September 25, 2016
I am pretty sure that when you woke today you did not think the end is near. Most of us are not thinking that the end of all things is at hand. And, I could be wrong, but I imagine that our first thought this morning was not, “Hey, Jesus may come today.” We are pretty much focused on living another day. We have places to go and things to do. Besides we have no idea when Jesus is coming back. And it’s been a long time since his ascension.
But having no idea of the time of his coming doesn’t mean we are completely in the dark. Jesus told us that he is coming back at a time when we are not expecting his return. And he told us that when he comes it will be sudden. He also indicated that it could be a good long time before he comes but that we should be watching and waiting. Most would say that the last days began when Christ was born.
In 1Pt.4:7 Peter says, “The end of all things is at hand.” In other words the time is growing short. Christ is coming soon. What does that mean for us as Christians? Well, Peter tells us that as the end of the age approaches Christians have four priorities.
I. PRAYER. 1Pt.4:7
Not only do Christians live with a different set of values than unbelievers in the world, but we also live with a different time frame. We do not believe that history as we know it just goes on and on forever. We believe that a day is coming when Jesus Christ will return and this world will come to an end and there will be a new heaven and a new earth.
So when Peter reminds us that the end of all things is at hand, did he think that Jesus would return during his lifetime? I don’t know. I think that Peter believed the Lord could come at any time. And this is what I believe. Christ the Lord is coming and believers are urged to live in the light of his imminent coming. We already saw from v.5 that when Christ comes there is going to be judgment. The days we live in are important for Christ is near.
For many years it was common to hold prophecy conferences focusing on the coming of Christ. Many books on prophecy were published. One of the most well-known books was The Late Great Planet Earth, by Hal Lindsey. More recently is the Left Behind series. From my perspective it seems that end times prophecy has fallen on hard times. It seems that Evangelicals are not as hyped about the coming of Christ as they once were. Well, without going back to the sensationalism that often accompanied these books and conferences, we do need to recover a sober minded awareness that, as James tells us, “…the Judge is standing at the door.”
One more introductory thought. After Jesus ascended, we see in the book of Acts that Jesus’ followers spent much time in prayer as they waited for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Like us they were waiting for a promised coming. Just as the believers spent much time in prayer then, so Peter urges us to be in prayer now.
But what are we supposed to be praying about? Well, from the context it would seem that we are to pray about anything and everything that is associated with our living in the world in light of Christ’s coming. We live in a world that is filled with multiple opportunities to show the love, grace, and mercy of Jesus to others. We live in a world that does not acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ. But we do. And so we pray for people who don’t know Christ. We pray that God will help us to live lives that honor Christ. We pray that God will help us persevere in faithfulness through all the heartaches and disappointments of life. And we seek to keep Christ and his word fully in our hearts and minds.
In order to pray Peter says we need to be self-controlled and sober-minded. The reason for this is that the world is constantly seeking to squeeze us into its mold. Instead of thinking like the world, we must have our thoughts, emotions, and desires framed by the truth of God’s word and the fullness of the Holy Spirit. We are all subject to the toxic self-centered, antagonistic thinking of this world. Prayer is a powerful weapon for taking every thought captive to Jesus Christ. We will not be able to live as followers of Christ in this world without prayer.
II. LOVE. 1Pt.4:8
Notice he says, “above all.” Love is the essential mark of being a Christian. Paul writes, “If I do not have love I am nothing.” Now what is love? Love is a commitment to will and seek the best for another person. It is not primarily a feeling, although feelings are often present. Jesus loved us to the point of death.
Peter is writing to various congregations scattered around Asia and Asia Minor. So what he writes is not directed only to individuals. His words are directed to individuals who are part of a local church. This is important. Peter is not just encouraging us to be loving people in a general way. He is telling us to love one another in the church. We are to love one another earnestly, fervently. In other words we are not to feign love for each other. We are to sincerely love each other from our hearts. Paul tells us that the love of God has been poured out into our hearts.
And we see what kind of love this is. Peter says this love covers a multitude of sins. Now this is a quote from Prov.10:12. I find it interesting that Peter quotes this verse. It’s interesting because it implies that there are sins committed by people in the church that will need to be overlooked. Peter is a realist. We are broken people. Even when our motives are good, we can easily do harm.
Many years ago we had an intern from Trinity Divinity School. This man is a dear friend of mine who has enjoyed a long pastorate in Pennsylvania. He and I are close in age, but since I was the pastor I was overseeing his internship. At one point he had to prepare and preach a message and after looking at his outline it seemed to be not well thought through. My intention was good, but when I asked him, “Did you spend much time on this,” I caused him hurt. I have apologized numerous times. It sounded condescending. I didn’t intend to hurt him but I did. Love covers a multitude of sins.
The pathway to reconciliation is the pathway of truth. And in the local church we must seek to speak the truth in love for the purpose of reconciliation, harmony and unity. We are all at different places in our Christian maturity. Some of us find it difficult to be honest with ourselves and others. Some of us find it difficult to speak the truth in love. Some of us find it difficult to forgive, especially if we are carrying deep wounds. It will be very difficult to love one another earnestly if we do not have reconciliation as a Christian value. To overlook a matter is to forgive and no longer hold it against a person. To overlook a matter is to recognize that we are also sinners and are no better than our brothers and sisters in Christ. To overlook a matter means that we are invested in the welfare of our local church family to the point that we will not let anything get in the way of our unity in Christ. We will seek each other’s welfare.
