Living Today In Light Of Tomorrow (1 Peter 4:7-11)Written by admin on Nov 25, 2018 in - No Comments
I invite you to turn with me in your Bibles once again this morning to the book of 1 Peter. Our passage for this today’s sermon is 1 Peter 4:7-11. If you do not have a Bible with you today, or if you’d like to follow along in the translation I will be preaching from, please make use of one of the pew Bibles where you will find this passage located on page 1016.
I suspect that most of us in this room gathered together with members of our extended family over the Thanksgiving holiday. And, if you did, I hope it was an enjoyable time for you. But, the truth is, those sorts of gatherings can be very interesting, can’t they? You never really know how they are going to go. Sometimes they are pleasant; sometimes they are not so pleasant. And, oftentimes you get in the car shocked and shaking your heard at what someone said or did.
Well, pretend with me for a minute that at your Thanksgiving gathering last week, a family member pulled you aside and shared a little secret with you. And imagine that the secret was that they had, in one way or another, amassed a large amount of money, more than they could ever use, and that they had decided to share it with some of their family members—including you. And, instead of waiting until their death to pass the money on, they were planning to begin distributing the money in the next few months. Of course, they explained that they have been working with lawyers for the past several months on this, and the lawyers had put together some paperwork for you to review and sign and get back to them within the next couple of weeks. And then, he or she hands you an envelope and tells you to call them if you have any questions.
Well, imagine that once you get into your car, and open the envelope, that you discover you are about to receive $5 million from this family member, and that you are going to get it within the next 90 days. And, according to the letter from the attorney, there are no catches or stipulations, all you need to do is provide them with some information, and they will be in contact with you to arrange for the deposit into your bank account.
Now obviously, the chances of something like this happening at one of your Thanksgiving gatherings is not very likely. But, if it did, I wonder how your knowledge about what was about to happen in your future would affect the way you began to conduct yourself in the meantime. For example, after knowing that you were going to be the recipient of $5 million, do you think it would change the way you responded to the person at the gas station on your way home who was asking for someone to help them with gas money? Do you think it would reduce the stress you might be feeling about spending more than you should on Christmas gifts once again this year? Do you think that you might go ahead and get the ball rolling on some of those household repairs and improvement projects you have been putting off? Do you think you might be more generous with charitable giving at the end of this year?
The point I am trying to make, is that if you know you are about to receive $5 million, it is probably going to affect your outlook just a bit, don’t you think? This sort of knowledge about the future would not be something that you would be able to ignore. It would affect the way you are thinking about things right now.
Well, for the past several sermons we have been in a section of Peter’s letter where he has been telling us about the importance of conducting ourselves in the right way while we live as sojourners and exiles on this earth. Well, this morning we are coming to the end of this section of Peter’s letter. And in these final few verses from this section, Peter shifts his focus a bit. For the most part, he has been talking about how we ought to interact with the unbelievers we encounter in our lives. But in today’s passage, the focus shifts toward the relationships we have with those who are part of our church family. And the main thing we are going to see in this passage for today is that what we believe about the future, ought to affect how we live with and relate to other Christians right now. Just like knowing that we are going to receive a $5 million deposit into our bank account will affect us in all sorts of ways, knowing what we know about the future, ought to affect us as well. In fact, according to Peter, it ought to affect us in four different ways. Yes, in today’s passage, Peter identifies four different ways that our lives ought to be influenced by our hopes and beliefs about the future. And that is what we are going to talk about this morning. So, if you haven’t done so already, please turn with me in your Bibles to 1 Peter 4 and follow along as I read verses 7 to 11.
7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 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 ESV)
So Peter begins this passage by reminding the recipients of this letter that “end of all things is at hand” and they are now living in the last days. And, he wants them to live in light of this reality. Now, it’s not that he was saying that Jesus was going to return in the next few days or the next few weeks, but that because Jesus has died for our sins, defeated death through his resurrection, and has ascended to his heavenly throne, God’s plan of redemption was now in its final stages, and Jesus could, therefore, return at any moment. That was true then, and it remains true today.
Now, I know that there are people who get all wrapped up in the end times and like to create these detailed charts and timelines and make predictions about the timing of Jesus’s return. But, that’s not something that the Bible ever says we should do. Jesus never intended that we would sit around and stare up at the sky waiting on his return, much less argue about it while we are waiting, and then make ourselves look like fools to the rest of the world when those predictions don’t come true. And he certainly didn’t intend for us to withdraw from the world while we are waiting for him to return. No, Peter’s claim about the end of all things being upon us was meant “to shape the behavior of his readers”1 in the here and now.
Now, in light of his claim that “the end of all things is at hand,” we might expect these four exhortations we are going to look at today to consist of some pretty radical things. But, as we look closer at this passage, we can see that Peter is only encouraging his readers in a pretty run-of-the-mill sort of way. In other words, there is nothing new or radical here that differs from the rest of the teaching about the Christian life found in other parts of the New Testament. This is just normal, everyday stuff.
