Practical Suffering, Part 3a: The Right Mindset – 1 Peter 4:1-6
“Therefore, because Christ suffered in the flesh, also prepare yourselves with the same intention, because the one who suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin. So as to live no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God for the rest of time in the flesh. For sufficient time has passed to have worked out the intentions of the nations, having gone to sensualities, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, parties, and unlawful idolatries, in which they were surprised, blaspheming, when you no longer ran with them in their flood of debauchery. Who will give an account to Him ready to judge the living and the dead. For this purpose, even the dead were evangelized, so that they might, on the one hand be judged according to men in the flesh, and on the other hand they might live according to God in the spirit.”
“Therefore” (οὖν) draws a connection back to the previous section of 3:18-22. Even if we skip over this conjunction, the language of the text demands we keep Christ’s victorious suffering in mind.Therefore, it is necessary that we either (1) remain consistent with our interpretation of the previous passage or (2) show humility and repent from our errant interpretation of the previous passage.
The victory of Christ’s suffering (3:18-22) forms the basis for the instruction that Peter is about to deliver. Peter desires to prepare his readers for suffering as well as to encourage them to continue suffering well for the sake of righteousness (3:13-17). The suffering of Christ is held up as an example, not to follow in order to replicate but to encourage because of the victorious result. But in order to suffer well for the sake of righteousness, one must anticipate suffering. Here Peter provides two reasons why his readers (and thus all Christians) must anticipate and prepare to for the sake of righteousness.
Because of Our Master (vv. 1-2)
In the Greek text the first word we read is Χριστοῦ or Christ. Peter’s explanation begins with Christ and His suffering in the flesh. This genitive absolute is used to place the victorious suffering of Jesus Christ (3:18-22) as a backdrop for the current exhortation.
Suffering Must be Anticipated (v. 1a)
“Therefore, because Christ suffered in the flesh, also prepare yourselves with the same intention”
As already stated, Christ’s suffering for sin (3:18) is the backdrop for this verse. The suffering in the flesh (σαρκὶ) describes Christ’s crucifixion which ended in His physical death as described in 3:18. All that we have already stated must be read into this statement, for it is the reason, cause, and basis (casual use of the participle παθόντος) for Peter’s command.
“Prepare yourselves” (ὁπίσασθε) is an aorist imperative and thus leaves no room for debate or questions. It is a command to be immediately and unwaveringly obeyed. The middle voice emphasizes the subjects (certainly/immediately prepare yourselves!). Many translations understand the military usage of this verb from ὁπλίζω by rendering it as arm yourselves. The verb has the idea of equipping or preparing by gathering all necessary tools and equipment for the task at hand. There is a lexical connection between this term in the common Greek and the classical Greek term for a citizen-soldier or hoplite (ὁπλίτης). The Greek hoplite was not a professional soldier, but a common citizen who came when his nation called, bringing with him his own shield and spear. Every citizen owned weapons of war and was expected to use them when his country called. He was to come armed and prepared. These prepared ones are the hoplites. Peter is commanding his readers to arm themselves, prepare themselves, gather the necessary tools of the trade in order to engage in the business of Christianity.
Yet he does not call for the gathering of material weapons but for a kind of attitude. The object which the Christians of Asia Minor are to arm themselves with is the same intention as Christ. “Intention” translates the Greek ἔννοια which describes a mental process such as a thought, insight, or knowledge. The point is to equip ourselves with the same thought as Jesus had during His suffering. But that thought motivated action and so we translate the term as intention. What was Christ’s intention? Christ went to the cross with the full intention of suffering to the point of death. This is a blatant and unmistakable call for believers to fix their minds with the intention of suffering for the sake of righteousness. This goes well beyond preparing for the possibility of suffering. This is not a theoretical exercise. Peter commands his readers to arm themselves with the intention of suffering.
The most obvious question to come from this command is why? Why would a Christian want to intend on suffering? Peter anticipates this question and provides the answer.
