Various Aspects of Suffering in the Path of Faith

1 Peter 3:8‑22; 1 Peter 4; 1 Peter 5:1‑14
(Chapters 3:8–5:14)
Since the Christian is called to walk in a path that is counter to the course of this world, suffering persecution in some form or another cannot be avoided. Since suffering is inevitable, Peter devotes this final section of the epistle to giving counsel and encouragement to the saints who were passing through affliction—particularly the suffering of persecution. He has given a special word to various groups of individuals within the Christian community, but now he broadens out his remarks to take in all the saints. This is indicated in the words, “Be ye all ... .”
His use of the word, “Finally,” indicates that he has reached a climax in his instructions and is now going to address a subject that was of much concern to him—the sufferings of the saints. He had touched on it already when he exhorted the household servants (chap. 2:19), but now he addresses the subject as it applies to all of the saints. He exhorts them concerning:
•  Suffering for righteousness’ sake (chap. 3:14-22).
•  Suffering in the flesh and ceasing to sin (chap. 4:1-11).
•  Suffering for Christ’s name’s sake (chap. 4:12-19).
•  Suffering from the opposition of the devil (chap. 5:1-11).
In each of these aspects of suffering, Peter applies “the sufferings of Christ” to the saints in their circumstances of suffering to encourage them. As mentioned in the Introduction, Christ’s sufferings are brought in either as a model or as a motivation.
The Christian Company—A Haven
Chap. 3:8-9—Peter begins by exhorting the saints that there would be a happy state of unity among them. This is important because the Christian community is to be a haven of rest to the saints from the coldness and hostility of the world. “Being let go” from our earthly responsibilities in secular employment, we should be able to retreat to our “own company” and find comfort, love, understanding, sympathy, help, and spiritual instruction there (Acts 4:2323And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them. (Acts 4:23)). Peter recognizes this and exhorts: “Be ye all of one mind, having compassion [sympathizing] one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous [humble minded].” When these things are found in action among the saints, happy conditions will prevail in the Christian circle, and it will truly be a haven of rest where a believer can find solace from the troubles he faces in this world.
Being under persecution, as these saints were, Peter exhorts them to resist any thought of retaliation. He says, “Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but on the contrary, blessing others, because ye have been called to this, that ye should inherit blessing” (vs. 9). Our practical life is to be governed by the fact that we are called to inherit blessing. With a conscious sense of the grace that has so richly blessed us, we should be ready to bless others—even if they have been abusive to us.
The Government of God
Vss. 10-13—To further comfort and encourage the saints who were passing through persecution, Peter brings in the working of the principles of God’s government. He quotes from Psalm 34:12-1612What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good? 13Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile. 14Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. 15The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry. 16The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. (Psalm 34:12‑16) to establish this point: “For he that will love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: let him eschew [avoid] evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue [pursue] it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers [supplications]: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.” Thus, these suffering saints would have God’s providential help in the persecutions they were facing. This does not mean that they would escape the persecution; it may be that God would allow a martyr’s death for some of them. Peter’s point here is that those who were being persecuted could count on having God’s support in the time of trouble. H. Smith remarked that in “the unchanging principles of the moral government of God, the essence of government, whether human or divine, is to protect and bless those who work good and punish those who do evil” (The Epistles of Peter, pp. 22-23). This applies to believers as well as unbelievers.
The fact that he says, “He that will love life and see good days,” shows that the Christian life is not all hardship. The smile of God’s approval will be enjoyed by those who do good. This is an underlying principle of God’s government; we reap what we sow, either for bad or for good (Gal. 6:7-97Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. 8For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. 9And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. (Galatians 6:7‑9)). This should be an encouragement for those who do good (Gal. 6:1010As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10)). Those who do evil may look like they are getting away with it, but the working of God’s governmental judgment always catches up to them in the end (Psa. 73:1-191<<A Psalm of Asaph.>> Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart. 2But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. 3For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 4For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm. 5They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men. 6Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment. 7Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish. 8They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression: they speak loftily. 9They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth. 10Therefore his people return hither: and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them. 11And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High? 12Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches. 13Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. 14For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning. 15If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I should offend against the generation of thy children. 16When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; 17Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end. 18Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction. 19How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors. (Psalm 73:1‑19)). The government of God is nothing to be feared if we are walking uprightly. Conversely, it is something to be feared greatly, if we do evil.
Vs. 13—Peter breaks off his quote from Psalm 34 just before the words, “To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth,” because those words refer to a coming day when the Lord appears. His great point, in these verses, is that with God’s providential hand working on behalf of His people, there is nothing that can touch us that He hasn’t appointed (Job 23:1414For he performeth the thing that is appointed for me: and many such things are with him. (Job 23:14)). In view of this, Peter asks, “Who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?” This is the language of one whose confidence is in God. These verses show that the easiest or simplest passage through life is found in doing the will of God. If we do what is right, we will have the comfort of knowing that the Lord is on our side—even in times of persecution.
Suffering for Righteousness’ Sake
(Chapter 3:14-22)
Vs. 14—Peter proceeds to address the various aspects of suffering in the path of faith, beginning with suffering for righteousness’ sake.
There will be times in life when we will do what is morally and ethically right in a certain situation, and consequently, suffer for it. Peter’s response is: “But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy [blessed] are ye.” This might sound a little strange. We might have thought that he would have said, “If ye suffer ... sad will ye be”—but he says, “Happy are ye!” We might wonder how a believer could be happy when he is persecuted? Peter shows that if we are called upon to suffer for righteousness’ sake, we will have an inner joy that is known only by those who suffer in that way (1 Thess. 1:66And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: (1 Thessalonians 1:6)). It is an enigma that cannot be explained. Peter’s conclusion, therefore, is that there is no need to live in fear or dread, because if we are called to suffer in this way, we will be happy. This being the case, he says, “Be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled.” Similarly, Hebrews 13:5-65Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. 6So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me. (Hebrews 13:5‑6) says, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee; so that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” Again, this is the language of faith.
Giving an Answer for the Reason of Our Hope
Vs. 15—Peter goes on to show that if we behave properly, especially under the trial of persecution, those who oppose the things we stand for might even inquire as to our faith. This shows that when we suffer for righteousness sake and are happy, it renders a powerful testimony to those around, and they may want what we have. Since this is a real possibility, he says: “Sanctify the Lord God [Christ] in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason [to give account] of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” This is a partial quote from Isaiah 8:12-1312Say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid. 13Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. (Isaiah 8:12‑13). Sanctifying the Lord Christ in our hearts is to give the Lord His rightful place in our lives by putting His interests first. It would include being in a proper state of soul through judging ourselves (1 Cor. 11:3131For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. (1 Corinthians 11:31)) and living in communion with the Lord (John 15:44Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. (John 15:4)). Then, if we are going to be effective in giving a right answer as to what we believe, we will also need to have a working knowledge of the truth. We cannot expect to teach the truth to those who inquire after it if we don’t know it ourselves. Those who lived in the early days of Christianity, before the New Testament Scriptures were written, acquired the truth through the oral ministry of the apostles and other servants of the Lord (Acts 2:42; 11:26; 14:22; 18:24-28; 20:2042And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. (Acts 2:42)
26And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. (Acts 11:26)
22Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22)
24And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus. 25This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John. 26And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly. 27And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace: 28For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publickly, showing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ. (Acts 18:24‑28)
20And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, (Acts 20:20)
). But since the New Testament has been completed, we have divinely inspired Scripture to refer to—but even this requires an acquaintance with it, which only comes through diligent study (1 Tim. 4:6; 26If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained. (1 Timothy 4:6)
6Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. (1 Timothy 2:6)
Tim. 2:15).
Peter says that our answers are to be given “with meekness and fear.” Meekness and lowliness go together (Matt. 11:2929Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. (Matthew 11:29); Eph. 4:22With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; (Ephesians 4:2); Col. 3:1212Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; (Colossians 3:12)). Meekness has to do with the way in which we approach others, not giving offence (1 Cor. 4:21; 221What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness? (1 Corinthians 4:21)
5Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? (1 Corinthians 3:5)
Cor. 10:1; Gal. 6:11Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. (Galatians 6:1); 2 Tim. 2:2424And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, (2 Timothy 2:24); Titus 3:22To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, showing all meekness unto all men. (Titus 3:2)). H. Smith said, “Acting in a spirit of meekness we shall not offend” (The Epistles of Peter, p. 25). Lowliness, on the other hand, is not taking offence when we meet someone who is not meek in spirit. Moses is an example of lowliness; he was criticized for marrying a black woman, but he didn’t take offence (Num. 12:33(Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.) (Numbers 12:3) – J. N. Darby Trans. footnote). The word “answer,” in the Greek, is “apologia,” which is where we get our English word “apologetics” from. This refers to a doctrinal defense of the Christian faith. Thus, we are to act in meekness, but also in the “fear” of God when facing questioners. We must maintain a right spirit as we give an answer of the “reason of the hope” in us. This will be difficult when we are being persecuted, but the Lord will give us the grace to say the right thing if we look to Him (Matt. 10:18-2018And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. 19But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. 20For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. (Matthew 10:18‑20)).
