Sermons

September 13, 2020

Keep Loving One Another Earnestly

Ming-Jinn Tong (Downtown Campus) | 1 Peter 4:7-11

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.1 Peter 4:7–11

Introduction

Here we are in our current series, “Don’t Waste Your Trials,” going through the book of 1 Peter. Three times in his letter, the apostle Peter uses the word
telos meaning end. The first time is at the beginning of the book. Peter starts out by addressing the church like this:

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome [the telos, end] of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Later in 4:17, Peter again references “the end” by saying,

For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome (the end) for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

Our passage begins with this same word. “The end of all things is at hand.” So what’s going on here? This reminds me of a practice that Pastor Paul Poteat uses in his discipleship of young men. Paul will take a walk with the men that he is discipling, but do it in a graveyard. As they look at the tombstones, Paul points out that every single tombstone has two dates and a dash. He reminds them to live for the dash, because every person is born, and every person dies. This is what Peter is doing for us in his letter. He is reminding us that life has a finish line called death. The book of Hebrews 9:27 tells us, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”

We heard Peter say in verse 5, “They will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” The end is coming, when each of us will go before God to be judged by him. And because God is a just judge, and we have sinned against him, that’s a terrifying thought. Unless the verdict of your life has already been declared—guilty. But the punishment has also been declared—paid by Jesus! There can be no punishment waiting for you if it has already been satisfied! Then you long to go to God because he is your loving father!

Pastor Jason reminded us last week that because the end is coming, we need to be “armed with suffering” so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh “no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” So our passage this morning will answer this question: What does it look like to live not for “human passions but for the will of God”? As we close out this section of 1 Peter, which deals with how to live as the people of God in the midst of trials, Peter now turns his attention to specifically how to live with one another as believers.  

Let me pray.

‘The end of all things is at hand.’

When you hear this, what’s your immediate reaction? Some people hear that and panic. They go right into emergency mode. Kind of like Y2K. You guys remember Y2K? Somehow we figured that when 1999 turned into 2000, the whole world would stop working. Some of us are still eating the canned beans that we bought 20 years ago. 

Or maybe a better example is Y2K20. Remember when we heard there was a novel coronavirus so we went to Costco and bought all the toilet paper? Yeah. Don’t look at your neighbor at this moment. Just gaze down at your well-supplied navel. 

Others hear, “The end of all things is at hand,” and they just give up. The apostle Paul quotes Isaiah in 1 Corinthians 15, to capture the age-old mantra for giving up. “Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” In other words, “We can’t stop the end from coming, so let’s just enjoy ourselves because nothing matters.” We may as well use up all of our toilet paper today since we won’t be doing any flushing tomorrow.

But neither of those reactions are the right reactions. Peter’s command is neither frenetic panicking nor lazily giving up. Peter’s command is this: Be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 

Before I move on from the thought that “the end of all things is at hand,” let me share just one more reflection that I’ve had for the past couple of weeks. Isn’t this a sorrowful way to live? Is this what the Christian life is about? Is the coming of the kingdom of God a gray cloud of impending doom? What about joy and glory and happiness?

I got to spend some time with Pastor Tim Cain and Richie Stark two Fridays ago. We attended Kathryn Stokes’ funeral together, and stood together at her gravesite. As we talked, Tim reminded us of this peculiar verse from Ecclesiastes 7:2–4. 

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

What does this mean? Isn’t heaven an eternal feast, the marriage supper of the Lamb? Isn’t glory the place of laughter and mirth? Why does the Bible teach us that mourning and sadness are better than feasting and laughter?

Bethlehem, ours is the dusk and not yet the morning. All of creation is groaning. Can you hear it? Can you feel it grinding away at your bones? The end of all things is at hand. We are living in a state of waiting. Waiting for justice. Waiting for rescue. Waiting for the resurrection of the dead. Waiting for Jesus to return. This is our reality.

All of our laughter and joy and feasting—that indeed we do enjoy in our life—is borrowed from what is coming. To drown ourselves with food and wine and laughter and entertainment is to block out the reality that the end of all things is at hand. Judgment for unbelievers is coming. Bodily death is coming for us all. 

But to face our reality head on brings us peace and a joy that is deeper than any other joy. Why? Because we know that with the end of the age—for those that are in Christ—there is not impending doom, but impending glory! We remember that after the dusk comes the dawn and with it unspeakable joy. This is exactly what Peter talked about in Chapter 1: “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory!”

We long for the day when every tear is wiped away. We long for the day when every unjust act is avenged by God. We long for the day when every sorrow is forgotten. We long for the day when every life lost in Christ is life resurrected. We long for the day when we see Christ face to face. And so we are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. 

