By Christopher VanDusen
Most believers in the Lord Jesus Christ know that we’re living in the “end times” or “last days”. At the very least, this means that there’s no lengthy event that needs to take place before the Lord comes back to earth. Therefore, most believers know that, from our perspective, the Lord could return at virtually any moment. Since this is the case, how are we to act in response to this knowledge? The apostle Peter answers this question in 1 Peter 4:7-11.
1 Peter is a letter that Peter wrote to a great number of Jewish Christians, whom he calls “aliens”, who were living among a greater number of unbelievers. Before these Christians had been saved, they had participated in the very same sins that these unbelievers were still committing. Now that they’d been saved, they lived in the exact opposite way to that. Thus, their unbelieving neighbors hated their new lifestyle, and insulted, criticized, and lied about them, in order to get them to go back to how they used to live. Peter heard about this persecution, and wrote 1 Peter to comfort, encourage, and instruct these believers on how to respond to it, and continue to obey Christ.
In the first chapter, Peter begins by describing their great salvation from God, focusing on the hope of the completion of their salvation when Christ returns. He then looks backward to the Old Testament prophets, who prophesied about this salvation, but never understood it, as the aliens now do.
Then, Peter begins to explain how the aliens ought to live in light of their salvation. He says they need to be hopeful, holy, and reverent toward God. Next, he commands them to love one another because they’ve been turned into God’s children. After this, he starts chapter 2 by instructing them to stop committing certain sins against one another, and to instead long to learn God’s Word, so they can become more like God.
In the next section of the letter, Peter describes how the aliens are learning God’s Word, and obeying it as God’s priests on earth. He explains that one of their main purposes on earth is to proclaim the character and work of God to the unbelieving world around them. Then, he begins to describe how they’re to do this. The first way is to avoid giving in to temptation, and to instead live righteously around their neighbors. Second, they need to submit to every human institution that’s over them, and honor everyone. He then applies this instruction to slaves, wives, and husbands. To conclude this section, he commands all of them to be unified, and to bless those who persecute them.
In the next section, Peter explains to the aliens how and why they ought to respond to persecution. First, they need to be willing to suffer for righteousness, because doing so will lead to God’s blessing. Second, they need to remember Christ’s suffering, which led to the defeat of evil, their salvation, and to God’s blessing of Him with control over the universe. Lastly, they need to imitate Christ’s thinking about suffering by seeing it as a necessary part of God’s will. This means that they need to remember that they died to sin, and can no longer live the way they used to, even though their unbelieving neighbors criticize them for their righteousness. He ends this section by saying that even Christians who are dead didn’t live rightly in vain, since they have spiritual life even now.
In verses 7-11 of chapter 4, Peter concludes this section by explaining how the aliens ought to live in light of the nearness of the end:
“7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 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.” (ESV)
In this passage, Peter gives the aliens four main ways in which they ought to act in response to the rapid approach of the end:
- Live with the End in Mind to Pray (v. 7)
- Love One Another Earnestly with Much Pardon (v. 8)
- Let One Another In without Moaning (v. 9)
- Lay Hold of Your Work by Entrusting It to Your Maker (vss. 10-11)
Live with the End in Mind to Pray
Peter’s first main command for the aliens in verse 7 begins with the main reason for all of the rest:
“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.”
First, he reminds them that “the end of all things is at hand”. What does he mean by this? Well, he can’t mean that literally everything will end, since that would include all that God created, including them. By “all things”, Peter means the physical universe as they know it. This is the way that Paul often uses “all things” in his letters, such as when he says that Christ has control of all things. Here, Peter says that the end of the present universe is “at hand”. The phrase “at hand” refers to something that’s so close, you can touch it. In other words, it’s almost here. So, Peter’s saying that the end of this universe is almost here. It’s so close, they can almost touch it.
Next, Peter gives the aliens two closely related ways in which to respond to the nearness of the end. First, he tells them to “be self-controlled”. This refers to the willingness to control one’s thinking in spite of one’s desires and emotions that tempt one to act contrary to one’s thinking. Second, he instructs them to be “sober-minded”. This means to be alert and clear-headed, so one can think clearly, critically, and wisely.
Finally, Peter tells the aliens why they need to be self-controlled and sober-minded — “for the sake of [their] prayers”. So, the main purpose of controlling themselves, and thinking clearly, is so they can pray, or talk to God. The implication is that if they don’t control themselves and think clearly, they won’t be able to talk to God as they ought to.