Vs. 16—Peter adds: “Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evil doers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation [manner of life] in Christ.” Thus, we are not only to have a knowledge of the truth and a right spirit in replying to those who inquire, but we must also have a “good conscience.” A good conscience is maintained by judging ourselves if and when we fail. Peter himself is an example here. He “denied” the Lord (Matt. 26:7272And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man. (Matthew 26:72)), but when he judged his failure and was restored to the Lord, he could with good conscience preach to his fellow countrymen: “Ye have denied the Holy One and the Just!” (Acts 3:1414But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; (Acts 3:14)). The danger is to lose a good conscience by not behaving rightly when we are falsely accused. When that is the case, our ministry will lose its power.
Vss. 17-18—Peter concludes: “For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.” Christ’s sufferings in atonement are brought in here as a motivation for the believer not to sin. Thus, it is totally inconsistent for a believer to be found suffering for wrong-doing, because Christ has already suffered for such sins at Calvary. Since those sins caused Him unfathomable agony to put away, how then can we return in the smallest degree to that which caused Him so much suffering? Since He has saved us from all that, it is not right that we should be found practicing those sins for which Christ died; it is not being true to our confession of being Christians. J. N. Darby said, “It may be that God may see it good that we should suffer. If so, it is better that we should suffer for well doing than for evil doing. The Apostle gives a touching motive for this: Christ has suffered for sins once for all; let that suffice; let us suffer only for righteousness. To suffer for sin was His task; He accomplished it, and that forever, being put to death as to His life in the flesh but quickened according to the power of the divine Spirit” (Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, Loizeaux edition, pp. 444-445).
There are three things stated in verse 18 in connection with Christ’s work on the cross:
"Suffered for sins"—This is propitiation.
"The just for the unjust"—This is substitution.
"To bring us to God"—This is reconciliation.
The order in which Peter speaks of these things is significant. Propitiation and substitution (the two parts of atonement) precede reconciliation. This indicates that God had to take up matters that pertained to His holiness before He could concern Himself with man's need. The claims of divine justice in regard to sin had to be settled first. This was done in propitiation (Rom. 3:2525Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; (Romans 3:25); Heb. 2:1717Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:17); 1 John 2:2; 4:102And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)
10Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
). Propitiation is the Godward side of Christ's work on the cross which has rendered a full satisfaction to God in regard to the whole outbreak of sin; it vindicated His holy nature. Substitution is the believer's side of Christ's work on the cross. It has to do with what Christ did for believers in bearing the judgment of their sins (chap. 2:24). As a result, the sin question has been settled at the cross, and God is able to reach out to man with a message of redeeming grace, and reconcile believers to Himself (Rom. 5:10-1110For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. 11And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. (Romans 5:10‑11); Eph. 2:1313But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13); Col. 1:2121And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled (Colossians 1:21)).
Noah’s Example
Vss. 19-20—Peter then brings in Noah’s day and the people who rejected his preaching who are now in prison. He says, “By which also He (Christ) went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime [heretofore] were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” We might wonder why Peter would mention this because it seemingly has nothing to do with the subject in discussion. The simple answer was to encourage those suffering for righteousness sake that they were not alone in their sufferings; others before them had suffered in a similar way. Noah is an example. He was “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:55And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; (2 Peter 2:5)) who suffered “for righteousness’ sake” at the hand of those who were “disobedient” to his preaching. Even though the results of his preaching were small, as far as souls that were saved, he continued faithfully and steadfastly in his witness, and was a real overcomer in his day. He patiently witnessed for 120 years while “the ark was a preparing” and became an “heir of righteousness” (Heb. 11:77By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. (Hebrews 11:7)).
Christ Preaching By the Spirit
A closer consideration of this passage of Scripture reveals many correlations between those antediluvian days and the days in which these Jewish believers were living. Christ was not personally present in those days, but He “preached” to the men of that time “by the Spirit,” through Noah. Similarly, in these Christian times Christ is no longer present on earth, but the Spirit has come, and Christ has been preaching to men by the Spirit through His servants (Eph. 2:1717And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. (Ephesians 2:17)). To rightly understand this, it is necessary to note the way in which Peter uses the expression “the Spirit of Christ” (chap. 1:11). Christ, by the Holy Spirit, was in the prophets of old testifying to men. Likewise, with the people who lived before the flood; in those days, the Spirit of Christ was in Noah, striving with men through his righteous preaching (Gen. 6:33And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. (Genesis 6:3); 2 Peter 2:55And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; (2 Peter 2:5)).
The great mass of the people in Noah’s day were “disobedient” to the preaching. Similarly, in Peter’s day, the mass of the Jewish nation had rejected Christ (Acts 3:13-1613The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go. 14But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; 15And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses. 16And his name through faith in his name hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know: yea, the faith which is by him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all. (Acts 3:13‑16)) and resisted the testimony of the Holy Spirit speaking to them through men like Stephen (Acts 7:5151Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. (Acts 7:51)). When judgment fell on those antediluvians, and they died in the flood, their disembodied “spirits” were cast into the “prison” in Hades to await the great day of judgment (Rev. 20:11-1511And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. 12And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 13And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. 14And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11‑15)). So also, with the unbelieving Jews who rejected Christ; when they died, their souls would be “brought down even to Hades” (Matt. 11:21-2421Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. 23And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee. (Matthew 11:21‑24)). This shows the seriousness of disobeying the testimony of God.
Moreover, the days before the flood were the time of “the longsuffering of God” when He waited to save any who had faith before the judgment fell (Gen. 7:44For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth. (Genesis 7:4)). At the time of the writing of this epistle, God was waiting similarly in longsuffering patience for any of the Jews to turn to Christ before His judgment fell on the nation. This occurred in A.D. 70 when the Roman armies destroyed the city of Jerusalem and slaughtered the Jews (Matt. 22:77But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. (Matthew 22:7)). Just as a small remnant of mankind escaped the judgment of the flood (just “eight souls”), so also a small remnant of the nation was spared from that judgment by fleeing to Christ for refuge (Heb. 6:18-2018That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: 19Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; 20Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. (Hebrews 6:18‑20)). Historians tell us that the Jewish Christians in and around Jerusalem took to heart the Lord’s exhortation in Luke 21:20-2420And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. 21Then let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. 22For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. 23But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. 24And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. (Luke 21:20‑24), and the call of Hebrews 13:1313Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. (Hebrews 13:13), and moved to the remote area of Pella beyond the Jordan river, which the Romans left untouched, and thus, escaped the judgment.
Did Christ Descend into Hades to Preach to the Lost?
Some think that these verses teach that after Christ died, but before He rose from the dead, He went in spirit into the regions of the damned to proclaim to them His victory over sin at the cross. This idea is erroneous for several reasons:
Firstly, the prison house of lost souls is a condition of “torment” (Luke 16:2323And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. (Luke 16:23)). If Christ went there, He entered into a state of suffering! This means that He not only suffered on the cross (vs. 18), but He also suffered among the damned in Hades! (vs. 19) Scripture nowhere teaches this.
Secondly, since “gospel” preaching always announces blessing of some kind (1 Peter 4:66For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. (1 Peter 4:6)), if Christ went to the prison house of the damned to preach, He had to have been there offering some kind of blessing to those lost souls! What blessing could there be for them? This implies that they were given a second chance to be saved, and if so, they were not in a “fixed” state of damnation which Scripture teaches all the departed lost are in (Luke 16:2626And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. (Luke 16:26)). This idea lends itself to the Catholic error of Purgatory—that it is possible to retrieve the lost who have died in their sins from their condition of damnation. Again, Scripture teaches no such thing. The truth is that the Son of Man has “power on earth to forgive sins;” He does not have power to forgive the sins of those who have passed from the earth and are in Hades (Matt. 9:66But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. (Matthew 9:6)).
Thirdly, if Christ truly went into the regions of the damned to preach to those who died in the flood, it leaves us with the question as to why He would preach to them only, and not give others among the damned a second chance to be saved too. It presents God as being unfair. Again, the Bible does not teach this.
It may be replied, “But Christ did go into Hades after He died” (Acts 2:2727Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. (Acts 2:27)). This is true; but He was in “paradise” (a state of bliss) when He was in Hades (Luke 23:4343And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43)). He was not in the “prison” (a state of torment). A careful look at this passage shows that the preaching Christ did was “in the days of Noah” through the medium of the Holy Spirit; it was not in the interval between His death and resurrection. It is regrettable that the division between verses 19 and 20 separates the act of Christ’s preaching from the time of His preaching, and this has led some to their mistaken idea.
