1 Peter 4:7-11
(Delivered Sunday, April 11, 1999 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture is taken from the New King James Version.)
(Note: This message was preached just before the turn of the new millennium. The so-called "Millennium Bug" was an ominous threat at the time. But whatever the current 'threat' might be, these biblical principles from 1 Peter 4 remain relevant.)
I have been asked more often over the past year than at any other time whether or not I believed that we were living in the last days. Perhaps it's because there's never been as pervasive a sense of moral confusion as there is today. Perhaps it's because of how out-of-control the global/political world seems right now. Perhaps it's because of how two, seemingly insignificant digits on the computer can threaten to cause so much damage and loss around the world. For these reasons and more, it seems, people are wondering what the Bible says about the end times; and are wondering what they should do to prepare . . . if, in fact, we're actually living in those days.
Once, Jesus' disciples asked Him about the end times. They asked Him, "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" It's not wrong to be thinking about the end times. It's only natural that we would want to know about them. In fact, Jesus' response to their question even suggests that it's crucial that Christians think much about the matter.
But as much as they wanted to know when the end would come, He didn't tell them. In fact, He only gave them a general sketch of the events that would surround His return, and left the matter hanging with the command to be ready and keep watching. He told them,
But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Matthew 24:36-44).
Jesus' main command to His disciples, with respect to the end-times, was to be ready and keep watching. It seems, then, that the thing to be asking isn't, "When will the last days be?" but rather, "Am I ready . . . faithfully doing what I should be doing, whenever those days may come?"
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So, then; what should we be doing? What are the things that God wants us to do in preparation for the end of the age? God gives us the answer through his servant, the apostle Peter.
The subject of the end-times was something very relevant in Peter's day. He wrote just two of the letters contained in the New Testament; and both of them were written to a community of Jewish Christians who were suffering persecution for their faith in Jesus the Messiah; and much of what he said involved 'end-times' teaching. He began his first letter with these words;
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials . . . (1 Peter 1:5-6).
And later in his letter, he told them,
Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy (4:12-13);
In fact, he made this assertion;
. . . For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? (v. 17).
I believe that, if asked whether or not He believed he and his contemporaries were living in the last days, Peter would have said and unambiguous "Yes!" And with that in mind, look at what he says in 1 Peter 4:7-11.
But the end of all things is at hand . . .
Peter is about to tell his fellow believers what to do as they live in the shadow of "the end of all things"; and what's surprising is that he doesn't tell them what we might expect. We might expect that he would tell them to do something like what Joseph told Pharaoh to do; that a terrible famine is coming, therefore store up seven years of food to keep on reserve so the nation wouldn't perish (Genesis 41:34-36). Or we might expect that he would tell them something like what the angelic messengers told Lot and his family; that a terrible judgment from God was coming, therefore escape to the mountains to avoid destruction (Gen. 19:17). Or perhaps we might expect that he would tell them to do something like what Noah did; build some sort of fortress and hide inside until the storm had passed.
Peter doesn't tell them any of these sorts of things. Instead, look at what he says:
But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all things have fervent love for one another, for "love will cover a multitude of sins." Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:7-11).
Now; who would have thought of saying "The end of all things is at hand; therefore pray, love each other, be hospitable to each other, and excise your spiritual gifts in toward one another"? But that's exactly what Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says we're to do. It seems that Peter urges the Church, living on the brink of the end of the age, to simply live consistently with what it is! . . . to simply be the Church in the fullest sense!
Often, a great deal of emphasis is placed on material protection and provision - as if it were the most important thing to be doing to prepare for the end-times. Obviously, if we see trouble coming around the corner, it's prudent to protect ourselves in advance if we can (Prov. 22:3; 27:12). But sadly, such preparation has been placed on the front burner; as if it's the most urgent need facing us. These words from Peter, however, set us straight. The fact is that it wont do us any good to do a bunch of other things to fortify ourselves during the "end-times" if we're not doing the very things God has told us to do. And here, the apostle tells us what to do.
