The Christian Under Pressure
One of the most important objectives to be realized and soon undertaken by a Christian is that of maintaining a proper relationship to the world. In a very colorful way the book of First Peter teaches us how to live in this world – an often unfriendly and even hostile environment. The Christian is pictured, especially in First Peter chapter four as an individual who is under pressure in this life. I Peter 4:1-6 describes the pressure that comes from former relationships with old friends and old habits which would draw a Christian away from Christ. Verses 7-11 describe the pressure from Christ to conform to the practical demands of Christian discipleship. And, finally, verses 12-19 describe the potential pressure to endure persecution for righteousness sake.
Peter teaches us not to avoid this pressure. We live in a generation where people go to great lengths to avoid discipline of any sort and escape whatever pressure life places on them. But those of us who are Christians are to accept this pressure and are to do so graciously. The book of First Peter teaches us that such pressure tempers and refines our character and makes us worthy to be called Christians.
Peter’s Personal Struggle
Another notable quality of First Peter is its intense and energetic style. The book could have been written by no one less intense than the apostle Peter. The New Testament describes Peter himself as a vivacious and energetic individual. He has been accused, maybe unfairly, of being uneducated and unrefined, especially in comparison to the Apostle Paul. But if Peter lacks the formal education and intellectual reasoning power of Paul he makes up for it in his intense and energetic obsession to stand up for what he believes to be right. The following incidents from the life of Peter illustrate this point:
In his initial acceptance of Christ (Matt. 4:19,20), Peter is presented as a man of action. Jesus is calling him to discipleship. When he sees what has to be done–he does it! Immediately! Simple obedience. There is nothing mysterious or difficult to understand in his response to the call of Jesus.
In Mark 14:29-31 we see Peter described as being very emotionally involved with his ministry. Under pressure from the words of Christ to admit his weakness, he vehemently denied that he would ever turn his back on the Lord.
John 18:10 has Peter physically defending his master. Those who came to arrest Jesus greatly outnumbered the disciples, but the impetuous apostle initiates a battle by drawing a sword (Luke 22:38) and severing the ear of an opponent. (Methinks his aim for the man’s neck simply landed a bit high!) In a previous emotional exclamation Peter had affirmed, if need be, his willingness to die for the Lord (John 13:37). Here he proves that he is willing to do just that.
There are many other passages which illustrate Peter’s spiritual struggle – his triumphs and his mistakes. Having a proper Christlike attitude did not come easy for Peter. Among other faults, he was a chauvinistic believer in his Jewish heritage and had a natural prejudice against Gentiles. But to his credit, Peter always stood ready to accept the necessary correction. For example, after being shamed by his denial of the Lord (Luke 22:61-62), he went out and wept bitterly upon realizing what he had done. Later in his life he was withstood boldly and publicly by Paul in reference to his show of hypocrisy against the Gentiles (Galatians 2:11ff). Surely, the lessons of life were learned the hard way by Peter–through trial and error.
But even though the Bible records Peter’s mistakes, it also records his victories; his refusal to abide in his sins, and his willingness and eagerness to join right back into the work to which he was called. His failures did not hold him back! He picked himself up, dusted himself off (with the Lord’s help), and got right back into the fight.
For these reasons, Peter strikes us a very human character. Like us, he lived in a sinful environment but most of his opposition came from within. Peter struggled to overcome himself. In this respect his lot was cast with the common man. Nevertheless, his thoughts and aspirations centered on something higher, i.e. obeying his Lord and going to Heaven.
1 Peter 4 – The Christian Under Pressure
First Peter chapter four begins with a call to live under the will of God. The text speaks of our two-fold existence as Christians. We know that we are in the world but not of the world. We are truly citizens of heaven. But our life is also two-fold in the sense that we have a life before conversion to Christ and a life after conversion.
After our conversion to Christ, we must overcome the pressure from old friends and old habits to go back into the world. Those friends and habits that were a part of our old life constitute a temptation to go back into the old way of living. It is a temptation that we must overcome. I Peter 4:1-6 addresses this type of pressure. Let us all come to grips with the fact that we have wasted enough time on sin and self. We must say “NO” to the sins of the flesh as listed in the context and live out the remainder of our lives in obedience to the will of God. We will be called strange, weird and fanatical for doing so, but that is the price we must be willing to pay.
The text goes on in verses 7-11to describe another source of pressure for the Christian, i.e. the pressure to meet the practical demands of Christian discipleship. We must not only stop doing evil, but must start living righteously. A seed that is planted in the ground must of necessity die, but that death produces new life. That new life comes with its own set of trials and struggles. Peter begins with a reference to “the end of all things.” We must keep our mind on that final day, the day of victory. In the mean time we must be concerned with things such as obedience, self-control, prayer, love and hospitality. All of our service to God must be done with the ability that God has given to us and for the purpose of glorifying our Savior. There is certainly pressure on us to live the life of a Christian.
Finally (verses 12-19, the Apostle Peter speaks of the possible pressure to endure persecution. Persecution should not be thought of as something which is strange, foreign or unexpected in the life of a Christian. Suffering for Christ identifies us with our Savior and makes us more like Him. If we are called upon to suffer as a Christian, we must be willing to endure it, glorify God in the process and humbly accept the eternal blessings for having doing so.
In conclusion, let us say that Peter learned to serve Jesus as a dedicated soldier. His transition from a life known for human weakness into the courageous apostle of the Faith which he became inspires us to be the kind of Christian he was. Peter expects the gospel of Christ to cause the same changes in us as it caused in him. As he reveals in the chapter we have just summarized, he expects us to put forth a mighty effort in order to accomplish these changes. Peter’s life was lived under pressure. He experienced and overcame the trials described in 1 Peter 4 and he expects us to overcome as well.