A COMMENTARY ON FIRST PETER
LESSON #38" 4:17 For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? 18 And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? 19 Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator." (1 Peter 4:17-19 KJV)
The Spirit has been instructing and exhorting the saints concerning suffering. They are not to consider it strange when they are given bitter herbs to eat, and gall to drink-at least not while they are in this world. The world is to us what the wilderness was to Israel when they were en route to Canaan-it is the place of testing and proving. Suffering is to be viewed as testing-a period of refinement, when our faith is tried and refined. Our sufferings are only "if need be" (1:6). They are the arena in which salvation is "received" (1:6-9). But none of us are to suffer as evil doers, or because we have wandered away from God. When suffering "as a Christian," none are to be ashamed, but rather "glorify God in this matter" of suffering for righteousness sake. Our text now reasons with us concerning these realities, telling us WHY they are so. This is foundational reasoning that applies to many things. The Spirit will show us its relevance to the sufferings we endure.
JUDGMENT MUST BEGIN AT THE HOUSE OF GOD
" 4:17a For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God . . . " KJV There is a view promulgated among believers that leads them to expect outward blessing and external prominence in this world. Men are taught they are to always be "the head and not the tail" Deut 28:13) of circumstance, that poverty is "the curse of the Law," and that suffering is an intrusion caused by sin. Our text speaks of suffering "as a Christian" and giving glory to God in that very matter. Now an additional perspective is given.
When God begins to deal with us "as with sons" (Heb 12:7), "THE TIME IS COME." As we will see, God does not deal with all men alike, or at the same time. When He says He is "no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34), it does NOT mean He treats all men alike, as this text will affirm. When we come into Christ, we come to a new time. This is not only a time of general benefit, but one of special affiliation with the Living God.
Some have assumed this text is speaking about the destruction of Jerusalem. That supposition is too absurd for extensive comment. The Jews and Jerusalem are not called "the house of God," nor is it where judgment "began," nor can it be termed "us," as follows. The chastening of God is the particular focus of this text.
God DOES judge the wicked of this world, as evidenced, for example, in Egypt, the Canaanites, the Philistines, and Syria. But He judges His people FIRST. This was true under the Old Covenant. As it is written, "As I have done to Samaria and her idols, Shall I not do also to Jerusalem and her idols? Therefore it shall come to pass, when the LORD has performed all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, that He will say, 'I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his haughty looks'" (Isa 10:11-12). Judgment began "at the house of God." There is where He placed the greatest blessing, and there is where the greatest fruit was to be found. As Jesus said, "For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more" (Lk 12:48).
Another classic example of this truth is found in the ninth chapter of Ezekiel. There God announced His judgment upon His own people. It would be of such fierceness that ears would "tingle" when they heard of it (Jer 19:3). The Lord had invested of Himself in Israel, and was going to bring them into account for not taking it seriously. God spoke to Ezekiel of spiritual beings that had "charge of the city" of Jerusalem (9:1). He called these beings to Himself, telling them to bring their "destroying weapons." These were to wreak havoc in the city, having no mercy on anyone. They were charged, "let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity" (9:5). BEFORE the destruction began, a special servant was told, "Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof" (9:4). These were to be excluded from the destruction (9:6b). A most precise approach was to be taken in the punishment. The men were told "BEGIN AT MY SANCTUARY" (9:6a). In my judgment, the Spirit is particularly hearkening us back to this text. Amos also stated this principle: that judgment begins with the house of God. "You only have I known of all the families of the earth; Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities" (Amos 3:2).
By saying, "the time has come," the Spirit means this principle has been brought to its highest expression in this day. Now that more has been given, more is required. If God had the closest regard for those to whom He committed His oracles, how much more will He have for those who have been forgiven and received His righteousness? He will surely chasten them, as it is written, "But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world" (1 Cor 11:32).
Remember, chastening has to do with partaking of God's holiness, not merely paying a penalty for our sin (Heb 12:10). This world is the ONLY place where purging and cleansing may be realized. When, therefore, we suffer, we are to understand God is dealing with us "as with sons" (Heb 12:7). If He allows the wicked to break forth upon us, it is because we are being refined. If we suffer for righteousness' sake, it is because our reward is "great in heaven." Sufferings are never a mere happenstance. They are one of the means through which God deals with us and brings us to perfection.
IF IT BEGIN WITH US - IF WE ARE SCARCELY SAVED
" 4:17b . . . and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? 18 And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" NKJV If God judges the godly, what will He do with the ungodly? If He is exacting in His treatment of the righteous now, what will be His manner of dealing with the unrighteous then?
When considering the apparent ease the ungodly enjoyed, it caused some confusion for Asaph, writer of the 73rd Psalm. He said he was "envious of the foolish" when he saw their "prosperity" (v 3). They did not seem to have "trouble as other men," but prospered in the world and increased in riches (v 4-12). He, on the other hand was plagued all day long and "chastened every morning" (v 14). However, Asaph's thoughts abruptly changed. He had an experience and consideration that altered his entire view. "Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end. Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction" (vs 17-18). Considering the "end," or conclusion, of the unrighteous will cause their success to appear a snare, and a narcotic that puts to sleep.
Notice, the difference between "us" and "them" is obeying the Gospel. Obeying the Gospel is believing the record God has given of His Son. That faith enables the believer to overcome the world, for perceiving the truth of Christ, and maintaining that perception, causes the world to lose is attractiveness and power (1 John 5:4-11). Those who are overcome by the world do not believe Jesus is the Son of God (1 John 5:5).
