A Meditation on 1 Peter 4:7-11 in Uncertain Times
The end of all things is near; therefore, be alert and sober-minded for prayer. 8 Above all, maintain constant love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve others, as good stewards of the varied grace of God. If anyone speaks, let it be as one who speaks God’s words; if anyone serves, let it be from the strength God provides, so that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ in everything. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.
Framing Our Context
I’d like to discuss 1 Peter 4:7-11 today in light of our current season of life we’re living in.
Before we do, I would like to clarify what Christians mean when we say it is the end of the world. Notably, when we say it is the end of the world, one thing that differentiates Christianity from a lot of doomsday cults — Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example — is that we are not trying to predict a specific date when the world will end. For it is written in Matthew 24:43-44:
But know this: If the homeowner had known what time the thief was coming, he would have stayed alert and not let his house be broken into. This is why you are also to be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
And later in Matthew 25:13:
Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.
So when the Jehovah’s Witnesses or even a “sect” of Christianity tries to pinpoint a certain day, you can know that they’re lying to you. You can see Charles Taze Russell’s disastrous predictions about 1914 and the subsequent predictions made in 1975 to see how this is so. This is not to pick on the Jehovah’s Witnesses too much. There are a ton of examples of this kind of behavior, even by those who call themselves simply Christian. It’s possible they mean well, but they are lying nonetheless and we need not take them seriously. We can learn an enduring principle from what Jesus told his disciples when he said in Matthew 24:23-27
If anyone tells you then, ‘See, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Over here!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Take note: I have told you in advance. So if they tell you, ‘See, he’s in the wilderness!’ don’t go out; or, ‘See, he’s in the storerooms!’ do not believe it. For as lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
Rather, we understand that the day of the Lord can come today, tomorrow, or a thousand years from now. Indeed, the Bible speaks in terms of God’s timeline rather than our own. So when 2 Peter 3:8 says:
Dear friends, don’t overlook this one fact: With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.
We understand in light of that, that these truly are the last days in God’s economy, even though many thousands of years can go by for humans. God is outside of time and the end is very near, and he is only waiting until his plan of saving a people to himself is complete. Indeed, the fact that God seems have not fulfilled his promises is what Peter continues to tell us in the very next verse after the previous one we read:
The Lord does not delay his promises, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.
So we can see that God only seems to be delaying to us because he is really being merciful and giving people in many generations a chance to respond to his loving kindness to us in Christ Jesus by turning away from their sinful lives and hoping in his life, death, and resurrection. As Paul says so well in Galatians 2:20:
I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
There have been, in fact, millions upon millions who have been saved because God seems slow to some. That’s actually a really kind thing for him to do and wait.
Just a quick note that if Jesus had just kind of, you know, kersplat his kingdom onto the Earth when he said “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18) then there would be far less people saved. Those who believed upon him in the Old Testament and his current disciples would have made it. So hundreds of thousands maybe would have been saved? Perhaps a few million? We don’t know.
The point is that letting the Gospel explode into the world for these two thousand years has not only made him faithful to his word to Abraham to “be a blessing to the nations” by salvation coming through Israel (Genesis 12:3). This “delay” of God has resulted in an exponentially greater kingdom of every tribe, tongue, and nation to the glory of God and Christ Jesus!
But These Are the Last Days
Despite all that I just said, Christians are to live like it is the last days. That’s why when Peter says “the end of all things is near,” we are to take it dreadfully seriously. Peter wants us to do this!
In light of this, I’d like to look at three responses we could have in this season of the Coronavirus — and I will suggest that one of them is more faithful in light of this text than the other two.
Door #1: God Is In Control, Everything Is Alright.
This first response is in contrast to Peter’s assertion to the fact that “the end of all things is near!” While this stance initially seems very pious and faithful, I actually think it fails. The first part of the statement is true. However, the second part is wildly untrue. Everything is not alright. We don’t have to pretend that it is.
In case you hadn’t noticed, thousands upon thousands are dying. Many are placed in hospital beds and quarantines. Nursing homes get this thing and are devastated. We can’t even walk within 6 feet of each other without being scared. Economies are crashing. Jobs are being lost.
