Adolescence. We have all been through it. You know, the time when you have lived through nothing but know everything? The time when you have more pimples than purpose? The time when you have more recreation than responsibility? The time when your parents were clueless and your peers were crafty? Yeah, you know the time. We all lived through it. In fact, I think we have all lived through it twice.
Twice? Are you serious? What kind of a cruel joke would it be to make someone relive 13-16 again? I mean seriously . . . there are many moments from those years I wish I could just cover with white out and move on. Why would anyone want to live through those years again? When I say we have lived through adolescence twice, I do not mean that we have grown up physically twice . . . but I do mean that as “born again” Christians, we have gone through a second “spiritual adolescence” at some point in our lives.
Spiritual adolescence. We have all been through it. You know, the time when you lived through very little spiritually speaking, but know everything? The time when you have more opinions than wisdom? The time when those who walked with God for many years have “lost their fire” (in your estimation) while your campus group is the only one who is “doing the Christian life right?” Yeah, you know the time. If we are honest and self-aware enough, most of us have gone through a phase of our Christian life where we thought we knew it all. In 1995 that was me. Today, 15 years later, I am amazed at what I do not know. God, the Christian life, and ministry are simply too big to be totally figured out on a weekend retreat. It takes a moment for someone to become a Christian, but it takes time and experience to go from a spiritual babe to a man or woman of God.
I was thinking about that today as I read 1 Peter 5:5. Peter encourages all young people in these verses to “be submissive to those who are older.” What is Peter getting at here? Is he indicating that old people are more righteous than young people? No, in Christ all are declared righteous and totally forgiven of their sins. Is he indicating that old people are more valuable? No, Jesus died for all people . . . no one is more valuable than anyone else. Peter writes to the early church and encourages its younger members to be submissive to its older members because there is wisdom with age. This wisdom cannot be learned through reading books alone, it is learned on the pages of real life. Walking with God while living life creates a depth of character, wisdom, and insight that cannot be microwaved. Because of this truth, Peter wants young people to submit to those who are further along than them because they have wisdom that young people need.
Like a teenager who learns how wise their parents were (after he turns 26), so “adolescent” believers learn how wise their elders are after they have weathered a few storms of their own.
I am writing this letter today as someone who sits squarely between two worlds. Around many in the church, I am the young guy . . . a nearly 37 year old dude who has yet to figure a lot of stuff out. Around youth and college students (much to my chagrin) I am becoming one of the old guys . . . having lived through enough decades to have a different perspective than just a twitter account and a facebook page. Being in this place gives me reason to apply this passage in two directions. If you are a “young person” be careful to not fall into the trap that “you are the only one doing it right.” Clothe yourself with humility and listen to the perspective of those further along than you. If you are an “elder,” live a life that is worthy of respect. Don’t just place your life in cruise control and coast into apathy. Continue to walk with God and trust Him on a daily basis. Be willing to share your life experience with younger men and women so that they can learn from the wisdom God has taught you over years of living.
Let’s all age well in the Lord together. After all adolescence is hard to go through . . . both times.
- After talking to the Elders in the church, Peter now turns and addresses the younger men. Literally, in the original language, this passage does not address just young men, but “young people (men and women).” From what you can tell in 5:5-7 what is a chief problem for young people? (i.e. What do young people struggle with that Peter’s prescription here will help cure?) Why do you think young people struggle with this?
- In 5:5b, Peter talks about people “clothing themselves with humility.” The word translated “clothe” is a little used Greek word that refers to a servant’s outer apron that they might wear over their clothing. Given this, what do you think it means to “clothe yourself with humility?”
- What are some of the reasons given here for why someone would humble themselves? What would it look like for you to live a humble life?
- If you are young, what would it look like to be submissive to those who are older than you?
- In 5:8-9, Peter turns and instructs the believer on Satan. What does Peter say about Satan? How does he instruct us to respond in light of who Satan is? What would that look like for you?
- 5:10-12 is a fitting end to this epistle. Peter concludes his letter by reminding believers of the character of their God and of their future blessings in Christ. After studying the book of 1 Peter the past several weeks, what kinds of applications do you take from this book as you live out your Christian lives today?
