Living on the Edge of Eternity
1 Peter 4:7-11
February 28, 2015 | Brian Bill
Have you heard of the Doomsday Clock? Maintained since 1947 by a group of scientists, this clock represents a countdown to impending global catastrophe, otherwise known as the end of the world. The closer the clock is set to midnight, the nearer these scientists believe we are to doom and disaster.
The second hand of the Doomsday Clock was changed just a month ago, moving the time up two minutes, so that we are now at three minutes to midnight. This is the closest to apocalypse we have come since 1984 – the coldest of the Cold War years. This is not really a scientific calculation but rather a measure of the “strong feeling of urgency” in light of world events. These experts must feel a lot of end-time urgency because the image of the updated clock is now bright red.
Many of you hope the end of winter is near, right? Someone posted this on Facebook : “Winter needs to end after Christmas. The end.”
Actually, when we process the news from this week, it makes us wonder how close we are to the end of all things, doesn’t it?
Last week we camped in 1 Peter 4:1-6 and learned that Christ-followers don’t do what they used to do. We were challenged to arm ourselves against sin and to abstain from sin.
Let’s look now at 1 Peter 4:7 to see how the Bible tells time: “But the end of all things is at hand…” The word “end” refers to completion or a conclusion, to a goal that has been achieved. It’s good for us to be reminded that God is in charge and He is working all things toward the completion of His plan. Nothing takes Him by surprise. I posted a verse this week that captures that truth from Psalm 47:8: “God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne.”
The phrase “at hand” means, “to approach or draw near” and indicates imminency, meaning that Jesus could come back at any moment. All things are now ready. The rapture is the next event on the calendar – it’s always one minute to midnight. One scholar has estimated that there are over 1,800 references to the second coming of Christ in the Old Testament. An amazing 1 out of 30 verses in the New Testament speak of His return. Are you aware that for every prophecy in the Bible concerning Christ’s first coming, there are 8 that look forward to His Second? (Today in the Word, April, 1989, p. 27).
When Peter writes the “end of all things is at hand,” this must have been encouraging for those pummeled by persecution. While this refers to the coming rapture of believers, it could also refer to our own deaths. Either way, the time is near, isn’t it? For our four Easter Now outreach services we’ll be communicating the urgency of deciding for Christ today…because tomorrow might not come. I like what Corrie Ten Boom once said: “Drive shallow tent pegs, because we are moving on in the morning.”
“Therefore…” is a term of conclusion. It causes us to pause and ponder what comes next. The study of end times should not just satisfy our curiosity but also sanctify us so that we’re ready when He returns. 1 John 2:28: “And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” The return of Christ is always presented in Scripture as a great motivation to action, not as a reason to cease from action. In a parable Jesus told about his return, the nobleman implores his servants in Luke 19:13: “Do business till I come.”
Since the end is near, we have some business to do. This passage gives us three delightful duties to perform.
- Pray seriously. The first implication of living on the edge of eternity is found in the last part of verse 7: “…therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers.” To be “serious and watchful” means to be sober-minded and to exercise self-control so that our passions don’t carry us away. It’s really the opposite of living for our lusts as spelled out in verses 3-5. Instead of getting all whacked-out about what’s going in our world, we’re called to pray. Actually, the word is in the plural, meaning we must engage in all sorts of prayers – privately and publicly – by ourselves, with others, in our homes and when we gather with God’s people.
The idea behind being “watchful” is to be aware of what’s happening in the world and then praying with purpose. Since there’s a lot going on around the globe, I’d like to lead us in prayer right now. I also want to pray that God will mobilize many young people to take the gospel to the nations as a result of the Cross Conference that was held here Friday night.
- Love fervently. The second implication of living on the edge of eternity is that we must unleash our love for others like we never have before. Notice verse 8: “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’” By my count, this is now the fifth time Peter lifts up love in this letter. The phrase “above all” reminds us of the primacy of love. We’re not called to some kind of emotional or sentimental kind of love but rather to a “fervent love.” The idea behind this is of a horse whose legs are fully extended while galloping or of an athlete straining and stretching at the finish line in order to win the race. It means that our love must be operating at full capacity.
This is an intense kind of love. The only other time this word is used is in Luke 22:44 when Jesus was in agony and prayed so fervently that “His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Steven Cole says that biblical love is often more sweat than sweet because it takes effort to love some people. Friends, God wants us to demonstrate a love for one another that is “fully stretched out with an intense strain.” One translator uses the word “vehement” to describe this kind of love.
1 Corinthians 13:7 says that love “bears all things.” The word “bears” is derived from a thatch roof covering a building and has the idea of protecting. This helps give meaning to the next phrase in 1 Peter 4:8: “For love will cover a multitude of sins.” To “cover” means to cause something not to be known. Instead of exposing faults for everyone to see, love limits what we share with others.
Peter is actually quoting from Proverbs 10:12: “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins.” Hatred stirs things up while love settles things down, protecting the offender from needless exposure. To truly love someone means to not nurse a grudge. Love refuses to deliberately drag out the sins of others.
