Who is your favorite preacher? No…I won’t take it personally if it’s not me! 🙂
But, who is your favorite preacher?
What appeals to you about his (or her) approach? Is it because you are big on theology, and they dig deep into the word, even leveraging their immense knowledge of Greek and Hebrew? Or because they are great storytellers—sucking you into their narrative and, as you exit back to reality, you are left with an unforgettable point?
Or maybe it’s their voice? Their execution?
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the “extras” that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
You know, things like "Can I get an amen to that?!"
Now, much of this really is just a question of taste…and just like people should be allowed to have their favorite flavor of ice cream (although everybody knows cookie-dough is best!), there is nothing wrong if one person prefers a Red Bull approach and another prefers to sip his or her sermon like a warm cup of tea with cream and sugar.
Well, there are definitely times that the method does reflect on the message…but the overall point is still legit…it’s fine to prefer the style of one preacher over another.
Topical Versus Expository
However, beyond questions of delivery style there are those in Christendom who are convinced that there is only one correct approach to a sermon…it is called expository preaching. They believe every week the talk should be on a passage of Scripture…and that over the years the minister should bring his congregation sequentially through the pages of the Bible.
There is much to be said for this technique—it clearly points people to the ultimate source of knowledge for a Christian (Scripture) and trusts that God is smart enough to provide what we all need in its pages. Its commitment to honest exegesis—getting from the Bible exactly what it says (and only what it says)—is more than commendable.
However, you may have noticed my preaching method has always been topical. I choose a subject…sometimes even just a significant word…and try to mine Scripture for gems that will help us all see what our Lord teaches on that topic. Often the most difficult part of my job is to decide what not to include…my notes routinely could fill up a whole afternoon instead of just the 30 minutes I shoot for.
Which is better?
I’m not sure I want to get in the fray of which is better…or which one is "right" or which is "wrong"…but it seems to me that most expository preaching becomes topical during its execution…and that any examples of sermons (or sermon-like activity) in the Bible are topical.
But that doesn’t mean expository preaching is wrong…we also don’t have examples of people using Bible software to prepare a sermon and I hope that’s not wrong to do! :-)…So ultimately as long as speakers stay true to the Word and are feeding their flock…I think even this becomes a matter of preference.
Maybe my once-and-only…
Today you may get to hear me preach my first, and perhaps last, expository sermon. This past Wednesday I got a direct message via Twitter from my friend Daniel, who co-pastors a church in northern Arkansas (I guess in Walmart land). He told me he was going to speak on 1 Peter 4:1-6 (he has been expository preaching through 1 Peter for over a year now)…and asked me if I had any thoughts on the passage.
Well, since I didn’t yet have subject…
Did I mention one of the benefits of expository preaching is that it means that a minister never has to worry about having a subject for his talk? 🙂
Well, since I didn’t yet have a subject…I figured I’d go ahead and do this week’s sermon on that passage too. Let’s just say I am glad he didn’t ask me for advice on the previous section in 1 Peter…although we won’t be to avoid it altogether…
Before we look at the passage in question…let’s first talk about 1 Peter as a whole. Unlike Daniel’s congregation, we don’t have the benefit of a year of working through this book before hitting chapter 4…although even with them I suspect there would be great benefit in rereading all of 1 Peter before Daniel speaks this morning. Not only does it help allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, it treats Peter’s thoughts the way he (and God) intended, as part of the larger message of his letter. Peter was not providing stand-alone soundbites for MSNBC, CNN, or Fox News…
However, we don’t have time to read all of 1 Peter right now…so I’ll just encourage you all to take time this afternoon to read it for yourself and ask you to (only temporarily) trust my quick summary of its major themes:
- Persecution and suffering: Peter spends a good amount of time discussing Christian suffering, actually telling us to rejoice when we are subject to it (1 Peter 4:13).
- Christ’s return: Peter keeps pointing his readers to the Second Coming…where we get a reward and others receive judgment.
