It’s been several weeks since we were studying 1 Peter together, but we’ve been thinking how, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we’ve been raised with him to the heavenly realms; and we’ve become citizens of heaven, so that our true home now — the place we really belong, and the place we will one day come — is in heaven with the Lord Jesus Christ. And since that is true — and it’s true for all who believe — since that is true, then we’re to regard ourselves as strangers and aliens in the world. And we’re to regard ourselves as strangers and aliens in the world because we’re only living here for the time being, waiting for the time when the Lord Jesus will come again in order to bring us — in body and soul — into our true home, our heavenly home where we’ll be with the Lord Jesus for ever.
However, we’ve also seen that, while we go on living on the earth, we’re to be the best citizens we can possibly be, and we’re to be the best workers we can possibly be, and, if we’re married, we’re to be the best spouses we can possibly be. And if we live like this, and if we continue to do good, then our unbelieving neighbours will see how we live and who knows? who knows? They too might begin to glorify God and to worship him with us, because they’ve been won over to the faith; and they’ve been attracted to the Saviour by the sheer goodness of our lives which have come to reflect the glory and the goodness of heaven.
And so, all along, we’ve noticed these two emphases: on the one hand, the world is not our true home because we belong in heaven with Jesus Christ; on the other hand, while we go on living on the earth, we’re to live good lives every day. So, rather than turn away from the world, rather than abandon the world, we’re to live in the world, and we’re to live good lives in this world.
The end of all things
And so, we come today to verses 7 to 11 of chapter 4. And you’ll see that this passage begins with the statement:
The end of all things is near.
What does Peter mean? Well, I’ve said several times before — and we were talking about this on Wednesday evening — we’re living in what the Bible calls ‘the last days.’ The last days began when the Lord Jesus first came into the world and they will continue until he comes again. And so, for instance, on the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came on the believers in Jerusalem and they were able to speak in foreign languages, the Apostle Peter stood up and explained what was happening. And he explained what was happening by quoting from the Old Testament prophet Joel, who said: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out by Spirit on all people….’ Do you see? Peter was saying that the coming of the Holy Spirit signifies that the last days have arrived. Or think about the opening paragraph of the book of Hebrews, where it says that in the past, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets, but in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son. The coming of the Lord Jesus Christ into the world was the beginning of something completely new, a new era, a new age. And this new era, this new age, will continue until he comes again. And so, if you imagine God’s calendar: there would be a big red circle around the date of the Lord’s birth in Bethlehem; and then there would be a big red circle around the date of the Lord’s return when this world as we know it will come to an end and there will be a new heaven and a new earth, because the former things will have passed away. And between the one date and the other date, there are no other marks on God’s calendar; his calendar is completely clear. And since that’s the case, since the next date on God’s calendar is the coming of the Lord Jesus to make all things new, then Peter is able to say that the end of all things is near. It’s near, because it’s the next thing to happen.
Now whereas lots of foolish people spend their time trying to work out when the Lord will return, the emphasis in the Bible is not on working out when he will come, but it’s about working out how we should live in view of his coming again. We were thinking about that on Christmas Day and on how the one thing we can say with certainty about the time of the Lord’s return is that we don’t know when he will come again. We don’t know when he will come again, because he will come unexpectedly like a thief in the night; and he will come suddenly like labour pains on a pregnant woman. We don’t know when he is coming; but since the Lord is definitely coming again, how should we live in the meantime? That’s always the emphasis in the Bible and it’s the emphasis here as well.
Now, if you or I were writing this, I wonder what instructions we would give for believers who wanted to know how to live in these, the last days. What would we say believers should do in view of that fact that the end of all things is near? Presumably we’d want to advise believers to do the things that are most important and most necessary. Since the end of all things is near, there’s no time for unnecessary and unimportant things; we need to concentrate on the most important things. And so, since that’s the case, it’s interesting to see what Peter considered the most important things. Look at these verses. This is what Peter — writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit — tells us to do in view of the fact that the end of all things is near. We need to give ourselves to prayer; and we need to give ourselves to loving one another deeply; and we need to give ourselves to using whatever gift God has given us in order to serve one another.
Now, one of the most interesting things about this list of things we’re to do is just how ordinary these things are. He’s not asking us to do anything flashy or showy or dramatic or earth-shattering. He’s asking that we do ordinary things. So, we ought to pray with one another and love one another and serve one another. And so, let’s look at these things now.