Be Self-Controlled and Sober-Minded
For example, the first way our knowledge of and hope in the future ought to affect our lives in the here and now is that it ought to make us self-controlled and sober-minded. While Peter is not saying that Jesus is coming back tomorrow, there is a sense where we ought to live like he were and think like he were. In other words, we ought to be serious in our thinking and controlled in our living. We shouldn’t “eat, drink, and be merry because tomorrow we die,” because, as Peter said in verse 3 from this chapter, “the time that is past suffices for doing” that sort of stuff. But the knowledge that we are living in the last days ought to lead us into sober-minded, self-controlled thinking and living. And the reason this matters, according to Peter, is “for the sake of your prayers.” Do you see that at the end of verse 7?
Now, that is sort of an unexpected reason for living in a self-controlled and sober-minded way. Well, it is unexpected, at least, for those of us who still fail to understand the importance of prayer in this life. But, the truth is, when we are in control of our thoughts and are thinking in sober-minded ways from a Christian perspective, we will understand the importance of regularly getting on our knees in prayer, asking for God’s help and guidance to live out our lives in these “last days.” But, if we are not self-controlled, and allow ourselves to be distracted from thinking in sober-minded ways, prayer will be the last thing on our minds, which is precisely what Peter is afraid of.
Friends, if the church is going to be an alternate society in a hostile world—a refuge for sojourners and exiles—its members are going to have to be serious about prayer. If our church is going to be what it is supposed to be, if our relationships with one another are going to be what they are supposed to be, if our growth in Christ is going to be what it is supposed to be, we are going to have to get serious about prayer. So, before we move on, I want you to think about this. When is the last time you fervently prayed for this church and for the people who are a part of it? Is that something you do on a regular basis? If not, I want to encourage you to make it a part of your daily schedule. If not, I want you to think about the fact that the end is upon us, and allow that to sober you up a bit.
Brothers and sisters, a big reason that we neglect to pray as we should for the church and for one another is because we allow our thoughts to be controlled by the world. And when the world and all its distractions control our thoughts, we end up failing to recognize the seriousness of the situation we are in. But, if we are going to be a disciple-making church in this city and in this community, if we are going to push back darkness in this place, we are going to have to stop ignoring the realities around us and start thinking in clear and sober ways about the lostness in this city. When we do, I have no doubt that it will most certainly drive us to our knees in prayer. When we get honest about the situation and recognize just how difficult our mission is, we will better understand how necessary it is for us to pray.
But, as long as we allow ourselves to be distracted by the cares of this world—things like politics and careers and Hollywood and other distracting pursuits—we are probably not going to be praying about the right things, if we are praying at all. So, listen to Peter and “be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” You are living in the last days, so wake up and pray. That’s the first exhortation he has for us in this passage.
Keep Loving One Another
Now, the second way our knowledge about the future ought to affect our lives in the here and now is that it ought to encourage us to be serious about loving one another. Do you see that in verse 8? And by “one another” Peter is talking about other believers—primarily the people in your local church. And the reason Peter says we ought to “keep loving one another earnestly,” is because “love covers a multitude of sins.”
Now, what does Peter mean by that? Well, remember, Peter was writing to a small group of believers who were living in a hostile place. And he was concerned not only with the possibility of persecution from the outside destroying the church there, but he was also worried about destructive behaviors on the inside that often wreak havoc in local churches. The commentator, Karen Jobes, explains it well. She says, “living in community with other believers for a sustained period of time—especially in a hostile society—gives plenty of opportunity for such ‘sins’ to occur that hurt members of the community, sow seeds of bad feelings, and fuel ongoing cycles of evil, deceit, hypocrisies, jealousies, and backbiting.”2 And Peter wants the recipients of this letter to understand that if they are going to persevere through difficulties like these, they are going to have to be serious about loving one another in earnest ways. In fact, they are going to have to love each other so much that it becomes easy to overlook and dismiss grievances done against them.
Friends, the truth is, there is hardly any chance at all that our little church here would ever be destroyed by things from the outside. But, it is certainly possible that we could get to bickering and fighting and wreck it ourselves. It happens all the time in this country. It is Satan’s number one strategy for destroying a church. He sows seeds of discord among the members, banks on their pride to take over and run with it, and then sits back and watches as it all crumbles down.
But, what Peter knows, is that love covers a multitude of sins. He knows that if we will put things in perspective by reminding ourselves that “the end of all things is at hand” and get serious about loving one another, that our love will persist in the face of difficulties and disagreements. He knows that when we are serious about loving other people, that it is easier to overlook and forget the offensive ways they have acted or spoken toward us. And this is so vitally important if any church is going to survive, because if we are not committed to loving one another in this way, we will quickly leap at the opportunity to retaliate when others have sinned against us in some way.
