We're working through Peter's First Letter in these evenings, and we've got to chapter 4.1-11, so please have that open in front of you. My title is Living in the Spirit.
There is a very close connection between how we think and how we live. That connection is key to understanding the thrust of what the apostle Peter is driving at here, as we'll see. But let me tell you a story to illustrate what I mean.
I was at a conference the other week and found myself exchanging testimonies with a Dutchman. I asked him how he came to faith, and to start with, instead of talking about himself, he told me about his parents and their life before he was even born. They were a Christian couple, living a classic Dutch life. Their home was just beside a broad dyke that held back the sea. On top of that dyke ran the road past their house. They had a business growing flowers. They had young children. One day their three-year-old son was playing at the front of their home with a friend. A car that was driving along the road on top of the dyke for some reason lost control and came off the road on the dyke. It rolled down on top of the children.
The father was in the house and rushed out to see what the commotion was all about. His son's friend had hardly a scratch and ran off home. His young son had been badly injured. He took him in his arms, carried him into the house, and laid him on the kitchen table. But his injuries were too great, and this little three-year-old died. In the days that followed, as they thought about what had happened, these grief-stricken Christian parents made a very deliberate decision that they would not give in to bitterness, but instead they would trust God. In the funeral notice for their young son they quoted Job 1.21:
"The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised."
A few years later another son was born to them – the man who was telling me this. And he told me that decision to trust God at a terrible time of trial reflected how his parents thought about life as he was growing up, and as a result he was raised in a home where it was obvious and clear to him that his parents' faith was real and deep and shaped the whole way that they lived. So it was natural for him to come to share the living faith of his parents. He's now a leading evangelical New Testament scholar with far-reaching influence. His parents' faith in the face of that grievous trial is bearing great fruit. How we think shapes how we live.
But we need to go one step back if we're going to grasp what Peter's getting at in this section. We think the way we do for a reason. So to understand someone's thinking, you have to ask why they think the way they do – what drives their thinking, from behind as it were. But then the picture is only complete when you see where someone's life is heading – what is the purpose of their living.
Cause – thinking – living – purpose. That's the pattern. That's what we see in these verses. So what drives our thinking? How does our thinking shape our living? And what's the ultimate purpose of our lives? For good or ill, all our lives follow that pattern. And the thrust of this passage is that it's a matter of eternal life and death that the blanks, as it were, are filled-in in a way that's centred on Jesus.
So my headings sum it up in this way: because Christ suffered, think in Christ's way, and live for the will of God, so that God may be glorified. That's the pattern of the Christian life, in radical contrast to the life the pagans choose to live. Let's take a look at each of those. So:
1. Because Christ Suffered…
That's the primary driver of our thinking, but there are two secondary drivers to add. Because Christ suffered – and you are suffering – and the end is near… Take a look, then, at 1 Peter 4.1:
"Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh…"
Peter has just been speaking about the suffering of Jesus at the end of chapter 3, in the context of encouraging his readers to be patient in the face of unjust suffering, for Jesus' sake. So 1 Peter 3.18:
"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God …"
So the suffering of Jesus on the cross for us is not only an example for us to follow, it is also the atoning sacrifice that enables and empowers us to follow that example. It's only because we're forgiven and made new that we can even begin to follow in the footsteps of the one who laid down his life for his enemies. And then look at the beginning of 1 Peter 4.7 as well:
"The end of all things is at hand; therefore…"
So the coming return of Jesus, the end of the age, the Day of Judgement and Resurrection, the bringing in of God's eternal kingdom, and the new heaven and the new earth – this great wrapping up of history and glorious new eternity – this too is a powerful driver of our thinking as followers of Jesus. The suffering of Jesus in the past; the varied trials that we experience in the present as believers; and the coming end of all things – these realities need to fill our minds and form our thinking.
It's a bit like this. I had to catch a train when I was heading off to that conference I mentioned. So on the day of my departure, that reality filled my mind. What time does the train leave? Am I sure I've got that right? Have I got my ticket? Have I got everything I'm going to need? When will I need to head off to the station? And so on. What are the pressures that you're under at the moment? What are the realities that you're having to deal with? We need to make sure that we're not only aware of present realities, but past and future too. Jesus died for our sins, so that we might be forgiven and set free. The day is coming when he will return.
Because Christ suffered, and you are suffering, and the end is near … Think. Think how? That's my next heading. So:
2. Think in Christ's Way
And how is that? Self-controlled and sober-minded. Verse 1 again:
"Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking…"
And down to verse 7:
"The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded…"
Backing up to verse 1 again, look at the whole of it. It's extraordinary – astonishing, really. Here it is:
"Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin…"
Each of the three parts of that is almost mind-blowing when we take on board what Peter is actually saying. Christ suffered – a severe, physical, painful bodily suffering – in a way that's far beyond our ability to grasp. What we do know is that, hanging there on the cross, Jesus cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" In paying the price of our sin he gave himself up to be cut off from his Father – suffering of a different dimension altogether even from the physical agony of the crucifixion. What did that mean for the eternal Son, the second person of the Trinity? We cannot tell. We have to back away and bow our heads and bend our knees in contemplation of it. And why did he go through that? Out of love for you and for me. To save us from our sin. To give us eternal riches beyond our imagination – above all the sharing of himself with us.