No. Everything is not just alright. Be honest with yourself. This is not okay. In fact, the Bible says that it’s not okay! Why do we face viruses? Well, there’s lots of reasons that nature might produce a virus. But one passage I might suggest you look to is Romans 8:19-22:
For the creation was subjected to futility — not willingly, but because of him who subjected it — in the hope that the creation itself wil also be set free from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now.
Just note that creation was subjected to futility and decay. But there is a hope. There is a hope that it will be released from this decay into the same freedom that God’s children will share.
But what is this futility that creation is subjected to? And who subjected it? This takes us back to the beginning of history when we learned that man sinned against God by trying to take his place because we decided we hated him and wanted something different than what he had given us. What was one of the curses that was laid down in Genesis 3:17:
And he said to the man, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘Do not eat from it’: The ground is cursed because of you. You will eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground, since you were taken from it. For you are dust, and you will return to dust.
This is the story of the creation being subjected to futility by God. Why? Because we — humanity — sinned And when we sinned, death entered the world (Romans 5). Everything started dying. Whether it was Cain murdering Abel, creatures establishing a food chain, Genetic codes starting to break down into cancer, or viruses leapt from person to person, the end was the same. People and creation started wasting away under the increasing weight of sin in the world.
Let me repeat. Things are not okay. That’s why the Bible doesn’t tell us to place our hope in this world. It calls us to realize this world is a wasteland and we’re exiles in it (1 Peter 1:1) It actually, instead, points us forward to a new creation to hope in. Revelation 21:1-4 is so good that I’ll quote it at length:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, the new Jersualem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. Then I heard a loud voice from the throne; Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.
Doesn’t that sound wonderful?! Even if you think Jesus Christ and what Christians believe is a whole bunch of mystical mumbo jumbo, just put aside your biases about God and faith and read that text again. Look at what is said to happen there and ask yourself, “Doesn’t that sound nice?” Doesn’t that sound right?” Doesn’t that sound good?”
The problem comes in that we obviously don’t live there today. Things are not okay today. Outside of Jesus Christ, they can be downright terrible. It is only in him the great hymn can be sung:
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.
It’s only in Christ and what he did on the cross and the hope of his return that this is all possible. So it’s not okay. What should we do then? We should be sober-minded and alert for prayer. What should we pray? Well, pray that you would understand God’s word, that you would see Jesus Christ clearly in it, and understand the forgiveness and redemption available in his work on the cross! Pray you would place your hope in him coming again for his people one day.
If you won’t do that, then just realize that Peter is telling you “things are ending. You need to wake up and smell the roses.” If you won’t heed that call, you will miss out on the greatest gift possible — living with Christ in his kingdom one day.
I also think that this is pretty much how Christians should interpret natural catastrophes like this all the time. There’s a passage in Amos 4:6-13 that sums this up well for me:
I gave you absolutely nothing to eat in all your cities, a shortage of food in all your communities, yet you did not return to me. This is the Lord’s declaration. I also withheld the rain from you while there were still three months until harvest. I sent rain on one city but no rain on another. One field received rain while a field with no rain withered. Two or three cities staggered to another city to drink water but were not satisfied, yet you did not return to me. This is the Lord’s declaration. I struck you with blight and mildew; the locust devoured your many gardens and vineyards, your fig trees and olive trees, yet you did not return to me. This is the Lord’s declaration. I sent plagues like those of Egypt; I killed your young men with the sword, along with your captured horses. I caused the stench of your camp to fill your nostrils, yet you did not return to me. This is the Lord’s declaration. I overthrew some of you as I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were like a burning stick snatched from a fire, yet you did not return to me— This is the Lord’s declaration.
Therefore, Israel, that is what I will do to you, and since I will do that to you, Israel, prepare to meet your God! He is here; the one who forms the mountains, creates the wind, and reveals his thoughts to man, the one who makes the dawn out of darkness and strides on the heights of the earth. The Lord, the God of Armies, is his name.
Note the drumbeat of this pattern is that God allows the world to be subjected to futility — remember Romans! — so we will hopefully return to him! It’s actually then a kindness of God to allow us to feel the futility of this world so that we will know something is wrong and return to him! That means that whenever this world makes us feel small and we realize things are out of our control, God is thundering to you, “Yeah, I know. I’m letting you experience futility so that you will be humble and place your hope in me!”
Return to him. The end is near.
