September 13, 2020
Steven Lee (North 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
Two days ago marked the 19th anniversary of September 11, when four coordinated terrorist attacks took place on American soil. The attacks resulted in almost 3,000 deaths, countless injuries, and lasting consequences for families, communities and cities, and the entire country. I remember being glued to the television watching the devastation unfold and hearing the roar of the jets that flew overhead in San Diego as they prepared for the unknown. If you’re 25 years old or older, you probably remember exactly when you heard about the 9/11 attacks.
In the days following the 9/11 attacks, the country rallied together. There was unprecedented patriotism and unity in the country. There was a collective desire to display the resiliency and resolve of the American people in the face of a terrible attack. Chants of “USA!” spontaneously erupted at Ground Zero, at baseball games, and at police and fire stations. How would America respond in the midst of trials and challenges?
And though the situation and circumstances are very different, the question before us is how believers should respond in the midst of trials and challenges. When maligning, slander, suffering, and persecution assail believers, how should we respond?
Last week, we saw that believers are to arm themselves with the mind of Christ. We are not to live like Gentiles, for they will be judged by God. Instead, believers are not only to abstain from human passions—sinful desires—but to live in order to glorify God in all things.
The very real trials the apostle Peter’s readers are facing could cause them to conform and compromise or to withdraw and retreat from society and from one another. With the surge in violence in the Twin Cities, there is a shortage of guns and ammunition. Many are thinking more than ever about their own protection and safety.
With these stressors and challenges, many are seeking to look out for themselves: How can I protect myself and my family? That is not necessarily wrong, but Peter wants to remind his readers, and all of us this morning, that we ought not to lose sight of loving one another in the family of faith.
The main point of our passage is that believers are to live together and love one another in light of the imminence of Christ’s return. Don’t lose sight of your calling, your identity, and your purpose in such a time as this. The bright light of believers is to shine brighter on overcast days and in prolonged darkness. None of these current events—neither in Peter’s day nor today—ought to be surprising to believers whose ultimate hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The aim of this passage is not just that the attitudes and actions of God’s people would be changed, but that in everything God would be glorified through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 4:11).
1 Peter 4:7–11 begins with a stunning claim (7a) and then follows that with four exhortations for how believers are to live.
Peter begins with the short but loaded phrase: “The end of all things is at hand.” What does Peter mean by this? Peter has in view that believers right now are living in the final stage of redemptive history, which began at the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. We are right now living in the time between Jesus’ first coming and his second coming. This is called the “last days” or the “end of all things.”
It would be right and appropriate to wonder how this phrase fits with when Peter wrote this. Roughly 2,000 years have passed since Peter first wrote these words. How then should we understand “the end of all things is at hand” both now and 2,000 years ago?
Jesus taught about the nearness of his kingdom. Mark 1:15 says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Peter recognizes that God views time differently than we do; 2 Peter 3:8 says, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” The point is that God is patiently delaying his second coming so that more would reach repentance!
Peter and Jesus are conveying that the kingdom of God has begun and been inaugurated. The stunning truth is that we are right now living in the final stage of redemptive history. Jesus could return at any time, and the end is “soon,” so we ought to live with that level of watchfulness. Jesus’ return is imminent—he could come back right now.
In Revelation 22:20, the second-to-last verse of the Bible, Jesus tells us when he will return. John writes, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20). Jesus himself says he’s coming “soon.” So we might ask, “How soon is soon?” In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis picks up on this theme and language in a conversation between Lucy and Aslan. They are saying their goodbyes and Aslan says to Lucy, “Lucy, don’t look so sad. We will meet soon again.” And Lucy responds, “Please, Aslan, what do you mean by soon?” And Aslan replies, “I call all times soon.”
We are right now living in the last days. And Peter makes this stunning statement to motivate believers to live godly lives. You have one life to live and your days are numbered. How will you use the time that you have remaining? Will you just think about yourself, or withdraw from others, or will you seek to glorify God through Jesus as a part of the church?
If the world is coming to an end, there would be a temptation to withdraw from the world, to stop working, to stop preparing for the future, to run away to some off-grid bunker in South Dakota, to stop paying your taxes, to withdraw from the church, and to become a doomsday prepper. But that is not what God’s people are called to. Instead, they are to keep living faithfully in community in light of Christ’s imminent return.
There are four things that Peter says believers are to do because the end is near: Think clearly (v. 7b), love fervently (v. 8), host joyfully (v. 9), and serve graciously (vv. 10–11).
Therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.
This exhortation calls for right and clear-headed thinking in light of redemptive history. Be alert and ready for the sake of your prayer life. Or be serious and watchful. Believers are not to engage in mindless activities that pull us away from God—and particularly from our prayer life. If you’re consumed with social media, alcohol, reading conspiracy theories, watching Fox News or CNN, or constantly scrolling your phone, my guess is that your prayer life suffers.