But what’s the relationship between the end of the universe, and praying? Well, if the universe is going to end soon, then there’s only a limited amount of time for the aliens to accomplish what God has called them to do. As in all of our lives, there are certain things that we want to accomplish, or want to see happen, before the end of all our lives. The only way that these things will happen is if God wills them to happen, and He uses the prayers of His people in order to do His will. Thus, in order for God’s will to be done, His people need to pray for that will to be done. Since that will includes specific events, He uses His people to pray for those things. However, from the human perspective, we don’t know if God has willed some of those things to happen, unless He reveals it to us with His Word. Hence, we need to pray quickly and rightly to see some of those things happen. God knows what will happen, but we can only pray for those things to happen that He hasn’t spoken about in His Word. Therefore, the nearness of the end provides a motivation to pray in such a way that God will answer the aliens’ prayers.
This seems to especially apply to the fulfillment of the Lord’s Great Commission. He gave His church the mission of making disciples of all the nations, or people groups. Jesus seems to teach in His Olivet Discourse that “the end” won’t come until “the gospel is preached to all the nations”. Hence, one of the things that the aliens’ prayers involve must be the spread of the gospel to all the people groups. Because the end is near, they need to pray in such a way that the church becomes spiritually mature, so that they can send out missionaries to the rest of the world.
Love One Another Earnestly with Much Pardon
The second main command that Peter gives the aliens is the most important one, found in verse 8:
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”
The most important thing that the aliens need to do in light of the end is to “keep loving one another earnestly”. Notice that Peter tells them to keep loving one another. This implies that they’re already loving one another, but they need to continue. But what does Peter mean by “loving”? The Greek word translated “keep loving” is a form of agape, which refers to devotion that leads to action. Thus, Peter isn’t telling them to merely like one another, but to care for one another, and to seek one another’s well-being. And how are they do this? “Earnestly”, which comes from a Greek word that literally means “stretched to the max”. Thus, Peter’s calling them to love one another as intensely as possible.
Next, Peter gives the aliens the reason that they need to love one another earnestly — “since love covers a multitude of sins”. By “sins”, Peter means moral offenses. Essentially, sins are any behaviors that aren’t expressions of love for God, or for another person. The phrase “a multitude” simply means an extremely large number. But what does Peter mean that love “covers” a great number of sins? He’s alluding to the Old Testament here, where the atonement provided by the sacrifice of animals according to God’s commands “covered” the sins of Israelites. This means that God “covered” them so He couldn’t “see” them. As a result, He didn’t punish the Israelite who had his sin covered for that particular sin. In the same way, Peter’s saying that when the aliens love one another, their love will “cover” one another’s sins against them, so they’ll overlook them, and forgive the one who sinned against them. This doesn’t mean that they ignore sin, since sin is something that needs to be dealt with. What it means is that, when one of them sins against another brother or sister, their love for the offender will enable them to forgive him, or “cover” the sin. And Peter says that their love for one another covers a huge number of sins, making forgiveness inevitable.
Let One Another In Without Moaning
Peter’s third main command for the aliens is in verse 9, which says,
“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
The Greek word for “hospitality” literally means “love of strangers”, since it refers to caring for someone in your home that doesn’t “belong” there. Peter commands the aliens to do this for one another — to give one another access to their homes, and care for them there. This was especially important at that time because hotels and motels were basically absent from that region at that time. Therefore, any Christian who was traveling had to know someone who would allow him into his home, and care for him.
But Peter doesn’t stop there. He commands them to do this “without grumbling”. The Greek word translated “grumbling” could also be translated “complaining”, and literally refers to the quiet mumbling sound that a person makes when he’s annoyed. Peter forbids the aliens from doing this when they have one another over in their homes. They aren’t to be annoyed that one of their brothers or sisters are living with them, but are rather to count it a privilege to serve one another in this way.
Lay Hold of Your Work by Entrusting It to Your Maker
The final main command that Peter gives the aliens is found in verses 10-11, which say,
“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.”
Peter begins this instruction by telling the aliens why they’re to serve one another. It’s because each of them “has received a gift”. The Greek word translated “gift” is charisma, which literally means “gift of favor”. Paul uses this word in 1 Corinthians to refer to spiritual gifts, or gifts from the Holy Spirit, and that’s the way Peter’s using it here.
