Elect Exiles: The End Is at Hand

Sermon by David Strain on February 2

1 Peter 4:7-11

Now if you would take a Bible in hand once again and turn this time to the New Testament and to 1 Peter chapter 4. We’ve been working through 1 Peter together Sunday mornings here at First Presbyterian Church. We are considering verses 7 through 11 today on page 1016 if you’re using one of the church Bibles.

Last time, in the first six verses, we noticed that Peter gives some instruction on how the church, Christians, are to relate to the world. And he brackets his instructions between two poles. In verse 1, he talks about Christ who suffered and provides an example that we are to imitate. But then in verse 5 and 6, he speaks about Christ’s return at the end of the age to judge. And between those two poles, here is how we are to relate to the world around us. And picking up on that note about the return of Jesus, Peter continues on in verses 7 through 11, our passage this morning, to speak to us about how we are to relate to one another within the fellowship of the church; in light of the end of all things with which he begins his discussion in verse 7, here is how we are to live. Jesus is coming. So what? 

Well, he mentions four exhortations in particular that spell out how we are to live in light of the end. First, he says, he talks about how we are to handle ourselves in verse 7 – “with self-control and sober-mindedness for the sake of our prayers.” How we handle ourselves. Then, how we are to treat one another, verse 8 – we are to continue to love one another because “love covers a multitude of sins.” Then verse 9, how does that love gain concrete expression in our fellowship? Well, it’s expressed concretely among other ways in the practice of Christian hospitality – how we are to use our home. How we are to handle ourselves, how we are to treat one another, how we are to use our homes in verse 9, and then finally, verses 10 and 11, how we are to do ministry in the life of the local church – to use our gifts “to serve one another.” So in light of the end, here is how we are to handle ourselves, treat one another, use our homes, and do ministry. Before we dive into all of those things, let’s bow our heads once again please and go to God and ask Him for His help as we read and hear His holy Word proclaimed. Let’s pray together.

O Lord, Your Word to us is a light to our feet and a lamp to our path. It more precious than gold and sweeter than honey. And by Your Word, Your servants are warned that in keeping it there is much reward. Help us, O Lord, then to come with receptive hearts open to the truth, to minds ready to embrace the teaching of the Scriptures with a will inclined toward obedience. Grant to us the ministry of the Holy Spirit to cause the truth of Your Word like a seed planted in our hearts to produce a rich harvest of likeness to Christ in whose name we pray. Amen.

1 Peter chapter 4 at the seventh verse. This is the Word of God:

“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.”

An author I read somewhere said that the first sentence cannot be written until the last sentence is written. So if you’re writing a novel, you need to know how it ends before you start so that everything can unfold in light of the conclusion. J.K. Rowling, the famous author of the Harry Potter novels, had the idea for the books on a train one night in 1990 and she began writing the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, that very night. But she also began writing the last chapter of the seventh book, the last book, at the very same time, from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. In other words, the whole thing was mapped out. The whole seven book series, the conclusion was constantly in mind. She said to one interviewer, “These books have been plotted for such a long time, and for six books now, that they’re all leading in a certain direction.” Good storytelling develops the plot always with the final chapter in view.

That is actually precisely what Peter is saying about how we are to live out our Christian lives; how the story of our Christian life is to unfold must be in light of the final chapter, which has already been written, and is soon to unfold. “The end of all things is at hand,” verse 7, “therefore” here is how I want you to live. The end of all things is pending, so here are the implications for your daily life and conduct. Now just to be clear, Peter is not suggesting that at the time when he penned this letter he was under the misguided impression that Jesus was about to return during his lifetime. That’s not what he’s saying when he says “The end of all things is at hand.” Rather, he is saying since the life, death, resurrection and ascension to reign of the Lord Jesus Christ, the last days, the period of the end, has begun and will continue until Jesus returns. And it’s light is to irradiate every moment from the empty tomb until His final glorious return. Every moment of our lives is to be irradiated with the light of the knowledge of the soon-coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

