What does 1 Peter 4:1-2 mean?
The thought of suffering is prominent in 1 Peter. Peter uses the verb form of “suffer” 12 times in the epistle, and the noun form four times. Three times he writes of the sufferings of Christ (1:11; 4:13; 5:1). Four times he specifically states that Christ suffered (2:21; 2:23; 3:18; 4:1). Twice he states that Christ “suffered for us” (2:21; 4:1), and once that He “suffered for sins” (3:18). If 1 Peter 3:19-22 is treated as a parenthesis, then the link with 3:18, “Christ also hath once suffered for sins” is fresh in our minds as we come to this passage.
As always, when we approach these verses, we must keep in mind all that has been written earlier in the epistle. Christ’s sufferings are intended to serve as an example to us (2:21). He suffered unjustly, suffering for righteousness’ sake, and we are called to do the same. We are not willing to do this by nature. In order to be prepared to suffer when we have done nothing wrong, we need to “arm” ourselves with the “same mind” that Christ had. To “arm” means to put on armor, as a soldier in Peter’s day. We need to be mentally prepared to suffer.
John reminds us in 1 John 3:13, “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.” Paul’s inspired words in 2 Timothy 3:12 assure us, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” Thus, we should expect to suffer as believers.
The words “in the ﬂesh,” used three times in these two verses, as well as in 3:18 and 4:6, simply mean “in a physical body,” with no negative moral connotation associated with the word “ﬂesh.” The most difficult phrase is likely: “for he that hath suffered in the ﬂesh hath ceased from sin.” The ﬁrst question is, who does the “he” refer to? With due respect to all who apply these words to Christ, it seems that the pattern throughout the epistle is to move from the sufferings of Christ to a practical response in the life of the believer. Thus, the “he” would refer to a suffering saint. The willingness of a believer to suffer at the hands of a hostile world for righteousness’ sake is proof that the believer has been freed from the natural tendency to avoid suffering. In other words, the self-pleasing, world-pleasing, sinful tendencies that marked him in unsaved days, have been overcome – he has “ceased from sin.”
We certainly could turn to Romans 6 to ﬁnd positional truth of a similar nature, but it seems, as is characteristic of Peter, that he moves right to the practical outworking of the truth, motivated by the example of Christ, “Who suffered for us.” The words, “that he no longer,” in verse 2 conﬁrm that the ”he” in verse 1 is a reference to the believer. Once, we willingly participated in sin to gain the friendship and approval of unsaved peers. We lived “to the lusts of men.” This should “no longer” mark us. The “rest of” our natural lives (“his time in the ﬂesh”) should be lived with the same desire as the Lord Jesus – “I delight to do Thy will, O My God” (Psa 40:8; Heb 10:7).
Beloved, may the sufferings of Christ “for us” move our hearts to respond to this exhortation to “arm ourselves with the same mind” as Christ had – a determination to live for the pleasure and glory of God, being willing to suffer rather than give in to “sin” and the “lusts of men.”