Godliness in Light of the End

February 2, 2014 Speaker: Jeff Breeding Series: 1 Peter: Sojourners and Strangers

Godliness in Light of the End

God has given us a feast this morning in his Word. These five verses are full of life-giving truth that nourishes the soul and delights the heart. So, instead of a prolonged introduction, I simply want to get right to the text. Let me give you the entire sermon in one sentence, and then we’ll read the passage and get going. Here’s the sermon in a sentence – The reality of the end should produce in believers a readiness to live for God’s will. That’s the sermon in a sentence. Now, let’s read the passage and see how that sentence works out in the text.

As this passage begins, Peter is still focused on the last day. Remember, last week’s passage closed with a reference to the last day. Look back at vv5-6 and you can see the connection. That focus continues in this week’s text. Notice the opening line of v7: “The end of all things is at hand.” So, the last day is still forefront in Peter’s mind. And his point with this opening phrase is that the culmination of God’s purposes is at hand. It is imminent. Since eternity past, God has purposed and planned to redeem a people for himself through the sacrificial death of his own Son. That has been God’s eternal plan. It was anticipated in the history of Israel, predicted by the OT prophets, and then accomplished through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The only thing that remains is the culmination of that redemptive purpose. There is nothing left except for Christ to return and consummate the kingdom of God. And that’s exactly Peter’s point here at the beginning of v7. The culmination is imminent; it is at hand.

But if you read on, you’ll notice that the rest of paragraph really has nothing to do with the last days. Peter doesn’t give us any signs of when or how that culmination will take place. Instead, he gives us a list of instructions for life within the church. Why is that? Why the reference to the last day, and then instructions on Christian living? It’s because the reality of the end should affect how we live in the present. This is the consistent pattern of the NT. Eschatology, or the study of last things, is intended to encourage believers and lead them to live godly lives in the present. The end of all things shouldn’t lead to speculation or panic. Instead, as Peter makes clear in this paragraph, it should lead to godliness. The end should affect how we live in the present.

You can see this connection here in our text. Notice that after Peter writes, “The end of all things is at hand,” he then says, “Therefore.” That means all the ensuing instructions flow from the truth that the culmination of God’s purposes is at hand. The end is at hand, Peter says, SO live like this. The reality of the end should affect how we live in the present.

So, having seen the overarching truth that opens the passage, we’re now ready to examine how it should affect the lives of believers. In the remainder of the passage, Peter gives three instructions on how believers should live in light of the end. We’ll spend the remainder of our time considering those three instructions.


In Light of the End, Be Alert

First instruction: In light of the end, be alert. Look at the end of v7: “therefore, be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” The end of all things should bring a sense of clarity and alertness to our lives. It should clear away the fog of sin and the fog of this world, and it should enable us to see clearly what matters. That’s the idea behind the word self-controlled, an ability to see and think clearly, and therefore act appropriately. The overall effect is a sense of alertness, which is the idea with sober-minded. Clarity of mind should result in alertness or readiness to do God’s will. Instead of being marked by spiritual drunkenness or stupor, believers who live in light of the end are sober, ready, and alert to be faithful to God. 

Peter goes on to tell his readers that this alertness has a specific purpose. Notice the end of v7, where Peter writes, “for the sake of your prayers.” The purpose of being sober-minded is that it leads us to more consistent prayer. Think about prayer for a moment. When a believer prays, it is an expression of his dependence on God and his desire to live according to God’s will. Of course, there are other things going on as well, but those two things are at the root. When we pray, it is a tangible expression of our dependence on God and our desire to live for him.

This means that the more deeply aware we are of our dependence, the more we will pray. How do we increase that awareness? By living in light of the end, by being alert and sober-minded. As the reality of the end clears away the fog of this world, I can see more clearly how utterly dependent I am on God and his provision. And as I see that dependence more clearly, I pray. That is Peter’s point. The purpose of being self-controlled and sober-minded is that the believer is led into more consistent, more fervent prayer.

Practically, this means that an effective way of growing in prayer is to remember that the end of all things is at hand. Look, prayer never really feels strategic. There is almost always something that seems more pressing than spending time in prayer with God. There are emails to return, conversations to have, tasks to complete. But when we remember that the end of all things is at hand, then prayer becomes much more strategic. It seems much more vital. Now, has anything changed about prayer or about God? No. God hasn’t changed. But we have. That’s what truth does. It produces clear sight and thus right living. So, as we remember the truth that the end of all things is at hand, the practical result is that we are led to pray more consistently and more fervently.


