Peter seems intent on making us talk about unpleasant subjects, things like obeying the law, submitting to each other, and suffering. He also has negative things to say about things we’d rather be doing, like partying, chasing the Benjamins and generally living large.
Peter appears to have three views about persecution:
- It is inevitable for Christians. People will always suspect the worst of anyone who is different. The Christian “difference” is the standards and nature of Christ which threatens peoples’ conscience. They know, deep down (because God created them with a conscience) that what Christians stand for is right (not that we ourselves are always right) and would rather destroy the messenger than deal with the claims of the message on their lives.
- It is a test of two kinds. How devoted we are to anything can be seen in what we are willing to put up with in pursuit of it. So in that sense it is a test of our faith. But at the same time, only those who are actually serving Christ can be persecuted for Him. In that case its absence may reveal we aren’t following Christ at all.
- It is part of sharing with Christ in all things. This is one of the reasons 1 Peter is considered very “Pauline”. Peter is intimating here what Paul said directly in Philippians 3:10-11. If we want to participate in Christ’s resurrection, we must participate in His life, a life that included suffering.
Some random thoughts about the text (in no particular order):
- When Peter talks about suffering “in the body”, I don’t think he necessarily means bodily suffering, but suffering while we are in the body or alive. There is a lot of suffering that happens without a single physical injury.
- The business about preaching the gospel to those who are now dead does not imply putting a pulpit in a cemetery. There was some concern among Christians that if you weren’t alive when Jesus returned you couldn’t be saved (Paul addressed this topic in 1 Corinthians 15). Peter was assuring them that their loved ones who had heard the good news and believed would “live according to God in regard to the spirit” even though their bodies had gone the way of all human flesh.
- Love does not cover a multitude of sins in the sense that it wipes them out or keeps them from being judged. Consider it more like an ointment that keeps a rash from spreading. Or a pre-emergent weed killer. Love has a calming effect it acts as a salve. Sin finds it difficult to gain purchase in lives filled with love.