This is where we live, Bethlehem. There is no need to run from it. Be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 

Our passage continues (verse 8): “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”

There are so many lifestyle magazines these days. There’s Country Living Magazine, Outdoor Living Magazine, Cabin Living Magazine. There’s even a Diabetic Living Magazine. We need a lifestyle magazine called “End of All Things” Living Magazine. Wouldn’t it be helpful to have a subscription to that magazine? Maybe there would be a great recipe for Tribulation Truffles or something like that.  

What does it look like to live our lives when the Bible tells us, “The end of all things is at hand?” Well, we don’t have a magazine, but we do have the next four verses. And these next four verses can tell you more about “End of All Things” Living than Martha Stewart Living Magazine can tell you about insider trading. 

In verses 8–11, Peter expounds on what it looks like to be self-controlled and sober-minded. What are the actions associated with this internal attitude? Peter writes, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” 

Peter lays out for us a banner action that captures the essence of “End of All Things” Living: “Keep loving one another earnestly.” The emphasis here is just slightly different than the emphasis in John 13: “Love one another as I have loved you.” I don’t want you to miss this, especially in this tumultuous time.

Here’s a brief history of loving others …

It all began way back in Leviticus 9:19:

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Then Jesus expands it in Matthew 5:44:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Jesus then raises the importance of loving your neighbor in Mark 12:31:

“The second [greatest command] is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

In John 13:34, Jesus gives us a new command of love:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

Look how Jesus raises the standard here from “as yourself” to “as I have loved you.” Jesus loves you way better and more intensely than you could ever love yourself.

In Romans 12:10, Paul expands Jesus’ love for us into the family of Christ, telling us to ...

“love one another with brotherly affection.”

In Galatians 5:14, Paul tells us that ...

“the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Then finally back to our passage today, 1 Peter 4:8, Peter teaches us to endure in our love:

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly.”

The emphasis here is on both the persistence of our love and the quality of our love. Keep loving one another, and do it earnestly. Peter is warning us against two kinds of fatigue when it comes to loving one another. The first fatigue is in endurance. It’s easy to love someone in the first minute that you meet them. “Hi! Welcome, come in, sit down, would you like some coffee?” But then after a little while you kind of start to run out of things to talk about and you start saying things like, “Well it’s been good to connect with you ...” but they’re not really getting the hint. That’s why Peter says, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” 

It’s natural that our love for one another grows weary. That’s why Peter reminds us to keep loving one another. Over the course of a longer than expected visit. Over the course of a longer than expected pandemic. Over the course of a longer than expected work from home order. Over the course of a longer than expected unemployment or sickness or quarrel. Over the course of a longer than expected conversation about ethnic harmony. Peter tells us, keep loving one another.

Secondly, our love for one another begins to fatigue in fervor. As our life together wears on, perhaps we are not so impressed with one another after all. I remember meeting Catherine at Moody Bible Institute. She used to walk around barefoot in the student plaza, hanging out with friends and I thought, “Wow, she is so carefree and lighthearted!” After we got married, I thought, “Wow, she might step on a nail and get tetanus! How irresponsible!” Peter tells us, keep loving one another earnestly. 

In the next line, Peter tells us why we ought to keep loving one another earnestly: “Since love covers a multitude of sins.” We love it when our own sins are covered, don’t we? We’ve loved it since day one. No one knows what kind of fruit Adam & Eve took a bite from because Adam chucked that thing across the garden. He had to hide the evidence. And then it was, “Ahh, I’m naked! Quick, grab me that leaf! No, the big one!”

Even in this creation narrative we have a picture of what it means that love covers a multitude of sin. When we sin against one another (which is really sin against God), the reality of our nature is laid bare for everyone to see. Everything we want to believe about ourselves becomes harder to believe: 

  • That we are basically good. 
  • That our sins are just honest mistakes. 
  • That if we weren’t under so much pressure, we wouldn’t mess up so much. 

We try to tell ourselves that our deepest nature is not evil but good. But the presence and persistence of sin in our life proves our true nature to us. That it is in our nature to rebel against God and to worship ourselves. 

So as we strive to keep loving one another earnestly, our harmony is constantly interrupted by our selfish ambitions, and we are once again laid bare. We are sinners and we know that we need true coverings. And in Christ, God provides this for us. Just as God killed that first lamb and took its skin to lovingly cover the nakedness and shame of Adam & Eve, so God killed Jesus, the Lamb of God, to cover our nakedness and shame. Continuing to love one another earnestly is to offer the welcome that Christ has purchased for us to one another. Even a multitude of sin is covered by the blood of Christ.

