Priorities for 2023
How to live as the end draws near–1 Peter 4:7-11
“The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. 8Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. 9Be hospitable to one another without complaint. 10As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11Whoever 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” (1 Peter 4:7-11).
Behind me on the screen are pictured eight men who predicted the date of the return of Christ.
1204–Pope Innocent III, convinced that Mohammed was the Antichrist, added 666 years to the founding of Islam, and declared the world would end in 1284.
1555ca–Nostradamus, a French astrologer, predicted that the world would end seven months into 1999.
1733–Isaac Newton spent the last years of his life studying the Bible, trying to calculate the year the world began and the year it would end. His date–2060.
1794–Charles Wesley, founder of Methodism, preached that the Great Beast of Revelation would soon appear.
1831–William Miller preached that Jesus would return in 1843 and believers would be raptured. In 1843, he determined he was off by a year. In 1844, he stopped making predictions.
1970–Hal Lindsey wrote in the Late Great Planet Earth that the world would end within a generation of the establishment of Israel as a nation in 1948, putting the date somewhere around 1988.
1990–Pat Robertson wrote that the world would end in 2007.
1992–Harold Camping, leader of Family Radio Network, declared the world would end in 1994, then 1995, then he recalculated and said that it would be 7,000 years after the biblical flood, in the middle of 2011.
These are just some of the many, many people–Christian and non-Christian alike, who have predicted the end of the world. And I want you to know that I believe the world will end, and the date is guaranteed. It’s guaranteed not to be on any date that someone predicts. I can’t tell you exactly when, but I promise it will not happen on a day that people are expecting.
Matthew 24:44, “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.” So as we enter 2023, Jesus could come back. And He may wait many, many years still. What we can say is that days are growing darker. The hour is getting closer.
America does not appear to be a big player in what the Bible reveals of God’s final plan. And when we look around the world, America seems light and easygoing compared to the troubles in many other places. We don’t know how long until Christ returns. But we do know that the Judeo-Christian morality that undergirded our nation since its establishment is waning. Secularism is rising. The end, both of our country and of the world, feels like it’s drawing closer.
When we look to the Bible, there is a persistent belief that Christ could return at any time, and that the signs which anticipate His coming will be dark times. It’s the start of a new year and while Chris is away in Hawaii, we are going to take a brief break from Galatians to look at some timely words in 1 Peter.
Galatians was written early in the life of the Church. Peter was written much later. The apostle is the undisputed author and Nero was on the throne. Nero began to rule at age 17 and did well for a while, listening to his tutors and advisers. The longer his reign, the more cruel and unpopular he became, eventually being declared a public enemy by the Roman Senate. He is generally agreed to be the first persecutor of Christians. These persecutions increased after the Great Fire of Rome and he would eventually force Jews and Christians to leave Italy entirely. Peter would eventually be put to death by Nero. But in 1 Peter, he writes in the midst of Nero’s rule. He writes to people who are suffering–people who are on trial, metaphorically and sometimes literally.
First Peter is a book about how to have hope in the midst of hardship–how to be faithful in the midst of suffering, how to have courage when fear could grip you. And as we enter 2023, I want us to be ready. I have no idea what will happen this year. I am not saying the world will end. But I do look ahead and anticipate more suffering to come. Some of that is a natural part of life.
This week I drove down to Escondido to be with our missionary, Robert Clark and his wife Kim. Robert suffered a small stroke this week. Tests are continuing and he’s already beginning rehab, but this has been a great trial in their life. Like them, your suffering may be on a personal level, through trials of health and hardship.
This fall, the elders spent an evening with public school teachers and learned more about the challenges they face–from the state, administrators and parents. You may face a similar situation to them, where you face additional trials at work for being a faithful Christian. More than a few of you now live with others because of suffering and persecution that has come from your own immediate family.
I don’t know what 2023 will hold for each of us. But I do know that we face more trials, suffering and persecution than a decade ago. And I can say confidently that we are driving towards an intersection where Jesus Christ will come out of nowhere to smash apart the world we now know. So how do we get ready for that? What should our attitude and priorities be for 2023?