Saved by Water—A Figure of Baptism
Vss. 21-22—Noah and his family were, “saved by water” (vs. 20b). This fact sets forth a picture of what baptism does for Jewish believers. Peter says, “The like figure whereunto baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him.” The flood cut off Noah and his family from the world that overflowed with water. Those waters “saved” Noah’s family by removing them from the old world and placing them on a new world that was beyond the judgment of the flood. Thus, the very waters that saved Noah’s family were those which took the unbelievers away! What was blessing for one was judgment for the other. Similarly, the ordinance of baptism dissociates a person symbolically from his old life in the world and it associates him with a new position on earth wherein he lives with Christ “in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-53Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. 5For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: (Romans 6:3‑5); Gal. 3:2727For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:27)). Hence, it was imperative for Jewish believers to be baptized; it dissociated them from the guilty nation that crucified Christ and formally identified them with the new Christian position of privilege on earth (Acts 2:3838Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:38)). “Us,” in this 21st verse, refers to Jewish believers.
By saying, in a parenthesis, “Not the putting away of the filth of the flesh,” Peter clarified that he was not referring to Old Testament “baptisms” of ceremonial washings which the priests underwent to cleanse their bodies in preparation for their service in the sanctuary (Heb. 6:22Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. (Hebrews 6:2)). He was referring to Christian baptism, which signifies our identification with the death of Christ, which is “the demand as before God of a good conscience.” L. M. Grant explained this as follows: “It expressed a desire or demand of a good conscience; it does not itself give a good conscience, but since baptism is unto Christ, it points to Him who gives a good conscience. This is intimated in the last phrase of verse 21—'by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.’ Baptism would be meaningless if Christ had not risen from the dead” (Comments on the Books of First and Second Peter, p. 33). Thus, baptism saves believing Jews (outwardly) from the governmental judgment of God that was on the nation (Psa. 69:22-2722Let their table become a snare before them: and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap. 23Let their eyes be darkened, that they see not; and make their loins continually to shake. 24Pour out thine indignation upon them, and let thy wrathful anger take hold of them. 25Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents. 26For they persecute him whom thou hast smitten; and they talk to the grief of those whom thou hast wounded. 27Add iniquity unto their iniquity: and let them not come into thy righteousness. (Psalm 69:22‑27); Acts 2:4040And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. (Acts 2:40)). Noah came out of the flood to begin a new life in a new world; it speaks to us of the new position on earth in which baptism places us, wherein we are identified with Christ in resurrection.
Peter does not stop at Christ’s resurrection, but goes on to speak of His ascension too. He says, “Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God: angels and authorities and powers being made subject to Him” (vs. 21). He mentions this to show that those baptized unto Christ are brought directly under the authority and control of Christ on high. The baptized believer, therefore, is to live in the good of what his baptism signifies and to cut off his links with the world, practically, with which he was once associated. This would involve bidding a formal goodbye to the old Jewish position on which he stood as a Jew in Judaism, which was under impending judgment.
Suffering in the Flesh
(Chapter 4:1-11)
Vss. 1-2—Peter proceeds with another aspect of the saints’ sufferings—suffering in the flesh. He says, “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in [the] flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in [the] flesh hath ceased from sin 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.” As we have noted, through the course of this epistle, Peter brings in Christ’s sufferings either as a model or as a motivation to encourage the saints to live a godly life. In this fourth chapter, His sufferings are set before us as a model. This passage couldn’t be referring to Christ’s atoning sufferings (as in chapter 3:18) because we are exhorted to imitate Him, and we would never be asked to imitate Him in making atonement—only He could accomplish that great work.
Peter’s point here is that since Christ “suffered” in doing the will of God, we should be prepared to do so also. We need to have “the same mind” that He had. As far as His mind was concerned, He would rather suffer than sin; He would rather die than disobey. But as far as His holy constitution is concerned, He couldn’t sin, because He didn’t have the fallen sin-nature (the flesh). Hence, there was never a struggle in Him whether or not to sin. The J. N. Darby translation places the article “the” before “flesh” in square brackets, indicating that the word is not in the Greek text. Hence, Christ suffered in flesh, but not in the flesh—that is, the fallen sin-nature.
This passage does not teach that the Lord had sinful desires, but He overcame them. Such doctrine is blasphemous. In order for a person to sin, he must have a sin-nature. The sin-nature is the evil tree that produces its fruit in evil deeds—sins. But that evil tree was not in the Lord. He didn’t have a sin-nature; He had a holy human nature that could not sin (Luke 1:3535And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:35); John 14:3030Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me. (John 14:30)).
Doing the Will of God
“The will of God” ought to be the spring of every Christian’s moral life. Doing His will must be a commitment within our hearts and minds. The Lord is our great example here. He said, “Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of Me) to do Thy will, O God” (Heb. 10:77Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. (Hebrews 10:7)). He also said, “I came down from heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me” (John 6:3838For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. (John 6:38)). But doing the will of God cost the Lord dearly. Concerning the cup of judgment which He desired to pass from Him and not drink, He submitted His will to God’s, and said, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Matt. 26:3939And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. (Matthew 26:39)). He took the cup from His Father’s hand and in perfect obedience went to the cross and drank it (John 18:1111Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it? (John 18:11))—and we are thankful that He did, for without Him doing it, God couldn’t save us!
For us, suffering “in the flesh” involves refusing sin’s lusts and enticements, and this results in ceasing from sin. If we gratify the flesh, we do not suffer, but we sin, and that displeases the Lord and gives us a bad conscience. Hence, this kind of suffering is different from the sufferings touched on thus far in the epistle. Suffering for conscience sake (chap. 2:19) and suffering for righteousness’ sake (chap. 3:14) are sufferings that come upon us by the ill-will of evil and injurious persons—but here the suffering is self-inflicted, so to speak. We elect to do the will of God and this involves refusing the sinful desires of the flesh; as a result, we suffer. This should not be taken to mean that suffering in the flesh is a monastic lifestyle wherein are no joys. On the contrary, walking in the path of faith in the service of the Lord (wherein we face suffering from without and within) is the happiest life that a person can have. This may seem paradoxical, but it is a fact.
Verse 2, shows that God has a very good reason for us ceasing to sin—it is so that we can be used in the Master’s service. Suffering in the flesh sets us free to do God’s will. Thus, the Christian is to spend “the rest of his time,” no longer chasing sinful pleasures which are only for a season (Heb. 11:2525Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; (Hebrews 11:25)), but in doing “the will of God.”
The Rest of Our Time
Vss. 3-4—In their unconverted days, these Jews lived no differently than the Gentiles, as far as the gratification of the natural desires of the flesh is concerned. Peter says, “For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings [drinkings], and abominable idolatries: wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot [corruption], speaking evil of you.” As Israelites, they were in an outward covenant-relationship with God that demanded living a holy life (chap. 1:16). But they disregarded that covenantal commitment and lived “in time past” according to the unholiness that characterized “the Gentiles”—and this dishonoured God (Rom. 2:17-2417Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, 18And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; 19And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, 20An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law. 21Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? 22Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? 23Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonorest thou God? 24For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written. (Romans 2:17‑24)). Thus, in the Jews’ religion, they had been ceremonially “nigh” to God, but sad to say, they were morally “far” from Him (Eph. 2:1717And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. (Ephesians 2:17); Matt. 15:88This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. (Matthew 15:8)).
These Jews sought to curry the favour of their pagan Gentile neighbours in whose lands they dwelled by participating in their corrupt ways. But the call of God had changed everything. They had been saved by God’s grace and they began marching to the beat of a different drum. The Gentiles among whom they lived couldn’t understand why they had turned so suddenly and completely away from the corrupt lifestyle they had once pursued. Having no knowledge of God, nor of the holy desires of the new nature, their old friends assumed that they were acting on some evil motive, and consequently, spoke “evil” of them. Likewise, all who have been converted to Christ should be prepared for similar treatment from their unsaved cronies. When they cease from the sinful things they once pursued, and they begin to follow Christ, there will be considerable repercussion from the world; this will lead to criticism and speaking evil of the believer.
We learn from verses 2-3, that every Christian has two parts to his life on earth. There is:
•  “the time past” (vs. 3).
•  “the rest of his time” (vs. 2).
Every truly converted believer will readily admit that his life prior to his conversion was nothing but self-will, self-pleasing, and the pursuit of vanity, and that all such is lost time. We can’t do anything about the time past in our life; it is “water under the bridge” which we cannot get back. But we can do something about the rest of our time! Every living Christian stands on the dividing line between these two parts of his life with a choice as to what he is going to do with the portion of his life that remains. A searching question we can ask ourselves is: “What am I going to do with the rest of my time?” In 2 Corinthians 5:1515And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. (2 Corinthians 5:15), the Apostle Paul says that there are only two ways in which Christians can live their lives. They can either be lived “unto themselves” (for their own interests), or they can be lived “unto Him” (for furthering the interests of Christ). He also says that the love of Christ constrains us to surrender the rest of our time to His interests, and thus, to make an impact in this world for Him. Since no one knows how long he or she has to live, no one knows how long the rest of their time will be. This being the case, we need to pray Moses’ prayer: “Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Psa. 90:1212So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)).