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Let's start with getting the broader picture of what Peter is saying. Look first at the very beginning of this passage. ". . . The end of all things is at hand . . ." Peter spoke those words nearly two-thousand years ago; but we can't help noticing that the world is still here. Did Peter make a mistake? What exactly did he mean by "the end of all things" being "at hand"?
The Greek word translated "end" is telos. It means more than simply "the end" in the sense of everything being destroyed (T.E.O.T.W.A.W.K.I. - "The-end-of-the world-as-we-know-it"; as some say). Rather, this word points us to the idea of 'conusmation', or of the 'completion', or of the 'ultimate destiny' of all things. The Bible tells us that the destiny of all things - this world and all that's in it - is to be brought under the rule and reign of Jesus Christ when He returns. When that happens, then the words of the angel that are recorded for us in Revelation 11:15 will be true: "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!" It was in that sense that Peter made his assertion regarding "the end of all things".
And Peter said that this "end of all things" is "at hand", or "near". The word translated "at hand" can refer to something coming "near" in a physical sense; but it's being used in a figurative sense here, and refers to a process or a series of events that have reached completion; and that, now, the "main event" is at hand.
So, the answer is no; Peter wasn't mistaken and premature in his assessment of the times. He didn't jump the gun when he asserted that the end of all things was at hand. He spoke accurately. Do you remember that, when He died on the cross, Jesus said, "It is finished" (John 19:30)? He had completed all that He came to do in purchasing our salvation for us; and then, rising from the dead to prove His victory over death, He ascended back to His Father. Nothing of God's plan of redemption for us is left undone; and so, "when He had by Himself purged our sins," He "sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Hebrews 1:3). Now, all that we're waiting for is Jesus to return to receive His kingdom to Himself. We live in the age in which the ultimate destiny of the ages is imminent. That's why the Bible often presents the time after Jesus' resurrection and ascension as "the last days". It's because the next thing on the schedule of events to happen is His glorious return. That's why the writer of Hebrews was able to say, in Hebrews 1:2, that God has revealed Himself "in these last days"; or why he was able to refer to the time in which he was writing as "the end of the ages" (Hebrews 9:26). That's why James was able, long ago, to say that "the coming of the Lord is at hand" (James 5:8); or why John was able to say, in 1 John 2:18: "It is the last hour". That's why Peter was able to say, "The end of all things is at hand." It's because, from the time that Jesus left this earth until now, we've been living in "the last days".
Now; having looked at the beginning of this passage, look also at what Peter says at the conclusion of it. If the "end" we look for is the glorious return of Jesus Christ on earth, then what is our priority to be concerning that expectation? What reason does Peter give us for preparing ourselves for this "end"? Is it so that we can have food? Is it so we can be kept safe? No; that's not the top priority. He gives the chief concern to us in verse 11; ". . . that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen."
Notice how, even in talking about the "end of all things" being "at hand", Peter affirms the sovereign rule of Jesus Christ. This world is not out of God's control. Everything is still subject to the mighty God who sits upon His throne "high and lifted up", and of whom the angels declare, "The whole earth is full of His glory" (Isaiah 6:1-3). No matter what we see happening around us, it will all end up exactly where God the Father has decreed that it will end up - at the feet of King Jesus. As Peter affirms, He is the One "to whom belong [that is, in the present tense; right now - even as we speak, and not merely in the future] the glory and the dominion forever and ever." It's not merely that He will be the sovereign King of glory in the end - He's the sovereign King of glory now!! And with this as our confidence, our great priority while living in the "end times" is to do all that we do "that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ"; so that, when He finally puts the majesty of His glory on full display before the world, we too will rejoice with exaltation (4:13).
Too often, people's main concern in thinking about the end times is how they can protect themselves. They want to be assured that they wont suffer through the tribulation; or (if they believe they will go through the tribulation) that they can somehow stockpile enough food for themselves; or that they'll have enough material goods to live comfortably through the bad times. But can we read this passage and honestly say that's to be our top priority? How much different would our attitude toward the end times be; and how much different would our preparation for it be; if our primary concern - before anything else - was how God might be glorified in all things through His Son Jesus Christ?
