Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. —1 Peter 4:19
What Peter wants us to see about the gospel here is the timetable built into it. The gospel tells the story of God’s grace unfolding through human history—the creation, the call of Abraham, the exodus from Egypt, the kingdom of David, the catastrophic failure of the people of God, then the coming of Jesus—his birth, life, teachings, miracles, death, resurrection and his return to the Father. Only one event now remains in the great plan of God—the second coming of Christ. He is “ready” right now to come and judge the living and the dead (4:5). We can picture Jesus sitting on the edge of his seat, eager to come. He is not waiting for favorable trends. Nothing restrains him but the timing of God.
When Peter says here, “The end of all things is at hand” (verse 7), it’s easy for us to think of some prophet-like guy standing on the street corner holding up a sign that says, “The end is near.” It’s easy to think of the Y2K scare at the turn of the millennium. It’s easy to think of Harold Camping’s prediction of Judgment Day three weeks ago. But Peter was not a theological nut. Everything else he says in this letter has gravitas. What then does he mean when he says the end of all things is at hand? He’s saying that nothing remains in God’s plan for history except the second coming of Christ. History is not wandering aimlessly. It’s a God-written story with a plot-line moving toward resolution. And the next major event is the final event – the return of Christ. And what Peter wants to press into us is the practical impact that future can have on us right now. What difference does the future coming of Christ make in our lives today? Not what some people think. The second coming of Christ should not make us fanatical and speculative and irresponsible, but the opposite: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be self-controlled and sober-minded.”
We’re all tempted to think, “Nothing is ever going to change around here. What difference does it make how I live?” If we have no future guarantees, why obey Christ? Maybe you remember “We’ve got tonight” by Bob Seger:
I know it’s late, I know you’re weary
I know your plans don’t include me
Still here we are, both of us lonely
Longing for shelter from all that we see
Why should we worry, no one will care, girl
Look at the stars so far away
We’ve got tonight, who needs tomorrow?
We’ve got tonight, babe Why don’t you stay?
Good question. Here is the answer. God’s plan includes every tomorrow. Our lives will matter forever. How could it be otherwise? For the gospel to be good news, it must be eternal. If the love of Jesus is no more than a little uplift for the moment, then it’s only one more drug to get us through the day. And why take the Jesus drug? “Why should we worry? No one will care, girl.” But if his steadfast love endures forever, he’s worth living for. That’s where Peter takes us—how to live now in light of the eternal gospel. The end of all things creates a present-day community of urgency (verse 7), diversity (verses 8-11), gladness (verses 12-16) and surrender (verses 17-19).
The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. —1 Peter 4:7
There is no room among Christians for either fanaticism or complacency. The gospel is a higher call. In the ancient world there were different versions of Noah’s flood. There was a cultural memory of that mega-judgment in the dim past. Our world today seems aware of the final mega-judgment yet to come. Movies like “The Book of Eli” show that we’re thinking about some kind of apocalyptic future. People are aware that something is coming. The world can’t go on like this forever. The Apostles’ Creed says, “He will come to judge the living and the dead.”
But what do we do with that right now? The Bible doesn’t say, “Stockpile bottled water and gold coins.” It says, “Be self-controlled and sober-minded.” That clear-headedness is the opposite of a drunken binge of spending, porn and aimless busyness. Senator George McGovern flew B-24s over Europe during World War 2. On one mission his plane was so shot up they were losing altitude. He ordered the crew to throw overboard everything they could spare, to make it home. And they did. What do we unthinkingly burden ourselves with? What should we stop caring about, if the end of all things is at hand? Even if the Lord doesn’t return in your lifetime, still, you are going to die, and for you that is the end of the world. When all we’ll have is God–and that’s not far away–what will matter then? If it won’t matter then, why does it matter now? Jesus said, “Do not let your minds be dulled by dissipation and drunkenness and worldly cares so that the great day catches you suddenly. Be on the alert, praying at all times for strength to stand in the presence of the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36, REB).
Look where a clear-headed sense of urgency takes us: “…be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” For Peter, prayer is a central focus of gospel living. It’s how we prepare for the future. To him, prayer is so obvious he doesn’t even explain it. He assumes we feel the same way. But we don’t. It’s easier for us today to do anything but pray. We plan. We organize. We study. We discuss. We have time for all these good things. But we don’t have time to pray. That is obvious to us. Let’s not assume that our Christianity today is the same as apostolic Christianity. Let’s assume it isn’t. Let’s challenge our assumptions and backgrounds and patterns, go back to the Bible and relearn how to be Christians. For example, let me ask you men, from 6:30 to 7:30 every Friday morning, what are you doing that is so urgent you cannot be here to pray with other men? “Be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” It’s how Christians get ready for the second coming of Christ.
