Sermon Text: 1 Peter 4:1–6
Preacher: Pastor Brian Sauvé

A Joy That Death Cannot Quench

This morning, we have the joy of hearing from our brother Peter in the Scriptures he has given us, and so naturally, I’d like to begin by talking to you about Andúril, Flame of the West, sword of Aragorn, son of Arathorn, heir of Isildur and therefore rightful King of Arnor and Gondor, renamed King Elessar Telcontar, or “Elfstone Strider.” I’m so sorry.

How many stories can you think of where the hero is given or discovers some kind of ancient and powerful weapon, key to his fight against evil? 

Aragorn’s sword, Andúril, reforged from the shards of the sword Narsil, is an example. Or in the same stories, Glamdring, sword of Gandalf from the ancient kings of Gondolin; Orcrist, the sword of Thorin II; Sting, the sword of Bilbo and Frodo. Or Dyrnwyn in The Chronicles of Prydain; Excalibur, sword of King Arthur; Harpe of Perseus, used to decapitate Medusa in Greek mythology. Heck, even that Luke guy in those lame Star Wars things gets the lightsaber.

What is it about the world that gives us this deep urge to want powerful weapons? Why do we write them into our stories? It’s because we know that the word is a field of battle, that there are enemies to cut down and evils to oppose, and that strength is needed to wield weapons to fight. This morning, Peter’s intent is to arm us, to girt us with weapons, to walk into the fight equipped. He would have us be dangerous to our enemies. 

But, as Paul says, we don’t battle with flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities in the heavenly places. And so the weapon Peter aims to put in our sheath is correspondingly not one to use against flesh and blood. 1 Peter 4:1–6,

“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.

With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.”

-1 Peter 4:1–6

So here’s how we’ll tackle this text this morning: I’m going to first summarize the main point that Peter would have us grab onto in the text and show you how I got that summary, then we’ll see in the text what it is that Peter believes will result from our obedience to his instruction.

Girt for War

Here’s that main point Peter would have us grab onto, the overriding principle and instruction we would get if we distilled these 6 verses down to their essence:

Arm yourself with a joy that death cannot quench; arm yourself with a compass bearing to direct every particle of your heart, soul, mind, and strength, so that you can take every thought and impulse and desire captive and make it obey the gospel of suffering and subsequent glory.

Where am I getting that? In verse 1, Peter tells us that “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking…”. Let’s interrogate this section, ask it some questions, to see what it’s telling us. First, What suffering of Christ is Peter referring to?

The answer is in verse 18 of chapter 3. Verse 1 here calls us back to verse 18 of chapter 3—“...Christ also suffered once for sins the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God... Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking.”

Where did Christ suffer in the flesh? The whole narrative of the gospels in particular, but really Scriptures in general, bends towards this suffering—Jesus’ suffering on the cross. The cross is where God suffered in true humanity to save us and bring us to himself, as Peter has already made plain in verse 18 of chapter 3. 

So that brings us to our next question to ask the text, because there’s something about Jesus’ thinking, Jesus’ mindset as he suffered on the cross that Peter wants us to imitate. He tells us to put on the “same way of thinking” as Jesus in his suffering, as if this way of thinking is a weapon. So we need to sort out what that “same way of thinking” is.

What way of thinking did Jesus carry to the cross? What pattern of thought moved Christ to willingly suffer the ignominy of crucifixion, bear God’s wrath for sin? The Scriptures answer this question in a tilt-a-whirl of gospel textures and hues. He suffered:

“To be just and the justifier of those of faith,” Romans 3:26 says.
“To bring many sons to glory,” Hebrews 2:10 tells us.
“To be the firstborn of many brothers,” Romans 8:20 tells us.
“For his friends,” John 15:13 tells us.
“To bring us to God,” 1 Peter 3:18 tells us.
“To put demonic power to open shame,” Colossians 2:15 tells us.
“To do what the law, weakened by they flesh, couldn’t,” Romans 8:3 tells us.

But there’s a verse that tell us why Jesus suffered, specifically what manner of thinking moved Jesus to suffer on the cross, that I think gives us a great, big, categorical reason and manner of thinking that moved Christ to take up his cross that holds all of these other reasons within it, and it’s Hebrews 12:2:

“…for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

-Hebrews 12:2

Jesus mind was girt with joy like a sword as he went to the cross, cutting down every reason to avoid the cross with the smile of future glory and future harvest. And so to every voice that whispered in Jesus’ mind, “Don’t go the cross!” He said, “I must, there is joy unthinkable on the other side.”