Peter, in 1:13, instructed his readers by saying, “Therefore preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” In essence, don’t get drunk like the Gentiles, but be sober and watchful toward the things of Christ. Later, in 1 Peter 5:8, he gives additional motivation for such watchfulness: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Remember this is Peter, who was with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, to whom Jesus said, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Matthew 26:41).
How does this watchfulness and sober-mindedness connect with prayer? At one level it’s really simple: If you are drunk, you are not likely praying. My guess this morning is that drunkenness is not the prevalent issue for many of us. My sense is that technology is the substance of choice that pulls us away from communing with the God of the universe in conversation. Studies have shown that our phones are addictive, every app is addictive, and these have quickly replaced prayer. Instead of prayer and Bible reading as the first thing we do when we wake up and the last thing we do before bed, the phone is now the first thing we scroll and the last thing we touch before bed.
And then let me just remind you of the privilege we have. Believers get to pray “Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven!” (Matthew 6:9–10). We get to pray, “Jesus, come back soon! Break into the problems of my life and of our world with the power of your Holy Spirit. Make me more like Jesus. Save my lost family, neighbors, and coworkers. Unify us under Christ’s lordship!”
Remember when you first starting dating your spouse (for those who are married) or your boyfriend or girlfriend (if you’re dating right now). You talked all the time. You talked about what you did that day, and you couldn’t get enough. Married people very often need to relearn how to talk to one another, rather than taking things for granted. So it is in our relationship with Jesus. Like the church in Ephesus that abandoned the love they had at first, some of us this morning are being exhorted to recover our first love.
Now Peter turns from thinking clearly to loving fervently.
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
Believers, instead of succumbing to the temptation to withdraw, to flee, or to become self-centered and self-focused, are commanded to keep loving one another earnestly and fervently. Though maligning and suffering intensifies, don’t withdraw from Christian community.
What does it mean for love to “cover a multitude of sins”? Only Jesus forgives sins. Peter knows that. Peter is quoting from the latter half of Proverbs 10:12, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.” Peter calls for a persevering, offense-covering love that forgives. If you’ve been sinned against, the Bible says you can either overlook it, cover it over, and forgive, or you can bring it to them according to Matthew 18. Isn’t it stunning that the Bible assumes that Christians will sin against one another? Doing life and community together means that we will inadvertently hurt each other. But when that happens, don’t let it tear apart this family for which Jesus died.
Don’t let minor disputes destroy the unity of God’s people, whom he purchased with his blood. We must love each other fervently. It’s often been said that the church is not a museum full of saints, but a hospital full of sinners. Thus, love is needed all the more. A love that forgives, overlooks, covers over (not covers up), and preserves the unity of the community. Who has sinned against you in the Body? Have you forgiven them? Against whom have you sinned? Have you asked for their forgiveness?
Just this week I shared with a friend that something they said was hurtful. It was hard to admit that their words hurt. It wasn’t a fun thing to have to say. It would have been easier to just shut that friend out. And God in his kindness allowed that conversation to go well. To restore love and unity between us. Someday, I’ll probably say something rude or hurtful, and the roles will be reversed. The aim is to uphold the unity and love that is distinctive in the body of Christ (John 13:35).
We believe that being involved in community with others is vitally important. A significant way we do that is small groups. I know some of us have been hurt by fellow believers, and we’re slow to be vulnerable with others. Maybe you felt uncared for, maybe you were wrongly rebuked, or maybe you don’t know if you’ll be accepted. Maybe others have said hurtful things. Maybe you have been the one who has said or done hurtful things. I want to encourage and challenge us to reconcile where we need to—by forgiving or by talking with someone else—and to not neglect Christian community.
Peter next points out that this fervent love is to manifest in hospitality.
Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.
Hospitality in Peter’s day included welcoming strangers, hosting church gatherings in one’s home, providing lodging for itinerant ministers of the gospel who traveled from place to place, and very often serving and sharing in meals. There were no Hilton or Marriott hotels. It was also a way to meet the needs of strangers, foreigners, the poor, widows, and orphans. In the Greco-Roman world, church gatherings took place in homes, much like small groups do today. It would have been very easy to grow tired of hosting these gatherings with the inconvenience, cost, and disruption caused by practicing hospitality.
Peter calls for a joyful and costly hospitality. Believers are to show hospitality without grumbling. Despite the cost, inconvenience, and disruption to our lives, we are to selflessly welcome others. Why? Because we recognize that all that we have belongs to God anyway. In the next section we see that we are stewards of God-given gifts. This is true of our money, our food, our time, and our homes. We are managers of what God has entrusted to his children. And when we rightly think about who owns it all, then we can rightly open our homes to welcome others as an opportunity, and not a burden.