Some interesting observations on the year 1997:
- The Dow Jones Industrial Index passed the 7,000 point mark for the first time ever. That level sounds like the poverty line in today’s economy, but was an early sign of the .com boom in ’97.
- Steve Jobs came back as the CEO of Apple computers. At the time, Apple was in big trouble. Thinking that the Mac was circling the drain, Microsoft invested $150 million in the company. Today Apple is on the rise . . . I wonder if Microsoft regrets that decision?
- William Jefferson Clinton is sworn in for his second term as President of the United States. Yes, Americans still believed in a little place called Hope.
- In the first sign that hell might actually freeze over, the Florida Marlins won their first World Series. As someone who is an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan, I need to point out that the Marlins have now won two titles in the last decade, while the Chicago Cubs have won zero titles in the last century.
- The movie “Titanic” was released. This James Cameron production would end up being the highest grossing movie of all time until Cameron’s “Avatar” would set the new mark just a few months ago.
Personally, 1997 was a significant year for me for another reason. In May of 1997, I took my first paid ministry position as the Youth Pastor at Ovilla United Methodist Church in Ovilla, Texas. At the time, I had 23 years of life and 9 months of seminary under my belt, so of course I was an “expert.” In all actuality, I was running scared. Now, 13 years later, I have been at this for a while. My job responsibilities and churches have changed over the years, but the basic gist of my job has not changed: to Pastor a segment of God’s flock.
This week, I have been reading 1 Peter 5:1-4 – verses written as a charge to leadership in the local church. When you do anything for a long period of time you run the risk of falling into ruts and patterns of behavior that may be good, or may be bad. As I read these verses today, I was challenged to reconsider the basic definitions of my role as “Pastor” and to ponder the implications of these verses for all who seek to serve Christ in His Church. The verses say this, “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”
Some interesting (and challenging observations) from these verses:
- “I appeal as a fellow elder.” Peter was writing this letter to a group of churches that were scattered around modern day Turkey. It is most probable that Peter was the only one of the original Apostles who would have even seen this letter. In that regard, it is remarkable that Peter does not approach the leaders of these small churches and say, “Listen to me . . . I am an Apostle. I am Peter. I saw Jesus. Do what I say!” Instead, he comes to them humbly and says, “Brothers, we are colleagues and co-laborers pulling in the same direction for Christ. Let’s talk this thing through together.” What humility! May this kind of humility flow forth from the lives of all of the leadership in Christ’s church.
- “God’s flock that is under your care.” Peter was reminding all of them that the church was not Mark’s church or Bruce’s church or John’s church . . . it was Christ’s church. This is a very important thing for all Pastors and church leaders to remember. The church exists for God, not for any particular leader. Leaders have a responsibility to care for the people in their “flock” but they are to care for them according to God’s agenda and for His glory. Sadly, some churches become more known for their celebrity Pastor than for their risen Savior. May that not be the case.
- “Not because you must but because you are willing.” God has graciously called me into ministry. He has invited me to serve in His church. After this invitation was extended, I could either say “yes” or “no.” I am not serving at Wildwood because God is holding me captive here. It is an everyday choice to say “yes” to God’s gracious offer. The moment I begin serving under compulsion is the moment I begin to die as a true Shepherd of God’s flock.
- “Not greedy for money but eager to serve.” There are hundreds of ways to make a living in this world. No one should be in ministry “for the money.” This sounds like the punchline to a joke because pastor’s salaries are famously small (Wildwood does a great job of providing for our staff . . . I am speaking of general perceptions). However, it is possible for church staff to see themselves as “professionals” and not “pastors.” As John Piper has said in his book, “Brothers We Are Not Professionals,” this should not be the case. Our paychecks should not influence our love for people or our service in the Body.
- “Not lording it over those entrusted to you but being an example.” Pastors don’t just tell people where the truth is, they live it out and tell others to “Follow me as I follow Christ.” I should never apply a passage for others that I am not willing to apply myself. If the spiritual life of the Pastor is growing, you will probably find a vibrant congregation that is following his example. The first priority of the Pastor should be to walk with God.
- “You will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” Peter concludes this passage by reminding all church leaders of the reward that awaits in eternity for those who faithfully shepherd’s God’s flock today. Serving Him is worth it.
