1 Peter 4:12-19
After a discussion I had on Sunday this week about sermonizing and another on Monday with a student of the Bible, I was reminded that all good biblical analysis is based on three critical rules for bible interpretation. Those are: 1. Context. 2. Context, and number 3 is of course, Context. This is mission critical to all interpretative efforts from Scripture, otherwise the saying is true that “I can do all things with a verse taken out of context.” God inspired the writers of Scripture, all of them, including the New Testament writers, to use specific words to make specific statements. That means that any given passage of Scripture has a specific meaning, even if (maybe especially if) you don’t like what Scripture says. When someone stops you, usually at several more decibels than necessary, to inform you, “That is YOUR interpretation,” You should realize a few things.
First you probably realize that the person addressing you does not agree, and probably does not like what you said. I get that, and some of you have heard people say it to me. Now rather than become angrily combative about it, I try to calmly ask for clarification of the issue they have, but there are grounds at that question for a well-grounded counter offensive, depending on the point. That goes like this: It isn’t just my interpretation. This is the historical interpretation of orthodox Christianity. Also, when you say that, you are suggesting two things, both of which are not correct. First, you are suggesting that there is more than one correct way of looking at the Scriptures. Second, you are suggesting that all ways but your own are wrong. That is what the logic arguments come down to, at any rate. What that means is that before you step into that answer, you absolutely MUST know the historical orthodox Christian position. One example of this is something pretty near and dear to our hearts here at BereanNation.com. We call it decisional evangelism. This idea is NOT the historical orthodox Christian view. This idea kind of began with the Remonstrants in Holland under Arminius, but really was given legs by a man by the name of Charles Finney. Finney had some good things to say, but like all of us, wasn’t right about everything. About the same time, through a man by the name of C. I. Scofield, a theological framework called “dispensationalism” became popular because of his bible study reference notes that were published in many bibles of the time. This led ultimately to the mess we now have in evangellyfish, uh, evangelicalism, that says that Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, and if you’ll just invite Him into your life, He’ll make you healthy, wealthy, and wise, and you’ll go to heaven when you die unless you’re alive when Jesus comes back and raptures the church! None of that is traditional or historical orthodox Christianity. But it is today’s mess of a modern gospel, which isn’t the gospel at all, and it takes a few minutes to unpack. I’ll do that because it is essential to understanding our text this evening.
First, dispensationalism itself, though it has many attractions, is not theologically sound without a covenantal view of theology, but that isn’t really my point. There are three other views that could be held or discussed, and they all revolve around the millennial reign of Christ. The first of those is Premillennialism, and it says that the millennial reign of Christ is still a future event. That’s where I come down personally, though I won’t go into reasons here. Some claim that that millennial reign has already begun, and we refer to them as Postmillennialists. Usually, you can also find an idea known as Preterism here, which is the idea that all New Testament Prophecy has already come to pass, but not always, and not always full preterism, which is heretical, by the way. Partial preterism is not. Then there are the folks that suggest there is no actual millennium, and we call those folks Amillennial, probably to the surprise of no one. Both Post- and Amillennialism have some theological issues, but neither is the historical or orthodox Christian position. That would be Premillennialism, of which dispensationalism is a subcategory. The main difference is that much of dispensationalism concerns itself with what is called “the rapture,” and more particularly and dangerously, the timing of it. Jesus Himself said He did not know when the Father would call for the event, and I certainly won’t claim to.
Second, is everyone here familiar with the Calvinist acrostic TULIP, which gives the so-called 5 points of Calvinism? In the late 1500s and early 1600s, Arminius led a group of followers to become semi-Pelagian in their thinking (that means they believed that man had some good in him and could make good moral choices, clearly NOT a biblical idea, and we can demonstrate that). These folks were called the Remonstrants, and they wrote a treatise on the subject that they intended to become an extrabiblical standard of salvation. Back in the day when the Reformation was in full stride, the Dutch parliament wrote a document known as the Canons of Dort in response, outlining five points: 1)The radical depravity of humanity, 2) The sovereign election of God of believers, 3) The definite atonement that Christ made for fallen humanity, 4) The irresistibility of the call of Grace from God to humanity, and 5) the preservation of the saints through sanctifying trials until the Lord’s return for them. That’s right, those 5 points are a RESPONSE to Arminius, and represent the historical and orthodox outlook of the faith from Christ to the Apostles and down to the present.