The Judgment of the Quick and the Dead
Vss. 5-6—Peter assures us that all (Jew or Gentile) who pursue a godless life will one day “give account to Him that is ready to judge the quick [living] and the dead” (Acts 10:4242And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. (Acts 10:42); Rom. 14:1212So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. (Romans 14:12)). The judgments of the quick and the dead are two distinct things involving all who are wicked in the human race. These two judgments will be executed at two different times in the future. The Apostle Paul indicates that the judgment of the living begins “at His Appearing” (2 Tim. 4:11I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; (2 Timothy 4:1)), when “the Lord shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 1:7-87And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, 8In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: (2 Thessalonians 1:7‑8)). It will include the Harvest judgment (Rev. 14:14-1614And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle. 15And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe. 16And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped. (Revelation 14:14‑16); Matt. 13:37-42; 24:36-4137He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; 38The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; 39The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. 40As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. 41The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; 42And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:37‑42)
36But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. 37But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 38For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, 39And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 40Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 41Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. (Matthew 24:36‑41)
), the Vintage (Winepress) judgment (Rev. 14:17-2017And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. 18And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe. 19And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs. (Revelation 14:17‑20); Isa. 63:1-61Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength? I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save. 2Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat? 3I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me: for I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment. 4For the day of vengeance is in mine heart, and the year of my redeemed is come. 5And I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold: therefore mine own arm brought salvation unto me; and my fury, it upheld me. 6And I will tread down the people in mine anger, and make them drunk in my fury, and I will bring down their strength to the earth. (Isaiah 63:1‑6)), and the Sessional judgment—before the millennial kingdom of Christ is established (Matt. 25:31-4631When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: 32And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: 33And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 37Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? 39Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? 40And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. 41Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: 42For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: 43I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. 44Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? 45Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. 46And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. (Matthew 25:31‑46)) and during its session (Psa. 101:88I will early destroy all the wicked of the land; that I may cut off all wicked doers from the city of the Lord. (Psalm 101:8); Zeph. 3:55The just Lord is in the midst thereof; he will not do iniquity: every morning doth he bring his judgment to light, he faileth not; but the unjust knoweth no shame. (Zephaniah 3:5)). In that same verse (2 Tim. 4:11I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; (2 Timothy 4:1)), Paul also indicates that the judgment of the dead will occur at “His kingdom,” without being specific as to when in His kingdom. The Apostle John gives us the actual time; it is at end of Christ’s 1000-year kingdom reign, at the “great white throne” (Rev. 20:11-1511And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. 12And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 13And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. 14And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11‑15); Isa. 24:2222And they shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited. (Isaiah 24:22)).
Peter goes on to explain that the grounds of all judgment is the testimony that God has given to men; this makes them responsible. He says, “For to this end were the glad tidings preached to the dead also, that they might be judged, as regards men after [according to] the flesh, but live as regards God after [according to] the Spirit” (vs. 6). Some have been given more light (truth) than others, and are, therefore, more responsible, but all men have had some light from God, and thus, are “without excuse” (Rom. 1:2020For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: (Romans 1:20)).
The “gospel” that Peter speaks of here is not the Gospel of the Grace of God that is preached in this Christian era, which announces the finished work of Christ on the cross and salvation through faith in Him (Acts 20:2424But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24)). It is the glad tidings that was proclaimed to men in past ages through the Lord’s servants, such as Noah (2 Peter 2:55And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; (2 Peter 2:5)). “Them who are dead” are those who lived in those times. They are dead now, but they weren’t dead when the gospel was preached to them (chap. 3:19-20). Sufficient testimony from God had been given to them, but sadly, they rejected it. They, therefore, will stand before God to receive their just punishment in that coming day (Rev. 20:11-1511And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. 12And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 13And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. 14And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11‑15)).
There has always been a gospel testimony from God to man in some form. It has separated the human race into two great classes: those who refuse it and prove their faithlessness by living “according to men in the flesh,” and those who believe it and prove their faith by living “according to God in the Spirit.”
Things We Should be Doing in The Rest of Our Time
Vss. 7-11—Peter then speaks of the present effect that this should have on us. The fact that Christ is “ready to judge” (vs. 5), makes it clear that “the end of all things is at hand.” (Compare James 5:99Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door. (James 5:9).) If there is any delay, it is because God does not wish any to perish, but that all would come to repentance (2 Peter 3:99The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)). For this reason, He has lengthened out the Day of Grace. Just as God delayed the judgment from falling in Noah’s time “yet seven days” (Gen. 7:44For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth. (Genesis 7:4)), He is holding back judgment today to give men an opportunity to be saved at this “eleventh hour.”
In view of the fact that the end of all things is at hand, Peter proceeds with several short exhortations that outline what every Christian should be doing with the rest of his time.
Be Sober
(Vs. 7)
Sobriety is enjoined upon us first. He says, “Be ye therefore sober.” (Compare chapter 1:13.) This does not mean that we should go about with a long gloomy face, but to realize that with final and eternal issues before us, and only a little time left to live for the Lord, what time is given to us should not be wasted in the frivolities of the world. To engage in such things when we are on the verge of stepping into eternity is not being sober. We need to remember that everything that is material in this world is going to be burned up one day (2 Peter 3:77But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. (2 Peter 3:7)), and only what is done for Christ will last. As brands plucked from the burning, our purpose on earth is to further Christ’s interests.
Be Watchful
(Vs. 7)
He also says, “Be watchful unto prayers.” Since we are pilgrims passing through an enemy’s land, we need to be watchful and on our guard at all times. (Compare chapter 5:8.) There are many dangers in the path, and an ever-present enemy who has designs on tripping us up. “Prayers” are encouraged because they bring us into the presence of God where there is safety (Deut. 33:1212And of Benjamin he said, The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him; and the Lord shall cover him all the day long, and he shall dwell between his shoulders. (Deuteronomy 33:12); Matt. 26:4141Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Matthew 26:41)).
Have Fervent Love Toward One Another
(Vs. 8)
In contrast to the coldness of the world, the Christian circle is to be marked by the warmth of genuine love for one another. Peter says, “Above all things have fervent charity [love] among yourselves: for charity [love] shall cover a multitude of sins.” In saying, “Above all things ... .” he meant that we should give this a priority. This exhortation shows that all believers have a responsibility to contribute to this happy condition that is to prevail in the Christian company by loving one another fervently. Love covers “a multitude of sins.” This does not mean that we should protect evil in the assembly and prevent it from acting responsibly in cases of discipline, but that the shortcomings and failures of Christians are not to be blazed abroad. Love doesn’t advertise the sins of fellow believers, and especially not before the world (Prov. 10:12; 19:1112Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins. (Proverbs 10:12)
11The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression. (Proverbs 19:11)
; James 5:2020Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins. (James 5:20)); such will only give the haters of Christ a chance to “cast a stone” at the Christian testimony (Compare 2 Samuel 1:2020Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph. (2 Samuel 1:20).)
Be Hospitable
(Vs. 9)
To promote love and fellowship within the Christian community, we should have our homes open to the saints, as opportunity arises (Prov. 9:4-54Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: as for him that wanteth understanding, she saith to him, 5Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled. (Proverbs 9:4‑5); 3 John 5-75Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers; 6Which have borne witness of thy charity before the church: whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well: 7Because that for his name's sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles. (3 John 5‑7)). Thus, Peter says, “Use hospitality one to another without grudging [murmuring].” Hospitality is exemplified in Abraham and Sarah (Gen. 18:1-71And the Lord appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; 2And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground, 3And said, My Lord, if now I have found favor in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant: 4Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree: 5And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said. 6And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth. 7And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it. (Genesis 18:1‑7)). He and his wife took advantage of the opportunity to “entertain strangers,” and in her case, to “entertain angels unawares!” (Heb. 13:22Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Hebrews 13:2)) It is sad indeed when the saints in a particular locality haven’t seen the inside of each other’s homes. “Grudging,” is to carry out this service with complaining (Luke 10:4040But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. (Luke 10:40)).
Minister the Word
(Vss. 10-11)
Peter then addresses the subject of ministering the Word among the saints. This is another important thing that we should be doing with the rest of our time on earth. He says, “As every man [each] hath received the [a] 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; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever [to the ages of ages].” The expression “every man,” indicates that every Christian has been given a spiritual gift to exercise (Matt. 25:1515And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. (Matthew 25:15); 1 Cor. 12:77But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. (1 Corinthians 12:7); Eph. 4:77But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. (Ephesians 4:7)), and therefore, we all have something to do for God in His kingdom (Mark 13:3434For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. (Mark 13:34)). There are no drones in God’s beehive! The kind of gifts that Peter is focusing on here are those having to do with ministering the Word—either in preaching, or teaching, or in practical exhortation (Rom. 12:66Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; (Romans 12:6)-8a).
Peter distinguishes “gift” and “ability.” Ability has to do with a person’s natural powers of intellect and personality which are formed in him from birth; whereas a gift, in the sense that it is used in Scripture, is a spiritual thing given to a person when he believes the gospel and receives the Holy Spirit. We learn from Matthew 25:1515And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. (Matthew 25:15), that when the Lord gives a believer a spiritual gift, it matches the person’s natural ability. The man gave his servants “talents” (which answers to these spiritual gifts) “to every man according to his several ability.” We see the wisdom of God in this. The Lord doesn’t give a person a spiritual gift and call him to a particular work without that person having some natural ability for it. His natural ability will complement his spiritual gift “like a hand fits in a glove.” For instance, a person with an out-going personality might be given the gift of an evangelist, because that gift requires one being able to reach out to people and to speak to them freely, which would be difficult for a naturally reticent person. Or, a person with naturally acute intellectual powers might be given the gift of teaching, which requires an orderly mind.