So how do we write the book of our lives with the final chapter in view? What does it look like to live in light of the end of all things? Well you’ll notice that Peter works from the inside-out, doesn’t he? He starts with how we handle ourselves in verse 7, then how we treat one another in terms of our attitudes, our heart affections, verse 8; then a step further out from there, how that should be displayed in the concrete practice of Christian hospitality, verse 9. Then finally, all the way out into the varied ministries that we are to exercise within the fellowship of the local church, verses 10 and 11. All of which tells us that for Peter, the light of Christ’s coming, the certainty of His return, is to be pervasive. It’s to exercise a pervasive influence; not a superficial one. The return of Jesus is not incidental to the way Peter thinks about his ethics, how he thinks about how Christians ought to live. 

And I think that to be personally enormously challenging, because to be quite honest, I don’t know about you but I don’t often think about the end of all things. I confess the truth, the doctrine of Christ’s final return in glory one day, but it’s often a rather dormant truth in my Christian life. It does not exercise much present influence on the way I make my decisions day by day. I suspect that’s probably true for many of us. Peter is writing to challenge that way of thinking. He wants to awaken in us a robust, present awareness that the end of all things is at hand and to help us live – today, right now, and in the days that remain to us – in light of that glorious fact. 

How We Are to Handle Ourselves

So let’s look at verse 7 and see the first thing he tells us ought to be true of us given that the end of all things is at hand. He says, first of all, here is how I want you to handle yourself. How we are to handle ourselves in light of the end. “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” Back in verse 3, he described the world and worldliness by talking about “sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.” That’s the pattern of the world, both then and today. In contrast, he says, if you have a clear sense of the certainty of the end, there ought to be a sobriety and a self-control, a self-possession that marks a Christian; not governed and dominated by the enslaving lusts and passions that characterize the world, but clear-minded sobriety, knowing that the end of all things is at hand. You sometimes hear people say, when they receive a diagnosis that presses to the front of their attention the reality of their own mortality, you sometimes hear them talk about how it really helps bring things into a new perspective; it really changes some of their priorities, some of the ways they make daily decisions now that they are more aware than ever before of their own mortality. 

In some ways, that’s what Peter is saying should be true of every believer, all the time. We live in light of the certainty that “the end of all things is at hand,” and so there is to be a sober-mindedness and a self-control that marks us, notice he says, “for the sake of your prayers.” It’s an interesting connection. I rather suspect that for many of us the certainty, the inevitability of the end, might tip us towards fatalism, defeatism; it’s inevitable and so we can sort of give up. That’s not Peter’s perspective at all. For him, the certainty of the end, of the coming of Christ in glory to judge the living and the dead, is a sober-minded call, a call to a sober-mindedness, that produces prayer. Literally, Peter says, he calls us to “self-control, sober-mindedness, unto prayer.” The fruit, you see, of this mindset – the reality of the end – creates in us is prayerfulness. Not fatalism, not defeatism, but active pleading, earnest prayerfulness. 

“O God, help me live for You with new singleness of mind in the days that remain to me! O God, open doors for the Gospel! The time is short and so many have never heard! O God, save the lost, build the Church, extend Your kingdom before the appointed hour arrives!” There’s urgency and solemnity and gravity and sober-mindedness that produces earnest, pleading, persistent prayer. Do you pray like that? That’s part of the call that Peter places upon us as we seek to live in light of the end. How we handle ourselves in light of the end.

How We Are to Treat One Another

Secondly, notice how we are to treat one another in light of the end. Look at verse 8. “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” In light of the end, when it comes to our relationships with one another inside the church, the obligation to love earnestly is a constant, urgent necessity. Keep loving. The word “earnestly” there, actually, is not so much to accentuate emotional intensity as it is tenacity and determination to persevere no matter the circumstances, to cling to the priority of love within the fellowship of the local church. Don’t let love ever slip from top of your priority list – that’s what he’s saying. That’s why he says “above all, keep loving earnestly.” Above every other concern, if the church is to survive – and we’ve already seen before now, in Peter’s letter there are storm clouds of persecution and opposition beginning to gather on the horizon for these Christians. Hard days are coming. How will the church survive? They will survive as they love one another, they keep loving one another earnestly. Love is never to be an afterthought in the fellowship of the church. Love like this, Peter says, is a matter of survival. 

