“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” (1 Peter 4:1).
Before surgery, most people ask the doctor what kind of pain they will experience after surgery, and what will be the recovery time. This helps them to mentally prepare for what lies ahead.
In this passage, Peter is helping the believers to prepare their minds for suffering. They are to do this by reflecting on Christ’s attitude towards suffering. In the first place, Christ knew that He was going to suffer, and He willingly embraced it. In John 12:27, when He knew that His hour was drawing near, He said: “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.” As disciples of Christ, we have been called to deny ourselves, carry our cross and follow Him. We shouldn’t expect a better treatment from the world than what He received (Matt 10:25). In the second place, Christ not only willingly embraced suffering, but He looked beyond the cross to the reward. As it tells us in Hebrews 12:2, “.. who for the joy that was set before him [He] endured the cross, despising the shame..”. The joy that was set before Him was of bringing many sons and daughters to glory (Heb 2:10). We too must keep the prospect of being with Jesus in glory before us.
If we arm our minds with the attitude of Christ and rely upon Him in the time of trial, we will be kept from sinning. Peter reminds us (in 4:1c-2) that “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.” Having been united to Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection, we have been delivered from the enslaving power of sin and can now live a life that is pleasing to God, in the power of the Holy Spirit; so we don’t need to give in to the flesh when we suffer.
Peter then reminds the believers that their new life of obedience to Christ will cause some of their former worldly buddies to be surprised. They will wonder what happened to you. “You don’t drink and party with us any more”; and now that you have rejected their social norms, they will start hating and maligning you. They will go on social media and call you all sorts of names. Here again, we must arm ourselves with the mind of Christ. “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). We must follow the example of our Savior and entrust ourselves to Him who judges righteously. He will settle all accounts on the final day. Peter reminds the believers that their adversaries “…will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead “ (1 Peter 4:5).
The final verse in this section is verse 6, which some commentators have tried to link with verse 3:19 and say that Christ went and preached the gospel to those who died during the flood, somehow giving them a second chance. But we find no support for that in scripture, nor does it fit the immediate context or the purpose of the letter. I believe what Peter is doing here is preparing the believers by telling them that their suffering may lead to death; and if that happens, their spirits will be alive in the presence of God. May the Lord help us, by His grace, to arm ourselves with the mind of Christ, so that we will not sin in the day of trial.