1 Peter 4:12-5:14 WC McCarter
Preview the sermon by listing the six main points for everyone to mark down.
In the book of First Peter we have discussed the Christian lifestyle—what it means to live in this age as a Christian. We have clear revelation from God as to how we are to live in this life. We do not have to go at this alone. A major part of this discussion has been the subject of suffering. Now, suffering can take many forms, but Peter has particularly been interested in the kind of suffering that is caused precisely because we are “Christians.” In America, we have yet to experience this kind of suffering in a widespread manner, but I think the application is that we need to prepare for suffering. As a matter of fact, many scholars believe that Peter’s audience had not yet suffered the “fiery trial” which he talks about. If that is the case, then Peter was preparing the Christians for the persecution to come. We should certainly take this to heart.
It is better to talk about suffering before it happens rather than after it happens. You ought to be prepared, on the watch, well-equipped. That is the goal of pastoral preaching—so that when life hits, and it hits hard, no one falls away from the Faith. There is also a secondary application of how Christians should deal with suffering in general. There are various forms of suffering: death, poor health, financial ruin, relationship struggles, etc. God not only wants us to survive these things, but to do so well. God wants us to suffer well.
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#1 Suffering as a Christian is Not Strange (12-16)
Christians are strangers in this world, but we do not find suffering to be strange. Why is that? We don’t find suffering to be strange because the Lord taught us that the world hates us. This is what you signed up for when you became a Christian—to take up your cross and follow Him. Do not think that the fiery trials you go through are anything strange. Instead, rejoice because you are partaking in Christ’s sufferings. Through baptism, you have been united with Christ in His death and resurrection, and during this age you may be united with Christ in His sufferings. If you are united with Christ in His sufferings, you will surely be united with Him in His glory. This is something that should bring about overwhelming joy.
If you suffer for the name of Christ, as a “Christian,” there is great blessing from heaven. Jesus Himself stated this clearly in the Sermon on the Mount. Matt 5:10-12 records the Lord teaching, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” Peter promises that the blessing in this kind of suffering is the Spirit of glory and of God resting on the believer. So, here is another sign that you have been united with Christ. You know if the Spirit of God is working in your life. You will produce the fruit of the Spirit—Love and all the others. He will you’re your spirit that you are a child of God. Although unbelievers blaspheme God in persecuting Christians, believers bring God glory in suffering well. There is no shame in suffering as a Christian—none. There is no shame when financially, you are not as well off as you would like to be because you are doing God’s will. There is no shame in abstaining from doing what your employer asks you to do that is clearly against the word of God. He will see you through it. If you lose your job, you will find another one.
The kind of suffering that God does not look favorably upon is the kind brought upon oneself as (1) a murderer, (2) a thief, (3) an evildoer, and (4) a busybody. No one likes a busybody. No one likes the person who acts like they are busy but are really doing nothing at all.
#2 Salvation from Judgment (17-19)
I had my Aha! moment in studying this paragraph. Suffering and persecution, which are not always the same thing, are for the God-ordained purpose of purifying the church. Only those who are truly born-again and persevere until the end will be saved from the righteous judgment of God. When suffering comes on the church, what happens? There is a divide between those who are truly Christians and those who are not. When tragedy comes upon a family and they become stronger in the Faith, they have passed the judgment of God. When tragedy hits another family and they forsake the Faith, then we know that they have not persevered until the end. They will not be saved.
To suffer well, we must commit our souls to God who is a faithful Creator. Two of Peter’s key terms show up once again in verse 19: “suffer” and “souls.” It is not about your body, your resources, your finances, or your family, but it is about your soul. A faithful Creator is one who is also a Sustainer. We are to trust our souls to Him. Thus, suffering is a spiritual exercise more so than physical, emotional, or anything else.