Do you remember what happened when Noah got drunk and lay uncovered in his tent? When his son Ham saw his dad in this condition he went and told others. When Shem and Japtheth were made aware, Genesis 9:23 says that they “took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father.”
That doesn’t mean we condone sins because the Bible says that sometimes love means we confront sins, but sometimes we choose to not see them. I like a principle suggested by Steven Cole: “Cover whatever offenses you can, but if an offense bothers you to the extent it hinders your relationship, you need to confront it.”
Wayne Grudem offers this perspective: “When fervent love is found in a fellowship of Christians, many small offenses, and even some large ones, are readily overlooked and forgotten. But where love is lacking, every word is viewed with suspicion, every action is liable to misunderstanding…”
When a person wrongs me I can either take them hostage or set them free. I can broadcast how I’ve been hurt or I can bury it. Ray Pritchard writes: “No church can survive very long unless the members decide that love will cover a multitude of sins.” I would add that no marriage will last unless sin is covered; and your workplace won’t work unless you learn to forgive and let things go.
Ken Sande says there are four promises we make when we extend forgiveness.
- “I will not dwell on this incident.”
- “I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.”
- “I will not talk to others about this incident.”
- “I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.”
We don’t have the option of saying that we’re not going to love someone. Sure, we might not necessarily like someone but that doesn’t give us a pass. We’re still called to love them.
Verse 9 gives us a practical way to flesh out this fervent kind of love: “Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.” The word “hospitality” literally means to be friendly, welcoming and generous to guests, especially to strangers. It carries with it the idea of giving practical help to anyone in need. This practice was absolutely necessary for the expanse of the church because there were no Motel 6s for traveling missionaries. Persecuted believers especially needed a place to stay. A Christian’s duty is to have an open door.
When we do open our homes, we must do so “without grumbling.” We shouldn’t resent the time or the expense involved. And guess what? Hospitality can be hard. Grumbling in the Greek is goggusmos, which is an onomatopoeic word, meaning it sounds just like what it is. If you offer hospitality and under your breath you growl, goggusmos, your guests are not going to feel very welcome. Our words murmur and grumble are very similar.
Open hearts lead to open homes. A forgiving spirit leads to a friendly spirit. When we cover sins, we’ll uncover the sofa. In one of the places where we used to live our neighbors had daughters the same age as ours. We had a swing set in the backyard and the neighbor girls would come across the street all the time to play. One day when I was hanging out with our daughters, one of the neighbor girls said, “You guys are lucky. My dad won’t let us have a swing set because it will damage his grass.” I smiled as I glanced down and saw that the grass underneath our swing set was all gone with deep divots in the dirt where their shoes had scraped it clean.
I read an article this week called, “Open Roof Hospitality.” The author spoke about the time a paralytic was lowered through the roof so Jesus could heal him. In Mark 2:4 it says that some guys “removed the roof above him.” While we don’t know for certain, many believe that this house belonged to Peter and his wife. I wonder what they must have thought as they watched four guys remove their roof? Were they frustrated or fascinated? Did the guests fix the hole before they left?
The author then asked some penetrating questions: “Do I have an ‘open roof’ policy in my home? Am I willing for my home to be filled, refashioned, and torn asunder so people can meet with Jesus? Am I willing for my carpet to be stained so that the laughter of children can be the music of my home? Am I willing to put aside my concern of impressing others so that I can focus on house-altering hospitality that points people to Jesus?”
She concludes with these words: “At the heart of biblical hospitality is a humble willingness to serve others. It is not intended to show off what we have, but to demonstrate whom we follow. Instead of focusing our efforts on perfecting our earthly homes, we would do well to set our hearts on the perfect home that awaits us in heaven. As we increasingly hope in our heavenly home, we become people who faithfully practice hospitality in our earthly tents.”
Is your home a ministry place or is it a museum piece? Your home is not just a place for your family to hang out; it is a tool for ministry. Your home or apartment or dorm room is the single best tool you have for evangelism and ministry to believers. As we near the end, open your home and invite some neighbors in.
Since the end of all things is at hand, we’re to pray seriously and love fervently. There’s one more delightful duty we have.
- Give graciously. Verse 10 reminds us of the third “G” in our vision – Give: “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” While this verse doesn’t specifically deal with the giving of our tithes and offerings, it certainly includes this.
Let’s pull out some principles as we unpack this verse phrase by phrase.
- Everyone has at least one gift – “as each one.” This means that each and every believer has been given a gift (see 1 Corinthians 12:7).
- Everything we have is a gift from God – “has received a gift.” It’s not earned but supernaturally given. Actually the words “gift” and “grace” are derived from the same root.
- Every member of the family of God is a minister; every saint is a servant called to serve others – “minister it to one another.” This is the third time Peter uses “one another” in this passage to show how we are linked to other brothers and sisters in Christ. Spiritual gifts are not given to help my self-esteem or for my benefit – they are given to me so that I can serve you and you are given gifts so you can serve me.