And notice the motive that he affixes to his exhortation to keep loving earnestly. Why should we do this? What are the benefits? Love like this, he says, “covers a multitude of sins.” Likely, Peter has Proverbs 10 verse 12 in mind. He’s paraphrasing Proverbs 10 verse 12. “Hatred stirs up strife but love covers all offenses.” “Love covers a multitude of sins.” So “love covers a multitude of sins” does not mean, “If you love me, you’ll look the other way no matter what I do.” It does not mean that the church is a place that merely excuses wickedness or covers up anything that could be embarrassing. That’s not what it means. I think we get some help in understanding what Peter does mean when we pay attention to Proverbs 10 verse 12 that Peter has in mind and we notice the opposing parallel parts of the Proverb. “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers many offenses.” So whatever “love covers a multitude of sins,” “love covers offenses means,” it’s the opposite of “hatred that stirs up strife.” Here's what I think Peter is really saying to us. Love does not take the bait. Love seeks not to respond when provoked. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love, it doesn’t perpetuate the cycle of tension and division and strife by responding to hurt feelings with still more wounding words, and round and round we go. Love says, “I will be patient. I will be kind. I will keep no record of wrongs.”

Sometimes Biblical Christian love requires us to confront one another, to challenge and to exhort one another, to speak the truth in love to one another. That’s true. But often, love endures all things, love keeps no record of wrongs, love does not insist in its own way. It’s not looking for a pound of flesh. Christian love does not demand redress; it holds no grudges. You see, Peter wants the churches to whom he is writing to be a community of elect exiles, remember? That is an alien community, a colony of heaven planted on the far shore of this world. And so he insists that the inner dynamics of church life, of Christian relationships, reflect the same kind of love that we see in the Lord Jesus Christ who loved us and gave Himself for us. So that looking at how we treat each other, people who don’t know Jesus can see the radical power of grace shaping our daily behavior. We forgive each other, having been forgiven. We love one another with the mirror of the way Christ has first loved us. 

So let’s ask ourselves in light of the teaching of this part of God’s holy Word, when last did I go seek forgiveness from someone I know I wronged? When last was I quick to forgive those who have wronged me? When last did I get the help I needed to get past my grudges and too long-cherished wounds? When last did I resolve when someone else’s sharp tongue cut me to the bone not to take the bait, not to give as good as I got but to remember that a gentle answer turns away wrath; hatred stirs up strife, but love covers a multitude of offenses, love covers a multitude of sins. We’re called to love because Christ has first loved us. How we handle ourselves. How we treat one another.

How We Are to Use our Homes 

Thirdly, notice Peter speaks about how we use our homes in verse 9; how we use our stuff – our houses, our food, our time. Look at verse 9. “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Now probably in context there are two parts to this challenge to be hospitable that Peter has in view. The first had to do with where the church met. They didn't have grand church buildings like this one. When the churches in a region were assembled, they met in local homes, in houses. So Romans 16:3 and 5 Paul tells the Romans to greet Priscilla and Aquila, “my fellow workers in Christ; greet also the church in their house.” You see the same language again in 1 Corinthians 16:19, in Colossians 4:15, in Philippians 2. And that meant that for some in the churches at least the call to be hospitable meant the call to accommodate a congregation, Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day, gathered for ministry and worship, in their own homes. And you can imagine the burden that that would often be, not to mention the target a person would be painting on their own back if regularly the church was gathering in their household for worship under persecution. So Peter has to exhort them. “Practice hospitality without grumbling. Be willing.” That’s part of the picture.

The other aspect of hospitality common in those days was that many believers were displaced from their homes. They had to move from place to place and often fleeing persecution they needed a place to land. And so the churches are exhorted to practice hospitality and provide for them. But whatever the circumstances, it is clear, isn’t it, that for Peter, a normal expression of Christian love in the fellowship of the church, a normal expression of Christian love is the practice of Christian hospitality. 