Suffering Reveals Regeneration (v. 1b)
“Because the one who suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin”
The Greek ὅτι introduces the reason for this command. Christians must be equipped with an intention to suffer because the man who suffers in the flesh is one who has ceased from sin. The articular participle (ὁ παθὼν) is not specific, but points to any Christian who suffered as Christ suffered; namely in the flesh (σαρκὶ) or physically. It is not necessary to demand that this physical suffering result in death, though that is certainly a possibility. The main issue is what does it mean that such a one ceases from sin?
The perfect indicative (πέπαυται) speaks of a definite act that has already occurred yet continues to have results. Sin has ceased and continues to cease in this one who has suffered. There are only two possibilities that are available to us, the interpreters. (1) This one who suffered is one who has died and thus Peter addresses martyrdom. The one who has died in Christ is now free from sin and will never sin again. This is certainly a true statement, and it would be a consistent use of σαρκὶ (flesh) with reference to the suffering of Christ in 3:18. Yet this understanding does little to make the connection to the following verses that explain the distinction between Peter’s readers and the pagan culture around them. (2) A better option is to view this not as a statement of fact, but as a proof of perseverance. The one who has suffered physically for the sake of righteousness is one who has not turned away from righteousness. The world does not persecute its own (Jn. 15:19). One who suffered is one who has not turned tail and run back to the pit from whence they came. The one who suffered is one who has not apostatized. This one has ceased from sin, not in the sense that he will never sin again, but in the sense that he is dead to sin and alive in Christ (Rom. 6:11). “He who in loyalty to Christ, and in His power, has steadfastly endured persecution rather than join in the wicked practices of the pagan world, has demonstrated that the pursuit of sin in his life has ended.” The reason that Christians must arm themselves with the intention of Christ, which is an intention to suffer for the sake of righteousness, is because this is the mark of one who has been redeemed. Christ’s people always persevere. Therefore, prepare to suffer.
Regeneration Demands Submission (v. 2)
“So as to live no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God for the rest of time in the flesh”
This verse is a purpose statement that explains why Christians cease from sin. Christians are not independent or autonomous beings that are free to do was we please. We are subjects of our Master and are thus free to obey. Many useless and hedonistic discussions regarding Christian “liberty” would evaporate if this reality were properly understood. The remaining time God grants us to live on this earth (in the flesh; i.e., physical life) is to be lived for the will of God and not for the lusts of men.
Peter distinguishes between the plural and various lusts (ἐπιθυμίαις) of men and the singular will and desire (θελήματι) of God. The contrast between these human lusts and God’s will is thrust forward for the sake of emphasis. The purpose of one’s course of life (βιόω) is no longer (μηκέτι) for these lusts. On the contrary (ἀλλὰ) the purpose of our physical life is for the purpose of conforming, executing, and submitting to the will and decree of God.
Peter commands his readers to equip themselves with the intention to suffer based on the reality that Christ’s intention to suffer resulted in indescribable victory (3:18-22). Yet the purpose of this command is rooted in the fact that we do not rule ourselves but are subjects to our Master. This reality will become Peter’s foundation as he continues to develop three reasons why Christians must prepare to suffer.
Because of Whom Our Master Has Made Us to Be (vv. 3-6)
Peter now provides reasons for his command to prepare to suffer. By using “for” (γὰρ) he now explains his command by looking to the readers’ past lives as evil pagans (v. 3), present circumstances as persecuted Christians (v. 4), and future assurance as those who have believed the gospel and enjoy newness of life (vv. 5-6).
Past Reprobation (v. 3)
“For sufficient time has passed to have worked out the intentions of the nations, having gone to sensualities, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, parties, and unlawful idolatries”
Peter uses three verbal forms in this verse, all of which use the perfect aspect to describe action that has concluded yet continues to have results. The time of walking with the pagan nations has already ceased (παρεληλυθὼς) and will never begin again. The audiences’ participation or working out (κατειργάσθαι) of the nations’ ways has already occurred in the past and is a done deal. Their participation or going out (πεπορευμένους) to engage in sinful activities is a historical fact but remains in the past. Peter brings a sobering reminder of who his readers were before Christ.
