What to Do at the End of the World (I Peter 4:7-11)
Passage: 1 Peter 4:7–4:11
New Life in the Same Old Place
I. What Some Have Done
What do you do if you believe the world is coming to an end? History has some interesting examples of people responding to the end of the world.
Many Christians in Europe had predicted the end of the world on January 1st, 1000 AD. As the date approached, Christian armies waged war against some of the Pagan countries in Northern Europe in order to convert them all to Christianity, by force if necessary, before Christ returned.
In 1843, the Baptist preacher William Miller predicted the return of Jesus, and over 100,000 people began preparing for the end. Many sold farms and homes, and left jobs to meet Jesus when he came. They went to churches, or up onto hilltops wearing white ‘ascension robes’.
In 1999, Jerry Falwell and many others speculated very publicly about the connection between Christ’s return and the possible havoc that would result from the Y2K computer bug. In order to be prepared for what might happen, Falwell encouraged followers to stock up on water and canned goods, as well as guns and ammunition, just in case someone tried to take that water and those canned goods.
The new date for the end of the world? December 2012, the month and year when the ancient Mayan “Long Count” Calendar comes to and end. Many people see the calendar’s conclusion as an ancient sign that something terrible will happen to our planet during 12-12.
So, what do you do if you believe the world is coming to an end?
As we look to God’s word this morning, specifically to this letter we call I Peter, we find that the Apostle Peter talks to his readers about this very thing.
Look with me this morning at I Peter 4, verses 7-11.
II. The Passage: "The End…Is At Hand" (4:7-11)
Peter has been encouraging them in this section about how to face the suffering they’re experiencing because of their faith in Christ. Listen to what Peter goes on to tell his readers in these verses:
7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 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.
Now, if you scan down quickly to verse 12, you’ll see that Peter once again addresses the theme of suffering, the topic that has dominated the letter since the middle of chapter 2. So how are these verses, 7-11, connected to that theme…or are they?
A. The End is Near, Right at the Door (4:7a)
Well look again at what Peter declares at the beginning of these verses: The end of all things is at hand!
That’s a pretty provocative statement. What are we to make of this phrase? Are we to imagine Peter as one of those guys wearing a sandwich board sign that reads “the end is near”? Does Peter really believe the end of the world is just around the corner?
Well, yes…that’s exactly what he believes. Remember what he just wrote two sentences earlier about his readers’ unbelieving neighbors who were living lives of worldly excess:
…but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. (4:5)
This Peter is the same Peter who stood up on the day of Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection and explained the coming of the Holy Spirit in this way: this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (Acts 2:16, 17)
Peter believed that all of the pieces of God’s redemptive plan were in place. He believed what Jesus told him:
“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast…If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! 39 But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Luke 12:35, 36, 39, 40)
Peter is not the only one who believed this or wrote like this. Paul wrote this in Romans 13:
Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:11, 12)
The Apostle John wrote these words at the beginning of the Revelation:
Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. (Revelation 1:3)
Peter, Paul, and John are all using the same Greek word here, sometimes translated “near”, sometimes translated, “at hand”. It’s the same word Jesus used in his common announcement: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17b)
Jesus gave a fuller sense of this idea when he said: Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it [or “He”] is near, right at the door. (Mark 13:29)
So when Peter says “the end of all things is at hand”, he is not saying the end of the world has fully come. He’s saying that the end is very near, “right at the door”. Peter wanted his readers to know that they were on the verge of God’s final judgment and, as he put it in chapter 1, “the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1:5)
Now again we come back to the question of how this section of verses is connected to the theme of suffering that we find before and after verses 7-11. I think what we’ll see more clearly next week is that verses 12-19 of chapter 4, specifically verse 17, teach us that the suffering these Christians were experiencing was part of God’s refining judgment.
In talking about their trials in chapter one, Peter wrote: These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1:7)
So Peter wants them to see their sufferings, not as evidence that God had somehow abandoned them or that God was not still in control. No, he wanted them to see their sufferings as evidence that the return of Christ, that the final judgment, that the end of the world as we know it was “near”, was “at hand”, was “right at the door”.
B. Clarity and Focus at the End of the World (4:7b-11a)
But if this was true, then what should these Christians do in light of this incredible and exciting reality? As God’s door of mercy was open wide because of Jesus, as the powers of darkness were desperately trying to destroy their faith and THE faith, what were these believers supposed to do in response to ‘the end’?