Most people make New Years Resolutions–those fail. How would God have you live in 2023 as the end draws closer? For the answer to that, you don’t have to come back next week. Just open up your Bible to 1 Peter 4. We are going to look at 1 Peter 4:7 to 11 today. And when you get there, you’re going to see seven words that should guide every decision you make. It’s a short phrase that I am prone to forgetting.
Peter says, “The end of all things is near.” Let that sink in. “The end of all things is near.” I can be guilty of thinking that this world is enduring. I often expect for things to get better and improve over time. I need to plan for the future and kids and retirement and all the things in case Jesus’ return is delayed. But . . . “the end of all things is near.”
We are not yet in Christ’s kingdom. He has not yet returned to rule and to reign on earth. There is a day coming when every knee will bow before Him. There is a day coming when the offer to forgive will be ended. There is a day when the Judge will return. We heard this just last year at the end of James. James 5:8 to 9, “You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.”
While Israel rejected Jesus as their King during His first Advent, when Jesus returns with full glory at His Second Coming, He will put an end to all the ways of this world. He will bind Satan for a thousand years, He will judge those who have rejected Him, He will fulfill the promises that remain for Israel, and He will transform the world under His rule as King. The only reason this hasn’t happened yet is the Father is longsuffering. As 2 Peter 3 explains, “He is patient, wishing that all would come to repentance.” As trials and suffering increase, when life feels bleak and dark, Peter wants you to know that “the end of all things is near.”
So how would God have you live in 2023 as the end draws closer? Look at 1 Peter 4:7 to 11, “The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. 8Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. 9Be hospitable to one another without complaint. 10As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11Whoever 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.”
After reminding those who are scattered from their homes and suffering that the end of all things is near, he says “therefore” and gives two major challenges for how they are to live. Because the end is nearing, Peter wants us to prioritize three things–Pray Clearly, Love Deeply, and Serve Faithfully.
1. Pray Clearly
After the “therefore,” there are two commands–neither of which is to pray. The first thing he says is to “be of sound judgment”. The ESV describes this as “self-controlled”–and it has the sense of being clear minded, reasonable and sensible. When the world feels crazy around you, you keep a clear head. When everyone is irrational and fueled by fear, you keep your senses. When your HR department forces another round of DEI training, you exercise reason and self-control. You use your brain and you control your heart.
That’s the second quick command he gives here. The NASB says, “Be of sober spirit” and the ESV says, “Be sober-minded.” The word is describing the opposite of intoxication. When you’re drunk, your tongue loosens and the less controlled aspects of your heart find full expression. Here he is saying the opposite–he commands us to be in full possession of our thoughts, emotions and feelings.
Because the end is near, we should be self-controlled, alert and stable. We shouldn’t get confused about what’s going to happen. We shouldn’t be worried about what the future holds. Our anxieties, worries and lusts shouldn’t be in control. The end of all things is near–so Peter calls us to be self-controlled with our thinking and our feelings.
Have you ever been at an amusement park and seen a child that was exhausted, but not asleep? Do you know what I’m talking about? The hyper-emotional, easily upset, should be done for the day, but is still there, kid? Maybe that was your own kid. The kid is just a jumble of feelings detached from all reason. I know you’ve seen it–and you have probably experienced it firsthand. Let’s just admit that we can be that way sometimes–we can lose our self-control. Your reason can take a back seat.
Peter here is commanding you to change–not just because that’s a hard life, but so that you pray more effectively. Peter explains the reason for these commands by saying, “for the purpose of prayer.” He wants you to be balanced and self-controlled in life, with a brain and heart that are alert to pray–not distracted by flares of irrational thinking.
