LIVE WITH URGENCY 1 PETER 4:7-11
I would like you to take your Bible and turn to 1 Peter 4. We will read verses 7-11 of 1 Peter 4. This morning, we are going to study Peter’s letter to a persecuted church, which needed encouragement in light of their troubles and the future judgment. So Peter addressed the church about three facets of spiritual duty.
Before we look at the different aspects of spiritual duty, I would like to ask you a series of question. Does your Christianity make a difference in your life and the decisions you make? Would it make more difference if you were given only a month or six months or even a year to live? If so, then how?
This morning and over the next several weeks, I am going to do a series “Living like You Were Dying.” If I knew I only had a month or six months or a year to live, would I make dramatic changes in my Christian walk. I pray that this is not the case, but I am afraid it would be true somewhat in all of us. But this should not be the case. We should live every day for the glory of God and as if today might be our last on earth because we are not guaranteed tomorrow. Yet, I think most people including Christians live as if they are going to be around forever.
Now, I don’t want you to misunderstand me, I believe we ought to prepare for the future if the Lord so chooses to delay in His return or in calling us home. Although he is no theologian, newspaper columnist Sydney J. Harris was on target when he wrote, “The art of living successfully consists of being able to hold two opposite ideas in tension at the same time: first, to make long-term plans as if we were going to live forever; and second, to conduct ourselves daily as if we were going to die tomorrow” (Reader’s Digest [5/82]).
Well, this is what Peter is instructing us about this morning. He desires for us to live with a sense of urgency. The word urgency intrigued me so I looked it up in Webster’s Dictionary and found it to mean “the quality or state of being urgent; need for action, haste, etc.; stress or pressure, as of necessity. . .calling for immediate action.”
Thanks to the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, everyone has heard of the “Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” But few have heard of Israel Bissel, a humble post rider on the Boston-New York route. After the Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, Bissel was ordered to raise the alarm in New Haven, Connecticut. He reached Worchester, Mass., normally a day’s ride, in two hours. There, according to tradition, his horse promptly dropped dead. Pausing only to get another mount, Bissel pressed on and by April 22 was in New Haven—but he didn’t stop there! He rode on to New York, arriving April 24, and then stayed in the saddle until he reached Philadelphia the next day. Bissel’s 126 hour, 345 mile ride signaled American militia units throughout the Northeast to mobilize for war.
As Christians, we need to be mobilizing ourselves for duty. I am here this morning to sound the alarm for us to live with a sense of urgency because we have no idea when our last day on earth will be. Peter, in these verses, gives us the incentive for spiritual duty, instructions for spiritual duty, and the intention of spiritual duty.
THE INCENTIVE FOR OUR SPIRITUAL DUTY – 7a
The end of all things is at hand. Peter, in this verse and the verses that follow, is making a connection to what has just proceeded. He reminded his readers that Christ suffered in the flesh and Christians can expect the same for being a follower of Christ. Therefore, they are not to live like the Gentiles and some of the pagans are maligning Christians and wondering why they do not participate in the same activities as they. But Peter reminds them in verse 4 and 5 that they will have to give account on the Day of Judgment. Christ will judge the living and the dead.
In light of the coming Christ, Peter said that the end of all things is at hand. The end, in this context, does not refer to a termination or conclusion to the persecution that many of these believers were experiencing. No, what Peter had in mind was the second coming of Christ. The imminent return of Jesus is close. You find this to be true in several passages of Scripture.
Many writers of the New Testament refer to the end of time. For instance, Paul tells the Romans to understand their time in relation to the end, because, he adds, “Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (Rom. 13:11). The writer of Hebrews exhorts the readers of his epistle to meet together for encouragement; then he notes, “All the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:25). James points to the end of time and comforts his oppressed countrymen with these words: “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.… The Judge is standing at the door” (James 5:8–9). And last, John alerts his readers to the fact that “this is the last hour” (I John 2:18).
The return of Christ is near. 1 Peter 1:13 says, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1:5; 4:13). The end of the material universe as we know it is near. 2 Peter 3:10, But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. The final judgment of men is near. 1 Peter 4:5 says, but they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
In the early church, believers expected the imminent return of Jesus. I want to remind you that we live in a linear history. What that means is the world that we live in had a beginning point and will one day have an ending point. The goal or purpose for which God created the world will be fulfilled or complete.
So Peter says that day is at hand (near or approaching). It could happen at any moment. We must live with the attitude and anticipation that it could take place at anytime. It could be this next hour, the next day or next month, etc. Yet, I want to say that many have been misguided about this event. In fact, the believers in Thessalonica had become lazy and just sat waiting for the return of Christ.
In 1988, thousands of pastors in America received in the mail a booklet by Edgar Whisenant, “88 Reasons Why the Rapture could be in 1988.” It had a lot of interesting arguments, but, needless to say, they were not accurate. So, in 1989, he produced another booklet explaining why his calculations were off by one year and why the Lord would come back in 1989. Needless to say, he did not write another booklet in 1990.