13 years later, the reminders of 1 Peter 5 help me to remember what it means to shepherd the people of God. I am so thankful for the opportunity to do that each day.
- In these four verses, Peter gives some direct teaching toward “elders” in the church. From your experience and what you have read in other places in the Scripture, what is an Elder? (For help, you may want to read 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, Acts 20:13-38)
- According to 1 Peter 5:1-4, what are some of the characteristics of a good Elder?
- Peter begins in 5:1 by appealing to them as “one of them.” This is an interesting thing for him to say because Peter was most likely the only one in these churches who had seen Christ face to face. He certainly was the only one in these churches who carried the title of “Apostle.” As Peter approaches them, however, he comes as a co-laborer, not as someone who was “higher and holier” than they were. What does this tell you about the nature of Christian leadership in the church?
- 5:2 reminds the leaders in the churches that all the people (i.e. the flock) are God’s, not theirs. This is an extremely important reminder. What would be some of the implications if Christian leaders viewed their congregations as “theirs” not God’s?
- In 5:2b-3, Peter shares a series of contrasts that should mark the Christian leader in the church. The leader is to serve willingly, not under compulsion. Paul Cedar says of this statement, “I have counseled with many pastors who . . . feel that they are imprisoned by their calling to ministry. They would prefer to be somewhere else, they are not enjoying their ministry, or they are in a difficult situation from which they would like to escape. To them, ministry has become mere drudgery. It need not be so! Peter reminds us that we should serve the Lord and tend His flock willingly . . . The Lord does not force us or coerce us to be involved in ministry. He calls us and invites us to ministry, but we have the freedom of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’!” Many of you reading these questions are not serving as Pastors or Elders of churches, but most of you reading this are SERVING in some capacity in the church. If leaders are supposed to lead willingly, how much more should this principle apply to those who are serving in other ways (beside leadership)? How does this truth impact you as it pertains to serving in the church?
- Another of the commands in 5:2 is that the Elder is to serve enthusiastically, not just for selfish gain (monetary gain). While this certainly applies to church staff who serve as Pastors merely for the paycheck, it also could apply to anyone who serves just for their own selfish gain (i.e. so that people will applaud them or they would have a position of influence.) As you serve or lead, are you serving enthusiastically the needs of others, or are you serving merely to receive the “paycheck” of affirmation or influence?
- A third command comes in 5:3 as Elders are instructed to be an example, not a domineering leader. In what ways does the life of a leader (their example) back up and support their message? In what ways is your “message” supported by your life?
- Finally, this passage concludes with a promise of a crown of glory when Jesus returns to those who serve faithfully in the church. How does knowing that there is a future reward motivate you to serve in Christ’s Church today?
Located about five minutes southeast of downtown Dallas stands a large plastic man. Big Tex is his name. Every fall he welcomes hundreds of thousands of people to the Texas State Fair. The State Fair attracts a diverse audience: moms and daughters, boyfriends and girlfriends, high schoolers and those who are just plain high, and everyone in between. On one Saturday each year in early October, however, Big Tex says “Howdy” to a whole different breed. In College Football’s equivalent of the Hatfields and McCoys, the Oklahoma Sooners and Texas Longhorns square off in the shadow of Big Tex on the hallowed grounds of the Cotton Bowl.
Three times in my life, I have been lucky enough to attend this game, and it is an experience that I will never forget. Each time I have gone to the game, I have been amazed at the contrast of colors. The Cotton Bowl seats more than 80,000 people. In a unique twist, exactly 40,000 of these people are wearing Sooner Crimson, and the other 40,000 are wearing Bevo Burnt Orange. These obvious colors make it easy for all to identify your allegiance as you wander through the State Fair eating corn dogs and waiting for the start of the game.
I have been to three OU/Texas games. As an OU graduate, I (of course) am cheering for the Sooners. In my three trips to the Cotton Bowl, I have truly seen it all both on and off the field. On the field, the Sooners are 1-1-1 (one win, one loss, and one tie) when I have seen the game live. Off the field, I have celebrated the win with those garbed in red, and been ridiculed by those in orange after a Sooner defeat. In both cases, my affiliation with the Sooners was the reason for my celebration or suffering.
