Priorities Before the End Part 1 (1 Peter 4:7-8)
When you think of the phrase, “Jesus is coming soon!” What comes to your mind? Some start working on charts and diagrams. In fact, some people feel like they have the end times so figured out, almost as if God personally invited them to be part of the planning committee of the return of Christ. Someone once told pastor Warren Wiersbe, “I would rather be on the welcoming committee for the return of Christ than the planning committee!” Though it is good to study and have certain views about the end times, nevertheless, making charts is not the ultimate goal.
New Testament believers were also taught that Jesus was coming soon, but they did not know what to do with that statement either. Believers in the New Testament expected Jesus to come in their lifetime, even more so as they experienced intense suffering and persecution. But Paul rebuked the Thessalonian believers because some had stopped working, was freeloading off of others and pretty much just started looking up at the sky every day. So sitting around looking up at the sky is not the answer either. Unbelievers take that statement and laugh. “What coming? Nobody’s coming!” Now Peter says in 2 Pet. 3 that many people laughed at the thought of Jesus coming and Peter says that in God’s perspective, “One day is a thousand years” (2 Pet. 3:8).
Now certain believers will not say, “Jesus is not coming,” but when you look at their actions, some of us really do not live with urgency that He might very well come soon! We might say it, but we do not really believe it or want to believe it. As a result, we don’t really think about it or care about it. Instead, we live more in urgency over our favorite team winning a championship, or getting married one day or getting that dream job or that promotion or having a child. And like I said last week, we start making good things ultimate things. Obviously this is not a biblical way to deal with the imminent return of Christ either. I read a good quote recently that said we should live today as though Jesus rose from the dead yesterday and is coming back tomorrow! Amen! Peter here is going to tell how we are to live with the right priorities in the light of the fact that Jesus is coming soon.
He had been talking about suffering well to his audience of suffering believers. And last time we learned that God has provided us with every resource to suffer well, when we choose to live life God’sway and not our own way. Peter had ended the section by talking about judgment, death and resurrection (1 Pet. 4:6).
As he thought about that, he makes a declaration: “The end of all things is at hand” (1 Pet. 4:7). “At hand” means it is “about to happen” and it is “right around the corner.” When he says, “the end,” he means the return of Christ and the culmination of human history. In other words, “Jesus is coming soon!” One commentator notes, “One of the proofs of being a Christian is not simply having a hope for the future; the proof is having a hope that makes a difference in our lives today, in the present. As we live in the expectation of the second coming of Christ, some things need to take priority in our lives.” Before we dive in, I want to compare and contrast today’s paragraph with last week’s paragraph from 1 Pet. 4:1-6. If you remember, we said the big idea was about choosing God’s way over my way. Last week Peter’s theme was about living for your way and the consequences of that. Today and next time, he’s going to talk about living for God’s way and the results of that. Look at the contrasts:
|Living my way (1 Pet. 4:1-6)||Living God’s way (1 Pet. 4:7-11)|
|Out of control (4:3-4)||Self-controlled (4:7)|
|Drunkenness (4:3)||Sober-minded (4:7)|
|Selfish Lust (4:3)||Sacrificial Love (4:8)|
|Exploitation of others (4:3-4)||Ministry/Service to others(4:9-11)|
|Temporary (4:5)||Eternal (4:11)|
|Ends in judgment (4:5)||Ends in God’s glory and praise(4:11)|
Today I want to look at the question of what should be our priorities, i.e. living for God’s way/will, knowing that Jesus is returning soon? What are the main things we should be focusing on as we wait for His return? Three things here that Peter gives us and we will look at two and half of them today:
I. A focused prayer life (1 Pet. 4:7)
The big word for the study of the end times is eschatology. Interestingly, in the New Testament, every passage that deals with the end times always focuses on how to live godly lives in light of the end. Now making charts is good, but making a godly character is better! Here he connects your character and your prayer life as a priority.
He says be “self-controlled” and “sober-minded.” These terms are virtually synonymous and should be understood together. The first ter literally, to “be in one’s right mind” (sōphroneō)—to be under control and not be carried away by an errant view of oneself (Rom. 12:3; cf. Prov. 23:7), or undue emotion, or uncontrolled passion.” It is the opposite of insanity. Bob Deffinbaugh adds, “To have sound judgment is to think sanely, realistically, to make judgments based upon truth and reality rather than on falsehood, deception, or distorted perception.” You can be insanely caught up in the return of Christ that you start to lose your mind. This is how some start to predict dates of Christ’s return. But you can also be insanely caught up in your world that you start to have the wrong perception about reality. As a result, you can have misplaced priorities. Both ways are not being “self-controlled.”
The second word is “sober-minded.” Peter had used this word before in 1 Pet. 1:18. This term denotes “being spiritually observant. Jesus expressed a similar sentiment when He warned the apostles to “be on the alert” (Matt. 24:42) and to “keep watching” (26:41).” If you remember, Jesus had told Peter to be alert, but he preferred sleep and ended up betraying Christ. The opposite of sober-minded is mental drunkenness. When you are not sober-minded, you allow other things to control you, making you intoxicated, making foolish choices and staggering along with life.
