Category Archives: Bible passages

Study 7 – 1 Peter 4:1-11

The end of all things is near

Context

Peter has reached the end of a major section in the book. He began in 2:11 to describe what it looks like to be foreigners and strangers in this world. We are not part of this fallen world because we have been made alive again into a living hope. We are to put to death the misdeeds of the flesh and the sinful desires which wage war against our souls. But as those who are brought to God, his chosen people, we are to be set apart from this world.

In this section he reminds us of a few themes that he has already discussed and reflects on two realms of our life: living with the living God who judges and living in this passing age for the eternal king. The former motivates us because we revere God. The latter motivates us because this life is not forever.

Observation

Structure

  • 1-6 – Living with the living God who judges
  • 7-11 – Living in this passing age for the eternal king.

1-6 Living with the living God who judges

“Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body…” Peter is about to make a point flowing from the fact of Christ’s suffering. But the point is a continuation of Peter’s description of Christ’s ministry on earth when he spoke of Christ suffering once for sins (3:18), put to death and made alive again (3:18-19). That is, chapter 4 picks up on the theme of suffering that Peter had introduced in 3:8. It is a major theme in the whole book. As aliens and strangers in this world, we ought to expect conflict as we walk in this world among those who don’t know Christ. Christ is given as the ultimate example of the suffering one (3:18 on). Peter began with Christ’s suffering for our sin and launched into a narrative of His triumph over the worst of enemies you could possibly imagine (the wicked spirits of Noah’s day). In 4:1 he gets back to his primary point: Christ suffered and we ought to expect suffering of some kind.

“…arm yourselves also with the same attitude…” A major weapon in the Christian life is our transformed minds for gospel and kingdom thinking. How we view the world will affect the way we respond in it. Tantrums and anger and hate and depression arise often due to our personal kingdoms coming under attack – our idols are threatened. But set your minds on the things of Christ, with his attitude to the world, and we have been equipped to take this world on.

“…whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.” By using “in the body”, Peter keeps our attention on the fleeting nature of this world. Jesus said, “do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.” (Luke 12:2). Sin often flows from our fight to achieve comfort for ourselves. We’ll take, deceive, withhold information, delay helping and do all sorts of shifty, self-seeking, no-one-will-know kind of things in order to be comfortable. But those who will suffer in the body are done with sin.

“…as a result…live…for the will of God.” Aligning our attitude with Christ’s is to align our goals with God’s goals. Imagine what a difference we could all make if we would simply submit to the will of God in everything always! The nature of this world, as implied above, is to be short-sighted and seek comfort now or as soon as possible. But an eternal view of life seeks God as the greatest treasure and our pursuit in life will be to love Him.

“…what pagans choose to do…” Christians will get a cute reputation for being do-gooders but here is where you can see why. Christians will make the conscious decision to put a stop to what used to be their passions and desires. Peter gives a list, not of what the wicked and evil people in the world get up to, but a list of what everyone outside of Christ is bent toward. NB that plenty of nice, non-Christians, may not be characterised by all or some of the things listed in verse 3 BUT we all, without the Spirit of God, desire and yearn for lives that are like this. Many people live their lives through the characters on the TV who dabble in some or all of these.

“…living in debauchery…” Lives drawn to excessive use of sex, drugs and alcohol. This kind of outworking of sin is quite transparent. There are lovable partiers who are a laugh to be around but that is putting icing on a pretty bad cake. Many Christians will be able to look back at their past and know that this was not working out for them – as fun as it might have looked and sometimes felt.

“…lust…” In contrast, this is a sin which can be kept very secret. Jesus equated lust with adultery in Matthew 5:28.

“…drunkenness, orgies, carousing…” The whole list in verse 3 involves passions and cravings which will take hold of a person. They feed the desires of the body. Rather than having an attitude of Christ that says no to the flesh, these are evil human desires that our biological bodies respond well to.

“…and detestable idolatry.” All forms of idolatry are detestable since it substitutes the real and living God with something else. It may be a statue(s) but it may just as easily be a trophy room, a plot of land, or anything that we put ahead of our love for God. Perhaps, though, in the context of verse 3, the detestable idolatry also includes practices that often went alongside idol worship in temples such as sleeping with temple prostitutes or other false ways of worship.

“They are surprised that you do not join them…” Given a choice of doing something your body will enjoy and that everybody else has no problems with – or denying your body the enjoyment of a passing thrill in order to honour God – which would be easier? Those who have no desire to worship God and who do not know Jesus would surely have problems with why someone would say no to passions. Now, of course, there are plenty of other reasons to abstain from alcohol and drugs and imoral sex other than being Christian. A health-aware person will have motivation to say no to things too. But there motivation is not driven by their knowledge and love of Christ but of their knowledge and love of their own bodies.

