The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 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
From the very beginning of creation, God declared that it was not good for man to be alone. We simply were not created to be in isolation from one another.
In Ephesians 4:1-4, Paul writes, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit.”
Collectively, we are the body of Christ. As ridiculous as it is to say that a hand or the liver can be autonomous from the rest of the body, so it is to claim that a Christian can live autonomously from a community of other believers.
This does not mean that life will be easier together. In fact, life will be much messier when we let others into our life, but that is the way of the gospel.
We need one another; God designed us for community.
THE END OF ALL THINGS
Peter’ letter is addressed to Christians in Asia Minor (present day Turkey), and he calls them sojourners and exiles. He is taking a cue from the prophet Jeremiah’s letter (found in Jeremiah 29) to the Jews that were in exile at Babylon. In the letter, Jeremiah urged his people to do good to the Babylonians and their cities, even though the Babylonians had slaughtered and enslaved many of their fellow Jews. Peter, similarly, calls us sojourners and exiles in this life.
His point is that we, as Christians, are not home here. No matter how engrained we are in our societies, this world is not our home. We are in transition, pilgrims passing through this land. The letter is, therefore, written from this perspective, and it is important that we understand this intentionality as it will impact how we read Peter’s discussion on the Christian community.
At first glance, verse 7 does not appear to relate to Peter’s treatise on community. How does the end of all things relate to living in community together? I believe it is actually a brilliant starting point because Peter is placing community within its proper context. By writing that the end of all things is at hand, the apostle emphasizes that not only are we sojourners and exiles in this world but also that this world is far from permanent.
We might be tempted to question Peter’s statement that the end is at hand since two thousand years have passed since Jesus ascended without the end occurring. Although it is important to remember that Christ could come back at anytime, we must also keep in mind that few of us will ever live to complete a century. It is safe to assume that anyone old enough to read this is unlikely to be alive one hundred years from now. For many, the end of all things will come even sooner. We simply do not know the number of our days on earth.
Nevertheless, we like to keep death out of our mind as much as possible. With eternity placed in our hearts, we shirk at the thought of dying, but it is an inevitability that we must all face. Our lives are on a countdown timer, but only God knows to what number the clock was set. Sooner rather than later we will reach zero. Our time will run out.
Do you keep this in mind? We live quite differently when we know that our days are finite. In 2013, my wife and I had the privilege of spending two months on mission in Maracaibo, Venezuela. Over the course of those two months, we worked hard and long. Although it was sinful of us not to take proper rests, the shortness of our time there consumed us. We knew that two months was far shorter than we imagined. Similarly, a lifetime is too short for all that we may desire to do or accomplish, especially when we remember that in the end we will stand before God. In the presence of God, each of us will be called to account for how we have lived our lives, for the usage of our time and energy. Will we be found to be faithful servants of God or lazy stewards of His grace?
I will confess that I really hope that death is like sleep. Since sleep is often used as a metaphor for death, I don’t think I’m too far out of line though. Would it not be encouraging to think that each night God is preparing us for death by putting us to sleep? After a hard day of fruitful working, sleep feels like heaven, but after lazy and unproductive days, going to bed is like pulling teeth. I pray that the Lord will find me ready for rest at the end of my life. I pray that in the end my death will be a great gain. May we never be afraid of death because of regrets that we leave behind!
Peter’s answer to living that kind of life is self-control and sober-mindedness. There is no virtue that our world rebels against more than self-control. The name of the game instead is self-expression. The world proclaims that who we are is the highest good, but the Bible says that the passions of our flesh wage war against our souls (1 Peter 2:11). Our sinful desires long to damn us, so we must imitate Christ instead. We must be self-controlled.
The apostle then urges us to be sober-minded. There is no more sobering thought than thinking about our mortality, and Peter encourages us toward this. Being sober-minded means thinking clearly, and that is often difficult. Life is hard, and it is much easier to spend our lives in a haze of entertainment and thoughtlessness as opposed to facing reality. We do not like to think about standing before God on the day of judgment, so we turn the television on and our brains off. We numb our minds, walking in a drunken state. It is too heavy to think about the billions of people who will spend an eternity under God’s undying wrath, so we turn to lesser things. But we are commanded to face reality. We are called to be sober-minded.
Notice that Peter says we should be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of our prayers. Could it be that we pray for frivolous things because our minds stay focused on frivolous things? If we have a sober view of eternity, we should pray differently. When we remember that people’s eternal destination is at stake, we should be quicker to pray for the salvation of the lost than for the healing of the saved. As I said in the previous section, praying for the healing of the saints is good, and we should do it. But should not our primary focus be on our friends and family who are still dead in sin? If we are self-controlled and sober-minded, we will pray differently.
