Living in the Light of the End of All Things (2)
If the “end” is near, how ought we to live? Continue reading . . .
In the previous article I asked a question that was provoked by the apostle Peter in 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).
If the “end” is near, how ought we to live?
But before we answer that question we need to determine what Peter meant when he said in v. 7 that “the end of all things is at hand.” Many liberal skeptics have pointed to texts such as this as proof that Christianity is false and the Bible is in error. After all, the second coming of Christ didn’t occur in the first century when Peter and his readers lived.
Some believe that “the end of all things” is a reference to the events of 70 a.d. Thus the “end” in view is of Israel’s national existence that came in the wake of the destruction by the armies of Rome of both the city of Jerusalem and its Temple. That’s possible, but is that the best language to describe the destruction of Jerusalem and Temple? Granted, the events of 70 a.d. were of huge significance: it marked the end of the Jewish age and the judgment of God against an apostate nation that had rejected the Messiah. But does it make sense to describe the events of 70 a.d. as “the end of all things”? Furthermore, how could that event possibly be such a motivating factor to those living in northern Asia Minor? These are largely Gentile believers living in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bythinia (see 1 Peter 1:1-2).
The NT writers believed that with Christ’s death, resurrection, and exaltation to the right hand of the Father, the “last days” have dawned. See Acts 2:17, Hebrews 1:1-2; 2 Tim. 3:1; 1 John 2:18. But Peter didn’t know if the last of the last days or the end of the end times would come in his lifetime. Christ’s death and resurrection mark the beginning of the end, although neither Peter nor we know when the end of the end will come.
Yet another reason why I’m persuaded that Peter did indeed have in mind the end of history at the second coming of Christ is because of what he’s just said in vv. 5-6 regarding the final judgment of all mankind. “They will give an account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. . . . The end of all things is at hand; therefore . . !”
As I noted in the previous article, one might think that the reality of the end would lead Peter to call for extraordinary deeds of great power, works that would capture the attention of the world and gain for us fame and glory. No. It’s the simple, basic tasks of everyday life that must be pursued: Praying for one another, loving one another, hosting one another, and serving one another. Stunning!
So let’s look at them.
(1) Our first responsibility, in view of the impending end of all things, is to pray for one another. Peter here calls for mature and level-headed intercessors (v. 7b).
“Self-controlled” and “sober-minded” are words that are virtually synonymous and should be taken together, both of which are essential to effective intercession.
A good way to see what it means is to look at that with which it is contrasted. Look again at Mark 5:15 (the Gadarene demoniac) and 2 Cor. 5:13. Simply put: Keep a cool head! Keep your wits about you. Don’t get caught up in wild-eyed, irresponsible fanaticism where you think the ordinary rules of Christianity no longer apply. Maintain spiritual and mental discipline in a time when others cast common sense aside and forget who they are.
The idea is not simply “so that you may pray” but “so that you may pray more effectively and intelligently.”
Consider what often passes as intercession and the mistakes people make when they feel called to it: fanaticism, the neglect routine responsibilities of life, withdrawal into monastic solitude; some shake and bake and fall down; others are swept away into flights of religious euphoria and physical manifestations; loss of control; the recipients of new revelation and novel insights; etc. No!
Thinking about the end of all things has led some to lose their composure, to forsake common sense, to ignore the Scriptures, and to act irrationally. But one can be a faithful and fervent intercessor without losing perspective or composure.
Peter couldn’t be any clearer: Use the nearness of the end as an opportunity for prayer, but don’t lose your heads in the process! What we desperately need today are self-controlled, level-headed, mature, sober-minded intercessors. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t also be passionate and energetic and sensitive to the Spirit, but they need to keep their wits about them.
(2) Our second responsibility, in view of the impending end of all things, is to keep on loving one another. Peter here calls for earnest and passionate affection for one another (v. 8).
Peter’s use of the present tense here requires that we translate this exhortation as “keep loving” (ESV), “maintain” love for one another (NRSV), “hold” love (RSV). Love already existed, was already active and real and Peter calls for them to retain and sustain their fervency (cf. 1 Thess. 1:3).
Is there, among our many responsibilities, one that stands out from the rest, one that is to be elevated above the rest? Yes: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly” (v. 8a).
Let’s look more closely at how Peter portrays this sort of love. The best place is 1 Peter 1:22. There he highlights three features or characteristics of this love.
First, it must be “sincere” (v. 22a). In other words, it won’t work to put on a face that says “I really love you” all the while your heart says, “You’re a jerk and I can’t stand the sight of you and I’m only doing this to avoid the disdain of others who expect me to love you.” If the outer expression of affection isn’t matched by an inner enjoyment of the person you say you love, it’s useless.
Second, it must be “earnest” or “constant” (v. 22b). This word points to energy, constancy, fervency; nothing half-hearted or weak or self-serving; a love that is concentrated and focused and faithful; a love that will tolerate no excuses; a love that asks everything from me; a love for others, quite simply, that is just like the love with which Jesus Christ loves me.
Third, it must be “from a pure heart” (v. 22c). My sense is that this points to what we hope is achieved by our loving another: their good and God’s glory. Love from an “impure” heart is love that is pursued for personal gain. I’ll love you because I think it might lead you to give me in return what I want. I’ll love you because it will get me a promotion at work. I’ll love you because that’s what is expected of me and I don’t want others to think I’m less than spiritual. That is love from an “impure” heart.
I can’t motivate you to love others in your church family by telling you that they deserve it, because they don’t. And neither do I. I can’t motivate you to love others in your local church because everyone there is inherently loveable. They aren’t. And neither are you. In the final analysis I can only urge you to love others as Peter says because as undeserving and unlovely as you and I are, God loved us and demonstrated that love by giving his Son as the sacrifice for our sins all the while we were his vicious and vile enemies. I hope that’s reason enough.
As you think about your final days on this earth, as you reflect on the glory and majesty of the return of Christ in the heavens, as you envision the skies above set ablaze by the myriads of angels who will accompany Jesus at his return, as you contemplate the destruction of his enemies and the impending inauguration of the eternal state . . . love one another!
Before we leave this exhortation, note that there is an explicit reason given for the priority of love beyond that of the nearness of the end. It is because of what love does to the relational dynamics of people in the church.
Keep loving one another “since love covers a multitude of sins.” Love ought to lead us to overlook the sins and offenses of others (see 1 Cor. 13:4-7). See especially Proverbs 10:12 – “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses” (cf. also James 5:19-20).
I agree here with John Piper who argues that Peter is not saying that we are to sweep under the rug every bad thing that happens or that in the name of love we are to let people run roughshod over us and others. He is not undermining the necessity of church discipline when it is called for. I think what he’s saying is that when love flourishes, we are not easily offended, we are willing to endure injustices, we become less defensive, we don’t demand our rights, we are quick to forgive, we harbor no grudges, bear no bitterness, and shelter those who wronged us from exposure and condemnation.
Where love is lacking every word is viewed with suspicion, every motive is questioned, and every action is interpreted in a twisted and incorrect way.
Perhaps the basic thrust of this statement is simply that where love prevails forgiveness is more readily pursued, offered, and received.
To be continued . . .