I was thinking about this experience today as I read 1 Peter 4:12-19. These verses conclude a lengthy section of 1 Peter dealing with the suffering a Christian undergoes because of their faith in Christ. As he wraps up this section, in 1 Peter 4:12, Peter wants all believers to not think that “something strange” was happening to them if they were experiencing persecution for their faith. Peter writes to let them know that persecution for the Christian was to be expected. As they lived out their spiritual lives in a hostile world wearing the colors of Christ, they should expect some suffering.
In 4:13-16 Peter says this, “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. . . if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” In these verses, Peter is reminding Christians that they wear on their bodies the colors of Christ. Everyone who passes around them knows that they are followers of Jesus. Because of that, they will share in the fate of Christ. In this life, Jesus was booed and beaten, mocked and marked, chided and crucified. If that is how the world treated Christ, then it should come as no surprise when the world treats you in this way. Because of my OU sweatshirt at the OU/Texas game, I was mocked by Texas fans. Because of my faith in Christ, I may be mocked by those who do not know Christ. In both cases they are not really rejecting me as much as they are rejecting the One whose Name I bear.
In the midst of this sobering declaration, however, Peter invites Christians to rejoice. Why would Christians rejoice at the notion that they will be persecuted? The reason is simple. Just as my OU shirt brought me ridicule in defeat, so my OU shirt brought me celebration in victory. In a similar way, our affiliation with Christ may cause us to be beaten down in the present, but that same affiliation with Christ will allow us to be with Him in His exaltation in the future. Because we are robed in His colors we get to celebrate His victory! That is reason to rejoice.
So the next time you experience difficulty because of your faith in Christ. Remember you are wearing His colors. Our affiliation with Him is the reason for our temporary suffering and our eternal celebration.
- Comparing the New International Version (NIV) to the New American Standard Bible (NASB) or English Standard Version (ESV) translation of 1 Peter 4:12 leads to some confusion. In the NIV, the verse is translated, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” By comparison, the NASB (the ESV is similar) says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.” While I generally love the NIV, the original language is far better represented in the NASB translation of this passage. Peter’s original intent in this verse seems to be to remind Christians of a purpose for their suffering. As people suffer for their faith in Christ, Peter sees them being tested and refined. As a fire is used to melt down metals to remove their impurities, so it seems that the fiery trials of our lives are intended by God to refine us of our impurities. In what way does suffering help refine the Christian? Have you ever experienced this in your life?
- In 4:13 Christians are instructed to rejoice as they suffer for their faith in Christ. This is a very humbling command. From a strictly human perspective, this command seems utterly impossible. Based on this passage (and the rest of your understanding of Scripture) why would a Christian have reason to rejoice when suffering because of their faith in Christ?
- From 4:13-16 a rationale is provided for why Christians can rejoice in the midst of suffering. When a person places their faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within them, giving their lives a foretaste of the glory of God. As Christians live out their lives in the secular world around them, not everyone will see this Spirit aroma of the “glory of God” as a positive thing. In fact many non-Christians will react strongly against it and seek to persecute the Christian, just as the secular world persecuted Jesus Christ because of His radical fidelity to God’s mission and the glory of God that emanated from His Spirit. Therefore, Christians who are persecuted because of their faith are being identified as “Christ-like” by the unbelieving world. Therefore, it is an honor to suffer at the hands of unbelievers because it means that they see Christ in you. Further, if the Christian is affiliated with Christ in His suffering during their temporal life, then the Christian can be confident that he will also get to share in Christ’s exaltation in their eternal life. After His physical death, Jesus was raised and exalted. In the same way, Christians share in this future hope of being exalted with Christ. Therefore, Christians rejoice in the midst of being persecuted because it reminds them of whose they are and where they are headed. Does this truth help to encourage you as you are persecuted for your faith in Christ? Why or why not?
- 4:17-18 give us another reason for rejoicing in the midst of suffering. God allows His children to suffer now, but has no condemnation for them in eternity. By contrast, unbelievers may seem to have the upper hand now, but will experience great distress and judgment in eternity. The believer can take heart that they will leave suffering behind in this life while the unbeliever (by measure of degree) has not even yet begun to know what true suffering is. Knowing this truth, are you motivated to share Christ boldly with unbelievers around you, knowing that eternal judgment awaits in the after-life for those who do not trust in Christ now? Who is one non-Christian person God might want you to share the truth about Christ with right now? When will you talk with them? What truth might you share with them? How do you anticipate they will react?