- Turning from our old ways: Peter reminds us to no longer act like the unsaved…and…
- Proper conduct: Peter gives us guidance how to behave, including with others inside and outside the church. We are to be holy…
- Christ: And perhaps most importantly, Peter reminds us that Christ is our example…that Christ is our reason…
That’s the overall thematic context we have to keep in mind as we switch to focusing on this specific passage…
1 Peter 4:1-6
Without further ado…let’s read the passage together:
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, 2 so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. 3 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. 4 With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; 5 but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 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).
The first thing I said back to Daniel after looking at those verses was, "Wow that’s a doosie of a passage" following it with, "Although…not sure how we can do justice to this passage in just one sermon. :-)"
But I plan on being unjust and only squeezing it into a single sermon…starting with the most difficult verse:
6 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 4:6)
Now, if you had read through all of 1 Peter before reaching verse 6, you naturally would have connected it with 1 Peter 3:18-20:
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.
What does verse six mean by the gospel being preached to the dead, and verse nineteen when it says that Jesus preached to spirits in prison?!
And the answer is…
We won’t know for sure until we get to heaven.
I’d love to be able to tell you exactly what each means, but there are no definitive answers. The appeal of any explanation will depend on the rest of your theology…for instance, if you take the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 as describing holding places for the wicked and the righteous (the latter for saints before Jesus’ death on the cross), then 1 Peter 3:18-20 will appear to be about Jesus heading to one or both of those places.
And that explanation isn’t convincing to somebody like me who thinks the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is…well…just a parable.
But a few more quick thoughts before we leave those verses and head to the rest of the passage we are discussing today.
First, we have to be careful not to spend too much time trying to figure out things that cannot be figured out based on the information we have…or that are of lesser importance. As Paul told Titus, we should "avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless" (Titus 3:9).
Second, although it seems the most natural conclusion, the "spirits in prison" in 1 Peter 3:19 aren’t necessarily the dead who were preached to in 1 Peter 4:6. I’m fairly convinced they are two different groups.
Third, if you do go back and study theories for what is meant in 1 Peter 3:18-20, take a look at the New American Standard Bible’s addition of a single word in verse 19: "in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison." The NASB is considered a very faithful and literal translation of the Bible, so whether or not you personally believe "now" should be added…you should give its inclusion some weight. Jesus could have preached then to spirits who are in prison now.
Fourth, getting back to the verse that’s actually part of the subject of this sermon, Augie’s namesake, Augustine, has some interesting thoughts:
It does not necessarily follow that we should here [in verse 5] understand those who have departed from the body. For it could be that by "the dead" Peter means unbelievers, those who are dead in the soul. Therefore we are not obliged to believe that he refers to hell when he mentions the dead in the next verse [verse 6].1
Not only does Augustine have a legitimate approach…we also can’t forget that even verses 5 and 6 could be using dead in entirely different contexts…and personally it seemed to me that when Peter spoke of preaching "to those who are dead" he was speaking about how those who have passed away were told the Gospel when they were alive.
Finally, let’s all remember that in all of this Peter’s goal was not to describe an intermediate state of the dead where, perhaps, spirits are preached to—if he intended that I suspect he would have been far less ambiguous (although it may have been very clear to the original readers). As someone who has written long articles only to receive nitpicky feedback about something inconsequential to my overall points, I imagine Peter would be disappointed in us if what we remembered most from his missive was preaching in the underworld.
By the way…do you now see why I tweeted to Daniel I wasn’t "sure how we can do justice to this passage in just one sermon"? 🙂
Although that problematic sixth verse has eaten up most of this sermon’s time…let’s quickly go verse-by-verse through the other five.
1 Peter 4:1
First, verse 1:
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,
"Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh"
Notice how Peter, like all the apostles, points people to Jesus.
"Arm yourselves with the same way of thinking"
What was Jesus’ way of thinking (especially while suffering)? Let’s turn to Luke 22:41-42 to find out:
41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done."
