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, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. – 1 Peter 4: 1, 2
Peter has mentioned suffering numerous times already in this letter but here he takes the concept even further by stating that a right attitude towards suffering literally arms ourselves in the battle with the world, the flesh and the devil. Peter is talking here about the spiritual warfare that each Christian is engaged in. Christians are in a war, whether they realize it or not – not with people – we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against what is motivating people, spiritual hosts of wickedness in high places (Eph 6:12). The warfare is spiritual and not physical, though it is definitely as real and intense as any war fought on a battlefield.
Think about the words Peter uses here, especially the phrase “arm yourselves.” Its as if he is saying to God’s people, “get your swords ready in hand,” or “make sure all the members of your family has access to a gun.”
Again, he is talking in spiritual and not physical terms but lets not miss the point here. He is telling us to arm ourselves. People do not need to do that if they are meant to simply relax and spend their lives in some sort of spiritual recliner. Its as if he is saying, “Dad’s make sure you have a loaded gun handy… while you are at it, get one for your wife so she can defend herself.. and don’t forget the kids, they need weapons too. Oh and don’t forget single people, or the elderly.. or the young people.. no one can be left out… the battle is on… everyone needs to have access to weaponry.”
Can we get a mental picture of this? I hope so, because without exaggeration, this is the kind of intense imagery that Peter is employing here in the use of these words.
What we think about suffering is important. It says, “Arm yourselves with the same way of thinking.” To think rightly about suffering is to arm ourselves for the fight. There is a battle on for our minds. The enemy wishes to defeat you by ways of thinking that opposes the truth of God’s word. He wants you to think thoughts of guilt, even after you have confessed and renounced sin. He wants you to feel life is meaningless and not worth living, when in fact, everything you do here has an eternal purpose. He wants to take away all hope from you, when in fact, it is the devil himself who has no hope – he is a defeated foe and one day all the universe will see him as the ultimate loser. Yet right now, he is very much on the scene of history – he is our adversary, our enemy, and he is seeking whom he may devour, but rather than be passive, we are to resist him firm in the faith.
A right attitude towards suffering includes the understanding that for Christians, all suffering is temporary. Elsewhere in the New Testament, Paul taught that we need an eternal perspective to suffering and affliction, knowing that it is only a temporary situation:
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” – 2 Cor 4:16-18
We must bear in mind that sometimes we suffer because of the evil actions of people. Their intention may be evil, but God’s intention in all of it is good. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph was able to say – “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
So God has a plan even in our suffering, but more than that, if we really understand that God is working out His eternal purposes and changing us into more Christlikeness in the process, God actually expects us to rejoice in the midst of the suffering. Yes! God tells us, in so many words, “If you are suffering now get excited!!”
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing…. Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” – James 1:2-4, 12,13. God distances Himself from evil but will use even evil for our good and for His glory.
1 Peter 4:1 – “for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” – Peter’s point is that when believers are willing to suffer, the nerve center of sin is severed in their lives. Although believers will never be totally free from sin in this life (see James 3:2; 1 John 1:8), when believers endure suffering for the sake of Christ they show that their purpose in life is not to live for their own pleasures but according to the will of God and for his glory.
1 Peter 4:2 – “so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” Suffering teaches us what we should live for – namely the will of God.
As I read the New Testament I do not see the scriptures teach that we should be preoccupied with the “where” of the will of God but with the “what” and “how.” What I mean is that the focus never seems to be on where we live (Damascus, Ephesus, Rome) or what particular job we have (tent making, fruit picking, construction work or sales) – which is what modern day Christians spend a whole lot of thinking on – but instead the focus is on the what of how we live our lives
1 Thess 4:3 “For this is the will of God” …… (what is it Paul?.. please tell us)…. “This is the will of God” (oh thank God, you are going to tell us)….. “This is the will of God, your sanctification…”
The will of God is that each of us live lives of holiness, wherever it is we find ourselves.
In all aspects of life, we are to find out what the will of God is. And its not that complicated.
The will of God is that we are sanctified, set apart for God and His purpose. If that does not describe our lifestyle, we are to stop grieving the Lord, repent and simply do what we know is the right thing to do. If we are not doing that, we are to stop what we are doing, make a course adjustment, a full “about face” if necessary and implement the will of God.
If we are lying – we must stop it and tell the truth (Eph 4:25).
If we are stealing, we must stop it and work (Eph 4:28).
If involved in sex outside of the marriage relationship – we must stop it, and either get married or separate.
1 Thess 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
The Gospel is not complicated. Its all about what Christ has done by His life, death and resurrection – what He has done to save sinners. It is all His work. Yet, our Christian lives are to be lived to honor and please the One who saved us by His blood. That is our response to the love He has shown to us – a life lived pursuing holiness, even if that life is sometimes marked by periods of suffering.
As far as the enemy is concerned, I pray that these brief words will make each of us armed and dangerous, and resistant to all his lies. God is working out His purpose in our lives, and He will do all He desires as we look to Him and resist the lies that so often assail our minds. Nothing in our lives is wasted, including any suffering we endure; and in all of it, let each of us commit ourselves to doing the will of God, giving Him the glory He deserves.