Door #2: The World is Ending. Run for the Hills!
Okay, so I know I just said the world is ending. But take a deep breath. Because here’s what shouldn’t happen. As we look at 1 Peter, we don’t find that we are to be overcome by a sense of desperation that results in panic, looting, or nihilistic surrender to the forces of this universe.
Instead, we are to be sober-minded and alert. The imagery here evokes someone awaking from a very deep, drunken slumber. You may imagine her panic as she realizes she has no idea what has happened recently and frantically tries to piece together what is going on. You can imagine the sudden jolt of adrenaline one might experience and how the hangover might actually even fade as your body and mind demand answers. Peter is hoping that his book and this statement is waking up drunken and dying people. But then after waking them up, he gives rather… boring advice.
Look at what he says!
Love one another and cover over sins.
Use your talents in service to others.
Speak God’s words to people.
Serve with God’s strength.
If you get told the end of the world is coming, this is not what you expect to hear next! You expect someone to tell you to build bomb shelters, to stock up on toilet paper, maybe buy a few guns, go raid Wal-Mart for La Croix — I’m still waiting the blackberry cucumber to come back on the shelves!!! You may even watch a few zombie shows just to make sure you remember protocol in case a bunch of zombies launch off a cruise ship and then you draw the curtains closed as you hunker down and hope to survive.
But Peter says something surprising. He says, “Don’t run for the hills. Instead, live very natural, ordinary lives with supernaturally, extraordinary godliness.” Read that again.
Live natural, ordinary lives with supernatural, extraordinary godliness.
That’s it. That’s the Christian ethic as we come to the end of the world. Look, we don’t have to run out when the end comes. Remember Christ said earlier in Matthew 24 that the horizon from East to West will be lit with his return. So every eye will see it. Revelation 6:14 says it like:
The sky was split apart like a scroll being rolled up; and every mountain and island was moved from its place.
In other words, the man behind the curtain will open it up and step out. You can’t miss it if you’re in the audience — and everyone living is the audience!
So humans don’t need to find a skyscraper or run to the top of a mountain to catch Christ coming. He’ll find us. It doesn’t matter if you are his or if you are his enemy. You could ask the mountains to throw themselves on you — some do in Revelation 6 — we will all be brought before his throne and be given our due reward (Matthew 24:31-46).
So do we panic as Christians? No, for “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment” (2 Timothy 1:7).
Instead of panicking, we simply live these extraordinarily graceful lives. We should be praying more. We should be loving and covering over sins as we seek to encourage one another. We should be hospitable — I realize, this is somewhat less practical given that we are trying to be wise. But you can still find creative ways to show hospitality to neighbors in this season. Do so!
It’s so tempting, isn’t it, to step more than 6 feet away from the person you’re walking by or be afraid that your neighbor’s house has the plague? So we’d rather burn down their house than drop a plate of cookies off with a kind note on it.
Let’s not do that. We do not need to be afraid. And like the good Samaritan, when we have opportunity and someone is laid in our path, are we willing to take on inconveniences and costs for their benefit? I certainly hope so! Let us not step to the side too much, but rather lean into the ways we are able to love still in this time.
So you can think about trying to use seasons like this to get to know your neighbors! Maybe you leave a note with an invitation to a Zoom hangout in order to meet them and see if they respond. They might not, but hey! You were faithful! And I just thought of that idea in about 30 seconds. I’m sure if you think for 10 minutes, you will come up with far greater ideas to still meet people in this time!
So don’t run for the hills. Don’t panic. Why? Because of Door #3
Door #3: Repentant Hope
This the faithful option, I think. This is not the kind of stubborn, head-in-the-sand mentality that the first door presented us with. It does not blindly insist everything is alright. No, this view can soberly understand that creation is going down the tubes. And it also avoids the hopeless panic that results from the second door we journeyed through.
Instead, this door begins with repentance to God and ends in great hope before God.
Repentance begins with waking up up to the horrors of this world. The present world is fading away into a new heaven and a new Earth. Wake up! Be clear-headed! Pray about these things!
But this path also does not fall into a hopeless panic at the thought of things ending. It actually knows how to steadily love, speak God’s words, and serve with strength as God gives us grace to do so. How? How can we have this hope?
