Life in the Church

mark-dunn
| 1 Peter 4:7-11 | April 23, 2017

Week of April 30, 2017

The Point:  I love and serve Christ when I love and serve His body, the church.

Living in Light of the End:  1 Peter 4:7-11.

[7] The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. [8] Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. [9] Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. [10] As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: [11] 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.   [ESV]

Understanding the time of our stewardship [7].  Peter presents the positive side of the contrast in lifestyle. Not drunken debauchery and license, but sober clear-headedness, marks the Christian [7]. Love, not lust, fills his heart [8]; the Christian home is open for hospitality, not orgies [9]. Ministry replaces exploitation [9-11]. The dissolute life of the pagan fails to recognize his accountability to the Lord in the day of judgment, a day that is fast approaching. This is exactly what the Christian does recognize. The end of all things is at hand. Peter had seen the Lord ascend from the mount of Olives until He vanished in a cloud. He had heard angels repeat the promise of the Lord that He would come again. The whole New Testament emphasizes the expectation of the Lord’s return; Peter’s hope in the Lord looks to that event, and to the salvation ready to be revealed with Christ [1:5,8-12; 4:13,17; 5:4,10]. The Christian looks for the Lord who will bring judgment, justice, and the wonder of a new creation. That realization brings sobriety to the Christian’s use of time. (Self-controlled is literally ‘sober’.) Three times in this short letter Peter exhorts the Asian Christians to be sober [1:13; 4:7; 5:8]. Obviously this includes literal sobriety in contrast to drunkenness, but it also indicates the attitude of mind that is the opposite of drunken stupor or delusion. Sobriety means watchful waiting for the Lord’s return, realistic living. Sobriety, both literal and figurative, marks the Christian lifestyle. To be sober is to be realistic. Drunkenness brings delusions before stupor sets in. The hallucinations of spiritual drunkenness are devouring monsters; the ideologies of political oppression, the fantasies of sexual lust, the jealous hatreds of personal spite. The world seeks orgies of perversion before it sinks into the drunken stupor of hopelessness. Sober reflection is the opposite of the carousings of the old life in lustful inebriation. Sober watchfulness grows with the practice of prayer, and is alert to the assaults of the devil. Christian realism knows the actuality of sin and the folly of utopian dreams. ‘Clear minded’ or sober-minded describes the practical wisdom that comes from the knowledge of the Lord. In Greek use the term was contrasted with mania; the demonized man healed by Jesus was found seated, clothed, and in his right mind (sober-minded) [Luke 8:35]. Preoccupation with the second coming, particularly by those who have set a date for it, has often led to hysteria rather than sober wisdom. Jesus described the faithful servant as dressed for action and busy as he waited for the returning Lord [Luke 12:35-43]. Sobriety and a clear mind have one value above others. They equip us for prayer. Peter does not think of prayer as an effort to induce ecstasy, but as sober, direct, profoundly thoughtful communication with the Lord. His whole letter points us to the depth and glory of our fellowship with Christ. We have not seen Him, but we love Him; we set Him apart as holy in our hearts. Peter’s love for Christ is intensely personal; he is overwhelmed by the glory of the Lord. He does not, therefore, advocate prayer as a cold, rational exercise. But we might say that he advocates it as a fervent, rational exercise. Fervent love, agonizing intercession, these are marks of true prayer. Peter knew of Christ’s agony in the garden of Gethsemane. Prayer tastes the agony of struggle or the delight of communion with God. Yet prayer seeks the Lord, not a transformation of consciousness. Prayer demands alertness. Peter failed in Gethsemane. He slept when Jesus had charged him to watch and pray [Mark 14:37]. Peter goes on to speak of the fervent love for others that we should show, and of the service of love. Thoughtful and earnest prayer will seek God’s blessing on those whom we love and serve.

