by Mike Ratliff
17 For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. 18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. 21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him. 1 Peter 3:17-22 (NASB)
The Lord Jesus Christ suffered unjustly on behalf of those He came to save because it was God’s will. He perfectly accomplished God’s purposes in this. Even though those in “emergent christianity” are attempting to hijack our Lord’s Crucifixion for their own purposes, let us never forget that His violent, physical execution did terminate His earthly life when He was “put to death in the flesh”, nevertheless, He was “made alive in the spirit” on the third day. This is not referring to the Holy Spirit, but to Jesus’ true inner life, His own spirit, which is contrasted with His humanness, His flesh, which was crucified and lay dead for three days in the tomb. His deity, His Spirit, remained alive, literally “in spirit” (Luke 23:46). In light of our Lord’s suffering for righteousness, Christians should have a “Christian” perspective on suffering in the flesh as well.
1 Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. 3 For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. 4 In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; 5 but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God. 1 Peter 4:1-6 (NASB)
1 Χριστοῦ οὖν παθόντος σαρκὶ καὶ ὑμεῖς τὴν αὐτὴν ἔννοιαν ὁπλίσασθε, ὅτι ὁ παθὼν σαρκὶ πέπαυται ἁμαρτίας 2 εἰς τὸ μηκέτι ἀνθρώπων ἐπιθυμίαις ἀλλὰ θελήματι θεοῦ τὸν ἐπίλοιπον ἐν σαρκὶ βιῶσαι χρόνον. 3 ἀρκετὸς γὰρ ὁ παρεληλυθὼς χρόνος τὸ βούλημα τῶν ἐθνῶν κατειργάσθαι πεπορευμένους ἐν ἀσελγείαις, ἐπιθυμίαις, οἰνοφλυγίαις, κώμοις, πότοις καὶ ἀθεμίτοις εἰδωλολατρίαις. 4 ἐν ᾧ ξενίζονται μὴ συντρεχόντων ὑμῶν εἰς τὴν αὐτὴν τῆς ἀσωτίας ἀνάχυσιν βλασφημοῦντες, 5 οἳ ἀποδώσουσιν λόγον τῷ ἑτοίμως ἔχοντι κρῖναι ζῶντας καὶ νεκρούς. 6 εἰς τοῦτο γὰρ καὶ νεκροῖς εὐηγγελίσθη, ἵνα κριθῶσιν μὲν κατὰ ἀνθρώπους σαρκὶ ζῶσιν δὲ κατὰ θεὸν πνεύματι. 1 Peter 4:1-6 (NA28)
Verse 1 is the key for us. The word οὖν is translated here as “therefore” and this is pointing both to what Peter spoke of in 3:17-22 about our Lord’s suffering on the Cross for our sake and here in 4:1 Χριστοῦ, “of Christ” παθόντος “has suffered” for us σαρκι “in flesh… Since this is true, what are we supposed to do? Well, we should see that this is what God used to bring the greatest triumph of all time through our Lord, therefore, we should also be willing to suffer in the flesh, knowing that it potentially produces tremendous victories. If we arm ourselves with this same mindset, we become servants of the gospel rather than purveyors of it. Remember my brethren; the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is not inside us. It is not within any of us. It is outside of us. We are to serve it, it is not to serve us. With this mindset, we will look at suffering the same way our Lord did. We should voluntarily accept the potential of death as a part of the Christian life. Also, if we are martyred, we have ceased from sin.
In vv2-4 we see clearly that Christians are called to be separate from the sins of the flesh. Yes, all sin, but we are being sanctified. We walk in repentance. As we mature, these sins should be further and further in our past. We should grow more and more Christlike as we serve the gospel and learn what it means to suffer for righteousness’ sake. In v5 we see something that I see that is missing in much of what professes to be Christian in today’s version of the Church. So many say and do things that I wonder if they have given any thought to the account they will have to give at their judgment about those things. I see a great lack of discernment and wisdom in these people.
What does it mean in v6 about the gospel being preached to those who are dead? The preaching of the gospel not only offers a rich life, a ceasing from sin, and a good conscience, but also an escape from final judgment. Peter was talking about believers who had heard and believed the gospel when they were still alive, but who had died by the time he wrote this epistle.
My brethren, I pray that God will open your understanding to the purpose of suffering in the life of the believer. I do not claim to be an expert in it, but I do know about suffering and I also know about how God has changed the focus of this ministry as the magnitude of that suffering has changed. I know this, this life is short. Eternity is forever. If suffering is what it takes for God to cause me to serve Him for His glory as He sees fit then so be it. His grace is sufficient.
Soli Deo Gloria!