Third, and this is mission critical for the understanding of tonight’s text, the gospel is not for our human benefit alone. Word of Faith teachers (also known mostly as false teachers, who include folks like Ken Copeland, Ken Hagin, Sid Roth, Jesse Duplantis, Creflo Dollar, and a whole host of others) tell us that God will give us perfect health and great material wealth as we walk with their version of Christ, and as we “plant our seed of faith” as we follow each of these leaders. As it turns out though, it’s all a scam designed to make the preachers incredibly wealthy at your expense. Beloved, Christians are born (again) to SUFFER, and there is a meaning to it. I’ll explain by getting into the greater context to which this letter from Peter was written.
Peter wrote this letter in response to events that were taking place in that day against Christians. One of Rome’s most avid builders a man who is no stranger to those of us who hang around Bereannation.com. His name was Caesar Nero, and he seemed to think he could do know wrong. Nero wanted to rebuild parts of Rome in the image he had conceived for those areas so that he could glorify himself directly, and to be fair he was a great builder for the Roman Empire. So Nero ordered that they burn down the slum areas of Rome and rebuild them. Everyone knew it at the top political levels, by the way. There is literature from the time written by Roman Senators that revealed that the order came from Nero himself. However, this action created a serious issue for Nero to stick-handle, as it were.
It seems that many more people than Nero anticipated were negatively affected by the fire in terms of loss of assets, and in loss of life and sufferings by the Roman citizens themselves. The anger that seethed through the entire empire at this horrific tragedy was palpable, and threatened to have Nero assassinated if it were not handled quickly and efficiently. It was because of this that Nero found what we would today call a scapegoat, or a different party to shoulder the responsibility of the action and the subsequent blame that went with it. For this, he chose a new sect of people that were associated with the Jews, who were not popular with the Romans, and who did not honour or otherwise worship the so-called gods of the Roman pantheon. In fact, these people were often misnomered atheists for that reason. These people were actually our early brothers and sisters in Christ, and as soon as Nero set up a fake Christian who confessed and called falsely on the name of Christ, the fix was in. The reaction to this news was instant, and it was violent. It put a sort of hunter’s mark on the body of Christ for the next 250 years or so. Christians were arrested. Some were put to death in the arena by having starved wild animals feed on them as they lived. Some perished at the hands of gladiators as they refused to take lives. Some were executed. Both Paul and Peter suffered this fate at this time for that ultimately. Some were doused with flammable accelerant and lit on fire to light Nero’s palace garden. That’s what Peter wrote this letter for: to give his brothers and sisters that made up the body of Christ something to hold onto and direction on their behaviour under such conditions. Peter never addresses the subject more than generally in terms of the suffering that individuals were going through, but historical context makes it clear what was going on, and gives real strength to the whole argument of the letter. What I find absolutely amazing is that the message Peter gave them then still applies to us today, in varying degrees.
I have never been threatened with execution for my beliefs, although I have been mocked while speaking them. I have never been threatened with being turned into a human torch or crucifixion for my faith, but I have been threatened with violence by a couple of interesting people over the years, and there may have been some supernatural influence over those people. People I know personally have been physically assaulted for preaching Christ. My friend Steve, who is a pastor in Florida, was put in the hospital by a group of homosexual men that had actually asked to hear what Steve had to say. That was a few years back now, but it has happened. In fact, Steve is a great example for all of us. I don’t agree on all points of theology with Steve either, so this isn’t all about “purity of doctrine” in terms of orthodoxy. I know that he is an Amillennialist for example. I’m not, and he knows it I think, but we just respect each other and treat each other like brothers in a discussion. That is the kind of think to which Peter is referring in the text this evening. With that, let’s get into the study.
I broke the chapter down as follows:
KV17: A pivotal decision–What is the reason for YOUR suffering?
For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?
12-14: Difficult Trials–are you really surprised they show up?