In Light of the End, Love One Another

Now, we come to v8 and Peter’s second instruction. In light of the end, love one another. Look at v8: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly since love covers a multitude of sins.” This is a repeat from earlier in the letter. Remember in chapter 1, Peter gave basically the same command. 1.22, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” So, this idea of love is so important that Peter repeats it within the span of three chapters.

Important is probably too weak of a description. I think we can say that love for one another is the more vital component of the church’s life. And I don’t say that on my authority. Notice the beginning of the verse, where Peter says, “Above all, keep loving one another.” Love for one another is paramount within the church body. It ranks above all other virtues because without love for one another, there are no other virtues. You won’t weep with those who weep if you don’t love them. You won’t bear with a brother or sister if you don’t love them. You won’t forgive others if you don’t love them. You see? Within the church, love for one another is above all. It is the spring from which all other virtues flow.

Peter’s emphasis in v8 is on the constancy or ongoing nature of love. That’s what he means when he says earnestly. Our goal should be to demonstrate constant, ongoing love for one another, love that doesn’t fade or cool over time. For Peter’s context, this would have been especially necessary considering the persecution and hostility his readers were facing as a community. If they do not love one another earnestly, it will be that much harder to endure suffering and persecution. They need the love of the body in order to persevere during difficult days.

Now, as we said earlier, love for one another allows godliness to grow within the body. Peter gets at that idea when he writes, “since love covers a multitude of sins.” Why should these believers continue loving one another? Because love covers a multitude of sins and thus allows the body to be built up in the faith. What does Peter mean at this point? He doesn’t mean that our love for others can atone for their sin. Only the love of Christ expressed on the cross can make atonement. It seems most likely, then, that Peter means love enables enables us to overlook wrongs done against us. Now, by overlook, I don’t mean sweep everything under the rug and pretend like nothing every happened. Rather, I mean a willingness to forgive others and a commitment to not hold wrongs against them. I think that’s what Peter means when he says love covers a multitude of sin; it creates in us a willingness, a readiness to forgive others.

At this point, we can see how love is a preemptive strike against sins that end up destroying the body, sins like bitterness, gossip, and slander. It’s possible that outside of blatant immorality, nothing will tear a church apart faster than those kinds of sins. And those kinds of sins often begin with a unwillingness to forgive others. Someone wrongs us, and we are unwilling to forgive them. And then overtime, bitterness develops, and we gossip about them, maybe even slandering their character. When that happens, churches are torn apart. What Peter is saying here is that those church-destroying sins have no room to fester if love for one another is present, because love covers a multitude of sins. If I am willing and ready to forgive someone who has wronged me, then the root of bitterness cannot even begin to grow.

We need to hear this truth as a church. At some point, someone in this church will sin against you or wrong you. That’s the reality of life in the fallen world. There are no perfect churches because there are no perfect people! So, instead of trying to build a perfect church where no one sins, we should instead be seeking to build a church that is marked by earnest love for another, the kind of love that covers over sin and is quick to forgive. I don’t think it is an overstatement to say that this kind of love for one another is the necessary foundation for all other growth in the body.

But I know what you’re thinking at this point. You’re thinking, “That kind of love is hard.” And you’re right. In fact, it’s not just hard; it’s impossible in and of ourselves. In order to have this kind of love, we need something more powerful than our ability to love. We need something outside of us to come in and re-work our hearts so that we can love one another. We need a power so profound that it can overcome even the worst sins and offenses and bring wholeness and forgiveness. But where can we find that sort of power? In the cross of Jesus Christ. Think about the love of God that is displaying in the gospel. It is the love of God that redeems and rescues us, even when we were his enemies. It is a love that overcomes an infinite gulf of wrath and separation from God in order to bring about reconciliation and perfect relationship. When we remember how much we have been forgiven through Christ, then we are enabled to forgive others as well. That’s why every week, we make the gospel the focus of our worship gathering, because the gospel is what creates this kind of love for one another. Above all, we need to love one another, and above all, the gospel creates that kind of love.

