Love More; Whine Less (1 Peter 4:7-11)

The human soul craves justice.  Peter tells his readers that God’s justice is coming.  “The end of all things is at hand,” he tells them (1 Peter 4:7).  Throughout his letter, Peter places special focus on God’s promised future—a future that includes both restoration and righteous judgment.  Yesterday we even noted that those who slander God’s people will “give an account” to God (1 Peter 4:5).

If you are unfamiliar with Christianity, I know that this might be hard to swallow.  Speaking of judgment and righteousness starts to sound like the fire-and-brimstone preachers who sweat through their polyester suits in an effort to scare you into joining the church.  But justice is more than that—much more.  Consider the recent popularity of the television series Breaking Bad.  The show centers on Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who pays for his cancer treatments by cooking and selling crystal meth.  The entire series is about his descent from middle class America into total moral depravity.  Why would this become one of the most-watched television series of all time?  In an interview with The New York Times, the show’s writer Vince Gilligan offers us a clue:

“If religion is a reaction of man, and nothing more, it seems to me that it represents a human desire for wrongdoers to be punished…. I feel some sort of need for Biblical atonement, or justice, or something. I like to believe there is some comeuppance, that karma kicks in at some point, even if it takes years or decades to happen. My girlfriend says this great thing that’s become my philosophy as well. ‘I want to believe there’s a heaven. But I can’t not believe there’s a hell.”[1]

For Gilligan, heaven is desirable, but hell is necessary.  Do you want justice?  Do you want wrongs to be set right?  We have this promise in the future return of Christ.

Peter says that this changes the way we respond to one another within the believing community:

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. (1 Peter 4:7-11)

If I know that the end is near, this changes my attitude toward others.  My focus is no longer on myself, but on others and—ultimately—God.  Peter lists a whole series of commands, here.  Some of these commands are about our attitudes (“be self-controlled and sober-minded”) while others are about our actions (“use [your gift] to serve one another”).  But in verse 11 Peter says that the higher purpose is that “in everything God may be glorified.”  The word glory most literally means “weighty” or “massive.”  We might use the word “significant.”

If we put the pieces together, what is Peter saying?  Peter is telling a community of marginalized Christians that when suffering comes, they must serve and love one another—so that others may see that the most significant thing in their life is not their comfort, but Christ and His Kingdom. 

Practically, this means that you and I are faced with a similar question regarding our own gifts.  What is a “gift?”  Sometimes I think it’s tempting to think of our “gifts” through the lens of Self. But when it comes to gifts, the issue is not: What makes me special?  the issue is: How can I contribute? 

The gospel promises us that ultimate justice is coming and may come at any moment.  In Peter’s view, this doesn’t promote fear, but provokes Godly character and sacrificial living.  We look for this ultimate justice by practicing justice even in our communities.  We contribute in meaningful ways because we want our present communities to mirror the values of God’s future kingdom.

So what about you?  How might you contribute?  For some of you, it might be something small.  Contributing to our Church community by serving as an usher, a greeter, preparing coffee.  Maybe you step up and serve in our children’s ministry—there’s always an opening.  Maybe it’s about serving outside our walls in your individual workplaces: humbly and graciously doing the tasks no one else seems fond of, engaging with your coworkers in ways that reveal the character and love of the Savior and—if opportunity allows and the Spirit leads—sharing with them the “hope that is within you.”

 

[1] Segal, David (July 6, 2011). “The Dark Art of ‘Breaking Bad'”. The New York Times. July 25, 2011

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