15-18: Now is the time that judgement begins with us…
19: Therefore, suffer for what is right, not what is wrong.
Now as you will recall, and we do wish to be consistent here, we adhere to the historical and orthodox biblical model of justification by faith alone here, and we are not talking about justification when we speak of salvation in this letter. Peter himself defines what he is talking about in 1:9 when he tells us that, “…the outcome of your faith [is] the salvation of your souls.” He says that as we walk with Christ in His Spirit, we obtain this outcome (1:9). So here, we are talking about more than justification by faith, we are talking about sanctification by suffering alone, something which is not monergistic, that is does not come from a single divine source. Being made holy is said to be a synergistic work between Christ and the Holy Spirit and US as we cooperate with Him in our sufferings, which are simply opportunities to walk in His faith and the new character He gave us at our justification. In justification, we had nothing to say or do to gain it, it was a single-source work of God. Here, we have choices to make and commands to willingly follow, and that’s what this is talking about. Let’s introduce the text and get into it.
KV17: A pivotal decision–What is the reason for YOUR suffering?
For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?
The decision we have to make is the reason for our suffering. I have to say here that everyone in life suffers. If nothing else, it is part of the curse from when sin entered the world. We suffer whether we are sinners or saints of the Most High God. However, Peter will inform us that we do have some choice here. We can (though we should not) suffer for our wrongdoings, or we can suffer as we discussed last time, for doing the right thing and walking with the saviour. We choose here by our behaviour. I know that sounds like a Dr. Phil-ism, but it is really the case: choose the behaviour, choose the consequences.
12-14: Difficult Trials–are you really surprised they show up?
Seriously, ask any young adult. They tell us they suffer constantly, and in some measure, they do. Occasionally, those reports aren’t just teenage angst, either. Some of you know that my youngest was recently baptized, and as a part of her interview, that I and her mother were not present at, they told her that her classmates and same-age associates would give her a hard time. They are correct, and I know they wanted to see her reaction. I was told she acknowledged the point, and in our own conversations, she tells me that some of her “friends” have abandoned her because of her stand for Christ. And she was not surprised, but saddened that they cannot see the spiritual reality that is going on behind the scenes. Nonetheless, she was not surprised, and I use that as an example of what I mean. Everyone will suffer. Will your suffering be worth it? There is an easy way to find out.
Where do you stand as regards the person and work of Jesus, son of Joseph? Who is He to you? Is He just the carpenter’s son? Or is he simply a great moral teacher, which isn’t an option He left, by the way? Is he just a prophet? Is He the “most pure” of the prophets? If He is, then you need to do what He says, right? What does He say?
Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)
That phrase “born again” is the Greek phrase geneethee anothen, and it means to be born again or born from above. Actually it means both, and I think the Holy Spirit knew that and inspired John to write it just that way to play a bit of a word game! (It shows that he has His own personality and even displays a sense of humour!) But that’s what He, your “most pure” of the prophets actually said you need to do! Why?
Because the first time you were born, you were born dead in your first parents’ sin. For that reason, you must be born again from above, literally made alive by and in Christ by the Holy Spirit as He (the Holy Spirit) comes to dwell in you, which is the same as Ephesians “Christ com[ing] to dwell in your hearts by faith.”
What you need to do for that to happen is to turn from your sins (all the things you know are wrong by can’t stop yourself from doing, or maybe don’t want to stop doing). The Greek work for this is metanoia, and it simply means to change your mind to the opposite point of view. Turn away from you sins by stopping that behaviour and following Christ. Then you must believe that Jesus paid for your sins personally on the Cross when he suffered and died there. When you do that, Scripture tells us, God will save you from His coming wrath, which we will talk about a bit later if I think.
At this point, we should get into the text, and see what Peter is saying to his fellow believers, which includes us.
12: Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you;
- Now the first word Peter uses is agapetoi, which is translated beloved here, and that is its meaning, but remember that this is GOD’S love, not ours. We must also remember that this letter is written to believers, and this is just one of the ways that Scripture uses to remind us of that reality. It is an intimate address, and it is written to those that God chose, those who have turned to Him in repentance and faith. We just talked about the gospel a little, so this is a result of turning to the gospel. And these results? Well, let’s have a look, because I expect that it is not what a lot of churches will teach today.
