1 Peter 4:1-7
For as much then as Christ has suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind…
This passage is the most difficult in the entire Epistle. We can see a meaning in each of its sentences taken separately, but when we take them together their meaning, as a whole, is obscure. As far, however, as I can understand it, I would entitle the paragraph, The persecuted Christian reminded of the necessity of suffering for righteousness. Peter here states the fact that suffering for righteousness is no strange thing, but what Christians must reasonably look for.
I. CHRIST'S SUFFERING BIDS HIS PEOPLE BE READY TO SUFFER. The sufferings of our Lord alluded to here are not his substitutionary sufferings - they are referred to in the eighteenth verse; of them, to the world's last moment, it will be true, "I have trodden the wine-press alone, and of the people there was none with me." But there is another class of our Lord's sufferings in which his people can, and according to their likeness to him must, shape - the suffering he bore in the maintenance of holiness in an evil world; of this he could say, "The disciple is not above his Master." There is sometimes confusion in Christian minds, in finding that Christ is said to suffer for us, and yet that in many places we are called to suffer with him. Let us be clear on this point, we are "redeemed by the precious blood of Christ;" God requires nothing from us for our redemption, but, when thus redeemed, much of Christ's suffering becomes the pattern of ours; and of that he says, "He that taketh not up his cross and cometh after me cannot be my disciple."
1. Christ's experience would lead us to expect that holiness must suffer on earth. For three and thirty years he, the Embodiment of perfect love to God and man, lived and moved upon this earth, and what was the result? He was "despised and rejected of men;" the longer he lived, the more he wrought, the wider he was known, the wilder and louder and fiercer became the cry, "Away with him! Crucify him!" Goodness condemns wickedness when the lips say nothing; the very presence of a good man in an ungodly circle is a protest against evil. On one side at least there will always be enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman; and the nearer his people approach conformity to their Lord's character, the more may they be sure of conformity to their Lord's death.
2. What Christ's sufferings have made possible to us should lead us to be willing to suffer for its attainment. Our Lord's sufferings had no other end than our sanctification, to secure God-likeness in us. How great a boon must this be, when it could be purchased at no less a price than what comes to mind, when we speak of our Lord as "the Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;" and for which he did not regard that Drice as too great to pay! And if we find, when we try to secure and maintain this great blessing, that it can only be done at much cost to ourselves, how impossible it is for us to shrink from it, when we remember the greater cost of this to him ] It were a solemn thing to refuse through cowardice to "fill up that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ."
3. The claims of Christ should lead us to resolve to suffer if need be for him. Where Christ's sacrifice is present to the mind, there is no room for self left; the "I" in us is destroyed; the blood of Christ, when rightly apprehended, not only blots out our sin, but also our self. We come now to the difficult part of this passage, but I think it brings before us this truth -
II. THE SUFFERING OF CHRIST'S PEOPLE NECESSARILY ARISES FROM THREE CAUSES.
1. Suffering through mortification of the flesh. It seems natural to suppose that when, having said, "Christ hath suffered in the flesh," the apostle goes on to say, "For he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin," he is still referring to Christ. But it cannot be so, for of him" who did no sin" it cannot be said that he hath "ceased from sin;" it must refer to us. Yet how can it be said of them whom he has called to arm themselves with the same suffering mind as Christ, that they have "ceased from sin"? I think we have here a parallel to what we read in Romans 6:6-11," Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him," etc. That contains a priceless truth, which we do not half realize. It speaks of a death in us, corresponding to our Lord's death; that this is to be the sublime result of his death - the death of sin in his people; and it is this which Peter here holds up to us, "He that hath suffered in the flesh [hath put to death the flesh], hath ceased from sin," etc. But that destroying the flesh is suffering, to take our natural desires and passions and nail them to the cross is crucifixion - a slow, lingering death, which involves unutterable pain till it is complete.
2. Suffering through difference from the world. "For the time past may suffice to have wrought the desire of the Gentiles," etc. We have here a true picture of the pagan character, and it is hardly possible for us to imagine the contrast which was manifest when such a one became converted to Christ. Glaring evils had to be renounced at once, lifelong associations had to be severed at a blow. That was the case here; and what was the result? They were evil spoken of, and that is where the suffering always comes in when we break with wrong associations. We shall be thought strange by others, and shall seem to be condemning them, assuming that we are better than they. And to be misjudged, misrepresented, reviled, is suffering; but, as Christians, there is no help for it, we must sever ourselves from what is worldly.
3. Suffering through, spiritual discipline. "For unto this end was the gospel preached even to the dead" etc. The word "dead" here must be taken to mean those who are dead whilst they live. But. even with that alteration, it is difficult to see clearly what the verse means. Now it is said that the construction of the Greek allows of the insertion of the word "although;" just as in a passage in Romans 6:17, which we never read without mentally inserting the word "although." If that be so, the meaning is evident: "For to this end was the gospel preached even to them who were dead in sins, than [although] they might be judged, condemned, persecuted, put to death according to men in the flesh, they might live according to God in the spirit." Spiritual life is God's end with us, let men do with us what they may. And the spiritual life is often developed by means of what men do to us. Every act of persecution is to be followed by a deeper peace, a holier purity, a higher power.
III. THE COMING END ASSISTS CHRIST'S PEOPLE TO BEAR SUFFERING IN A RIGHT SPIRIT. Looking at this superficially, some might think this a hard gospel; the follower of Christ is to arm himself with the expectation of suffering. But look what comes before, and what follows after this. What comes before? "Forasmuch as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh." What follows it? "The end of all things is at hand." This hard demand stands between the cross and the crown; that makes all the difference.
1. The coming end calls us to estimate reasonably the extent of the sneering. Read it as it is in the Revised Version. "Be ye therefore of sound mind." The apostle is here calling the persecuted to regard their sufferings reasonably, in connection with the fact that "the end of all things is at hand." The earth-trials of God's people are, after all, but the momentary cloud in the day of heavenly sunshine, which shall have no evening, of which now in Christ we have the dawn.
2. The coming end calls us to vigilance lest we lose the coming blessing. That "coming end" wilt be the beginning of the glorified life - that life in which what we have sown here we shall reap; that life in which we may have "an entrance ministered to us abundantly," or in which we may be "saved yet so as by fire." Beware lest under the pressure of temptation you conform to the world, you be ashamed of Jesus, you refuse your cross, and thereby lose your crown. Suffering there must be; look to the end, anticipate the glory which it begins, and against all that would rob you of the fullness of that glory, watch unto prayer. - C.N.
Parallel VersesKJV: Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin;