Sermon Text: 1 Peter 4:7–11
Preacher: Pastor Brian Sauvé
Love at the End of All Things
The Word of the Lord to us this morning is 1 Peter 4:7–11.
“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.
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 4:7–11
There’s a lot of ground to cover in our text this morning, so I’d like to get right to work in the text if that’s ok with you. If it’s not ok with you, that’s also what we’ll do. So here’s how we’ll handle the text—three basic parts. The first two we’ll handle fairly quickly, then the third at greater length:
1. We need to do some work on a tricky phrase in verse 7 that is apt to trip up the modern reader, who is likely to miss what Peter is saying due to our perspective from where we stand in history versus where his original audience stood.
2. We’ll find the master key to Peter’s instruction in the whole text, which work like bookends in verse 7 and verse 11.
3. We’ll take up and examine the meat of Peter’s instruction, which turns out to be four seemingly insignificant acts of love that aim at a very significant end.
So first, let’s get verse 7 figured out.
End of an Age, Not of the World
Verse 7 reads, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.”
One of the biggest mistakes that you can make in interpreting the Bible is to misunderstand a reference relative to time. To put it another way, if you misunderstand when the biblical author is saying something is going to happen, you’re likely to misunderstand—at least in part—the what they go on to describe.
This is one of those texts where our first instinct as modern readers with all of the assumptions that go with that perspective probably misleads us. We read that the end is at hand, and we think, “He must be talking about the end of the world.”
But Peter is most likely not referring to the end of the world, the Second Coming of Christ, but rather of Jesus’ impending judgment of the nation state of Israel, which would take place in just a few years from the writing of this letter, and which would change everything.
In his Commentary on the New Testament Epistles of Peter, Guy N. Woods writes,
“…the ‘end’ was not the judgment day and the consummation of the age. It should be remembered that these words of the apostle were written on the eve of the destruction of the Jewish State. Already terminated as a system of acceptable worship, its form and ceremonies had persisted through the efforts of unbelieving Jews who had desperately resisted the march of Christianity. Soon, the temple, the Levitical system, and the Jewish economy were to perish in the fearful destruction about to fall on Jerusalem” (A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles of Peter, p. 111-112).
Or John Brown, in Volume II of his Expository Discourses on 1 Peter,
“…‘the end of all things’ here is the entire end of the Jewish economy in the destruction of the city and temple of Jerusalem, and the dispersion of the holy people… It is quite plain that in our Lord's prediction the expressions ‘the end,’ and probably ‘the end of the world,’ are used in reference to the entire dissolution of the Jewish economy” (Expository Discourses on 1 Peter, vol. ii. pp.292-294).
The key reason is the phrase that Peter uses, “at hand.” This end is “at hand.” Over and over again, the NT authors use phrases like “near,” “within this generation,” “soon to take place,” “soon,” and others—all of which mean that something is impending, that it is just about to take place.
These words are very literal and very strong time references that become meaningless if we try to make them mean “thousands and thousands of years from now” rather than “soon.” As Gary DeMar puts it,
“If Peter had meant that the physical earth would be literally destroyed in the near future, he was simply wrong. Some people would take another view of this verse and say that the ‘at hand’ does not mean ‘in the near future.’ If that is the case, there is little meaning in Peter's words at all. Peter deliberately put a time indicator in his prophecy. Peter meant that all old things, all the things of the old covenant, would pass away in the destruction of Jerusalem” (The Reduction of Christianity, p. 160).
What Peter is saying in verse 7, grounding the rest of his argument and instruction to us, is essentially: “Everything is about to change. There is going to be upheaval and death—the end of one age and the beginning of another. In light of that, let me teach you how to live.”
So that’s the tricky phrase in verse 7. Now let’s see what master key he puts in our hands to aim his teaching on how to live.
The Master Key: God’s Glory
The way that Peters sets it up in this section, verse 7 and verse 11 function like bookends on the text, holding up the practical instruction in the middle.
In verse 7, as we’ve seen, Peter says, “This big, paradigm changing thing is about to happen, so live like this.” Then, in verse 11, he tells us what these specific things are supposed to be doing, what big target these little things are aiming at. That aim is the master key to the whole text, and it reads like this, verse 11,
Do all of this “…in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
That sentence-and-a-half is the absolute master key to the text All of our brother Peter’s practical instruction in this short section and in the whole letter is given “…that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
Ok, now listen, friends: There is nothing that could be more cosmically significant, more massive, and of greater import than this goal. This is nothing short of the very end towards which God is diligently shepherding every atom of creation and every instance of time and everything in heaven and everything on earth towards—Magnifying the glory and the worth and the beauty and the all-sufficiency of God’s glory.
In giving this aim to his instruction, Peter flings everything in our lives and in the life of this local church into orbit around the cosmically significant. In other words, there is nothing mundane about this goal. So that said, given the massive significance of the goal, here’s my question:
What actions would you expect Peter to call us to in the middle and meat of this text? If the goal is the most important, most essential goal of all time and space and reality, then what things ought we to be doing towards that end?
It’s as if Peter asks the question: How can all things in your life and in the life of a local church work together to achieve the highest end of all things, the end to which God is bending every atom and action and cause and effect together to achieve—the magnification of the glory and dominion of God through Jesus Christ?
What kind of answer might you expect to such a vast, lofty question? How would you finish the sentence: “The highest goal of all things everywhere is the glory of God through Jesus Christ, so we ought to be _______?”
Wouldn’t you expect there to be something big on the other side of that? Something spectacular? Some act of obedience to God that could be seen from space? “So sell all you have and give it to the poor! So go to the third world and preach the gospel! So go plant a church! So go and be a martyr!”
All of those things are wonderful things. God has moved men to those kinds of radical, spectacular acts of obedience across the history of the Church. But that’s not how Peter ends the sentence here. “The highest goal of all things everywhere is the glory of God through Jesus Christ, so we ought to _______.”
…be self-controlled and sober-minded.
…love one another earnestly.
…show hospitality without grumbling.
…use what God has given us to humbly serve one another.
Listen, friends: We are so prone to believe that what God is after in us is huge acts of obviously glorious obedience. What God actually intends for 99.9% of the Christian life to look like is small, humble, joyful acts of obedience to our duties over the long haul.
As one pastor said, we want big, fast, and famous. But what God is after is usually small, insignificant acts of love over decades and centuries and millennia.
This morning, Peter teaches us to aim for the most massive end by means of the smallest obedience. So let’s get into the third part of the text as we’re handling it this morning, the meat of Peter’s instruction to us between those two bookends.
The Weight of Small Duties
There are four specific duties that our brother Peter calls us to in light of his cosmically significant goal of magnifying the glory of God in our midst. Number 1:
1. Be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.
Peter urges them to be sober and sober-minded. The word translated “self-control” is literally the word “sober” in Greek. The sense is that Peter is calling for a dead-earnest attitude of body and mind that is basically as far as you can get from the stupor of drunkenness or the unthinking flippancy of the delusional.
This specific instruction is no less important to us for this, but this is yet another reason why the end that Peter is pointing to is likely the end of the Jewish age through God’s judgment rather than the Second Coming.
I say that because in Luke 21, Jesus links this same kind of sobriety for the sake of prayerfulness to the coming judgment on Jerusalem. He tells the disciples to “…stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
The warning is appropriate to us as well. How would not being sober affect our prayers and the efficacy of our prayers? Think about it: How could we know with earnest seriousness what we ought to be praying for if we walk around in a stupor? As pastor Edmund Clowney says, “Sobriety and a clear mind… equip us for prayer.”
We need dead-earnest sobriety in the world we live in today in order to discern those things we ought to be praying for. James rebukes us in chapter 4 of his book that we have not because we ask not—that God has sovereignly chosen to use our prayers as a means of grace in the world.
So how are we doing? Are we soberly, with eyes wide open, doing all we can to see how we ought to be praying? For our families? For our church? For our city? For our neighbors? Do you believe that God is ready and willing to give in accordance with our sober and earnest asking? Are we, as Paul urges us, “watchful in prayer with thanksgiving?” All of this requires an earnest sobriety.
And our great and perfect hope is that Christ saved us through dead-earnest, sober, prayerful willingness to go to the cross. We find him on the eve of his crucifixion, in a garden, praying through bloody sweat that even if the bitter cup of the cross couldn’t pass from him, that he would be preserved through it.
So we find him praying for our brother Peter, that though Satan will sift him and Peter deny his Lord—his Lord was praying for his preservation. And so we find Jesus right now in heaven, soberly interceding for us—our great and perfect Heavenly High Priest and Mediator.
2. Love one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
This is verse 8, Peter says, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”
Keep loving one another earnestly. There is no more difficult command than this, because it rests below even what we do, below our actions, to the level of why we do what we do.
To love someone moves us to act for their good. We can fake love by imitating it’s effects, but authentic love includes not just actions, but heart-level motivation to wish the good of another.
This is why our salvation, why the gospel couldn’t merely rearrange human behavior and call it good—no, you can’t fulfill the law without love, since loving God and neighbor is the sum of the law. And what that means is that if human beings are to be actually transformed, it must start by taking out a self-loving, self-protecting, law-disobedient heart and replacing it with a soft, humble, self-giving, others-regarding heart of love.
Love one another earnestly. As we consider what we have been forgiven by Christ—the very record of our debt nailed to the cross!—and then look at our annoying, weak, sinful brothers and sisters, we can love them as Christ loves us. When they sin against us, we can look to the cross and say, “And there is what the Lord did for me when I sinned against him,” and love our brother or sister.
Can I be honest? This is so hard. And I’m not talking theory, here. I mean, this is so hard in my own life right this second. There are people who I am right now struggling to forgive and not to be bitter with, even brothers and sisters in Christ, for whom it is right now a colossal struggle to love—even just in my own private thoughts and heart where nobody but God sees!
Can you identify? I know you can—we are weak; we are all made of the same weak frame. Our brother Peter loves us enough to warn us and exhort us here to fight the pernicious pride that would deign to freely receive God’s ill-merited love in Christ and then turn and hate our brother. May that sin never go unfought and unrepented of!
Peter shows us as well that love can’t coexist with a delightful exuberance to find fault and sin in one another. Yes, love includes speaking the truth, which entails helpfully correcting and exhorting one another to forsake sin—but don’t we all know the difference between that and fault-finding?
Maybe it’s easier to see it on the receiving end. We have all experienced the excruciating pain of living in close relationship with someone who insists on finding fault with everything we do. Maybe you had a mom or a dad for whom nothing was good enough. Maybe you had a friend who is like this. It is excruciating and debilitating, right? And Peter here warns us that it is inconsistent with gospel-shaped love.
Human beings post-Eden are fallen, meaning that even in God’s incomplete, not-yet-glorified saints, you can find something to pick at if you look hard enough in anyone. But listen: That is not the same thing as being helpful!
This is part of what it means for fathers not to exasperate their children. It’s part of how husbands love their wives as Christ loved the Church. It’s part of how we love our neighbor as ourself.
Patient, cross-regarding, quick-forgiving, earnest love covers a multitude of sins in the local church.
3. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.
Typically, hospitality is strangers-focused in the Bible, meaning it’s most often spoken of and called for in the context of inviting non-Christians in, being generous with outsiders.
But here, this is a hospitality born in and active in the midst of the local church. He says to “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” I love how honest and earthy the Bible is with us, right?
Peter says, “Be hospitable! And since I know that inviting people into your home and feeding them your food and putting up with their kids running around and cleaning up is going to be really annoying—stop your grumbling while you’re at it.”
It’s like the Lord knows me! Pinterest would have us believe that hospitality is all twinkle lights and Instagrammable feasts. And yes, those things can be great! But Christian hospitality is often more blue collar than that. It’s less about impressing each other with our things than about loving each other with our things.
Peter knows this will be hard work; that’s why he issues the warning against grumbling. Why would we expect any true expression of love not to be hard work, though? If the greatest act of love was the suffering of Christ on the cross for the undeserving—if that’s the act that actually defines love for us most plainly—then why should we expect to be able to love without giving?
Our tables preach the gospel of free grace when it is surrounded by brothers and sisters freely eating from our pantries.
Our living rooms preach the gospel of free grace when we stay up past our bedtimes with a smile and not a grumble to love and serve our brothers and sisters.
Our homes preach the gospel of free grace when we treat them as if they were not our own, but belong to God.