It’s all at the end. How fitting that Peter ends this section with a prayer himself.
He prays that our hope is that God will be glorified through Jesus Christ in everything.
When people are humbled by these moments and turn to Jesus Christ, God is glorified — — and this is pleases God because his Son pleases him immensely (Matthew 3:17; 17:5, etc.). And so it is pleasing to God when people also realize how beautiful and lovely Christ is (2 Corinthians 4). It may seem all rather mystical and hard to understand how someone could find Jesus Christ beautiful. But the answer is simple. Simply take up your Bible and read and keep Hebrews 11:6 in mind:
“Now without faith it is impossible to please God, since the one who draws near to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
Seek after God. Read about how Christ died for his creation. Assume God exists and that he can be known by what he has preserved for us in the Bible. I promise, if you draw near to him with a sincere belief that he really does exist, he will draw near to you (James 4:8). If it’s all a bunch of fairy tales, what have you sufered by giving it a proper day in the court of your mind? You could at least read the Bible and do a bit of research before you dismiss it as children’s stories.
So the first part of our hope is that God is being glorified in Jesus Christ. Remember after all, God knows that we are under futility because he is the one who subjected it to this fate. But he has not left us without hope.
Back in the garden when we fell under the sway of sin and Satan, God promised that there would be a person born of a woman who would crush the head of the serpent and destroy his power — that is, our sinful natures — and he would do this while being struck and bruised on the heel as well (Genesis 3:15).
That was fulfilled on the cross. Yes, Jesus was struck. And he even seemed defeated! But he was taking on the curse of death and sin — Satan’s two greatest weapons — and when he was resurrected, he proved that there was a new sherriff and a new king in town (Colossians 2:13-15). And Christ loves you so well that he died for you and he died for me, and he will save anyone who humbly acknowledges that he is the Lord and that he was raised from the dead after dying on the cross (Romans 10:9-10).
Then we demonstrate our new lives in Christ by being baptized into his name and joining in fellowship with his people — that is, the church — and we then continue to show our love and affection for him by doing all the things he taught us to do to make his name great. That is what is taught in the Great Commission (Mathew 28:19-20).
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.
So if you’re really serious about finding hope in this crazy world, you can even reach out to me! I’d love to talk to you more about the faith and hope I have in Jesus Christ. He is my savior, best friend, king, and redeemer. I 100% absolutely think you must meet him!
Peter finishes his prayer back in 1 Peter by reminding us of how in control God is. One could say that God evidences his control in what happened with Jesus Christ. When Christ died, that looked like the end of all things as well. But new life sprung from that desperate and dark situation. So we know that if Christ’s resurrection is true, then we can hope! For it proves, as Peter rightly says, that
To [God] be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.
You see, God does have this. He knows the end is near. He has provided a solution. It’s in his Son, Jesus Christ. And for those who escape the end by clinging to Jesus Christ, they will one day know a world that will never end. God will be our God, and we will be his people.
I pray you take this time during this season of the Coronavirus and you wake up. I pray you get a clear head. The world is ending. But there is hope. It is found in Jesus Christ. So reflect on your life and ask if you are in him. Take this time to examine yourselves deeply in repentance.
Ask yourself, do I pray much at all? Do I love others and am I glad to cover over their sins? Do I love my neighbors through hospitality at all? What kind of words do I speak? Are they God’s words, or do I say whatever I like? What do I serve, and where do I find my strength to do it? Does God and his love motivate me to serve? Or do I have my own agendas?
If you see that God is the center of your life as you ask these questions, then be encouraged!! That’s wonderful! That’s great evidence that you’ve woken up! The saying is still true that “what makes everything visible is light. Therefore it is said; Get up, sleeper, and rise up from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14).
So as you repentantly examine your lives, look for Christ stirring in in you. Does he live there? Does he reign? If so, you can trust God has the power and the glory to place your hope in, and, though this world may fail — you know whom you have believed (2 Timothy 1:12). He is faithful (1 Thessalonians 5:24). He will keep you (Jude 24-25). You will see a different day, a day past the end of all things. And that day will need no sun, for it will shine with the brillance of God and Christ (Revelation 21:23).
This world is ending. But it is not hopeless. May you see the day of Christ from afar, hope in it, and love Christ for the way he has provided rich entrance into that new hope.