“…and they heap abuse on you…” I don’t recall ever having abuse heaped on me for living a disciplined life in Christ but the current climate in society to outright reject anybody who questions the acceptance of same-sex relationships/marriage is manifest daily. Peter does force us to question any thoughts that being Christian is both right AND awesome/easy.

“But they will have to give account…” Here is the crux of Peter’s mindset here. Not only do we model ourselves off Christ who suffered in this life in his body – but we also fear the one who we must give an account to in the end.

“…ready to judge the living and the dead.” That’s an interesting phrase. Hebrews 9:27 tells us that all will face death and after that will face judgment. What we have in 1 Peter is the hint that judgment will fall on some people who have not yet died! This is the mindset of Christians who believe in the second coming (ie, all Christians) and that at any moment a reckoning of our lives can be called. We have no scope to live a wild life now and leave our repentance for our death bed. We may not get that chance! Live out your lives now in reverent fear (1 Peter 1:17).

“For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead…” OK – before we go thinking that this means the gospel has been preached to dead people (1 Peter 3:19) and therefore dead people get a second chance, take note of how the rest of verse 6 concludes. Peter is urging Christians to seek first the kingdom of God and not let the desires of the body get in the way of their salvation. Christian suffering is to be seen as a norm. Those who are “now dead” could refer to those who are dead in the spirit and they need to be made alive in Christ if they could hear the gospel and respond in faith. But the context of what Peter is teaching helps us conclude that they are those who heard the gospel and responded and consequently died. That is, the gospel was preached and received and people are even dead as a result of their conversion! They have been “judged according to human standards in regard to the body” and have had abuse heaped on them (4:4). But they “live according to God in regard to the spirit.” So, don’t be afraid of what people can do to the flesh – but fear the one who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

7-11 Living in this passing age for the eternal king.

“The end of all things is near. Therefore…” Peter’s next thoughts are in the context of the present age that we live. The Christian church has been living in the age of the end for 2000 years now. But for God, a thousand years is like a day (2 Peter 3:8). Generations have lived and died waiting for the day of Christ’s return when all the suffering of this world will be done away with and the new heaven and the new earth will begin (Rev 21-22). It may seem like Peter thinks it’ll happen before the kettle boils but Peter mocks humanity in his second epistle when mockers ask ‘where is God and the end?’ But just like the people in Noah’s day kept working right up until the rains began – unknowing what was about to happen – so too will the return of Christ happen. See 2 Peter 3:3-10.

“Therefore be alert and of sober mind…” Peter urges his readers to be of sober mind three times in this letter (1:13l 4:7 and 5:8). With a clear head, set your hope on the grace of God, pray and be alert against the snares of the devil.

“…so that you may pray.” Peter doesn’t expand on the instruction to pray in either of his letters. Perhaps the clue is in how he links it with being sober minded. Setting your hope on grace and being alert against the snares of Satan, prayer – conversing with God in all things – is the format to do those things. We are not sober minded, seeking God’s kingdom and fighting against the enemy without the connection with God. Prayer in the bible is always informed by the promises and truth about God and his will. It is an exercise in speaking with our God in an authentic relationship built on trust and obedience. Prayer is faith speaking. Peter has reminded us that the end is near and so there is no greater time than now to be speaking with our Creator and Redeemer. As John puts it in Revelation: Come Lord Jesus!

“…love covers over a multitude of sins.” Peter is able to say in 7 words what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13! The greatest thing (above all) is our love that we bring to any relationship. A son was helping his father prime an old car chasis with sump oil – a thick black paste – so that the old rusted metal could be used as a base to rebuild the classic vehicle. As the two worked together smearing this liquid over every inch of the metal, the father said to his son, “this reminds me of love.” The boy paused because he knew that his dad would explain what he meant. The father said, “love covers over a multitude of sins.” The boy had understood that all the defects and imperfections that were present in the base of the car were being covered over. People can get caught up with one another on conflicts and petty issues but love overlooks the imperfections and sees the potential and the beauty that makes the relationship worth it. Wrongs do need to be rectified wisely but Peter has taught us that in this day when we wait for the king to come, let’s overlook the multitude of sins and defects that we face each day and put on love. See 1 Corinthians 13; Ephesians 4:2.

“Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” I don’t think I need to expand on that except that Peter urges for a giving spirit and not a begrudging one.

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” A couple of things from this sentence: 1) Each of you refers to all who are reading the letter.  Everyone is gifted in some form or another. Take the gifts that God has given you and put them to use. 2) The gifts you have are for serving others (1 Corinthians 12:7). Think about how you use your resources, talents and time for the benefit of others. 3) The letter is addressed to the people of God who are to serve the people of God with their gifts. This is a directive to the church. 4) The grace of God comes in all shapes and sizes. Of course there is the grace of righteousness through Jesus but there is also the grace (or gift) of one another. God has established the church and each of its members are a gift from God to serve one another.