Serving in the grace of our stewardship [8-11a].  New life in Christ is lived in a community of loving service. Peter brings this section of his letter to a climax by appealing again to the fervency of love that binds together the new people of God [see 1:22]. Jesus taught that love for God and for our neighbor fulfils the law, and Peter, with Paul, puts love first in our walk of obedience and fellowship. Keep loving one another earnestly. The word translated earnestly can also mean ‘deeply’, ‘constant’. The word describes something that is stretched or extended. The love of the saints keeps stretching, in both depth and endurance. It is the reach of God’s love that stretches our love. We love because He first loved us [1 John 4:19]. Our love, kindled by God’s love, is stretched by exercise. If love collapses at its first test, it is not worthy of the name. Love never ends [1 Cor. 13:8]. We do not love others if we take delight in finding and exposing their faults and sins,. Rather, love covers a multitude of sins [8]. Peter reflects the language of Proverbs 10:12: Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses. Unless love can stretch to forgive many sins, it will not avail among us sinners. Love does not keep score, but grants forgiveness freely to every brother or sister who seeks it. Some have taken this text to mean that it is our own sins that are covered by love. They appeal to the Lord’s Prayer, forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors [Matt. 6:12]. But our forgiving does not gain our forgiveness. Rather, Jesus, after answering Peter’s question about how often we are to forgive someone [Matt. 18:21-22], went on to tell of the servant who had been forgiven, and who must therefore forgive [Matt. 18:21-35]. The love that covers our sins is the love of God, as Peter teaches in this letter [1:3; 2:24; 3:18]. But our love, modelled on Christ’s love, can also cover sins in His name. Our love cannot, of course, pay the price of sin. Christ did that. But our love can imitate the mercy of God; our love can forgive, and forgiveness always pays a price. But lest we begin to commend ourselves on forgiving others (or at least on tolerating them), Peter reminds us that love must go further. Jesus took a towel and basin to wash His disciples’ feet. Love for our brethren moves us to serve them. It is the love of God that brings us to our brother’s feet; it is the grace of God that fills our basin for service. We are ministers of the rich and variegated grace of God. Early in his letter Peter spoke of the varied trials Christians must face [1:6]. Here he presents variety of another kind: the varied grace of God. The term translated varied grace [10] is sometimes used of varied colors, the colors of precious stones. The rainbow colors of spring flowers can only suggest the richness of the gifts of God’s grace. We must respect the rich variety of gifts that God has granted to our Christian brothers and sisters. To be sure, some may be spoken of as spiritual in the sense that they have been more evidently granted beyond the natural range of a Christian’s abilities. Such gifts have a certain priority in equipping the saints for ministry. Yet we must not forget that God’s Spirit is the creator Spirit, and that the Spirit renews us in the image of Christ [Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24]. Every gift that is ours by creation has been touched by the Spirit in our recreation. Peter does not list the gifts of the Spirit; he mentions only two broad categories of ministry; speaking and serving. On the side of service, hospitality is to be given high priority. Such service employs both ‘natural’ and ‘spiritual’ gifts. Peter speaks of gifts of the Spirit to focus not on ourselves, but on God and on others. He would have us look to the Lord for the gifts we need to serve Him and others in His name. Peter’s focus is often lost today. Christians eagerly discuss spiritual gifts, but in a way that would surely distress the apostle. Their concern is not how they can serve others and bring glory to the Lord. Rather they seek self-fulfillment. They want to discover their gifts so as to establish their own identity. In a Christian context, they want to ‘do their own thing’. That gifts are granted for service is lost from sight. Peter does not offer a sample list of spiritual graces, as Paul sometimes does [1 Cor. 12:7-11,28-29; Rom. 12:6-8]. Peter evidently does not fear that a Christian will miss his calling if he cannot find his gift classified in Scripture. Indeed, the rich variety of God’s gifts of grace makes close classification impossible. When Peter distinguishes speech and ministry, he obviously indicates two areas of special importance, but areas that could include a great variety of gifts. Jesus grants the spiritual gifts that equip each individual to serve God and other people. The gift, or pattern of gifts, that each believer receives determines his or her function in serving the Lord. Peter affirms that each has received a gift that they are to use to serve one another. Gifts are discovered in service. We may rightly ask about the gift we have received, but we will not gain the answer by introspection. Indeed, the gift that we have received may not be all that the Lord has for us. Jesus came to serve, and calls us to serve in His name. it is in humble service that we discover the gifts that we have and the greater gifts that we may need. If the testing of gifts in service is ignored, disappointment and calamity may follow. Peter calls us stewards or administrators of the grace the Lord gives us. The term describes a servant who has the administrative responsibility for household affairs. The steward’s office has two doors. On the one hand, he is accountable to his master. He administers the goods and affairs of another. All that he has, he has received. On the other hand, he is an administrator, put in charge of his master’s affairs and exercising authority in his master’s name. Peter returns to this key of stewardship when he addresses the elders of the church [5:2-3]. Hospitality, in particular, is a gift to be cultivated in every Christian home. No doubt hospitality had a special importance for the church at the time of Peter’s writing. The inns of the time were few in number and unsavory in reputation. Traveling evangelists and teachers were dependent upon the hospitality of the churches. Without the grace of hospitality the expansion of the church would be severely limited. Then, as now, hospitality had its problems. We are struck by the realism of the Didache, a Christian document perhaps as early as the first century. Speaking of traveling missionaries and teachers, the Didache gives these instructions: “Let every apostle, when he cometh to you, be received as the Lord; but he shall not abide more than a single day, or if there be need, a second likewise; but if he abide three days, he is a false prophet.” Caution and wisdom are needed in the exercise of hospitality, though hardly in the legalistic way indicated in the Didache. The emphasis of the New Testament on the grace of hospitality goes back to the promise of Jesus. He will say to those on His right hand, I was a stranger and you welcomed me [Matt. 25:35]. Jesus further says, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me [Matt. 25:40]. While Christians are charged to do good to all as they have opportunity, the provision of hospitality is particularly directed towards fellow-Christians [Gal. 6:10]. Peter calls for hospitality to one another. Do we need the grace of hospitality with the abundance of hotels and motels? The question is absurd in the eyes of any Christian who has offered or received hospitality in the name of Christ. The early church often met in the homes of its members; the fellowship of Christians in the setting of the home has a quality that can be duplicated nowhere else. Equally important is the function of our homes in aiding the homeless and those in crisis or trouble. In New Testament times evangelism, too, went from ‘house to house’, not by organized canvassing, but by the hospitality of Christian homes. The whole community can participate in showing hospitality. Peter thinks also of the special gifts of individuals. Like Paul he emphasizes the ministry of the word of God in the church: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God [11]. Peter is not describing casual conversation. He has in view the preaching and teaching of the word of God. So Peter spoke the words of God to the household of Cornelius [Acts 10:44]. Paul said of his own teaching, for we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ [2 Cor. 2:17]. Peter stresses the grace that is needed to speak the word of God. Inspired apostles and prophets provided the foundation on which the house of God was built [Eph. 3:5; 2:20]. Others join in the ministry of the word, building on their foundation. Those who now speak the word must depend upon the gift of the Spirit to proclaim the oracles of God, the very word of God in the gospel. Preaching God’s word is not a mechanical task; human eloquence is ineffective apart from the blessing of the Spirit. By the Spirit, ministers of the word speak as ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us [2 Cor. 5:20]. It is true that every Christian must handle the word of God with reverence, and seek the help of the Spirit to make it known to others. Yet there are also those with special gifts of the Spirit for the preaching and teaching of the word of God. They have a special charge to tend and feed the flock of God [5:2]. One who serves by the strength that God supplies. The serving ministry that Peter has in mind may be especially that of deacons in the church, here set beside the teaching ministry. In any case, Peter uses the same term for service here that he used in 4:10. We ‘minister’ or ‘administer’ God’s grace in our service of others. The same Greek root appears in our word ‘deacon’. It could describe those who waited on tables or performed other menial tasks. Jesus applied it to Himself, as one who came not to be served, but to serve [Matt. 20:28]. It is used in the New Testament for Christian service in general, as well as for diaconal service in the official sense. Peter’s exhortation is no less needed for service than for teaching. Christians may be more tempted to undertake diaconal service in their own strength. They may agree that the ministry of the word needs special grace, but waiting on tables, collecting money, or caring for the sick is just a matter of rolling up one’s sleeves and getting the job done. Not so. If God is to be glorified by ministry in His name, it must be ministry performed in His strength. Paul speaks of the cheerfulness that God gives for showing mercy [Rom. 12:8]. This is very different from grumbling hospitality or condescending benevolence. Anyone who has served in a ministry of mercy will know the need for patience and strength to carry on. Peter would have us look to the Lord from the very beginning of every such ministry. Only when it is performed, not just in the name of Christ, but in the Spirit of Christ, does it bring praise to God.