I’m sometimes asked by church members how they can develop a ministry. And there are lots of places you can serve and get involved in ministry and Christian work here at First Church, but what an impact we could have if instead of serving on another committee – not to minimize the importance of doing that – but instead of serving on another committee, we opened our homes, let’s say every other Sunday, and planned to invite a few folks, maybe one or two that we don’t know, to come and enjoy a simple meal with us. Turn off the television, give people your attention, sit around a table, feast and laugh and pray and talk about Jesus. Keep it simple. A store-bought salad, you know, a big pot of pasta, a frozen cake from Kroger, a warm pot of coffee – or if you invite me over, a warm pot of tea! I’m a cliche. I can’t help it! Bring them back to church with you Sunday night to close out the Sabbath Day in worship. If you don’t think you could do it on your own, join forces with a friend. Plan as simple a meal as you can. Invite an older couple and a younger couple and a college kid and a good friend. You might need to invite them a Sunday in advance so that you can make your plans. It doesn’t have to be an ordeal. You’re not called to be Martha Stewart! I can promise you, though, if you would just open your home and your life and say, “This is us. We made a bit more today so that we can have folks over. Would you like to join us?” you will be the blessed one, the beneficiary, as much as they. 

Honestly, I’ve long felt that so much of what we try to accomplish with a program and a schedule and a ministry, a ministry team around here, would start to happen organically and spontaneously and possibly be stronger and better for it if we could simply recover the basic pattern of regular, grumble-free, sacrificial hospitality in the life of the local church that Peter is calling us to here. If we just open our homes and our lives and share a little of what we have, with no frills, the Lord will work wonders in our midst. How we handle ourselves. How we treat one another. How we use our homes, our stuff, our time.

How We Are to Do Ministry 

Finally, how we do ministry. Look at verses 10 and 11. “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.” I find this to be simultaneously, immensely encouraging and immensely challenging and convicting. Here’s the encouragement. Look at verse 10 again. “Each has received a gift.” Christian brother or sister, the Lord has given you a gift to use for His glory in this church and in the fellowship of God’s people. You have a ministry. You have a role and a vital part to play. It needn’t be upfront. It needn’t have a name and a budget and a staff person and a committee overseeing it or any of those things. But if you’re a believer in Jesus, you have a ministry that God has given to you and called you to fulfill at First Presbyterian Church. Ministry is not the domain of the professionals. Ephesians chapter 4, “God has given pastors and teachers to equip” – who? – “for the work of ministry.” To equip “the saints.” That’s y’all! See how incarnational I’m being just there! That’s you. Isn’t it? “To equip the saints for the work of ministry.” Who’s job is ministry? It’s our job together, all of us. And God has given gifts to the church, the whole church, to you, to use in His service.

Maybe you’re a pray-er and you’ve overlooked that because you don’t think it’s grand and upfront and nobody notices it but you pray and pray; you’re an intercessor. Many of you have the gift of encouragement. I’ve been the great beneficiary of that often, as many others here have too. My favorite gift I think is one Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 12:28. He calls it “helps.” I’m pretty sure that First Presbyterian Church Corinth did not have a “Help Committee,” but they had lots of people who were gifted to help and they just looked for places of need and threw themselves at it. People like that, you know, are glue in a congregation. They bind us all together, quietly helping, and not a few of you here have those gifts. What an asset you are when you use the gifts God has given in His service – quietly, faithfully, diligently. So there’s an encouragement here, brothers and sisters in Christ. We have gifts to use in God’s service. 

There’s also a challenge that I find quite convicting because Peter says if you have a gift, guess what? You’re called to use it – not to get a reputation for yourself, not to climb the ladder, not to become somebody. How are you to use your gifts? What does the text say? Use it “to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” If you’re gifted for any kind of ministry your gifts are the donation of God’s wonderful grace. They’re not given to make you look good or me look good. They’re not given to make us feel better about ourselves. Our gifts are not tools to improve our self-esteem. They are given to us to steward wisely in the service of our brothers and sisters in Christ. If you have a gift, any gift, it’s not for you; it’s for me. And mine is for you. Your gifts are for the people sitting next to you and three rows behind you, two rows in front of you. That’s who your gifts are for. 

