26 March 2016

1 Peter 4:1-8

“Since therefore Christ suffered, arm yourselves also with the same intention” (v. 1)

Psalm: Psalm 24


"Therefore" in verse 1 refers back a few verses, to 1 Peter 3:18 - "For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit." This idea of Christ's suffering being for the sake of others, less worthy than him, gives some sharpness to the idea of his followers having "the same intention". They are not only to be willing to suffer, but are to welcome the redemptive opportunities offered by suffering.

The writer of 1 Peter does not encourage their readers to seek out suffering, looking for opportunities to be a martyr. Through the letter, they are called to do what they can to live harmoniously with their families and communities, so that they will set a good example and avoid unnecessary suffering. But the writer also recognises that the simple fact of living a Christian life will often lead them into conflict with authorities or neighbours. So they must be ready for this, and welcome it as a sign that they are following faithfully in Christ's footsteps. If they suffer for their Christian identity, it will be evidence that they have "finished with sin" (v. 1).

Verses 2 and 3 contrast the future with the past. Looking back at their lives, the readers may find that they have lived in a way which is not pleasing to God. Looking forward, to the rest of their 'earthly lives', their lives must be oriented towards the will of God. This will invite comment, setting them apart from their former companions, but God's is the judgement that really counts, and in God's judgement they will have proved themselves to be spiritually alive and well.

The Greek word translated 'end' in verse 7 can have the positive sense 'completion' or 'conclusion', or the more negative sense of 'termination'. Often, this comes down to a question of perspective! But either way, this is a time of reckoning, and so a life of love becomes all the more crucial as the end approaches.

To Ponder

  • Holy Saturday is in a sense a day of waiting - a pause between death and resurrection, suffering and glory. In some ways, so is this earthly life. How far does this passage offer any comfort, support or advice for living in that 'limbo' state? And what might that be?
  • Verse 3 describes what the writer sees as the marks of godlessness in his time. What are the equivalents today? What ways of life or attitudes do you find in our world that we, as Christians, might want to hold back from, or even challenge? How do we ensure that we're not merely opposing fun?

Bible notes author

The Revd Catrin Harland

Catrin Harland is the Methodist chaplain to the University of Sheffield, where she spends her time discussing life and faith with students and staff, aided by coffee and cake. She is passionate about equipping young adults to discover and live out their calling in the Church and the world.