In the previous 6 verses, Peter gave instructions for interacting with an unbelieving and skeptical world. In this section, he turns his attention to life in the church, as a part of the body of believers. How should we live, love, and serve in the community of believers?
The End Is Near
The end of all things is near.
1 Peter 4:7a NIV
Peter here is looking to the end of the age. To Christ’s return, our being gathered to him, and the destruction of this world. This world will not last forever, and we should not live as though it might. Rather live in expectation that life here is short.
Peter expressed this nearly 2000 years ago. Was he wrong? Christ certainly has not returned yet for us. So either Peter’s definition of “near” is different than ours, or he meant something different than we would generally understand this expression to mean.
Actually, I believe Peter meant this exactly the way it sounds. Peter and the other New Testament authors write with the expectation of Christ’s imminent return. The same expectation that we should be living with. We do not know the time and date of his return. But we should live as if it was just around the corner.
For the Sake of Your Prayers
Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you can pray.
1 Peter 4:7b NIV
As a part of living in the expectation of Christ’s return, Peter tells us something about the attitude we should have so that we can pray. To be alert and of sober mind would refer to thinking clearly, understanding what is going on around us. Don’t get overly involved in the trivial things of this life and our culture.
In some respects, this is reminiscent of Paul’s discussion of spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6. Our present-day struggle as believers in this world is not against other people or cultures. Rather it is a spiritual conflict we are involved in. And to successfully engage in that battle, we need to be alert and clear-minded.
This would be especially relevant to Peter’s readers who were suffering for their faith. To be able to see beyond the obvious physical causes. To see the ultimate source of the problems. And to let their prayers be directed toward overcoming the primary issues rather than secondary ones.
Love Each Other Deeply
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
1 Peter 4:8 NIV
One of the most important things we can do as a part of a community of believers is to love each other deeply. Clearly, Peter is not referring here to a casual relationship. He is referring to something deeper than what seems to characterize the typical relationship between members of most churches I am familiar with.
Love in this verse is agape. A self-giving love. And he tells us to do this deeply, or earnestly. We are to care about each other intentionally and deeply. Not just with our words. But with our actions. Do others within our body know of our love because of our actions toward them?
“Love covers a multitude of sins.” This is an interesting expression. But one that is so real. People will put up with a lot from us if they do not question our love for them. That is not an excuse to be a pill. But does emphasize the importance of love within the body. Love will tie us together beyond anything else we can do.
Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.
1 Peter 4:9 NIV
This instruction does not mean the same thing to us today as it meant to Peter’s readers. When we talk about hospitality we are generally referring to making visitors comfortable and feeling welcome. And while Peter’s readers would certainly have included that, it meant much more to them.
The first-century Roman world was quite different than our modern Western world. Today a visitor to a city has a large variety of hotels to stay in. That was not true in Peter’s day. While there were some inns, they were few, and not always of good repute.
Visitors often looked for local families who would provide lodging and food for them during their stay. And that was true for itinerate missionaries and other traveling believers. Hospitality would involve proving these travelers with a place to stay and food to eat during their stay.
Sometimes the hospitality would be compensated for by the traveler. But not always. And that is where the issue of grumbling comes in. I might just be able to provide food for my own family. Having another mouth to feed could be a real hardship. To do so without grumbling would be a real demonstration of love.
Faithful Stewards of God’s Grace
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
1 Peter 4:10 NIV
A steward was a servant or slave who had been entrusted with the administration of his master’s affairs. Joseph, in Genesis, is an example of a steward over Potiphar’s household.
Peter tells me, as a steward of God’s grace, to use the gifts he has entrusted to me in serving others within God’s household. Those gifts take various forms, but regardless of the gift(s) you have been given, be faithful in using them to serve.
The gifts we have been given are not for our own benefit. Instead, they are given to the church for the good of the whole body. As a steward of that gift, God’s grace, I must prove faithful (1 Cor. 4:2).
