Writing to those he calls pilgrims, strangers, and exiles, in his first letter, Peter, under divine inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, provides some practical encouragement to persevere through suffering on the basis of Christ’s suffering. Indeed suffering becomes the major theme throughout the letter, no doubt because the early Christians were faced with escalating persecution that had already resulted in marginalization and plundering of property with the progression to death as a very real possibility.
Continuing this theme of Christ’s suffering and our response to living in light of that, Peter returns again to the subject of holiness (1:13-21) in the fourth chapter, seen below
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. 3 For 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. 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.
Proceeding into our exposition of the passage, therefore sets the stage. Typically a therefore serves as a transition point from an indicative, an action of God, to an imperative, a command that demands our obedient response. Here, the therefore carries the weight of the discussion of Christ’s suffering, tying back to 1 Peter 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, “
Therefore, based on this finished work of Christ, in which He, “suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking.” The basis for the imperative, arm yourselves, is the suffering of Christ. It is the foundation and motivation for how we are to approach our own suffering and how we are to live in a fallen and sinful world which wages war against our souls. As it sounds, arm is military word expressing both the seriousness and hostility of the situation, it is a literal call to arms. Wuest comments that the noun form of this armoring up, “was used of a heavy-armed footsoldier who carried a pike [javelin] and a large shield….The Christian needs the heaviest armor he can get, to withstand the attacks of the enemy of his soul.”
Amen. We are long past the point of realizing that the Christian life is war. For far too long, Christianity (more accurately Christendom), primarily in Western Civilization and specifically in America, has assumed a prosperous passivity, only to wonder why individually and collectively evangelicalism is so weak and gullible. It’s simple, failure to realize that we’re in a war.
Next we see that this armament is not with physical weapons, rather it is spiritual, specifically as it relates to the mind. Here, we are instructed to be armed with the same way of thinking that Christ had, who humanly speaking faced unjust suffering unto death. Did Jesus assume health, wealth, and prosperity? Did He object and resist suffering? Did He rally troops or mount up picket lines to counteract the injustices He faced in suffering without cause? No, He went willingly. Peter has already described our Lord’s humility and submission in suffering
“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.24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”
With the command to arm ourselves with the mind of Christ, we see that this includes putting to death all attitudes of protestation, grumbling or discontent with our present situation. It includes putting to death all desire for vindication, self defense, and restoration. Rather it is a humble submission entrusting oneself into the hands of the sovereign God.
Moving now to the latter part of verse 1, and we reach a bit of difficulty by asking who is being referred to, Christ, or those who have “suffered in the flesh”? Perhaps a clue comes when we keep reading into verse 2, that whoever this is who has ceased from sin is called to, “live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” With this phrase, it seems more reasonable to conclude that it is those who have been united to Christ by faith, shared in the death and resurrection with Him and are now raised to walk in a life of holiness. There is a strong contrast presented here between between human passions and the will of God. The two are not complimentary, they do not cohabitate, rather they are at violent odds with one another. If we note the use of time elements in this passage, essentially we are to flee from our past life of sin and are called to live our present life, holy and unstained from the world because of the reality that our future life is one of complete holiness. This command is a practical restatement of “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:14-16) in the light of the suffering of Christ.
In light of the death of Christ on the cross for sin through His suffering, there ought to be an anticipation that in this world we will suffer too. Our suffering, in whatever form or fashion will ultimately lead to death, at which point we will cease to sin. By following in the footsteps of our Lord in suffering in the flesh, we ought to live in the present reality that we will one day cease to sin. Because we will one day be sin free, as a result of Christ’s death, therefore, be holy now, in the present. Live the rest of your life not fulfilling human passions or the lusts of men (or yourself), rather live for the will of God.
Soli Deo Gloria