What every church needs are people who are ready to ignore harsh and unkind words and break the cycle of sin that Satan so often uses to tear churches apart. Churches need people who refuse to stop loving other believers when those other believers have said hurtful things to them. In other words, we need people who love as Jesus loved—which sometimes means loving those who hate us and wish we were no longer around.
Show Hospitality To One Another
So, the first way our knowledge about the future ought to affect our lives in the here and now is that it ought to make us self-controlled and sober-minded—which should drive us to our knees in prayer. The second way our knowledge about the future ought to affect our lives in the here and now is that it ought to encourage us to be serious about loving one another so that we can overlook harsh words and actions. And, the third way our knowledge and hope in the future ought to affect our lives in the here and now is that we ought to “show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Do you see that in verse 9?
So what is Peter talking about here? Why this emphasis on hospitality? Well, for these people who were living in a world where they were ostracized and ridiculed by most everyone else around them, it was important for there to be places where they could gather to enjoy the friendship and fellowship of other believers. Some of these believers Peter was writing to weren’t even welcome or comfortable in their own homes, and it was important that there were other homes where they would always be welcomed with open arms.
And, let’s also not forget that hospitality was necessary in the early church. It was necessary, not only so that believers could fellowship together in informal ways, but also so that they could worship together as a body of believers. Remember, there were no church buildings in the first century. Instead, these early believers would gather in the homes of hospitable individuals who were not only willing to open their doors so that the church could worship, but were also willing to be easily identified as a Christian by potential persecutors. In other words, it was not only a hassle to open up your home for worship week after week, and sometimes day after day, but there was also a great danger in doing so. There was a good chance you and your family would be identified as some of those weirdos who worshipped that criminal who was executed on the cross.
Now, if any of you have ever hosted a regular Bible study in your home, you know that it is a bit of a hassle. Be honest. Not only does it affect that time slot every week for your whole family, but it also means you have to get the house straightened up, get some refreshments in place, and still be in a good mood when everyone arrives—or when only one or two people arrive after you have gone to all that trouble. Now, maybe you’ve not had that sort of experience before. Maybe you are so hospitable by nature that opening your home on a regular basis is no big deal for you. But I want you to know, you are the exception. And the reason I know you are the exception is because the Bible says so. Look back with me at verse 9.
Peter doesn’t just say, “Show hospitality to one another,” and leave it at that. No, he says, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” You see, Peter knew showing hospitality was a difficult thing. And he knew the potential was there for grumbling about it. And so, he warned us against it. Remember, we are doing all of this—being sober-minded and self-controlled, being loving toward one another, and being hospitable toward other believers—in light of the fact that “the end of all things is at hand.” No one is saying that any of this is going to be easy, but because we are living in the final stages of God’s redemptive plan, it ought to be easier for us to think in the right way and live in the right way. And that includes being sober-minded and self-controlled, loving one another in earnest ways that overlook their faults, and being hospitable toward one another even when it’s difficult to do so without grumbling.
Now, what does it mean for us to be hospitable to other believers today? The fact is, we no longer have to worship in homes, we have nice, big buildings to gather in. And we aren’t really living in a place where it is dangerous to be a Christian. But all of that is beside the fact. The truth is, gathering together with other believers, not just in the church building, but in our homes and in their homes, is still one of the best ways to grow together in our faith. In fact, one of the downsides of having nice, big church buildings is that we are no longer forced to get to know one another in the way that believers once had to do. We just show up on Sundays, put on our happy faces for an hour or so, tell everybody that we are doing fine, and get back to regular life again as soon as we walk out the door. And you know, that I am not exaggerating here. That is pretty much the normal situation for most people who go to church on Sundays in this country. Church is a Sunday thing, and maybe a Wednesday evening thing, but it doesn’t really have any effect on any other part of the lives of many of us who show up each week.
But this was never Jesus’s intention for the church. We are called a “body” for a reason. We are all members of one another for a reason. And that reason is to enjoy the company and fellowship of other believers as part of our regular weekly routine.
So, I want to encourage you all to think about how you can go about developing closer relationships with other people at this church. It is important for your individual spiritual growth, and it is important for the life and health of this church. If you are not in a Sunday School class, you need to be. If folks can get up a 4:00 a.m. to go shopping on Black Friday, you can get up at 8:00 a.m. on Sundays to study the Bible and develop relationships with other believers. It is an important part of your development as a Christian.
Use Your Gifts To Serve Others
Now, the fourth and final way our knowledge of and hope in the future ought to affect our lives and our relationships with other believers is that it ought to motivate us to use our spiritual gifts to serve one another. Do you see that in verses 10 and 11? Friends, the Bible tells us that God has given each and every believer at least one spiritual gift. And the reason he has given us those gifts is for the purpose of serving one another and building up the church. And what this means, is that if you are not serving in some way at this church, you are not being a good steward of the gifts and talents that God has given you. There is really no gentler way to put it. If God has given you a gift or talent for the purpose of serving others, and you are refusing to do so, you are being disobedient and an unfaithful steward of what he has entrusted you with.
