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Living in Light of the End
How the end motivates us to live today–1 Peter 4:7-9
You start to feel bad, you begin to experience some pains that are unusual and new–so you go to the doctor. After a battery of tests you find that you genuinely only have a couple of months to live–your life is over–you are going to die. What will you do with the rest of your time–how will you live? Will you go on a cruise, quit your job, get drunk, party with friends, travel, or retreat to your room and have a good cry—how?
And even more important, how do you think the Lord would want you to behave? How would He want you to spend your final days?
The audience Peter writes in His first letter was facing potential death from persecution, so moved by the Spirit of God the apostle Peter now tells them and you how He wants you to live with the finish line in sight. Open your Bibles to 1 Peter 4:7 to 9 and take your outline to follow along.
Some of us are too healthy to even consider getting that kind of report from your doctor, though that’s foolish. So think about our future as a country. What if our enemies finally sneak in a nationwide, devastating, biological weapon, that once unleashed gives you a week, maybe a month to live–how will you invest your final days? Or what if all our fears over the economy are fully realized and the world financial system collapses–there is no more money, no more spending, buying, paying bills, no more food, produce, water, safety and as a nation we internally fold and give up? Lots of blame is passed around, but the people our culture is really mad at are Christians, and life moves from bad to worse for every Christian in this room in a very short time.
Now how will you respond, how will you act, what will you do? Will you live by fear or by faith? Will you live isolated or interconnected with God’s people? Will you forget your purpose on the planet to display Christ and share the Gospel? Will you run from your responsibilities and merely seek to preserve your life and your family–all about you? Will you isolate in Idaho, or will you try to witness to corrupt California, the Land of Fruits, Nuts and Flakes?
Peter now specifically tells you Christians what to do. The only question that remains is, will you follow what He says? Will you hear the Word, then do what you feel–or will you hear God’s Word and do what God says? What does God say? Verses 7 to 11 is the next paragraph which will take us two weeks to work through. Today we will tackle 7 to 9, and next week we will exposit 10 and 11–but let’s read it all today. “The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. 8 Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Be hospitable to one another without complaint. 10 As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11 Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
I love Peter because he is so direct. He’s your blue collar, hard workin’, say-it-like-it-is Apostle, who is down-to-earth, simple, practical, with no beating around the bush. Peter doesn’t believe in sugarcoating–he put his cards on the table. Life was not meant to be analyzed, but lived. So when life got rough for these Christians, Peter would never call for a committee to discuss alternatives–he’d cut through all the bureaucratic red tape and get right down to business.
And a lot of what you can’t see in the English here is what makes this passage so powerful. Peter is telling you how to live when you face the end–how to live when you have run out of human options, how to survive when life is the most difficult and frightening, three truths you don’t see on the surface of verses 7 to 11.
First To survive, you need a solid commitment to the Church
Peter is not telling you individually in verses 7 to 11 to pray, to love, to be hospitable, to serve–he uses the plural, telling you all to be praying, loving, be hospitable and serve–all of you, the Church. Peter is commanding the Church here to live in light of the end. He is telling us we desperately need one another to survive.
This is far from where most so-called Christians are at today. The Church is an option, a choice, an alternative, a preference with most believers today. Peter says it must be a non-optional command, a faithful commitment, and an unwavering conviction IF–IF you’re going to survive when life heats up. A crisis is what exposes a weak commitment to the Church, and a crisis is usually what wakes believers up to the necessity of a faithful commitment to the local church.
Peter is talking to churches here, plural, not individual Christians, and is commanding them to survive together like Hebrews 10:24 to 25 commands us, “And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” We need each other to stay sharp, to stay focused, to stay encouraged, to grow, to fire each other up. PLUS . . .
Second The tougher things get, the tighter you should become
Instead of running away, or hiding, or moving to Idaho, or checking out, or sealing yourself off in your home, God says dive in. In the original language in these verses, Peter repeatedly uses the preposition eis. It is most often translated “in”, but contains the idea of being immersed in, in the sphere of, to enter in, in the midst of and to be surrounded by. You are DOVE IN!
