7 But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. 8 And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. 9 Use hospitality one to another without grudging. 10 As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11 If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:7–11)
We, as Christians, do and should believe that the end is near, but how should we act in response to this belief? Christian history is full of believers who responded in fervent but foolish ways. The Millerites were just such a group of Christians.
In the early 1800’s, a deist named William Miller set about studying the Bible to answer questions about the existence of God. He ended up, after two years, becoming convinced that he knew the year of the return of Christ—about 1843. For years he kept quiet about it, but in the 1830’s, he started to preach it strongly and started to gather a following. In 1838, he published a book, Evidence from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ, About the Year 1843.
At the beginning of 1843, he announced that Christ would return between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. Thousands of people joined him. The Millerite Movement was in full swing. And boy, was it ever. Men quit their jobs. People sold their homes (Why? Did they need the money in Heaven?), others gave away their belongings. Many donned white robes. There are unverified reports that some went up on hilltops or climbed trees to be closer when Jesus came.
Of course, they were disappointed. Christ did not return on March 21. Nor did he come on the recalculated date of October 22.
And, because people don’t learn from history. The very same thing happened in recent years with a man named Harold Camping who predicted that Christ would return on May 21, 2011 and then recalculated for October 21, 2011.
How would you respond if you were convinced that the end would come on a specific date? Would you dress in white robes?
For Peter, the issue is not a date, but that the end could come at any time. The Christian is to live in a constant state of expectation because the Lord could come at any moment.
Maybe you’ve had the experience of waiting for someone to come who said that they would be over “that morning.” You think about doing some errands, but do you? No, because they could arrive at any moment. If you go off to do something, they might arrive while you are gone.
You instead busy yourself close to home and wait patiently. You are living in the time between now and when your friend arrives. Their arrival dictates your actions. You don’t do anything that would jeopardize you meeting them when they do come.
That’s the way it’s to be for the believer. Jonathan Edwards, one of the old 18th century believers who is a Christian hero of mine, wrote a series of resolutions as a young man. One of them was this:
Resolved, never to do anything that I would be afraid to do if I expected it would not be more than an hour before I would hear the last trumpet.
If you knew that the Lord would return in 45 minutes, how would you live differently? That really is Peterʼs point in this passage: How should a Christianʼs knowledge of the end affect his or her life in the present?
Peter gives us four activities that we should be doing when the Lord Jesus comes. We should be Active in Prayer, Active in Love, Active in Hospitality, and Active in Service.
1) WE SHOULD BE ACTIVE IN PRAYER
1 Peter 4:7 But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.
Peter tells us to: “be ye therefore sober” is from sōphroneō and means to think clearly, to keep oneʼs head—it’s another word for self-control. We could stop here and discuss all the situations where we must be clear-headed and self-controlled, but since Peter goes right to prayer, it seems that perhaps prayer is the main thing we need to be self-controlled to do.
“watch” is from nēphō, “to be in control of one’s thought processes and thus not be in danger of irrational thinking” (Louw-Nida). It’s another biblical word for self-control. What are we to be self-controlled in doing? Prayer.
How does self-control and prayer fit together? It has to do with what you let yourself think about. If your mind frequently wanders to worldly issues, or even sinful issues, you will not find yourself praying often.
Or, if you do pray, it becomes rote and routine. We say the same things over and over, without much thinking about what we’re actually saying, “Lord, just be with us today and just bless us Lord, and just thank you Lord and just forgive us when we fail.”
But if you are focused on God and bringing what you see, do, and think about into God’s realm, then you will find yourself praying more. You will also pray more intelligently and biblically when you have a self-controlled mind that is focused on God.
This emphasis on self-control and a God-focused mind in prayer is particularly important in the realm of end times. We don’t want to end up jumping off the deep end like the Millerites or so many others have.
Yet at the same time, we can forget that the end is near, and pray only about ourselves and the immediate matters at hand. Even Jesus, in his model prayer for us, included a prayer that looked to the end, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
One scholar I read said this:
A realistic, sober assessment of the world and our true situation in it will drive us to our knees…Believers must assess their situation, clearly be aware of all their circumstances, and in light of the imminent end of all things, give everything over to the Lord, asking for the wisdom to react as God would have them react and asking for the empowering presence of the Spirit. (Osborne, 241)
I like that last part. Not only must we be self-controlled to pray, we must also pray for the self-control and wisdom to have godly reactions to the end times circumstances all around us.
Prayer is a vertical activity between us and God, but the next three activities are horizontal—between ourselves as Christians. We might wonder why he doesn’t command us to be witnesses to non-Christians in the last days. That’s certainly true—we should—but Peter’s concern here is the church.
2) WE SHOULD BE ACTIVE IN LOVE
1 Peter 4:8 And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.
“fervent charity”—the word “fervent” (ektenēs) means “strained, stretched.” Think of an athlete striving for the finish line, muscles stretched, his mind striving for the goal.
Charity, or love, is difficult sometimes with some people, even fellow Christians (and that is who Peter is talking about here). Whatever the reason for the difficulty, we are to constantly stretch and strain ourselves to show love to our fellow Christians, because…
Peter says that “charity shall cover the multitude of sins”—the idea is not that we ignore the sins of others, the Bible commands that we deal with them appropriately (cf. Matthew 18:15-17; Galatians 6:1). But the goal and attitude is always to restore the person to a right relationship to God and the church.