Now, as we ask that question, we sit today in an interesting place. We are talking about and thinking about these same truths, 2000 years after they were first written down. And because of the time difference, we naturally ask, “How could Peter say that the end was at hand, when 2000 years later, it still hasn’t come?” Was Peter mistaken?
The answer to that is “no”. Peter was not mistaken. The end of the world is “at hand” just as much today, as it was when Peter wrote these words. Listen to what he writes in his next letter, II Peter 3:
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. (II Peter 3:8-10)
Would Peter be surprised to find out that 2000 years after his death, the end had still not come? Would he be surprised by that? No, I don’t think he would be. Why? Because of two things that are mentioned in II Peter 3.
Number one, the fact that God does not consider time in the same way we do (which is very much a positive thing in regard to God’s patience and our salvation). And number two, the fact that the end will come like “a thief”, that is, it will come at an unexpected time.
God has ordained that each and every generation live with a genuine anticipation of Christ’s return and genuine belief that He might come at any time…because he could. Only God the Father know the appointed time. Because God looks at time differently, and because we are already in the last days, and have been for 2000 years, it is never wrong, biblically, to say with full assurance, “the end of all things is at hand”.
Do you believe the world could end in a few hours? Do you believe Jesus could return this week, or at the end of this year? He could.
Therefore the question “what should we do at the end of the world” is just as much a concern for us as it was for Peter’s first readers.
And I think what we see when Peter does answer this question is that THE END should bring clarity and focus. Have you found that to be true? Do you do things differently when you know the end is near? Do you think differently when THE END of a relationship is near? Do you look at your neighbor differently when they are lying in a hospital bed with only days to live? Do you spend time with your child differently when you know their travels will take them away for years? Does your perspective change when THE END of your job is actually listed, by date, in the letter you just pulled from the mailbox?
The end so often brings clarity and focus.
1. Praying with Clarity and Focus (4:7b)
So, what does Peter tell them in light of the very imminent “end of all things”? Does he tell them to get up to the highest mountain? Does he tell them to sell all their possessions? Does he tell them to stock up on food and ammunition? Does he tell them to work on their “bucket lists” and get done all those things they always wanted to do but never took the time to do?
No, look at verse 7 again: The end of all things is at hand; therefore…be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.
He tells them, because the end is at hand, you need to be self-controlled and sober-minded. These terms are meant to be a direct contrast to practices mentioned in verse 3 above. Peter says, don’t live in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. Instead be thoughtful and clear-headed; be sane and sober-minded; be serious and watchful. There’s nothing quite like the end of the universe to drive us toward clarity and focus.
Be be clear-headed. Be focused. Why? So that you can pray! What do you do at the end of the world? You pray. You pray.
Only a few months ago Pastor Jason and I sat at a pizza place in Chicago with another brother who was a pastor in that area. As we talked his phone rang. It was his wife calling from the Christian school campus where she was a teacher. She said a man was somewhere on the campus with a gun. Talk about a reality bringing clarity and focus to our prayers! Even though there was a deep dish pizza right in front of us, we prayed with laser-like focus at that table. Thankfully, God answered our prayers and we found within 10 minutes that nothing had happened, that the man was not there to do any harm.
“End times” prayers according to Peter are prayers that are prayed with clarity of mind and with an alert spirit. Listen to what Paul writes in Philippians 4 in light of Peter’s words: Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:5, 6)
For people who were enduring persecution, who were experiencing the trials of the last days, Peter’s focus is not first on the content of their prayers, but the act of prayer itself.
As Paul confirms in Philippians 4, prayer is an expression and a discipline of trust in the midst of difficult times. When you pray…not fight back, or run away, or analyze, or rationalize…but when you pray in the grip of suffering, you are confessing that you believe God is still in charge; He is still on the throne; that He and He alone has the strength and peace and wisdom and perspective that you need to face your trials.
Remember, it isn’t just prayer. It’s prayer that is serious and sober, clarified and focused by the reality of THE END. That means Peter is not telling them to pray for God to drop a Greek temple on top of their persecutors or to pray for all their problems to just go away.
“The end is at hand” prayers are prayers that demonstrate we are entrusting ourselves to God for his purposes and his glory in the midst of our suffering.