Commenting on Matthew 25:1515And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. (Matthew 25:15), W. Kelly said, “There are two things in the servant—both of them of importance: He gave them gifts, but it was according to their several ability. The Lord does not call any one to special service who has not the ability for the trust committed to him. The servant must have certain natural and acquired qualifications, besides the power of the Spirit of God ... .It is plain from this that there are certain qualities in the servant independent of the gift that the Lord puts into him. His natural powers are the vessel that contains the gift, and wherein the gift is to be exercised” (Lectures on the Gospel of Matthew, p. 472).
Note: there is not a hint here, or anywhere else in Scripture, of a person who has a gift for ministering the Word, being trained and ordained in a seminary before he exercises his gift. The Bible teaches that if a person has a certain gift, the very possession of it is God's warrant to use it. Peter teaches this in verses 10-11. He says, “As every man hath received a gift, even so minister the same one to another” (vs. 10). He doesn’t say, “As every man hath received a gift, let him be trained and ordained by a seminary, and then so minister.” And again, he says, “If any man minister, let him do it in the ability which God giveth” (vs. 11). He doesn’t say, “Let him go to school and get a certificate, and then let him speak in the assembly.” The Apostle Paul confirms this: “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation” (Rom. 12:6-86Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; 7Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; 8Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:6‑8)). See also 1 Corinthians 14:2626How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. (1 Corinthians 14:26). What is required in ministering the Word is speaking “as the oracles of God.” This is ministering with a conscious sense that we are speaking on God’s behalf, as His mouthpiece, and therefore, it should be done accurately and reverently so as to properly represent Him.
A mistaken idea in connection with gifts that is common in Christendom today is the idea that a person’s natural ability is his spiritual gift. People with natural talents (in sports, or music, etc.) are encouraged to pursue those things and to make them their career in life, because it is their gift with which they are to glorify God. So-called “worship services” are arranged to accommodate the performance of these natural talents. However, this tends to promote human glory and the seeking of the praise of men, rather than bringing glory and praise to God. Oftentimes the so-called “church services” are reduced to being not much more than a talent show. Such activity makes the Church a worldly institution. In Scripture, spiritual gifts are for promoting spiritual things that help the saints on in the “most holy faith” (Jude 2020But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, (Jude 20)). J. N. Darby said, “It is wholly a false principle that natural gifts are a reason for using them. I may have amazing strength or speed in running; I knock a man down with one and win a prize cup with the other. Music may be a more refined thing, but the principle is the same. This point I believe to be now of all importance. Christians have lost their moral influence by bringing in nature and the world as harmless. All things are lawful to me. But as I said, you cannot mix flesh and Spirit” (Letters, vol. 3, p. 476).
Stewardship
As “good stewards of the manifold grace of God,” we are to use for the Lord’s glory whatever He has put into our hands—both materially and spiritually. If some amount of material wealth has come into our hand, we are to use it with the realization that we can’t keep those things forever, and therefore, they should be placed on God’s altar (so to speak) and used to further His kingdom. By doing this, we are “laying up in store” that which can be taken into the next world in “the future” (1 Tim. 6:17-1917Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; 18That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; 19Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. (1 Timothy 6:17‑19)). Similarly, with spiritual things; we are to “trade” with the truth that we have acquired by teaching it to others and causing them to understand it (Luke 19:1313And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. (Luke 19:13)). Thus, we help them on spiritually in the path of faith. Christian stewardship, therefore, is twofold. It involves:
Peter’s salient point in this passage (vs. 10-11) is that the Church desperately needs ministry from the Word in the sense of spiritual teaching and exhortation. Those who have a gift for helping the saints in this way are to be exercised about using the rest of their time in this important service. Peter adds that the object of all such ministry from the Word is that “God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” This will result in “praise and dominion [might]” being given to Him “for the ages of ages,” which is the Eternal State. This shows that spiritual gifts are not for the glorification of ourselves, but for the glorification of Christ.
Suffering for the Name of Christ
(Chapter 4:12-19)
Peter proceeds to speak of another aspect of suffering that faithful saints will encounter—suffering for the name of Christ. He says, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy [blessed] are ye; for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part He is evil spoken of [blasphemed], but on your part He is glorified.” Peter has already spoken of suffering for righteousness’ sake (chap. 3:14-16), but this of which he now speaks is a higher character of suffering, because it involves confessing Christ’s name. J. N. Darby said, “That which is for His name’s sake is a higher kind than for righteousness’s sake” (Collected Writings, vol. 28, p. 186).
Thus, it’s possible to suffer for doing what is right, without publicly connecting the motive to Christ. But the moment we confess Christ and bring Him into picture, as being the reason why we do what we do, then the persecution escalates. We might say to someone that we don’t want to do something because it wouldn’t be right, and as a result, we suffer a measure of reproach for it. But when we say that we don’t want to do it because we are a believer on the Lord Jesus Christ and we don’t want to displease Him, then the persecution and reproach intensifies. This is the aspect of suffering that Peter refers to in this passage.
Vs. 12—Telling these dear believers that they shouldn’t think that the trial of suffering which they were experiencing was a “strange thing,” shows that suffering for “the name of Christ” is normal to Christianity. Hence, “the fiery trial” of persecution shouldn’t be considered something that is a surprise. It is quite simple; if the believer confesses Christ who is rejected, he will be rejected too. It is something that is to be expected because the world through which we pass is naturally opposed to Christ, and any witness for Christ cannot be tolerated (John 15:2020Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. (John 15:20)). The world can tolerate drug users, immorality, false religion, etc., but it cannot tolerate Christians who confess Christ. The more faithful the witness for Christ is, the more the believer will suffer. They were, therefore, told to “rejoice” because by suffering in this way, they would be “partakers” of the martyrdom “sufferings of Christ” (vs. 13)—and this is a privilege (Mark 10:3939And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: (Mark 10:39); Acts 5:4141And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. (Acts 5:41); Phil. 1:2929For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; (Philippians 1:29)).
Two Aspects of Joy
Vs. 13—To encourage them to confess Christ boldly, Peter speaks of two aspects of joy that would be theirs. They would have a future joy “when His glory shall be revealed” at His Appearing. At that time, Christ will come with His heavenly saints (1 Thess. 3:1313To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints. (1 Thessalonians 3:13); Jude 1414And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, (Jude 14)) and their reward for identifying themselves with Him in the time of His rejection will be displayed before the world. They will be “glad” then “with exceeding joy.” Thus, every bit of suffering that we endure for the name of Christ in this day will be compensated in that day.
Vs. 14—They would also have a present joy in the midst of their trial. Peter adds: “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye.” This is because Christ is “glorified” through our confession of Him and there is a special joy in confessing Christ that is known only to those who do it. Paul and Silas are an example here. When they were at Philippi, they preached Christ, and consequently, were beaten and cast into prison—yet they sang praises to God in the jail! (Acts 16:22-2522And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them. 23And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: 24Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. 25And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. (Acts 16:22‑25))
It is not advisable, but suffering of this kind can be avoided by not confessing Christ before men—but our power in testimony and our joy will be lost. We see from this that the fire of persecution does not destroy the Church of God. In fact, the more the Church is called upon to suffer for Christ, the stronger it grows spiritually! (2 Thess. 1:3-43We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth; 4So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: (2 Thessalonians 1:3‑4)) Compare Exodus 1:1212But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel. (Exodus 1:12). Sad to say, it is internal strife, not persecution that destroys the Church’s testimony.
God uses the pressure of trials to enlarge us spiritually (Psa. 4:11<<To the chief Musician on Neginoth, A Psalm of David.>> Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer. (Psalm 4:1) – J. N. Darby Trans.). It has been said that the saints prosper spiritually in three main trials:
•  Poverty.
•  Persecution.
•  Sickness.
Vss. 15-16—Peter says that on the other hand, if we suffer as an “evildoer,” there is good cause to be ashamed; we have dishonoured the name of Christ. But if we suffer “as a Christian” (that is, for being a Christian), we shouldn’t be ashamed, for it is an honour to suffer for Him. It may seem strange that Peter would speak of a “busybody” alongside that of a “murderer,” etc. But it just shows that a Christian can commit any sin in the catalog if he gets out of communion with the Lord, because he still has the fallen sin-nature in him; it does not improve by his being born again (John 3:66That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:6)).
The Government of God
Vss. 17-19—Lest any would think lightly of the child of God practicing evil, Peter brings in the subject of the government of God again, as a warning for careless Christians. He says, “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?” God surely doesn’t want to see His children doing wrong. But if we are self-willed or careless about our walk, He has His ways in His government to get our attention—and this sometimes can be painful. As our loving Father cares about our moral and spiritual development (Heb. 12:5-115And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: 6For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. 7If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? 8But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. 9Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? 10For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. 11Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. (Hebrews 12:5‑11)); He doesn’t pass over these things, but works through His disciplines and chastenings to teach us to walk in holiness and in dependence upon Him (Psa. 119:67, 7167Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word. (Psalm 119:67)
71It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes. (Psalm 119:71)
). He may use any kind of distress and trial in the discipline of His children—even the unjust persecutions of the world.
