It’s A Way of Life
1 Peter 4:7-11
What is your greatest fear in life? Is it getting hurt or very sick? Is it losing someone you love? Is it a fear of change? Or of loneliness? Or rejection? Or being judged?
Maria Stenvinkel, a corporate consultant from Sweden, asked 65 people from around the world, “What’s your greatest fear in life?”
As you might expect, people mentioned the fear of “dying alone” or of “losing my job.” But of these 65 people, at least 14 (more than 1 in every 5) expressed a different fear: Living a life without purpose or meaning.
Listen to them in their own words:
Anthony from New York City says, “My biggest fear is never taking a risk in an effort to find my true calling.”
Rebekka from Stuttgard, Germany says, “My greatest fear is to go through life living small but not realizing it until it’s too late.”
Danielle from Sacramento says, “My greatest fear would be missing out on my purpose here on earth. … I know I have a purpose that I am not yet serving.”
Luciana from Sintra, Portugal says that her greatest fear is “To go through life without leaving a positive mark.”
And Ralph from North Brunswick says, “My greatest fear is regretting all that I didn’t do, as I lay in my hospital bed as an elderly man.”[i]
Contrast that with these stories. In 1969 Malcolm Muggeridge, a British journalist and the editor of Punch, a satirical magazine, went to Calcutta to make a documentary movie about Mother Teresa for the BBC. She didn’t want to do it, but church leaders finally persuaded her. When she finally agreed, she said, “Let us do something beautiful for God.”
When they began filming, a strange thing happened. Even though there was not enough light in the hospice for filming, the finished film was bathed in a particularly beautiful soft light. Muggeridge figured it was the halo of love he sensed there. Later, he wrote a book about Mother Teresa and used that phrase – something beautiful for God – as the title. He eventually became a Christian because of his relationship with Mother Teresa.
Or think about the story “Babette’s Feast,” about a world-class chef laboring anonymously in the service of two elderly sisters in a remote Danish village. In that story, author Isaak Dinesen, which was the name Karen Blixen wrote under, wrote, “From the ends of the earth one long cry goes up from the heart of the artist: Give me a chance to do my very best!”
Those two statements – “Let us do something beautiful for God,” and “Give me a chance to do my very best” – stir everyone made in the image of God. And that is everyone. And they really stir the hearts and minds of those of us who follow Christ. Not, “Let me do great things” or “Let me be known by everyone,” but “Let us do something beautiful for God, and our very best.” They stir us because we know that as citizens of God’s kingdom, we are intended to impact the people around us with the beauty and goodness of God. As we continue our journey through 1 Peter, the New Testament letter, written by St. Peter, to persecuted Christians in the backwater territories of Asia Minor, turn with me to 1 Peter 4:7-11.
“The end of all things is at hand; therefore …” Peter tells us that as followers of Christ, we are to live with the end in mind. Steven Covey, author of the classic leadership and self-improvement book “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” captured this Biblical principle in his book. In fact, the second habit of highly effective people is “Begin with the end in mind.” In other words, know where you are headed before you begin. No golfer, on the tee, puts his ball down, says, “hmm, I wonder where the pin is,” and then just hits the ball. No! Even a bad golfer knows ya gotta know where the pin is, and what hazards lie between you and the hole. Or you don’t leave for vacation without knowing what your destination is. You might have several routes to choose from, depending on what you want to see along the way, but you know where you’re headed. And every builder begins not by hammering two boards together, but with a blueprint of what he wants to build, whether it be a house or a shed or a piece of furniture.
As followers of Christ, we are live our lives with the end in mind. Not just so that we’ll know where everything will end up, but so that we’ll know how to live as we follow the sometimes meandering and often dangerous paths through life. Not in panic and in a constant reactionary mode as we face life’s challenges, but with confidence, even in fear, because we know that our lives now are in God’s hands, and our lives are headed toward his presence and the eternity he has created for us.
And in the world we live in today, there are three errors people fall into as they attempt to live with the end in mind. The first is to be overly optimistic about human progress, believing that we are on a path of consistent progress, that things are always getting better. Because they aren’t. Yes, we see progress in the scientific realm, and we see progress in technology. The laptop computer I write sermons on is vastly superior to the electric typewriter I learned to type on back in high school, and to the word processor/typewriter I used in college. And the smart phone I have in my pocket is vastly superior to the first office computer I had when I got out of college.