“…as one who speaks the very words of God.” It’s more likely that this phrase refers to those who speak and teach in the name of Christ rather than just everyone who is able to put two words together about anything (although there is biblical wisdom to use our tongues always for the glory of God and never for anything meaningless (see James 3 which speaks of the dangerous tongue and warns teachers to be careful in their position). As a preacher, Growth Group leader, Youth Group leader, or anyone who seeks to teach others and disciple people in the church, they ought to think of their mouths as tools for the LORD – speaking his very words. This doesn’t mean that we can only quote scripture but that the content and message and meaning of our instructions must be God honoring and truthful – speaking God’s thoughts after him.

“If anyone serves…so that…God may be praised…” In all of our gifts it is tempting to boast and to work hard to receive praise for yourself. But God already loves us and is giving us an inheritance that will never spoil or fade and to work – even to serve – in this world so that we get praise and a pat on the back is showing insecurity in Christ. Not only that, but we can be encouraged to stretch ourselves in service to God and lean on him in prayer to see what can be accomplished above and beyond our own expectations. It is a polite thing to say ‘thank you’ to one another for what each of us do in the church but someone once told me they never thank others for serving in the church. They encourage and say ‘well done’ but to say ‘thank you’ was communicating that they didn’t need to do that and thank you for helping out. “Well done and praise God!” If we serve, then we serve at the pleasure of the King.

“To him be the glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.” This is what we call a doxology! It’s any part of the scriptures (or any writing) where the author breaks into praises to God. It happens a few times in the NT as the writers encourage Christians and in their writings they can’t help but send a word of praise and glory to Christ! See Romans 11:33-36 after spending several chapters of preaching deep theology of the grace of God! See Ephesians 3:20-21.

Meaning

Life before salvation was motivated by indulging our earthly bodies. But God’s people will say no to putting the love of the body before the love of God. We reject the passing things of this world in place of an active service to the living God who is our judge and the giver of all good things. Christians value different things to pagans.

Application

  • Topic A – Done with sin. That’s easier said than done isn’t it? We will struggle with sin all of our days on this earth but we are informed here that we will say no to ungodliness. What are some pleasures of this world that you cling to and crave too much? What takes too much of your time away from pursuing the will of God?
  • Topic B – The end is near. A present awareness of this will help to sober our minds for God’s service. How can we weave into our church community are constant reminder that we are in the last days?*
  • Topic C – Using the gifts that God has graciously given. ‘Gifts’ in the church refers to anything that you are able to do in service and love for the gospel and Christ’s church. Setting our chairs, calling people who are absent, welcoming people, cleaning, tidying, leading, administration, IT work, playing music, chatting over a cuppa for encouragement and pastoral care, rostering, teaching, gardening, designing and anything you can imagine that serves the people of God for the sake of building the kingdom in love – all are gifts given by the grace of God. As a rule of thumb, it is helpful to step into serving in at least one area at church. Share with the group what your act of service is or tends to be (note, some ministries get rostered but some just happen through the love of the saints).

Prayer of the Week

Lord God, help us to put our hope on your return and to leave this world behind. But while we wait, may we serve one another in love, teach all the world that you are Lord, and learn to set aside our glory for yours. To you be all glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.

*A note on ‘the end of all things’ and ‘the last days’. Despite a common misunderstanding in the church, ‘the last days’ began at the time of Christ’s ascension into heaven. It is not a phrase to refer to the very final events that take place before Christ’s return (like markings of the beast and the arrival of an anti-Christ). No, we have been living in the last days since Peter stood up and told his Jewish friends that Christ is the promised Messiah (Acts 2).

Study 6 – 1 Peter 3:8-22

The reason for the hope that you have

Context

Peter’s letter is written for Christians around the world. He describes his readers as the chosen people of God, not because of race or geography but because they have come to put their trust in the living God. They have received new life into a living hope through Jesus Christ. We are a royal priesthood and holy nation called to live differently to those who are of the world.

Peter describes us a being built into a living house with Christ as the chief cornerstone. Our lives must be moulded and shaped by Christ. We are to put off all the sin and desires of our old lives and embrace the freedom of living in Christ. But this freedom is not anarchy. As servants of Jesus, we are to submit to all kinds of authority. Now, Peter turns to all of us who have been saved by Jesus to respond to evil in this world as Jesus did.  

Observation

Structure

  • 8-12 The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
  • 13-17 It is better to suffer for doing good
  • 18-22 For Christ who suffered now reigns over all

8-12 – The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous

“Finally, all of you…” This is not the mark of the end of his book but the final element of his current discussion. Peter has been talking about how to live as strangers in this world – as foreign citizens – 2:11-12. He has addressed slaves directly, wives directly and husbands directly. Now he addresses all Christians no matter what their life looks like.

