God’s Word for You
1 Peter 4:6 the gospel was preached
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, May 10, 2022
6 For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. (NIV)
This verse isn’t about the “spirits in prison” from 3:19. Look carefully at the verse following the first comma. There are two contrasting judgments:
1, They might be judged according to men
in regard to their bodies
2, They do live according to God
in regard to their spirits.
Since no one can live for God except for the faithful (1 Corinthians 12:3; John 6:65), this can only be a passage about those dead who died in faith. When was the gospel preached to them? Why, during their lifetime. This is when we all hear the gospel preached, as far back as the 235th year of the world. At that time, Seth, Adam’s son, who was now 105 (Genesis 5:6), “began to call on the name of the Lord” (Genesis 4:26). His own child had been born, and thoughts of the next generation undoubtedly came into his heart, and a passion for the souls of mankind were stirred, especially after the terrible tragedy of Abel’s cruel death. Abel had died in faith, but what about the ungodly sins and words that were increasing day by day, as Jude records in Enoch’s sermon (Jude 1:15)? The innocent, Job says, “are aroused against the ungodly” (Job 17:8). When upright men are appalled by sin, they speak up and proclaim the law to convict the smug and the unrepentant, and they preach the gospel to sooth the consciences of those who are frightened on account of their sins.
What a hard thing it is to preach the gospel to someone who is terrified over their sin, and who wonders whether God can ever forgive them! Even pastors fall prey to this kind of doubt, and who will preach to me when I am alone in my study or wrestling with guilt as I sit on the edge of my bed, too frightened to pray, smelling the sulfur from the devil’s hide stinking up every hope of a blessed future? The world judges the man, Peter says, “in regard to the body,” which is to say, according to what they see him do. But no one knows the secret sins of a man’s heart. If only it were nothing but simple sins against the ordinary commandments: lust, anger, gossip, covetousness. But it is the details that surround sins against the first table of the law that trouble so many hearts. How does doubt infect our understanding of God’s holy word?! When no one at all, no one in the world, wants to embrace the doctrines of fellowship, of a man’s headship, of the roles of men and women in the church, and other things, the temptation is there crouching at the door to throw in the towel, to give in, to say to those who accuse us of being unloving, hateful, chauvinistic, and even racist, that we will give in just a little bit here, or just a little bit there. But to give in a little is to give up. If I move the boundary stones of the law and gospel, I am no longer Christ’s ambassador, but a thief. I have become Judas. I may as well have my hand in the purse, except that my sins are worse than his. These and others are the agonies that plague the modern minister of Christ.
But Luther has summarized the gospel for such thick-headed brutes like me, and across a language barrier and across five centuries he speaks kind pastoral words to us all: “Away from me, Satan! Away from me, all accusations of sin! Jesus is my Lord, and when Christ has said I am forgiven, who will speak any word against him?” This is the kind of comfort we all need, and that’s the kind of minister who truly ministers to all. Let the world, even my own sinful flesh, try to judge and assail me. I know Jesus, who gave himself for me. The blood pooling below the cross was poured out for me. From that blood springs the flowers of my resurrection, and nothing can lay hands upon me. For I know Jesus.
Pastor Timothy Smith