Look at verse 7–we are to be literally immersed IN PRAYER,
in verse 8 IN YOUR LOVE FOR ONE ANOTHER,
in verse 9 immersed IN HOSPITALITY to each other,
in verse 10 IN SERVING ONE ANOTHER,
and in verse 11 IN EVERY AGE to come.
You’re to be in, not out of the body—here, not absent from the church–participating and not spectating at worship–surrounded by God’s people, not watching God’s people from your chair–holding hands with others in service, not waving goodbye as they serve you. You are to be on the field, not on the sidelines, or worse in the stands. You are to be a part of the team, not merely in the booster club. And the tougher life gets for you Christians, the tighter you are to be with each other in the Church, immersed with God’s people. Like God is one, and marriage is one; the Church is to be one. So Peter also emphasizes . . .
Third Survival depends upon healthy Christian relationships
Notice in verse 8, in your love “for one another”, verse 9 be hospitable “to one another”, and verse 10 serving “one another”. Peter is not talking about merely attending, serving or giving–he is also talking about developing healthy relationships in the context of the local church as a key to your spiritual survival. Your family is not enough–your family does not have all the spiritual gifts, and Peter is not talking about the family here. He is talking about God’s family as structured in local churches.
You’re to be inter-related, bound, connected, friends with, praying for, giving to, serving with, caring for, and ministering to . . . people in this church. You are to know people here deeply, and they are to know you. This family is key to your survival. Do you act like it?
The believers Peter writes are facing potential death from persecution. They don’t honor Caesar as God or Caesar as Lord, which was Roman law. They did not participate in drunken, sexual orgies, which were common in pagan temple worship, making their old non-Christian friends mad at them, verse 4. Some of this led to suspicion and slander, verse 4, for some; jail time, and for a few others torture and death, verse 6.
All the Christians reading this letter were feeling the stress of the end being very near, their time being limited, their situation on earth temporary–so Peter goes for the throat and tells them exactly what to do when the end is at hand. Look at how he begins verse 7, “The end of all things is near.” Simply stated, Christ can return at any moment. It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine–bad lyrics, REM. Nothing more has to happen prophetically–Christ can return right now. The curtain can fall at any time.
The word for “end” here is describing consummation, fulfillment, a purpose achieved and a goal attained. Peter is saying the goal of all these events, these things, is leading to a definite conclusion–and that conclusion is near, it is ready. It is close at hand, it is imminent, ready to finish. The Greek verb “near” means approaching, and its tense tells us the process is coming to a close and is very near to a finish.
When Jean and I were first married we lived in an apartment next to a well-traveled street. At 3:30 am every week day, we would hear a moped start up and travel down this street from 5 miles away–it took forever. It started like a quiet bee, and for 12 minutes slowly grew in intensity coming, then finally passed us—zoooom. Peter says to his readers, we are just about to the zoom—it’s close. Like the sound of steps you hear coming while in your room, then stop before the door opens–Peter says the steps have stopped and the door is about to open.
Make no mistake, friends, Jesus is coming soon. When Peter’s audience read this, they were thirty years into the Church age–we today are 2,000 years into this age, so you gotta be thinking we are closer than ever now. Can you say with John in Revelation 22:20, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
Do you want Him to come? Do you want to see Him face-to-face? Are you anticipating that day? He is at the door about to enter this world scene–He is near, about to break through. Matthew 24:44 says, “For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.” Are you giving yourself to those things that will please Him, or will you be embarrassed that you are wasting your life and have squandered your time and mismanaged your priorities? Will He be happy to see what you are giving your life to right now?
Because the soon-coming end is supposed to change your behavior now, if you really believe Jesus is returning any moment, you will live committed and you will live holy. Look carefully at 1 John 3:2 to 3, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” Then 2 Peter 3:10 to 11 says, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. 11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness.”