As I've said, I'm being asked about the end-times more now than ever before. And each time I'm asked about how I believe we ought to prepare for the end-times, I turn to Peter's words in this passage. He answers that question in as clear and compelling a way as I know. Whatever anyone believes about the end times, and whatever else they might do to prepare themselves, if they're not doing what Peter says in this passage, they're not doing what God says to do.
So then; what does God say to do? He mentions four basic things ...
1. KEEP A COOL HEAD FOR PRAYER (v. 7).
Peter says, "But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers;" or as it is in the New American Standard translation, "be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer."
Isn't it true that, when we're in a state of panic, the last thing we think of doing is the very first thing we really ought to have been doing all along? . . . Pray? Peter urges that, in light of the fact that the end of all things is at hand, we're not to panic or get all crazy. Instead, we're to possess two attitudes: one is an attitude of 'sound-mindedness' or 'sanity', and the other is an attitude of 'clear-headedness' or 'soberness'. One attitude gives us an internal sense of control with respect to what goes on within us; the other, an undistracted attentiveness with respect to what's going on around us. And both of these attitudes are to be ours with a view to prayer - literally "prayers"; which suggests the idea of established, corporate gatherings of prayer.
As the people of God living in the last days, our first priority is to be that of seeking the glory of God through Jesus Christ in everything. That takes prayer; and such prayer demands that we be characterized by sound-mindedness and clear-headedness. It takes the kind of prayer that comes from people who have a fundamental sound-mindedness before God, and a fundamental attentiveness to what's going on around them. It's not just any ol' praying that we need in such times; but it's the kind of prayer that James spoke of when he said, "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16).
If we're to prepare properly for the days ahead, we'd better cultivate such prayer in our church life. Let me suggest, then, a practical goal for preparing for the next millennium: that each individual among us, as a member of a church family, becomes an active participant in a prayer ministry of our church; and if there's not a prayer group meeting at a time when we're able to participate, that we start one when we can.
The simple fact is that, if you're not involved in the prayer ministry of the church, then you're not prepared to meet "the end of all things" in the way God wants you to be. So, prepare by becoming "of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer."
2. LOVE EACH OTHER FERVENTLY (v. 8).
Peter says, "And above all things have fervent love for one another, for 'love will cover a multitude of sins.'"
Why does he say this is "above all else"? There's a couple of options. He either means "above all else" in the sense of "as a matter of first importance"; or he means it in the sense of "first in the order of things". It's pretty hard to say which; but in either case, he's setting love for one another as a high priority. Why? I think we can see why when he says, "'love will cover a multitude of sins'".
Here, Peter is very probably quoting Proverbs 10:12; which says, "Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins." Being around other people means that, inevitably, we'll get an occasional relational 'fender-bender' from each other. Hatred inclines us to be quick to count the dents in our fenders and keep track of who caused them. Hatred tends us toward holding on to our bitterness and hurt. Hatred moves us to bring the crimes committed against us out into the open and putting them on parade. "Hatred stirs up strife." A church community characterized by such bitterness and resentment toward one another will be ill-prepared to face troubles and trials of any kind - let alone those that proceed "the end of all things".
Love, on the other hand, is conciliatory. It tends toward covering up those 'fender-benders' rather than placing a lot of emphasis on them. Love tends toward emphasizing the unity we share as members of the Body of Christ rather than emphasizing the things that drive a wedge between us. Love "covers a multitude of sins" - that is, it forgives the "fender-benders" we sometimes give to each other and bears up under them. We're to be earnest about showing such love toward each other within the body of Christ - even "fervent" or "deep" love.
Such love is important all the time in the body of Christ. But it becomes even more crucial in a time of crisis; and this is the case for at least two reasons. One reason is because a time of crisis is when we're most likely to hurt one another and 'dent' one another's 'fenders'; and so, we need to be of the mindset, from the start, that we will be committed to fervent love for one another. As Jesus said, "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends" (John 15:12-13). Whose to say that, as the end of all things draws ever near, we wouldn't be called upon to follow Jesus' example for one another literally?