However, there are some people in any church that think it’s their job to find out bad things about people. They find the faults—and they expose them. Most of the time, however, those faults are hardly sins that need publicly addressed. And, worse, it’s their attitude—it’s not loving, it’s not seeking to help the sinner—it’s hateful instead. They don’t want to help people; They really just want other people to look bad so they look a little better.
Instead, a loving Christian will seek to cover the faults of others. They will seek to forgive one another quickly when a serious sin is committed. Someone has said, “Let me be a little kinder; let me be a little blinder to the faults of those around me.” A little kinder, a little blinder—could go along way in any church.
In the last days, it will be more important than ever to show love to one another. The Bible says that, in the last days, “…iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matthew 24:12). In the lawless and sinful last days, we will be tempted to hold back our love, even from one another. We’ll be afraid of getting hurt.
Peter is saying, don’t let that happen. In these last days, we need to love each other more than ever. The world is watching:
35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:35)
Will we, in love, cover the faults and foibles of one another? Or will we let anger reign in our hearts?
One way that we can love one another is through hospitality.
3) WE SHOULD BE ACTIVE IN HOSPITALITY
1 Peter 4:9 Use [Show] hospitality one to another without grudging.
The motels of the ancient world were often awful places to stay, as well as being few and far in-between. It was both loving and necessary for Christians to open their homes to fellow Christians traveling through.
Today, the need to have people stay in our homes is greatly reduced—motels and hotels are often nice places to stay.
But there are other needs that we can meet through hospitality. Loneliness and depression are big issues in our culture today that could be met by Christian hospitality. It’s going to get worse as the end approaches.
We often think of hospitality as entertaining people in our home. That’s a very narrow definition. It’s not about entertaining. The key idea behind hospitality is meeting someone’s need through fellowship with them.
You don’t even have to have someone over to your home to show hospitality. You could visit them at the nursing home, or go help someone with a project they have at their home, or even greet visitors who come to church.
The hospitality that we show, whether in or home or somewhere else, needs to be done “without grudging.” It’s should be something that our love for one another will cause us to delight to do. If it doesn’t, then it’s time you go to the Lord for a heart check up!
4) WE SHOULD BE ACTIVE IN SERVICE
1 Peter 4:10 As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
The fourth activity, service, concerns spiritual gifts. God gives every Christian some sort of spiritual gift, like teaching, evangelism, helping, administrating, and so on (see 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12).
The key point is that “every man” (or woman) has received at least one spiritual gift. God gives his gifts as he choses (1 Corinthians 12:11). You don’t get to lobby for the gift you want.
Some Christians get discouraged because they don’t think they know what their gift is. It may be that they know, but it doesn’t seem important enough. Peter says that out gift isn’t about us, it is to be used to “minister…one to another.” Your gift isn’t to make you look good or feel important…it’s to help other people. We are to be “good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”
The gift you have, when employed in service to others, displays “the manifold grace of God.” If your gift is encouragement, and you encourage someone, you are showing them Godʼs manifold grace. God is to glorified through your gift.
Peter says, giving the gifts of speaking and ministering as an example,
1 Peter 4:11 If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
Peter’s main point in verses 10 and 11 are that every Christian has a gift given to them by God and empowered by God, and we should be using them to serve others and to glorify God because the end is coming. We don’t know how much time is left, but we need to be working for the Lord all during that time, using our gifts!
CONCLUSION: FOR GODʼS GLORY
Christians should be zealous for the end to come, but not zealous in the way that the Millerites were. Our zealousness needs to come out in the four activities that God has shown us through Peter: Prayer. Love. Hospitality. Service. A Christian does these things not to exalt ourselves, but to glorify God. If we faithfully do these activities as Christians, we will be ready to meet the Lord when he comes.
Are you ready to meet the Lord?
You start being ready by receiving Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. Every human being needs to have Jesus as their Savior. There are no good works, special rituals, or even different religions that can help you here.
There’s no way we could walk up to God the Judge at the end of time and argue our way into Heaven. We might begin to say, “Look at my good works and how faithfully I followed this religion,” but it would not work. You would not survive a nanosecond in the presence of God’s holiness.
The reason that we all need a Savior is that we all are, by nature, sinners. Not a day nor an hour goes by that each of us has a sinful thought or does a sinful deed.
God is exactly the opposite. He is perfectly pure and holy. Because of our sin, we could never stand in the presence of a holy God, much less argue our case for why he should let us into Heaven.
God has solved our sin problem. He sent his own Son, Jesus Christ, to live a sinless life on this earth. Jesus then died on the cross as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. He rose from the dead as a way of showing us that his death wasn’t ordinary or tragic—it was victorious!
If you want to be ready to meet the Lord—and you have to be ready before you die or before he comes again (whichever comes first), then you need to confess him as your Savior. The Bible says,
9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. (Romans 10:9)
Osborne, Grant R., and M. Robert Mulholland Jr. Cornerstone Biblical Commentary: James, 1–2 Peter, Jude, Revelation. Ed. Philip W. Comfort. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2011. Print. Cornerstone Biblical Commentary.