This is also why Peter writes verses 7 to 11–to motivate us to change our lives so we give ourselves to those things which will not only help us survive the most difficult time, but thrive until Jesus comes. If you want to survive and thrive, then listen up and check out . . .
#1 Think through how to live with the end in view, while being dependent in prayer
Verse 7 says, “The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.” Peter commands you to use your head, be objective, think things through, don’t allow your emotions to detour you and immerse yourself in prayer. In other words, do what you can, be smart, be wise, think hard, be self-controlled, but depend on the Lord in everything.
Since Christ is coming any moment, Peter says therefore this is what you must do–two commands are given. ONE, be of sound judgment, and TWO, be of sober spirit in order to pray.
SOUND JUDGMENT is to literally be in your right mind, to be under control and not carried away by fear, emotion, errant thinking or errant theology. It means to stay sane, maintain a sound mind, think clearly about situations and be mature in the way you look at things. So how do you develop sound judgment? It comes from the knowledge of God’s Word, a high view of God, a healthy distrust of yourself, the seeking of wisdom from God, the maintaining of biblical priorities in your life and learning from experience and trials—use your head.
The gospel of Mark used the word sound judgment to describe the maniac after Jesus freed him from the legion of demons. This is the clear-headed, good-thinking, reasonable Christian. Are you? It is the believer who is intentional in their actions, considering the Lord first, others second and himself third. Peter is commanding his readers and us to not to live by your emotions–feelings should not lead. Use your head as time is short. And Peter says, don’t panic when you’re threatened with death, seek to be wise with your remaining days. Use your time wisely.
BE SOBER OF SPIRIT–don’t be drunk physically or emotionally. Don’t be intoxicated–don’t saturate your mind with substances that will affect your thinking like excess sugar, caffeine, or drugs. Here sober means to keep alert, to be spiritually observant, and to figure out what is happening in the world and with Christians. To be sober of spirit is to analyze the latest Christian craze biblically before you join in. It is biblically screening the newest movements in the church and thinking through what you can accept and what you must reject. To be sober of spirit is to be in full possession of your faculties.
In light of the soon return of Christ as a Church and a Christian, to be sober of Spirit is to be free from every form of mental, emotional and spiritual drunkenness that results from faulty views about the future, such as–He’s never coming back. Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die, grab for all the gusto, live any way you like, it can’t be wrong cause it feels so right, there’s more for your life at Sears. Peter says Jesus is coming soon, but be calm–don’t quit your job, don’t be filled with worry, and don’t think you have to know every detail of the end times to feel secure. Do not be afraid of our country declining, nor the world exploding. God is in control–He has a specific plan for how it’s going to work, and He has a specific plan for your role in it. Be sober, be watchful, remain alert–don’t let anything dull your discernment.
So what should we do? Verse 7 says be immersed in prayer. Live dependently, talk to your Father, ask for wisdom, seek Him first, tell Him everything, trust His Word, affirm His control, rely on Him for every decision, every direction, every relationship, every responsibility–give yourselves to the purpose of prayer. The secret to living balanced and calm in the midst of a hostile world is prayer. Prayer is the access to all our spiritual resources.
The word prayer is plural, informing us that Peter is referring to all kinds of prayer like praise, requests, thanks and confession. Also referencing the frequency of praying throughout the day, both public and private, plus personal and corporate prayers. Verse 7 is correctly translated “for the purpose of prayer.” But the Greek is literally “in prayer.” The preposition eis tells us we are to be immersed in prayer–in prayer as a way of life. Like breathing, pray about everything, silently and softly, out loud and in your thoughts–pray, pray, pray, pray, pray.