- “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you…” Remember, we know what that fiery ordeal was, and it sometimes involved actual fire as believers were turned into torches to light Nero’s garden. Peter here is referencing the persecution of the church under false charges by the Emperor of the world, Nero. What does Peter say? Hey, we’re taking heat, don’t be surprised by it. After all, we were warned by Jesus!
If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. (John 15:18-19)
- Hey, we were warned. This is also undeniable proof that the followers of Christ stand for something different than the rest of the world. Oh, just a little pinch of incense they told Polycarp. But he would not offend Our Lord. Thankfully, our ordeal is not like theirs was, but we do have the same kind of thing happening. Today, our so-called leaders will tell us, “Oh, but it’s just a temporary church restriction until [fill in the blank]. It’s for your safety!” Is it really? Or is it for our control? Combined with other things, I think the latter. But we were warned, and by our Lord Himself. How pastors can ignore this is beyond me, but they do, and can even justify themselves with logic in doing so. Somehow, I think that they will have to answer for that to our Lord, so I’ll let it be, and so should we all. Polycarp never formed a protest group, nor did he ever politically resist. He just wouldn’t do it when it came down to it, and I think that’s what Peter is saying here. Otherwise, why would he intimate that this kind of trial was “for our testing?” After all, it is a choice to follow Jesus, and one people are free not to make. But they need to be aware of the choice and its consequences, and that’s a reason we study the word together.
- Peter also tells us that this isn’t something strange. For the believer, we should expect it. We’ve already talked a bit about the whys, but for the follower of Christ, you MUST know right at the outset that for all of your Christian walk, you will be moving counter-current. Many believers have said this in many ways. Francis Shaeffer called it a counter-cultural journey, or something like that I think. It’s been a while since I’ve seen “How Shall We Then Live,” so I don’t recall precisely. A preacher friend of mine from the Brethren Assembly called it swimming upstream, and that’s an apt analogy. I don’t know who originated the phrase, but we are decidedly going against the flow. And going against the flow will take constant effort, or you will lose ground. So how does Peter suggest we move counter-current like this? Next verse.
13: but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.
- Interestingly here, he says something familiar to all Pauline students: “Keep on rejoicing!” Look for a moment at Philippians 4. Verse 4 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” People say that Peter and Paul say different things, but the Scripture really does not support those assertions. Here is a case where they both prescribe the same thing. The context of Paul’s remarks were about a feud that was raging between two sisters in Christ, Euodia and Syntyche. It was causing problems for the saints in Philippi, and Paul was saying that despite that suffering and trial, for the believers there to keep rejoicing in Christ! What are the words of Peter here? “…but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, KEEP ON REJOICING!” He even adds a reason here: so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. In other words, when we see Christ in His glory from Heaven, we may exceedingly be filled with joy. That’s just a rephrasing of what the verse says, and I’ve not changed the meaning.
- There is something about that joy in Christ that has an inspiring effect. The Greek word chairo here is one that literally means “to be glad” in this verse. In fact, this gladness is a part of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, the second one mentioned. Now I’m not Eric Idle, and I won’t sing “On the Sunny Side of Life” here, because I don’t think that’s what this means. But that positive attitude about How the Lord is progressing things around you is to be sought and nurtured, and grown in your life. If you can, you should be finding reasons to be glad. Now where do you think we can look for reasons to be glad? If you said the word of God, you are correct! Wait, look at verse 14!
14: If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
- Peter gives one here: If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you! Beloved, if you are being persecuted, you are doing it right! I know no one likes to suffer, but if you will live the Christian life, you will suffer. It says so here: “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim. 3:12)
- This can be an indicator of regeneration as well. If you always want to avoid this kind of suffering, you should question your own redemption. Paul says it this way: “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Cor.13:5). If Christ is in you, you have already passed the test. If He is not, you will never pass the test unless He in His mercy regenerates you. Turn to Him and ask forgiveness for your sins! Stop doing those wrongs you know offend God. And believe in your heart that He paid for YOUR personal sins on the cross, and that God was so pleased with that sacrifice on your behalf that He rose from the dead, because that is the proof He paid for your sins, and that the power of sin in your life has been broken! That should fill you with joy and gladness right there.
