Reflection and Discussion
Read through the complete passage for this study, 1 Peter 3:8–4:19. Then review the questions below concerning this section of 1 Peter and make your own notes. (For further background, see the ESV Study Bible, pages 2410–2412; available online at www.esv.org.)
Community Life as Witness (3:8–22)
After addressing submission in the realms of government, vocation, and marriage, Peter insists on the importance of unity within the church. Read Ephesians 4:1–16 and reflect on why church unity is so important. According to Peter, what are four marks of unity? Why would these marks foster greater togetherness? In what ways do you need to grow in these four areas?
In 1 Peter 3:9–12, notice how this radical, familial unity produces people who bless when hurt. Read Genesis 12:1–3 and observe the blessings God promises. What happens when Abraham is blessed by God?
Blessing transfers the favor we receive onto others. Repaying evil for evil, on the other hand, refuses to show favor and insists on keeping score. Can you think of ways this mentality has worked against unity in your relationships? What steps can you take to be more of a blessing?
According to verses 9–12, why should we commit to being a people who bless others, especially when it is hard? How do our interactions within the church affect our witness outside the church?
Verse 15 is often used to justify a rational defense of the gospel that can at times lead to sharp and demeaning comments toward others. How do verses 14–17 challenge that approach, without invalidating the need for a rational defense? List the winsome ways in which we are to give a reason for our hope.
How does the imperative to “honor Christ the Lord as holy” affect the way in which we defend our faith to others, especially those who are hostile?
In verse 18, Peter grounds our winsome suffering in Christ’s unique work. What is it about Jesus’ work in this verse that motivates winsome suffering together? Why should this lead to blessing others instead of keeping score?
Verses 18–22 have puzzled commentators. How did Christ preach to “spirits in prison”? One popular view is that Jesus descended into hell, where some evildoers from Noah’s time were kept, and preached the gospel to them, giving them a second chance at salvation. However, the text refers to “spirits,” which when used in the plural is typically reserved for angels. Read Jude 6 to determine who the spirits in prison are.
Now, consider the fact that the word “proclaimed” does not necessarily imply a gospel presentation but can also be used to mean proclaiming something else (Rom. 2:21; Gal. 5:11; Rev. 5:2). In light of 1 Peter 3:22, what might Jesus have proclaimed to the spirits in prison?
The resurrection and ascension of Jesus results in victory over evil and salvation for the repentant. How does the Noah episode symbolize what Christ accomplished? How does baptism mirror this? What gives us a clear conscience before God?
Ceasing from Sin (4:1–11)
Peter returns to the theme of Christ’s suffering, but this time he considers its implications for holiness. According to 4:1–2, what is the connection between Christ’s suffering and our approach to sin? Read 1 Peter 2:24 to help you understand what Peter means when he says we have “ceased from sin.”
Peter exhorts us to arm ourselves with the same way of thinking as Christ. True Christianity requires a militant intentionality to combat the passions of the flesh. Do you need to repent of a passive stance toward sin in general or toward some fleshly behavior in particular? Are you willing to suffer and be ridiculed or “maligned” (v. 4) in order not to sin? Are there sins in this list (v. 3) that you would rather commit than endure ridicule for refusing to participate in?
In verse 6, Peter states that “the gospel was preached even to those who are dead.” In light of the phrase “the living and the dead” in verse 5, this probably means people who heard the gospel while they were living but who are now dead. How should the fact that our deceased Christian friends heard and believed the gospel affect our own perseverance amid suffering and persecution? (In answering this question, consider the last few words of the verse.)
When Peter says “The end of all things is at hand” (v. 7), he puts the Christian life in the context of all of world history. Read 1 Peter 1:5, 10–11 to discern what Peter is referring to as “the end.” With 4:8–11 in view, list the ways that living in the “end times” should affect the community life of the local church.
How to Suffer Well (4:12–19)
In this passage, Peter resumes from chapter 1 the theme of rejoicing in suffering. Why is to “share in Christ’s sufferings” (v. 13) something to rejoice in? When we are suffering, things can be confusing, but on the other side of suffering we gain greater perspective. With that in mind, consider why Peter says that joy will increase when Christ’s glory is revealed.
In verse 15, Peter contrasts sharing in Christ’s suffering with suffering as the result of sin. This warning comes with the threat of judgment. The idea of judgment is not popular today, but without it society would be in utter chaos. All will be judged, the living and the dead (4:17). How should God’s threat of judgment affect how you suffer?
Romans 6:23 reminds us that we all deserve death, yet Jesus bore death in order to extend eternal life to us. How should God’s promise of salvation motivate you amid suffering? How does 1 Peter 4:19 offer you hope for justice amid your sorrow?
Read through the following three sections on Gospel Glimpses, Whole-Bible Connections, and Theological Soundings. Then take time to consider the Personal Implications these sections may have for you.
ONCE FOR SINS TO BRING US TO GOD. First Peter 3:18 says, “Jesus suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” When Peter says that Jesus suffered once, he is surveying the whole of Jesus’ suffering for mankind, culminating in his crucifixion and death. Jesus’ suffering stands as a unique, unrepeatable, all-powerful act. Because of this, we do not have to suffer in order to receive God’s favor, earn his forgiveness, or enjoy his love. The penalty owed for our sinful rebellion was fully and finally paid by Jesus on the cross. However, this was not merely a spiritual transaction. The text tells us that its purpose was to bring us to God. The word “bring” means “bring into the presence of.” When a leper was removed from Israel’s camp so as not to contaminate the community, he had to be inspected for healing before returning to the community and its worship. The leper was “brought into the presence” of the priest for approval and readmission. Similarly, Jesus’ mediatorial work brings us into the personal presence of God, whole, healed, and fully admitted into the fellowship of the Trinity.
COST OF DISCIPLESHIP. Throughout this passage Peter challenges us to follow Jesus even when it causes us to face ridicule and scorn. He asks us to be willing to suffer rather than sin. Peter knew there was a cost to following Jesus. If we are unwilling to lose a friend for following Christ, we are following our friend, not Christ. When we follow sinful passions, we act as though Christ had not made us dead to sin and alive to God. As a result, our sense of self gets bigger while God grows smaller. Sacrifice becomes undesirable and we drift further and further from Jesus. This cheapens grace. What the world needs today is not more intelligent or more gifted people but more unimportant people, ordinary people who are completely “taken” with an extraordinary Christ. The world desperately needs those who are willing to follow Jesus, no matter the cost, so that others can see what they have seen—the God to whom belongs glory and dominion forever and ever. This is costly discipleship in light of precious grace.