We are to be sober and sound in order to pray more effectively. Peter’s readers were to be alert to what was happening, understanding what God was up to, so they would pray according to God’s will found in His Word. You are to be sober and sound when you read the news, scan the internet, watch TV or listen to the radio so you can pray. If these outlets are not going to act as a stimulus for prayer, you should not read, watch or listen to them anymore.
Prayer is actually what sharpens our awareness so that we’ll be more discerning than we’d normally be. Prayer is what allowed Jesus to submit to His arrest, and the lack of prayer is what made Peter resist Jesus’ arrest. Believers can’t pray properly if their minds are unstable due to allowing emotion to guide them over truth, pursuing the things of this world, and are remaining ignorant of God’s Word. It is the study of God’s Word that allows you to understand the mind of Christ, which then guides your prayers and keeps them in His name, which means according to His character. And did you catch the tension of human responsibility and divine sovereignty in verse 7? Use your head, think straight, be calm but depend on God with everything through prayer. Don’t panic–pray. Don’t fear–put your faith in God. Peter tells these Christians and us to survive and thrive in difficult times, right before the return of Christ. Be calm, use your head and immerse yourself in prayer as a Christian and as a church.
#2 Passionately care for one another, which is the best way to overlook what bugs you about others
Verse 8 says, “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” Do you want to survive an attack? Every genuine Christian will be hit. If you lived where they could hurt you, threaten your spouse or take your children away, would you want to survive spiritually? Then function as part of a local church–but not any church. It’s a church that actually labors to love each other as a family–a church body that actually functions like parts in a physical body–a spiritual building, where every brick relies on all the other bricks.
Listen, high entertainment churches do not work at loving each other–they put on a show, then people go. High program churches meet certain needs, but the real work of a church is to love each other. Don’t misunderstand, there is no biblical love where there is little biblical truth, and sadly there can be biblical truth without genuine biblical love. And because love is so misunderstood, watch out for unbiblical expectations. Love is not doing what everyone wants, or feels or thinks or looks merciful—no, biblical love sacrifices for the benefit of another, but love always functions by the Word of God.
Churches are commanded by God to love each other. Peter makes this clear with the first two words of verse 8, “above all.” Here is what is most important—above all means before everything, here is the priority, don’t mess this up–why? Without love we are a big noise. Without love, we don’t please God. Without love, we don’t fulfill the two greatest commandments. Without love, all our gifts are wasted and our reward is burned. To survive and thrive in difficult times, a local church must work at passionately loving each other as a family.
Do you remember, and will you admit it, when you scraped a knee, bumped your head, smashed your fingers—how momma’s kiss miraculously made it better somehow? That is what the body of Christ is to do towards each other–when believers were abused, hurt, bashed, threatened, there is to be the kiss of Christ through His precious bride to His children. Peter makes this clear with verse 8, “in your love.” Your love is actions of sacrifice to benefit another according to truth.
Biblical love is always an outward action given away, never an inward need cried for. Those who whine about not being loved are actually asking for something other than true love, because love is an outward action, never a needed expectation. Our culture has bred so-called Christian victims and manipulators who accuse others of not loving them, so the Bible says in Romans 5:5, “The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Every Christian has all the love he’ll need directly from Christ.
It is the selfish and proud who demand/accuse/expect love, and it’s the selfless and humble who freely give love and graciously receive it when given. Remember the Christian life is not a bucket to collect love but a hose to give it away–but as you do give love away, you’re loved. You lose your life to gain it, you give love away to experience it–such is Christ’s plan for His people. Peter emphasizes this truth with verse 8 when he says, “in your love for one another.”
The Greek is literally “the into yourselves love,” or love in the church body. Peter doesn’t use the Greek word one another, but the Greek word for yourselves–yourselves as a church family. Love is to be a part of who we are. We are to be immersed in love. Your spiritual wellbeing is linked to this church, and this church will not be healthy unless you choose to love others in this body. As you show love to others, you end up loving the entire church body, so as a result you are loved since you are part of the body.