III. HOSPITALITY. 1Pt.4:9
I have always found it interesting to note that the greek word for hospitality is a compound word that literally means, “love of strangers.” We have a word, xenophobia which means fear of strangers. This word is, “philoxenos.” “Philia” is a Greek word for love. Xenos is the word for stranger.
Hospitality was regarded as a virtue in the ancient world. Listen to this from the Dictionary of the Later New Testament. “…hospitality is a social process by means of which the status of…an outsider is changed from stranger to guest. The process has three stages: the evaluation and testing of the stranger to see whether incorporation as a guest is possible without undue threat…; the incorporation of the stranger as a guest under the patronage of a host and in accordance with a…specific code of hospitality imposing obligation upon both host and guest; the departure of the guest as a stranger now transformed into either a friend, if honor has been satisfied, or an enemy, if honor has been infringed.” Hospitality was considered to be a duty of the community. We do not have this concept of hospitality.
And yet we all have an understanding of what hospitality is. It involves opening our homes to others. Usually we think of relatives who come to visit. Once in a while it might be a missionary or guest speaker who is coming to the church and needs a place to stay.
There is no question about it. Today with our busy lives, hospitality can be somewhat of an inconvenience. Today, people eat on the run. They are involved in many different activities and it’s not easy to host a guest that you don’t even know. Perhaps it wasn’t as convenient in Peter’s day, either, because he tells us to show hospitality without grumbling.
Now again, we must keep in mind that Peter is writing to believers. I don’t think Peter is suggesting that we just throw our homes open to whoever needs a place to stay. We want to do our best to know enough about a person so that we are not concerned for the welfare of our family and home. Imagine yourself a Christian in need of a place to stay in a city that is persecuting Christians. You would be so thankful for hospitality. It is important for us to cultivate a willing heart of hospitality. A hospitable heart is a Christian grace.
The idea of spiritual gifts is found in Rom.12, 1Cor.12-14, Eph.4 and here in 1Pt. The basic teaching is that the Holy Spirit gives a divine enablement to every believer for the good of the local church. If you read these passages you will find examples of the kinds of spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit. Here Peter gives us two categories of gifts. There are speaking gifts and serving gifts.
Serving gifts would be gifts like administration, helping, giving, healing and acts of mercy. Speaking gifts would include teaching, preaching, counseling, singing, perhaps speaking in tongues or having a word of knowledge.
I do not believe it is imperative to know exactly what your gifts are. It is helpful but not critical. What is critical is being surrendered to the Holy Spirit and being willing to minister in the church family. Frankly I believe that any ability or skill that a Christian has ought to be surrendered to the building up of the church. I mean suppose the Holy Spirit gave you a gift of teaching and you also had the ability of administration. Would you say, “Yes, I will use my gift of teaching but not my gift of administration?” That doesn’t sound right. We lay all that we are and have at the feet of Jesus. Again while the Holy Spirit can give a gift that is completely foreign to our natural abilities, I believe he generally gives gifts that are consistent with who we are as people and he is the one who takes our abilities and adds spiritual enabling. Peter calls it “the strength that God supplies.”
Notice a few things. The gifts are for serving one another. Our spiritual gifts are not given to us for self-promotion. This implies that we have a role to play in our church family. It implies that we each take ownership of our church family. There are many professing Christians today who come to church as spectators. Even when they come to the worship service, they do not see themselves as part of a church family. They are basically there for themselves. It does not occur to them that their presence may have an impact on the rest of the church as an encouragement in worship. And what about these spiritual gifts given to every believer?
If you are a Christian, you ought to be involved in some kind of service with your fellow believers in the church, not because it’s your duty, but because it’s what Jesus would do if he were in your shoes. It’s how we live as Christians.
Here’s a question I would like you to ask yourself. What would you like to do in the church? How would you like to serve? What would give you joy? What could you do to help build up the body of Christ? What are your strengths and abilities? The church is the people of God in this world meeting in a local setting. It’s the only institution that will continue into the new creation. When you stop and think about it, apart from investing in the lives of others for Christ, your investment in the local church family is the only investment that will have an eternal impact. It is laying up treasures in heaven. How are you involved in ministry?
I have in my mind the picture of a small child spending the weekend with grandparents. The child knows that on the next day mom and dad are coming to pick her up to go back home. So the night before she puts her clothes in the suitcase so that she is ready first thing in the morning. Then she spends much of the next day looking out the window to see if her parents are in the driveway. O she watches some television and plays, but always in the back of her mind is the fact that mom and dad are on their way. She doesn’t know the time of their coming and her sense of time is not well-formed yet. So she watches.
It is the same with us. We do not know the time of Jesus’ coming. Nor do we really have a handle on how to assess time in this regard, so we are watching and waiting. And as we watch and wait we are living for Christ. Whatever we do, in the back of our mind is the fact that Jesus is coming. But what are we to do while we wait? Do we pack our bags, so to speak, and just sit tight? Of course not. We are praying. We are loving one another. We are hospitable. We are ministering in our church family, helping one another to keep our eyes on Jesus. Amen