In this last part of our text, Peter gets very practical with how we “live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” How we ought to “keep loving one another earnestly”:

Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.—1 Peter 4:9–11

Let me get personal for a moment with all of you. As many of you can probably tell, exegetical preaching is not my main gift. Dumb jokes, maybe. But I am not gifted the way that Jason Meyer and Brian Tabb are in exegesis and preaching. Half of this sermon is their input! Focusing academically on books and articles is just not what gets me going. I am a hands-on person. I love to build things and fix machines and cook. We tell kids not to play with their food, but that’s exactly what they should be doing! I do it all the time and it’s fantastic!

Does this make me less of a Christian? Because the academic gifts are not mine, am I therefore less valuable in the kingdom of God? Does God think less of me than he does of a New Testament scholar? This has always been a real struggle for me as a pastor at Bethlehem. I’ve always wondered if I should really be a pastor. I always wonder if I am more of a deacon than a pastor, because I am always focused on doing and not so much on teaching.

Peter is telling us that God’s grace is varied. God gives gifts of speaking as well as serving! The main thrust here in this verse is not what kind of gift you have, but that all gifts come from God and we should use our gifts and give praise to God. Using our gifts to speak the oracles of God and to serve one another is how we continue to “love one another earnestly.”

When you think about ways to serve the church or your neighbors, where should you begin? It’s natural to begin by looking at published needs.

  • Greeters for Sunday morning. 
  • Our nursery needs volunteers. 
  • I used to need dishwashers for Sunday Brunch.

But over the years I have become convinced that serving in “the strength that God supplies” is not only referring to spiritual strength and physical energy, but to your personal strengths as well. You might have a desire to serve and see needs in an area that you could do, but does it match your strengths? Is that how God’s grace has been given to you? If you see me asking for help in the kitchen, but you don’t like kitchen work, that’s ok! Maybe God has gifted you with a love for cradling infants and praying over them. Do that! Maybe God has gifted you with a love for communication through graphic arts. Serve the church and your neighbors with that gift! Maybe you can fix anything, even without help from YouTube. Serve the church and your neighbors with that!

Here goes some of my reward in heaven, but it’s worth it to share these summer adventures with you:

  • A neighbor’s air conditioner stopped working and she needed help installing a new one. So I went to her house and helped her install it. 
  • A neighbor’s garbage disposal started leaking. I went over to help her remove it and plumb in a regular drain pipe.
  • I went to visit a Bethlehem family who had a clog in their bathtub. Instead of waiting for a plumber, I took the plumbing apart and cleared out the sewage line.
  • Another Bethlehem member had a drip from their ceiling so I went over to look for it and sealed up a leaking tub.
  • A neighbor’s gutter and fascia was falling down so I took it off, got in way over my head, but found help from Terry Wintz and John Schrandt and got it back together.
  • A friend needed new hanging hardware installed on the back of a heavy mirror, so I brought over my parts box and screwdriver and took care of it.
  • And when friends are in a hard time, I can think of no greater expression of love than to deliver a smoked brisket or roasted pig leg to tell them I love them.

This is what it means to use your gifts in the strength that God supplies. There are needs all around you, not just the ones published in the Weekly. Use your gifts to the glory of God.

Peter ends our passage this way:

Whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.—1 Peter 4:11

This verse means so much to me. Let me explain it this way. Twenty years ago, right after graduating from Moody Bible Institute, I walked into the bookstore and purchased a copy of Desiring God by John Piper. What I read there changed my whole life. You see, all my life, I’ve been wired to serve. I see needs around me and I want to meet them. You’re hungry? Lemme make you some ramen. You’re thirsty? Here’s some LaCroix. You’re moving? Let me tell you how I recently injured my back pretty badly.

But as a young adult, I was in a logical loop that I didn’t understand how to escape. In my zeal and desire to show hospitality and to serve, I would get such a thrill, such a high, such satisfaction from using my gifts. But then I would think, if I feel so satisfied, I must be doing it for myself. For selfish reasons, not truly for God’s glory. 

So when Pastor John Piper taught that God is actually most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him, that broken logic was finally fixed and using my gifts became an exhilarating upward spiral of joy! The more I use my gifts, the more satisfied I am in God, and the more glorified he is in me. Then when I read again that “the joy of the Lord is my strength,” I found something that I can do forever! 

This is exactly what Peter is telling us: “Whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” 

This is “End of All Things” Living. Keep loving one another earnestly. Show hospitality to one another. Use your gifts of speaking and serving. This is how we live with one another when the end of all things is at hand.

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