Peter says this affects your prayer life. In prayer, we have access into spiritual resources we do not have on our own strength. But if we are tangled and cluttered with other things, we are not going to want to pray, until life falls apart. Jesus is coming soon! The Judge is at the door. So don’t get so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good. But neither be so aloof and disinterested about His return and being consumed by worldliness. Let him find you in prayer instead of staggering around like a drunk consumed by the worries and cares of the world. Have a focused prayer life.
One of the things I love is to come home and see the kids, especially if I have been away for a long time or on a trip. It’s hard when you are on a trip, so you love hearing them to you on the phone and hearing their voice. So when the day gets closer to coming home, you talk to them and the excitement build. I love when Jenny tells Abbie, “Daddy’s coming home today!” And then I love showing up at the door and Abbie’s hearing little footsteps running and screaming “Daddy!” I love when she runs into my arms and I pick her up and twirl her around. Usually she rambles about something I have no idea as to what she’s saying, but that doesn’t matter, because she’s with me, in my arms. It was nice talking on the phone, but nothing beats to finally have her in my arms. But as she is growing older, I have noticed that if the television is on or if she’s distracted with something, she has no clue or care about my arrival.
Believers, the Lord longs for us. I don’t know how much we understand that. I understand it a little bit more now that I’m a parent. We are caught up with what to say to Him, but He’s more interested in our company, to be with us. He longs for us, but only to find us cluttered and caught up in this world, unable to even talk or acknowledge Him.
A few weeks ago, I had a lot of sermon prep to do and I knew I should pray first, but I fed into the lie, “I have so much to do for you God, I’ll pray later.” Interestingly, my computer was acting up and I got so frustrated. I was upset and stopped and stared at the screen in disgust. See, my mind was all cluttered. The devil would love for me to prayerlessly make a sermon. It was then I sensed how much He was longing for me, not what I could do for Him. He didn’t want my sermon. He wanted me.
He doesn’t want you to sit here and sing songs and listen to me. He wants you and He wants you to want Him because ultimately, that’s what you need. So I prayed that day and I cannot begin to tell you how energized and motivated I was to serve Him afterward. I understand why He says, “apart from me you can do nothing” in John 15:5 because really doing anything meaningful is not worth doing apart from being connected to Him as our life source.
Ruth Graham, late wife of Dr. Billy Graham once said, “Pray when you feel like it, for it is a sin to neglect such an opportunity. Pray when you don’t feel like it, for it is dangerous to remain in such condition.” For Peter’s audience, it was too dangerous a condition not to pray, especially under the fires of persecution. Do we see how dangerous and sad our plight us when we are prayerless?
Prayer is talking to Him, building up excitement for the day you will see Him face to face. Focus on your prayer life. All the things we hold on to in this world, will not last. Our relationship with God will last. You can try to make it on your own, but you are missing out on access to His power and resources for your life that you do not have on your own. Haven’t your mind and heart been so cluttered by the world and the fears and worries you have been carrying on your own? He longs for you. Listen to Hosea 11:1-9 from The Message translation: “When Israel was only a child, I loved him. I called out, ‘My son!’—called him out of Egypt.
But when others called him, he ran off and left me. He worshiped the popular sex gods, he played at religion with toy gods. Still, I stuck with him. I led Ephraim. I rescued him from human bondage, But he never acknowledged my help, never admitted that I was the one pulling his wagon, That I lifted him, like a baby, to my cheek, that I bent down to feed him. Now he wants to go back to Egypt or go over to Assyria— anything but return to me! That’s why his cities are unsafe—the murder rate skyrockets and every plan to improve things falls to pieces. My people are hell-bent on leaving me. They pray to god Baal for help. He doesn’t lift a finger to help them. But how can I give up on you, Ephraim? How can I turn you loose, Israel?…I can’t bear to even think such thoughts. My insides churn in protest. And so I’m not going to act on my anger. I’m not going to destroy Ephraim. And why? Because I am God and not a human. I’m The Holy One and I’m here—in your very midst.”
Can you sense His love for His people? Can you sense His longing for His people like a heart-broken Father? Run to Him in prayer. One day He’s finally going to come to take you home. Move now yourself into a position to receive Him well. So a focused prayer life must be a priority. How is your prayer life? Stop making it about how long to pray, what to pray, how long it’s been you have prayed, how bad you are at praying and instead hear the longing of God for you and run to Him in prayer! Secondly,
II. A sacrificial love for others (1 Pet. 4:8-9)
Peter moves from your vertical relationship with God to your horizontal relationship with others. It is especially easy when life gets hard that you start lashing out at the people closest to you. So Peter again, for the third time (1 Pet. 1:22, 3:8) says love one another. Loving God and loving people go together. Love God and love your neighbor are the greatest commands Jesus said. Jesus came to save us from our sin, but also from our solitude. He came to save us from our independence and self-obsessed living. Here Peter says again, love the people of God EARNESTLY. Do you remember that from 1 Pet. 1:22? Remember how I made you all stretch your arms higher and higher? I won’t make you do that again, but you may remember how true brotherly love was supposed to stretch you, make you give more than you can give. That is what it means to “earnestly” love, like a marathon runner stretching to reach the tape of the finish line. It’s going to hurt. There is effort, intensity, pain and sweat in loving others. And the word “keep” implies it is a habitual practice of ours.
