End Times Conduct
Passage: 1 Peter 4:7-9
We all know that life oftentimes feels like a fog. We want to serve Christ and serve one another. However, our task list is a mile long, we have major burdens to bear, and many wants to satisfy. These things cloud our sense of purpose, and life seems fuzzy. It is like we are looking at a 3D T.V. without 3D glasses. Maybe you have walked up to one of these T.V.s before at Best Buy. The picture looks awful, and you wonder why a T.V. with a blurry picture costs $2,000. But when you put 3D glasses on, everything comes into focus and the picture is quite incredible. Where can we find the glasses, so to speak, that will bring our lives into focus? First Peter 4:1–6, brings up one of the problems that can make life foggy—suffering for Christ. Peter notes that his readers were feeling the cost of following Christ because they had to separate from the drunken, sensual partying of their culture. Their non-Christian friends didn’t appreciate their refusal to participate in this lifestyle and so they slandered them. Peter encourages them in vv. 5–6 by reminding them of the coming judgment. We will all be held accountable to God. This is sobering for those who reject God’s authority, but it is comforting for those who are living for him. You will never make a sacrifice for God so great that he will not reward it with infinitely more in eternity. The return of Christ and his eternal reward is the pair of glasses that helps life make sense. We must view hardship in light of eternity. Verses 7–11 follow by challenging us to also view our service to Christ in light of eternity (read). The argument of this passage is fairly easy to follow. Verse 7 begins by declaring that the end is near. Jesus is coming again. In light of Christ’s soon return, Peter gives several exhortations regarding how we should live.
Let’s begin by considering the opening statement, which reminds us that…
The time is short (v. 7a).
Peter made a similar statement in v. 5 when he said that God stands ready to judge the living and the dead. The NT consistently teaches that Christ could return at any moment. The verb translated “is at hand” is in the perfect tense and pictures the day of the Lord as ready to occur. Everything is in place for Christ to return and set in motion all that the Scriptures teach about the last things. It’s as if the planes and tanks are fueled, the guns are loaded, and the soldiers are rested and fed. They are just awaiting the command to attack. First Thessalonians 4 states that the trumpet will sound, and Christ will rescue his church from this evil world. Christ will then bring justice upon evil men through the seven year Tribulation. Christ will then return on a white horse followed by the saints, eradicate evil, and bind Satan in chains. The world as we know it will be no more, and Christ will reign in truth and justice.
I like how one commentator describes Peter’s point. “As human history moves alongside the edge of the eschatological future, the line of separation at times seems razor-thin. Only God’s longsuffering holds back the impending manifestation of that day (2 Pet 3:8-9).” We need to remind ourselves often that Christ could return at any moment because it’s easy for us to fall into the routine of life and to assume that it will continue forever. How often do you think about the fact that Christ could return today? The trumpet could sound before this service closes, and those of us who are saved would instantly be with Christ in the clouds, seeing his face, and perfectly glorified. Wouldn’t that be incredible! Thirty to fifty years ago, the church dwelt on this fact a lot. When Israel became an independent nation in 1948, Christians believed that the stage was set for the Tribulation to take place and so the church became very interested in prophecy. Bible scholars became famous for doing prophecy conferences and putting together elaborate charts of end time events. But like sinners tend to do, some took things too far and asserted ideas into Scripture that aren’t really there. Some predicted the date when Christ would return, and how current events would fit into end time events. Jack Van Impe is probably the most famous teacher who tried unsuccessfully to predict the return of Christ. Today, most evangelicals have responded to the old prophecy conferences by going in the opposite direction. Most churches hardly talk about the return of Christ or end time events. They believe Christ will return, but it’s not an emphasis.
But the Scriptures are very clear that Christ could return at any moment and that his imminent return must affect how we live. How often do you reflect on the fact that Christ could return today? Do you ever ponder the fact that this might be your last day to make an impact for Christ or to share the gospel? Are you ready to meet Christ? Don’t live with the attitude that I will get serious about my faith once I finish college, once my kids get a little older, or once I retire. Or I’ll share the gospel someday. Serve Christ today so that you can look forward to the return of Christ with joy because you are running your course faithfully.