THE DANGER OF INSINCERE COMMUNITY
After addressing the importance of remembering the end of all things, Peter now begins his discussion of community. I love that he begins with the words above all. With the end of the world in mind, Peter is informing us that the most important thing we can do is to love one another earnestly. The single most important action we can take in light of the world’s impending doom is to love one another!
Of course, we know that Jesus desired for us to do this very thing as well: “A new command I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). The world properly knows we are Christians by our love for each other.
But notice that Peter specifies the kind of love we should have: earnest love. Christian love is sincere and authentic. In fact, insincere and inauthentic love is not only unchristian; it is demonic. In James 3:13-18, the half-brother of Christ describes the characteristics of both godly and demonic wisdom. Earthly, unspiritual, and demonic wisdom proceeds from bitter jealously and selfish ambition, but godly wisdom arises from meekness, purity, sincerity, and gentleness. Every moment of every day, we walk in either godly or demonic wisdom, either selfishness or meek sincerity. Therefore, insincere love is ultimately a love deriving from selfish ambition, typically to be seen well by others or feel better about ourselves.
Thus, love that is not earnest is sin. This may sound like a harsh statement, and in many ways, it is. But it is nevertheless a true statement. While insincerity may not be a “big sin”, it is no less damning than murder, adultery, or burglary. Too often we have pet sins that we keep around because we don’t believe they will harm us or anyone else. Let us never forget that the passions of our flesh are waging war against our souls (1 Peter 2:11). All of our sin is trying to drag our souls down to hell, and given this goal, “small sins” may very well be the deadliest. The smaller they are, the harder they are to notice. Often we end up ignoring that those sins are crouching at the door of our hearts, desiring to conquer us. We tend to treat sin like a house cat that annoyingly scratches us, not like a starving lion trying to devour us. Our view of sin is never foul enough. All sin is deadly. All sin is damning. And non-earnest love is sin.
When love is earnest, Peter says that it covers a multitude of sin. Christian love in community helps us to walk out of our sins. James 5:19-20 says as much: “My brothers, if anyone among you wonders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” We need community because we need fellow followers of Christ to keep us from falling into the pit of sin. They save us from death.
We see this practically in that those around us are often much better at finding our sins than we are. We can typically cling so tight to our sin that we fail to realize its sinfulness. We need brothers and sisters in Christ that love us enough to show us our sins and help us walk away from them. Community is, therefore, one of God’s greatest tools for growing in sanctification.
In verses 9-11, Peter will identify two forms of loving one another earnestly: showing hospitality and serving each other with our various gifts. We will analyze each of these in the following two sections.
One way that we can love one another earnestly is by showing hospitality to one another without grumbling. Hospitality literally means doing good to strangers. This typically takes the form of inviting non-family into our homes, either to eat or rest. Because hospitality necessarily applies to anyone other than our immediate family, it is almost always inconvenient. It is generally uncomfortable and troublesome to serve others, but Jesus Himself was the ultimate servant. We, therefore, are called to be servants in hospitality as well, displaying our Christ-like love regardless of the cost.
But notice that Peter places a caveat. We are not merely to show hospitality; we are also to do so without grumbling. Grumbling implies a secret reluctance or compulsion. It can frequently be displayed via mumbling, but we do not need to verbally or physically express our discomfort for it to qualify as grumbling. God knows each of our thoughts, and we will be held accountable before Him even for what we think. The secret component of grumbling is important because grumbling is essentially the opposite of earnest love.
This is a problem because we are grumblers by nature, and the Israelites were no exception. Throughout the book of Numbers, we see Israel constantly complaining to God. Although God feeds them heavenly bread each day, they long to return to slavery in Egypt because they do not trust God. To be honest, it gets pretty annoying to read, and eventually we can find ourselves furious at the thanklessness of the Israelites. Unfortunately, I am just like them. I might as well be one of the Israelites. God will give some form of grace, and after being thankful for a minute or two, I will forget it entirely. Just like the Israelites, my heart by default goes into complaining.
But grumbling alone is not the worst part. Life tends to teach each of us to cover up our grumbling with a mask of authenticity. We inherently know that grumbling is wrong, so we put on a face of sincerity. We hide how we really feel. This is called hypocrisy. Heart-level grumbling is sin because we become hypocrites. We are commanded to show hospitality without grumbling, so we are not martyrs for the kingdom when we suffer through serving others. The LORD is not glorified when our hearts despise our good works. We are meant to find joy in showing hospitality because it means becoming like Christ, so when we find ourselves grumbling, we should pray for the heart and mind of Christ.
Our good works do not much distinguish us from the world. I have met many non-Christians who run circles around most Christians when it comes to hospitality and good works. Living a good life by the world’s standard is not a distinctively Christian characteristic. Joyfulness of heart, on the other hand, is a mark of a Christian. Most non-Christians do good works for one of two reasons: selfishness (it will benefit them in some way) or altruism (it makes them feel better). Followers of Christ do good works in order to glorify Christ. We show hospitality because we want to worship Jesus through our actions.
In this way, non-grumbling Christian hospitality displays Christ to the world. Philippians 2:14-15 speaks of this as well: “Do all things without grumbling or questioning that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” Whenever we do things without grumbling, we shine as lights in the world because the world does not understand truly selfless service. John Piper sums up this thought by saying that “the light of the world that causes people to glorify our Father is not merely good works. It’s good works done with joy in the face of inconvenience and suffering. That the world cannot imitate.”
Are we a people who love without grumbling, who love earnestly?
If you are worried that you cannot find the strength to be sincere in showing hospitality, consider how Peter tells us to serve in the next section.
In loving one another earnestly, we are called to show hospitality without grumbling, and now Peter commands us to graciously serve each other with our various gifts. We have each received a gift from God for the church. There is not one believer who is the exception to this rule. While we may not presently know what gift God has given to us, we do possess at least one, and it has been given in stewardship from God. A steward is essentially a manager. This means that God owns our giftings. He is the owner; we are the managers. Every talent that we possess ultimately belongs to God, so we must use it as He intends.
How does God intend us to use our gifts? God demands that we use our gifts for His varied grace. Our gifts and talents are vehicles for the grace of God to be distributed to one another. God has placed us within community to meet one another’s needs. By serving each other, we are distributing the love and grace of Jesus. Let us, therefore, be thankful for the brothers and sisters in Christ that God has placed around us. They are instruments for God’s grace to us!
Of course, this also means that removing ourselves from community is a serious offense. Falling away from community does not merely hinder the life of the individual; it fails to love and serve others. Thinking that we do not need community is only one side of the problem. We must also consider how others need us. God has given each of us a gift in a manner that He has not given to anyone else, and we hinder others when we refuse to be in community.
The gifts found within the church are too many to name or discuss, so Peter places every gift into two categories: words and deeds. Every gift is either verbal or physical. Colossians 3:17 uses these groups as well: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to the Father through him.”
Each of our gifts, whether in word or deed, should be done for the glory of God. But how do we do this? Peter provides the answer.
When we serve through speaking, we should speak the Word of God. We do not merely share our opinions with one another; instead, we speak the Scripture to each other. This is important because when we speak the God’s Word, we are no longer able to take credit for what we say. We simply become messengers for what God says. Similarly, when we serve, we should serve with the strength that God supplies. By serving through God’s strength, our bodies become vehicles for God’s actions. God, therefore, gets the glory because He is the one speaking and acting through us.
Our words are not sufficient; instead, God’s Word should dominate how we speak.
Our deeds are not sufficient; God’s strength alone is sufficient. It is impossible for us to selflessly serve others as better than ourselves without the strength that God supplies. Without God’s strength, we will serve out of selfish ambition.
We cannot properly serve one another outside of God’s Word and strength. In fact, the word supplied in Greek is where the word choreography originates. Thus, Peter is describing God as the choreographer to our various gifts. He alone must guide us, teaching us to follow His plan. We can only love each other authentically, sincerely, and earnestly through God’s Word and strength.
All gifts fall under either word or deed, and God gave leaders to the church to model those two paths. Despite what some have argued, the Bible clearly presents two offices of leadership within the church: elders (aka pastors or overseers) and deacons. Elders are the proclaimers of the Word and guardians of doctrine. Deacons are the servant-leaders who minister to physical needs. Elders, therefore, primarily serve the church in word, and deacons primarily serve the church in deed. God gave to the church these two forms of leadership as examples for how to serve the church. We look to elders as an example for how to speak the Word of God, and we look to deacons as an example for how to serve through God’s strength. This, of course, not to say that elders will not serve in deed or deacons will not serve in word. We are each called to serve in both word and deed, but God has implemented these two offices as examples of glorifying Him in word and deed.
In all of this, godly community exists for the glory of God. Or more specifically, godly community can only exist for the glory of God. If our community exists for any other purpose, it ceases to be godly community. He alone is the choreographer for our serving. He alone is the chief Shepherd (or Pastor) of the church. We can only love one another earnestly through Christ. While we will never perfectly live it, we must continue to strive toward this goal, and we must strive only in Christ’s strength.
Therefore, may Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:20-21 be ours as well:
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.