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, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but 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. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 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.
The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 4:1-11
Thom’s mom was a potter. He was my high school friend and I spent considerable time at his place. This was in no small part because he had a hot tub on the deck of his quirky house in the foothills of Southern California. Thom’s parents were brilliant aging hippies, and his mom “threw clay.” As you might imagine, the house was filled to the brim with her creations, and there were always more being fired in the kiln.
I came to learn that the kiln was a dicey prospect for the pottery. Often the carefully crafted art would crack irreparably, be discarded and forgotten. But when everything was just so, the clay would dry, the glaze would harden, and another piece would be ready for display.
Peter tells his small congregations that suffering is the kiln that burns away the dross of frivolity. Those congregations were being persecuted, and the law of the land had even begun to encourage it. Being a Christ follower was becoming a culturally dicey proposition. And Peter says something stunning. It is the suffering that more fully unites believers to Christ, and completely changes their view of death and life. It makes them ready to display the Gospel.
Christian folks, says Peter, are not going to fit in anymore. The old crowd that frittered away the time in selfish sinful pursuits wouldn’t feel quite as attractive, quite as alluring. And the old crowd would notice. Then the suffering would begin.
But then Peter says something breathtaking. Our suffering with and for Christ produces hearts and minds that make us want to be self-controlled and sober minded. Rather than generating despair or anger or fear, our suffering begins to give us an eternal perspective, an eternal value system. We no longer chase after things that will be transitory or worthless. It’s a stunning message. Back in Jerusalem, James had already been preaching and writing about the exact same idea.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
In John’s letters to his congregations, this former “Son of thunder” apostle says it this way,
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.1 John 2:15-17
Peter then answers a question that must certainly have come to mind as his letter was read out loud to the folks in his church. “Well, if being a Christian believer means we no longer rush into the debauchery and selfishness that we came out of, what exactly ARE we supposed to do?”
Turn outward, says Peter. Love one another. The Lord God Almighty has given you everything. He has lavished his eternal love on you in Christ, and you are His people forever. Then the practical fisherman Peter tells his congregations what he means when he says love one another.
Think about what God has given you. What experiences have you had, what material goods do you own, where has He sent you? Absolutely all of that can be put to use in Kingdom work. If you’re tempted to shrug or worry that you have no gift, no Kingdom-worthy work to do, Peter gives a clear answer in his usual down-to-earth way. Offer hospitality, speak like a believer, look for ways to serve those the Lord has brought your way. And no part of your life is exempt.
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:10-11
This same focus on loving one another is the clear message that Paul teaches all the churches in his letters. It’s a particularly remarkable message to the church in the city where he would one day be martyred.
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Romans 12:9-13
You have been through the kiln of suffering. So has Jesus. You have been ostracized and belittled. So was Jesus. You have been given eternity and the joy of salvation through the finished work of Jesus. Now, like Jesus, give yourself away in a generous display of God’s transformation of you from a lump of clay to a dazzling example of His work of art.