The end of all things is near
Peter has reached the end of a major section in the book. He began in 2:11 to describe what it looks like to be foreigners and strangers in this world. We are not part of this fallen world because we have been made alive again into a living hope. We are to put to death the misdeeds of the flesh and the sinful desires which wage war against our souls. But as those who are brought to God, his chosen people, we are to be set apart from this world.
In this section he reminds us of a few themes that he has already discussed and reflects on two realms of our life: living with the living God who judges and living in this passing age for the eternal king. The former motivates us because we revere God. The latter motivates us because this life is not forever.
- 1-6 – Living with the living God who judges
- 7-11 – Living in this passing age for the eternal king.
1-6 Living with the living God who judges
“Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body…” Peter is about to make a point flowing from the fact of Christ’s suffering. But the point is a continuation of Peter’s description of Christ’s ministry on earth when he spoke of Christ suffering once for sins (3:18), put to death and made alive again (3:18-19). That is, chapter 4 picks up on the theme of suffering that Peter had introduced in 3:8. It is a major theme in the whole book. As aliens and strangers in this world, we ought to expect conflict as we walk in this world among those who don’t know Christ. Christ is given as the ultimate example of the suffering one (3:18 on). Peter began with Christ’s suffering for our sin and launched into a narrative of His triumph over the worst of enemies you could possibly imagine (the wicked spirits of Noah’s day). In 4:1 he gets back to his primary point: Christ suffered and we ought to expect suffering of some kind.
“…arm yourselves also with the same attitude…” A major weapon in the Christian life is our transformed minds for gospel and kingdom thinking. How we view the world will affect the way we respond in it. Tantrums and anger and hate and depression arise often due to our personal kingdoms coming under attack – our idols are threatened. But set your minds on the things of Christ, with his attitude to the world, and we have been equipped to take this world on.
“…whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.” By using “in the body”, Peter keeps our attention on the fleeting nature of this world. Jesus said, “do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.” (Luke 12:2). Sin often flows from our fight to achieve comfort for ourselves. We’ll take, deceive, withhold information, delay helping and do all sorts of shifty, self-seeking, no-one-will-know kind of things in order to be comfortable. But those who will suffer in the body are done with sin.
“…as a result…live…for the will of God.” Aligning our attitude with Christ’s is to align our goals with God’s goals. Imagine what a difference we could all make if we would simply submit to the will of God in everything always! The nature of this world, as implied above, is to be short-sighted and seek comfort now or as soon as possible. But an eternal view of life seeks God as the greatest treasure and our pursuit in life will be to love Him.
“…what pagans choose to do…” Christians will get a cute reputation for being do-gooders but here is where you can see why. Christians will make the conscious decision to put a stop to what used to be their passions and desires. Peter gives a list, not of what the wicked and evil people in the world get up to, but a list of what everyone outside of Christ is bent toward. NB that plenty of nice, non-Christians, may not be characterised by all or some of the things listed in verse 3 BUT we all, without the Spirit of God, desire and yearn for lives that are like this. Many people live their lives through the characters on the TV who dabble in some or all of these.
“…living in debauchery…” Lives drawn to excessive use of sex, drugs and alcohol. This kind of outworking of sin is quite transparent. There are lovable partiers who are a laugh to be around but that is putting icing on a pretty bad cake. Many Christians will be able to look back at their past and know that this was not working out for them – as fun as it might have looked and sometimes felt.
“…lust…” In contrast, this is a sin which can be kept very secret. Jesus equated lust with adultery in Matthew 5:28.
“…drunkenness, orgies, carousing…” The whole list in verse 3 involves passions and cravings which will take hold of a person. They feed the desires of the body. Rather than having an attitude of Christ that says no to the flesh, these are evil human desires that our biological bodies respond well to.
“…and detestable idolatry.” All forms of idolatry are detestable since it substitutes the real and living God with something else. It may be a statue(s) but it may just as easily be a trophy room, a plot of land, or anything that we put ahead of our love for God. Perhaps, though, in the context of verse 3, the detestable idolatry also includes practices that often went alongside idol worship in temples such as sleeping with temple prostitutes or other false ways of worship.