- We must be faithful in how we use our gifts – “as good stewards.” A steward was a manager who was given the owner’s funds to administer. In that sense, as stewards, we own nothing but simply manage that which has been entrusted to us. 1 Corinthians 4:2 lays out our responsibility: “Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.”
- When we give of our gifts we show the grace of God – “of the manifold grace of God.” The word “manifold” means multi-faceted or differing kinds. Just as God’s grace is richly varied, so are the gifts He gives to His people.
A spiritual gift is a divine enablement empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to build up others. Verse 11 summarizes the wide spectrum of spiritual gifts by saying that they basically fall into two categories – speaking gifts and serving gifts: “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies…”
- Speaking gifts. These gifts include teaching, preaching, and evangelism. The word “oracles” refers to sayings, especially those spoken by God. It’s quite sobering and humbling to think that I could stand up here and speak God’s Word to you. I certainly don’t want to just give my insight but to instead speak forth the oracles of God. Charles Spurgeon put it like this: “Reckon that every sermon is a wasted sermon which is not Christ’s Word.”
Friends of mine served as missionaries in Mexico, one of their team members named Mike was working on weaving a verse of Scripture into every conversation he had. I was really challenged by that. That would be a good thing for each of us to do. Let’s try to speak Scripture into everything we do. BTW, social media is a great place to share Scripture. Would you join me in using these sites for redemptive purposes?
- Serving Gifts. This category is broad and includes any kind of encouraging, showing mercy or helping ministry. I love all the sweet serving that goes on at our church.
The phrase, “ability which God supplies” refers to a patron of a chorus or choir who supplied all their financial needs at his own expense. It’s the idea of furnishing generously and lavishly. That’s a cool idea, isn’t it? God supplies all that we need so that we can make music with the gifts He has given to us. We shouldn’t serve in our strength, but in His alone. Actually, when we serve in our strength, things go south pretty quickly, don’t they? We either get proud because we’re doing so much or prickly because we think no one else is doing as much as we are.
A Devoted Doxology
Our practice must lead to praise.
After describing our delightful duties Peter breaks into a doxology. That’s how it should be. Our practice must lead to praise; our work must culminate in worship. We’re reminded that it’s all about God; it’s not about us. Close your eyes as I read verse 11 slowly: “…that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
The word “that” can be translated as “so that.” We pray seriously, love fervently, and give graciously so that God may be glorified. Jesus put it like this in Matthew 5:16: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
“Through Jesus Christ” is a reminder that it is through the reconciliation that Jesus brings that the Father is ultimately glorified. The word “glory” can be a nebulous concept so let’s unpack it. In the Greek it refers to an opinion or estimation or reputation. The Hebrew word means “heavy” or “weighty.” God’s glory is His inherent majesty and His weighty reputation. So when my aim is to glorify God I want to show how excellent His worth and reputation is. Another way to say it is that I want to make God look as good as He really is. I read this tweet from Desiring God: “The most important, all-encompassing truth is that everything exists for the glory of God.”
The word “dominion” declares that all things are under His sweet sovereignty, including the news headlines. And “forever and ever” is the strongest way to refer to eternity. “Amen” means, “so let it be.” It’s not a wish but rather a strong seal of approval to what has just been said.
In the Chronicles of Narnia, Lucy sees Aslan, the Christ figure, for the first time in many years. She exclaims, “Aslan, you’re bigger.” Aslan replies, “That is because you are older, little one…every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
As we grow in our faith, we will find God bigger. The more we dive into His story, the more we will cherish His glory.
The end is near, so let’s do the delightful duties of praying seriously, loving fervently and giving graciously, and let’s do it all for the glory of God.
With the glory of God as our goal, let’s come back now to the three main duties and think through how we can put each one into practice.
- Pray seriously. What will it take for you to pray more seriously? What one thing can you do to take this up a notch?
- Love fervently. In what way is God calling you to fully stretch out in your love for someone? Who will you invite into your home this week?
- Give graciously. How can you step up your giving? In what one area will you begin serving? What will you do to make this happen?
Many years ago an elite runner from Kenya fell to the ground near the finish line of the Austin marathon. Race volunteers brought her a wheelchair but she refused to use it. Her body just gave out but she didn’t quit, crawling on all fours to finish the race. She stretched out and ended up making it to the end.
Pray seriously. Love fervently. Give graciously.
Friend, the end is near. Keep going. If you’ve fallen, start crawlin’! Do whatever it takes to make it to the finish line. Pray seriously. Love fervently. Give graciously.
When the Savior first came on the scene, some of His first words were focused on the nearness of the end when He declared in Mark 1:14: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” And then He tells us what our response must be: “Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
If you’re not saved, there is a doomsday coming for you. It’s time to repent and believe the gospel. If you’re saved, a day of deliverance is the next date on God’s calendar for you.
“…that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen”