Have you ever gone through a life change, and that change affected your friendships?
You know who your real friends are when you start changing.
Perhaps you believe new things, or maybe you have shed a long-held belief, and your friends are pushing back. It could be that you have stopped doing something that you and your friends regularly enjoyed, and they are disappointed, even angry with you.
As Peter continues teaching in 1 Peter 4:1-6, he describes how the people he is writing to started following the way of Jesus, and as they moved away from the self-destructive patterns of their old friends, those old friends were not happy. In fact, Peter says in verse 4, “they heap abuse you.”
“Abuse” is actually the word “blaspheme”, which means “to speak against someone in such a way as to harm or injure his or her reputation.” (Louw & Nida)
What Peter is describing could be the persecution those early Christians were facing.
So Peter goes on in verses 5-6 saying that those old friends will have to give account to God for their behavior. Then Peter makes a most interesting statement. He says this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead. Wait? What? The gospel is preached to dead people?
No. Not at all.
Let’s examine this a bit further.
Peter uses the specific words, “preach the gospel.” What is this gospel? Gospel is simply a word that means “good news.” What good news? Last week we looked at how Peter described the good news in 3:18 when he said that Jesus died for our sin, to bring us to God. That is some good news, that people who are separated from God can now be with him.
But that is not the only good news in The Good News. God’s good news is that he is doing a work of rectification, which is a big fancy word that means “making things right.” God wants to set things right in the world.
As Peter has been teaching in this passage, God wants things to be right in our lives. God wants us to move away from self-destructive sinful desires, and pursue his new way.
God’s Good News is not just a transformation of individual people. God also wants to set the world right. And so his good news is good news for all people, all creation. Where there is injustice of all kinds, God wants to set things right.
That good news is what Peter says, “was preached to those who are now dead.” “Was preached” is something that happened in the past. Peter is talking about a preaching that occurred in the past. Not present preaching, not future preaching. Also, the word “now” is not in the Greek. That has been added to help us understand the intent of Peter’s flow of thought. He is talking about preaching that happened in the past, and some of the people who heard that preaching have now passed away. They were alive when they heard the preaching. They are dead now. More than likely they had become Christians while they were still living, after they heard the preaching.
What does this all mean for those Christians reading this letter who are still alive and facing abuse from their friends? While they faced criticism when they stopped their wild living and chose to follow the way of Christ, they can take great comfort that they are now living according to God’s way.
It is precisely at this juncture that some Christians have misunderstood what it means to live according to God’s way in our lives now.
I will never forget my visit to the Ephrata Cloister. They wanted to remove themselves from the world, so they could not be negatively impacted by it. It seemed like they wanted to live God’s way. Except that Jesus specifically prayed in John 17 that God would not remove his followers from the world, but that God would keep them safe in the midst of it.
God doesn’t want us to escape from the world. We can obey God while still living in the world. The issue is not so much about figuring out what God’s will is for the myriad choices of living in the world. Such as, can followers of Jesus watch movies or TV shows or play video games with certain ratings? Can followers of Jesus wear certain kinds of swimwear?
Instead Peter is saying, start from a place where you stop indulging in evil human desires, and start following God’s desires for your life!
Certainly there are times when a follower of Jesus needs to stop or decrease a friendship because that friendship is a negative influence that the follower of Jesus cannot handle. But in most cases, we followers of Jesus can stop indulging in evil human desires while at the same time maintaining genuine friendships with people who are not following Jesus.
So as we think about what Peter has talked about in 1 Peter 4:1-6, how about you? Do you love God?
Have you armed yourself with the same attitude as Jesus, that no matter what goes on in your life, you are committed to do the will of God!
If you are like most of us, you have some of both. You want to obey God, but you also find yourself giving in to evil human desires sometimes as well.
What patterns or habits do you need to change in order to live a life that is line with the way of God?
I encourage you to do what has often been called “soul-searching”. Today is the day, Peter is saying, for us to stop or to begin to learn to stop following evil human desires, and today is the day to start growing our love for God that we might follow his desires for our lives. He wants to change us into people that are different, and that might be hard for some of our friends and family to accept. But God wants to change us into people that obey his desires for our lives, and that is the best way to live.