Peter goes in v9 to remind us that love for one another has a practical dimension as well. Look at v9: “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Hospitality is caring for the needs of others by sharing what you have received. It’s a practical way we can show other believers we love them. Now, in Peter’s context, hospitality was vital to both the church’s mission and the church’s worship. Missionaries, teachers, and even the apostles needed housing and provision as they moved about the region proclaiming the gospel. And the early church often lacked the resources to procure sizable spaces for gathering. Instead, their worship gatherings would take place in homes, and this added to the need for hospitality. So, hospitality was quite important for the mission and life of the early church.

Our context might be different, but hospitality is still vital for the church’s life together. When you gather with other believers around a meal or in conversation in your home, often it allows you to see more clearly the needs and concerns of your brothers and sisters in Christ. And when that happens, you are then equipped to minister to them in a way that you weren’t before. You know better how to pray, how to encourage, and how to carry their burdens. Hospitality is a vital component building up the body of Christ because it opens our lives up more and more to one another, thus increasing the opportunities for ministry. So consider as a family how you can show hospitality to others, and think of it in the context of ministry within the body of Christ.


In Light of the End, Serve One Another with the Gifts God Has Provided

That brings us to v10 and Peter’s third instruction. In light of the end, serve one another with the gifts God has provided. Look at what Peter writes in v10: “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” Peter is still discussing life within the church body, but his focus is now on spiritual gifts. There is much that we can learn about spiritual gifts from this one verse. Let’s note three important observations.

Number one – notice Peter says “As each one has received a gift.” The implication is that every believer within the body of Christ has received a spiritual gift. It’s not only pastors or missionaries or teachers that receive gifts. Every person receives a gift from the Holy Spirit. And that means every member of the church is vital for building up the body. It doesn’t matter what your gifting is; you are vital to the life of the church. If God has seen fit to distribute gifts to each believer, then that means each believer has a vital and necessary part to play.

Before we go on, let me say a word about discovering your gifts. While there might be a place for spiritual gift inventories or tests, by far the best way to discover your spiritual gift is through service. Take on some role of service within the body, and through that process, discern how God has gifted you. There is no replacement for hands-on, real-life ministry activity. Now, don’t misunderstand me. It is good to think about what you like and what you are good at, but identifying spiritual gifts cannot be an entirely internal, introspective process. We need to discover our gifts primarily through service, where other believers can observe and confirm the presence of such gifts in our lives.

Number two – notice how God’s grace is varied, or we could say diverse. So, by God’s design, not all gifts are the same, and not every believer has the same gift. There is variety in the church body. And that variety is good because each unique gift is an expression of God’s gracious character. If all members of the body possessed the same gift, then our understanding of God would be limited. If we all had the gift of exhortation but not the gift of mercy, then we would not understand God’s mercy as well as we might. That variety helps to reveal different aspects of God’s gracious character.

So, when you notice that someone has a different gift than you, there is no reason to feel envious or inferior. Instead, we should be thankful! That person’s gift reveals some aspect of God’s character, an aspect that we might not know as well had it not been for the difference in gifting. So, let’s be thankful for the variety of gifts within the church; it’s an evidence of God’s kindness to his church.

Number three – every gift is an evidence of God’s grace and is given to us as a stewardship. Every gift is an overflow of God’s grace. We didn’t earn our gifts, and we don’t own our gifts. Rather, we have received them as gifts, and we will only possess them for a short time span. That makes us stewards, not owners. Thus, if we use the presence of a particular gift to exalt ourselves, then we have forgotten the very nature of the gift and our role as a steward.

Now, taking off from that final observation, let’s consider this idea of stewardship. Peter says we should be good stewards of God’s grace, and he gives us two components of good stewardship in this passage.

First, good stewardship of our gifts means that we use them to serve others, not ourselves. Look again at v10, “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another.” That’s the purpose of spiritual gifts – that we might serve others. The reality is that your spiritual gift is more about others than it is about you. Don’t make the mistake of thinking about spiritual gifts as the way that you can find fulfillment for yourself in serving the body. That’s actually a subtle way of making your gifts about you rather than about others. Remember instead that God has given you certain gifts so that you can be an active participant in the most thrilling and satisfying work in the universe – building up the body of Christ. So, the first component of being a good steward is that you use your gifts to benefit others.