- 1 Peter 4:19 provides a final summary command to this entire section of Peter’s letter, tracking all the way back to 2:13. In this whole section Peter has been talking about how believers should live out distinctive lifestyles while they endure persecution for their faith. 4:19 indicates that believers should demonstrate their trust in God by continuing to do good in the midst of difficulty. What about our God allows us to have confidence that we can trust Him in the midst of our difficulty? What is the connection with “committing ourselves to the Creator” and “continuing to do good?”
For just a moment, I want to invite you to do the impossible: get inside the mind of a freshman in high school. Think back to this fascinating era of your life and try to remember what you were thinking about . . . what mattered to you . . . who mattered to you. This afternoon, I journeyed into my own personal adolescent abyss, and what I saw was not pretty.
When I was 15 years old, life was simple. Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet” was the greatest album ever recorded, “Hoosiers” was the greatest movie ever made, and my greatest goal in life was for my hair to stick out the back of my football helmet so friends and family could see how “good” it looked during games.
For those of you who know me now, two of those three statements make perfect sense. Just last week I heard “Livin’ on a Prayer” being played over the loudspeaker at our staff lunch, and I proceeded to announce that it “just didn’t get any better than that.” Also, I still stand and cheer at the thought of Coach Norman Dale running the “picket fence” to free up Jimmy Chitwood to hit the state championship clenching shot (still a top 5 cinematic moment IMHO). Though some things stay the same, others change drastically. For going on 20 years now, I have not let my hair get longer than an inch in any direction, but in 1988 I was all about the mullet (business up top with a party in the back). I had made this my goal the previous year when I saw how “cool” the varsity quarterback looked with his long-haired ‘do. When we took the field for two-a-days that summer, indeed I had curly locks hanging out the back of my helmet.
For my adolescent mind, having that hair was part of the reason to even go out for football. Sure, I liked the game, but I loved the look. As anyone who has ever played football knows, though, the helmet is far more than a piece of eye candy. More than an accessory, it is a life-saving device. Playing football without a helmet is about as safe as surfing in a hurricane . . . do it long enough and your life won’t be so long! Therefore, before each practice I would arm myself with that helmet and head “into battle.”
In 1 Peter 4:1, Peter invites all of us into the victorious Christian mind. The mindset found here is not original – it is borrowed from Jesus Christ Himself. Though He experienced persecution and struggle in His earthly life, Jesus maintained a life of perfect and total obedience to the will of God. Jesus did not fear what the world wanted Him to fear (1 Peter 3:14), but instead sought to obey God at all costs. Though it would eventually cost Him His earthly life, God would glorify Jesus and lift Him up, placing Him in authority over all things (3:22). This mindset of following God regardless of the cost, trusting for God’s greater reward is the mindset Christians are to “arm” themselves with today.
1 Peter 4:1 says this, “Therefore, since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.” In the first half of that verse, believers are called to “arm” themselves with the attitude of Christ as they seek to live a holy life. The word “arm” in the original language is used only here in the entire New Testament. Outside the New Testament, this word was used to refer to a soldier putting on their armor for battle. It is not advisable for a football player to play the game without being “armed” with their helmet. In the same way, it is not advisable for a Christian to try to live a holy life without “arming” themselves with Christ’s attitude. Jesus knew there would be opposition to His radical obedience to His heavenly Father, but He persisted in obedience anyway, trusting that God would provide a greater reward. If Christians are to stand a chance today at living a life honoring to God, they must strap on this same perspective.
Our greatest hopes as Christians at times revolve around seeing victory in some area of weakness. For some this means finally being free from an addiction to pornography. For others it means resting in their beauty in Christ, instead of their waist size. For still others it means being more generous with the money and resources at their disposal. When confronted with these issues (and many others) our great desire is to see obedience show forth from our lives. What this passage reminds us of, though, is that one of the keys to obedience is to arm ourselves with the mindset of Jesus as we seek to obey. Far more than just a mental accessory, arming ourselves in this mindset is essential to our survival in obedience. When we have strapped on His attitude, then our obedience flows out from underneath for all to see.