Peter has not moved off of his initial point of encouraging his brothers and sisters in Christ in the face of intense Roman persecution, and He has not said anything different than Paul or James, though he has had different emphases than both of those New Testament writers. His gospel is no different than that of Paul or James (and we will see John and Jude and others later). Salvation is still in Christ alone, by faith alone, and by grace alone. And Peter’s point though it will morph into application will still not change as we look at the next section.
15-18: Now is the time that judgement begins with us…
Peter saw this persecution, it is clear, as a beginning of judgement on the entire world. Judgement from God even has an order about it, and again, this should be no surprise. Those characters of the fruit of the Spirit, for example, are actually a part of the character of God. That shouldn’t surprise us either, as God makes us the righteousness of God in Him. It is that great exchange He made for us on the cross, our pathetic nature for His glorious one, our ignominy for His glory, our sinfulness for His righteousness. As people began to respond in history to the gospel in one of a few different ways, God sought to bring about His judgement on the earth once again. For believers, followers of Christ, who is God the Son, that judgement is meant to purify us by burning away the dross from our lives so that we may be with Him. We’ve talked a great deal about this process that Peter names “sanctification” here in this letter, and how that is instilling in us that holiness without which no one will see the Lord. For Peter, it is the believer’s duty to cooperate with our Lord to the end that we may become holy, and have our minds renewed in transformation as God uses the trials Peter is discussing to that end.
This next thought unit reveals a little about that, and contrasts it with the condemnation that all unbelievers are already under, and what it will mean for them. Let’s get into the text here to see what Peter means.
15: Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler;
- It is a truism that everyone will suffer in the course of their lives. If you are a lawless individual, then you will encounter suffering at the hands of those that God has called to enforce the law for people’s protection. At least that is the way it is supposed to work. We live in a day where they are increasingly calling good evil and evil good, and so we see a great attempt to pervert God’s justice, but God’s standards remain the same, because as God is eternal, so are His standards.
- Peter here is taking the time to specify the kinds of things that humans do in rebellion to God, and in a few words, covers the entire gamut of sin possible. He names murder, theft, the general doing of evil, and attempts to meddle (one of our modern words for that is “regulate”) in the affairs of others. We could say a great deal about each of these, but I will leave those words for your own private study at this time with this word of caution: everything here has more than just a literal meaning. I’ll let you think about that and move on.
- As he lists off the bad behaviours that bring condemnation and punishment to men and women, Peter is saying to his fellow believers, of which we trust everyone here is one, to make sure that none of us suffers as one of those. This bears a few moments on what Peter is actually saying. He is not saying it is okay to do these things if you don’t get caught. How do we know that? It will become clear momentarily, but it is because God sees EVERYTHING, and WILL reward you appropriately for the kinds of works you do. Now before anyone accuses me of preaching a works-based salvation, I most certainly am not. We are NOT saved by works, but by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as recorded in the Scriptures alone, to the glory of God alone. But we ARE judged by our works, because it is the works that show what your faith was truly in. Let’s look at a bible passage about that.
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Rev. 20:11-15)
- See, there will be no one who does not deserve to go into eternal judgement that does not deserve to go there, and perhaps even want to go there. You don’t believe me? Are you aware that Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, recently tweeted that he would be willing to go to Hell because most people will be there? Still think he’s a Christian? He isn’t. Don’t be sucked in by media trickery, even if comes from the Babylon Bee. Peter’s point here is that we are not supposed to DO these things, because God sees everything. We’ll see that in a minute, but we have to read to get there.
16: but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.
- A common tactic of the enemy is to try to evoke feelings of guilt when we are falsely told we are doing something wrong. I thought about an example of this, and it goes something like: “No, I don’t believe the Bible. I’m more scientific. Because my beliefs are based on actual facts and science, I guess that makes you a dolt and an idiot. You can shut up and stand quietly facing the corner now.” In fact, no it doesn’t, but the attempt here isn’t to convince you, it’s to make you feel false guilt and take you out of the game.
