Talk to someone who has had a “near-death experience” and it is likely that they will tell you that their experience changed their perspective on life. Perhaps it was the result of an accident or a health scare. Sometimes the near-death experience happens to someone close to us; a family member or a close friend. Such losses or scares can awaken us to the reality that life is short and extremely fragile.
People who fight in a war, those who have helped pick up the pieces after a natural disaster, and those who have ministered to impoverished people, see the emptiness of life and the values of life as we know them. When this happens, people will live with a new sense of clarity. Priorities change. People matter more than things. And the eternal is valued more than the temporal.
It is that kind of clarity that Peter urges upon us in 1 Peter 4:7-11. He begins this section with the words, “The end of all things is near”. It is tempting to be cynical about such words. We have heard many predictions about the end of the world just in the last few years. It is tempting to view Peter as just another of these “false prophets”.
Peter was not giving us a timetable for the Second Coming of Christ. He was giving us a perspective to live by. He is reminding us that our time on earth is but a few years. We don’t know how much longer we have to live. Before we know it we will be standing before the Lord the righteous Judge to give an account of our lives. Before we know it we will be saying “good-bye” to the people we love and cherish. To squander our time on earth is the height of folly.
R.C. Sproul writes a column for the daily devotional “Table Talk”. His column is titled, “Right Now Counts Forever”. It is a reminder that we are living before the face of God. What we do is of eternal significance. Our deeds will follow after us. He reminds us that we should live our lives in order to be ready to step into eternity and stand before the throne of God. Peter is going to help us learn how to do just this.
Be Clear Minded and Self-Controlled
In our text, Peter gives us a list (see, lists are Biblical) of behaviors that are consistent with urgent living.
7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.
The phrase “clear minded” means to “preserve your sanity”. The phrase “self-controlled” means to be “sober”. Peter is not merely talking about drinking alcohol. He is speaking about the pace of life. Peter is telling us to preserve our sanity by getting off the mad treadmill many of us are on.
Think about what happens in lives that are “out of control”? The urgent squeezes out what is important. Important things like prayer, reflection and Bible reading, service to the Lord, building relationships (even in your own family), building a foundation of faith for our children, all get squeezed out because we too busy doing all the things that at the end of life will be seen for what they really are: empty distractions.
We have swallowed the nonsense that a busy person is a successful person. We have our kids in all kinds of activities because we want them to be “well-rounded” but the result is that the activities of our children control their lives and ours. We equate titles and money with significance and value so we spend all our time working (to get more) and have nothing left emotionally for our family and friends. We eat on the run, spend more time texting than talking, and we convince ourselves that having many friends on Facebook is the same as truly having friends.
Peter tells us to get off the treadmill to nowhere and take control of our lives. He encourages us to be the ones who set the priorities of our lives rather than being driven by the winds of cultural (or community) expectations.
We are to do all this “so that you can pray”. The reality is that we cannot have a healthy relationship with God (or anyone else) if we do not take time to connect with Him. Sentence prayers are valuable, but it is conversations that develop relationships. We can’t truly know God unless we stop and take time to meet with Him.
There is nothing like a crisis to clear your mind. After a house fire or natural disaster you will hear people say, “The only thing that matters is that everyone is OK.” Yet, just a day before that may not have been the case. That same person may have been bickering over possessions or revering that which is now destroyed. As believers in Christ Jesus we should see that this world is not our home. We should testify that the things of earth are growing strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.
8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
This second command flows right from the first one. Our first priority (“above all”) is to love deeply. Loving deeply is not about emotion, it is about the effort we put into love.
We say we “love” all kinds of things. We love our spouse, we love our friends, our family, our car, our new gadget, a song, a movie, the weather, or our favorite sports teams. We throw the word around so often that is has lost that deep aspect of commitment.
The kind of love the Bible talks about is not easy. It takes determination. At every wedding I strive to make the point that real love is not an emotion, it is a decision. We choose to love. Hormonal love (feelings) is great; it’s exciting; but it is also fickle. Feelings (and even attraction) will come and go. Love sees past these things and loves the person. Enduring love comes because we make the effort to love.