Neither the hour nor the day is known in which Christ will return again. Jesus said, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority” (Acts 1:7). We do not know when Christ will return, but we must be ready. We must be prepared and alert.
Jesus said, “Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit. Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them. (Luke 12:35–37) The apostle Paul asserted that the characteristic of every true Christian is a desire to please the Lord: “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:9–10).
So Peter moves from the incentive of performing our spiritual duty to some instructions about our spiritual duty.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR SPIRITUAL DUTY – 7b-11a
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.
Now, in these verses, Peter does not mention all of our spiritual duties, but these do cover our relationship with the Lord, our relationship with others, and our responsibility in the church. In fact, these line up with how we are going to fulfill our mission of our church.
The first instruction involves prayer, which has to deal with our relationship to God. In knowing that Christ is coming back and living with that anticipation, Peter said it will affect out prayer life. Prayer is the means to access our spiritual resources. Yet, this is one discipline that most Christians struggle with most.
Prayer acknowledges our weakness and dependence upon the Lord. Not to pray means that we are self-sufficient and arrogant enough to be adequate in our own resources. But how many of us have gotten is such a difficult situation that we could no longer depend upon ourselves. So we turn to prayer. Yet, prayer is a means God has provided for us to commune with him about our needs and inadequacies.
Therefore, Peter says when you pray, pray with self-control and be sober-minded. The word rendered be of sound judgment derives from a term that literally means, “be in one’s right mind” (sōphroneō)—to be under control and not be carried away by an errant view of oneself (Rom. 12:3; cf. Prov. 23:7), or undue emotion, or uncontrolled passion. Mark used it to describe the maniac Jesus freed from the legion of demons (Mark 5:15). The verb also refers to guarding the mind (cf. Prov. 4:23) and keeping it lucid. The Christian mind must be clearly fixed on spiritual priorities and righteous living (Josh. 1:8; Matt. 6:33; Col. 3:2, 16; Titus 2:11–12)—objectives that a self-indulgent, deceptive world, heavily influenced by Satan, constantly seeks to distract from, deflect, and destroy (cf. 1 John 2:15–16). When believers’ minds are subject to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5) and His Word (Pss. 1:2; 19:7, 10; 119:97, 103, 105; cf. 2 Tim. 3:15–17) they see matters from an eternal perspective.
Sober spirit (nēphō), closely related in meaning to sound judgment, denotes being spiritually observant. Jesus expressed a similar sentiment when He warned the apostles to “be on the alert” (Matt. 24:42) and to “keep watching”
Next, Peter moves to the relationship we ought to have with others. The phrase above all places an emphasis (importance) on mutual love. He is not saying that love is more important than prayer, but the virtue of love is of utmost importance. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13, reminds us that faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.
Earnestly (ektenēs) denotes stretching or straining and pictures a person running with taut muscles, exerting maximum effort. Ancient Greek literature used the word to describe a horse stretching out and running at full speed. Earlier in this letter (1:22), Peter also used its related adverb to describe the intensity and exertion that ought to characterize Christian love. Such love is sacrificial, not sentimental, and requires a stretching of believers’ every spiritual muscle to love in spite of insult, injury, and misunderstanding from others (Prov. 10:12; Matt. 5:44; Mark 12:33; Rom. 12:14, 20; 1 John 4:11; cf. Rom. 12:15; Gal. 6:10; Eph. 5:2; James 1:27). Especially since the Day of the Lord is drawing near.
This love is a command. Agape love is capable of being commanded because it is not primarily an emotion but a decision of the will leading to action. This love is not a syrupy emotion or a sappy sentimentalism. No, biblical love has a measure of toughness to it.
Biblical love is a courageous, unrestrained, and deliberate giving of oneself for the welfare of another. Fervent love possesses a measure of intensity. Deuteronomy 6:5 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Fervent love possesses a measure of persistence. I Corinthians 13:7 love bears all things … endures all things. Fervent love possesses a measure of sincerity. Romans 12:9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Someone said, “Sometimes it is more sweat than sweet.”
The reason for us to show love is that "love covers over a multitude of sins." This quotation from Proverbs 10:12 does not mean that our love covers or atones for our sins. In the proverb the meaning is that love does not "stir up" sins or broadcast them. So the major idea is that love suffers in silence and bears all things (1Cor 13:5-7). Christians forgive faults in others because they know the forgiving grace of God in their own lives.
Now this does not mean that sin is condone, because Scripture is clear that we are to speak the truth in love.
One clear way in which love is shown is through hospitality (Literally means to love strangers). It is easy for us to those who love us or do not sin against us. But biblical love is beyond the household of faith and extends to those we don’t know. Pastors and widows were directed to show hospitality especially to travelling ministers.