“…be like-minded…” Peter desires all believers to be of one accord. The problem with this command is deciding what that single mind looks like but then Peter has already anchored our minds on Christ and will again in verse 18. Our minds are to be sober or clear as we set our hope on the grace brought by Jesus (1:13). We are not to list all the things that we agree upon and base our unity on the bare minimum of consent. Christians have done that time and time again and are left with no real meat to their shared faith. Rather, we are to set our minds on Christ and learn together from him. Our humility, compassion, sacrificial love and sympathy will all be shaped, taught and moulded by our love of Christ and our sober understanding of him. NB, our battle is with the flesh, the world and the devil – we need less quarrelling in the church and more understanding of one another so long as we are pointing one another to the truth in Christ.

“…be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” The grace of God gives us sober minds to view one another as sinners redeemed and being sanctified. As you forgive yourself for mistakes that you make in life, by sympathetic of others. The church is not filled with giants of the faith but of recovering sinners all going through rehab. Understanding grace makes a massive difference to how we view others in this world. There is nothing we have done to deserve salvation, nor earn it. Therefore, all of us share in the love of God and all of us can demonstrate that same love to one another.

“…repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” This phrase, and the quote which follows, illustrate the dynamic between faith and good deeds. It is not good deeds which save us but they are what God sees in the life of a genuine believer. This is why we were redeemed. We are not called from darkness to remain in darkness. Our inheritance is not based on our good lives but our good lives will demonstrate that God has called us. Really, only a born again Christian will see the logic in repaying evil with blessing – because that is what God has done toward them (Romans 5:8). The final judgment of all humans is with God and so we can allow evil deeds done toward us go without personal revenge. People who behave selfishly, and hatefully are only doing what their sinful nature demands – but for the grace of God we would be the same.

“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous…but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” The bible instructs us on what a good life looks like and expects that those who follow Jesus will pursue righteousness. Those whom God has called will pursue Him. Those he has not called will remain in ignorance (1 Peter 1:14). We know that we are his when we have heard the good news, believed and embraced life with Christ. We then love his word and seek to obey his commands to love Him and love others, wholly and sacrificially. The favour of God is on those who seek righteousness. A Christian will read these words of Peter in verses 8-12 and will want to please God because they love him and reverently fear him – because they have been called by him and no longer live in ignorance!

13-17 – It is better to suffer for doing good

“Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” This rhetorical question expects the answer ‘nobody’! It is right to expect, all things being equal, that people will repay good with good! Repaying evil with evil will perpetuate evil! To repay evil with good ought to short-circuit the evil. And good behaviour ought to generate an atmosphere of good! This is all quite true except that it does not always work and there can be times when a good thing is perceived as evil – like sharing your faith!

“But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.” Peter knows that doing good is not a surefire way of receiving good in return. He is conscious of the evil in this world. Nevertheless, receiving good is not the reason for doing it! Living in reverent fear and love of God is our motivation. Being holy because he is holy. We are blessed – on the side of righteousness – when we do the right thing. As one many once said, whenever people asked him what they should do, he would answer, “the right thing!”

“Do not fear their threats…but…revere Christ as Lord.” This is our motivation. Colossians 3:23 gives us the motivation of working for the Lord in all things rather than working for men. We are not trying to be people pleasers but we are people who serve the living God. Are you motivated by needing to please people? Then meditate on this passage and pray that God will change your heart to fear him more than mankind.

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” I call this the ‘Boy Scout method of evangelism. At its simplest, we need to know and understand our faith so naturally that we are ready to talk about it at any moment that the topic comes up. The Boy Scout motto is “Be prepared”. Don’t get caught with nothing to say! But we need to understand this verse in it’s context too. Peter expects that others will be able to identify a faith in us. This verse does not give us licence to be private and secretive Christians. Many Christians will quote this verse and say “I’m happy to talk to people about my faith if they ever ask me about it!” But the verse presumes that you are already waving your faith around so that others will take notice. You are repaying evil with good. You are even brave enough to do what is right and speak about Jesus to people – this is doing good (3:13-14). You are living such good lives – so distinctly different – among unbelievers that they will see your good deeds! Peter is not giving us licence to fly under the radar in this world until someone asks us about our belief. Peter is giving us warning to be prepared to speak when people see our holy lives. Especially when they are hostile when they ask the question!

“But do this with gentleness and respect…” These words accompany the word ‘humility’. We are no better than anyone except that Christ has saved us. At one time, you too lived in ignorance and someone had the love and respect to talk to you about Jesus. Perhaps you rejected and hated the gospel at first! Nobody ever argued a sinner into the Kingdom of God! It is always words spoken in love and respect which, through the eternal Spirit, God can use to bring about a new life. God can use blunt instruments like arguments and quarrels but his desire is for his people to represent him on earth. 2 Corinthians 5:20 illustrates this as us being Christ’s ambassadors appealing to the people of this world to be reconciled to Christ.

“…keeping a clear conscience…” What you say to others about your faith ought to match what your faith is actually about. Do you walk the walk? And when you speak to others about your faith, is it done respectfully and gently?

