Jesus suffered greatly to make the way for you and me to enjoy life without the burden of sin on our backs. We can live free of its grip, though we may still feel its pull. Jesus has flung open the prison’s doors, shone light into the darkness, unshackled us from the enslavement of cruel corruption.
Now Jesus, as it were, has spread his hands toward the source of the light, has waved toward the open door, has kicked away the chains that once ensnared. He offers us an invitation, “Would you be free?” But there is still the walking, which only our legs can do. The liberty Jesus holds out must be taken to be had. In this case, the only way to have the cake is to actually eat it.
Gospel For the Dead?
Live the rest of your earthly life in a heavenly way, Peter wrote, your human desires have been corrupted, and in turn are corrupting you. You are being maligned, now, for walking away from that life. But those who abuse you will answer one day to Jesus.
For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.1 Peter 4:6 (NRSV)
Even people who have been given over by God to the corruption of their human desires, and there is no earthly hope for them, even -they- may have eternal life.
Apostle Paul had written some frightening things about people who reject God, who are obdurate in their dissolution. Paul had explained that such people lose the ability to think clearly about things, they lose the ability to be truly rational, and their emotions become skewed as well. In fact, by rejecting the truth about God (and therefore God’s words and God’s ways), they actually lose the ability to be wise. They claim wisdom. But in fact, they have become fools.
Therefore, Paul wrote, God hands them over to the forbidden things of their heart that they long for, to the impurity of the dishonoring of their bodies among them. Paul mentioned a necessary recompense for that corrupting of their bodies, that inevitably happens.
This is terrifying stuff!
And this is what earthly judgment can look like when we not only make terrible choices, but we refuse to turn back from them, we just plow forward, deeper and deeper and deeper . . . and deeper. Many of us have wept bitter tears at the memorial service of someone who did not have to die, but they did, because they simply .would. .not. .turn. .back.
But even if the body is as good as dead, for it is dying from the ravages Paul described, there is still a chance to live in the Spirit.
Gospel For Those Now Dead?
By the same token, there has always been a remnant, a faithful few who received the good news by faith (though the Messiah was not yet revealed in their time, for they are now long dead).
They were judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, in other words, maligned by the world just as Peter’s readers were being maligned, but were alive in the Spirit of God, no longer living in an earthly way, but in a heavenly way. They had come to know and reverence God, and to know and honor God’s will.
Replace That With This!
What has great potential for good, can also have great potential for bad.
Suffering has the potential to draw you and me to God. But suffering also has the potential to drive us away from the Lord. It all settles on where our focus rests. Will it be on Jesus, or will it be on the anguish of our pain?
The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers.1 Peter 4:7 (NRSV)
Keep yourself from being overcome and swept away by fear and pain, Peter might have said. The first century church believed in hope Jesus was returning to rescue them in their own era, it seemed all the signs of the times were pointing to this certainty. Though we know today, two millennia later, that Jesus’ return is still in the future, the sense of immanence is still timely.
If nothing else, for the sake of the suffering, consider the time and be serious. James suggested allowing the endurance learned through suffering to have its full effect, so that we may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. Even learning to pray well through the pain, to pray towards maturity and towards God’s purpose, to pray towards the fulfillment of what God is doing, is part of what Peter meant.
Above all, maintain -constant- love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.1 Peter 4:8 (NRSV)
Maintain -constant- love.
Peter had, just a few verses previously, listed six corruptions his readers had involved themselves in before they put their faith in Jesus. These lists were not uncommon in his day, Paul used them too, and in fact it was the stock in trade of moralists to provide lists of “Do Not” to be compared with lists of “Do.”
Now, Peter gave them a list of lifestyle choices that would reflect life in the Spirit of God.
|1 Peter 4:2||Live . . . no longer by human desires||1 Peter 4:2||but by the will of God|
|1 Peter 4:3||Filthy wantonness / lasciviousness||1 Peter 4:7||Be serious and discipline yourselves. (For the sake of your prayers)|
|1 Peter 4:3||Longing for what is forbidden / lust||1 Peter 4:8||Maintain constant love for one another. (For love covers a multitude of sins)|
|1 Peter 4:3||Drunkenness / debauchery||1 Peter 4:9||Be hospitable to one another. (Without complaining)|
|1 Peter 4:3||Reveling / rioting||1 Peter 4:10||serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. (Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God)|
|1 Peter 4:3||Carousing||1 Peter 4:11||Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God. (So that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ)|
|1 Peter 4:3||Atrociously, criminally, brutally wicked idolatry||1 Peter 4:11||whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies. (So that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ)|
I doubt Peter meant for these two lists to be exact matches. But the contrast is striking, none the less.
Peter assumed everyone in the family of God would show hospitality, even those who did not feel especially gifted in that area. In Peter’s day, this was hard-baked into the culture, to offer food and drink, to invite others into one’s home, no matter how humble and poor. For Peter, though, how hospitality was offered became a mark of God’s Spirit, for if given from a constant flow of love, without complaint, it was to live in a heavenly way.
For us today, who do not live in the kind of culture and society Peter called home, showing hospitality to others can mean sharing whatever portion God has given us for the sake of the Body of Christ. Faithfully administering the “manifold grace of God” broadens the meaning of hospitality to become welcoming and giving in whatever ways we can be.
There are three basic things Peter emphasized in this passage for you and I to do as we interact with each other: pray, love fervently, and make our hospitality cheerful.
And there is one thing God calls you and me to stop doing: living in the identity we used to have before we came to Christ.
[Prayer | bigbirdz https://www.flickr.com/photos/bigbirdz/5024081279, flickr, (CC BY 2.0)