All healthy churches are known for their love for each other and for having a loving environment. John 13:35 says, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” But never forget, Christlike love never violates truth. Love is not unbridled mercy, love isn’t giving others what they want–but love is doing for others what is God’s best according to God’s Word and empowered by God’s Spirit.
You love your children when you spank them. You love your kids when you withhold certain things they think they need. You love your offspring by waiting, praying and trusting, even though to others it looks like you are depriving, ignoring and not caring. The church family is the same–sometimes we spank, or wait, or withhold, or watch, always with prayer to see what God will do, even though it seems like we should act, and that is love too. Healthy churches must love according to truth. Love must saturate this family–love must be felt, seen, shown and done.
Kind words, selfless actions, gracious gifts, caring notes, thoughtful calls, must be a regular part of this church family by all. Are you loving according to truth? Do you show love to others in this body regularly? Or do you show up, get all you can and split? Are you a giver or a getter? Are you a lover or a leach? You say, “Chris, why are you being so black-and-white?”
Because Peter is far worse than me–how intense must this love in our midst be? Peter is pointed when he says in verse 8, “Keep fervent in your love for one another.” Fervent literally means strained. Fervent is used of athletes straining to reach the tape or clear the bar. It pictures a person running with taut muscles, exerting maximum effort. In ancient Greek literature, fervent is used to describe a horse stretching out and running at full speed. The love Peter has in mind is the Seabiscuit and Secretariat, give-it-all-you’ve-got kind of love–not a convenient love or an occasional love, but a choice to be intense and exert yourself so you genuinely love the church family in any way you can.
Peter says to these persecuted and crushed Christians–to survive, love each other, even when it is not returned. Love others in the Church even when the sheep bite back. Love others in the Church even when it seems useless. Love is sacrificial, not sentimental and requires stretching of every one of your spiritual muscles to love in spite of insult, injury and misunderstanding from others.
This is the true test of your love for others in the Church. You know right now whether you truly have and do show God’s love by the way you treat others who sin against you. Genuine biblical love tends to forgive the offences of others–which is why Peter adds the final phrase of verse 8, “Because love covers a multitude of sins.” One commentator says, “Where love abounds in a fellowship of Christians, many small offences and even some large ones are readily overlooked and forgotten. But where love is lacking, every word is viewed with suspicion and every action is liable to misunderstanding.” Satan is delighted by churches like that.
When a group of believers truly embrace the Gospel, they realize just how sinful they were and just how sinful they are. They accept that even though they don’t want to sin, they will. And they know at times their sin will hurt, or disturb, or insult, or abuse a brother or sister. But when the Gospel is fully embraced, those who are wounded by sin, out of love often choose to cover it or ignore it. You let it go–you get over it, you completely forget about it, and you move on with joy.
Other times because the wound from the sin doesn’t heal and you can’t seem to let it go, you can’t cover the sin of a brother or sister–in other words, you keep throwing the covers off. God never allows for grudges or resentment to remain between His children in a church family, so the offended party must not say anything to anyone, but go to their brother or sister privately and seek to restore their relationship, just as Jesus teaches in Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” Or Galatians 6:1, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”
One of the differences between a real believer and a non-Christian is not that the real believer does not sin against another believer–we do, and we will hurt each other until heaven. The big difference is this–a genuine believer will either overlook/cover the sin against them, or they will go to their brother and restore that relationship. You ask, “Which one should I do? When do I cover the sin of a Christian, and when do I go speak to them privately?” If that offense can be forgotten, never bother you and not hinder your relationship with the Christian who sinned against you, then it’s covered–you’ve thrown a veil over those sins. Move on, like Proverbs 10:12 says, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions.”
But if that sinful offense bothers you, causes you to resent them, and affects your ability to fellowship with them–then go to them privately and seek to restore your relationship. If that is possible–sometimes it’s not because they refuse, then at that point Romans 12:18 kicks in. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Peter says to survive and thrive in difficult times we must strain at loving each other continually, and . . .