- I’m almost certain everyone I know that has ever tried to preach the gospel has come up against some line like that. It’s kind of a strawman combined with an ad hominem attack intended to make you feel small and ineffective. Peter says that if you are indeed suffering wrongly as a Christian, you’re doing Christianity properly. In fact, he says that this shouldn’t be effective. You should not be actually ashamed (dealing with the emotion is a trick of its own and isn’t Peter’s topic here). Instead, you should be praising God that He has counted you worthy to share in Christ’s reproach and sufferings. It’s actually your honour to do so!
- My answer to the above diatribe went something like this: You say you’re scientific? Have you ever considered that the lies that cause you to believe that anti-science garbage are built on nothing but quicksand? I have a degree in biology. Have you ever heard of the second law of thermodynamics? Evolution breaks it, and not just the second law. We are trained as scientists to read the data impartially, and impartial reading of the data tell me you haven’t been given the correct data or that you have interpreted it wrongly. [pause] That conversation took about 45 minutes, and that’s an overdramatized abbreviation of it, but I had that conversation with one of my lab demonstrators in 3rd year. We were still on speaking terms at the end of it, too. But both of us were very bold in our speech. In the end, he said he would consider what I said if I would consider what he said. I did too. As you can see, it still didn’t change my mind.
- My point here, and I believe it is part of Peter’s point, is that you don’t have to be shamed into silence. If you can’t answer an objector, I can understand that, but there are answers to ALL those objections, and it takes time to learn them. So LEARN them, and pray about the hard questions. But this verse isn’t entirely about that.
- The greater context of this verse is about the judgement that is coming on the earth. Peter knows about it, and he is at this moment discussing that. Next verse.
17: For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?
- There is a lot that can be said here, and as I was studying for this, it came to me in such rapid succession that I had to take a few minutes to organize my thoughts and then write out the ideas in full. I will make that statement to those of you Bereans out there that also love to study the word. You may at some point experience this, and I want you to know what to do. Let it flow over you. Take in all that you can. Jot down point-form abbreviated thoughts as they occur. Then go back and think clearly and in a disciplined (disciple-like) fashion on each point. This verse is just that, and I hope it is a good example of what I mean. So let’s get into the verse.
- First, you have to remember that there is a judgement of God for sin for the whole world, and sentence has already been passed. Remember what it says in John 3:18-21:
He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” (John 3:18-21)
- Jesus Himself informed us that this judgement has already occurred, and that this sentence has already been passed. Everyone in the world will face it individually, and they will be judged by their deeds, and whether or not their names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, according to that passage we looked at from Rev. 20. The opportunity to escape that coming judgement and wrath of God is found only in the gospel of Jesus Christ by repenting of our sins (that is turning from and ceasing our sins) and by believing that Jesus personally paid for our sins individually when he died on the cross. That is where judgement for sin and the wrath of God began to be poured out on the world. But it didn’t end there.
- The next step is that God begins to pour out that wrath on sin in others besides His Son Jesus, and this judgement begins with the household of God. Why would it begin there you ask? I think it is because we are the ones who claim to be followers of Christ, God the Son, and as such are held to a higher standard, that being God’s holy standard. Jesus even gave those standards throughout His earthly life and ministry.
But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:34-40)
- Those of you following in your Bibles will note Jesus quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. Now you know why WE always quote Scripture! That’s only one example of Him giving us His standards. The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) is one of his most famous and well-known occasions of giving those standards, and nothing He said was obscure or unclear to the crowds then. Time and deliberate obfuscation has hidden some of the meaning, but careful study will still reveal and unlock it. Learn it so you can make God’s calling and choosing of you certain and escape that wrath of God as He judges us by our deeds and what we did with the identity of His one and only Son.
- Now if That wrathful judgement begins here, where does it go when it is done with us who believe and follow? Well, it moves out of the camp of those who believe and over the ones that do not. The passage we looked at in Rev. 20 is the ultimate fulfilment of that. Men will be judged by their deeds. Isaiah tells us that all our deeds are like (literally) used menstrual rags, Beloved. ALL of them. A bloody, messy, filthy stench in God’s nostrils. And no unbeliever will be found in the Lamb’s book of Life. Ever.
