1 Peter 4

1 Peter 4  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 7
“Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind” In 1 Peter 4 we come to the divine government in dealing with nature opposing itself to the will of God. “For he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin.” If you yield to nature, you gratify it; but if you suffer in refusing its wishes, then “he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin.” It is practical; and holiness costs suffering in this world. Suffering is the way in which power in practice is found against the flesh; so that “he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.” The time past might well suffice for the wretched gratification of self. Do men wonder at one’s abstaining? They are going to be judged. “For for this cause was the gospel preached to the dead also, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” Thus he shows that even if you look at those that are dead, there was no difference. They too, those who had been before them, had been put to the proof in this way. He is keeping up the link with saints of old by a general principle. Whatever the form, God never gives up His righteous government, though there is His grace also. Hence, if any received the gospel, they were delivered from judgment, and lived according to God in the Spirit. If they despised it, they none the less suffered the consequences.
“But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” After this episode which has to do with men here, not in the unseen world, he returns to the relative duties of Christians, and exhorts them to watchfulness with sobriety, to fervent love, and also to “use hospitality one to another without grudging.” And then he takes up what is distinctly spiritual power, which should he used not in charity only but with conscience before God, and for His glory through our Lord Jesus. We saw in a similarly characteristic way in the epistle of James the connection of his moral aim with teaching. But they both suppose an open door for ministry among Christians in the Christian assembly. Why was there the mighty action of the Spirit of God producing such various gifts for profit if they did not create the responsibility to exercise them?
No Christian should think or talk about a right of ministry; for although liberty of ministry may be legitimate enough in itself, still I think it is a phrase apt to be misunderstood. It might easily be interpreted as if it meant a right for any one to speak. This I deny altogether. God has a right to use whom He pleases, according to His own sovereign will and wisdom; but the truth is, that if you have received a gift, you are not only at liberty but rather bound to use it in Christ’s name. It is not a question of merely having license. Such a principle may be very well for man; but responsibility is the word for men of God, “as each man hath received the gift.” It is not merely certain men, one or two, but “as each man,” whatever the number, whether few or many.
“As each man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, [let him speak] as [the] oracles of God.” According to this none ought ever to speak unless he has a thorough conviction that he is giving out God’s mind and message, as suited for that time and those souls. Were this felt adequately, would it not hinder a great many from speaking? Nor is there any reason to fear that silence in such a case would inflict a real loss on the church of God. It does not seem to be of such prime importance that much need be said. The great matter is, that what is spoken should be from God. Persons ought not to speak unless they have a certainty that what they wish to say is not only true (this is not what is said) but the actual will of God for the occasion. The speaker should be God’s mouthpiece for making His mind known there and then. This is to speak “as oracles of God.” It is not merely speaking according to His oracles, which is the usual way in which men interpret the passage, and thence derive their license for speaking as they judge fitting without thinking of God’s will. They think they have an understanding of scripture, and that they may therefore speak to profit; but it is a totally different thing if one desire only to speak as God’s mouthpiece, though it is granted that one may here as elsewhere mistake and fail.
The principle, however, is sound; and may we heed it in conscience, looking to the Lord’s grace in our weakness. “If any man speak, [let it be] as oracles of God; if any man minister, [let it be] as of the ability which God giveth.” Let it be observed here that ministry is distinguished from speaking. What a vast change must have passed over Christendom, seeing that now a man is chiefly thought a minister because he speaks, whereas real service of the saints is as precious in its place as any speaking can be. “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth.” Ministry, then, is clearly in itself a distinct thing from speaking; it is another kind of service to which he is called of God. It is granted that, even in connection with spiritual gift in the way of speaking, there is such a thing as the natural ability of the person taken into account; but this is not the gift, though it be the suited vehicle for it. We must always distinguish the ability of the man from the spiritual gift which the Lord gives; and, besides both, there is also the right use of the gift. One must exercise and give oneself up to the cultivation of that gift which God has given. There is nothing contrary to sound truth or principle in that, but indeed a very great defect in those who do not believe it; in fact, it is flying in the face of scripture. And scripture is clear and peremptory as to all these things. “He,” it is said of Christ, “gave them gifts, to each man according to his several ability.” There we have the gift, and this given according to the man’s ability before he was converted. That is the outward framework of the gift, which latter is suited no doubt to that ability; but the gift itself is the power of the Spirit according to the grace of Christ. No ability constitutes a gift; but the spiritual gift does not supersede natural ability, which becomes the channel of the gift, as the gift is given and works in accordance with that ability. But there is need also of present strength from God to those who look to Him. Thus He is in all things glorified through Jesus Christ, “to whom be praise and dominion forever and ever.”
Next we have the trial that the saints were passing through alluded to, and the call to suffer not for righteousness merely but for Christ’s sake. Finally a warning is given as to the importance of suffering according to God’s will, committing meanwhile their souls in well-doing to Him as a faithful Creator. He is righteous; He is jealous of His house; but if this be serious for His own, where shall the sinner appear?