So, first of all, there’s prayer. Look at verse 7:
The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.
Now, we all find prayer hard. Praying in public — for instance at the church prayer meeting — is hard, because we worry what people will think of us if we make a mistake and we get nervous about speaking in public. Praying in private is also hard, because the Devil is always anxious to distract us from this vital work; and while the spirit is often willing, because we know it’s important and necessary, our sinful fleshly nature is often weak, and we’d really rather do anything else than spend time in prayer. And all prayer is hard, because it means admitting our weakness and our inability and our need for the Lord’s help; and we don’t like to come face to face with our own weakness and we don’t like to admit our helplessness. Nevertheless, even though public prayer is hard and private prayer is hard, we’re commanded to pray.
And here’s Peter teaching us that we need to be clear minded and self-controlled in order to pray. Now, there’s not a lot of difference between these two verbs; and really they mean the same thing. The second verb — self controlled — can also be translated as sober-minded. So, think of a person who is drunk and can’t think straight. Well, we’re to be the opposite: clear-headed and clear-minded and able to think sensibly about things. And so, instead of losing our heads, or instead of running around like headless chickens, in a panic because the end of all things is near, we’re meant to remain clear-minded and cool and calm and collected as we pray to the Lord.
And what are we to pray for? Well, Peter doesn’t say, but, of course, he doesn’t need to, does he? He doesn’t need to because we have the Lord’s Prayer which is the model prayer and which teaches us what we’re to pray for. And in the Lord’s prayer, we’re taught to pray that more and more people around the world will hallow and honour God’s name; and we’re taught to pray that more and more people around the world will be brought into God’s kingdom; and we’re taught to pray that more and more people around the world will obey God’s revealed will; and we’re taught to pray for daily provision and for daily pardon and for daily protection. In view of the end of all things, we ought to remain clear-minded and self-controlled and pray for these things.
Love one another
The end of all things is near; therefore pray. And the end of all things is near; therefore love one another deeply. And Peter goes on to give an explanation for why we ought to love one another deeply: love each other deeply, he says, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
Here’s the thing: people will always annoy you and disappoint you and upset you and let you down. And you’re going to do the same to other people. It’s inevitable because we’re sinners who will sin against one another all the time. And since we’ll remain sinners until the Lord makes us perfect in his presence, then we’ll sin against one another for the rest of our lives. The question is: how will we respond whenever someone annoys us or upsets us. What will we do? Will we show our annoyance? Will we hold a grudge? Will we go around complaining about that person who has let you down? Will you go around criticising them? Well, that’s the easy thing to do. That’s the natural thing to do. The natural thing for us to do whenever someone sins against us is to strike back. But that’s not the right thing to do. The right thing to do, Peter tells us, is to love one another deeply by covering up their sin and by treating them as if they didn’t do anything against you. That’s what the Lord does with us: he doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve; he doesn’t repay us according to our iniquity; instead he covers our sins with the blood of Christ and treats us as if we never sinned. Well, we can’t cover each other’s sins with the blood of Christ, but we can overlook the sins of others and treat the person who sins against us as if they’ve never done anything against us.
Now, perhaps you can think of someone who has upset you. And perhaps you’re thinking that they don’t deserve to be forgiven. But think about it: you don’t deserve to be forgiven by God; you don’t deserve to receive mercy from God; you deserve to be condemned forever because of all the ways you’ve sinned against him. But yet, how wonderful that the Lord loves us and is prepared to pardon us. And so, since we have been forgiven by God, we ought to love one another deeply and let our love for one another cover over their sins.
And, of course, we all know how vital this is. It’s vital because too often churches are split apart and ruined because the members were unwilling to cover over and to overlook and to pardon the sins of one another. So, for the sake of the unity of Christ’s church, we need to cover over each other’s sins.
And it’s vital because what does it say to a watching world, when fellow believers fight and argue and bear grudges against one another? On the other hand, what does it say to a watching world when fellow believers forgive one another and graciously and cheerfully put up with one another?