- You see, there is an equation I need to explain to you, and it isn’t exactly mathematical. It’s more of an inequation between two separate equations: obedience=faith ≭ disobedience=unbelief. The two equations pretty much explain everything that we need to know. If you believe, you will obey. If you do not believe, you will not obey. And there is no equivalency between them, and no partial equalities either. It does not allow for partially believing and partially obeying, both equations are absolute values and will not suffer partial values. I could make the joke that there is no partiality with God here, but that strips the meaning from my point. There can be, indeed there will not be, any hedging or fudging with an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful and wrathful but holy God! You either believe or you do not. You either will believe or you will not. Some have said (like Billy Graham, who was right on this point anyway), that the job of the preacher is to bring you to the point of decision. You are either willing to proceed in faith, or you are not. And no one else on earth or in heaven can or will make that decision for you. But you need, as we used to say when I was growing up, to fish or cut bait. Either get on with obey Christ, or don’t. But be clear about your choice. Also, you should know that refusing to make a decision is the same as deciding against obedience because of the nature of the already existing sentence and condemnation we are all under. So make up you mind. And Peter will illustrate this with a quote of his own…
18: AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER?
- This is Peter quoting from Proverbs 11:31, which reads: “If the righteous will be rewarded in the earth, How much more the wicked and the sinner!” What is the first thing you notice here, Brothers? [wait for answer]
- The verses do not match. Here is a tip about Biblical interpretation for you. They do not have to match. It comes down to who wrote Scripture. Who wrote this letter? Peter, or he at least dictated it to his scribe. But where did Peter get his thoughts for this letter? We are taught that despite the instrument used for recording it, that it is the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead Himself, that inspired the authors of Scripture. He authored ALL of it, regardless of who wrote it down. Peter was given this interpretation that differed in wording (but not thought) from the text written, we think by King Solomon. The writer of Scripture is free to use the interpretation that the Holy Spirit gave Him in that instance without breaking Scripture at all. WE, however, are not, and must confine ourselves to what Peter chose to write down. He was the inspired writer, we merely read with the guidance of the same Spirit that authored all of the work in the first place.
- Having said that, Peter is simply illustrating his point in v.17 with an Old Testament quote, in this case Proverbs 11:31. What is he saying here? Look, it wasn’t easy, what Christ did to save you. Christ Himself prayed that he would not have to go to the cross because He knew what He would go through. He yielded to the Father’s will for OUR benefit, all to give glory to God. And if that’s what it took to save all the sinners that will ever turn to Him, what chance does the reprobate have? If you’re asking me, I must sadly, with awe and terror, say, “None. Not any chance at all.” The Latin phrase is confutatis maledictus. It means, “consigned to flames of woe.” And that condemnation is eternal, conscious, and for us, very much necessary to avoid by turning to Christ in faith and repenting of all our wrong thoughts, words, and deeds.
Wrath and judgement is the fate of all men, including our Lord Jesus Christ. In my thinking, that wrath hits the bullseye and then radiates outward like concentric circles, first hitting Christ, who bore that stroke for all those that the Father chose before time began and gave to the Son so that they could be conformed by that wrath, which for them only bears the weight of a trial, and that for their sanctification–and then out to the rest of those who will not turn and be saved because they did not love the truth. And that leaves every human on the planet with a choice, and that brings us to our last thought and a bit of an application.
19: Therefore, suffer for what is right, not what is wrong.
Paul E. Billheimer wrote a series of three books, the first two of which I read a little over 30 years ago. The books are titled Destined for the Throne, which is all about how the Bride of Christ is purified through her trials, and Don’t Waste Your Sorrows, a treatise on how to view trials in you life as you are purified. The third book is a little charismatic, and though not wrong, it engages in some non-biblical views on how spiritual gifts and prayer it together, so I don’t recommend it (yes, I have read it, that’s why I don’t). Those first two books point out that everyone suffers. You suffer for hitting a wall out of frustration, or you suffer because of what is frustrating you without hitting said wall. In either case, you will suffer. But who did the wall ever hurt?
