1 Peter 4 v 7-19
Peter has just mentioned the crucial reality of coming judgment, and this passage begins with a similar reminder that “the end of all things is near”. That’s a truth that should spur us to live differently in the here and now, and it should help us make sense of the difficulties and struggles we might face as we do so.
In the first place Peter says the imminence of the end should shape our praying. Rather than the nearness of the end causing us to lose our heads and act foolishly, it should lead to clear minds and controlled wills that will help us to pray more effectively and appropriately (that seems to be the sense, not simply so that we can pray). Dependence on God is essential in these last days, as is the support and encouragement of other Christians, and he turns next to relationships within the church. Love isn’t always easy because we hurt and offend each other, but “love covers over a multitude of sins” in the sense of overlooking them. It forbears and forgives. Grudem writes “where love is lacking, every word is viewed with suspicion, every action is liable to misunderstanding, and conflicts abound – to Satan’s perverse delight”.
A particular expression of love Peter calls for is hospitality; we’re to offer it “without grumbling”, begrudging the effort, the inconvenience, or the expense. And as we should use the material possessions God has given us for others, so we should use the spiritual gifts He has given us to serve each other and strengthen each other in the faith. We all have such gifts, and we all have different gifts. Peter refers to two main kinds of gift – speaking and serving.
When speaking, (which could include preaching, teaching, evangelising, prophesying, encouraging etc) we shouldn’t be wanting to pass on our own wisdom, but to speak God’s words – meaning not that we suppose our words are a fresh revelation from God, but we’re careful to be faithful to God’s Word, and speak in a manner that is fitting – with a sense of seriousness, reverence, responsibility.
And if using gifts of practical service, then we should seek to do it in dependence on God so that God is glorified not us.
Suffering so often throws us off balance: we don’t expect it and don’t understand it. We should expect it, because suffering (for now) is part and parcel of bearing the name of Christ; it indicates that we are indeed one with Christ. And as we sharing in His sufferings, so we can be sure that we will one day share in His glory. Joy will be ours then, but we can rejoice even now amidst our suffering, knowing that God, by His Spirit, is with us to bless and strengthen us (cf. Matt 5:11). We suffer “according to God’s will” (v.19), so we can trust there is purpose in it. That purpose we are told in v.17 is “judgment”. This judgment which the family of God experience now is not retributive judgment, bringing condemnation, but rather it refers to the refining and purifying of God’s People (cf. 1:6,7). This purification comes through suffering, but far far more terrible is the judgment that awaits those who are unbelievers – a judgment that we should recognise as an imminent reality because God’s judgment has begun (in us). Again we are reminded that “the end of all things is near” (v.7), and should continue to trust the sovereign God, who is Lord over all creation, and seek to live a life that pleases Him (v.19).
Used with the permission of St Ebbe’s, Oxford