Finally, number four, Peter calls us to glorify God as we…
4. Use what God has given to you to serve one another.
“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…”
I love that phase “varied grace.” Remember the little rhetorical question from Paul, where he asks, “What do we have that we did not receive?” His point there is that the obvious answer is nothing, meaning that every good thing we have is from God.
Here we see that these gifts, undeserved graces from the Father of lights to his saints, are varied. God doesn’t paint in the local church in monochrome, but in full color, every hue, multi-textural.
So right here in this room, God has distributed gifts with a free hand. He has done so in order that we might do with them what Peter has told us to do “above all,” that is, to love one another earnestly. His gifts are to be the resources with which to express our love.
There is, in other words, stores of potential love in this room like there are trillions of barrels of oil under the deserts of the Middle East. God has given with a free hand—and he has done so that we might in return have a free hand with each other.
He gives two applications by way of example, two things God may have called you and gifted you to.
First, he applies it to “…the one who speaks, the oracles of God.” Now I know I’ve been saying that this text is all about small, seemingly insignificant acts of joyful obedience over decades, not huge, famous, fast-acting works of glory. But this one sounds lofty, doesn’t it? For those who speak, as one who speaks the oracles of God!
While obedience to this text has included huge, famous moments like Peter’s sermons in Acts, Ridley and Latimer’s famous last words before being martyred, and Spurgeon’s sermons in the Metropolitan Tabernacle—the vast majority of obedience to this text absolutely has been forgotten, small, seemingly insignificant acts of obedience to love.
This has looked like mediocre preachers like me preaching small-time, soon-forgotten sermons to small time churches nobody will know about in 100 years.
This has looked like ten-thousand mothers speaking the Word of God into the hearts and lives of ten-thousand little children at ten-thousand breakfast tables on ten-thousand Thursday mornings.
This has looked like a million text messages of encouragement in the form of a timely word of Scripture to a friend, coworker, or family member.
This has looked like the priesthood of all believers in action, each exhorting one another to obey and love the word in ten-thousand small ways, from a wife to another wife, a mom to another mom, a man to his sons, friend to friend, father to father, church member to church member.
Second, he applies it to “Whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies.” Meaning some of you have this great, wonderful, overlooked and often-unheralded gift for serving.
This is the Blake and Linda Murrays cleaning up after every Sunday meeting for the last 10 years. It’s the Tony and Michelle Arencibias organizing cleaning and maintenance for our antique building. It’s Joy Sanders, smiling back in the kid’s ministry she’s kept running for years. It’s Dan keeping this ship afloat in 50 ways backstage that you’ll never know about.
It’s Gregg Freeman running slides, Ben Smith at the soundboard, Joe and Jen Farley at their house church, Clint Hartman landscaping—and about 50 other folks I’m forgetting at the moment who have indeed “…served by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
Do you see it, friends? The glory of God, the love of God growing like bunches of grapes in the local church isn’t big, fast, famous, and sexy. It’s not often front-page news.
But do you know what it is? It is the Kingdom of God leavening the lump. It is the glory of God covering the earth as the waters cover the sea. It is the miraculous magnification of God’s grace in his distributed and poured out varied graces in his people.
In All, Patience
That’s what this text moves me to to drive home one last time before we shut the book for this morning: The reality that these graces growing in our church will rarely feel spectacular in any immediately sense.
These don’t have the emotional explosiveness of the big thing, the big event, the charismatically preached sermon, the church planted, the missionary sent, or anything like that.
These are small things that grow slow, but which silently, slowly, and in often unforeseen ways powerfully transform everything in their proximity. Patient love, generous hospitality, self-control, humble service—these unsexy, seemingly insignificant fruits of God’s Spirit through the grace of Christ’s cross are of cosmic significance.
So my exhortation to us is to patient, longsuffering, and joyful obedience to the slow, small, and insignificant fruits of the Spirit for the sake of God’s glory and our joy. Amen?
As Paul teaches us to pray in his letter to the Colossians, so now we pray, “Father, may you strengthen us with all power according to your glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy. We confess that our greatest need today and always is a heart to trust you and love you, grace to cover our sins, and your longsuffering work in us to bring us to glory. So we ask for these things shamelessly and as your sons. Amen.”