We have a choice about our attitudes and responses when confronted with unavoidable suffering. What do I mean by unavoidable? Well, let’s say the Romans had just re-arrested you and put you in the darkest hole in Rome to await execution just a few years after setting you free, and your name is Paul, aka Saul of Tarsus? He had no choice about the jail, the pain, the lousy and insufficient food, or even the pending execution–but he did have a choice over his attitudes and reactions to how he displayed them. Along more modern lines, let’s say you like to growl at people when they call you out on a social shortcoming. Is that growling Christlike? I doubt it. Is screaming at them, “That’s just the way I am!” in full screech, a way to treat holy brethren that are showing concern for a clear and recognizable sin in your life? Well, no, not really, though it is understandable if you are not regenerate and can’t (and maybe don’t want to) change, or if you are just trying to walk in the flesh because it’s just easier than all that picking up your cross and dying to yourself like Jesus commanded us and modelled for us.
For the regenerate believer, and there is no other kind, you have a clear choice, which is to continue in your sin longer, or mortify the deeds of the flesh as John Owen wrote (and he was quoting Paul) and walk in the Spirit of Christ. This concept is littered all over the New Testament, and it is a daily, sometimes moment-by-moment choice to walk this way. For those that will, Peter has some good news. Let’s see what he said.
19: Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.
As a starting point, Peter is encapsulating the choice, but he isn’t stating it like a choice to be fair. There are two ways to suffer, and he has even covered them in the last thought unit. You can, as the verse says suffer according to the will of God, or you suffer, well NOT according to the will of God. This is nothing less than the topic of our last few studies in 1 Peter. You can suffer for doing what is wrong, and that brings a certain kind of suffering that you don’t want, and then you can suffer for what is right according to God’s will for your life, because He knows best how you will glorify Him.
When you figure out what choice is the one you want, then you really need to just get on with it. Remember, refusing to choose is the same as choosing the negative, because no action or effort is required to those who are still under the sentence of death for sin and the condemnation that will result in your eternal and conscious torment in hell, and I refuse to sugar-coat that destiny, because it seems to me you can avoid it if you want to.
But if you choose to suffer if that is the will of God for your life, it is a different story. I find a need here to remind you of what the will of God was for many believers in the day that Peter wrote this particular missive. Some were turned into human torches to light Nero’s garden, that is they were lit on fire and burned to death on an oversized torch. Some were crucified, like Peter, who tradition has it was crucified upside down because he did not think himself worthy to perish the way our Lord did, nailed to a cross in the “normal” fashion. It is said that it took Peter three days to die. Some, being Roman citizens were simply executed, either as archer or spear target practice, or beheaded like the Apostle Paul. Some were herded into coliseums and fed alive to starved predatory animals like lions and tigers. We don’t face that kind of suffering at this moment in history, but we could see it again. That was what the will of God meant to them, and the way God purified them for His glory. Some survived and spread the gospel in a hostile environment, just a little worse than today. That too brings a kind of suffering. As does walking in self-inflicted poverty or in need of housing, like that. That might be the will of God for YOUR purification and holiness.
Whatever the case, if that is what you choose, you can know that your faithful Creator can be trusted to do what is right for you, and not only bring you the best for what he has in the here and now spiritually, but preserve you to live forever with Him, and that what He is doing is right, not just for Him, but for you and maybe others as well!
It strikes me that this is the main issue of walking in the Spirit by faith and in repentance. Who do you really trust to get you to the end with the most benefit for you, for those that are important to you, and for His own maximum glory? If you will not trust God, then who or what are you placing your trust in? You don’t have to answer that, but only a fool says in his heart, “No, God…” Trust Him, and you will get to the end and be in God’s very best for you when His kingdom finally comes. Please notice, I am not referring to earthly wealth, but that which is laid up in Spirit. If you get into the name-and-claim stuff after everything we’ve gone through over the last few years, there isn’t a lot more I can say to you other than repent and believe the gospel.
That’s more or less what I saw in the text this evening. Next time, we will do all of chapter 5, because it is only 14 verses long, and I’m pretty sure we can fit all that in. After that, we will be taking a couple weeks off so I can prepare for 2 Peter, so start inviting people to that now.