“Don’t go the cross!”
“I must, there is the joy of  friends ransomed on the other side.”

“Don’t go the cross!”
“I must, for the joy of being firstborn among throngs of brothers.”

“Don’t go the cross!”
“I must, for the joy of bringing those brothers to glory.”

“Don’t go the cross!”
“I must, for the joy of gloating over the shame of my defeated foes.”

“Don’t go the cross!”
“I must, for the joy of doing what the flesh-weakened law couldn’t.”

“Don’t go the cross!”
“I must, for the joy of God’s holy glory and righteous mercy vindicated.”

The joy set before him in the magnifying of glory is the master reason that holds all reasons. For the joy of salvation and all its fruit, Jesus was willing to suffer death and shame and ignominy.

That joy is the joy of fruit. It’s the joy of the end, or the result of his cross. The cross itself was agony rather than joy, but that agony gave birth to a kind of joy that otherwise couldn’t have been. The mindset that moved Christ to take up his cross was therefore a wholly reasonable one! There was more joy to be had in a life shaped by suffering and subsequent glory than there was to be had in a life of self-protection.

In John 12:24, Jesus compared himself to a seed. If the seed doesn’t die and go to burial, it will never spring up into new life and bear a hundredfold fruit. The mind of Christ in suffering is the mind of a seed, dying; a seed, buried. It’s the mindset that, though fruit and harvest requires blood and death, the harvest of joy outweighs the suffering a billionfold.

So what does it mean that we are to arm ourselves with that same mindset? It means that in every single atom of life, we aim for the joy of a life shaped by death, burial, and resurrection—a life shaped by hard and even painful obedience to God, trusting by faith that he is a God of resurrection. 

We arm ourselves with what Jesus armed himself with in his mortal suffering: Joy. We trust that God is the God who never bids us come and die but to raise us up again more fully and truly alive.

And so Peter would have us say, “I’m ready to die. I’m ready to suffer for the sake of the joy set before me.” Arm yourself thus. 

But why say this, Peter? Why do we need to hear this exhortation? Because nearly every act of obedience to God looks from some angle like loss, like suffering, like something dying—and Peter wants us to see that God isn’t trying to take from us when he bids us to come and die, but rather give to us his blessing.

The Fruit of Obedience

That’s the overriding principle of verse 1. What Peter does after that is to show us what happens as obey it, as we put on the mind of Christ in his suffering like a sword and bring it to bear in the fight we’re all facing.

If you go about girt with this weapon, what will happen? Four things to see in the text:

1. We endanger our own sin (1–3).

Remember, Peter is trying to make us dangerous. He’s intent on arming us. And the weapon he wants us girt with, the mind of Christ, is a weapon that endangers sin. Look again at verse 1,

“…arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.”

What does he mean by saying, “…for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin?” 

This is one of those texts where disagreement is rife, but I think the sense of Peter’s words here is emphatically not that we should seek out suffering intentionally to kill sin, or that Christians who suffer become perfect, but rather that the Christian who takes up the mindset of Christ in his suffering that we just talked about and willingly chooses to suffer for the sake of Christ and the joy of suffering with Christ is making the kind of choice that is antithetical to the choice of sin.

Or to put it another way, if you trust in God’s resurrecting, joy-bringing work enough to die to yourself and even suffer for Jesus’ sake, that is the kind of faith that is poison to sin. You can’t have that mind operating and sin at the same time any more than you can be walking in the Spirit and simultaneously gratifying the desires of the flesh, any more than you can be going left and right at the same time.

Whether or not I have the sense of that verse correct or not, Peter believes that when we take up and arm ourselves with this way of thinking, one of the enemies we declare war on is sin. 

Verse 3 identifies a list of wells that the flesh likes to drink from to seek satisfaction: Free sex, drunkenness, sleeping around, and worshiping false gods—all chasing after the broken GPS of the passions and emotions and desires and longings and instincts of the fallen heart. 

But when God saves us and renews our minds after the mind of Christ, we see these things for what they are: Not glorious streams of thirst-quenching spring water, but fetid pools of death and disease and destruction. 

So when we take up the arms of a gospel-shaped mind, war is declared on sin, and sin falls dead. But listen, this is crucial: In this war with sin, what we’re not doing is never the engine that drives the Christian life. What we’re not doing isn’t the main point, but rather, what we are doing. #2…

1. We get an all-purpose compass bearing for life (2).

See it here in the text, right there in verse 2? 