The return of Christ ought to be a source of joy and motivation for God’s people, but if you aren’t a Christian you may have mixed feelings. It may bring relief to think that there will be justice in the end and that the cycle of evil will not continue forever. But it also ought to be concerning to ponder if you are ready to give an account of your life as v. 5 says that you will. I know that’s not the most positive, feel-good question to raise, but I would be a terrible liar and a charlatan if I didn’t bring it up because it is true. God is absolutely pure, and he demands purity. And the Scriptures are clear that if you try to stand before God someday on your own merit, you will be condemned to hell. You have no hope of saving yourself. As we said earlier, baptism, church attendance, and no other good works can ever take away your sin. The only way that you can survive the judgment is to stand in the righteousness of Christ. Christ died to pay the penalty for sin and to provide a way for people to have a relationship with God. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” If you have never called on Christ for salvation, then I want to urge you to believe on him today, so that you can have your sins forgiven and so that you can look forward to the coming judgment with joy rather than terror.
Peter begins this paragraph by reminding us that the time is short. He follows with several commands that should flow from this reality. First…
Pray diligently (v. 7b)
The verbs “be serious” and “watchful” describe a focused thoughtfulness about life. The first verb narrowly defined means to think clearly about one’s circumstances. We’ve probably all seen people lose this ability under pressure. They get so worked up that they can’t function well. This verb describes the ability to think clearly even under pressure. The second verb is very similar. It’s the opposite of drunkenness and again describes having complete control of one’s thoughts and faculties. So why did Peter feel the need to exhort his readers to “be serious” and “watchful” in light of Christ’s soon return? First, it seems that the early church sometimes struggled with what one commentator called an “eschatological frenzy.” They were so excited about the return of Christ that they stopped living life, so Peter exhorted them to stay focused on what God had called them to do today. But it’s also easy to have the opposite struggle. We can get so wrapped up in the day-to-day pressures of life and the tasks at hand that we fail to see that the time is short and the eternal significance of the days in which we live. It’s important that we discipline ourselves to keep perspective. We need to always be mindful of the immanence of Christ’s return and let that perspective shape how we view our day-to-day lives.
Particularly, we must let that perspective shape how we pray. We are surrounded by people who are not ready for God’s judgment and by evils that oftentimes weigh us down. But Christ could return at any moment. Therefore, we must pray. “Lord, use me to reach people for Christ.” “Lord, help me keep sight of your soon return and not love the world.” “Lord, help me to follow you no matter the cost.” We must pray with a clear sense of the significance of the times.
I don’t think we can be challenged too often to pray with insight and urgency in light of the crazy times in which we live. We look at the political scene and wonder what in the world is happening to our country. We can look around our city and ponder the fact that tens of thousands in our own backyard are lost with no knowledge of God. The world is a mess, and it is moving toward judgment. And sometimes our only response is to stew and fret. Or we curl up in a ball and pretend that none of these things are real. Instead, we need to pray passionately for God to save souls and to help us be faithful. How is the health of your prayer life? Do you give serious time and attention to seeking God in prayer? Folks, we need God, and we can say all that we want that we get that, but unless we pray, we don’t really believe it.
We must respond to the return of Christ by praying diligently. Second…
Love fervently (v. 8).
This command and the remainder of the paragraph focuses on unity and mutual service in the church. This is very important in a hostile world because we are outsiders in a hostile world. We need each other to thrive.
Peter says that above everything else, we need to love each other in the church. The pronoun Peter uses indicates that he is specifically thinking of the church. The idea is “you all that I am speaking to” need to love each other. And he doesn’t just call on us to tolerate each other. He says that our love is to be fervent. He gave basically the same command back in 1:22. The idea behind this term is that our love is to be stretched out to full capacity. It is not a minimalist love but a maximum effort kind of love. The church should not be known for only fulfilling basic obligations to care for each other in the face of spiritual struggles, physical challenges, or grief. No when there is a need in the body, we should move fervently to meet that need. We need this challenge because we are all naturally very aware of our limitations. All of us like to think our time, budget, and heart are maxed out. When a need arises, sometimes we are so wrapped up in our own world that we don’t even notice. If we do notice, we immediately get protective of our selfish concerns. We defensively think of how we can protect what we have and do the minimum requirement of love. We are more focused on ourselves than on the pain a grieving brother is experiencing or the grave spiritual danger a sister is tiptoeing around. We do not love fervently. We need to see just how weak our love is, and how important it is to fix it. Peter says this love is of preeminent importance in light of Christ’s soon return. We must care for each other in a dark, hostile world.