SCARCELY SAVED. These are certainly arresting words. On the surface, they seem to contradict expressions like life "more abundantly" (John 10:10), "so great salvation" (Heb 2:3), pouring out the Holy Spirit upon us "abundantly" (Tit 3:5-6), and an "abundant entrance" into the everlasting kingdom (2 Pet 1:11). Some other versions accentuate this seeming contradiction. "If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,"NIV "If it is difficult for the righteous to be saved,"NASB and "If the righteous are barely saved."NLT Some believe Peter is referring to a statement made by Solomon. "If the righteous receive their due on earth, how much more the ungodly and the sinner!"NIV (Prov 11:31).
The meaning of the text is not that we will be "scarcely saved" when we stand before God in the judgment. That is when an "abundant entrance" will be ministered to us, and we will stand "faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy" (2 Pet 1:11; Jude 24). This is referring to our experience in this world, when we are sailing through treacherous waters, as it were, and exposed to storms and various trials of our faith. We are being "tried by fire," and come safely to land, like those shipwrecked with Paul, only by the grace of God (Acts 27:43-44). Even at the judgment itself, we "shall be saved; yet so as by fire" (1 Cor 3:15), passing the test of Divine judgment. Those who speak of a simple salvation are in error. It is no small task to bring those, who were once enemies and alienated in their mind through wicked works, to stand at last without a fault before God. There are siftings and trials in this life, with hardships and difficulties. Only faith is equal to these experiences, and only faith will enable us to stand with joy before the Lord.
With this in mind, "where will the sinner and the ungodly appear?" What will be the portion of those, who have indulged the lust of the flesh, been disobedient to the Gospel, and remained unlike God in their ways and thoughts (Isa 55:7-8)? This is to be weighted in view of the present experience of the godly. Rather than asking, "Why do the righteous suffer?", or "Why do bad things happen to the godly?", there are other questions that should be asked. "If the righteous suffer, then what will be the final end of those who are unrighteous?" "If the righteous are put to the test, will not the unrighteous also be put to the test in the end?" The seeming success of the "sinner and the ungodly" is short-lived. They are in "slippery places," where a split second can change the whole picture, like it did for Herod (Acts 12:22-23). Their sin is putting them to sleep, causing them to think this world is the only world, and this time is the only time. But there is an ultimate "end" to which they will come. It will begin with their appointed death and judgment. If we ponder the present suffering of the saints, we can see the end of the ungodly more clearly.
IN VIEW OF THIS, WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
" 4:19 Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator." KJV How, then, shall we handle suffering? How should we conduct ourselves in the difficulties and sorrows of life? What is our response to be when we suffer at the hands of men for righteousness sake, or in chastening in order that we might be "partakers of His holiness." Let it be clear, this is not suffering that comes because we are evildoers. Rather, it is suffering that is experienced while we are living by faith and walking in the Spirit.
First, such suffering is to be seen as "according to the will of God." The hard times of life are not apart from Divine control. Job could not suffer until Satan was given the right to afflict him. Even then, the affliction was strictly measured, and "according to the will of God." In the first wave of affliction, Satan was told, "only do not lay a hand on his person"NKJV (Job 1:12). The second wave was accompanied with the restriction, "Behold, he is in your hand, but spare his life" (Job 2:6). Therefore, the phrase "according to the will of God" does NOT mean God wants us to suffer. If He has "no pleasure in the death of the wicked" (Ezek 33:11), you may be sure He finds none in the suffering of His children. The meaning is that suffering is bounded by the will of God. Satan can go no further than God prescribes. In suffering, Divine intentions are served. Apart from those purposes, suffering cannot even occur in the people of God. In this case, suffering for righteousness sake, or because we are the children of God, is better than a murderer being put to death.
COMMITTING THE KEEPING OF OUR SOULS. To "commit the keeping of our souls to Him" is to "entrust," or turn our souls over to Him. This does not mean God has no charge of our souls unless we commit them to Him. It does mean this is the secret to God working "all things together for our good" (Rom 8:28). Thus, we will be changed from one stage of glory to another in this world, and finally be "like Him" when we "see Him as He is" (2 Cor 3:18; 1 John 3:2). As childbirth comes through travail, so our conformity to Christ's image comes through suffering (Rom 8:17). Committing our souls to the Lord is submitting to that appointed process. It involves "casting" all our care upon Him (1 Pet 5:7), and trusting in the Lord with all of our heart (Prov 3:5-6).
All of this presumes an acute and cultured consciousness of the Lord and His will. No person who is continually unmindful of the Lord can commit the keeping of their soul to Him, particularly in suffering. Part of knowing the Lord, one of the marks of the New Covenant (Jer 31:34), is the consideration of Him in all of life's circumstances. Both living and dying are approached with this dominating persuasion: "we are the Lord's" (Rom 14:8). A religion, therefore, that robs people of this consciousness, makes it impossible for them endure persecution and chastening. It also deprives them of the strength to commit the keeping of their souls to God.
God has pledged Himself to "keep" those who rely upon Him. The 121st Psalm says it this way, "He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; The LORD is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, Nor the moon by night. The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul"NKJV (vs 3-7). He is abundantly able to keep us from "falling", or stumbling (Jude 24). Those who commit the keeping of their souls to Him have this promise, "For the LORD will be your confidence, And will keep your foot from being caught" (Prov 3:26).
There is a perception of the Lord that is possessed by those who trust him to keep their souls: "a faithful Creator." The idea is that God faithfully protects and preserves what He has created. Remember, those in Christ are a "new creation" (2 Cor 5:17). They are "created in Jesus Christ" (Eph 2:10), and their "new man" was created by God "in righteousness and true holiness" (Eph 4:24; Col 3:10). That is the sense of "Creator" in our text, not merely the fact that He created the worlds. However, if a person does not believe the Lord created the heavens and the earth, how could he ever believe God has, in salvation, created a whole new person. The faithful, knowing God has made them, are convinced He can also sustain them, keeping them unto "the end."