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Fighting Through Your Suffering (I Peter 4:1-6)

July 19, 2009 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: New Life in the Same Old Place (I Peter)

Passage: 1 Peter 4:1–4:6

New Life in the Same Old Place

Fighting Through Your Suffering
I Peter 4:1-6
July 19th, 2009
Way of Grace Church

I. Your Top Ten

If you were asked to make a top ten list entitled, "The Top 10 Ways in Which I Have Suffered", what would be on that list? Something from your childhood? Something from a few years back? Something happening right now?

I suspect your list would include situations that would fall under one of these general headings: "suffering because of loss", or "suffering because of betrayal", or "suffering because of failure", or "suffering because of uncertainty", or "suffering because of lack", or even "suffering because of faith".

It was that last one that probably described most of the readers to whom the Apostle Peter addressed his first letter, as we call it in the New Testament. While some of these people might have been suffering because they were acting foolishly, most were being slandered and reviled and accused simply because of their faith in Jesus Christ.

This morning, we are going to see in I Peter 4:1-6, that Peter is going to talk to his readers not about the reality of their suffering, but about their response to it.

Someone once said, "Life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you respond to it."

In regard to the reality of their suffering, I believe Peter's understanding is summed up well by the writer C.S. Lewis. He wrote, “We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ''Blessed are they that mourn.''”

In light of the reality of our sufferings, we need to hear Peter this morning. Peter has made it clear that he is not speaking to those who suffer as a result of their own sins. But if we suffer for other reasons, if we suffer because we are Christians, or at least, suffer as Christians, we need to hear what God has for us this morning.

Let's look together at I Peter 4:1-6

II. The Passage: "Arm Yourselves" (4:1-6)

Let's actually start with verse 18 of chapter 3, and then I'll read beginning in chapter 4. 3:19-22 are a sort of parenthesis here, so in 4:1, Peter is picking up again from 3:18. Listen to how they go together...

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit… (3:18)

[4:1] Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. [let's stop there]

Notice the language Peter uses in verse 1: "arm yourselves with the same way of thinking". This is a military term Peter is using here. Why is he using this kind of language? Peter says "arm yourselves" because he knows that there is always a battle involved when we suffer.

While our suffering might be related to the words or actions of another, the battle Peter is talking about is not a battle out here, but in here. So, in some sense, Peter is telling them that even though suffering is "part of the program", they must, nevertheless, fight through their suffering. Their response to suffering should be to fight.

In the suffering you are currently experiencing. In the suffering that is to come, are you ready to fight? Let's see if we can figure from this passage what exactly this kind of battle looks like.

The first question we have to ask is, whose weapons or whose strategy are we using?

A. Fighting to Respond Like Jesus (4:1, 2)

Look again at some of the words in verse 1. Let's see if we can make sense of what Peter is telling us here:

"Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh...Since"--What is he saying here? Peter is telling us that because Jesus, the Son of God, God in human flesh suffered as we suffer, we have a perfect example to follow.

"[arm yourselves with] the same way of thinking"--what perspective did Jesus, the perfect Son of God have when he suffered? More specifically, how did he respond to the suffering he experienced as a result of His perspective?

Remember what Peter told us at the end of chapter 2:

But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

Notice how Peter describes Jesus' response here. Out of the five responses mentioned, four of them are put in negative terms: he did NOT sin...he did NOT revile. Why does Peter express it like this? Because he knows how human beings typically respond to suffering and he wants to show that Jesus Christ is anything but typical.

But go back to 4:1. Peter goes on to say, "...for whoever has suffered in the flesh [suffered in the flesh like Jesus suffered in flesh...that person] has ceased from sin".

Peter is reminding them that the one who is willing to suffer for Christ and/or suffer like Christ, demonstrates that he or she has put away the old life and is committed to the new, that doing God’s will is more important than comfort or safety; that God’s desires are more important than my own desires.

Peter affirms this in verse 2, and describes in even clearer terms what our commitment to suffer like Jesus says about our commitment to God: so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.

In light of this we have to ask, "Do our sufferings typically lead us to compromise according to human passions, or to commitment according to God's will?

