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1 Peter 4:1: Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; (Emphasis added)

  1. What suffering of Christ is this verse talking about?

  2. What does it mean when Peter says 'if we suffer in flesh we are free from sin'?

  3. How can we suffer in flesh?

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To answer the question I think we need to need to consider the whole verse and its context.

Our English translations begin with “therefore” (οὖν), which suggests that Peter is drawing a conclusion from the previous verses (vv.18–22), where Peter writes about Christ’s victory over hostile powers through his death and resurrection.

The connection between the two sections appears to be this: Since Christ’s suffering is the pathway to glory, believers should also prepare themselves to suffer, knowing that suffering is the prelude to an eschatological reward. The main point of the verse is that believers are to arm themselves (hoplisasthe) with the willingness to suffer.

Now notice the imperative verb "ὁπλίσασθε", which translates “arm yourselves.” It has obvious military connotations, and in the Bible the Christian life is frequently compared to the life of a warrior (Rom 6:13; 13:12; 2 Cor 6:7; 10:4; Eph 6:11–17; 1 Thess 5:8) This martial language indicates that discipline and grit are needed to live the Christian life, particularly in view of the suffering which believers encounter. Indeed, believers must arm themselves with the “attitude” (ἔννοιαν) that suffering is inevitable.

The first clause in the verse explains the reason the reader should expect to suffer. Christ also “suffered in the flesh.” The wording here seems to refer back to v.18, where both the verb “suffer” (ἔπαθεν) and the noun “flesh” (σαρκὶ) occur as well. This verse reads:

"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18 NKJV).

This brings us to the answer of your first question. The suffering of Christ is the suffering he endured upon the cross as he was put to death for our sin.

Notice by way of further evidence that in both of these texts Peter links the suffering of Christ to the suffering of his readers. Notice as well that as we read on, Peter acknowledges a distinction: Our sufferings and Christ’s sufferings are not exactly the same. Christ’s suffering here focuses on his death, as in 3:18 and 2:21–24, but Peter does not imply that our suffering will involve a similar death. In 2:21–23 Peter tells us that Christ’s suffering is an example for believers, providing the pattern they should imitate.

“For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.”

This brings us to the answer to your third question. "Suffering in the flesh" refers to suffering experienced in this physical dimension of life. It is similar to Christ’s suffering, but it may not be unto death, which suggests to me that believers are expected to suffer for the sake of the gospel just as Jesus did.

The most difficult part of the verse is the last phrase (and this is your second question),

“. . . for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.”

Notice again the word “flesh” (σαρκὶ), which preserves the connection between Christ’s suffering and believers' suffering. There is debate, however, regarding the reason for this connection. Three different interpretations are quite possible. (Achtemeier mentions a fourth; namely, that one’s suffering atones for sin. He rejects this as incompatible with Petrine theology (1 Peter, 279).

  • First, Michaels (1 Peter, 226–29) and Hillyer (1 and 2 Peter, Jude, 120) (cf. Richard, in 1 Peter, Jude, and 2 Peter, 167–68) suggest the one who suffered could be identified as Jesus Christ. Similarly Bechtler says the verse is ambiguous and both Christ and believers are in view (Following in His Steps, 196–98).

    The objection to this view is that Jesus never sinned (cf. 2:22; 3:18), so how could it be said that he had ceased from sin? This view does, however, deal with the problem of human beings becoming sinless in this life. The need to posit Christ as the subject can be eliminated if we show that there are plausible ways of speaking of Christians as ceasing from sin and yet not being sinless. Both of the following interpretations fit this requirement.

  • Second, according to Calvin, (Catholic Epistles, 121), Beare, (First Peter, 153), Dalton (Proclamation to Spirits, 244–48), Kelly (Peter and Jude, 168–69), and Cranfield, (I & II Peter and Jude, 108), he who suffers in the flesh is a Christian, but his or her suffering should be understood in terms similar to Rom 6:7,

    “Anyone who has died has been freed from sin.”

  • In Romans, chapter 6, believers died to sin by being baptized with Christ in death. Moreover, the dominion of sin has been broken in the lives of those who have died with Christ.

    The advantage of this interpretation is that it agrees with Paul and sensibly explains how believers cease from sin. The systematic theologian finds this interpretation attractive. That interpretation should be rejected, however. The context of both Romans and 1 Peter are quite different. In Romans 6, the believer “dies” with Christ, but no such language is used in 1 Peter. Indeed, as we have already seen, the word suffered in v.1 should be equated with dying. As Elliott argues, Paul spoke metaphorically of dying with Christ, whereas Peter had actual suffering in mind (in 1 Peter, 716). The notion here is not that believers have died with Christ but that they should follow Christ in their daily lives by consenting to suffering. Furthermore, Peter, unlike Paul, did not use the word sin (ἁμαρτίας) to designate a power. The word sin in Peter refers to acts of sin (cf. 2:22 and 24; 4:1 and 8).