“…whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.”

Peter just gave us a compass bearing for all of life. There’s a thing we are not living for anymore, and a thing we are living for. We live in the body not for human passions but for the will of God. 

Therefore the will of God—which Peter has just told us looks like being armed with that cross-shaped way of thinking—becomes the compass bearing for everything we do.

This is nothing short of a universal compass bearing in everything you and I will ever do. I walk through life as a husband—where would this compass bearing take me in my marriage? I walk through life as a father—where would this compass bearing take me in my parenting? 

I walk through life as a friend, an employee, a church member, a human being, a neighbor, a citizen—where would this compass bearing, the mind of Christ that laid down life and comfort for the sake of gospel fruit and joy, take me?

Do you see what I mean about what we’re not doing being less the point than what we are doing? The positive aim of fruitful, cross-shaped obedience to the will of God for every part of my life is the main thing, the thing that automatically and necessarily leaves sin behind as I walk in it.

It’s like this: If I’m traveling somewhere glorious, say to the glorious manna of my local Chick-Fil-A, so long as I stubbornly obey my GPS at every turn, I automatically and necessarily  exclude from that journey every other destination of lesser glory, like a salad restaurant or Detroit.

Joyful, fruitful obedience to our duties—those are the galloping horses in front of the cart of life; what you’re not doing becomes what you’re not doing because it is what you’re fleeing from. The focus isn’t on not drinking to excess and gossiping and looking at pornography and being bitter at everyone or short-tempered—no, it’s the pursuit of love, of fruit, of the will of God that drives our lives.

In every situation, I can ask: What is my God-given duty, and how can I pursue obedience to it with joy? Am I believing or acting like this God-given duty is a curse rather than a blessing? How can I arm myself with the mind of Christ, die to my flesh, and therefore see God bring life and joy from that death? And what happens as we follow that death, burial, and resurrection shaped compass bearing through life is that, number three…

3. We look fearlessly weird (4).

What happens—and it happens necessarily as the people of God pursue the will of God by the grace of God—is that we become the Church, peculiar. Verse 4,

“With respect to this, they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

So there’s a kind of suffering we ought to expect as followers of Jesus, namely, that people will think and whisper behind our backs and say out loud that we are stupid. That we are weird. 

Listen: Christians are weird‚ and guess what? That’s a design feature. One of the worst things we’ve attempted in the last century or so of American Church is to try to make this thing not weird. Even in our rush to correct the—very much mistaken!—notion that you’re saved by not cussing, having tattoos, or smoking, we’ve made it seem as if Christians are actually not different at all from non-Christians!

Short history lesson that I think is helpful on this note, and this is important. Modernism from the Enlightenment on down has disenchanted the world, meaning that the rationalistic humanism—that the glory of man is the highest glory and that scientific rationalism is the gospel to get us to that glory—has stripped reality down to a howling waste of a world. 

This is a world with no real purpose, no real meaning, and therefore no real joys, glories, beauties, and goodness, just as it has no real bad, travesties, and evils. Everything in this world just is. Humanity becomes a prisoner to despair in this worldview.

This is, incidentally, why young people are increasingly desperate to find spiritual experiences in nature, New Age, and other vaguely spiritual doorways—they’re reaching for the numinous, for the spiritual, for the God that culture has banished.

Now, what happened is that the modern Evangelical church reacted to the encroachment of modernism with pragmatism. They said, “Ah, we’re losing the people to modernism. Let’s remake the worship of the church in the image of modernism and whatever culturally relevant shape we can think of.”

And so we tried to strip out anything peculiar about our worship, our gathering, our singing, our preaching, our everything. We traded out hymns and Psalms and methods of singing that put the congregation in the primary seat—like choral singing—for music that sounded more like what the radio was playing. 

We traded out longer, expository sermons for lectures that looked more like TED Talks. We traded catechism and kid’s in the corporate gathering for kid’s ministry and handicrafts. Architecturally, we traded buildings that looked like churches to buildings that look like strip malls and car dealerships.

We tried to make it so that a non-Christian could walk into our services and feel completely comfortable. Maybe you’re thinking at this point, “Duh! Of course we want them to be comfortable.” Hear me out: Yes and no.

Yes, we want to be both welcoming and loving and warm—and peculiar, weird, even make someone uneasy. There should be a sharp edge of distinction that visitors feel when they see our worship. They should feel like they’ve stepped out of their culture and time stream and into a different sort of thing.