Medications and vaccinations and medical interventions are vastly superior today to what they were even a decade ago. Surgeries that used to involve months of recover now involve just a few days of recovery. Surgically, incisions are smaller and there are fewer disruptions to inner organs.
But we cannot take the progress we see in those arenas and assume that the same thing is happening politically, ethically, and morally around the world. Sin is always there, rearing it’s ugly head. Violence has been a problem since the beginning, and while we can and should take stands against violence, and seek to minimize it and protect the vulnerable, because Jesus teaches us to do those things, we also have to know that we will never be completely free from it until Christ returns and his reign is established in its fullness and sin is, once and for all, vanquished.
A second error we fall into as followers of Jesus, seeking to live with the end in mind, is to be cynical about the reality of any judgment from God at all. Yes, love wins, but for the love of God to win, sin has to be defeated and punished, and that requires judgment. But it isn’t in vogue to talk about the judgment of God these days. We don’t talk about separation from God and hell and punishment anymore. And of course, in the past that side of things has sometimes been so overemphasized that God’s love and grace and mercy have been hard to find. But the truth is, love requires judgment, and sin will be punished. You can either recognize that the punishment for your sin was meted out on Christ on the cross, and place your faith in him and follow him, or you can bear the brunt before God yourself, but those are the only two choices. Because without God’s judgment, there is no justice. Of course, we also have to recognize that WE aren’t the judge. God is. Our job is to love people and call them to a relationship with God so that they don’t have to bear the brunt of their sin before God.
A third error we fall into as we seek to live with the end in mind is to get so obsessed with the how and when and where of Christ’s return that we lose the real point of all of those strange passages of the Bible: that sin and death HAVE been defeated, that Christ WILL return, that his reign WILL be established in its fullness, and that those who follow him WILL be saved and vindicated. In other words, shown to be right all along.
So what IS the way Peter lays out for us to live with the end in mind? Look again at V. 7. “Be self-controlled and sober-minded.” Another way of saying that is, “be sane and clear headed.” Now, Peter isn’t talking about mental illness here. He’s talking about having a level-headed view of yourself, neither too lofty nor too debased. Understand that you are created in the image of God, that you are deeply loved by God, that as a follower of Christ your sin has been forgiven and you are a citizen of the kingdom of God, but your life here on earth is also still marked by sin, though it is no longer controlled by sin. That’s what Peter means by “sober-minded.” He isn’t talking about only being serious and never laughing or joking. He’s talking about having an accurate view of yourself based in reality, both in terms of who you are as God’s dearly loved child and who you are as a fallen, sinful human being.
And to be self-controlled means to not lose your mind. In Peter’s day, some of Christ’s followers were so focused on Christ’s return that they stopped worrying about their daily responsibilities. Today, we see that mentality in those who love to argue and obsess about the end times and signs of Christ’s return like they’re afraid they’ll miss it or something. And there are several legitimate, biblically based views of the end times, there isn’t just one. But Christ’s point when he talks about his own return is, “Hey guys, even I don’t know the day. But I AM ready to come when Father says “Go.” Until then, I’m by his side, ready. So just live ready. Live your lives following me. The point isn’t to figure out the exact time so that you can clean things up before I come. The point is to realize it could be at any moment, so always be ready. Be found living your life in my footsteps.”
With that mentality – self-controlled and sober-minded – our prayer will be transformed. We won’t be sent into a panic, no matter what we see on the news, no matter what is happening here at home or abroad. We won’t lose our minds to fear. Knowing that we are both God’s dearly loved, forgiven, secure children AND that we are prone to sin, we will be able to pray with focused, controlled minds in ways that submit to God and our prayers will be based on seeing reality from God’s perspective, regardless of the evil and insecurity and trouble we face in this world. And that is prayer that gives us both power to follow Jesus effectively in this world and perspective on the issues we face in this world.
When we’re living with the end in mind, we have an accurate, balanced view of ourselves as both loved and forgiven and prone to sin, and we also have an accurate view of the events happening around us, so we don’t lose our minds, and we are driven to effective prayer that seeks God’s perspective on things we don’t understand.
