|LIVING FOCUSED FORWARD
1 PETER 4:1-11
Series: Living For Heaven In A Hell Bound World - Part Seven
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
October 21, 2012
Please join me at 1 Peter 4:1: Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does. 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.
Let’s unpack these verses. This morning we’re looking at Living Focused Forward.
The key that unlocks what Peter is writing here is in verse 7. In verse 7 Peter writes: “The end of all things is at hand.”
“The end” has the idea of what comes at the end of a series of events. For thousands of years history - as a series of events - history has been moving to a conclusion - to an end.
“All things” means... all things. Not just some things - or a few things. But all things. All things are moving to their end. To the point where those things no longer exist - period - finished - been there done that - done.
There are a few exclusions. For example - the Church goes into eternity. The Word of God is forever.
What Peter is focused on here are the things of this world that come to an end.
Politics. Who wins the next election. The future direction of America. Being a Democrat or a Republican. That all has an end.
War - revolution - civil unrest. Iran having nukes. The Taliban. The Arab Spring. The Occupy Movement. What’s going on in Syria. All that has an end.
Natural Disasters. Earthquakes, Tsunamis, floods, drought, hurricanes, global warming, the next ice age. Fairy shrimp and vernal pools. All that has an end.
Suffering, sickness, sorrow, depression, all those things we get anxious about - whether the Giants will win today. All have an end.
Persecution - what’s about to happen to the believers Peter is writing to - the kind of persecution and suffering that our siblings in Jesus experience today - what probably will happen here in America. All that has an end.
Wealth - all those needs and wants. The world’s economic and social system. The Dow is up - the Dow is down. The price of oil. Gas at $4.50 a gallon. All those things that people climb over other people to achieve. Those things that we are so easily impressed with - that we cling to for security. All that has an end.
On Tuesday - the week before Jesus was crucified - Jesus and the disciples are coming out of the Temple. The disciples are talking about how impressive the Temple complex is. Which it was. An amazing complex of buildings and an hub of activity. The center of the nation’s spiritual life. It was impressive.
One of the disciples says to Jesus, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and wonderful buildings.” And Jesus says to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Which happened. There was an end. (Matthew 21; Mark 13; Luke 21:5-36)
Then Jesus goes off on this teaching about the end times - epochs of history and war and suffering and tribulation all moving to an end that will come. Then Jesus goes off teaching about His return and being ready for His return.
Its a lesson in perspective - in living focused forward. Our giving undue importance to what has only temporal value - giving value to what one day will have no value - who’s value has an end. And instead giving importance - focusing our lives on what has real - lasting - eternal value.
Are we processing together? That all these things have an end - that truth should change our perspective of all these things - the importance - the value - we place on all these things that are moving towards an end that will come.
Peter writes, “The end of all things is at hand.”
How close is your hand? Its right there. “At hand” in the original Greek has the idea of being near - close enough to touch. “All these things are ready, now, for the end.”
The Bible speaks of the immediacy of Jesus’ return. Jesus could come at any moment. We could picture Jesus in heaven - at the right hand of the Father - waiting for one word from His throne: “Go!” And He goes. He comes.
Theologians call this the Doctrine of Immanence - meaning that Jesus could return now - its immediate. “When?” “Now!”
Which is something we understand. We look at events in the Middle East - we look at natural disasters - we experience our society coming apart at the seams - moral degradation - and a world that’s becoming more anti-Christian - more anti-God - and so on. As Christians - as those who believe that Jesus is returning - we look at the intensity of what’s going on and ask, “Is Jesus coming back soon? Is this it? Is this the end?”
Peter’s point in writing about the end being “at hand” - nearness - writing to believers facing persecution and suffering - Peter’s emphasis is that whatever they’re facing - whatever the issues surrounding them - and us - it has a certain coming end - Jesus is coming - that end could be “now.”
Let’s be careful. The return of Jesus is immanent because it hasn’t happened yet. We’re together? The return of Jesus is immanent because it hasn’t happened yet. But that isn’t the point.
If we were to read through the New Testament we’d see that the writers - and Jesus Himself - they all looked at Jesus’ return as something that will happen - that will happen suddenly catching people by surprise - and that we need to be living ready for the end which is coming.
For every generation there’s an intensity - a repetition of sin - characteristics of life in a world in rebellion against God - a world bound for Hell - events and actions - that remind us that Satan is at work against God and His people - that remind us that Jesus will return and that we need to be living in readiness for the end which is coming.