Use your gifts, Peter says, “as a steward in God’s household.” That is to say, as a servant, accountable to the master of the house for what you have done with the grace He’s given. You remember that parable of the talents. Don’t bury the resources given. Multiply them by using them in the master’s service. You’re not permitted to coast in the kingdom. There’s no retiring for your gifts. There’s no place for passivity. You don’t ever get to say, “Meh, someone else will do it. I’ve done my time. It’s someone else’s go now.” Brothers and sisters, young and old, if the Lord has gifted you, He has called you to use your gifts in the service of one another.

And Peter mentions specifically two big categories of gifts into which most of the gifts that we find in the New Testament fall into one or the other category. There are speaking gifts and there are serving gifts. So if you are to speak ever in God’s service, Peter says, “speak as the oracles of God.” When I preached my very first sermon as a very young man, this verse put some steel in my spine because I realized what God is saying in this text. He was saying, “If you dare open your mouth to speak for me, you’d better not equivocate, you’d better not make suggestions, you’d better not guess. You’d better stand to be a herald declaring My Word to My world clothed with My authority. Speak as the oracles of God. Speak God’s Word in God’s way.” So Sunday school teachers, small group Bible study leaders, seminarians, preachers, take note. “If anyone speaks, let them speak as the oracles of God.”

And if you are to serve, Peter says, “serve by the strength God supplies.” So as you use your gifts in the service of one another, here’s how you avoid burning out. You cling to this promise. There’s a promise lacing the command here. Isn’t there? Do you see it? What’s the promise God will supply the strength you need. So you get to say, “I am weak but Thou art mighty. Guide me with Thine outstretched hand. Bread of heaven, bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more!” And He will, because that’s the promise. You serve in the strength of God and as you serve in the strength of God, He gets the glory and not you, and that’s precisely the design of this whole chapter. Isn’t it? This whole passage, rather. 

You see the great objective of everything he’s been saying there in verse 11? Why do we do all of this? In light of the end, this is how we handle ourselves – with sober-mindedness, that we might pray with earnestness and persistence. And we love one another sincerely, earnestly. And we practice hospitality, opening our lives and our homes and our hearts to one another. And we do it without any complaint or grumbling, not as a burden but as a joy. And we use what gifts we have for service, clinging to His strength and the supplies of His grace. Why do we do it all? Verse 11, “in order that in everything God might be glorified through Christ Jesus. To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

So the point of all the one-anothering in verses 7 to 11 is the glory of God through Jesus Christ before the watching world. Peter wants the world to look at First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi and see an embassy of heaven, a colony of the new creation, people serving each other, forgiving one another, sharing their lives with one another, doing ministry together so that when they look at us they don’t say, “Those are remarkable people.” They say, “Those are people like me – ordinary, flawed, broken sinners like me – and yet look what grace is doing among them, between them, through them. It’s extraordinary! Look what their great God is doing! Look what Jesus Christ is accomplishing in their midst! I want some of that! Where do I get that? Give me that!” That’s Peter’s whole goal in this letter – to make us a colony of heaven, elect exiles who display to the world the power of grace in the way that we live and in the words that we say. 

So may God make it so, even here among us, to the praise of His glorious grace. Let’s pray together.

Thank You, O Lord, for the promises of grace, for strength to serve, for manifold grace that gifts us in Your service, for making us family by the love of Jesus Christ and then calling us to love as He loves. Forgive us when we have begun to believe that a man’s life does in fact consist in the abundance of things and we’ve begun to view our lives and our homes and our church as a fortress to hide from others behind rather than a place from which to do ministry for the glory of Jesus as we serve one another. Help us as we repent and believe the Gospel anew today, to live in light of the end. Give us new perspective, fresh clarity, changed priorities. And do it for Your glory, that the world indeed, looking at First Church would say, “See these ordinary people and see what Jesus is doing in their midst. I wish I had that Jesus.” Would You do that among us please, for His sake? Amen.

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