The second mark of those who live with the end in mind is love in action for those around us. Look at Vv. 8-9. Love for one another is a central component of faith in Christ, not an optional extra. In talking about love, Peter says, “Above all” and “earnestly.” Love is the “above all” characteristic of faith in Christ. Peter is concerned that we’ll slack off in love, and he warns us not to do that. The one thing that we should never get tired of doing, never slack off on, is loving one another.
But this love doesn’t mean we always have to agree with one another. It means that we are able to disagree with one another in loving, Christ-honoring ways that value the person we disagree with as another dearly loved and forgiven child of God. Peter quotes a Proverb saying “love covers a multitude of sins.” His point here isn’t that loving others earns us forgiveness. God’s forgiveness is a gift of grace. His point is that a loving community of Christ’s followers is able to tolerate more differences, to forgive more wrongs, than the world around us. We are a people who stick together in unity in spite of our differences and disagreements. If you’re looking for a community in which everyone thinks just like you and sees everything just like you, you won’t find it. But as the people of God we are able to keep loving one another in spite of our differences.
Another way that love shows itself is in our hospitality. In Peter’s day, pastors and teachers and prophets and apostles often traveled from town to town, and public houses and inns weren’t necessarily safe. So they would stay with Christians in the town they were ministering in. And this could be a very real inconvenience and expense for the hosts. Many people were living hand to mouth, paycheck to paycheck we would say today. They didn’t have any financial margin to be feeding someone else for several days. The common expectation was 3 days per home. That’s aa lot of meals to be feeding an extra person when you have very little yourself. And many of these homes would have been smaller and crowded, especially among the people Peter was writing too. Adding another person to an already crowded home, feeding another person from an already strained financial situation – that could be a major burden. And yet Peter tells his readers not only to do that, but to do it without grumbling.
As Christ’s followers, loving well, we are to put muscle and action into our love, even when it isn’t easy, or inconveniences us. And we are to do so without negative attitudes and grumbling. We’re to love and show hospitality with cheerful and willing hearts. We are to love willingly.
Those who live with the end in mind pray with self-controlled, sober minds seeking God’s perspective on things, not in panic. And they love others well. Third, they realize they do have gifts, and they use those gifts. Look at Vv. 10-11. Peter breaks down spiritual gifts into two basic categories – speaking and serving. Speaking gifts include gifts like tongues, prophecy, teaching, and evangelism. Serving gifts include gifts like administration, hospitality, healing, and care for the poor and sick. EVERY follower of Christ has received, through the Holy Spirit, a set of gifts. Those gifts go beyond your natural giftedness, which is also a gift from God. Your spiritual gifts are areas of giftedness God has given you as his child that he wants you to use for his glory and for the benefit of his people.
But they are not for display or personal glorification. They aren’t to be used in ways that are showy, even the showier, more visible gifts. Many times, we glorify the speakers and musicians, and we forget about those whose gifts play out more in the background. God wants us to understand that those gifts are no less significant or important. Paul uses the human body as an analogy for the people of God. You might really notice someone’s beautiful eyes or other physical characteristics, but those gifts are no less significant that the gifts given to the kidneys and liver, parts that, hopefully, you will never see. You can actually live without those celebrated eyes. You cannot live without those uncelebrated kidneys and liver. Peter wants us to take the same perspective on giftedness in the body of Christ.
Every follower of Christ is gifted by the Holy Spirit. And those gifts aren’t for personal gratification. They are to be used for God’s glory. And they are to be used in God’s strength. When God says, I want you to do this, you do it, even if you don’t think you have the resources for it, because when God says “Go,” you can bet his resources are backing his command, even if you don’t have any idea where those resources are coming from. This was comforting news to the poor, stretched-thin people Peter was telling to be joyously generous with their hospitality. And it is a comfort to us too, as we seek to live with the end in mind, loving others and using our gifts well.
If we’re following Christ with the end in mind, we’re praying well, with sober-minds and self-controlled, not losing our minds in anxiety and panic. We’re loving one another well, sacrificially showing hospitality to one another and forgiving quickly, not holding grudges and being easily offended. And we’re using the gifts God has given us, realizing that those gifts are God’s property and we are stewards, caretakers of those gifts. And it is all to God’s glory. This is the way of life for the people of God, living with the end in mind. Let us pray.
[i] Maria Stenvinkel, “What’s Your Greatest Fear in Life? 65 Brave Answers from People in 18 Countries,” Linkedin.com (12-19-16)