Question - knowing that the end of all things is at hand: What could you be focused on? How could you be living?
When people find out they don’t have long to live it tends to rearrange how they live. Suddenly relationships with family take on a whole deeper meaning. Schedules change. Priorities shift.
If you could know that an earthquake was
going to level your house and you had five minutes
warning what would you do? Would you
start landscaping the back yard? Finally
start that kitchen remodeling project? Pull out a
croquet set and start knocking a little wooden ball
“The end of all things is at hand” calls us to urgency and simplicity. Urgency knowing that time is short. Simplicity in that we need to focus on the essentials - what’s really important. In the time God gives us here - now - living focused forward - we need to be living focused on what has real value.
Are we together? Okay, Hanging on to that truth - let’s go back and pick up what Peter writes starting in verse 1 - how do we live focused forward? Verses 1 to 6 are focus on Our Testimony. Let’s repeat that together. “Our testimony.”
Verse 1: Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh
That “therefore” reaches back to everything that Peter has written so far about Jesus. What we’ve looked at on previous Sundays.
Jesus’ suffering and death to pay for our sins and His resurrection to give us new life. The reality that those who have responded to the Gospel - to God’s grace - who’ve responded in faith - we’ve died to our old lives of sin - all that’s been put to death - and we’ve begun anew - God has given us new life in Jesus.
Therefore because of everything that God has graciously done for us in Christ - therefore because God has given us new life in Jesus - therefore - Peter urges us - verse 1 - arm yourselves
“Arm yourselves” is a military term. A soldier picking up weapons in preparation for battle. Which is a theme we see over and over again the New Testament. We’re in a spiritual battle. Are we together on that?
God hasn’t sent us into the world on some kind of vacation cruise - touring around in a comfort zone of what the world has to offer - stuffing ourselves at the world’s buffet. To somehow kick back and relax - to enjoy the scenery - spending our time and talent and treasure on ourselves - while we’re waiting for Jesus to come and take us to heaven.
God has sent us into the world as soldiers on a tour of duty on a battlefield. We’re engaged in a fierce conflict on foreign soil. The consequences are eternal. The enemy will stop at nothing to take us out of the battle - to distract us or destroy us.
Way too many Christians need to wake up to that reality. We need to take up the armor of God that Paul writes about in Ephesians 6. We need to steel ourselves against the attacks of our adversary. We need to arm ourselves - to fight - to occupy the ground that God has won for us in Christ..
Peter - in verses 1 to 3 - gives four realities of our life in Christ - the ground we occupy. Arm yourself with these - the reality of where you stand in Christ.
First - verse 1: whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin - In Christ we no longer serve sin as our master.
Second - verse 2: so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions - meaning that in the time we have left we don’t need to be living controlled by human passion - desiring the “just this side of Hell” crud of this world.
Third - but for the will of God - meaning instead we can live according to the will of God.
Fourth - For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry - meaning “enough already.” The time for sin is over. In Christ, the door has been slammed shut on godless living. Amen!
Verse 4: With respect to this - with respect to the way you’re living in Christ - they - those living without Christ - are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you;
The word for “malign” in Greek is “blasphemeo” - the word we get “blasphemy” from - to speak slanderously against God - against God’s things. In the context here - against God’s people. “What do you mean you don’t do that? Who do you think you are?”
We looked at this two Sunday’s ago. There’s a name for people who live trusting Jesus as their Savior - who live surrendered to God. They’re called targets. We’ve got bulls eyes drawn on us.
Verse 5 - Peter explains why - but they - those apart from Christ living in the crud of this world - they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
Live for God - and our very presence is going to get a reaction. Most probably not favorable. Why? Because our presence is a reminder that there is a righteous standard that one day - when all this comes to an end - one day we’re all going to give an account for how we’ve lived our lives.
Chuck Swindoll says, “That kind of reminder will make any fast-living pagan despise believers as “speed bumps” of life.” (1)
Verse 6: For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.
Stay with me. When we live engaged in the battle - armed against the attacks of our enemy - living in the reality of life in Christ - occupying the ground Jesus won for us on the cross - what Peter describes in verses 1 to 3 - the world must take notice.
They may not appreciate us and how we’re living. But when we live - armed and occupying - living for God - others are confronted with their need for Jesus. Some who are now spiritually dead - may in fact - come to life in Christ because of His testimony through us. There is urgency and a huge essential value in our living that way.