“…so that those who speak maliciously…may be ashamed…” Ever since the beginning of the Christian faith (and the Jewish faith as 1 Peter 3:20 alludes to), people have spoken maliciously against the faith and attacked believers for their faith. People will even report that the Christian faith was made up by powerful people in order to oppress others with their power – but 1 Peter 3 speaks directly against this supposition. Those who speak maliciously are those who try to slander, defame or speak evil of believers. Peter expects there to be slander against Christians when they live holy lives and speak the truth. That was the expectation of Peter in the 1st century and it is our experience in the 21st century. Do not let the unpopularity of Christianity allow your faith to fail because this should not be a surprise to us. But do not allow our accusers any reason to be right when they slander us! It would be better to admit failure than to attempt to cover up our faults. It would be better to pursue righteous living than to be all talk with no evidence of our faith.

“For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” That is clear enough isn’t it? Let’s not overlook one important point though – suffering for doing what is right is considered part of God’s plan. Romans 8:28 is one of our Christian bumper sticker sayings! Peter will now proceed to talk about Jesus and his shining example in this area of bearing witness in a world of wickedness.

18-22 – For Christ who suffered now reigns over all

“For Christ also suffered…” Jesus leads the way in our faith in so many different ways! He was never married and yet there is such a stupid emphasis (I think influenced by the world more than the church) on marriage. Jesus never owned a home. Jesus died before he hit mid-life. Jesus was often alone although surrounded by people. Jesus put first the Kingdom of God always. Jesus was slow to speak. Jesus is the model Christian. I know that is obvious but do we follow his lead or do we rather model our Christianity after other fallen people? I admit that we can never match Jesus and are never expected to but the bible points us to Jesus as the author and perfecter of our faith AND as our teacher! Christ also suffered. We follow the lamb who was slain. Our chief is the Servant King. Jesus told us to take up our cross and follow him (Matthew 10:38; 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; 14:27).

“…once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” Put this in your memory verse folder! This is the fourth verse quoted in the Two Ways Two Live tract to express how Jesus’ death was to make us right with God. Do you remember the fourth box? God did not leave us in our sin and rebellious state but sent Jesus to die in our place! How many bible verses can you think of that describe the same thing? How about this short list: Romans 5:8; Mark 10:45; Romans 3:23-25; Romans 6:23; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 1:18-19; Hebrews 9:12; Ephesians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 5:21; Isaiah 53:6.

“He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.” This is a curious phrase that may need some unpacking. Taken on it’s own it opens up questions but let’s first see what the sentence does in its context! Peter is telling us to be ready for persecution and not run from it. Christ suffered and we shall suffer too. But remember, says Peter, that though Christ was killed in the flesh, this was not the end. Peter moves forward in the rest of this chapter to describe Christ’s reign. So, the purpose of Peter’s statement is to impress on us that dying in the flesh is not the end. But, we need to ask, what does it mean that he was made alive ‘in the Spirit’? And when or how did he preach to the spirits in prison?

The phrase, ‘death in the body but made alive in the Spirit’, does not describe two states of Christ – a human state and a spiritual state – but a process of stage one, dying and stage two, living. Although Christ died a physical and real death, he was made alive by the resurrection. The phrase, ‘in the Spirit’ might mean ‘by the Spirit’ but might be contrasting his earthly body with his glorified resurrection body. The significant words in this sentence are dead and alive rather than body and Spirit. In the flesh, Christ died but by the Spirit, he is made alive.

“…in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison…” Firstly, let’s keep the big idea of Peter at the forefront to avoid being taken off track. Peter gives a sequence of events: we are brought to God (v18), by his death, his resurrection and his ascension (v22). These three movements, death, resurrection and ascension and the central flow of Peter’s discussion describes us being brought to God. Along the way, Peter uses some interesting and curious phrases which cause us to stop and ask questions. It is in Christ’s resurrected state that he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison. With only 1 Peter and the Christian bible to go from, this phrase is just curious and can be left that Jesus declared something to some spirits who are not free. We do not need to presume that he converted them or know what the outcome of the proclamation was other than that they received a message from Christ.

Without any other information, we are simply left to see that the resurrected Christ has something to proclaim to the spirit world. But there is some extra-biblical info that may help. As briefly as I can…1 Enoch is part of the apocrypha which the reformed church appreciate as books worth reading but not part of God’s inspired word (AKA the bible). In 1 Enoch 12-16 there is an expanded account of the events around Genesis 6. Fallen spirits were, the legend goes, making babies with human women and their offspring were causing havoc on the world which produced the rebellion on the earth which brought on the judgment of God through flood. The fallen angels beg Enoch to talk to God about what they have done and they are given the answer that they will remain inside the earth as prisoners for eternity (see also 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6). While this background helps to understand what Peter is referring to, it does not follow that Peter regards 1 Enoch as scripture nor that his readers knew the writing well. But the legend is referred to and Jesus, in his resurrection body has something to proclaim even to those legendary spirits.