Now, in other places, the Bible gets pretty specific about the different types of gifts that God distributes to us as believers. And there is indeed a great variety of gifts necessary for the church to function and carry out its mission. But here, in verse 11, Peter divides all the gifts into two categories—gifts of speaking God’s Word, and gifts of serving others in God’s strength. In Peter’s mind, all the gifts fall under these two categories.
Now, there is not one particular gift that is more important than the other. All are necessary if the church is going to be a healthy disciple-making community. Some of us are called to preach and teach, and when we do so, we better speak the very words of God to the people of God. And some of us are called to serve in other ways, but when we do so we better not try to serve in our own strength, but we better rely on the strength of God, or we will not accomplish a whole lot—not a whole lot that matters anyway. Yes, we might do a whole bunch of things, but if we are not doing them in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are just doing a whole bunch of things that will have no lasting effect. And that is, unfortunately, what is going on in so many churches today.
But, when those who are gifted by God to speak God’s Word do so faithfully, and when those who are gifted by God to serve the church in a variety of other ways, do so in the power of God’s strength, the church is not only built up, but according to verse 11, God is glorified as the church of Jesus Christ functions in the way he always intended.
Now, for some people, the problem is not that they don’t want to serve Jesus and his church, it is that they don’t know where or how to serve—they haven’t yet discovered how God has gifted them and they aren’t sure how to figure it out. Well, the best way to figure out what God has gifted you do in the church is to get busy doing things until you do figure it out. Eventually, you are going to do something and say, “You know, I really enjoyed serving God in that way, and I did a better job at it than I ever thought I would. In fact, I was very aware of the Spirit’s help and presence in what I was doing.” And others will notice as well. And you need to pay attention when they tell you so. That is how you discover your spiritual gifts.
Yes, there are all sorts of spiritual gift tests that people can take, and many of them are helpful and pretty accurate. But for thousands of years, the church survived and even thrived without those sorts of things. So you can take one if you want, OR you can just get busy serving until you figure it out. Either way, there is work for you to do here. And there are plenty of places for you to serve. And beginning next week, we are going to place an insert in the bulletin that will give you the opportunity to express your interest in serving in a particular area next year. So go ahead and begin praying about that and be ready next Sunday to select a few areas where you’d like to serve God in this church. This may turn out to be a good way for you to figure out how God has gifted you and what his purpose is for you.
On the other hand, there is one sure fire way to never figure out where God has gifted you to serve, and that is to sit back and watch while other people do all the serving. If you do that, you’ll never figure it out. So, don’t sit around and wait until you have figured out how God has gifted you to serve before you start serving. Instead, start serving God at this church right now so that you can figure how he has gifted you and what he wants you to do. That is a much better way to go about it.
Friends, the end of all things really is at hand. And this ought to affect the way we think about things and the way we conduct ourselves—and that includes the way we conduct ourselves with our fellow believers. It is important for us to be self-controlled and sober-minded. We must think about things from the perspective that Jesus is coming again, and he is coming soon. When we allow this to dominate our thoughts—instead of the things that are stressing us out at work, or our concerns about the stock market, or our concerns about other things that ultimately will not matter—it gives our thoughts a bit of a course correction. And, if you are like me, you need that sort of course correction on a daily basis. So take control of your thoughts and think about things in a sober way.
Ultimately, this sort of thinking will lead you to loving other people in this church in such a way that you will find yourself easily overlooking things that would have really bothered you before. The truth is, when we think about things from an eternal perspective, so many of the things we normally get upset about become very trivial. So make it your aim to love the people of this church in a way that is similar to how Jesus has and is loving you. If we all did that, there is no telling what God would do in and through this church.
And, one of the ways you can develop this sort of love for your brothers and sisters is by listening to Peter when he says that we ought to “show hospitality to one another.” When is the last time you invited some folks from this church over to your home? If it has been a while, maybe you should think about doing that sort of thing really soon. There is no better place to get to know other people than in our homes.
And finally, do you know how God wants you serving in this church? If so, make sure you are serving in that way. If not, make sure you are participating in as many things as you can until you figure it out. If we are not all doing our part, that means we are not a healthy body and that we will be handicapped in our mission to make disciples here in this city and around the world. We all have a part to play in that mission. And when we are all doing our part, God will be glorified as his church will be built up.
Brothers and sisters, we must wake up from our spiritual apathy and recognize that the end of all things is at hand. It is time we get serious about being the church of Jesus Christ in this lost and fallen world. It is time we get serious about living today in light of tomorrow.