In many areas of the Christian life, obeying Christ will not lead to an immediate improvement in circumstances. In the short-run, following Christ might lead to short-circuiting a carnal desire. If our mindset is anchored only in the moment, then many times we lack the necessary perspective to take the self-denying step into obedience. However, when we are armed with the long-term attitude of Christ, we can deny ourselves in the moment knowing that God is being honored as we lay up for ourselves treasure in heaven.
- For the Christian, Jesus’ death on the cross provides us with many things. In 4:1 Peter indicates two of the things that Jesus’ death provides. In the first part of the verse, Jesus’ death is lifted up as an example for believers to follow. What is the example that believers can follow when it comes to Jesus death on the cross? In the second part of the verse, being affiliated with Jesus death allows believers to be “done” with sin. What do you think this means? (see also Romans 6:1-11 for a parallel passage)
- Coming into a relationship with Jesus Christ inevitably leads to noticeable life change (4:2-3). In your own life, what kinds of things have changed since you began living “for the will of God” not “evil human desires?”
- Peter notes that this life change could cause you difficulty with those who knew you in your pre-Christian days. According to 4:4-5, what is the reason for the abuse they give you? What perspective does Peter share to encourage us to stay true to the faith when our friends may reject us (4:5)? Have you ever experienced anything like this?
- NOTE: 4:6 is a difficult verse to understand. One of the big interpretive questions in the verse is “who are the ‘those who are now dead’ who had the gospel preached to them?” This passage does not mean that people who were already physically dead were preached to. It simply means that some who are now physically dead were preached to while they were still alive. By the time Peter wrote the book of 1 Peter, the original audience would have already seen some of their Christian friends die a physical death. These were people who had the Word “preached to them” while they were still living, but had since died. When any of us die physically, there is a sense in which our bodies are “judged” (like all men’s bodies) as being tainted by sin and unfit for eternity. Even though our physical bodies die, if we know Christ our spirit lives on in the presence of God.
- From 4:7-11, Peter again talks about some of the keys to having good relationships with others . . . particularly inside the church. What are some of the commands Peter gives in these verses about relating to one another? List them here.
- In what way does “love cover over a multitude of sins” in your relationships with others? Is there a relationship in your life right now that would benefit from practicing this command?
- “Hospitality” literally means “an active love for others/strangers.” In what ways have you seen Christians show hospitality? In what ways can you show hospitality without grumbling?
- 4:10-11 talk about putting your spiritual gifts into practice so that you can serve others. In what ways do you think God has gifted you for service? How can you serve in such a way that God receives the glory (4:11) and not you?
In every field, there are both simple and complex issues. In the field of Mathematics, there is simple arithmetic and complex calculus. In medicine, there are common colds and intricate auto-immune disorders. In finance, there is balancing the checkbook and investing in hedge funds.
In Bible study and theology, the same simple/complex dilemma occurs. Some verses of Scripture are easy to understand and apply. I Thessalonians 4:3-5 is an example of a simple to understand verse: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God.” These verses are straight-forward and easy to understand both their meaning and application.
There are other passages of Scripture, however, that are not quite so clear. 1 Peter 3:18-22 is one of those complex passages of Scripture. Cryptically these verses read in the NIV, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the spirit, through whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand with angels, authorities and powers in submission to Him.” This passage is quite difficult to understand and apply. In order to help facilitate further understanding and application, I am going to share my thoughts on this passage here to continue a dialogue on these verses. I would love to know what you think!
The overall context of this entire section of 1 Peter has to do with Christians suffering and being persecuted because of their faith in Christ. In 2:13-25, Peter encourages Christian citizens and slaves to persist in doing good, even if they are persecuted, following the example of Christ (who suffered on the cross unjustly, but remained silent and in fidelity to His Divine calling.) 3:1-7 continues this line of thinking, and applies it to wives who are living with unbelieving spouses. They are to persist in doing good and faith, even if they experience difficulties with their spouse as a result. 3:8-17 continues this discussion by admonishing Christians to persevere if they are suffering because of their faithfulness to Christ, knowing that Christ will exalt them eventually. At the end of this discussion comes our perplexing verses on Jesus and His preaching ministry in Noah’s day. Understanding this context should help us interpret the correct meaning of these verses.