This section, accompanied with 2 Peter 2:4, may give weight to the creed which declares Jesus descended to hell on the Easter weekend.

The least we ought to say about these verses is that Jesus proclaimed a victory over evil in this world. Perhaps the greatest example of evil are the evil spirits working during the days before the great flood. And Jesus’ victory over this world and the evil deeds committed is proclaimed to us. We are not to fear the malicious attacks of this world because our God has conquered death and evil. Peter alludes to this Noah example knowing that his readers were familiar with it, even though we are not. Legend has it that Noah’s ark came to rest in the very region that Peter is writing to and there were a number of flood stories which were commonly known in Peter’s day.

“…saved through water…” Ask anyone what the water was doing in the Noah story and they would say that it was flooding the world and drowning everything not saved by the ark. The ark is what saved Noah and his family! While we might equate the ark with the body of Christ or the blood of Christ, Peter uses the analogy of the water to talk about baptism. The importance of his lesson is that baptism doesn’t cleanse us like the washing of dirt, but it destroys evil – the pledge of a clear conscience. Victory is portrayed by Peter by Christ’s living Spirit, the floating boat and the resurrection. Through Christ we have victory.

While the word, ‘baptism’ takes most of us straight to a water ritual – and this passage clearly takes our minds to water – we must discipline our minds to ask what aspect of baptism is this passage pointing to. Peter tells us that baptism cleanses our conscience before God. No matter what form baptism takes (full wash, sprinkle or dry-clean) the symbol refers to a movement apart from God to with God. Baptism saves us because it aligns the believer with Christ and his resurrection assures us of salvation from this earth. Like the flood waters destroyed the things of this earthly world and carried the saved ones in the ark, so too believers are redeemed from the death of this world and raised with Christ.

Now, let’s step back out from the specific difficulties of this passage and see what Peter is saying. Our lives are to be influenced by God and not by the influence of sinful men and we are not to fear the reactions of people to our faith and testimony because God is victorious over death and every spiritual authority.

Meaning

We can live in fear of mankind and what everybody thinks and says or we can acknowledge that in Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension, we are on the side of the eternal winner. So, live in this evil age as those who serve Christ and not the things of this fallen world.  Turn from evil and do good.

Application

  • Topic A – To this you were called. Verses 8 to 12 describe the virtues and character of the righteous. Which do you find the hardest and how can you train yourself to respond or grow in righteousness?
  • Topic B – Be prepared to give a reason. Why do you hope in Christ? Why do you love him? What difference does Jesus make to your life?
  • Topic C – What is your ultimate motivation in life? Peter instructed us to be motivated to please God and not be drawn to please people. But how much are you changed by this? Does the victory of Jesus over death and all kinds of evil impress you?

Prayer of the Week

Almighty God, thank you for the salvation that comes only through Jesus death – the righteous for the unrighteous – so that we are brought to you. As Noah and his family were carried safely across the waters, please carry us by the risen Lord to eternal deliverance. Help us to speak about our faith without fear. Give us the words to speak and proclaim Jesus as the risen Lord. Amen.

Study 5 – 1 Peter 3:1-7

In the same way: wives and husbands!

Context

Peter wants his readers to praise God because they have been adopted by him as his children – the people of God, set apart to declare his praises to the world! In this life, we are to live reverently and conscious of God and not fighting against authority but doing good – so that those around us might be silenced by their ignorance. We are not citizens of this world but we do live in it. We must continue to shape our thinking by the love and authority of God rather than the love and endeavours of this world.

Now, we live in an environment or age where the word ‘submit’ is a dirty word. We have been raised in the modern Western world to strive for independence, equal opportunity, and everybody’s right to be who they want to be. While this is admirable, we ought to maintain a reverence of God and give him his rightful place to speak into our lives and our culture.

At the very beginning of the Bible we are informed that God created humans in his own image and they were created as male and female. They were both created equal under God and created to partner together. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in Genesis 3, they were punished with work becoming hard, childbirth being painful and their relationship with one another no longer travelling smoothly. To the woman, God said, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16). This is a description of conflict as a result of sin entering the world. Because of The Fall, marriages (and human relationships) will be characterised by conflict and struggle because of sin. The book of Peter, as well as the Letter to the Ephesians, promotes a marriage striving for what existed before The Fall.

We turn to some words in scripture which can be hard to swallow in our modern minds. But the bible always commands us to listen and learn before we reach a conclusion. We are also to have the bible critique our culture rather than the other way round. Just as we needed to rethink the word ‘slavery’ in the last passage, we need to be careful how we read the word ‘submit’. And finally, we must remember that our God is a loving and caring God and His commands are wonderful. With this, much longer, context section out of the way, let’s look at what the bible says about husbands and wives.