Peter next tells the aliens how they’re to serve one another. First, they’re to do this by using whatever spiritual gift that God has given them. Second, they’re to do this “as good stewards of God’s varied grace”. A steward is someone who’s employed by someone else, in order to care for that person’s property. In this case, the One who’s entrusted His property to them is God, and that property is whatever gift He’s given them. Peter further describes these gifts as “varied grace”, or literally “many-sided favor”. The aliens are to be good stewards of this favor, which comes in the form of their gift.
In verse 11, Peter distinguishes between two different kinds of gifts. First, he describes how speakers are to steward their gift of speaking to their brothers and sisters in Christ. They’re to do this “as one who speaks oracles of God”. The Greek word translated “oracles” literally means “utterances” or “sayings”. Thus, the speakers are to serve their brethren by speaking God’s Word, and not their own. The second type of gift is the gift of “serving”, which is used by “whoever serves”. The Greek word translated “serve” was used to literally speak of those who waited on tables, so these people could be called “servers”. The way in which Peter says they need to steward their gift is by serving “by the strength that God supplies”. Obviously, this strength refers to physical strength, since this is a separate gift from speaking, which requires little physical strength. By telling the servers that they need by the strength that comes from God, Peter’s teaching that they need to rely on God for their strength, just as the speakers need to rely on God for their messages.
Peter then gives the aliens the reason why speakers ought to speak God’s Word, and servers need to serve by God’s strength. It’s “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ”. If the aliens use what God provides them with in order to serve one another then He’ll be glorified, rather than them. The Greek word translated “glorified” literally means “made apparent” or “made noticeable”. Hence, when God is glorified, He’s put on display to His creation. But it’s God won’t just be glorified simply because the aliens serve with reliance on God. He’ll be glorified “through Jesus Christ”. The reason for this is that it’s only because Jesus works as the Mediator between the aliens and God the Father that they can trust in God, receive His Word, receive His strength, and serve one another.
Peter concludes this passage by giving the reason that God ought to be glorified through the aliens’ serving. It’s because “glory and dominion” belong to Jesus Christ. Although glory and dominion belong to God as well, I say that these things belong to Jesus in this verse because the Greek literally says “to whom belong glory and dominion”, making the last Person mentioned Jesus. Again, glory refers to the display of Jesus’s character. Dominion, on the other hand, refers to His control over the entire universe. Peter says that these two things belong to Him “forever”, or without end. He then ends this sentence, called a “doxology”, with “amen”, meaning “so be it”.
Be Sober-Minded, Loving, Welcoming, and Serving
So, if you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, how does this passage apply to you?
First, are you making decisions with the knowledge that the end of all things is near?
Second, are you self-controlled and sober-minded so you can talk to God in a way that pleases Him?
Third, are you loving your brothers and sisters in Christ as much as you can? If you are, then you’re forgiving them for sinning against you.
Fourth, are you showing hospitality to your brothers and sisters as needed without complaining about them?
Fifth, are you using the gift that God’s given you to serve your brothers and sisters? If you’re a gifted speaker, are you speaking God’s Word? If you’re a gifted server, are you relying on God to give you the strength to serve?
Finally, are you living so that God will be glorified through Jesus Christ being glorified?
If you don’t try to control yourself for good, you don’t see reality as it really is, or you don’t love other Christians, that means that you aren’t living in light of eternity, since you’ve never received the hope of eternal life. That’s because you’re still rebelling against God, and are heading for eternal punishment. The good news is that God sent His eternal and divine Son to earth to become the man, Jesus of Nazareth, to live the perfect life, and to suffer and die on a Roman cross to take God’s punishment for our rebellion. Then, God raised Him from the dead, and took Him into heaven as the Ruler of the universe. He now commands everyone to change their minds, and trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior from sin and hell to receive His mercy, forgiveness, and peace, since He’s going to judge everyone perfectly through Jesus, and punish all His enemies with eternal torment. Please make sure you’ve repented of your rebellion against Him, and are trusting only in Jesus as your Savior from God’s wrath, and your Lord. If you’ve done that, then Jesus demands all of His believers to be baptized in water by another believer as an appeal to God for a good conscience, and a profession of faith.
Most Scripture quotations are taken from the:
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.