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. —1 Peter 4:8-11
The end of all things is no time to become selfish and look out only for number one. That’s the temptation, especially in times of intensity. But the Bible says, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly.” Not moderately, not critically, but the opposite – covering so many sins that don’t even need to be noticed, but less discussed. We’re not on trial here. We’re not scrutinizing each other. We’re here to comfort each other. And real love is a prophetic word to our selfish generation. For example, Chuck Colson was interviewed by PBS:
The interviewer had an aggressive manner and a hard expression under layers of make-up and mascara. How can you be so sure about your faith? she challenged me. I answered by telling her a story of my time behind bars after Watergate, when several Christian men stunned me with a quality of love I had never known before. I’ll never forget the day one of them–Al Quie–called to say, “Chuck, because of your family problems, I’m going to ask the President if you can go home, while I serve the rest of your prison term.” I gasped in disbelief. At the time, Al was the sixth-ranking Republican in the House, one of the most respected public figures in Washington. Yet he was willing to jeopardize it all out of love for me. It was a powerful witness that Jesus was real: that a believer would lay down his life for another. As I retold the story for the cameras, the interviewer broke down and waved her hand, saying, “Stop, stop.” Tears mixed with mascara were streaming down her cheeks. She excused herself, repaired her make-up, and–interjecting confidence back into her voice–said, “Let’s film that sequence once more.” But hearing the story again, she could not hold back her tears. Later, she confessed that Al’s willingness to sacrifice had touched her deeply, and she vowed to return to the church she had left years earlier.
Church is where, together as one, we put the earnest love of Christ on display. What does it look like? The key phrase here is “God’s varied grace” (verse 10). That word “varied” means “many-colored,” like a tapestry woven together with many threads of different colors. Spiritual gifts are highly diverse. Peter’s brief list here is only for starters. But you are who are for a reason. You are a colorful thread in the tapestry – not for self-display but “to serve one another” (verse 10). And even more, “that God may be glorified” (verse 11). A diverse but unified church makes the earnest love of Christ real to people today.
God has given you a power, called a “spiritual gift,” but it is not for self-assertion but for serving others. There are three ways to think about ourselves. One, “I am nothing. I am a zero. I am worthless.” That isn’t the gospel. Two, “I have been empowered by God, and you’d better notice it.” That isn’t the gospel either. Three, “I am a sinner whom God loves. He has put something of his varied grace in me, in order to lift others up.” That is wisdom and humility.
And it is obviously relevant to our world today. People are wondering, How are we going to get along, with all our differences? The answer is the church of God’s varied grace – diverse and unified. We are here to show how that works. So much is at stake in the quality of our life together. But we might be misunderstood and misjudged. So God wants us to be surprising in yet another way:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. —1 Peter 4:12-16
If you suffer as a Christian–not because you’re an irritating person but because you’re obeying Christ–Peter says, “Congratulations!” That’s what the word “blessed” in verse 14 means. That word is a biblical high-five. The gospel makes people better citizens, better employees, better spouses, as we have seen (1 Peter 2:12-3:7). But at the same time, the Bible is clear: “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Never pick a fight. But when you do take a hit, good! “The Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (verse 14). Your suffering is not evidence against you but for you. When people blame you, it’s because they have to. They have to justify what they’re doing. They have to explain it to themselves somehow. And in a way, it is your fault, but only because Jesus is so obvious in you that people who don’t want him reject you. And that is a reason to rejoice, isn’t it?
One of the touching things about Christian history is the joy of the martyrs. Jesus cares for his sufferers. He is able to send his presence to us when we suffer (Isaiah 43:2). We are weak. But he is able to hold us up. I’m thinking, for example, of John Nisbet, the Christian who was hanged in Scotland in 1685. Those days were called “the Killing Times.” Many Christians died. A few days before Nisbet was scheduled to be hanged, he was worshiping with other prisoners. He prayed, “Oh, for Friday! Lord, give me patience to wait your appointed time! Give me strength to bear up under your sweet presence! If you do not give me more strength, this weak clay vessel will break in pieces under the glorious manifestations of your presence!” God is able to give us such a sense of his presence that death itself is outweighed by his presence. Here’s how to prepare your heart to receive God’s presence. Give up your need for human approval. Honor Jesus as all the validation you need for your okayness, and you will be ready to suffer and to rejoice.
But sometimes we wonder, Why am I suffering, while other people get away with murder? How does it make sense? Here’s an answer we might not have thought of:
For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. —1 Peter 4:17-19
Verse 19 sums up the message of 1 Peter: “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good”—even as Jesus said to the Father, “Into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). We can entrust our own souls to our faithful Creator, handing ourselves over to him, all that we are right down to our deepest selves, our very capacity for connecting with reality, for God’s safe-keeping. Jesus did, and it worked out well for him.
But Peter offers here an insight into persecution we might not have thought of. Persecution is more than an outburst of human malice. God is in it too. It is the judgment of God coming to the household of God. Not condemnation, but purification. And we need it, don’t we? Verse 18 says, “The righteous are scarcely saved.” In other words, we’re not good at getting saved – not that it’s hard for God, but it’s hard for us. Think of Lot in the Old Testament. God warned him that fire and brimstone were coming to Sodom. The Bible says, “But Lot lingered. So the [angels God sent in to rescue Lot] seized him by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out” (Genesis 19:16).
If you suffer for being a Christian, you can rejoice. But don’t be impressed with yourself. You’re not that good. God is good. As the old hymn says,
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
God is telling a story, through you, about his all-sufficient grace. It’s not an easy story to tell. But it’s the only story worth telling. Here’s how you live it out, moment by moment: “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” The One who made you will be faithful to remake you. He can re-create everything about you that people damage and injure and take away. He has promised to make it all up to you, and infinitely more. You can entrust your very soul, your personality, your happiness, your sparkle, into his care. Your part is to keep taking the next step in doing the right thing.
If God were to lose even one of us who were purchased at such a cost on the cross, then from the depth of hell the devil could look up and say to God, “See? Here is a soul redeemed by Jesus, a soul that surrendered to you, but you couldn’t preserve this soul. And you call yourself faithful! But you let this one down.” No, God being faithful means not one who trusts in him will be lost. Not one. Not you.