It is a nice thought that one of my priorities should be sacrificially loving others in the body of Christ. But what does that mean? What does that look like? One commentator says, “Our love, kindled by God’s love, is stretched by exercise.” But how do you exercise it? Love is expansive, depending on how much of God’s love is reaching your heart. God gives us plenty of opportunity to stretch our lives by putting us around people we might not always like! Peter gives us two examples of sacrificial love:
“Since” here means “because.” The reason why you should love earnestly, stretching yourself beyond the limit, is because “love covers a multitude of sins.” He is quoting Proverbs 10:12, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers transgressions.” God’s immense love for us covered our sins when He forgave us on the cross. Now we must forgive others the wrongs done to us continually. As one writer said, “We are most like beasts when we kill. We are most like men when we judge and we are most like God when we forgive.”
It is His love shed abroad in our hearts (Rom. 5:5), or when it overflows and fills our hearts that we can be quick to forgive. Love covers, hatred broadcasts. Love covering sin does not mean we should “cover up,” hide, ignore and some instances overlook sin. True love confronts sin. But after you confront it, you cover it by forgiving, sometimes over and over again.
We are to be quick to forgive our brothers and sisters when they hurt us. One author says, “Love is not blind, it sees more not less; But because it sees more it chooses to see less.” Another commentator adds, “Love works as a shock absorber, cushioning and smoothing out the bumps and irritations caused by fellow believers.” Paul says, “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Cor. 13:7, NIV).
So when should you absorb and when you should you confront? There is no easy way to answer this, because it is not an easy formula. But I would give you these guidelines: Cover up, forgive offenses as much as you can. However, if it keeps bothering you and is creating a rift between you and the person, you will need to confront it. There are a lot of trivial things that we can let it roll off our shoulders and not let it interfere our walk with God and the relationship with other. We can let it go.
Pastor Stephen Cole provides another guideline: “Is this a minor flaw that just grates on me, or is it a character defect or sin that hinders this person’s growth in Christ? Again, love’s motive and goal is to glorify God. If a person has a blind spot or sin that is hindering God’s glory in his life or that may result in his falling into worse sin, it needs to be confronted, not covered. I may or may not be the one to do it, but I shouldn’t dodge confronting it just because confrontation is unpleasant.”
Again, more can be said, but keep those in mind as you are seeking to earnestly love others in the body of Christ by being quick to forgive sins done against you. I want to stop here for now and continue on 1 Pet. 4:9-11 next time, Lord willing and talk about serving, one of my favorite topics.
Two things we looked at today were focused prayer and sacrificial love. How are you doing with those priorities? I can tell you this past week I was tested in these areas. People we invited to the Greg Laurie event could not come. Other things and people started to irritate me. I felt like I was pulled in so many directions. I felt like I was caught in a web of responsibilities. And when my heart is distracted, I am not fun to be around. Not only that, this weekend was about the kingdom coming to Chicago! And I had signed up to serve and pray with people. You know, the devil will help you prepare a sermon if it will keep you from preparing yourself. So I know I needed to pray. And I just unburdened my heart to the Lord. I wish prayer was more of my first resort instead of last!
And my prayer was messy, which is the best kind! I remembering telling the Lord, “Lord, what’s the point of all this? People don’t care about you. No one’s coming to the crusade. I don’t see any fruit anywhere. People are irritating me. My heart seems to be always in this tangled mess every week. I want results. I want change so fast. Why Lord?” And then the Lord so tenderly yet strongly impressed on my heart, “Why? Because at the end of all this, you get me.” I might never see fruit, but my job is to plant and water. I might not like every believer, but my job is not to like them, but to choose to love them. And I get at the end what my heart truly longs for: Jesus Christ. That is the best reward we can ever get! So is it all worth it? Yes, because we get Him at the end. But you know what, as I was praising God for that perspective and fresh faith in my heart, I realized I will get Him at the end, but He got me right now as I surrendered to Him in prayer!
This is what Peter is getting at. The end is near means Jesus is coming! Focus your prayer life, because though you don’t see Him, you love Him (1 Pet. 1:8). So grow in that love for Him by praying. Love sacrificially by forgiveness. This is all hard work. God’s way is hard and impossible really, but communicating with God will give us access to resources beyond us and fill us with His love to serve others. May His glorious Holy Spirit help us to live what He calls us to be as we await His return.
Paraphrased from Wiersbe, W. W. (1 Pet. 4:7).
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