Peter explains that God’s governmental “judgment” always begins with those who have had the most light (Ezek. 9:66Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house. (Ezekiel 9:6)). The principle is this: the greater the privileges that have been granted, the greater the responsibility (Luke 12:47-4847And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. 48But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more. (Luke 12:47‑48)). This is true on a personal level, as well as on a collective level. The professing Church (Christendom), which is “the house of God” today, has definitely had the most light from God of all people on earth. Therefore, it is far more responsible than the heathen world which has not had the same exposure to the gospel.
He then raises the question as to what “the end” will be of those who “obey not the gospel of God.” He says, “And if the righteous scarcely be [difficultly] saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” His point here is that if God doesn’t spare those in His house who are professedly in a relationship with Him when they do wrong, how much less sparing will He be with those outside His house who have no relationship with Him? He not only judges them governmentally now, but they will also be judged eternally in a coming day—a solemn thought indeed!
The aspect of salvation that Peter speaks of here is that which is affected in our pathway as we move through this world, and it will result in our full salvation at the end of the journey when the Lord comes (chap. 1:5). The difficulties he refers to are the spiritual dangers and trials connected with confessing Christ, and also, the chastenings that our Father may bring upon us if and when we walk in paths of unrighteousness. The J. N. Darby Translation footnote states: “Saved here on earth, as through the trials and judgments which specially beset the Jewish Christians.” Vs. 19—Peter concludes the subject by offering a word of encouragement to all who suffer in this way. If they are found suffering “according to the will of God”—that is, for their confession of Christ—they are to commit themselves to God. Note: they are not told to appeal to the civil authorities for protection (as did the Reformers when they were persecuted by the Catholics), but to “commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing.” He is “a faithful Creator” and is the “Preserver of all men, especially of those that believe” (1 Tim. 4:1010For therefore we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe. (1 Timothy 4:10)). We can always turn to Him in our suffering and find a solace there (Psa. 91:1-21He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. 2I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. (Psalm 91:1‑2)). It is only the power of God that can sustain us when we are under these trials (Psa. 18:2929For by thee I have run through a troop; and by my God have I leaped over a wall. (Psalm 18:29).
Suffering From the Oppositon of the Devil
(Chapter 5:1-14)
Peter concludes his exhortations in the epistle by touching on one last aspect of suffering which the saints face in their pathway—suffering from special attacks of the devil. Satan is at all times set against the spiritual progress and blessing of God’s people; however, there are certain occasions when he makes a special assault on them to harass and oppress them, and ultimately, to try to get them to give up in the path of faith. The Apostle Paul speaks of these occasions as an “evil day” that may come upon us (Eph. 6:1313Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (Ephesians 6:13)). These attacks are not the result of our going on carelessly in the flesh, but rather, from going on faithfully for the Lord. It is, therefore, normal Christianity.
A Pastoral Setting
The context in which these closing exhortations are given is that of “the flock” (vs. 2), “the chief Shepherd” (vs. 4), His under-shepherds—“the elders” (vs. 1), and an evil predator—the “roaring lion” (vs. 8). Clearly, Peter’s words of counsel and encouragement in this passage are cast in a pastoral setting.
His exhortations in the opening verses of the chapter are directed particularly to “the elders” who have the bulk of the responsibility in shepherding God’s people (vss. 1-4), but in the latter half of the chapter his exhortations broaden out to “all of you,” and are directed to the saints generally (vss. 5-14).
The Elders
Vs. 1—One thing that stands out in this work of shepherding the flock of God is that it is “the elders” who are enjoined to do it. The word “elder,” implies experience and maturity, which is so necessary for this work. When counsel and encouragement come from one who has experienced the vicissitudes and trials of the Christian life, it has moral weight with the saints, and as a result, they will be more inclined to receive it. Needless to say, this work is not for a “novice.” Paul warns of such getting carried away with self-importance and being “inflated” with pride and falling “into the fault of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:66Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:6); Prov. 16:18; 29:2318Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)
23A man's pride shall bring him low: but honor shall uphold the humble in spirit. (Proverbs 29:23)
; Acts 15:66And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter. (Acts 15:6)). A novice is a new convert, but it could perhaps include one who has not matured in the faith as he ought to have, and consequently, is a “babe” (Eccl. 10:1616Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning! (Ecclesiastes 10:16); 1 Cor. 3:11And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:1); Eph. 4:13-1413Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 14That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; (Ephesians 4:13‑14); Heb. 5:12-1412For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. 13For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. 14But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Hebrews 5:12‑14)).
Before exhorting the elders as to the specifics of this work, Peter mentions two things that every under-shepherd must keep before him if he is to be effective—“the sufferings of Christ” and “the glory that shall be revealed.” Peter has alluded to these two things a few times already in the epistle, but for different reasons. Here, it is in connection with sustaining the elders in their work.
“The sufferings of Christ” here, are not the Lord’s atoning sufferings, but rather, His martyrdom sufferings which we all share in some degree if we serve God faithfully. This is set before the elders as a model, because, as surely as when the Lord shepherded the flock of God in His day and was unappreciated and rejected for all the good that He did (Zech. 11:4-144Thus saith the Lord my God; Feed the flock of the slaughter; 5Whose possessors slay them, and hold themselves not guilty: and they that sell them say, Blessed be the Lord; for I am rich: and their own shepherds pity them not. 6For I will no more pity the inhabitants of the land, saith the Lord: but, lo, I will deliver the men every one into his neighbor's hand, and into the hand of his king: and they shall smite the land, and out of their hand I will not deliver them. 7And I will feed the flock of slaughter, even you, O poor of the flock. And I took unto me two staves; the one I called Beauty, and the other I called Bands; and I fed the flock. 8Three shepherds also I cut off in one month; and my soul lothed them, and their soul also abhorred me. 9Then said I, I will not feed you: that that dieth, let it die; and that that is to be cut off, let it be cut off; and let the rest eat every one the flesh of another. 10And I took my staff, even Beauty, and cut it asunder, that I might break my covenant which I had made with all the people. 11And it was broken in that day: and so the poor of the flock that waited upon me knew that it was the word of the Lord. 12And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. 13And the Lord said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord. 14Then I cut asunder mine other staff, even Bands, that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel. (Zechariah 11:4‑14); John 10:1-181Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. 2But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. 4And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. 5And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. 6This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them. 7Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. 8All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. 9I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. 10The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. 11I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. 12But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. 13The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. 15As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. 17Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. 18No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father. (John 10:1‑18)), they too would meet similar opposition. The Lord’s sufferings are the perfect example of how the elders are to handle the misunderstandings and the wrongs that they may encounter as they tend the flock. Those who do this work need be prepared for this because Satan makes those who shepherd God’s people a special object of his attacks. In the Lord’s case, Satan came against Him in the garden of Gethsemane in a special assault (John 14:3030Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me. (John 14:30); Luke 22:44, 5344And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:44)
53When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against me: but this is your hour, and the power of darkness. (Luke 22:53)
“being in a conflict”). It was an all-out effort to turn Him away from doing God’s will in going to the cross. When the Jews apprehended Him and turned Him over to the Roman authorities, He submitted to their ill-treatment and gave His “back to the smiters” and His “cheeks to them that plucked off the hair” (Isa. 50:5-75The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back. 6I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting. 7For the Lord God will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed. (Isaiah 50:5‑7)). He would not defend Himself, but let God justify Him in His good time—which took place at His resurrection and ascension (Isa. 50:88He is near that justifieth me; who will contend with me? let us stand together: who is mine adversary? let him come near to me. (Isaiah 50:8)). When they crucified Him, He “endured the cross” patiently and despised the shame (Heb. 12:22Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)). Such was the perfect example of “the good Shepherd” who gave His life for the sheep (John 10:1111I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. (John 10:11)). He is the model for all who shepherd God’s people.
“The glory that shall be revealed,” refers to the time of Christ’s public exoneration at His Appearing. Thus, the under-shepherd who does his work faithfully, even though it is often little appreciated, in that day he will be fully compensated in “glory” (vs. 4). The servant, therefore, must keep his eye on that which is ahead; it will sustain him and give him motivation to carry on in faithful service.
