LIVING WITH THE END IN VIEW, 1 Peter 4:7 – 11, September 22, 2020
Reflection | Our passage today brings to a close the second part of Peter’s first letter to the churches scattered throughout Asia Minor. He began this portion of his correspondence with a summons to forgo giving into selfish desires and instead to remain focused on doing good for the sake of others. He has unpacked what exactly this means and what it ought to look like in various relationships. Peter also has acknowledged the abuse and the suffering that comes from walking such a counter-culture path. In doing so, he has commended those who follow Jesus to adopt Christ’s attitude toward such hardships – trusting in God’s power and purpose to work in and through such experiences.
To all of this, Peter now adds a perspective that is intended to serve both as an encouragement and as a warning. “The end of all things is near” (verse 7). Peter is declaring that all the major events in God’s plan for the salvation of humanity – the creation and setting apart of Israel, the coming of the Messiah – Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, the birth of the Church and the giving of the Holy Spirit – have occurred. Everything necessary for the world as we know it to come to it’s end already has happened. Our journey of faith in Christ to all things being made new is in its home stretch. This means that an end to suffering and death, along with the vindication of those who follow Jesus is not far away.
How then, should we live being so close to the conclusion of one chapter of our existence and the beginning of a new, eternal one? Peter urges us, “Therefore, be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.” The specific connotation of the word translated as “alert” is being of sound mind, that is thinking and acting sensibly. In order to stay alert in this way, we must remain sober – that is both our heads and our hearts must stay clear and focused rather than perpetually divided and distracted.
Out of such sensibility and sobriety, Peter directs us to pray. We are not to approach our relationship with our Creator casually or sporadically. Instead we are to seek, to converse with, and listen to God daily and habitually. Prayer changes things. Specifically, in connecting with Him, God changes us. Through His Word and His Spirit, the Lord affords us the perspective we lack, the strength we need, and the wisdom and direction for which we long.
Communing with God regularly will impact how we engage and treat those around us. Hence, Peter adds, “Above all, love each other deeply” (verse 8). There has been a tendency within the Church to focus on our relationship with God at the neglect of our relationship with each other. But the Great Commandment does not allow for such an imbalance. And neither does Peter. For the fourth time in this letter (see 1:22, 2:17, 3:8), he stresses the priority and importance of loving each other “above all” else.
Our love for God is revealed through our love of our neighbor. What is the defining character trait of God is to be the defining characteristic of those who profess to speak and act in the Lord’s name. Our love for God, reflected through our love to each other, is to be expressed “deeply” – that is, “earnestly” or “fervently.” The Greek word translated as an adverb in our Bibles derives from a word that described an athlete stretching and straining every muscle to win a race. The love we have been given thanks to Jesus is more than a feeling or an emotion. It is an action – love enacted through the sacrifice and service of God in Christ. Consequently, loving like Jesus requires the choice of sustained, strenuous, and intentional effort on our part – only made possible by the grace of God at work in us.
In the face of ridicule and possibly even rejection, is tirelessly conveying such love really worth it? Yes, Peter insists, “because love covers over a multitude of sins.” Here is an example of a portion of a Bible verse that, quoted out of its context, is liable to lead to greater misunderstanding about the Gospel. Peter is not suggesting that we earn or gain the forgiveness of our sins through how well we love others. We know this is not what Peter means because it contradicts everything else that he has clearly written as well as what the rest of the Bible teaches.
The Gospel is the good news that the only One who can forgive human sin is God and thanks to His work through Jesus Christ both on the Cross and through the Resurrection, God has forgiven the sins of this world. So then, what exactly is Peter saying? He is actually quoting Proverbs 10:12. The meaning of that proverb and by extension, Peter’s use of it, is a person who acts in love through building others up rather than tearing them down and through forgiving rather than retaliating, negates the potential and further propagation of sin. The tinder of pride and resentment lack the spark to get fire in a community that is saturated in Christlike love. On the other hand, when love is lacking, fear and misunderstanding abound which typically leads to the perpetuation of the cycle of wrongdoing.
