April is L-Plate month, where I’ve turned over this website to my students. They are studying an introductory preaching subject this semester, and writing for this website is part of their assessment, as well as a learning exercise for them. I’m hoping you’ll interact with them a bit via the comments function at the bottom of each post, offering some feedback. (Particularly, feedback that’s constructive or affirming – they’ve got me to deliver the negative stuff! Remember, some of them will never have preached before, and some have English as their second language.) They will then incorporate this feedback in a sermon they present in class at the end of semester.
We continue today in 1 Peter.
1 Peter 4:7-11 | Feng Fei
7-11 The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
For Peter, it is vital for this new faith group to know who holds tomorrow, what can envision at the end time when their resurrected Lord come back to deal with this world. Hence, he urges fellow Christ’s followers to live their lives in accordance with this anticipation. In this paragraph, Peter stresses on the importance of church members to live wisely in unity and disciplines, and to build each other up with God-given gifts, in order that God among them will be exalted and glorified.
But, first, we need to make clear of this end time is not a doomsday sentiment with aimless speculations about the unknown future, Rather, Peter’s instruction is clear and more emphasized on that all believers shall have this living hope in the resurrected and exalted Jesus, who will return one day to set all things right. In this sense, he supposed his readers to long for this time.
Before it seems to be imminently going to happen at an eschatological time in Peter’s time, what does he instruct his readers to behave appropriately to face this reality? He gives four exhortations. The first instruction he lists to his flock is not to be indulgent in excessive way of lifestyle like the rest of the world. Instead, Christian shall safeguard their spiritual well-being with a sober and clear mind to devotional life. To him be clear-minded to set Christin worldview apart from the way of world is the essential condition for prayer. But what does prayer mean here and its purpose serve for? One thing is sure that this task of prayer refers to church’s partnership with God in consummating the creation, which includes thanksgiving, praise, adoration and intercession, this type of prayer life in early church is very common, which is not even for the reason to protect church in confronting the hostile situation. For the church today, we are even closer to the end time than that of Peter’ generation, but conversely, we might find harder to focus on prayer when the wicked reality seem not much different from the ancient world. But just as what Jesus taught his disciples, we should better not to lose heart, for the final judgment of God is yet to come, regardless sooner or later.
The following three appeals are on the relationship of Christian. The first one is to exhort his readers to love one another deeply, given the circumstance of hostility and trial during this critical time period, Peter senses the importance to call for closeness within the faith community, not only for survival, but also for the effective witness. The enigmatic phrase here “love covers sins” is quite confusing, however, it does not say that church can tolerate sins, conversely, it is best understood that sins shall be put off before reaching to its full spin. So it logically makes sense with this general call for love. Today, sins in different form are still common in church sense from time to time, church deal with it under this principle, otherwise, the doubts and opposite voices surrounding church now will justify any acts of critique or in some cases extreme moves against Christianity.
The third instruction is practical expression of love, to extend hospitality to anyone who is in need. Hospitality holds one of the important position in early church, apart from the fact of the need to provide places to stay to those regular preachers or messengers, it is quite common for member of early church to generously open their own place for meetings or even embrace unfamiliar believers into one’s home who lack of shelters and food. Moreover, it becomes an admirable quality in evaluating Christian leaders or workers. This openness and warm-heartedness to communal life is very distinctive part of early church, it is a spontaneous outcome for their trust in the resurrected Jesus through the downfall of the Holy Spirit. This special quality somehow preserved to be part of church values. What does it mean to us? Why not alter the expression of love to other ways which shall be many more? I believe, that is the result of trusting the resurrected Lord Jesus, of mending the brokenness of human relationship due to sin, since sin creates doubt, doubt produces distrust, thus sin destroy our human relationship. The saving power of good news in some way open the opportunity to reconcile human kind to trust each other at its very basic manner. So, for church now, surely we are not necessarily to host preachers at home as service industry is well developed even in rural areas, but be hospitable in wider sense shall be encouraged in church where love God shall be in some way embodied to love others, in practical and visible way.
There is much to say about the final way to bind believers together which is to minister each other with God given gifts, here, unlike Paul who usually enlists gifts more specifically and charismatically, Peter simply divides them into two categories of gifts of grace. One, verbally, whoever are gifted as spokesmen for God’s oracles, another, practically, who are capable for serving others in action. Peter makes it very clear that it is more relied on God’s strength to fulfill Christian duties, in order that God himself might be glorified, it is the only pure motive to identify the gift in individualistic manner. It also implies that God’s grace is always sufficient for his call to different gift to different people. Ironically, this is the area which tends to divide church usually for the reason of different theological views. If we fully identify the differences in us and in other, we might become more organically cooperative to one another to give God the full glory.
Overall, this part of passage is logically linked together. Since the end of time is near, believers shall be clear-minded to engage themselves in prayer life. So the power of God love and grace through prayer will overflow into the body of church community, which renders the good work and service of each gift, thus God is glorified.