Do you see what Peter is getting at here? In the time God gives us until Jesus returns - in the battlefield of this world - it is urgent and essential that we maintain our testimony of life in Christ that others may come to Christ.
Bill Bright - founder of Campus Crusade - Cru - now living in heaven - in 2003 Bill Bright wrote the forward to his son’s book - “God is the issue” - Bill Bright wrote this: “Without question, the greatest difference between the America of 1776 and the America of 2003 - or we could say 2012 - the greatest difference - is the banishment of the God of the Bible - the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ - from the public square. To that fundamental flaw in the fabric of our modern culture can be traced the weakening of every moral seem since. Only by restoring God to His rightful place as the central issue in all of human life - political, spiritual, moral, economic, philosophical - will there be sufficient motivation and reason to correct what ails America.” (2)
Grab that: Abortion isn’t the issue. God is. Abortion, homosexuality, active euthanasia, pornography, declining morality, a miserable economy, a government run amok - are all important issues. But issues with an end point. Those are all important. But they’re symptoms. The deeper issue is God.
The world - our Adversary Satan - would love to have us engage - to do battle focused solely on the symptoms. But as Christians engaged in a battle - with the clock running - we need to engage the battle where its essential. God is the issue.
How do we bring God back to the center? Answer: Live the life God has called us to live in Christ. Maintain our testimony.
When we Christians stop having abortions and tolerating homosexuality - especially in the church - and supporting the killing of the elderly. When Christians stop viewing pornography - even soft porn on TV or in movies. When we stop compromising with the immorality of the world.
When we finally stop allowing the world to set our agenda - running us ragged with all the things we have to do - to the exclusion of honoring God with our time. When Christians stop allowing the world to set our financial priorities with things we just can’t live without so that we go without honoring God with our finances. When we stop allowing the world to take the best of what we have to offer so that we have only token service - energy - what’s left over for serving God.
When we actually live the life that God has called us in Christ to live - regardless of the temptation to compromise with the world - regardless of the response we get from the world - we will stick out in a way that is noticeable and totally offensive - then the world will notice - and God - and what it means to live surrendered to Him - God will be the central focus of our testimony in the world - even that some of those who are dead may live.
Let’s go on. Verses 7 to 11 focus on Our Service. Let’s repeat that together. “Our Service.”
Four essentials that we need to be urgently focused on.
First essential: Prayer. Clear minded - self-controlled - habitual prayer.
Watching the nightly news can positively unhinge someone. Thinking about potential outcomes to the coming election can make one contemplate moving to another country - or at least a commune in Montana.
Prayer - spending time with God - beyond having a quick list of our ideas or request - but spending time with God in prayer - in silence - in praise - in lament - just talking over what’s tearing apart our heart - God uses that prayerful time with Him to quiet our hearts - to clear our minds and refocus us on Him and what’s really important in life. Have you experienced that?
If we’re panicking we’re not praying.
God uses prayer to calm us and center us on Him - on what is a whole lot larger and more lasting than our perspective of things. To get our focus off of ourselves and on to Him - that life is about God and not us - about what He is doing in the world. Life is about what God is doing - or what He desires to do - in us and through us in the world.
Second essential: Fervent love for others. Verse 8: keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
Jesus said that at the end “The love of many will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:12). Paul wrote Timothy that in the last days people would become “lovers of themselves.” (2 Timothy 3:2). That’s true. Isn’t it? People’s love for each other has been replaced by the love of self.
Peter calls the church to a different marching order. Keep loving one another - earnestly - fervently. The word has the idea of an athlete straining to reach the finish line - total dedicated commitment of everything we are - to loving each other.
The rationale is interesting. “Love covers a multitude of sins.” Sin is like a cancer. It grows - unnoticed at first - but becomes more persuasive - more pervasive - as time goes on. Unless something breaks the cycle. Love breaks the power of sin.
God loves. Jesus comes. Jesus dies. Trust God and we learn to live life focused on more than ourselves.
When we bear each others burdens - when
we lift up those who are weighed down - when we weep
with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice
- we counter the wounds of the world. Revenge,
self-indulgence, denial, blame - they all give sin
overpowers - overcomes - sin.
In the first century world there were no family friendly motels - swimming pools - continental breakfast. Right? Inns were more like brothels. Dangerous places to be. Those Christians who traveled depended on the hospitality of other believers to put them up. That’s a reality behind what Peter writes here.