The role of an elder/overseer is not something that men appoint themselves to, nor is it an office which the assembly appoints them into. Rather, they are raised up by the Holy Spirit to do this work for the Lord (Acts 20:2828Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)). These men will be known by their moral qualifications and by the work that they do. The assembly is to “know” them (1 Cor. 16:15; 115I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,) (1 Corinthians 16:15)
15Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. (1 Corinthians 1:15)
Thess. 5:12), “esteem” them highly (1 Thess. 5:1313And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves. (1 Thessalonians 5:13)), “honour” them (1 Tim. 5:1717Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine. (1 Timothy 5:17)), “remember” them (Heb. 133Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. (James 1:3):7a), “follow” their faith (Heb. 133Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. (James 1:3):7b), “obey” them (Heb. 13:11Let brotherly love continue. (Hebrews 13:1)7a), “submit” to them (Heb. 13:11Let brotherly love continue. (Hebrews 13:1)7b), and “salute” them (Heb. 13:2424Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you. (Hebrews 13:24)). But nowhere in Scripture is the assembly told to choose and ordain them! This is simply because the assembly has no authority from God to do so. Yet in spite of this fact, Christian churches everywhere choose and appoint their elders! Such is the confusion that exists in the ruins of the Christian testimony. When elders were chosen and ordained in Scripture, they were always chosen “for” an assembly by an apostle (Acts 14:2323And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed. (Acts 14:23) – W. Kelly Trans.), or by a delegate from an apostle (Titus 1:55For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: (Titus 1:5)). Herein is the wisdom of God; this prevents the assembly from choosing leaders that favour the inclinations of the people, and thus, having control over those in oversight.
The Work of the Elders
Vss. 2-3—Peter mentions three things that the elders are to do:
Shepherd the Flock
(Vs. 2a)
The first thing was to “shepherd the flock of God.” In exhorting the elders (Peter includes himself as one), it is clear that he never forgot what the Lord said to him: “Shepherd My sheep” (John 21:1616He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. (John 21:16)). Knowing that there was a great need fo r this work among the saints, he exhorted these elders to engage in this labour of love. Sad to say, this has not been followed in Church history. The ruin of the Christian testimony that exists today can be traced largely to the elders going astray and not doing their work faithfully (Acts 20:29-3029For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 30Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. (Acts 20:29‑30); 3 John 9-109I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. 10Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church. (3 John 9‑10); Rev. 2-329He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. 1And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. 2Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. 3Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. 4Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. 5He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. 6He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. 7And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; 8I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. 9Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. 10Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. 11Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. 12Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name. 13He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. 14And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; 15I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. 16So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. 17Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: 18I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. 19As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. 20Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. 21To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. 22He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. 1After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter. 2And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. 3And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald. 4And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold. 5And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. 6And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind. 7And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. 8And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. (Revelation 2:29‑4:8) “the angel”). We can affirm that the need for shepherding God’s people is greater today than ever before. May the Lord raise up many such shepherds.
The KJV renders this phrase: “Feed the flock of God,” but “feed” is too narrow. Shepherding is more than feeding—giving the saints spiritual food (teaching). It includes feeding them, but it also involves guiding them, counselling them, visiting them, and helping them with their temporal problems and needs. Having gained experience in the path of faith, the elders are to discharge their wisdom to the saints with the aim of helping them to go on spiritually together in peace. This work requires discerning “the state” of the flock, so as to minister to their needs appropriately (Prov. 27:2323Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds. (Proverbs 27:23)).
Exercise Oversight on Behalf of the Flock
(Vs. 2b)
The second thing is “exercising oversight.” This refers primarily to administrative responsibilities in a local assembly. Shepherding the flock may be done in any place where the saints are found, but administrative oversight is purely a local work. That is, it is to be carried out in the assembly in the locality where the elders live. They are to take the lead in spiritual matters involving reception, discipline, etc.
This is a work that the elders are to do “willingly,” not by “constraint.” Hence, it is not to be carried out through a sense of obligation, but is something done for the Lord and motivated by love and compassion for the saints. Nor should it be done for “base” financial “gain,” even though they may at times receive monetary help from the assembly (1 Tim. 5:17-1817Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine. 18For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The laborer is worthy of his reward. (1 Timothy 5:17‑18)). Thus, they were to feed the flock, not fleece it!
Be Models for the Flock
(Vs. 3)
Peter cautions the elders of the danger of “lording” over the flock and treating it as one of their “possessions.” The J. N. Darby Translation footnote says: “Viewing the saints as something belonging to you ... .the flock was not be treated as the ‘possessions’ of the elders.” Elders should always keep in mind that it is “the flock of God” that they are shepherding. The flock is God’s; it is not theirs. While clergymen (the so-called Pastors and Ministers in Christendom) often speak of a congregation of Christians as “their” flock, Scripture knows nothing of an under-shepherd having such a position. There is no suggestion here, or anywhere else in Scripture, of a clerical order ruling arbitrarily over the laity. Peter’s simple point here is that the elders are not to rule over the saints in a domineering way. The elders are to be respected, but they are not to demand this respect; they are to win it.
In Scripture, when the work of the elders is in view, they are always mentioned in plural (Acts 20:2828Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. (Acts 20:28); 1 Tim. 5:17-1817Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine. 18For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The laborer is worthy of his reward. (1 Timothy 5:17‑18), etc.). (When their moral qualifications are in view, it is in singular – 1 Timothy 3:1-81This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. 2A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 3Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; 4One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 5(For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) 6Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. 8Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; (1 Timothy 3:1‑8); Titus 1:6-96If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. 7For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; 8But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; 9Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. (Titus 1:6‑9), etc.) This is because when there are several men involved in the work in a locality, those men can check and balance one another. Thus, there is a greater immunity against one man rising up and leading the saints after himself in a wrong direction. One man presiding over the saints is unscriptural and potentially dangerous. As mentioned, he could get carried away with his own importance and do damage to the flock. This was the case with Diotrephes (3 John 9-109I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. 10Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church. (3 John 9‑10)). Besides being full of compassion and of self-sacrifice—as seen in the good Shepherd (Matt. 9:3636But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. (Matthew 9:36); Mark 6:3434And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things. (Mark 6:34); Acts 20:3535I have showed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive. (Acts 20:35))—a shepherd is to be humble (vs. 5).
Vs. 4—For the encouragement of all who undertake this work, which at times can be a thankless job, Peter reminds them that the faithful performance of this service will have its happy reward. He says, “When the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.” Shepherding, done in God’s way, will not bring one into prominence in this day—it is by and large a quiet work done among the saints on a personal level—but its reward in a coming day will most certainly be a public thing. Peter’s statement here, seems to be saying that the rewards (crowns) will be received by the saints at the Appearing of Christ, but Scripture clearly teaches that the rewards for faithful service will be given at the judgment seat of Christ, which will take place after the saints are taken home to heaven at the Rapture (Matt. 25:19-2319After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. 20And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. 21His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. 22He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. 23His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. (Matthew 25:19‑23); Luke 19:15-1915And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. 16Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds. 17And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities. 18And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds. 19And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities. (Luke 19:15‑19); 1 Cor. 4:55Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God. (1 Corinthians 4:5); Rev. 4:44And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold. (Revelation 4:4) – the saints have their “crowns” before the Tribulation woes begin). Peter surely wouldn’t be contradicting this; therefore, he must be referring to the public display of our rewards in “glory,” which occurs at the Appearing of Christ and during His millennial kingdom reign, in what is called “the day of Christ” (Phil. 1:6, 10; 2:166Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: (Philippians 1:6)
10That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; (Philippians 1:10)
16Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither labored in vain. (Philippians 2:16)
, etc.).
The Flock
Vss. 5-11—Peter turns to address the flock. He exhorts them regarding the need for humility and expressed dependence upon God. He says, “Likewise ye younger, be subject to the elder, and all of you bind on humility towards one another; for God sets Himself against the proud, but to the humble gives grace. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in the due time; having cast all your care upon Him, for He cares about you.” If the flock is to prosper spiritually, there must be a happy condition of peace and love existing among the saints. Peter tells us that this is achieved through binding on “humility.” We all have a part to play in contributing to this happy condition that should be amongst God’s people by being “clothed with humility.”
The “younger” brethren are told specifically to be “subject” to their older brethren. The KJV rendering implies that the older ones are likewise to be subject to the younger, but this would be unseemly. A better rendering of the passage shows that Peter is exhorting “all” of the saints (which would include the older brethren) to “bind on humility.” The whole Christian company should be marked by this great moral trait that was so perfectly displayed in the Lord Jesus. He is the only Man who ever had a right to exalt Himself—yet Scripture says, “Being found in fashion as a Man, He humbled Himself” (Phil. 2:88And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:8)). Some seem to think that humility is thinking badly of oneself and go around deprecating themselves, but really, it is not thinking of ourselves at all! A truly humble person has himself out of the picture—whether it is in self-importance or in self-pity.
Since pride is hateful to God, a proud man will surely meet with God’s governmental judgment. Peter says that God “sets Himself against the proud” and resists those who have designs to lift themselves up among their brethren. To guard against this evil in our hearts, Peter says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God” (vs. 6). This is something that we are all to do, and if we won’t, God will do it by ordering a humbling circumstance in our lives. Peter assures us that those who humble themselves will be exalted in “due time”—when the Lord comes and establishes His kingdom. If suffering is to be answered by glory in that coming day (vs. 4), humility will be answered by exaltation at that time (vs. 6).