By stating that their time to do what the nations do is sufficient (ἀρκετὸς) he means that they have already had more than enough time to live in sin. This time is now over and there is no need to revisit. The intentions (βούλημα) of the nations (τῶν έθνῶν) or Gentiles is not a pretty picture. All the various lusts and desires (ἐπιθυμίαις) mentioned in v. 2 are here presented as a singular will and intention of the pagans. By referring to them as the nations or Gentiles, Peter does not make a distinction between ethnicities but of kingdoms. The nations are set against Yhwh and His Anointed (Ps. 2). This is simply a reference to the pagan society from which Christ rescued Peter’s audience.
Peter describes the depravity of pagan society in sweeping detail. The six terms used are not a conclusive list but succeed in painting an accurate picture of unregenerate life as a pagan.
Sensualities (ἀσελγείαις) is best understood as a complete lack of self-control in which one behaves in a manner that is completely unacceptable. The term is used ten times in the NT, four of which by Peter (1 Pet. 4:3; 2 Pet. 2:2, 7, 18). It is also used by Paul to describe on of the fruits of the flesh (Gal. 5:19). General sinful impulsiveness is likely in view here, though all manner of sexual deviancy would be included.
Lusts (ἐπιθυμίαις) is the same root used to describe the lusts of men which we are no longer living for in v. 2. The term describes strong desire and can be understood in either a positive or negative context. The current context is clearly negative.
Drunkenness (οἰνοφλυγίαις) is a compound term that combines wine (οἶνος) and gossips (φλύαρος). The picture is made of one whose tongue is loosened by wine or strong drink and describes one who is consistently in such a state. Fifty years ago, we would call this person a drunk. Today we would call this behavior a Saturday night.
Carousing (κώμοις) is found in the apocryphal books of the LXX to describe the desolation of the temple by pagan Greeks (2 Mac. 6:4) and other unspeakable wickedness (Wis. 14:23). The term describes those who, after gathering to feast in honor of pagan deities, take to the streets to pursue whatever mischief might present itself. Paul includes this vice among the fruits of the flesh (Gal. 5:21).
Parties (πότοις) is not a description of an inherently evil act. The term describes feasting and is used in the LXX of the Old Testament to describe feasting and hospitality in a positive context (Gen. 19:3; 2 Sam. 3:20; 1 Kings 3:15), though some of these feasts are likely feasts of great excess (Jdg. 14:10, 12, 17; Esth. 1:5, 8, 9; 2:18). The context here likely refers to parties or feasts without restraint, where wine flows and morals disappear.
Unlawful Idolatries (ἀθεμίτοις εἰδωλολατρίαις) concludes the list and unveils the source and goal of all this unrighteous behavior. It may be difficult for our modern minds to understand, but nearly every social event in the ancient western world, whether privately held or public, was shot through with religious implications. Days of celebration, patriotic expressions, and political affiliations were all doused with and permeated by pagan ideology. To attend a celebration would be to acknowledge the pagan deity to whom the feast was being held in honor of. To swear fealty to a pagan emperor would require allegiance to the emperor’s religion. To honor a great national victory would assume an acknowledgement of the pagan god who “made possible” the victory. All the vices listed above are nothing more than naked idolatry and as such are unlawful. Not unlawful from the perspective of the culture or the government, who sanctioned or at least condoned such activity. But unlawful from the perspective of God and from His word which starkly contradicts all the claims made by such foolish behavior.
This habitual revelry once described Peter’s audience. But no longer. The time for such things has come to an end now that they are in Christ. They have been given more than enough time to participate. Now, it is time to separate.
Present Separation (v. 4)
“in which they were surprised, blaspheming, when you no longer ran with them in their flood of debauchery”
“In which” (ἐν ᾧ) points back to the list of sinful revelry. The unspecified subject of the verb ξενίζονται (they were surprised) points back to the pagan nations. The term (ξενίζω) comes with two shades of meaning: (1) to entertain or receive a guest or stranger or (2) to cause a strong reaction to something new or strange. The second idea is in view here. Those who raised Cain alongside Peter’s now redeemed audience are shocked, surprised, and find it strange that their partners in crime are no longer with them. At one point, these people ran with the pagans. The term συντρεχόντων literally means to run with and carries the same idea as our English turn of phrase. At one time, the readers threw their lot in with the pagans, were joined with them, and consented to whatever evil and mischief the crowd desired to conduct. They followed the crowd into a flood of debauchery or an excess of dissipation. Their sinful desires had no bounds, and they would run headlong into it. Yet that is no longer the case.