Believe it or not, there has actually been a wave of young people converting to Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Eastern Orthodoxy. Why? 

Because they are dead tired of the wasteland of materialism, and equally let down by pop-evangelicalism’s shallow, lights/smoke machines/rock band imitations of popular culture. Humans were made for transcendence, for communion with the numinous, for relationship with God.

This is why the worship of the Church has always looked sharply different, peculiar, full of symbolism and ritual, and even ceremonial in contrast to the rest of life. Look through the Old Testament liturgies—you’ll find incense, Psalm-singing, vestments, and ordered ceremony. Look through the New Testament, the early church, and the church up until about the middle of the 19th-century, and you’ll see the same.

The world is disenchanted by modernism and shallow pop-religion. We ought to re-enchant it in our gatherings and in our living. Our worship and our daily walking with should make evident our differentness. Christians are in the business of being bent to the shape of God, not bending God to the shape of our comfort.

So when non-Christians see us at work, at play, at family life, and at church, there should be an air of holy weirdness about us. The weapons of our warfare should show. They should look at us like, “Why do you have that bloody great sword on your belt? Are you one of those LARPers or something?” 

Yes, authentic Christianity is just as weird as—weirder even—than adult men dressing up like they’re in Camelot and fake fighting with foam swords.

And Peter says that we ought to be fearless in our weirdness because we know the world is headed for judgement, that Jesus is coming to judge the living and the dead. When they judge us, we still stand, because One is coming who will judge them. Lastly, #4…

4. We preach our coming vindication even over our own and our friends’ coffins (5–6).

See, what’s happening is that the gospel is advancing through the words and the witness of the people of God—advancing through evangelism, baptism, and discipleship to Christian peculiarity. 

And what’s actually happening as that’s happening is a collision of kingdoms at war, a collision of rival empires. 

The result of the clash is that many are saved, but many reject. And among those many who reject, many slander, many malign, many despise you. And it seems as if there was a specific type of slander, maligning, hatred that the saints in Asia Minor were facing that Peter aims to hearten them against with what he says in verse 6.

Now verse 6 is very tricky, the kind of verse where plenty of strong, mature, brilliant theologians disagree. So I’m going to put the words “I think” in front of my interpretation, here, knowing I could be mistaken. But here’s what I think is going on, and I think Pastor John Piper has one of the best short defenses of this interpretation in his Look at the Book series through 1 Peter, if you’d like more.

I think Peter is anticipating a certain kind of objection and slander that a non-Christian might sling at a Christian if they confess the truth of what he has written in his letter about our hope in Christ. Something like,

“Ridiculous! You Christians keep saying you have a living hope, that you've been raised with Christ. But here’s the thing: You keep dying! You keep having funerals, just like the rest of us!  And we've even killed some of you! So where's you're living hope now, Christian?”

To which, Peter says, not only will they be judged, but the gospel was preached to those of you who are now dead, so that though the mockers judge you in the flesh by their perspective, you're really alive even though they're dead.

See it? He says, “…this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.”

They may be judging you in the flesh according to their perspective—judging the physical stuff they see with their physical eyes—but you know and see by faith that even as our bodies diminish and give out and die and go into the ground, we live. And I mean, truly, authentically, indestructibly live in Christ.

So we glory in the gospel, even as we bury spouse, child, parent, friend, and self, because we are one by faith with the One who has conquered even death.

Full-Contact Fruitfulness

There are a thousand things I could leave you with by way of exhortation from this text, but the one I think we need most is this:  May we need this encouragement.

The Christian life is supposed to be full-contact, all-in obedience to Christ’s great commission. What is the great commission? It is to make disciples of all the nations, baptizing in the name of our Triune God and teaching Christians to obey all the Lord commands.

This cannot be done without arming our minds with the way of Christ, the way of suffering for joy’s sake, for glory’s sake, because the great commission won’t be completed without risky obedience to Jesus, without cost-counting sacrifice, without discomfort and dismay. 

Great commission work is hard work; it means that the gospel must be brought into conflict with the culture of death, with those who are dead and for the sake of those who are dead. This just will result in suffering, friends. 

But one of the ways the Lord has always advanced his Kingdom is through the suffering of his people, whereby they display the very shape of the gospel of suffering and subsequent glory in their bodies. 

May we live in such a way as to make great, big, easy targets for opposition. May we be a tremendously strange people by God’s grace. May we do so armed with gospel-joy, trusting in the God who quickens the dead to life.