Again C.S. Lewis gives us a helpful way to express all this: "God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain but without stain"

Peter is teaching us this morning, God is showing us this morning that when we suffer, we need to fight to respond like Jesus.

B. Fighting to Flee "Human Passions" (4:3-5)

Look at how Peter goes on to talk to his readers about their response to the persecution they were experiencing...

3 The time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. 4 With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; 5 but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

It might appear at first that Peter is switching gears here; that he has dropped the subject of suffering. But do you see that the contrast from verse 2 is still here, the contrast between "human passions" or human desires and God's will, or what God desires. In verse 3, Peter describes "human passions" as "what the Gentiles want to do". Remember, Gentiles in this letter refers to non-Christians.

Also the fact that Peter is still talking about suffering is evident from verse 4. These followers of Jesus were maligned because they did not go along with their non-Christian neighbors "in the same flood of debauchery". "Debauchery" is not a word we use a whole lot. One writer defines the word here as an "uncontrolled" or "unrestrained indulgence in the seeking of pleasure".

Most of the behaviors mentioned in verse 3 were related to the worship of false gods. As verse 3 confirms, many of these Christians used to live this way, but now, they are being harassed because they no longer go to the drinking parties and the pagan temples.

Have you ever been a situation like this? I remember working at a top notch hotel here in the Valley and listening to my fellow valets and bellmen talk about going out to drink after work and going to the 'gentlemen's clubs'. When I was invited to go, it was always interesting to me that a simple "no thanks", combined with their knowledge that I was 'religious' was always viewed as a moral judgment against them, something to which they had to respond.

"Oh, sorry, I forgot you were going to be reading your Bible tonight." "Oh, too good for us sinners, right." "You must think we're pretty disgusting right." "Don't you like to have fun...don't you like girls."

I'm sure the verbal abuse that Peter's audience suffered was far worse than that.

But do you see that Peter is talking about these things because he knows that they were being tempted to respond to their sufferings with compromise. Instead of fighting to respond like Jesus, they were being tempted to give up and give in, to go back to their old lifestyle, to live according to "human passions" and not the will of God.

So when Peter encourages them, in their suffering, to fight to respond like Jesus, he is at the same time, encouraging them to fight to flee "human passions".

In the midst of you suffering, how have you responded according to what you want, according to "human passions". Were you in a similar position to Peter's first readers? Was it easier to give up and give in, rather than endure the rejection and reviling of those around you?

Young people, when you live for Christ, your peers/classmates might look at you like you have two heads, they might laugh, they might dismiss you. But going along with them, compromising in terms of boozing and using and sex and swearing and judging and not giving a rip about anyone, that is a response that you will regret. That isn't God's best for you. That isn't His will.

Peter says arm yourselves with the mind of Jesus!

Not-so-young people, how are you, in the face of suffering, tempted to respond according to "human passions"? Are you tempted to lash out, to ignore, to blame, to neglect, to despair, to worry, to get bitter, to justify, to throw yourself a "pity party"?

Peter says arm yourselves with the mind of Jesus!

And look at how Peter attacks the temptation of "human passions". We see from the progression of these verses, his attack involves a past, present, and future perspective.

Past: Peter tells them in verse 3, "You spent long enough living like that, and what good did it do?You spent long enough dishonoring God."

Present: Peter reminds them in verse 4, "Don't be surprised at this present time that those without Christ attack you. That's what they always do."

Future: "Remember", Peter says in verse 5, "remember, a day is coming when all people will stand before God and give an account." "Human passions" will one day be judged according to divine justice.

Brothers and sisters, friends, as we respond to our suffering, we need this perspective when we are tempted to respond according to what we want or what we feel, and not according to God's will, what God wants. A past, present, and future perspective on our sinful responses should convince us that such a choice is always the wrong choice.

C. Fighting to Have Hope (4:6)

So Peter calls them to fight to respond like Jesus, he encourages them to fight in order to flee "human passions"...but what about verse 6. Peter writes...

6 For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.

Sounds kind of like an afterthought. Is this statement still connected to the theme of suffering? I believe it is. And I believe the connection hinges on a right identification of the "dead" mentioned in this verse. What do we know from the verse?