A Special Note Before Proceeding

The teaching from God on marriage in the bible is wonderful, beautiful and celebrates the church’s relationship with Christ (Ephesians 5:32). Men and women are designed by God to work in unison together. Both for the same purpose of glorifying God in all that they do. Marriages in this world, however, are broken and there can be hurt and damage both outside and inside the church of God. Sin is sin. Peter does teach for wives to submit to husbands and for husbands to be protective of their spouse. A man who has temper issues, anger management issues, insecurities, and the like will only be twisting and distorting the word of God if he thinks a woman should or must remain faithful in a violent and dangerous marriage. A woman living with domestic violence must not be afraid of the word of God at this point. No marriage in this world is perfect and, while many problems can be helped through counseling, households ought to be safe places to live. As we read the word of God, please be aware of sin present in people’s families and promote awareness of domestic violence and a plea for people to seek help if needed. Let us learn to love what the bible teaches on marriage without encouraging people to pretend that their marriages are perfect.

Observation

Structure

  • 1-6 Submission so that you display the purity and reverence of your lives
  • 7 Submission so that nothing will hinder your prayers

1-6 Submission so that you display the purity and reverence of your lives

“Wives, in the same way…” See 2:13 and 18. In the light of fearing God reverently and for the Lord’s sake. The motivation for the instruction that follows is our due respect to God. What follows is an instruction to wives – not to men. It is not a man’s duty to enforce the command which follows. If a woman is to take on the instruction to submit, it will be because of her love and reverence toward God and not because of what any man has said. Reading the following verses must be done carefully so that we see the purpose and the expectation.

“…submit yourselves to your own husbands…” Again, this is not something enforced by others onto a woman but they submit of their own will. This is not a directive for women to submit to men in general but specifically in the marriage union. The topic of 1 Peter 2 and 3 are to do with relationship dynamics. Let’s consider some ways of understanding Peter’s instruction here. Since he brings unbelieving husbands quickly into the instruction, is Peter, as Karen H. Jobes argues, instructing women in a pagan society to demonstrate that following Jesus is a peaceful religion? Is Peter, as Herman argues, instructing women to approach their marriages as the culture of the day would expect them to – thus allowing us to allow our modern culture to determine what a marriage relationship looks like? Well, Peter doesn’t address this only to women of unbelieving husbands. Rather, he says that if any of them do not believe. So, submit to your husband even if he is not a believer. It would seem that Peter is encouraging women not to leave their unbelieving husbands but stay. There is no biblical authority for a woman to leave their husband simply because he is not a believer. But, with a life of reverence to God, you may show your husband – without words – how lovely it is to be a believer.

Peter uses the word, submit, in verses 2:13; 2:18; 3:1; 3:5 and 5:5. In chapters 2 and 5, it is clear that the word means to respect the relationship you have and to relate correctly within it. That is, emperors and all human authorities are to be submitted to – live in peace within this relationship. Slaves are to submit to their masters because that is their relationship. Young people are to submit to their elders. Each of them describe a relationship and an instruction to live peacefully in that relationship. One side submits and the other side shows respect. It is unnerving to have the instruction to women directly follow the instruction to slaves and masters. But we must not compare women to slaves. That would be unfair to the purpose of Peter’s message. In a marriage relationship, the wife is to follow and respect her husband. As hard as that may sound, we must remove from our minds any images of repression, violence or mastery over the woman. This is an instruction to the wives to live in harmony in the marriage and it is not an instruction to the husbands to lord over, oppress or violate the partnership of marriage.

“…when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” Peter teaches that a husband can be won over to the Lord without a word. John Calvin rightly adds that the husband must hear the word of the gospel in order to be saved but Peter is directing the wives not to concern themselves with bible-bashing their husbands. Rather, respect them and live in harmony with them. Of course, pure and reverent lives is not an easy target to reach. Sober minds with an active reverence for God is required.

“…beauty…should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit…” Peter contrasts the effort of adorning the outer body with amazing hair and stunning looks which both will fade and perish, with the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. Humility is a word I would include here rather than silent. The woman is not directed to disappear out of site. Quite the opposite, her godly beauty is to shine out and impress her husband.

“…which is of great worth in God’s sight.” Again, the motivation is not to please men or culture but to live in reverence to God. Isaiah 57:15 says “For this is what the high and exalted One says – He who lives forever, whose name is Holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.””  And Micah 6:8 says, “He has shown you , O mortal, what is good…and what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

“For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves.” Peter does not use his present culture to base his position but the historic people of God. His readers are again given the status of the people of God because they too put their hope in God. This has always been the core and heart of the gospel and what makes for a genuine believer or not – our hope in God. The New Covenant through Jesus does not tear up the old altogether since the Old Covenant always pointed to the new. To know how to behave as a holy woman today, look to the holy women of the scriptures.