The fact that these people no longer run with the same old crowd doing the same old sinful acts causes great shock to those who are still bound up in it. The shocking power of regeneration is notable enough. But when we remember that pagan ideology was shot through nearly every aspect of social life it becomes even much more so. Some forms of debauchery would have been considered undesirable even from the pagan point of view. But as these believers begin to realize that their whole social calendar is full of nothing but pagan celebrations, they begin to withdraw from social gatherings. “The Christians were compelled to stand aloof from all the social pleasures of the world, and the Gentiles bitterly resented their puritanism, regarding them as the enemies of all joy, and therefore of the human race.”
We should probably take a moment to reflect that the sort of persecution Peter is describing is coming from society rather than from government sanctioned pogroms. It is here that we are subtly reminded that we are truly aliens and sojourners by reflecting on Peter’s world where one could hardly express their patriotism without bending the new to pagan idolatry. The Christians of the 1st century would have been forced by the gospel and by conscience to withdraw from most things secular. This would certainly send a shockwave through their old friends and neighbors. In their shock, these riotous neighbors turn and blaspheme.
It would be a mistake to downgrade βλασφημέω to a weaker form like malign or slander. The object of the nations’ ire is not only these new converts, but their religion and their God who makes them who they are. “They cursed the Christians and the whole religion which made people the opposite of what they had once been.” It is impossible to slander the people of God for being the people of God without also slandering the God of the people. In doing so, they make their position very clear. Yet this blasphemy only confirms that Peter’s audience are no longer what they once were. God has done a mighty work within their lives, and He will see it through to the end.
Future Preservation (vv. 5-6)
“Who will give an account to Him ready to judge the living and the dead. For this purpose, even the dead were evangelized, so that they might, on the one hand be judged according to men in the flesh, and on the other hand they might live according to God in the spirit.”
The relative οἵ (who) points back to the same people who are surprised and who blaspheme. It is they who will one day be forced to give an account for their conduct. “Will give an account” (ἀποδώσουσιν λόγον) is courtroom language and includes more than their blasphemy. They will give an account for every thought, word, and deed which screamed rebellion for their entire lives. The future aspect moves this certain event from the present to the yet unrealized future. The One to whom they will answer is not named, but the person of Christ is assumed. Here He is only referred to as the One ready to judge. The objects of this judgment include both the living and the dead. Death is no escape from judgment. The judge will render verdict to all who remain as well as all who have passed from this life.
It is important to note that Peter does not address the damnation of the wicked in order to motivate his audience. This is not spoken with a sense of vindictiveness but of encouragement. “He reminded believers of the final judgment of all, assuring them that their perseverance in the faith matters and that those who practice evil will be assessed and condemned on the final day.”
The final verse in this passage presents the purpose of the whole discussion on suffering; namely, the gospel. “For” (γὰρ) points back to v. 5 to offer an explanation while “to this” (εἰς τοῦτο) points ahead to the “so that” (ἵνα). The gospel was preached to those who are dead for a reason. But what on earth does it mean that the gospel was preached to the dead?
There needs to be a few points of clarification. First, this verse does not, in any way, point back to 3:19 and the victory proclamation Christ made to rebellious spirits now in prison. The verb proclaimed (κυρύσσω) was used there but here we find evangelize (εὐαγγελίζω). Second, the aorist aspect of the verb evangelized must be understood as a whole action from the point of Peter’s writing. In other words, this is something that has already happened rather than something that is currently happening or continues to happen. Third, these dead (νεκροῖς) should be understood in the same light as the dead (νεκρούς) in v. 5. While saying that the gospel has been preached to spiritually dead people makes us conservatives rest easier in our chairs, it doesn’t fit with the context of Christ judging those who are physically dead in the future. Peter does not write to or concerning the unregenerate here but writes to believers about believers. This is a note of encouragement that those who have already died were evangelized. The point of this gospel preaching is two-fold: on the one hand so that they might be judged in the flesh according to men and on the other hand so that they might live in the spirit according to God.