Peter then gives one reason this love is so important. I want to note that we may read the word “cover” a couple of different ways. We live in a day that highly condemns judgmentalism. Many believe that to call someone else’s beliefs or actions wrong is hateful. In light of that, it might be tempting to read this statement as saying that love ignores sins in the sense of never condemning them. It may even be tempting to use this verse to say that God brushes sin because of his love. But this idea simply doesn’t fit the rest of Scripture. Verse 5 said that God is ready to judge, and Peter confronts sin on multiple occasions in this book. Unless Peter is loony, he can’t mean that love equals condoning everyone’s beliefs and actions. Rather, Peter means that love is compassionate and forgives a multitude of sins. The best way to describe the idea may be to describe the antithesis. Have you ever been around someone where you feel like you are constantly walking on eggshells? You fear making the slightest mistake because this person will jump down your throat. It’s very difficult to have any sort of relationship with that person isn’t it? A far lesser mistake we can also make is that we overthink every sin someone commits, and we feel the need to follow the Matthew 18 model of confrontation every time someone says something harsh or there is a misunderstanding. We are constantly offended and always making things right under great stress. I am not to say that we shouldn’t confront sin according to Matthew 18 when confrontation will bring about a good end. But there is also a very real place for letting love cover sin. For example, this seriously never happens, but suppose Pastor Kris comes into the office tomorrow morning and he is cranky. He had a long Sunday, and Felicity was up all night, so he is tired. He says something pretty rude to me. I can deal with it a few ways. I could be offended and say something equally rude to him. I could withdraw, close my door, and ignore him the rest of the day. But both of those responses would be sinful. I could sit him down and tell him how sinful his response was, but that doesn’t seem to be necessary. There is no pattern of anger that needs to be addressed, and I’m confident that he knows anger is wrong. The best response is that because I love him as a brother, rather than focusing on how he hurt me, I instead focus on how exhausted he is and consider how I could encourage him. I go on with my day, and I relate to him as if nothing happened. Love enables me to forgive and move on. I do want to emphasize a couple of qualifiers that I built into that story. I ignored the sin because it wasn’t a pattern that needed to be addressed and because I was able to move on without letting it affect me. If these things are not true, you probably need to confront. But if not, forget about it and go on.
The principle of this verse is very simple, but it’s amazing how often we don’t live it. I bet this verse could eliminate 80% of the conflict in marriages. “I can’t believe he left his clothes out. And look at this mess in the kitchen. He is such a jerk.” We spiral down and things get ugly. A little grace at the front would have solved everything. In context, Peter is especially thinking of life in the church. It’s amazing how upset we can get over little things. We get mad because we don’t have the role we want or because this program should have been done differently. We get highly irritated by minor differences in convictions. Or we get offended and shut down because so and so hasn’t talked to me in a couple of weeks. Sometimes I need to remember that I’m not the only sinner in the church. I’m surrounded by them, and just like I don’t always get it right, they won’t either. Rather than focusing on all that is wrong, I need to focus on loving sinners and serving sinners. Do you want to walk on egg shells with God’s people, or do you want to feel secure and comfortable? Let’s be a church that is marked by genuine love and compassion.
Because the time is short, we must love fervently. Finally…
Be hospitable gladly (v. 9).
We may not think all that often of the significance of hospitality, but it is everywhere in the NT. It is even a qualification for the office of pastor. Part of that is a function of first century travel. When you must travel by foot, most long trips weren’t day-trips like they are today. And if there were hotels available, they were usually pretty rough and filled with sensuality and evil. And so it was expected that Christians would host each other, especially travelling missionaries or evangelists. Hospitality was also very important to the function of a local church because they didn’t have buildings. Usually, a home was the only place for a church to meet. But it’s also true that in every culture, the home is typically the best context for fellowship. Having people into your home communicates openness, friendship, and love. All of us have probably experienced special warmth from being invited into someone’s home. And so Peter encourages the church that in light of Christ’s soon return and evil that is out there in the world, we need to open our homes to each other and use them to serve. Of course, hospitality can be demanding. You want the house to be clean, and food is expensive. You may not have the biggest place, be the best cook, or good at making conversation. Because of that, we may grumble about hospitality. So Peter tells us to guard against it. Stay focused on the fact that the time is short, keep an outward focus on service, and then be hospitable.
I praise the Lord that hospitality is a great strength of this church. Our family has been greatly blessed by the hospitality of so many of you. To most of you, I would say to keep it up. Build the unity of our church through your home. Take a look around this room and ask yourself, who could use some encouragement? Who have I never really talked to? Who is new and needs to get plugged in better. Then have them over. You don’t have to provide a feast. Eat popcorn and play games if you need to because love goes a lot farther than a steak, though steak is really good too.
Christ’s immanent return should drive us to diligent prayer, fervent love, and glad hospitality. Let’s guard against living in a fog. The world is growing worse, Christ is coming again, and we need to help each other be ready.