If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.
1 Peter 4:11a NIV
Peter does not give the longer lists of spiritual gifts that Paul does. Instead, he divides them into two categories: speaking and serving. Speaking would refer both to teaching and proclaiming. Today we might identify any number of gifts that fall into this category. But if your gift involves teaching, proclamation, or evangelism, you are speaking.
All of us who teach or preach, whether vocally or in some form of print / digital media, need to be very careful about how we do so. Peter tells us that we should teach as one speaking the very words of God. Peter is not claiming divine inspiration for every teacher or preacher. Rather he is warning us that what we are speaking of is God’s word, and we need to be careful in how we handle it. Be serious about it, not taking it lightly.
As speakers of the word of God, we have a responsibility to God, whose word we are speaking, as well as to those we speak to. We should also approach that task with a measure of humility and trepidation. God will hold us responsible for how and what we speak in his name (Jam. 3:1).
If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.
The other gift that Peter mentions is serving. Serving involves a variety of different things. But what they have in common is that they are focused on meeting the needs of others within the body. In the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus expresses a number of things that the sheep and done and the goats failed to do.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Matthew 25:35-36 NIV
While not an exhaustive list of the ways we can serve, Jesus does seem to make serving others a priority for believers. In this passage, Jesus tells us that as we serve each other, we are actually serving him.
Peter tells us to serve so that God might be praised through Jesus Christ. Our service is not to draw attention to ourselves. Rather it is to point others toward God. Our service should cause others to glorify our Lord.
To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 4:11c NIV
Peter closes this section of his letter with a doxology of praise. Is it directed to God the Father? Or to Jesus the Son? It would appear that it is directed to God the Father based on the previous expression, “In all things God may be praised.”
This is not an expectation of something that will take place. Rather it is a statement of fact. Glory and power are God’s. Forever and ever.
Call To Action
Believers face an uncertain and often dangerous struggle with the world around us. A world that does not understand who we are and why we are what we are. And as a result, will often persecute believers who dare to be different. But the end is near. So hang in there. Focus and pray.
But while the world around is hostile, life within the church body should be different. Love should be the rule we live by. We should demonstrate hospitality to those in need, and utilize the grace gifts God has given to each of us to serve the body.
- What does Peter mean by “the end is near?” Was he mistaken?
- Why do we need to be clear-minded and sober?
- How can you show hospitality today? Especially in a world where it might be dangerous to take people into your house.
- How has God equipped you for life within the church body?
- 1 Peter: An Introduction
- 1 Peter: Because of His Great Mercy (1:3-5)
- 1 Peter: Glorious Joy, In All Kinds of Trials (1:6-9)
- 1 Peter: The Mystery of Salvation (1:10-12)
- 1 Peter: Be Holy In All You Do (1:13-16)
- 1 Peter: Living as an Alien, a Foreigner in this World (1:17-21)
- 1 Peter: Love One Another Deeply, From the Heart (1:22-2:3)
- 1 Peter: A Chosen People, A Royal Priesthood (2:4-5; 9-10)
- 1 Peter: A Chosen and Precious Cornerstone (2:6-8)
- 1 Peter: Living As Foreigners and Exiles (2:11-17)
- 1 Peter: Responding To Suffering (2:18-25)
- 1 Peter: Instruction for Wives and Husbands (3:1-7)
- 1 Peter: Christian Ethical Behavior (3:8-12)
- 1 Peter: Revere Christ in Your Suffering (3:13-18)
- 1 Peter: Imprisoned Spirits and Baptism (3:19-22)
- 1 Peter: Don’t Surrender to the World’s Influence (4:1-6)
- 1 Peter: Life in the Church: to Love and to Serve (4:7-11)
- 1 Peter: Being a Shepherd, a Rewarding Task (5:1-4)
- 1 Peter: Humble Yourself Under the Hand of God (5:5-11)