#3 Shepherding and Serving the Flock (1-4)
In his final instructions, Peter speaks to the elders of the churches. Why do you think he speaks to the elders? They have to shepherd you through suffering, the hard times, and the judgment of God. He exhorts the eldership as (1) a fellow elder, (2) a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and (3) a partaker of the glory that will be revealed. Peter does not pull rank here, although he could as an apostle, but speaks to the elders as a fellow elder. Peter may not have seen every minute of Christ’s sufferings, including His time on the cross, but Peter was certainly an eye-witness to much of the sufferings of Christ. Not only was he an eye-witness, but he was one who testified until his death of those sufferings that Christ endured. Third, Peter says that he is also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed. Peter, all the elders, and all believers will partake of the glory that will be revealed when Christ returns. That coming glory should serve as a motivator to lead well, serve well, and to continue living the Christian life. This age will one day come to an end. Christ will usher in the new age, the kingdom of God in all its fullness, and we will enter into our Father’s glory, see Christ face-to-face, and enjoy Him forever. Notice, again, that it is through suffering that we attain glory.
What does he exhort them to do? (1) Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, and (2) serve as overseers. They are to shepherd and serve (1) not by compulsion—but willingly, (2) not for dishonest gain—but eagerly, (3) nor as being lords over those entrusted to them—but being examples to the flock.
Notice that elders are those who shepherd (pastor) the congregation, and serve as overseers. These three terms are used interchangeably as titles in a technical sense and simply function to state who and what they are as leaders.
Ultimately, shepherds in congregations today are under the authority of the Chief Shepherd. Christian shepherds are not above what will take place in the end when Christ appears. Leaders will have to give an account of their lives, their families, and their churches. That is why the phrase “among you” is used twice and why the people within the congregation are called “those entrusted to you.” If we shepherd and serve well, we will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.
#4 Submitting to Elders, One Another, and God (5-7)
The “likewise” may refer back to church shepherd submitting to the Chief Shepherd. At any rate, the younger people are to submit to the elders. Let me first ask, how can the apostle instruct younger people to submit to the elders if both age groups are not a part of the local congregation? A healthy church has both older members and younger members. A healthy church has an eldership which folks can respect and follow. Second question, why are the “younger people” highlighted specifically as those who need to submit to the elders? Younger folks, which possibly refers to teenagers but more likely refers to younger adults, are well-known as those who seek independence, buck trends, and sometimes rebel. Yet, Christian young people are to submit to their elder.
In fact, all Christians are to be submissive to one another. This is the way of Christianity. Christ did not come to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many. Humility is to be our clothing. God favors the humble.
Not only are young people to submit to the shepherds of the congregation, and all Christians are to submit to one another, but we all also must humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. Although we are humbled for a time, we will be exalted by God when He deems that the time is right. Humble yourself before almighty God and cast all your cares upon Him. We have good reason to take our cares to God because He cares for us.
#5 Spiritual Warfare (8-11)
Beginning in verse eight, we have several exhortations especially regarding spiritual warfare: (1) be sober, (2) be vigilant, and (3) resist the devil. Now, look at the description of the devil in verse eight. He is our adversary, that’s where he gets his name “the devil.” He is out to oppose us at all costs. He is actively working against us at all times. He is our enemy. He walks around like a roaring lion. He is intimidating and rightfully so. He seeks whom he may devour. He wants nothing more than to destroy us, to consume us. He wants to bring us to an end.
#6 Salutations (12-14)
“Verse 12 summarizes the letter as a whole. Peter wrote the letter to exhort believers and to testify to God’s grace. The grace of God consists of what God has done for believers in Christ. In 1 Peter the gracious work of God in Christ is communicated. . . . The summons to stand in the grace God has given summarizes the message of the entire letter. Suffering is at hand, but believers must stand in the grace God has given and resist apostasy. . . . The final words are a benediction of peace for all believers” (Schreiner, 247).
Conclusion and Christian Application
So, even in the midst of suffering, you can have peace. You can know that you are suffering well because you are doing God’s will. And, if you want some specific application for today, greet one another with a holy kiss before you leave this place!