Well notice that those who are dead had the gospel preached to them, and because of it, they will live in the spirit. I don't think Peter is saying that the gospel was preached to them when they were dead, as if there is evangelism going on in the afterlife. That would strip Peter's teaching here of its force. "Don't compromise. God's judgment is coming...but actually...don't worry, you'll have a second chance to respond to the gospel after you die."

No, I think Peter is talking about how the gospel was preached to those who are NOW dead; it was preached to them before they died. You see, these Christians were troubled by the deaths of some of their fellow believers. Some of them wrongly assumed that death would keep the deceased from partaking in Jesus' return and ultimate victory.

Remember how the Apostle Paul addressed this issue: But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. (I Thessalonians 4:13, 14)

But Peter is reminding them here that even though death is a manifestation of God's judgment against sin, even thought they are "judged in the flesh the way people are", the gospel brings us hope. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, because of His resurrection, we can hope in the face of death. Remember what Peter said about Jesus in 3:18...

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit… (3:18)

Because he was made alive with a new spiritual body, we too can have that hope. When a follower of Jesus dies, we should not mourn like those without hope. We will mourn, but we should also rejoice.

So what does this have to do with suffering, you might ask? Well, in the face of suffering, not only are we tempted to respond according to our own wisdom and desires, but we are often motivated to do so by fear. Fear of loss. Fear of pain. Fear of death.

These followers of Christ to whom Peter is writing in this letter may have been tempted to compromise because they feared their persecutors; they feared what their persecutors might do to them. Might they be killed? If so, would they miss out on Jesus' final victory?

When you're suffering, you must fight to have hope. We are so often driven to compromise because we are afraid of what we might lose or how we might suffer even more.

The woman suffering in her marriage responds with anger toward her husband because she ultimately fears that she will be abandoned and no one will love her. The boy suffering because of a bully's abuse responds with insults because he fears humiliation or physical injury. The husband suffering because of financial failure responds with despair and withdrawal because he fears that he is a failure and that things will only get worse. The girl suffering because of a parent's death responds with blame because she fears a world in which she is not in control. Fear.

When we suffer, we need to fight to respond like Jesus; which means we need to fight to flee "human passions" (doing what we want)...and very often, that means fighting to have hope in the face of fear.

III. The Rest of Your Time

Remember verses 1 and 2:

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.

This morning, we have heard from God. He has spoken to us through His word. He has instructed us and encouraged us in regard to suffering. And because of this incredible truth, in light of these incredible truths, we have to ask, from this point out...when you leave this place...what will you do with "the rest of your time".

"The rest of your time" is out there in front of you. I don't know how many more weeks, months, or years God will give you, or me. However long we have, what will we do with the rest of your our time?

It reminds me a conversation that Frodo the hobbit has with Gandalf the wizard in one of the Lord of the Rings movies:

Frodo [says out of his suffering]: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

Gandalf [responds]: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

What will you do with rest of your time? Is it your desire to live for the will of God? Do you want above and before anything else, to live a life that pleases God...even...even when you are in the grip of suffering? Even when it is not easy to do God's will? If you are not willing to suffer for Christ and/or like Christ, you are not ready to live for the will of God.

So what will it take for us to fight through our suffering? Remember, Peter says "arm ourselves" with the perspective of Jesus.

Listen to how Mark describes the perspective of Jesus in the midst of His sufferings. Only hours before his horrible death on a Roman cross, we read that...

...going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour [the hour of his death] might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:35, 36)

Do you see the fight here? The battle? But Jesus surrenders himself to the will of God, doesn't He? And because he did, and because he suffered for us, he can redeem even our sufferings.

It is the cross that makes possible a new heart that is bent on doing God's will. It is the gospel, the Good News of what Jesus did, that allows us to follow Jesus' example, to have the mind of Christ, to reject our sinful responses, and to have hope, no matter our circumstances.

Suffering is part of the program. God knows what's on your top ten list. He knows what you're going through this morning. But he wants to redeem your suffering. Will the rest of your time in this world be about the will of God, or about what you want? Only faith in Jesus can free us to fight through our sufferings, so that God is honored, even in the worst of times. Let's pray.

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