If you and I truly believe that “the end of all things is at hand”, if we believe the spiritual significance of all that is happening around us, the seriousness of our temptations and opposition, if we recognize the tests all around us and know that Christ is our only hope in the midst of it all, we will be praying.
What do you do at the end of the world? You pray…a lot.
2. Loving with Clarity and Focus (4:8-11a)
But look back at what Peter also tells his readers in light of the coming of Christ and the coming judgment and their coming deliverance. He writes in verse 8:
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
Not only do these followers of Christ desperately need to be a praying community. “Above all”, they need to be a loving community. They need to be loving with clarity and focus.
Why is this so important at “the end” of the world? Because Peter knows that the pressures of persecution, the strain of suffering, could very easily rip their churches apart. They need to love one another in such a way that offenses are overlooked; in such a way that these Christians are bearing with one another, even if someone speaks out of frustration, even if someone is not willing to help out, even if blame is being wrongly assigned.
“Love covers a multitude of sins”. That’s taken right from Proverbs 10:12 where Solomon writes: Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs. At a time like this, in these “end times”, they needed to love one another if they were going to stick together.
Recognizing that the end is at hand brings clarity and focus, not only in our relationship with God, but also our relationships with one another. We see how incredibly important the body of Christ really is. That’s the beauty of the church. None of us suffers alone. In our suffering, God wants us to be strengthened by our unity in Jesus Christ.
And look at the ways in which Peter illustrates love for one another. He says in verses 9-11:
Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies…
As brothers and sisters were falsely accused, as property was seized, as community-wide rejection drove some into poverty, hospitality was so important. Peter tells to see all of these challenges through the lenses of Jesus’ return. “Don’t complain” he tells them. Help one another in love.
And in verses 10 and 11, he reminds them that God has given gifts to his people, and they should be used to serve one another. Everyone has a gift. And in such trying times, these gifts needed to be used for the good of other brothers and sisters.
Whether these gifts revolved around speaking words of truth and encouragement, or they revolved around serving, around gifts of care and mercy, Peter reminds them here to honor God with their gifts.
“If you speak” writes Peter, “speak with the earnestness and grace of one who represents God.” “If you serve” writes Peter, “serve beyond your capacity for service, serve in courageous ways, trusting that God’s strength will strengthen you.”
Brothers and sisters, in the trials that characterize “the end of all things”, we need to stand together. As Paul writes about the body of Christ, the church in I Corinthians 12: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it” (I Corinthians 12:26a) When one or more of us are struggling, we need to open our homes. We need to speak with God’s words and God’s heart. We need to serve with God’s strength.
Each of us has a gift. Are we being good stewards, good managers of what God has entrusted to us? Are we using your gifts to serve one another in this way?
“The end of all things is at hand”, and in times like this, Peter is reminding us of two absolute necessities, if we are going to stand firm in our faith as we wait for Jesus. 1) We need to pray in order to be strengthened in our faith, and 2) we need to love one another, in order to unified in our faith.
What do you do if you believe the world is going to end? Peter says, pray and love with the clarity and focus that only the end of the world can bring.
III. The End of the World and the Glory of God (4:11b)
Way of Grace Church, “the end of all things is at hand”, it’s near, it’s right at the door. Do you believe that? Are we praying? Are we loving one another in light of these things.
We can’t forget that Peter’s instructions are to be motivated, not ultimately by the immanence of Christ’s return and the end of the world. That’s a big part of it here.
But the final phrases of verse 11 point us to an even greater motivation. Peter tells them to do all of these things…
…in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
As we live in these last days, on the verge of eternity breaking into time, we cannot be motivated by fear, or control, or worry, comfort, or selfishness, or even duty. We need to be motivated by the glory of God. The end of all things should bring us clarity and focus in regard to the most important thing in the universe: God’s glory…that God be seen and honored as God.
Is it your desire that in everything you do, God would be glorified? Is it your desire that in everything you do, God would be glorified in Jesus Christ? Is that our desire as a church, living here and now at “the end of all things”?
However we approach our life in these final days, in our prayers, in our love, in our words, in our service, we need to do all of it in such a way that God is clearly lifted up as the reason and the source. We need make it clear that Jesus Christ is the vine that makes all of our fruit possible.
Suffering has a way of turning us inward to depend on human strategies. Difficult times have a way of tempting us to compromise. May God be glorified in our lives as we pray and love with an uncommon trust that to God and God alone belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen? Amen.