But then Peter says something altogether remarkable. He says that we need to think in the same way that Jesus thought as he went to the cross.
"Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking…"
But we're self-centred, sinful creatures. How can we begin to do that? Of course we can't. Not without the supernatural work of the Spirit of Christ in our hearts and minds. Not without having the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts, so that our thinking is radically changed, and we share the mind of Christ himself.
And note too that little phrase, "arm yourselves". Arm yourselves with the thought patterns and attitudes of Jesus himself. This is war we're engaged in. We're in a spiritual battle against our sinful natures, against the world, the flesh and the devil. And one of the weapons we fight with, a vital weapon in our armoury, is the self-giving, self-sacrificing attitude of Jesus. Jesus suffered for those he loved. We're to have the same attitude. But the third mind-blowing thing in verse 1 here is there at the end:
"… for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin…"
What does that mean? Well it can't mean that whoever's been through physical suffering is perfect and sins no more. That's plainly not the case, and would contradict other clear teaching of the New Testament. You've no doubt seen, as I have, that some people's suffering makes them bitter, not Christ-like.
This is what I think it means. Those who suffer in this way – that is, with the attitude of Jesus because they have the Spirit of Jesus – find that as they do so, Jesus himself draws near to them. And their love for others is deepened. And as a result the hold that sin has on them weakens. Being close to Jesus is experienced as being so much better than the fleeting and unsatisfying pleasures of sin. Sin loses its grip on them. They still sin. But they've become more like Jesus.
So, because Christ suffered, and you are suffering, and the end is near, think in Christ's way – self-controlled and sober-minded. Then, as was true of those faith-filled parents of that little boy who was killed, not just our thinking but the way we live our lives will be profoundly changed. And that brings me to my next heading. So:
3. Live for The Will of God
"… arm yourselves with the same way of thinking [as Jesus] … so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God."
So when we begin to think like Jesus, what begins to matter most to us is not what we want, but what God wants; not what we desire, but what God desires for us; not what our sinful human nature craves, but how God calls us to live. More specifically, that's going to show itself in two ways – in our praying, and in our love for others. Head down to verse 7. Our praying is there:
"The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers."
Getting our minds focused on Jesus is the key to our praying, because then we'll know how utterly dependent we are on him. And we'll know that he is both loving and powerful. He's ready to hear and answer our prayers. So when we're thinking straight, we'll pray with bold faith and with persistence, until we're given what we're asking for or the Lord leads us in a different direction. That's our praying. Then our loving is there in verses 8-11. Take a look first at verse 8:
"Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins."
Thinking like Jesus is the key to learning deep love for others. Forgiving love. Isn't that a wonderful phrase in verse 8:
"… love covers a multitude of sins."
I for one am so grateful when my multitudinous sins are covered over by the forgiving, Christ-like love of others. We need to learn from Jesus to be like that in our dealings with one another. And Peter speaks of two other areas of our lives in which we need to learn to display the love of Jesus. Opening our homes, and serving the church. Verses 9-11:
"Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies…"
Our hospitality should be willing and cheerful. Our gifts should be poured out in the power of the Spirit for the sake of the whole life of the church. And one other thing: Peter makes very sure that we don't miss the reality that this kind of lifestyle is radically different from the life of the unbelieving world – the life that we have left behind. And he prepares us for the fact that, like the life of Jesus, it won't always be popular. Look back up to verses 3-5:
"For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead."
Christ-like thinking that leads to Christ-like living might produce reactions of surprise and even open hostility. But don't be knocked off course. Leave all that to God to deal with, and persevere. Our over-riding concern is not the reactions of others, but the glory of God. And that's my final heading.
4. All of this is so that God will be Glorified
Look at the end of verse 11. We live like Jesus …
"—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."
Because Christ suffered, and we too will go through trials, and the end is near, we are to think in Christ's way, and live for the will of God in our praying to him, and in our loving one-another, so that God will be glorified. That is the apostle's challenging appeal to you and to me.
So how would we react if we went through a time of severe suffering and trauma like those Dutch parents? Maybe we have, and we need to re-think and amend the way we've reacted.
Let's learn from Peter. He knows what he's talking about – after all, his thinking and living were so Jesus-like that he ended being killed for it like his Lord. May God be glorified in our minds, and our hearts, and our lives.