The same μὲν…δὲ (on the one hand…on the other hand) construction from 3:18 is used again here to express two truths side by side. Peter also uses the same datives of reference or sphere (σαρκὶ/in the flesh and πνεύματι/in the spirit) as he did to describe Christ’s death and resurrection. If we were correct in our exegesis of 3:18 and we remain consistent with our hermeneutics, this text unfolds rather nicely.
To be judged according to the standard or rule of men (κατὰ ἀνθρόπους) is to die like any other men. It is appointed for all men to die (Heb. 9:27) and all have since Adam (Rom. 5:12). This is judgment of a physical nature as indicated by the same use of σαρκὶ as Christ’s physical suffering in 3:18. Yet, on the other hand, the gospel was preached so those who died might live according to the standard or rule of God (κατὰ θεὸν) in the spirit. The same idea of in the spirit (πνεύματι) exists here as it did in 3:18; namely, the hope of resurrection. In this sense we remain consistent with our interpretation of 3:18-22 and show Peter’s intention through his choice of words.
By pointing his readers to the future judgment of the reprobate and the future life secured in Christ’s resurrection, Peter provides motivation for them to equip themselves for suffering. It is possible that part of the pagan’s blaspheme was directed at those Christians who had already died. Was this promise of eternal life just a sham? Where was their God now? The gospel does not make the flesh bulletproof. Even if there are those who have already died in the flesh, they were evangelized before their death. They placed their trust exclusively in the resurrected Christ. They died the death of all humanity, but their life is as certain and secure as Christ’s resurrected life. The promise of eternal life is real just as Christ’s resurrection is real. The purpose of the gospel is to reveal the frailty of the fallen flesh and give life in the spirit which will culminate in the resurrected and glorified flesh. We will be as Christ is now.
Peter bases his command to prepare for suffering on the attitude of Christ and His victorious suffering. Suffering proves that one has truly been redeemed from the power of sin, for God preserves His own. The purpose of this call is rooted in the fact that we no longer belong to ourselves but the God who saved us and thus we are subject to His singular will. We once ran with the pagans in all kinds of dissipation but are now made separate from them, for which they are shocked and blaspheme. They will receive their judgment when the resurrected Christ returns to judge the living and the dead. Of those who are dead in Christ, there is no reason to fear for they received the gospel with joy while they yet lived in the flesh and even now are more alive than ever in accordance with the standard God.
There is no substitution for slow and careful exegesis married with consistent hermeneutics. This text has been hotly contested and said by some to be the most difficult passage in the New Testament. Yet, while we affirm that this text can be readily understood, we must not become distracted from its purpose. This is an appeal to Christians to prepare themselves to suffer for the sake of righteousness. This suffering, if we understand the context correctly, will come first at the level of society. Christians will be seen as social outcasts, pariahs, weirdos, and just plain sticks in the mud long before the sword is brought forth. Yet, it is those who bear this reproach for the sake of righteousness that Peter says have ceased from sin. If one calls himself a Christian, yet cannot bear the scorn of the world, what makes us think he will stand when scorn becomes a sword?
We must equip ourselves with the mind of Christ, with an intention to please the Father knowing full well that this intention will lead to suffering. Suffering for the sake of righteousness is not a theoretical possibility. In a fallen environment, it is a mathematical guarantee. May we be found faithful when He returns to judge the living and the dead.
Soli Deo Gloria!
 Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003), p. 199.  D. Edmond Hiebert, 1 Peter (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1984), p. 256.  R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966), p. 178-80.  Hiebert, p. 258.  Ibid, p. 260-2.  Archibald Robertson, The General Epistles and The Revelation of John, vol. VI, VI vols., Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), p. 123.  Schreiner, p. 203-4.  Lenski, p. 183.  Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter, vol. 17, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2009), p. 178.  Schreiner, p. 205.