In the ancient world, travelers would rely on acquaintances, friends, and relatives to provide lodging for the night. In general, inns were unsafe and uncomfortable. Therefore, travelers avoided inns and sought accommodations with private parties. Scripture stresses the virtue of offering hospitality to the wayfarer.
According to the Mosaic law, the Jews were to extend hospitality to strangers (Ex. 22:21; Deut. 14:29; cf. Gen. 18:1–2). Jesus commended believers who provided food, clothing, and shelter to others (Matt. 25:35–40; cf. Luke 14:12–14). However, the spirit of hospitality extends beyond the tangible acts of providing meals or a place to stay. It includes not just the act, but an unselfish attitude, so that what is done, no matter the sacrifice, is done without complaint. We can be outwardly hospitable while under our breath we’re saying, “I wish they would leave!”
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.
A spiritual gift is a capacity, an ability given you by God for ministry in and to the body of Christ. Notice, that Peter stated that every believer has a gift from God and no gifts are insignificant. But they are to be used to serve one another, not to draw attention to ourselves as was happening in the church at Corinth. Here is a great text to prove faithfulness to the Lord and His church. Those who think they can live the Christian life apart from the church cannot possibly minister the gift that God has given them to build up the body of Christ.
Good stewards are those who manage their spiritual gifts wisely and use them obediently (cf. 1 Cor. 4:2; Titus 1:7). Peter’s readers were familiar with stewards who handled an owner’s land, funds, supplies of food, and other resources. The apostle’s analogy was obvious, and not using one’s gifts weakens the local church because others cannot replace the unique giftedness of those who are not ministering.
The variety of spiritual gifts is expressed in the word manifold, which literally means “many colored” or “multi-faceted.” Two believers may have the gift of teaching, but each will demonstrate it with a unique blend of grace and faith. That provides for edifying and useful spiritual diversity within the church. One leader’s preaching may emphasize the showing of mercy and gentleness, whereas another’s may emphasize the discerning of truth, and another’s the wisdom in its application.
Peter divides the two gifts into two categories: speaking gifts and serving gifts. The one who speaks must speak, as it were, the utterances of God. This doesn’t mean that he is speaking under divine inspiration; rather, it calls attention to the seriousness of communicating God’s Word. When you preach, you don’t toss out human opinions that are up for grabs, but rather you bring people face to face with God’s authoritative truth.
Those who serve must do so by the strength which God supplies, which points to the need for conscious dependence on God, no matter how mundane the task. The word “supplies” originally was used of a wealthy person who supplied the funds for a chorus or dance, much like a modern philanthropist who supports the arts. God is an abundant source of strength for all that He commands us to do. If Christians were serving in the strength which God supplies, I doubt that we would be hearing so much about “burnout.”
INTENTION FOR SPIRITUAL DUTY – 11b
In order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and domino forever and ever. Amen.
So Peter states the goal of performing our spiritual duty, which is God being glorified.
The Hebrew word (“kabod”) translated “glory” has the nuance of weight or heaviness. It points to the riches or power of a person of importance, much as we may say, “He’s a heavyweight” or “a man of substance.” The Greek word (“doxa”) comes from a word meaning “to seem or think,” and has the nuance of reputation or honor. When applied to God, His glory is His inherent majesty and infinite worth. God’s glory is intrinsic to His being.
To glorify God means to show forth His excellencies to others, or, as I’ve often said, in street language, to glorify God is to make Him look good as He really is. If a photographer glorifies some natural wonder, he makes us revel in the inherent beauty of that scene. We see the photograph and gasp, “Look at the colors and grandeur of that mountain!” When the photographer does his work rightly, we don’t extol the photographer; we extol the object toward which they point. We say, “What a beautiful scene!” And when Christians properly glorify God, people should exclaim, “What a great being God is!” John Calvin rightly says, “We never truly glory in him unless we have utterly put off our own glory. ... whoever glories in himself, glories against God” (Institutes [3:13:2], [Westminster Press], ed. by John T. McNeill). As Peter makes it clear here, everything we have we received from God. Thus He alone is worthy of glory.
The end is near; therefore, the church should glorify God through prayer, love, and spiritual gifts. The Drake Hotel, in Chicago, is a first class hotel overlooking Lake Michigan. In 1959, the Queen of England visited Chicago. Elaborate preparations were made for her visit. The waterfront was readied for docking her yacht. Litter baskets were painted. A red carpet was rolled out. Many hotels were alerted. But when they contacted the Drake, the manager explained, “We are making no plans for the Queen; our rooms are always ready for royalty.” What an advertisement for the Drake!
Peter is saying, “The King is coming soon. Peter instructs us to live life with a sense of urgency. Ask yourself: Are you living so that others will see how great God truly is? Are you depending on Him in prayer? What about your love for other Christians? How about your management of the gifts God has entrusted to you? Your life should always be ready for royalty. Don’t let His coming catch you unprepared!”