“They are surprised that you do not join them…” Given a choice of doing something your body will enjoy and that everybody else has no problems with – or denying your body the enjoyment of a passing thrill in order to honour God – which would be easier? Those who have no desire to worship God and who do not know Jesus would surely have problems with why someone would say no to passions. Now, of course, there are plenty of other reasons to abstain from alcohol and drugs and imoral sex other than being Christian. A health-aware person will have motivation to say no to things too. But there motivation is not driven by their knowledge and love of Christ but of their knowledge and love of their own bodies.
“…and they heap abuse on you…” I don’t recall ever having abuse heaped on me for living a disciplined life in Christ but the current climate in society to outright reject anybody who questions the acceptance of same-sex relationships/marriage is manifest daily. Peter does force us to question any thoughts that being Christian is both right AND awesome/easy.
“But they will have to give account…” Here is the crux of Peter’s mindset here. Not only do we model ourselves off Christ who suffered in this life in his body – but we also fear the one who we must give an account to in the end.
“…ready to judge the living and the dead.” That’s an interesting phrase. Hebrews 9:27 tells us that all will face death and after that will face judgment. What we have in 1 Peter is the hint that judgment will fall on some people who have not yet died! This is the mindset of Christians who believe in the second coming (ie, all Christians) and that at any moment a reckoning of our lives can be called. We have no scope to live a wild life now and leave our repentance for our death bed. We may not get that chance! Live out your lives now in reverent fear (1 Peter 1:17).
“For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead…” OK – before we go thinking that this means the gospel has been preached to dead people (1 Peter 3:19) and therefore dead people get a second chance, take note of how the rest of verse 6 concludes. Peter is urging Christians to seek first the kingdom of God and not let the desires of the body get in the way of their salvation. Christian suffering is to be seen as a norm. Those who are “now dead” could refer to those who are dead in the spirit and they need to be made alive in Christ if they could hear the gospel and respond in faith. But the context of what Peter is teaching helps us conclude that they are those who heard the gospel and responded and consequently died. That is, the gospel was preached and received and people are even dead as a result of their conversion! They have been “judged according to human standards in regard to the body” and have had abuse heaped on them (4:4). But they “live according to God in regard to the spirit.” So, don’t be afraid of what people can do to the flesh – but fear the one who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
7-11 Living in this passing age for the eternal king.
“The end of all things is near. Therefore…” Peter’s next thoughts are in the context of the present age that we live. The Christian church has been living in the age of the end for 2000 years now. But for God, a thousand years is like a day (2 Peter 3:8). Generations have lived and died waiting for the day of Christ’s return when all the suffering of this world will be done away with and the new heaven and the new earth will begin (Rev 21-22). It may seem like Peter thinks it’ll happen before the kettle boils but Peter mocks humanity in his second epistle when mockers ask ‘where is God and the end?’ But just like the people in Noah’s day kept working right up until the rains began – unknowing what was about to happen – so too will the return of Christ happen. See 2 Peter 3:3-10.
“Therefore be alert and of sober mind…” Peter urges his readers to be of sober mind three times in this letter (1:13l 4:7 and 5:8). With a clear head, set your hope on the grace of God, pray and be alert against the snares of the devil.
“…so that you may pray.” Peter doesn’t expand on the instruction to pray in either of his letters. Perhaps the clue is in how he links it with being sober minded. Setting your hope on grace and being alert against the snares of Satan, prayer – conversing with God in all things – is the format to do those things. We are not sober minded, seeking God’s kingdom and fighting against the enemy without the connection with God. Prayer in the bible is always informed by the promises and truth about God and his will. It is an exercise in speaking with our God in an authentic relationship built on trust and obedience. Prayer is faith speaking. Peter has reminded us that the end is near and so there is no greater time than now to be speaking with our Creator and Redeemer. As John puts it in Revelation: Come Lord Jesus!
“…love covers over a multitude of sins.” Peter is able to say in 7 words what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13! The greatest thing (above all) is our love that we bring to any relationship. A son was helping his father prime an old car chasis with sump oil – a thick black paste – so that the old rusted metal could be used as a base to rebuild the classic vehicle. As the two worked together smearing this liquid over every inch of the metal, the father said to his son, “this reminds me of love.” The boy paused because he knew that his dad would explain what he meant. The father said, “love covers over a multitude of sins.” The boy had understood that all the defects and imperfections that were present in the base of the car were being covered over. People can get caught up with one another on conflicts and petty issues but love overlooks the imperfections and sees the potential and the beauty that makes the relationship worth it. Wrongs do need to be rectified wisely but Peter has taught us that in this day when we wait for the king to come, let’s overlook the multitude of sins and defects that we face each day and put on love. See 1 Corinthians 13; Ephesians 4:2.
“Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” I don’t think I need to expand on that except that Peter urges for a giving spirit and not a begrudging one.
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” A couple of things from this sentence: 1) Each of you refers to all who are reading the letter. Everyone is gifted in some form or another. Take the gifts that God has given you and put them to use. 2) The gifts you have are for serving others (1 Corinthians 12:7). Think about how you use your resources, talents and time for the benefit of others. 3) The letter is addressed to the people of God who are to serve the people of God with their gifts. This is a directive to the church. 4) The grace of God comes in all shapes and sizes. Of course there is the grace of righteousness through Jesus but there is also the grace (or gift) of one another. God has established the church and each of its members are a gift from God to serve one another.
“…as one who speaks the very words of God.” It’s more likely that this phrase refers to those who speak and teach in the name of Christ rather than just everyone who is able to put two words together about anything (although there is biblical wisdom to use our tongues always for the glory of God and never for anything meaningless (see James 3 which speaks of the dangerous tongue and warns teachers to be careful in their position). As a preacher, Growth Group leader, Youth Group leader, or anyone who seeks to teach others and disciple people in the church, they ought to think of their mouths as tools for the LORD – speaking his very words. This doesn’t mean that we can only quote scripture but that the content and message and meaning of our instructions must be God honoring and truthful – speaking God’s thoughts after him.
“If anyone serves…so that…God may be praised…” In all of our gifts it is tempting to boast and to work hard to receive praise for yourself. But God already loves us and is giving us an inheritance that will never spoil or fade and to work – even to serve – in this world so that we get praise and a pat on the back is showing insecurity in Christ. Not only that, but we can be encouraged to stretch ourselves in service to God and lean on him in prayer to see what can be accomplished above and beyond our own expectations. It is a polite thing to say ‘thank you’ to one another for what each of us do in the church but someone once told me they never thank others for serving in the church. They encourage and say ‘well done’ but to say ‘thank you’ was communicating that they didn’t need to do that and thank you for helping out. “Well done and praise God!” If we serve, then we serve at the pleasure of the King.
“To him be the glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.” This is what we call a doxology! It’s any part of the scriptures (or any writing) where the author breaks into praises to God. It happens a few times in the NT as the writers encourage Christians and in their writings they can’t help but send a word of praise and glory to Christ! See Romans 11:33-36 after spending several chapters of preaching deep theology of the grace of God! See Ephesians 3:20-21.
Life before salvation was motivated by indulging our earthly bodies. But God’s people will say no to putting the love of the body before the love of God. We reject the passing things of this world in place of an active service to the living God who is our judge and the giver of all good things. Christians value different things to pagans.
- Topic A – Done with sin. That’s easier said than done isn’t it? We will struggle with sin all of our days on this earth but we are informed here that we will say no to ungodliness. What are some pleasures of this world that you cling to and crave too much? What takes too much of your time away from pursuing the will of God?
- Topic B – The end is near. A present awareness of this will help to sober our minds for God’s service. How can we weave into our church community are constant reminder that we are in the last days?*
- Topic C – Using the gifts that God has graciously given. ‘Gifts’ in the church refers to anything that you are able to do in service and love for the gospel and Christ’s church. Setting our chairs, calling people who are absent, welcoming people, cleaning, tidying, leading, administration, IT work, playing music, chatting over a cuppa for encouragement and pastoral care, rostering, teaching, gardening, designing and anything you can imagine that serves the people of God for the sake of building the kingdom in love – all are gifts given by the grace of God. As a rule of thumb, it is helpful to step into serving in at least one area at church. Share with the group what your act of service is or tends to be (note, some ministries get rostered but some just happen through the love of the saints).
Prayer of the Week
Lord God, help us to put our hope on your return and to leave this world behind. But while we wait, may we serve one another in love, teach all the world that you are Lord, and learn to set aside our glory for yours. To you be all glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.
*A note on ‘the end of all things’ and ‘the last days’. Despite a common misunderstanding in the church, ‘the last days’ began at the time of Christ’s ascension into heaven. It is not a phrase to refer to the very final events that take place before Christ’s return (like markings of the beast and the arrival of an anti-Christ). No, we have been living in the last days since Peter stood up and told his Jewish friends that Christ is the promised Messiah (Acts 2).