I remember being on the receiving end of this type of hospitality. Many of you know that we moved to Minnesota in 2017 and did not have a place to live with our family of seven people. For over 100 days we hopped from place to place across the Twin Cities. I know for a fact that hosting seven people, no matter how big your house is, is no walk in the park. It was inconvenient. It was a hassle. Most of the people didn’t even really know us. We had a crying infant. But I heard no grumbling.
Who around you—perhaps an arm’s-length away from you—can you lend a helping hand? To whom can you open your home and heart? Perhaps foster care? Perhaps a single person between leases? Perhaps a family facing a layoff? Perhaps a single parent in need of help? Perhaps educating the children of working parents? Perhaps coming alongside the elderly? God owns it all! How earnest and fervent is our love? How gracious is our hospitality? How joyful are we in opening our homes?
Peter then turns from love and hospitality, to using our varied gifts in verses 10–11.
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.
Notice with me the following. All believers have received at least one gift. Christians are to use these gifts in serving one another. All believers are stewards of these gifts of grace. This means God gave them to be used and not hoarded. They are to be used for others, rather than for ourselves. Peter gives two categories as a catch-all for the gifts: speaking and serving. These are to be done in and through the power of God in order to speak the words of God and serve by the strength that God supplies. Much like Paul in Colossians 3:17, he says, “In word and deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
We are stewards of these gifts. Gifts are not for our boasting, our personal edification, or for our personal fulfillment. We are managers who have been entrusted gifts that we are to use to build up others.
One of the challenges with reopening is that the Minnesota Health Department COVID-19 guidelines indicated that all touched surfaces needed to be cleaned. That means the backs of these wooden chairs needed to be wiped down. We have volunteers that have wiped these chairs after each service. They’ve never been cleaner. Our gifts are to be a manifestation of God’s grace in the lives of others.
Believers are to serve out of the strength that God supplies. There is a progression here. God gives gifts to believers. Believers use those gifts to serve one another. When one believer receives that gift from a fellow believer, which is ultimately from God, God gets glory in and through the church. Now the question then is this: Is that flow being stopped? God has given you gifts. And the church needs those gifts: speaking, serving, loving, hosting, giving, and so forth. Is God’s varied grace flowing through you into the life of the church? Or are you somehow stopping up God’s grace that is supposed to be flowing through the body? Yes, we need children’s teachers, small group leaders, welcomers, nursery workers, counselors, generous givers, and all the other gifts at work in this body.
And the aim of all of this loving, hospitality, serving, and speaking is for this purpose: “That in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11). That is the deep and beautiful and profound aim of our lives. Whether we eat, or drink, or whatever we do, that we do all for the glory of God.
Peter concludes with a doxology for this section that begun at 2:11, reminding his readers again that to Jesus belong all glory and dominion forever. Jesus rules and reigns from heaven, and he is now at work in and through his people so that he might be glorified.
Let me end with this story. It happened in a French village after World War II, when most of the buildings had been bombed out. The townspeople came together to help rebuild some of the bombed buildings. They started with the church and cleared the debris, installed new windows, and rebuilt the pews. In the debris they found a marble statue of Jesus and attempted to cement it back together. But they could not find the hands despite searching high and low. Nonetheless, the statue was restored to its normal place, and in a moment of inspiration a soldier hung a placard underneath with the words, “He has no hands but yours.” That story makes the point that we are now the hands and feet of Jesus. We are the body of Christ. We represent Jesus to a watching world. We have the privilege of loving, serving, and speaking out of the multifaceted grace that Jesus pours into us so that God would get all the glory.
The end of all things is at hand; therefore, brothers and sisters, we get to love, serve, and live in light of the end. We have an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. We are born again to a living hope, and so we can expend ourselves, use our gifts, and give of our resources to build up and strengthen one another. In so doing, we magnify and glorify Jesus’ all-sufficient grace that is given to us all. He is not stingy, but lavishes his grace liberally so that his church is edified, the world is awakened to his infinite worth and power, and Jesus Christ gets all the glory.
1 Arkansas Baptist State Convention, “May 25, 1961” (1961). Arkansas Baptist Newsmagazine. 69 (https://scholarlycommons.obu.edu/arbaptnews/69).
Main Point & Aim: Believers are to live together and love one another in light of the imminence of Christ’s return so that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.
Intro Question: If you knew that you only had three years to live, how would that change how you live right now? Why?
Reflect on how privileged and blessed we are to live in the final stage of redemptive history. Thank God for giving us his word and the knowledge of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Confess any temptation to withdraw, to become self-focused, to flee hardship, or to withdraw from Christian community when circumstances grow difficult or trials seem great. Ask God for enabling strength through his Holy Spirit in order to exercise your gifts of hospitality, love, service, giving, and speaking so that God would receive all the glory through Jesus Christ.