1 Peter 4: “Reaching a Learned Helpless World”

Chapter 4 1 Peter is for sure not a warm and fuzzy chapter to read. But let’s not forget the context of Peter’s writing and who he’s writing too.

We know that Peter is writing from Rome around A.D. 64, just 3 years before he would be crucified upside down by the ruthless Caesar Nero. So he writes this letter to new believers who heard him speak at Pentecost and went back to start churches in their towns (which were all located in Asia Minor, present day Turkey).

Think about this: It would be like going to a Billy Graham Crusade, being changed by the message, and going home to start pastoring a church! Oh and by the way, you don’t know it yet, but this new faith you signed up for will likely cause you and your family to be tortured and ultimately killed. Any takers? But this is the power of God’s transformational story in the world. It is worth dying for! It always has, and always will!

1 Peter 4:7-9 (NLT) 7 The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. 8 Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. 

So far, here’s the call to action:

  • Be earnest and disciplined… in your prayers.
  • Show deep love for each other… for love covers a multitude of sins.
  • Cheerfully share your home (the NIV adds, “without grumbling”)

1 Peter 4:10-11 (NIV) 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 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 for ever and ever. Amen.

This is good news! Number one, God has gifted each of us in our own unique way, and we are to use those gifts as stewards, or managers, of His grace, which by the way can take many forms.

Look at the rhythm of Paul’s writing here:

  •  If anyone… they should…
  • If anyone… they should…
  • So that…
  • To Him…

Now let’s put some meat on this now:

  • 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 power for ever and ever

Learned Helplessness

In the 1960’s psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven Maier stumbled upon what later would be defined as “Learned Helplessness.” Learned helplessness was observed in dogs that were classically conditioned to expect a low voltage electric shock after hearing a tone. Later the dogs were placed in a shuttle box that contained two chambers separated by a low barrier. The floor on one side was electrified, but the floor on the other side was not. It would have taken little effort for the dog to cross over to the safety of the other side.

The dogs who were previously subjected to “classical conditioning” made no attempt to escape, even when the opportunity was so easy and obvious. They were so helpless they just laid on the floor receiving shock after shock. But there is hope. Later in the experiment a second dog was introduced who had never been conditioned to expect a shock after hearing a tone.

The Result:

The two dogs were on same side, the tone is played and the shock administered to the floor of the box. The conditioned dogs sits there while the other dog takes off, probably thinking to themselves, “I’m outta here.” What do you think the conditioned dog did? The conditioned dog saw the other dog run for safety and followed after him.

The dog who for so long had learned helplessness was now safe because of the actions of another dog. All the conditioned dog needed was for someone to show them the way.

The Challenge

1 Peter 4 is filled with the challenge to do something with what God gave you! Sometimes I hear people say, “I’m not sure why God gave me this gift, it feels like a curse…” The best thing to realize about God’s gifts is that he didn’t give them to you, He gave them for you.  

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others…”