When we invite people into our home we make whatever arrangements are appropriate. Usually that means cleaning the house up a bit. Or preparing a meal. Sometimes that means preparing a bed - setting out towels. What has been a huge blessing is for us to be able to do that with believers from out of town - missionaries - pastors - siblings in Christ.
The word - in Greek - the word that Peter uses for “show hospitality” goes way beyond all that. It means to love strangers. To show hospitality to aliens - foreigners. For the Jew that would mean hospitality to Gentiles. Responding to those in need who have no housing - no home - who are emotionally ravaged - desperate - needing shelter. Showing hospitality to those who cannot give anything back.
Hospitality costs - maybe money - maybe time. It can be inconvenient and often times frustrating.
Let’s be careful - there is a degree of discernment here. Peter is not calling us to enable people to leach off of us while they sit back and fulfill their lazy, parasitic cravings. But most of us would have a long way to go to get into the “being leached off of” category.
“To grumble” has the idea of muttering under our breath. The source of grumbling is our heart.
Sacrificial hospitality - as Peter defines it - sacrificial hospitality comes from our heart surrendered to God - knowing that all we’re being hospitable with is ultimately His anyway - trusting God and loving others with what God has blessed us with - runs hugely counter to the selfish love of the world around us.
Fourth essential - verse 10: “Serve one another.”
When we come to Christ - and the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us - the Spirit gives to us spiritual gifts - each of us receives a gift - a God enabled - God directed - capacity to serve with the Body of Christ.
Verse 10 says that each one of us has received a gift and those are varied according to God’s grace. If we were to do a study on Spiritual Gifts - looking through the passages in Romans and 1 Corinthians and Ephesians - we’d find listed there at least 17 different gifts.
In verse 11 Peter gives two examples. First - speaking the very words of God - meaning that the message is God’s not ours. Second - serving with the strength God supplies - meaning that service is about God not us. Notice that the focus of all this on others - not us.
We are to steward those gifts. To use our God given spiritual gift as God directs us to use it. As Peter writes here - that use is directed towards others.
No Christian is a spectator. Each is a steward. Meaning don’t hold back. Time is short. The end is at hand. Don’t use what God gives you to serve yourself. Serve others.
Prayer centers us on God - on His purposes for the time that we have left. In that time we are to serve others - in the Church - outside the Church.
Verse 11 - in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.
When we serve others - because of what God has graciously done for us in Christ - God is glorified. The testimony of our lives is about Him not us. Which is where it must be if - in the time that remains - if our lives are to count for what is essential - that others may come to know Jesus as their Savior.
Peter’s bottom line: “To Him belong the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Reading the Book of Revelation - the description of what comes after the end - there’s a vision the Apostle John was given of heaven - of the new Jerusalem. A description that includes a foundation made out of jewels - gates made out of pearls - streets paved with the purist gold. (Revelation 21:10-21)
Somehow we process all that as valuable. Probably because we make a comparison - what’s here with what’s there - seems similar - and think “Oh that’s valuable.”
But - if the streets are paved with gold - how valuable is asphalt? Seems like a pretty empty thing to long for. Doesn’t it? Or, if we’re focused on crowns and rewards and how large a mansion we get - then that’s all about us. Imagine spending eternity focused on us.
The point of what’s revealed to John is in part symbolic and in part that the real value isn’t in the stuff that’s there. The real value of a city is its people. Its who dwells there. Dominion includes people. Glory is the testimony of those people. Those who’ve gone before us and those who will be there because God used us to lead them to Jesus.
John writes - in Revelation 21:22 - that God - Jesus - is the center of worship. His glory shines and fills the city. We will dwell there - face to face - with Jesus. The Lord God will be our light for ever and ever. The value of heaven is who’s there. God. “To Him belong the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
I can’t even begin to process the reality of all that. But I do know that it’s a whole lot more valuable than asphalt. A whole lot more valuable than the stuff of this world that’s coming to an end.
Hugely more of a motivation to maintain our testimony and to live serving others that they’ll be there with us to live in God’s dominion bringing glory to Him - dwelling in His glory forever and ever.
This world is bound for Hell. The end of all things is at hand. What could you be focused on? How could you be living?
1. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on James, 1 and 2 Peter - Zondervan, 2010
2. Forward to “God Is The Issue”, Brad Bright, Bright Media Foundation, 2003
General reference: Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on James, 1 and 2 Peter - Zondervan, 2010
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.