And not only that, but I couldn’t help but think of Philippians 2:5-7:
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
If we arm ourselves with Jesus’ "same way of thinking" we will:
- Irreversibly commit to the will of God
- Check our egos at the door and serve our fellow man
1 Peter 4:2-3
The end of verse 1 and verses 2 and 3 seemed an inseparable trio:
for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. 3 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.
"For whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin"
No…Peter is not saying some how flagellation or other forms of suffering keeps us from sinning…or that we have actually stopped sinning.
Instead he is pointing out that if we are truly connected with Christ, who suffered (sinlessly) for us, then we can no longer willingly sin. As Paul notes…
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin (Romans 6:6-7).
Now…I’m not saying there aren’t other valid interpretations for the end of verse 1…but I believe my take makes sense, especially when you look at the two verses that follow it.
"So as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God"
Repentance isn’t just asking forgiveness for our sins…it is turning from them and turning toward God. We give up our fleshly desires 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."
It almost seems Peter here is saying, "You had your time to sin…now move on." His words bring us again to something Paul said to the Romans:
11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (Romans 13:11-14).
Both Peter and Paul are telling us believers that the time is now, not tomorrow, not the day after…for all of us to stop dabbling with our old, carnal, sinful, fleshly nature. To quote Nike, "Just do it!"
1 Peter 4:4
We are in the home stretch of expositional exercise…and this verse probably makes a lot of sense to any of you who used to party a lot, but stopped when the Lord changed your heart:
4 With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you;
Sinners so enjoy…and are so mired…in their sin that they cannot understand why you wouldn’t gladly join them. They think you are an idiot for not taking advantage of all that life has to offer…but we know that "the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18).
So…yes…they malign you…partially because they think you are foolish…but I also suspect that it’s because your righteous behavior implicitly judges their unrighteous behavior…and who do you know likes to be judged?
Just remember, we are promised (in another one of Peter’s missives) that "scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires" (2 Peter 3:3)…ridiculing you for believing in Jesus’ return…"Where is the promise of his coming?" (2 Peter 3:4). However, you and I know that "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).
Just like God is patient with them, hoping they will repent…we should be patient with those who malign us too…hoping they will repent.
1 Peter 4:5
We are left with one final verse…
5 but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
Just like Peter has told us the time is up for us to continue wallowing in the mud of sin, time will be up for everyone when Jesus returns. As we reviewed verse 4 I quoted a lot from a portion of 2 Peter…a section that ends with these words:
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed (2 Peter 3:10).
I know that we all look forward to Jesus’ return…to the end of pain…to the end of tears…to the end of death.
But what is your reaction when you think of what that means for the lost…even those who malign you?
Now "arm yourselves with the same way of thinking" as Jesus…and respond to that question again.
Is it the same answer?
Praise God there will be justice for all…but our hope should be that even those who have treated us worst in this temporal life will join us in the eternal life.
Well, what do you think? Do you prefer expository preaching or topical preaching?
Now…in fairness to expository preaching…since I’ve never done it (or taken a class that teaches the method) I’m sure I haven’t done it justice…
But one thing I can tell you…
But one thing I can tell you is that good expository preaching and good topical preaching both end up pointing you to the same person…
When you go home today…if you can’t get yourself to read all of 1 Peter…at least reread 1 Peter 4:1-6 and then ask yourself what God is trying to tell you with those verses.
Ask yourself if you have armed yourself with Jesus’ way of thinking.
Ask yourself if you have put human passions behind you and are instead following the will of God and living in the spirit.
Ask yourself if you are going to face the judgment alone or with the one who "suffered in the flesh" for you.
D.C. Talk does an awesome version of a Larry Norman song, "I Wish We’d All Been Ready."2 They are singing of the rapture…which I don’t personally think is biblical…but the point of the chorus is just as applicable when it comes to the Second Coming:
There’s no time to change your mind,
The Son has come and you’ve been left behind.
Ask yourself if you are ready.
1Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament XI, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (page 113). ©2000 Intervarsity Press.