At the end of life no one says, “I wish I had attended a few more meetings” or “I wish I had been on more committees”. You aren’t going to say, “I wish I had put more time into my vehicle or watched more TV”. At the end of life we wish we had taken more time to cultivate relationships: with our Lord and with each other.
One author writes,
“A love for others that transforms a society into a true church is more than a response to people we like; it is a virtue that dominates our thinking so that we ask, “How can I act lovingly to that person?” There are people in our church with whom we have disagreements; how do we respond lovingly to these people? Do we ignore them so as to avoid conflict? Do we gossip about them so as to strengthen our ego and damage their reputation? Do we pray against them and their ambitions? Or do we seek them out so as to create reconciliation? Do we pray for them and their ambitions? Do we speak kindly to them and of them? When love is preeminent among Christian virtues, then we behave differently.
This is what Peter has in mind when he says, “Love covers over a multitude of sins.” It is not about living in denial about problems that need to be addressed. Love addresses problems carefully, lovingly, and with a desire for correction not punishment. However, there are many sins that should simply be covered up. For example,
- When the offense is minor. (Think about how we respond regarding the blemishes of family members. We shrug things off saying, “That’s just the way they are”.)
- When the offense is unintentional. In newspaper circles this is called “an absence of malice”. Hurt was an unintended consequence of an action or inaction.
- When we choose to deescalate a situation. Have you noticed that people seem to be becoming more contentious? Perhaps people just don’t want to appear weak and want to protect themselves from those who would take advantage of them. However, they have over-corrected. Instead of being confident, calm and reasonable, they become combative. A loving person understands that mistakes are made and tries to address them calmly.
- When we choose to forgive. Chuck Swindoll writes,
An insightful person once said, “We are most like beasts when we kill. We are most like men when we judge. We are most like God when we forgive.” . . . I have never met a person who didn’t have a reason to blame someone else. Every one of us can blame somebody for something that has happened in our lives. But don’t waste your time. What we need most is a steady stream of love flowing among us; love that quickly forgives and willingly overlooks wrongs and refuses to take offense. 
Open Yourself to Others
9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.
One of the finest expressions of love is the extension of hospitality. There is something warm and intimate about sharing a meal together or inviting someone into your home. In Bible days hospitality was essential to the life of the church. There were no church buildings. There was a need for people to open their home to the people of the church. Traveling believers needed a place to stay. However, hospitality is always valuable.
I don’t think Peter is only telling us to welcome people into our homes and to our dinner table (but it includes that). I think this is a mindset. It is about being open to others and having a willingness to let them into your life. It may involve going out to dinner, playing cards, watching a game together, having a cup of coffee, inviting someone to “have a seat” in your home, visiting in the restaurant, or simply standing on the street corner listening to someone as they share about their life.
Note Peter’s modifier: we are to extend hospitality without grumbling. In other words, if we complain about the intrusion or burden of people in our lives then we are missing the attitude that God calls us to maintain. Let me give you some ways I think we can be more open to others (I speak to myself here).
- Be open to interruptions. We need to be willing to be interrupted by people. If you are like me you can get so absorbed in what you are doing that you resent someone interrupting what you are doing. We must remind ourselves that life is about people and not about projects.
- Make it your goal to let people know you are glad to see them. This may mean inviting them to sit down, offering a cup of coffee, baking cookies, giving them your full attention, not looking at your watch. I realize we have obligations to other people and there are some people who will monopolize your time if you let them. However, for the most part, we could be more receptive than we usually are.
- Invite people to your home for dinner or offer to take someone to dinner. Conversation over a meal (especially in a home) deepens a relationship as few other things can do.
- Remind yourself that simple acts of warmth and kindness communicate love more effectively than our outlines and instruction. Hold a door. Carry a package. Speak a kind word. Encourage someone.