#3 Fully embrace the needs of Christians around you, and don’t gripe about it
Verse 9 says, “Be hospitable to one another without complaint.” Peter is telling this church and our church to survive, literally house the strangers in your midst and don’t grumble about it. To be hospitable is to love strangers–to show affectionate concern for strangers by giving them food and shelter. Hospitality is not describing the actions of providing meals to sick believers you know, though that’s part of the flavor of being hospitable.
Hospitality was highly valued in the early church, since without it the establishing of new churches and the equipping of leaders would have been greatly retarded. Elders are required to be hospitable in 1 Timothy 3:2, since they would house traveling equippers and church planters. Public inns of the first century were notorious for being cesspools of drunkenness and prostitution, so whenever Christians traveled for business or ministry, this practice of hospitality, where Christians opened their homes to unknown believers was a blessing to avoid sin and to strengthen one another in Christ. Christians often carried letters of introduction from key church leaders in order for other believers to fully embrace these strangers in their homes.
But here in verse 9, Peter takes hospitality a step further again. “Be hospitable to one another.” Peter is saying, love the strangers in your midst, in your own church, in your local family–to one another. And Peter is not merely talking about those who are lovable, friendly or fun to be with. It refers to loving all the strangers in your church, even those who are unlovely and unfriendly–being willing to house any genuine believer in their church. We have a ways to go–some are uncomfortable at greeting time . . . how about housing them?
For the first two hundred years of the Church, fellowships didn’t use buildings–each local congregation had to meet in a large home or in some homes a large courtyard of one of its members. Look at Romans 16:5a, “Also greet the church that is in their house.” And 1 Corinthians 16:19b, “Aquila and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.” Also Philemon 2, “And to the church in your house.”
The only place for a saint to go to find help or get well was a Christian home. The only place those being persecuted could find relief or even hide out was the home of a believer. So Peter adds to the normal practice of housing missionaries and teachers, plus housing believers traveling on business or ministry, in this letter God adds the necessity to feed and house those who were a part of their own church they didn’t know. You don’t need to be a large church to not know everyone, and these Christians were being commanded to lovingly house and feed believers in their own church in order to survive and thrive.
And because housing a stranger is stressful since you don’t know them, then multiply the strain of providing additional food and add in the effort of supplying safe and clean lodging, Peter adds this condition in verse 9, “Be hospitable to one another without complaint.” This is a frank recognition that the practice of hospitality could become costly, burdensome and irritating. Hey, we all know how difficult it can be to have people stay in your home (your mother-in-law, Uncle Rufus, that old friend, or that needy family). There is the expense, the time and the tension.
We’ve had people in our home for months at a time–two different individuals got saved, there was one where it didn’t seem to make any difference, and another we had to ask to leave. That is why Poor Richard’s Almanac used to say, “Fish and guests smell after three days.”
There were actually some in the first century, described in the Thessalonian letters, who overreacted to the return of Christ and the end being near. They reasoned, “Since Christ is coming soon, why bother working? Let’s liquidate our assets and live off of others. Second Thessalonians 3:11 to 12 says, “For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.”
These were overreacting–but in a difficult time, if the economy does fall apart, if the world turns on itself, if we are attacked, tsunamied, earthquaked or persecuted . . . to survive and thrive we’ll need to care for each other by opening up our homes, living with each other, feeding each other, protecting each other. Be hospitable to one another without complaint–do you have a plan?
WITHOUT COMPLAINT is literally without grumbling or murmuring. This word, ungrudgingly, was used to describe someone trying to stir up rebellion–it reflects the heart of Satan. Plus all grumbling, complaining and murmuring are attacks against the sovereign control of God, who reigns over every circumstance and person, thus driving out joy, killing faith and murdering thanksgiving. As a result, instead of hospitality being a blessing it is a burden. The act of love called hospitality should be done with cheer and joy.