One of the biggest questions followers of Jesus ask is: how much should we be in the world, exposing ourselves to the world, participating in activities or behaviors that are considered normative in the world?
And by contrast, how much should we remove ourselves from the world? Which behaviors should we stop?
How much should we play video games, watch movies and TV, and which ones? Should we trust the ratings systems? Is it okay for 13 year olds to watch PG13 movies, for example?
And what about the many varieties of food, drink and drugs available to us, for our pleasure? How much of that should we partake of? As substances like marijuana become legal, should we partake?
What clothing should we wear? How much skin should we show? What is modest?
This was as big a deal for the earliest Christians 2000 years ago as it is now. How do we be in the world, but not of it?
Where it really gets tricky is in the area of friendships. If you are a follower of Jesus, and you have friends who are not followers of Jesus, how much should you do what they do?
As we continue in 1 Peter, we have arrived at chapter 4, and Peter addresses these issues.
In verse 1, the NIV’s “arm yourselves” is a great translation of the word Peter used. It truly has military overtones! Think of soldiers preparing for battle. Strapping on bullet proof vests, helmets. Lacing up boots, attaching a knife, grenades, ammunition and of course their gun. A backpack with all kinds of equipment. They are ready for battle. No doubt Peter is talking to those early Christians this way because he sees that they, too, are in a battle, but it is not a military battle.
So how should followers of Jesus arm ourselves? How should we get ready? What equipment do we strap on? The attitude of Jesus.
What was his attitude? It is most clearly described in a place called the Garden of Gethsemene, just a short walk outside the city of Jerusalem. Jesus was there on the night of his arrest, praying with his disciples. Remember his prayer? It was intense. He knew that his arrest, beating and death were right around the corner.
How would you feel if you knew that within hours you would be severely beaten, falsely tried, and killed? I would be freaking out. While Jesus was definitely emotional, he wasn’t losing control. The anxiety was massive. And yet what did he pray? “Father, not my will, but yours be done.”
In the face of severe bodily harm, Jesus remained 100% committed to do the will of God. That is the attitude Peter says we should arm ourselves with.
Why? Because, Peter says, “he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.” But what does Peter mean when he says suffering in the body will lead to being “done with sin”?
Peter’s flow of thought from 3:18 all the way through 4:6 has Christians in mind, and how Christians can handle suffering. In other words, he is saying, “Christians, when you suffer, it puts things in perspective.” You’ve maybe experienced that yourself. When you go through a hard time, you realize so quickly and clearly what really matters in life.
When you are suffering, you’ll realize that your previous sinful choices were so wrong. We might even call this the process of sanctification. Sanctification is a big long Christian theological word that refers to the process of being set apart for God. During that process of being set apart, we are being shaped and changed, so that gradually we act more and more like Jesus would. All disciples of Jesus are undergoing this process, where the Spirit of God, if we allow him, is at work in us. What we find is that suffering, as painful and difficult as it is, actually grows us faster and more deeply, when we allow it.
Unfortunately, some people do not allow suffering to shape us to become more of what God wants us to be. Some people wallow in their suffering. You know the Eeyore syndrome? That’s when, instead of sitting in the suffering and listening to what God might want to teach us, we have a pity party. Poor me. We followers of Jesus should not approach suffering like Eeyore. Instead, Peter says, we should have the attitude of Jesus, to follow God’s will no matter the difficulty.