The purpose of our stewardship [11b].  Why does Peter so emphasize our calling to minister as stewards, servants who recognize our dependence on God’s gifts? Because only so will we give God all the glory. Anyone who has begun a ministry in Christ’s name finds it perilously easy to shift the ownership of the enterprise. It becomes his ministry, her organization. Success demonstrates one’s own organizational skill and entrepreneurial genius. The leader gives lip-service to God’s enabling grace, but trusts management techniques. He looks to professional consultants more than to the Lord, the ‘success’ of such a ministry may be a graver judgment from God than its failure. Peter insists that we must minister in the strength that God provides, in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. God is to be praised not only for the new birth from which our service begins, but for the continuing grace that enables us, in serving others, to serve Him. Peter was keenly conscious of the gifts he had received from Christ with the coming of the Holy Spirit. He had been granted the miraculous signs of an apostle and could bid a lame man to walk in the name of Jesus [Acts 3:6; 4:30]. He had also been given grace to speak the word with boldness, proclaiming the exalted Christ as Prince and Savior [Acts 5:31-32]. Jesus’ disciples had once argued about who would be first in Christ’s kingdom. But such thoughts are now remote from Peter’s experience. Not his own leadership skills, but the gifts of Christ’s Spirit, were the secret of his apostleship. Peter is jealous for God’s glory. In everything God is to be glorified. All is to be done to God’s glory because His are the glory and dominion forever and ever. Peter’s exhortation becomes an affirmation: God is to be praised in everything. The Amen reflects the response of the people of God to the glory and power that are His.”  [Clowney, pp. 177-188].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What does Peter mean by the end of all things is at hand? What difference does this make to you and the way you live your life? Why does Peter connect being self-controlled and sober-minded with praying?
  1. What does Peter teach about love in these verses? How does love cover a multitude of sins?
  1. What does Peter teach concerning spiritual gifts in these verses? What spiritual gifts does Peter mention? What instructions does he give about them? What is the ultimate purpose for all spiritual gifts? What are your spiritual gifts? Are you using them for God’s glory?

References:

The Message of 1 Peter, Edmund Clowney, Inter Varsity.

1 Peter, Karen Jobes, BENT, Baker.

1, 2 Peter, Jude, Thomas Schreiner, NAC, Broadman.