  • The third interpretation seems to be the most persuasive. This one is presented by men like Grudem (1 Peter, 167), Schweizer (“1. Petrus 4, 6,” 84), Omanson (“Suffering,” 445–460), Achtemeier (1 Peter, 280), and Bigg (Epistles of Peter and Jude, 167). They all posit that “he who has suffered” refers to believers and relates back to the imperative to prepare themselves for suffering.

    Peter explained why they should prepare themselves to suffer; namely, their commitment to suffer serves as evidence they have made a clean break with the life of sin. Peter is not suggesting that believers who suffer have attained sinless perfection. Nor is he suggesting that suffering itself has some power to break the inclination to sin. Rather, Peter is emphasizing that those who commit themselves to suffer for the sake of the gospel demonstrate they have triumphed over sin. In other words, their commitment to suffer reveals a passion for a new way of life, a life that is not yet perfect but is nevertheless remarkably different from the lives of unbelievers in the Greco-Roman world.

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    This is an excellent answer, and one that deserves better formatting than I was able to give it(I cleaned up some glaring mistakes). I hope you continue visiting us as you bring clarity and resourcefulness in your responses. :) – Tau Feb 17 '15 at 20:37
  • I thought that the suffering of Christ refers to the daily suffering as mentioned in here: Hebrews 5:7 - 8 Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; – One Face Feb 18 '15 at 0:11
  • I also think that the second question can be further understood in the context of: Hebrews 12:4 Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. Nice answer though. – One Face Feb 18 '15 at 0:16
  • @Tau happy to have the edits. I am dyslexic so when I proof read what I have written I actually 'see' what I meant to write therefore any help is presenting my answers in a clearer fashion is really appreciated. – Jonathan Chell Feb 18 '15 at 13:37
  • @C Rags I would suggest that the 'suffering' in Hebrews 5:8 is also predominately his death, look at v9 "And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him." This verse puts Christ's 'suffering' into a soteriological context – Jonathan Chell Feb 18 '15 at 13:42
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As one who has suffered physical pain beyond description I would add a few thoughts. The early Christians suffered much physically, as do many persecuted Christians today. However, in the West we are largely free from persecution but not free from sickness and harm.

My experience is that pain brings about an incredible closeness to the Lord. When handled with faith and trust it leads us into His arms. At the same time it creates very stark realities of choice between turning toward sin such as anger and away into trust as the painful suffering dominates all thought.

Furthermore, it creates a big question. Lord, why me? Listening to the answers and pursuing scripture leads down some interesting paths. Scripture makes a lot of links between sin and sickness and suffering. Taking care not to become guilt ridden and demoralised, this knowledge gives a real incentive to cry out to the Lord to reveal any offensive or wicked way in me. From my experience, because of the pain and the fact that my life depends on finding healing, I have a huge incentive to be done with sin. This makes me far more ready to deal with deep issues of sin and character that I would normally ignore.

My experience of this scripture affirms its truth, I am changing at a deeper level with suffering, than I would without it.

As with many scriptures, they become alive when experienced much more so than when studied.

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With great sympathy for the writer's suffering above I humbly refer to Isaiah 53:5 "by his stripes we are healed". The physical healings that Jesus performed were clearly a fulfillment of this prophecy according to Matt 8. Our physical healing from sickness, injury and pain are a finished work on the cross! As is our victory over sin.

I believe that Christians are called to suffer for the cause of Christ but of the 13 Greek words in Scripture used for suffering they always refer to the sufferings of Christ our to the persecution of believers. The Greek word for sickness is used 56 times and in every case there is healing or divine visitation. James 5:13-16 also differentiates between affliction and sickness:. The afflicted are to pray and the sick are to follow a specific process for healing. I have seen this work mightily in our son's healing of cancer. (Read my book on Amazon- Honey from the Rock). I believe 1 Peter 4:1 is a clarion call of grace. We are not called to equip ourselves with suffering but with the mind of Christ. Our identification with him brings us freedom from sin. Because we are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus we are clean, holy, and perfect before God. When we believe this and confess it (the word of faith is nigh thee even in thy mouth) sinful thoughts, habits and words stop. There is power in being sons of God (John 1:14). God bless you!

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  • Welcome to BHSE! Please make sure you take our Tour. (See below left) Thanks – John Martin Aug 15 '19 at 1:56
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Yielding and submitting to the holy spirit helps us daily as we confront the challenges and trials that comes our way, allowing the grace that is available through christ to help us endure the pain as we continue in him.

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