People come in and out of our lives on a daily basis. We have a chance to change people’s lives positively or negatively by the way we respond to them. Our job is to plant seeds of grace and love.
Do What You Can Do
10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
The Bible teaches that we all have been given gifts to use in the Kingdom of God. There are lists of such gifts throughout the New Testament. Basically the principle is this: Do what you can do and do it to the glory of God.
Notice a couple of things. First, gifts are varied. Everyone is good at something. Many people see what they are good at as “no big deal”. Those who feel that way are missing the point. You may be really good at computers, you may like visiting with people, you may like to cook, you may enjoy sweet times of prayer, you may be a person who is handy with tools, you may have musical ability, you may enjoy learning and sharing what you learn with others or you may be very creative. You are good at something (usually several things).
Second, we are to view our gifts and abilities as tools given to us by God to express or extend His grace to others. Peter challenges us to use what we are good at to serve others and to glorify God. In other words look for ways to honor God with what you are able to do.
- Use your musical abilities to praise God and communicate His love to others
- Use your teaching ability to teach the Scriptures to children or adults
- Use your mechanical or craft skills to help those who need assistance or to maintain or improve the house of God
- Use your artistic skills to creatively express the love of God
- Use your servant heart to meet the needs of people who are hurting
- Use your computer skills to reach out on the internet and through technology. You might be the person who can help us get our worship online.
- Use your rapport with teens in leading a youth group
- Use passion for missions in a short-term mission projects
- Use your athletic gifts as a way of testifying to other athletes or those who look up to you.
- Use your interest in politics to make an impact for Christ in government
Whatever you can do look for a deliberate way to use your ability to bring glory to God. You may not be able to preach, teach, or minister in some public way . . . but you can do something. That “something” in the hands of God will be used by Him to make a significant impact on the world.
It is tempting to think that rural people can’t make much of an impact in the world. But we must remember that Jesus used common people to turn the world upside down. We believe we can impact the world from our church in west central Illinois. We know that people all over the world have been to our website, listened to messages, and read sermons. We know lots of people listen to our radio broadcasts. But this is just the tip of the iceberg! We can impact the world by
- Reaching out to and caring for students who are in the area for a short time
- Instilling the heart of Christ in our young people who will then take that faith to colleges, universities and the world.
- Sharing the message and the heart of Christ on business trips and with clients across America
- Adopting a child or supporting a child on a monthly basis
- Welcoming visitors who may only be here one week
- Investing in our Mission 25:40 projects
These simple acts can have a profound difference in the lives of others. When we touch one life there is a domino effect. A person who has experienced the love of Christ in some way is likely to be more loving to the next person they see and so on and so on. When we do what we can do wherever we are, God can use the seeds we plant to produce an effect that is far greater than we can imagine.
It is possible that the Lord may come before the next year has passed and we will all stand before the righteous Judge of the Universe. But even if the Lord does not return in these next 12 months, some of us will stand before Him before the next year is over. At that time all our good intentions will have passed. Our opportunities will have come to an end.
My intention is not to be morbid but to awaken us to the reality of life. We have only a few short years to make an impact. Only a few years,
- To instruct our children in the Lord
- To share the eternally transforming news of Jesus Christ with friends
- To make an impact for the Kingdom of God
- To attain eternal rewards
Peter’s counsel is simple and practical. He tells us to refocus our lives and to stop allowing ourselves to be distracted by the press and frenzy of the world. The only thing from this world that we can take into the next is people. The titles, the amusements, and the stuff of this life will all be left behind. Peter encourages us to love deeply, to give of ourselves freely, and to serve the Lord in any way possible.
It seems like such simple advice. It is so simple that some will shrug it off. But those who heed the warning, who realign their priorities, and who live as if they are living on borrowed time, will find life to be richer and more satisfying. They will see God do amazing things in and through them. They will know what it is to cherish and be cherished. They will discover what it means to make a difference. They will not waste their lives, they will invest them eternally.