Formations 08.27.2017: Honor to Whom Honor Is Due

1 Peter 4:1-11

Let me tell you about Miss Margaret.

When I was a seminary student, I was also the pastor of a mission church that met in a trailer park in LaGrange, Kentucky. We literally met in a mobile home that the local Baptist association purchased for us and set up on the site. I think our high attendance record was thirty.

Miss Margaret taught the children’s Sunday school class. She was an older lady but still full of energy…and personality! The kids, many of whom didn’t get an awful lot of loving at home, loved her like a grandma. I’m sure she worked at least as hard on her lessons as I did on my sermons. What people probably didn’t know was that Margaret’s life outside of church was a bit of a mess. I won’t go into all the details; suffice it to say there were some unguarded moments when she allowed her almost constant smile to fade and she spoke very forthrightly about her challenges, including her alcoholic husband.

The thing is, I knew that Miss Margaret carried these burdens; she didn’t try to hide it, except maybe from the children. But her burdens didn’t keep her from serving, loving, laughing, giving, and contributing to the life of a little mission church that needed every willing volunteer it could get.

How can our lives honor God? It all comes down to approaching life armed with Christ’s way of thinking (v. 1). Peter applies this way of thinking to such issues as suffering, morality, love, hospitality, and service to one another. In all things, believers must emulate Christ “so that in everything God may be honored through Jesus Christ” (v. 11).


• Whom do you know who honors God through their lifestyle despite the challenges they face?
• What is the connection between Christ’s way of thinking and the behaviors outlined in this passage?
• How do these behaviors lead to honoring God?
• How can our perspective on life shape the way we live?

Reference Shelf

Steadfast in Hope

By means of sermonic material (1:3–4:11) and admonitions (4:12–5:11), this Epistle aims to exhort the readers to be steadfast in God’s grace (5:12), in the face of persecution, temptation, alienation, and social oppression. The readers are encouraged to be constant both for the sake of their witness and for the future hope for what they would receive (and imperishable, undefiled, unfading inheritance; the salvation of their souls; God’s approval; and his blessing: things hoped for which are kept in heaven for those who suffer and persevere for Christ.

Richard A. Spencer, “Peter, Letters of,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 677–78.

How to Behave in the Time Remaining

Second Peter urges his readers to interpret God’s delay in sending Jesus as patience, and reminds them that with the Lord, a day is like a thousand years (2 Pet 3:8-9). But 1 Peter has none of these worries. Like John the Revelator, who also wrote near the end of the first century, 1 Peter anticipates the end coming soon, and believes it has come near. Unlike the Revelator, 1 Peter has no interest in apocalyptic narrative or in revealing how Satan’s power underlies Rome’s government. Instead, 1 Peter wants to focus on what Christians should be up to as the end gets closer.

First: Pray! That should come as no surprise. What might be slightly unexpected, however, is that 1 Peter’s imperative is not “pray!” but “Be self-controlled and stay sober!” 
Having criticized the “Gentiles” for drinking too
 much just a few verses before (4:3), he may 
mean “sober” literally, or he may mean it more
 metaphorically, “stay focused,” as a parallel to 
“be self-controlled.” “For your prayers” reminds 
us that 1 Peter’s objection to the drinking and
 partying was linked to how those celebrations
 honored other gods in “unseemly idolatries.” In
 order to pray whole-heartedly to God, one must approach God with an undivided heart, an uncompromised loyalty.

Second: Love! Back in 1:22, 1 Peter commanded his readers “love one another
 strenuously”; “having strenuous love for each 
other” restates the imperative as a further qualification of what it means to be self-controlled
 and sober. The author wants the Asian believers 
to absent themselves from much of the ordinary
 religious practices of their former lives—the festivals, the parties, the celebrations honoring 
other gods; that is “be self-controlled and sober for your prayers,” since Christianity demands complete commitment to the one true God. Disconnecting from the religious practices that suffused their society would leave the readers lonely—unless they simultaneously strengthened their attachments to other Christians. As at 1:22, this love is “strenuous”
 because it requires effort. To live
 like a resident alien in their own cities and villages takes a lot of courage and emotional 
energy. The readers will need to act in ways that 
their blood relatives and networks of friends 
interpret as “hatred of humanity,” and will
 instead need to act like family toward people
 with whom they otherwise might not even associate.

Richard B. Vinson, “1 Peter,” 1 & 2 Peter; Jude, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2010), 202–203.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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