So get this–here is why you should be in full possession of your thoughts, emotions and feelings. So that you can pray clearly. Philippians 4:5 to 6, “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
I don’t know what your habits of prayer are. I don’t know how often you pray or what you pray for. But I can say that many Christians are prone to unthinking prayers, to prayers that are rooted in how they feel in the moment, but aren’t guided by a clear head. There are Christians who bend towards confession because of guilt. They give thanks to God as a routine, but without thinking.
What was the last phone call you made? You may not remember, but that computer in your pocket lets you make calls to people. Maybe it was a Zoom call–whatever. Whoever you called, why did you call them? You had a purpose, right? You needed an answer. You needed help. You wanted to tell them something. Whatever the purpose, you had one. Emails are the same thing–you write an email with a goal in mind.
So here’s what I’d ask–are your prayers as focused as your emails and your phone calls? Too many Christians are prone to prayers without purpose or sense. Peter says that you are to stay clear-headed and sensible so that you can pray clearly. I don’t know what 2023 holds, but I do know that you will need to pray more this coming year. And Peter wants you to do it with clarity and purpose. Commit this year to pray clearly–thinking in advance what you want to communicate before you go to God in prayer.
2. Love Deeply
First Peter 4:8 to 9, “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. 9Be hospitable to one another without complaint.” Though it’s less visible in our translations, the challenge to love one another is the dominant thought of these verses. And depending on your translation, you may even notice that love is not the verb. It’s written as a noun–it’s the object of your action. You must keep in love. You must have love for one another. The focus is on the nature of the love you’re giving. The love that Christ had for you is what you are to have for others.
First John 4:9 to 11, “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” This love which Christ had for you on the cross is the love which we are to have for one another. It is a love that still endures wrongs suffered. It is a deep, abiding, unbreakable love.
The word “fervently” or “earnestly” describes a deep, intense love. The word was used to describe a horse at full gallop and to talk about the muscles of an Olympic athlete in action. Peter uses it to describe our love in action, at the highest and deepest level. Love like this covers sins done against us–it’s not that we hide it or condone it. We’re not blind to it, but we’re compassionate and gracious towards the failings of others.
Peter goes on in verse 9 to say that such love should not just be shown towards believers, but towards those you don’t know. “Be hospitable”–have an affection for strangers. But he narrows the focus “to one another”, which means that Peter is not saying love the guy a few doors down who was blaring music at 1am last night. Peter’s focus–those within the church who you don’t know. Love them.
For the first couple hundred years, there were no church buildings. Most everyone met in homes. The inconsiderate person who came to your house during CG and got chocolate on your cushions–love them. The youth leader who changed plans three hours before the event, causing you to have to rework your schedule–love them. Peter says in verse 9 that a deep love like this does not grumble or complain. We overlook what they did, or how they failed to appreciate it.
My prayer for 2023 is that we love one another more deeply. And if the Lord wills that we should move into our new building in 2023, this command is going to be all the more necessary. Sometime between May and July, Lord willing, we are going to move out of this room and begin to meet on our own property. I know you’ll miss the fire alarms and the outdoor kids classes. We will probably have a couple months where we adapt and figure things out. But then, maybe around August or September and far beyond Christmas, we are going to have visitors–a steady stream of visitors.
Right now, if you want to attend our church, you almost have to know someone. Nobody wakes up on Sunday, says “I want to go to church,” and then drives to their local high school. We don’t do a lot of advertising–we are hidden back in here. Almost everyone here has been invited by someone else–or maybe found us online. But this fall, people are going to want to see what’s happening in the tent. Every Sunday morning, it will look like there’s a circus performing, and they’ll come see the clowns.
So we’re going to have visitors–from the neighborhood, from the community, from people driving by on the freeway. And I am convinced you are going to be challenged like never before to love them–to show the love of Christ to strangers. To care for people you don’t know, who will not always appreciate the things you do.
I am not a prophet nor the son of one, but the chances are very high that you will be sinned against more in 2023 than you have in the last couple years combined. There are going to be incredible opportunities to minister the Gospel and make Jesus Christ known, through ministries that happen on our future church campus. You need to gear up for it. Are you ready to love one another? A deep love for others comes from a true understanding of the love Christ has for you.
