March 25, 2020

1 Peter 4:7-11

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

We’ve probably all seen billboards or walking sandwich signs – either in real life or in movies – which read, “The End Is Near!” Such warnings seem comical to most as they suggest a belief in a final judgment, a decidedly unpopular view in our day. But even the most skeptical among us know that their days are numbered. It is a jarring truth. And whether we respond to that reality with despair or hope depends upon what we believe will greet us on the other end of that fact.

Nevil Shute’s nightmarish novel from 1957 On the Beach is about the terrifying aftermath of an accidental nuclear war. The original cover blurb reads like this:

In the Northern Hemisphere, the end had come suddenly, disastrously…In the Southern Hemisphere, the end would come slowly, as radiation drifted in the wind. There would be time to prepare, time to seek solace in religion, or alcohol, or frenzied [pleasure], or in the thing that one had always wanted to do. To drive a fast, expensive car. To buy some splendid object with one’s life savings. To consume the best bottles of wine from the cellar of one’s club…In the end, when the sickness could not be stopped, the government would issue cyanide pills to those who waited, hoping they would not have to use them, knowing they would.

As one New Testament scholar has stated, “What one believes about the future shapes how one lives today” (Jobes, 274). Belief in a future which is essentially full of loss and despair will produce a particular kind of living. On the other hand, the Christian confidence in eternal life in the blessed presence of God in the new creation should produce an alternate society which is noticeably distinct from the surrounding world. This alternate society is the church of Jesus Christ.

In chapter 4 of his first epistle the Apostle Peter directs our attention to the coming judgement and “the end of all things.” This eternal perspective which has as its focus on life in the age to come is essential for Christians, who because of their status as strangers and aliens, are never quite at home in this sinful world.

The four exhortations in this passage are predicated upon the knowledge that the risen Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead (vs. 5) and then inaugurate his everlasting kingdom in the new creation (vs. 7). The biblical teaching on the end times (eschatology) is never given so that God’s people can busy themselves making charts and predicting dates. Repeatedly, eschatology is used as a means to encourage believers to live in a way that honors Christ, serves the family of believers, and advances the gospel to the unbelieving world.

In the passage recorded above, the Apostle specifies four ways that we ought to respond to the knowledge that the consummation of the ages is at hand:

  1. Be self-controlled and sober-minded.

God’s people are not to be foolish but rather sober-minded. We are not to be governed by sinful passions but rather be possessed of self-control. This we are told is “for the sake of your prayers.” Frivolous and self-indulgent people know not how to pray. And as the Day of Judgment approaches, the need for ceaseless praying will become all the more apparent.

  1. Love one another earnestly.

As the “end of all things” draws nearer Christians must love all the more. In the crisis we are presently facing we can see the powerful witness of earnest love. While we ought to honor the civil authorities and practice wisdom, Christians must never be those who raise the proverbial draw bridge and cut themselves off from others in misguided attempts at self-preservation. Living with a proper view of the end ought to generate love which is earnest, not shallow or fleeting.

  1. Show hospitality.

One of the marks of Christians is that they are a welcoming people (at least, that’s the way Christians ought to be). After all, we serve a God who spared not his own Son but gave him up so that he might welcome a vast multitude of redeemed sinners to his banquet. Contemplating the end of this present age ought to prompt the church of Jesus Christ to welcome not avoid, to plead with not condemn our neighbors.

  1. Use the gifts God has given you.

There are no unnecessary members of the Body of Christ. God has given each one of a role to play. Indeed, he has invested in each one of us a gift to use for the building up of the church. With the end in view Christians do not run for the hills. They keep serving. They keep giving. They keep instructing and preaching and helping. And this, all for the glory of God.

To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.