Peter goes on to articulate one of the most practical expressions of the earnest love he invokes. “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (verse 9). Peter’s addition of “without grumbling” might cause us to chuckle aloud. After all, hasn’t everyone had someone come knocking at their door at a less then favorable time? But the biblical understanding of hospitality encompasses much more than inviting someone inside our homes for a moment or even for a meal. In the ancient world, hospitality entailed not just opening up one’s home but also one’s life and resources for the benefit of another person.
In fact, the Greek word for “hospitality” stems from two words: philos, meaning “love” and xenos, meaning “stranger” or “foreigner.” True Christian hospitality then is demonstrating love toward not just a friend or a neighbor but a complete stranger. It is to share the roof that one has over their heads as well as the food on one’s table. It is to notice and to stop and to tend to the needs of that person who is languishing on the side of the road – carrying them and securing the means of their shelter and healing. As Peter calls those who follow Jesus to practice this kind of hospitality without grumbling, it is no laughing matter.
And Peter doesn’t stop here. He proceeds to expand any conventional notion in his day or ours of what it means to express love through the practice of hospitality. “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (verse 10). As far as Peter is concerned, we must understand two truths. First, we need to recognize whatever we have not as our own but rather as being a gift from God. We might recall Peter started this letter by making this same assertion (see 1:17). Second, we need to understand whatever we have been given was afforded to us for the sake of serving others in the name of God.
Nothing we have is off-limits in this regard. Nothing we have is to be claimed as for our benefit alone. In a world that fancies and even make demands on the basis of “private property” – whether physical, intellectual, or otherwise, Peter reminds us that we are stewards of everything and owners of nothing. Every good thing we have and all the good that we can do is only by God’s grace and is meant to be extended for the betterment of others – again, without resentment of the time or the expense which may be required.
Just in case there is any doubt or just in case we want to split hairs, Peter reiterates: “If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God (verse 11). Whenever we speak, Peter reminds us even our words are not our own. The gift of human speech and the oxygen in our lungs that makes such speech possible is to be dedicated not to prattling off whatever we want to say. What we say and how we say it is to faithfully communicate the character and will of God to others. Poor, careless, and particularly harmful speech is not a misrepresentation of who the Lord is but it is an abuse of the trust that God has placed in us.
Serving others can be challenging. It is easy to become exhausted, even burned out in doing so. This is all true if we attempt to serve others out of our own initiative and will. But Peter reorients this unfortunately, typical approach to much of Christian service as he writes, “If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” Serving others can be demanding but not necessarily ultimately depleting. It can be rewarding and life-giving if our service to others draws upon and relies upon the strength God provides.
This means letting the Spirit guide us in terms of whatever we are doing and for whom. Approached in this way, we will minister not out of our need – trying to prove ourselves and/or seeking the approval of others – but rather out of the gifts the Lord has specifically given us. We can’t be all things to all people – and we don’t have to be. It is more than enough for us to serve others out of who we are in Christ – out of particular talents, skills, and resources with which we have been equipped. Serving in this way, the blessing goes both ways – God blesses others through us and we are blessed by God through our service to others.
Peter concludes with a doxology (an expression of praise to God): “To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” He reminds us that our lives lived in service to each other are fundamentally about magnifying the goodness of God. Yielding to the grace of God, we experience the power of that grace. We become conduits of the very power of God – the power of God that brought all life as we know it into existence, the power of God that is remaking and transforming this world for the better.
Consider & Discuss | If you were mindful every day that “the end of all things is near,” how would this change your thoughts, choices, priorities, etc, – in a positive and constructive way? What, if anything, is keeping you from thinking clearly and praying regularly? What distractions do you need to eliminate to improve your prayer life? What impact has the love of Christ made in your life? What would it look like to love like Jesus in your relationship with others? What has God given you that He is calling you to use for the betterment of others? What blessings, what gifts have you received from God that you are not sharing?
Prayer Focus | Father we thank You for the continual reminder that we are closer to the end than we are to the start of our journey of faith with You – that the return of Christ is imminent. In an age of distraction when we are already prone to wander in our focus, clear our minds and center our hearts on Your voice spoken to us through Your Word and Your Spirit. Give us ears to hear but also the will to love others like You love us. Protect us from the temptation to claim anything as our own but instead teach us to offer everything we have in service to others as gifts we have been given to share by You and for You. Amen.