And another reason for the priority of love in a time of crisis is because the world is watching. Unbelieving people assess the validity of our faith by the sincerity of our love for one another - and rightly so. Jesus said, "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).
Again, our first priority in living in the last days is to glorify God in everything through Jesus Christ. And so, if we're to be prepared for "the end of all things" as God would have us to be, then we must be cultivating a fervent love for one another in the body of Christ. Let me suggest, then, another goal for the next few months: examine your life before God and ask Him to show you whether or not there's someone in Christ's family that you're holding a resentful attitude toward - perhaps a brother or sister that you have a hateful attitude toward - perhaps a professing brother or sister in another church family. Ask God to show you whom you are being unforgiving toward. Repent of that attitude; and, with God's help, cultivate the sort of genuinely "fervent" love for your brother or sister that glorifies God through Christ.
If you feel compelled to ready yourself for the "end of all things", then, by all means, do that! If we aren't loving one another fervently within the body of Christ, then we're nowhere near prepared - no matter how many canned goods we've stacked up in the basement.
3. SHARE WITH EACH OTHER CHEERFULLY (v. 9).
In Peter's day, hospitality was an essential necessity among the community of believers; and especially at a time during which the Church was persecuted. In Acts 8:1, it says that, "a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria . . ."; and in verse 4, it says, "Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word." You can see, then, that it was essential that believers had an open-door policy to one-another; and when they did, it greatly aided the spread of the Gospel. In fact, it was so important that the Bible makes it one of the essential qualifications of a pastor that he be "hospitable" or "given to hospitality" (1 Tim. 3:2).
It's not accidental that the command to be hospitable follows directly on the heals of the command to love fervently. Love is practically expressed in hospitality - especially at a time of persecution. Paul made hospitality a significant part of the Christian love we're to show each other during a time of trouble;
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; giving preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality (Rom. 12:9-13).
During "easy" times - when it doesn't seem like such a crucial need, it's easy for "Christian hospitality" to degenerate into an unchristian transference of obligations. We tend to invite one another over for dinner, not so much because we genuinely love each other, but because we "owe" dinner to each other. (Yuck! ... Sorta' makes you loose your appetite, doesn't it?) Yet Jesus said,
When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous (Luke 14:12-14).
The sort of hospitality that Peter is calling us to isn't the sort that is merely social on a superficial level. In fact, the Greek word Peter uses comes from the joining together of two Greek words: philos, which means "friendly love"; and xenos, which means "a stranger" - and so, the "hospitality" Peter is calling us to is "a friendly love of strangers" shown toward one another.
It's interesting that he adds the qualification, "without complaint". The word translated "complaint" means to express displeasure in whispers and murmuring. Ouch!! So often, we can try to exhibit an active hospitality, but spoil our testimony in it all by the quiet, subtle expressions of resentment that peek out from within our hearts - especially when our guest suffers under pressing needs. Paul wrote to the Philippians and said, "Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world . . ." (Phil. 2:14-15).
Again, here's a challenge. In pursuit of our first priority as the end of all things approaches - the priority of glorifying God in all things through Jesus Christ - let's cultivate an attitude of warm hospitality toward one another. Let's learn to open our homes more toward one another - not just to those who can pay us back, but to those who can't - not just to those within our familiar clique, but to those who are "strangers" to us - not out of compulsion and with a spirit of complaint, but freely and openly and generously. And if all we have to offer is beans, let's serve beans to one another without apology.
As the end of all things approaches, we must prepare by cultivating a cheerful spirit of Christian hospitality toward one another. We're really going to need it when times are tough.
4. SERVE EACH OTHER FAITHFULLY (v. 10-11).
Finally, Peter says, "As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 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 . . ."
Peter is, of course, making an assumption in these verses - that is, that all Christians have a "special gift" from God. Paul spoke of this in 1 Corinthians 12; when he wrote,
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Cor. 12:4-7).