Besides binding on humility, Peter says that we also need to cast “all” our “care upon Him” (vs. 7). The path of faith has its ups and downs, and we will surely meet with something discouraging along the way. But since the compassions of God are new every morning (Lam. 3:22-2322It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. 23They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22‑23)), all of our troubles and trials can be taken to the Lord in expressed dependence, and He will help us through them. The Psalmist said: “Cast thy burden [assigned portion] upon the LORD, and He shall sustain thee” (Psa. 55:2222Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved. (Psalm 55:22)).
The trial that Peter is particularly alluding to here is persecution. The saints in that day were passing through the fires of affliction in this regard and needed comfort and consolation. These trials were not sent by God, but they were, nonetheless, permitted by Him. Peter says that they were to avail themselves of the provision that God had made for them by casting their burdens on the Lord. While the context is persecution, we know that discouragement can come from any quarter. When it does, the solution is the same—we are to roll it over onto the Lord and let Him carry the burden of it for us.
Thus, Peter has touched on two opposite dangers that we must guard against—being puffed up with pride, or being cast down in discouragement. These things are to be met by humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God (vs. 6) and by casting all our cares upon Him (vs. 7).
The Roaring Lion
Vs. 8—He goes on to show that if we refuse to humble ourselves under God’s hand, and we don’t cast our troubles and trials upon the Lord, that we become vulnerable to the attacks of the roaring lion—the devil. He says, “Be vigilant, watch. Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about seeking whom he may devour.” Thus, he would have us to be consciously aware of the movements of this enemy. The watching here, is not watching for the Lord to come (which we certainly are to do – Luke 12:3737Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them. (Luke 12:37); Titus 2:1313Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; (Titus 2:13), etc.), but watching against the enemy’s attacks. We are not to be occupied with the enemy—our occupation is with Christ—but we are to be on alert and wise concerning his tactics (2 Cor. 2:1111Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices. (2 Corinthians 2:11)). The words “humble” (vs. 6), “vigilant” (vs. 8), “watch” (vs. 8), and “resist” (vs. 9), are all in the aorist tense in the Greek, which is to be in a state of having done it once and for all (see J. N. Darby Trans. footnote). Thus, readiness concerning our adversary is to be an abiding thing; it is not something that we take up with the moment Satan pounces—that could be too late!
Peter makes it clear that Satan’s aim is to “devour” Christians. We might ask, “In what sense does the devil devour a Christian?” He certainly can’t take our soul-salvation away from us; it is eternally secure through what the Lord Jesus accomplished on the cross (John 10:28-2928And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. 29My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. (John 10:28‑29)). But Satan can destroy our lives as far as our testimony is concerned. He can terrorize the believer to the point that the believer gives up in the path and all who see it will mock Christianity and the Lord (Luke 14:29-3029Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, 30Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. (Luke 14:29‑30)). Satan’s chief way of terrorizing the saints is through persecution. He works as “a roaring lion” to persecute them, but that is not the only way he works. As Peter shows here, he takes away proud men and he pounces on discouraged people too.
Vs. 9a—Peter says, “Whom resist stedfast in faith.” We are to resist the devil, but not in the energy of the flesh. We are not called upon to fight the devil, nor are we to carry on a dialog with him. We “resist” the devil by standing fast in faith on our convictions that are founded upon the Word of God. When we stand fast under these special attacks of the devil, he will “flee” from us! (James 4:77Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)).
Satan trembles when he sees,
The weakest saint upon his knees!
We are to commit our lives to God in prayer and remember that He is over all circumstances, and if the devil stirs up men to persecute us, they can only do to us what God allows in His mighty providence (Lam. 3:3737Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not? (Lamentations 3:37)). And if we are called upon to die as a martyr for Christ, we are to follow the example of the saints who have gone before who were “faithful unto death” (Rev. 2:10; 12:1110Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. (Revelation 2:10)
11And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. (Revelation 12:11)
). By refusing to recant, we “overcome” this foe and we get the “victory” for the Lord, because all his evil attempts to get us to give up in the path of faith have failed (Rev. 15:22And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God. (Revelation 15:2)).
Comfort for Saints Suffering Persecution
Vss. 9b-11—Peter concludes his remarks on the subject of suffering by giving a few words of comfort and encouragement to these saints who were passing through the fires of persecution. His intention was to motivate them to carry on for the Lord in their trial.
Secondly, “the God of all grace” had called them “unto His eternal glory in Christ Jesus” (vs. 10a). Thus, they had been “called” by God to a glorious end with Christ, and there was nothing that could frustrate His purpose. If they kept their eye on the “eternal glory,” to which they were traveling, it would motivate them to endure the trials they encountered along the way. Moreover, Peter reminds them that our God is the “God of all grace,” and thus, He will supply us with the grace needed to carry on through the sufferings that we face (Phil. 4:1313I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. (Philippians 4:13); James 4:66But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. (James 4:6)).
Thirdly, this time of suffering is only for “a little while” compared to the eternal glory that is coming (vs. 10b). It will soon be over. Knowing this would give them purpose of heart to continue on in the path.
Fourthly, Peter says, “Himself shall make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, ground [settle] you.” They also needed to keep in mind that these sufferings were being used of God to build Christian character in them. Thus, it was important for them to see God’s hand in their trials; it would give added incentive to carry on.
Vs. 11––It is fitting that Peter would end with a doxology of praise: “To Him be the glory and the might for the ages of ages. Amen.” The ages of ages refers to the Eternal State when Satan will be in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:1010And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. (Revelation 20:10)) and the saints’ time of suffering will be over (1 Cor. 15:24-28; 224Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. 25For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. 27For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. 28And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:24‑28)
8Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor. 9For we are laborers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building. 10According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. 11For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; (1 Corinthians 3:8‑12)
Peter 3:12-13; Rev. 21:1-81And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. 2And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. 4And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. 5And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. 6And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. 7He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. 8But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. (Revelation 21:1‑8)).
Closing Salutations
Vss. 12-14—In closing, Peter mentions “Silvanus;” (Silas) apparently, he was the carrier of the epistle. He had been a co-worker with Paul (Acts 15-18), but since Paul had been incarcerated, he is found serving with Peter. It is significant that he would be mentioned in this letter that has so much to do with suffering. He was one who could certainly empathize with these brethren, having himself been beaten and jailed when he and Paul were at Philippi (Acts 16:2323And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: (Acts 16:23)).
Peter restates his purpose in writing to these brethren: “I have written to you briefly; exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God in which ye stand.” He includes greetings from his wife: “She that is elected with you in Babylon salutes you.” It was Peter’s habit to take his wife with him in his labours (1 Cor. 9:55Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? (1 Corinthians 9:5)). It is noteworthy that in fulfilling his apostolic commission toward the circumcision (Gal. 2:88(For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) (Galatians 2:8)), Peter is found in Babylon. This is where many thousands of Jews had been deported in the Babylonish captivity, hundreds of years before (2 Kings 24-255Now the rest of the acts of Jehoiakim, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah? 6So Jehoiakim slept with his fathers: and Jehoiachin his son reigned in his stead. 7And the king of Egypt came not again any more out of his land: for the king of Babylon had taken from the river of Egypt unto the river Euphrates all that pertained to the king of Egypt. 8Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned in Jerusalem three months. And his mother's name was Nehushta, the daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem. 9And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father had done. 10At that time the servants of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up against Jerusalem, and the city was besieged. 11And Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came against the city, and his servants did besiege it. 12And Jehoiachin the king of Judah went out to the king of Babylon, he, and his mother, and his servants, and his princes, and his officers: and the king of Babylon took him in the eighth year of his reign. 13And he carried out thence all the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king's house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold which Solomon king of Israel had made in the temple of the Lord, as the Lord had said. 14And he carried away all Jerusalem, and all the princes, and all the mighty men of valor, even ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths: none remained, save the poorest sort of the people of the land. 15And he carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon, and the king's mother, and the king's wives, and his officers, and the mighty of the land, those carried he into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. 16And all the men of might, even seven thousand, and craftsmen and smiths a thousand, all that were strong and apt for war, even them the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon. 17And the king of Babylon made Mattaniah his father's brother king in his stead, and changed his name to Zedekiah. 18Zedekiah was twenty and one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Hamutal, the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. 19And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that Jehoiakim had done. 20For through the anger of the Lord it came to pass in Jerusalem and Judah, until he had cast them out from his presence, that Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon. 1And it came to pass in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came, he, and all his host, against Jerusalem, and pitched against it; and they built forts against it round about. 2And the city was besieged unto the eleventh year of king Zedekiah. 3And on the ninth day of the fourth month the famine prevailed in the city, and there was no bread for the people of the land. 4And the city was broken up, and all the men of war fled by night by the way of the gate between two walls, which is by the king's garden: (now the Chaldees were against the city round about:) and the king went the way toward the plain. 5And the army of the Chaldees pursued after the king, and overtook him in the plains of Jericho: and all his army were scattered from him. (2 Kings 24:5‑25)). Only 42,000 returned to the land of Israel in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah—the rest stayed in Babylon and settled there. In seeking the blessing of his fellow countrymen, he went there to preach the gospel and to shepherd those who were saved.
He enjoins upon these saints the “kiss of charity” and gives them a final word of “peace.”