Self-denial is a difficult, but a godly thing. Better to lose something and keep God, Jesus says, than to keep something and lose God. Yet we live in a self-indulgent time. Nothing, it seems, should stand in the way of what I want. But what are the things of this life in comparison with the things to come? What could we gain in the world which will not pass away? Deny yourselves, Christians, and take up your cross, as painful as it might be, and the angels will rejoice when you lay it down in heaven. Matthew 18:1-11
Peter throughout his epistle emphasizes what it means to live as a Christian in the face of trials. To suffer as a Christian–not just suffering in general–means to share in the suffering of Christ. Nor is this suffering limited to persecution or physical abuse, because the Christian has been separated from the ways of world. “With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you” (1 Peter 4:4). Christians are separated not only by name, but also by their conduct in the world.
After all, “the end of all things is at hand” (1 Peter 4:7). Blessed is the diligent service who is engaged in the Master’s business! Jesus will return at an unexpected hour, and therefore the Christian who lacks self-control indulges in the ways of the world, only to be caught by surprise (Matthew 24:45-51). Further, God alone is the Lord of life and death. He alone knows the number of our days (Psalm 39:4-6). Will that day also catch us by surprise (Luke 12:20). “For what is the hope of the godless when God cuts him off, when God takes away his life” (Job 27:8)?
This is not a matter of being morbid. Peter calls us to be “self-controlled” and “sober-minded.” Part of such self-control is recognizing the reality of the situation. To be drunk is to give way to passion and license. Peter calls for soberness lest the devil catch us unawares (1 Peter 5:8). Paul likens it also to being asleep (1 Thessalonians 5:6). Therefore, it is not limited only to being drunk with alcohol, but also drunk with worldly passions. “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” (1 Peter 4:3). “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).
Nor should this be dismissed as an unobtainable goal. Peter certainly exhorts the elect exiles of the Dispersion to remain steadfast under fiery trials, because the Christian in this life is not perfect nor can be perfect. However, an inability to be perfect because of sin is not an excuse to not strive for the things of God. Self-control, as a fruit of the Spirit, should be sought with all eagerness, especially in distinction to the flood of debauchery which characterizes the world. Failure should be just that, a stumbling, and not a wholesale capitulation.
Therefore, Peter exhorts us to “keep loving one another earnestly” (1 Peter 4:8). After all, Christ Himself says that “by this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Peter exhorts us to “show hospitality to one another,” welcoming one another for the sake of Christ. Finally, the spiritual gifts the Lord has given to His Church should be employed for serving one another as “good stewards of God’s varied grace.” Such gifts are not identical nor in the same degree. Yet in everything “God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness” (Psalm 115:1)!