There are a variety of gifts given by the same Holy Spirit to each different believer, just as He wills (1 Cor. 12:11); but those different gifts are distributed to different believers for the common good of all. No one is given a "gift" by God for his or her own good, but rather for the good of the Body.
Paul mentions a list of several of those gifts in a couple of portions of Scripture (1 Cor. 12:8-10; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-12); but here, Peter only mentions two broad categories: "speaking gifts" - or what we might call "up-front" gifts, and "serving gifts" - or what we might call "behind-the-scenes" gifts.
I've talked to some Christians who have felt very badly about the pressure they've been put into when it comes to serving the body of Christ. They've felt pressured to teach a Sunday School class, or to lead a discussion group, or to go on hospital visits, or to share an exciting and dramatic testimony in a public way; but they feel utterly uncomfortable and out-of-place in doing so. They genuinely find it much more comfortable to be behind-the-scenes in ministry; helping in the kitchen, or organizing clean-up and repairs, or sealing envelopes. Sadly, they've been made to feel "second-class" because of this; and they never should have been made to feel that way.
As someone who's gifted with an "up-front" sort of ministry, I can say that the "behind-the-scenes" servants of the church are absolutely essential. I may be able to talk in front of people; but frankly, I can't repair, or organize, or clean my way out of a paper bag! In fact, I've found one sure way of getting the behind-the-scenes people involved is for me to begin doing behind-the-scenes work. They usually jump right in and rescue the situation in a big hurry!
I'm utterly unequipped for behind-the-scenes work; . . . which is fine, because the Spirit of God has equipped other people to do the things I can't do, and has equipped me to do the things other people can't do. When everyone serves in the way that God has equipped them to serve - without being made to feel guilty for not being able to do what God never intended them to do; but rather, with a spirit of unity and cooperation and appreciation for each other - all of us using the gifts God has given us to "serve one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God" - then, it works out great!!
Notice that the "up-front" people aren't to simply glorify themselves in their ministry. Rather, an up-front person is to "serve the Body" by serving "as one who is speaking the utterances of God." The "up-front" people best serve the body when they minister the word to their brothers and sisters in Christ. And notice that the "behind-the-scenes" people aren't to glorify themselves in their ministry either. They're to "serve the Body" by serving "by the strength which God supplies". What a marvelous thing the Body of Christ is! When we all do the things that God has given us to do in His strength and for each other, then "we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13).
I have a strong suspicion that, while most of us may not be completely sure just what our spiritual gift is (and I believe, by the way, that every Christian has one), we at least have a general idea of whether we're best equipped for a "speaking" ministry or a "serving" ministry. You'll be happiest in your service to the body - and most effective - if you do what He has equipped you best to do. So, in preparation for the "end of all things", and in keeping with the priority of glorifying God in all things through Jesus Christ, I urge you to get to work in the ministry for which God has equipped you. Don't wait around to be asked; pray about it and get to work. Trust God to give you greater clarity along the way.
Offer your service to the Body of Christ; because we, as a church, will remain unprepared for the "end of all things" until everyone is using their gifts toward the service of one another in the harmony of the Spirit of God
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And so, let's be appropriately concerned about the end times. But let's be sure that, in doing so, we're asking the right question. Let's not ask, "Am I living in the last days;" (because it seems obvious that, from the standpoint of the redemptive program of God our Savior, we are). But instead, let's ask, "Am I living faithfully? Am I doing what I should be doing? Are we, as a church, doing what we should be doing? Are we keeping our heads clear so that we can properly pray? Are we fervently loving each other as a matter of top priority? Are we opening up our homes to one another and practicing a spirit of hospitality to one another without complaint? Are we being faithful to practice our spiritual gifts in the faithful service of one another?"
If we're doing these things, then we'll simply be "being the Church" - living as a genuine community of faith before the watching world - and God will be glorified in us through Jesus Christ as we approach the culmination of all things. Can there be any better way to prepare than that?
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