If I had to summarise 1 Peter 4:7-11 in seven words it would be ‘pray to God and love each other’.
I have been pondering on this passage for a couple of weeks now and appreciate Peter’s simple yet inspired directives for community living. What he wrote two millennia ago is good for any generation, but particularly applicable in this Corona-pandemic world in which we now live.
This post is more of a short bible study than an article. I have been blessed by studying this passage of scripture and I hope you will too. Here is the text:
1 Peter 4:7-11 ‘The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it 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’. NIV
The Structure of the Passage
Sometimes it helps to break a passage down into its parts. In this case, a simple structure would be:
- Vs 7 (I) The end is near
- (II) pray with understanding
- Vs 8 (III) Love one another because love covers shortcomings
- Vs 9 (III.1) Offer hospitality
- Vs10 (III.2) Serve each other with the gifts God has given
- Vs 11(III.2.1) Preach as though God were preaching
- (III.2.2.) Serve in the strength God provides
- (IV) To God be the glory
The End Is Near
Throughout the New Testament, believers are reminded that the end is always near. We don’t know when we are going to die and we don’t know when Jesus is coming again. So, in a practical sense, the end is always at hand. This is very real in these current times when death seems to be lurking everywhere around us.
Peter wrote this letter just seven years before the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, so the end of the Jewish religion as they knew it was very much at hand. In some ways, our situation today is similar in that our daily lives and the practice of our church life will probably never be the same again.[pullquote align=center]
The way we meet and interact will be impacted for a long time by the new reality.[/pullquote] There is something else in the first words of this passage that we need to note. The word ‘end’ in ‘the end of all things is at hand’ is the translation of the Greek word ‘telos’, which is equally well translated in other contexts as ‘goal’. This reminds us that there is a bigger picture to be seen. Creation is moving rapidly towards a divine goal, the eradication of evil and the creation of a new HeavenEarth. These present times are trying, and in some cases heart-breaking, but they are part of an escalation towards the ultimate good. This escalation includes warnings and tribulations as well as spiritual revival. We are part of it; we are the witnesses and the interpreters of God’s great purpose.
Pray With Understanding
The second part of verse 7 is complex, but the essential meaning is that we should be clear-headed and alert to what is happening around us to be able to pray with understanding. Prayer is communicating with God and seeking his heart, mind and will. The Lord Jesus included in his model prayer the request that God’s kingdom should come and that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We can best pray this when we are aware of what is happening in our world. The current pandemic has brought with it a degree of irrationality and fear that is not clear-headed. We need to guard our minds and hearts against this.
Another way of understanding this complex verse is the way the NLT puts it as,[pullquote align=center]
‘be earnest and disciplined in your prayers’. In times like this, we can’t do much to change our circumstances, but we can pray; so now is a time for disciplined prayer.[/pullquote]
Love One Another
Verse 8 starts with the words ‘Above all’, which is best understood as, ‘most important of all’. The verse then goes on to instruct us to love each other deeply, indicating that the injunctions that follow are not superficial, but deep and meaningful expressions of Christian love.
I am pretty sure that the phrase ‘for love covers over a multitude of sins’ does not mean that acts of love pay for the sins in our lives. We cannot earn God’s favour as this is freely given in Christ Jesus. My understanding is that Peter was drawing from Proverbs 10:12, which reads ‘Hate stirs up trouble, but love covers over all wrongs’. If we love someone enough then we are prepared to overlook offences, moods, and irritations. In this way, we can get along with each other and express a genuine attitude of self-giving towards them.
One way to love one another is to offer hospitality. In normal circumstances offering accommodation or meals to other Christians is natural and an expression of our love for them. In these times of social-distancing, face masks, and special restrictions, this form of hospitality is mostly impossible. However, what we can do is:
- Contact others by Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, phone etc. just to say we are thinking of them, praying for them, and wanting contact with them. Many people are experiencing loneliness and isolation right now and we can help with acts of techno-hospitality.
- We can also organise the delivery of food or treats for folk we know are deprived; in times of great need, this form of hospitality is almost as good as a supper around your table.
Serve Each Other With The Gifts God Has Given
The manifestations and ministries of the Holy Spirit in and through us are administrations of God’s grace. The first example Peter gives of demonstrating love is to offer hospitality and the second example is to serve each other with the ability God gives. Peter then provides us with two applications:
Preach As Though God Were Preaching
The word chosen in verse 11 is ‘speaks’ but the context indicates that preaching rather than just general talking is in mind here. Peter uses phrases like ‘uttering the oracles of God’, which the NIV translates as ‘the very words of God’. Not all are called or equipped to preach, but those who are should express deep love to the children of God by committing themselves, as much as they can, to speak as though God himself was speaking. The greatest joy for any preacher is when someone says to them after a sermon, “It was as if Jesus were speaking directly to me”. More than anything else we need in these days is to hear God speaking directly to us.
Serve In The Strength God Provides
The second application of ministering to others is to serve them with the strength that God provides. Preachers speak under the anointing of the Holy Spirit so that others may hear as if God himself were speaking to them. Those who serve others in the strength that the Holy Spirit provides, lovingly minister as though God himself were ministering. Only some of us can preach, but all of us can serve.
To God Be the Glory
Peter ends his instruction to us by stating that the purpose of speaking and serving is that ‘in all things, God may be praised through Jesus Christ’. Then he ends with the words
‘To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.’
The anointing that enables a preacher to speak as though God himself were speaking is from the Holy Spirit, not the preacher. The power to serve others in a way that they become aware that God himself is ministering to them is from the Holy Spirit, not the one performing the service. When people realise this, then it is not the preacher or the server they praise, but Jesus Christ the Lord.
So, what can we do in these days when the end seems palpably near? We can:
- Pray with understanding and with minds and hearts cleared of fear and confusion.
- Love one another by:
- Offering caring contact and techno-hospitality
- Serving each other with the Holy Spirit’s gifts, by:
- Preaching as though God himself were speaking
- Serving in the strength he provides.
In this, God and not fear and confusion will be glorified.
May God bless us and be with us.