That’s one of the reasons we are focused on the Gospel in CGs this spring. We want every person in our church to know how Jesus Christ died for our sins and clothing us in His perfect righteousness. He offers forgiveness for every sin you would ever commit, even ones you’re barely aware of and haven’t done yet. While you were an enemy, He loved you. And when you confess your sins and believe that, it frees you to love others with joy and to overlook the sins they commit against you. A church filled with people who love one another deeply will be a bold light in a darkening valley. That’s why Peter calls us to love one another deeply as the end draws near.
3. Serve Faithfully
First Peter 4:10 to 11, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11Whoever 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.”
As we know from 1 Corinthians 12, every Christian receives spiritual gifts at the time of their salvation. Some may be gifted in hospitality, others in giving, others in serving. Totally separate from what you do for work and different than a skill you learn or a talent you develop, a spiritual gift is an area of ministry wherein God has specially enabled you to bear supernatural fruit.
I am energized by teaching and exhortation–three services, no problem. But you put me in a place where mercy is needed? I shouldn’t stay long. I share the Gospel with people and pray for fruit. Others of you regularly see supernatural, unusual fruit in your evangelism. Some of you bear unique and special fruit in your hospitality and hosting. Other believers are passionate about giving and have a unique ear to identify the needs of others. Each of you is manifesting exactly what Peter is describing. We are to use our spiritual gifts to faithfully serve one another.
The purpose of your spiritual gift is to benefit the local church. First Corinthians 12:7, “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” All this means that God gave you particular and special gifts, at the moment you believed in Christ, that were to benefit others. I don’t know the particular gifts you have, and you may not yet know them either, but God gave them to you with purpose.
First Corinthians 12:18, “But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.” Now Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 list off the gifts, but here in 1 Peter 4:10 to 11, Peter collects them under two main headings. He says that there are speaking gifts and serving gifts, and that both are a stewardship to be done in God’s strength and for His glory. And as we move into 2023 and approach life in our own building, I want to ask you to take this to heart.
Are you committed to serve faithfully? I know that most of you weren’t around almost 20 years ago when FBC began. Something that was true then, and remains a part of our DNA, is a commitment to serving within the church. FBC began in 2003 with about 40 people who’d all had experience serving and leading in other churches–we all pitched in together. Our first college pastor was a horse vet who worked hard and led the ministry as a volunteer. Our first youth pastor was an irrigation salesman who studied and preached and shared his faith at the local gym. All of our biblical counseling was handled by a godly older couple who owned and ran a farm management company. Our equipping classes were taught and overseen by a hospital administrator.
For more than half the life of our church, there were only two paid staff and 60-80% of the church served and used their gifts. That is a large part of what made the church who we are. That commitment to use your gifts in ministry is why we require every member of our church to have a place where they serve. And as the church has grown, there are more people serving than there used to be.
But I look around on Sundays and I still see a lot of people who act like spectators at a show. If that’s you–if you don’t have a place where you are regularly serving and using your spiritual gifts, I want you to take Peter’s words to heart. As you have received a gift, employ it in serving one another as a good steward of the manifold grace of God. We need you to serve. We need you to serve because we’re heading onto a new campus where there are going to be new ministries launched, new opportunities for the Gospel, and more work than ever to be done. It’s true–we need you.
But the real reason we need you to serve is found in Ephesians 4:16, “The whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (ESV) Our church is healthiest when each believer inside is working properly and using their gifts to serve one another.
I love our church. We are a praying church. We love people. We serve faithfully. And I think God would have us do better at every one of those areas in 2023. It is a new year–today is a great day to take action and make changes. Ministries are starting back up. Everything is in flux and changing. There is no better time.
Resolve with me that, if the Lord tarries, you will end this year more ready for His return by working at Praying Clearly, Loving Deeply, and Serving Faithfully. I don’t know when the end will come. But this is what we’re to prioritize as the end of all things is near. Choose today one way you’re going to live different.