Noah lived in a time when all the humans on the planet were living in direct rebellion against God. In fact, things were so bad that God had decided to flood the earth, sentencing all humanity to death if they did not repent of their sin, and embrace the only life-saving measure God allowed at the time: getting on Noah’s ark. In the end, only 8 people (Noah and his family) heeded God’s direction and got on the ark. In the process of building that ark, Noah and his family experienced insults and ridicule. Once the flood began, however, they were vindicated and experienced salvation. As Peter wrote this letter to the persecuted church of Asia Minor, he thought of an interesting parallel between Noah’s experience, and the experience of the first century church. Like Noah, the early church had received by faith the saving message of salvation (for Noah – the boat, for the first church – salvation through Jesus Christ). Like Noah, the early church had been charged with sharing this saving message with the world around them. Like Noah, the early church was ridiculed and persecuted because of their beliefs. I believe Peter used this illustration to remind the early church (and by application us as well) that though we may be mocked for our faith today, eventually, it will lead to the salvation of our souls and our eternal vindication.
“OK, so that may explain why He used the example of Noah, but what about Jesus preaching to the imprisoned spirits? What’s that all about.” I’m glad you asked! I think that 3:19 refers to the fact that Noah’s preaching ministry during the construction of the ark was something that was done in the spirit of Christ. In other words, Jesus was imploring the world through Noah to be reconciled to God. This reminds me of 2 Corinthians 5:20 which says of all Christians, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” On Christ’s behalf, Noah was making an evangelistic appeal to the dying world around Him.
Now, this is certainly not the provocative interpretation you may have heard before concerning these verses. You may have heard before about Jesus going to hell between His crucifixion and His resurrection to preach to people there who had died during Noah’s flood. While this is an interesting and thought-provoking concept, I do not believe it is what this passage was intending to communicate. Again, the overall context helps us to understand this. The whole context of this section was to encourage Christians to maintain their testimony in the midst of persecution. Noah’s experience of speaking the message of Christ to a dying world was far more analogous and relatable to the early church than Jesus’ preaching ministry in Sheol before His resurrection on the third day. Additionally, no place else do we get this notion of “preaching to the dead.” For these reasons, I think it is best to understand Noah’s preaching ministry as being Christ’s ambassador in that setting. Believers today are called to be His ambassador in hostile settings as well.
Think about this for you today. Are you living out your Christian faith in a hostile environment? Do those you work with, live around, or are related to mock you for your faith in Christ and attempt to tear you down? Have you ever considered that in those situations Christ wants to speak through you to call them into a relationship with Him? Do you remember that even though life is hard, Christ has promised to exalt and vindicate us eventually? These are some of the questions we live out in our complex lives. Thankfully, the answer Christ seeks from us in response to these questions is quite simple. He will preach through you and He will exalt you as you persist in faith.
- In 1 Peter 3:8, Peter gives 5 summary commands to help guide our interpersonal relationships. What stands out to you most about these five commands? In what way do these five characteristics mark your life? Is there a particular area where God is encouraging you to grow?
- In 1 Peter 3:9-14, Peter challenges believers to not respond to evil with evil, but to respond to evil with blessing. Bible Scholar Warren Wiersbe notes that people have three possible ways to respond to those around them: 1)Respond with evil when others do good to you (the Satanic Way). 2)Respond with evil when people treat you evil, and good when people treat you good (the Human Way). 3)Respond with good when people treat you evil or good (the Divine Way). Why do you think that God wants His people to respond to evil with good?
- 1 Peter 3:15-16 are maybe the most memorized verses in the book of 1 Peter. In the overall context of 1 Peter 3:8-22, why would someone ask a Christian about their lifestyle? If someone asked you why you had hope in life, how would you answer them?
- 1 Peter 3:18-22 resumes the example of Jesus Christ. Particularly in 3:18 and 3:22, what is the point Peter is trying to make for believers who are suffering because of their faith in Christ?
- 1 Peter 3:19-21 are some of the hardest verses to interpret in the New Testament. Why do you think Peter uses the example of Noah here? What do you think it means that Jesus preached to the imprisoned spirits at the time of Noah (3:19)? What is the significance of water baptism for the believer according to these verses? Do you see any applications for your life from these difficult to understand passages?