“…to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands.” Living in obedience to God – in submission and reverence to God – by submitting according to the relationship a wife has with her husband. God created Eve to be a helper for Adam (Gen 2:18-25). The description of their relationship in Genesis 2 is not of master and slave but of perfect unity and companionship. God is described as ‘helper’ in Exodus 18:4 and Deuteronomy 33:29. Eve is not a lesser creature to Adam nor is any wife to their husband. Peter is not asking women to be lesser people but to enjoy the marriage relationship the way that God designed it to be. A woman who fights against their husband is merely being obedient to the flesh and the outworkings of the curse (Genesis 3:16). Our discomfort with the words of Peter in this chapter are not because of the words of scripture but because of the sin in our hearts.

“…like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord” This is a reference to Genesis 18:12. What is striking is to consider the relationship between Abraham and Sarah and remember that Abraham lead Sarah through foolish decisions and Sarah also directed Abraham to have sex with their servant. Peter is not illustrating Abraham and Sarah as perfect humans nor the very definition of good human marriage but that over their life, they remained husband and wife and Sarah identified Abraham as her lord. This word does not mean Abraham was her god but that he is her leader.

“You are [Sarah’s] daughters if…” Like Paul can declare us to be children of Abraham if we respond to God in faith, Peter says that wives are like Sarah if they do what is right. The people of God, who desire what is of great worth to God (v4), will aim to do what is right. Peter declares that it is right for a woman to remain in good relationship with her husband, whether he is saved or not. Her new freedom in Christ does not allow her to change the created order of marriage.

“…and do not give way to fear.” John Calvin suggests that this is a directive to choose submission and do not fear to be in that position. The verse might then read: Follow Sarah’s example and treat your husband as your head and don’t be afraid to do that. It does not follow that if a man is mistreating his role as head that a woman must remain in submission and be strong under domestic violence – no! Peter immediately addresses the husbands in verse 7 in their particular role in the relationship.

7 Submission so that nothing will hinder your prayers

“Husbands, in the same way…” Again, 2:18 calls us to live our lives on this earth out of reverent fear of God. This is what “in the same way” means. Each time Peter uses this phrase, it is looking back to 2:18. “Husbands, [also out of reverent fear of God], be considerate as you live with your wives…” God is our just judge and giver of grace and the author of life. Let’s align our minds and hearts to live life how He intended.

“…be considerate as you live with your wives…” The husband is not to live with no regard to his wife nor out of any self-seeking manner but to be mindful of his relationship to his wife.

“…and treat them with respect…” I hope we are beginning to get the picture of a relationship between a man and a woman that is not about inequality but about roles in the relationship. The husband is to have full respect for his wife. She is not a lesser creature or a slave or anything disrespectful. Peter’s following words help build the picture of equality in the marriage but not without noting physical differences.

“…as the weaker partner…” The simplest understanding of this phrase is to consider the difference in physical strength between a man and a woman. Of course there are some very strong women and some very weak men but, as a whole, men are stronger. This is seen in the way we organise sport. Does it mean mentally weaker, morally weaker, spiritually weaker? I don’t see how any of those are plausible suggestions. There may be some factors to do with childbearing which add to this description by Peter but that is not made clear at all in the text. The issue at hand could very well be that since a woman is submitting herself to the lead of the man, he is not in the remotest to take that position and exploit it. There is no room in this text for physical or emotional violence. Why does Peter give this one of the reasons for showing respect? Because as one body in marriage, it is God’s design for us to protect and care for the weaker parts (1 Corinthians 12:23).

“…and heirs with you of the gracious gift of life…” If there was any wondering about equality in the marriage it must be seen that God saves both male and females with equal share of grace.

“…so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” What an amazing motivation for the husband! Both the wife and the husband are given the motivation as their relationship with God that counts (3:4, 7). A husband is to live conscious of his relationship and position he plays because he desires to serve God and do what is right. In that, there is no difference between the wife and the husband: both are submitting to God. Our prayers are hindered when our relationship with God is broken. This teaching of Peter aligns perfectly with the two great commandments: to love God and love neighbour. Disobeying the latter affects the former. And the reverse is true too.

Meaning

There is a created way that God has designed for marriage and it is beautiful and right. Our relationship with God is affected by and reflected in the shape of our marriage. The wife is encouraged to pursue marriage as God intended it without fear. The husband is reminded to live in consideration of his position. Both are to live in reverent fear and submission to God.

Application

  • Topic A – Domestic Violence. Can you identify ways that 1 Peter 3:1-7 could be used to excuse domestic violence? Discuss reasons why such a reading is not correct.
  • Topic B – Beautiful women. Separately with just the women, discuss the implications of verses 3 and 4.
  • Topic C – Godly men. Separately with just the men, discuss the implications of verse 7 and how can you apply this to yourself? Please note that if you are not married, what do you see as universal in these verses?

Prayer of the Week

O God, help us to never hurt and never to grieve one another. We pray for marriages inside the church that they may honour you as men and women love sacrificially. Help us in all of our relationships to live in love as you have shown love to us. Protect holy marriages Lord. May our prayers not be hindered by our disobedience and may our lives shine as servants of your word. Amen.