So, we’re to love one another deeply. And one practical way to love one another deeply is by showing hospitality. Peter mentions that in verse 9 where he says we’re to offer hospitality without grumbling. Now, when we think about showing hospitality, we perhaps think about inviting friends for dinner. However, Peter was probably thinking about something else. He was writing at a time when you had the Apostles and their associates who travelled about from place to place to preach the gospel. And they didn’t have hotels and B+Bs in those days. Whatever inns there were, could be expensive. And so, the Apostles and their associates had to rely on the kindness of believers who were willing to open their homes to them and to let them stay for a while. And, of course, in those days, you didn’t have church buildings. So, when the Lord’s people met for worship, they had to meet in someone’s home. And here’s Peter, teaching his readers that they should be willing to let their homes be used like that. Well, we have plenty of room here for meetings, but we can still open our homes and invite one another in to enjoy fellowship together. And instead of grumbling about it, instead of complaining about it, instead of resenting it, we should open our homes gladly and cheerfully to one another as a way of loving one another deeply.
Serving one another
So, the end of all things is near; therefore pray. The end of all things is near; therefore love one another deeply. And the end of all things is near; therefore use whatever gift God has given us to serve one another. That’s what Peter is writing about in verses 10 and 11. Everyone has some ability or aptitude which the Lord gives to us. Perhaps it’s an ability or aptitude which only developed once we first believed; or perhaps it’s an ability or aptitude which we always possessed, but which we’re now able to use for God’s glory. But Peter makes clear that every believer possesses some kind of gift from God. And he also makes clear in verse 10 that whatever gift we possess should not be used for selfish purposes, but for the sake of others; we’re to use whatever gift we possess to serve others. And then, we’re to administer these gifts, or we’re to use these gifts faithfully. So, instead of misusing them, we’re to use them in the right way.
What does that mean? Well, Peter goes on to explain. And he does so by distinguishing two categories of gift: there are gifts related to speaking; and there are gifts related to serving. So, some are word-based; and others are deed-based. Some involve saying things; while others involving doing things. And those whose gift involves speaking and teaching will be faithfully administering that gift if they remember that they’re speaking for God and if they’re careful to ensure that everything they say is in accordance with his word. And then, those whose gift involves serving or doing things, should serve with the strength of the Lord, which at the very least means we should pray to the Lord for his help whenever need to use the gift he has given us. So, just as the Lord gives the speaker his word to proclaim, so he gives the worker his strength in order to serve. And if we administer the gift God has given us faithfully — speaking God’s word and relying on God’s strength — that the Lord will receive all the glory, because it will be clear that whatever we accomplish, whatever we achieve, has been done with the help of the Lord. So, the speaker will give glory to God when people are helped by something he said, because he’ll be able to point out that this person has been helped by the word of God, and not by me. And the worker will give glory to God when people are helped, because he’ll be able to point out that they’ve been helped by the power of God, and not by me.
Just think about what we’re doing today. Here I am, preaching to you. And then the elders will give you little bits of bread and drink. We do these things to help you to grow in the faith. But if anyone is helped today, it’s not because of me, and it’s not because of the elders, but it’s because of the power of God, because God works through the preaching of his word, and he works through the sacrament to build us up in the faith. And in the same way, he’s able to work through other things we do for one another in order to enable us to grow and persevere in the faith. And so, right at the end of this passage, Peter reminds us that all the glory and all the power belong to the Lord. Whatever we achieve, we achieve because of his strength; and therefore, he’s the one who deserves the glory and praise.
And so, there you have it. The end of all things is near. Therefore, what are we to do in these, the last days, while we wait for the Saviour to come again? Well, we’re to pray; and we’re to love one another deeply; and we’re to use whatever gift God has given us to serve one another. And isn’t it interesting? All three things involve looking away from ourselves and looking to someone else. Out in the world, people very often put themselves first and they think only about themselves, before they think of anyone else. Look after No. 1. That’s the rule, out in the world. But we’re to be different, because when we pray, we’re looking away from ourselves and what we want and we’re looking to the Lord and we’re praying for his will to be done. When it comes to loving others, we have to look away from ourselves and our own needs in order to love others and to meet their needs. And we’re not to use whatever strength or ability or aptitude we possess for our own selfish purposes, but we’re to use God’s gifts for the good of others. And so, as we look forward to the coming of the Saviour, we’re to look away from ourselves. And when we do that, then of course we’re following the example of our Saviour, who did not look to his own interests, but to ours, when he left the glory of heaven and came to earth in order to suffer and to die on the cross for us. And so, we’re to follow his example while we wait for him to come again; and when he comes again we will be made like him perfectly and will be with him for ever.