Second, good stewardship of our gifts means that we use them in a way that glorifies God. Look at v11: “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.” Peter is urging his readers to see that every gift must be exercised in relationship to God. Peter gives us two broad categories of gifts – speaking gifts and serving gifts. I think we could say that most spiritual gifts fit into one of those two categories. His point is that whatever kind of gift you have, use it in such a way that your service points others to God and his grace, not to yourself.

Concerning speaking gifts, those who speak must speak the oracles of God. The phrase oracles of God refers to God’s words given to his people. The point is that those who speak in the church or in ministry must be careful to speak only what God intends for his people to hear. And what God intends for his people to hear is his Word, the inspired, inerrant Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. If you have a speaking gift – teaching, preaching, evangelism, exhortation – if you have a speaking gift, resolve yourself to only speak God’s word. Make the Scriptures the centerpiece of your speaking. When you teach, teach the Scriptures. If you preach, preach the Scripture. When you evangelize, speak the Word of God. That’s Peter’s point.

Concerning serving gifts, those who serve must do so in the strength that God supplies. Those who serve, in whatever capacity, must actively depend on God’s strength to carry out their service, which most likely means that their service will be accompanied by much prayer. So, if you have a service gift, do you exercise that gift in conscious dependence on God’s strength? Do you frequently express your need through prayer? I know it is easy to slip into the habit of just doing what you have to do, but resist that temptation. Be intentional about depending on God’s strength for your service.

The overall point of v11 is that when we use our gifts like this, God gets the glory. The ultimate goal of your spiritual gift is the glory of God. God has endowed each of his people with gifts, and he calls them to use those gifts in such a way that he receives the honor and glory. When people observe your speaking or service in the church, they should think, “Look at the grace that God has given to his church in that person’s service! What kindness from God to his people, that he would give them such a gift for their good!” And people will say that if we clearly connect our speaking and serving with God and his grace.

Following this, Peter closes v11 with a doxology, which signals that this section of the letter is now drawing to a close. Note from the doxology that God receives glory through Jesus Christ. That’s a good reminder for us that all our speaking and service is honoring to God only through the work of Christ. I will never use my gifts perfectly, but Christ’s perfect ministry on behalf of his people enables even my imperfect service to bring glory to the Father. So, as you seek to use your gift for God’s glory, remember that you have a perfect and righteous Savior who is seated at the Father’s right hand, and he uses your imperfect service for God’s glory.

So, we’ve seen from this text that the reality of the end should produce in believer’s a readiness to live for God’s will – to be alert and prayerful, to love one another earnestly, and to use our gifts to serve others and glorify God. There is one final observation from this passage. As you read through this paragraph, what stands out to you is that all these instructions are common in the NT. You’ll find commands to love one another and serve one another all over the NT. Far from being extraordinary, Peter’s instructions in vv7-11 describe the everyday, normal lives of believers.

And Peter is saying that God is glorified in these normal, everyday lives of his people.

Don’t miss that. God is glorified as his people are alert and ready to live for his will. He is glorified as his people love one another and serve one another with their gifts. He is glorified in our everyday lives as Christians. You don’t have to be extraordinary or do something unusual for God to receive glory from your life. God is glorified as you faithfully live for him each day, loving and serving others, and being faithful in prayer. When you faithfully listen to a friend who is enduring difficulty, God is glorified. When you faithfully pray for those in need, God is glorified. When you speak God’s word to your children at home or the children in this church in Sunday school, God is glorified. When you serve the body by cleaning up around the sanctuary or having people in your home, God is glorified. God’s glory is displayed in your life in the midst of your faithful, day-in, day-out Christian living.

Be encouraged, then, that your seemingly mundane days are not mundane at all! They are part of the eternal purpose and plan of God, to receive glory through the redeemed church of Jesus Christ. No one may ever notice your service to others, but God sees, and he is glorified by that seemingly unseen, seemingly unnoticed service. Be encouraged that God is glorified in your everyday life as a Christian, and let that reminder add meaning and purpose to your days. If you belong to Christ, then he has given you a gift to be used in his church. Everyday, then, is opportunity for you to be involved in the most significant work in the universe, bringing glory to God and doing good to his church.

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