 1)

Psalm: Psalm 124


People often struggle with the traditional words of the Covenant Service in the Methodist Worship Book which say "...put me to suffering". This is presumably because it seems to imply that God may cause suffering, and we are accepting that God has the right to do so. Verse 1 seems to say something similar and to imply that it will stop us from sinning.

But we must ask ourselves if we have ever met anybody who hasn't suffered in some way. The reality is that everyone has and will suffer, and presumably if we believe in an all powerful God, then God does allow this to happen. The question then is not 'Will we suffer?' but rather, 'When we do suffer, how will we respond?' Will we respond as Christ did in the Garden of Gethsemane and trust God in the midst of this suffering or will we seek to do our own will, protect ourselves and divert our pain onto others? And it seems correct to say that we are talking here of the ordinary suffering of illness, accident and human cruelty as well as persecution for our faith.

Does this mean that we should not protest if our suffering is caused by another? Clearly not, as 1 Peter 3:15-16 suggests. Nor should we assume that a passive acceptance of all suffering is best. The book of Job discusses this issue very thoroughly and Job is certainly not rebuked for his questioning. However, there is something important about the attitude of acceptance when facing any form of suffering in this life.

The rest of this section again has a call to holiness and outlines what is not holy living before we come across the challenge of verse 6. Who are the dead who the gospel was proclaimed to? There are three possible answers:

1. The spirits referred to in 1 Peter 3:19.
2. Those who are physically alive but spiritually dead.
3. Those who heard the gospel, responded in faith and have since died.

Space does not permit a discussion of these options so it is probably best to read a commentary and come to one's own conclusions!

To Ponder

  • What if anything have you learnt from suffering?

Bible notes author

The Revd Jonathan Mead

Jonathan is a Methodist minister, who works part time in the London NW Mission circuit and part time as a learning and development officer in the London District. He enjoys keeping fit, reading history and visiting Mediterranean destinations..