Love Above All - 1 Peter 4:7-11

In 1 Peter 4:7-11, Peter gives the exiles their first priority: above all things, keep loving one another earnestly. As the foundation for that command, he opens up verse 7 by saying “The end of all things is at hand.” Since the end is at hand, the exiles should live their lives accordingly. But what is he talking about?

Many people think that he’s talking about the imminent return of Christ and destruction of the world, but if that’s the case, then it seems like he was pretty clearly wrong in a way that undermines his exhortation: if the end of all things was actually thousands of years away, did his hearers really need to change their lives?

And so instead of counting down seconds, we need to think of stages of history from God’s perspective, something like from creation to fall, from fall to flood, from flood to the cross, and from cross to judgment day. Which stage are we in? We’re in the last one. We’re not in a transitional stage, still waiting for a redeemer or a new covenant; we’re in the final stage. The next major development will be Judgment Day, so make sure you live with that in mind.

Live differently how? When most people hear “the end is near”, the response is some version of panic that leads them to focus on saving themselves and hoarding resources. Hole up, bunker down! Others think “Eat, drink, be merry for tomorrow we die.” They are running out of time to indulge their passions, so they party it up until the end. But both of those responses are dead giveaways that they are living in the flesh.

Since believers live in the spirit, Peter instructs you to do just the opposite: Instead of panicking, and instead of rushing to indulge all your passions before it’s too late, Peter says to stay sober-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. If people think that it is better or safer to stay home by themselves, or to skip praying and start partying, then the church falls apart, worship dies, and we fail to bring glory to God. Instead, the Christian response to living in the last days isn’t panic, or pursuing passions, it’s prayer.

Next, instead of “above all, save yourself!” Peter says, “Above all, love one another.” Our natural response is to love ourselves above all instead of loving one another above all. And so as we make selfish decisions that help us individually but hurt the body corporately, we splinter, we fragment, we divide, and we die. In the face of that reality, there is only one thing that can prepare the church for living in the last days, and that one thing is earnest, self-giving love.

So in light of the fact that the end of all things is at hand, how do we show that love? Peter gives us three ways: by dealing with sin, by showing gracious hospitality, and by serving one another with our God-given gifts.

The love that God calls for is forgiving and forbearing love, the kind of love that overcomes sin. Peter brings some much needed perspective to our issues: “Guys, it’s the end of all things: are your political debates or parenting styles or petty arguments going to keep you from loving each other?” And so instead of allowing sin to separate God’s people from one another, Peter exhorts you to show forgiveness and cover not just a few sins, but a multitude of sins in love.

The next thing we’re called to do is to show hospitality to one another without grumbling. Looking at the costs and risks of showing hospitality, it’s easy to grumble, but Peter rebukes that attitude: “Yes, hospitality is costly. But in light of Christ’s resurrection and return, it’s more important that the church meet together than that you avoid the messiness of hospitality. Where is your treasure, after all? Open your home without complaining.”

The last exhortation concerns how we use our spiritual gifts. Peter focuses on two broad categories: speaking gifts and serving gifts. Some saints cooks meals and move furniture. Some saints encourage and pray. There are many different gifts, but the important thing is that all gifts come from God: if you speak, realize that you are speaking God’s words, not your own ideas. If you serve, don’t pull a muscle trying to pat yourself on the back; God is the one who gave you the strength to help.

When the Church is sober-minded and self-controlled, she is able to faithfully continue in prayer. When her members love one another constantly, not even sin can disrupt our fellowship. When cheerful hospitality is shown, the church has a place to gather, a place where gifts can be used to serve one another in love. When the Church understands that she is God’s last-days community, this is how she lives, and this way of life brings glory to God through Jesus Christ. So above things, keep loving one another, because the end of all things is at hand.

Posted on Wednesday, October 19, 2016 by CJ Bowen