LIVING ON THE EDGE
1 PETER 4:7-11
Delivered at First Church West on November 2003
I have served as a fire fighter for over 25 years. I came up through the ranks until today I am a shift commander at the seaport fire station. It has been a good and rewarding career. I get to play with all sorts of high-tech toys and gadgets, I get to lead a committed group of professional men and women and I get to perform a community service by responding to emergencies and saving lives and property.
There have been those time, especially when Iíve been on my hands and knees in pitch black smoke in the bowels of a ship where I have asked myself, "Why on earth am I doing this?" But over all, it has been a career that has been financially rewarding and which has been fulfilling in every sense of the word.
Because it is a hazardous profession -- a young manís profession -- it has built into it the potential for an early retirement. When one reaches that stage, you can retire and stay home and they will mail you your retirement check each month.
Earlier this year, I crossed that imaginary line so that I am now eligible to retire. Ever since that time, Iíve noticed an interesting phenomenon. There is an extra bounce to my step. Iíve always enjoyed my job, but that enjoyment factor has gone up a couple of degrees. There is a sense of anticipation.
Iíve been asked on a number of occasions, "When are you going to do it? When are you going to retire?" And my answer has been short of profound: "I donít know. As long as I want to. Until the Lord opens another door somewhere else. As long as Iím still enjoying it." It could be this year. Or it could be a few more years from now. But it will be soon.
Peter says much the same thing in this chapter. He starts out this section by saying, "The end of all things is at hand" (4:7). Commentators and Bible scholars has wondered what things he might have been talking about.
I tend to think that it is all three that are in view and that "all things" literally means "all things." There is a sense in which the coming of Jesus to the earth ushered in the last days and we have been living in the last days ever since.
"Do not look so sad. We shall meet soon again."
"Please, Aslan," said Lucy, "what do you call soon?"
"I call all times soon," said Aslan; and instantly he was vanished away- C.S. Lewis - Voyage of the Dawn Treader
On the day of Pentecost, Peter was able to stand up and quote Joelís prophecy about how it shall be that in the last days God would pour forth His Spirit upon all mankind and he was able to say, "Look, here it is!"
Peter said in his day and we can still say in our own day that the end of all things is at hand. There are no more prophecies that have to be fulfilled. There are no more signs that have to be seen. There is nothing more on the prophetic agenda that has to be checked off.
The end of all things is at hand. It could end today before we complete this sermon. Or it could be another thousand years. The Bible teaches that no one knows the day or the hour. No one knows when Christ is going to return. And that means His coming is at hand. It could take place at any time.
You have no guarantees on life. If there is one thing that I have learned in all of my years as a fire fighter, it is that things happen unexpectedly. You have no guarantees on how long you are going to live. It could well be that, for some of us today, the end of all things is at hand.
If that is true, and Peter says that it is, then there are some practical implications as to how such a truth ought to impact the way that I live today.
You see, prophecy in the Bible isnít given merely to satisfy my eschatological curiosity. It is not given so that I can draw up all sorts of charts of future history and play the part of a spiritual soothsayer. It is given so that I might be motivated to live in a certain manner today.
Peter says, "The end of all things is at hand and, because the end of all things is at hand, we ought to live in a certain way." Letís look at it.
BECAUSE THE END OF ALL THINGS IS AT HAND, WE OUGHT TO BE SERIOUS ABOUT PRAYER
The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer (1 Peter 4:7).
Right at the outset, Peter says that we ought to take prayer more seriously. Why does he say this? Because he knows that we all have a tendency to take prayer too lightly. Jesus pointed this out in the Temple when He took up a scourge against those who had made a mockery of the Temple. He said, "My Fatherís house is to be a house of prayer."
Jesus didnít do that because there was a complete absence of prayer within the Temple. But somewhere along the line, prayer had ceased to be a priority. It was merely something that was done at the proper time to fill in between the praise and the preaching. As such, it had come to be taken for granted.
How would that change if you thought that today was indeed your last day upon planet earth? If you were told that before the sun set upon this day, you would stand before your Maker, how serious would you be about prayer?
Peter says, "You get serious about prayer right now because the end of all things IS at hand." You do not know how much longer you have. You are just a heartbeat away from His presence.
Peter calls you to pray. But that is not all. He also tells you HOW you ought to pray. It is seen in this same verse.
How does being of sound judgment affect the way in which you pray? It means that you pray with your eyes open. It means that you pray with purpose and understanding. It means that you pray intelligently.
James tells us that you do not have because you do not ask.
We have a problem when we do not ask in the first place. We also have a problem when we ask for the wrong things and when we ask with the wrong attitude.
How do you pray with sober spirit? It means that you go into prayer with the full realization that you are coming into the presence of the Sovereign King of all of the universe.
In C.S. Lewisí tale, "The Chronicles of Narnia," Lucy sees Aslan, the Christ-figure after having been parted from him for many a year and exclaims, "Aslan, youíre bigger.
"That is because you are older, little one," answered he.
"Not because you are?" she asks.
"I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger."
Here is an interesting truth. The older and more mature you are in the Lord, the bigger you will see that He is.
BECAUSE THE END OF ALL THINGS IS AT HAND, WE OUGHT TO BE FERVENT IN OUR LOVE
Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8).
Notice that this is specifically described as a love that is for one another. You would have thought that Peter would have said that we are to be fervent in our love for the Lord. But Peter had been taught something special about love from the Lord.
Do you remember the incident? It took place after the resurrection. Jesus met His disciples by the Sea of Galilee and repeated a miracle of a miraculous catch of fish. It must have seemed a bit like deja vue to the disciples. Several years earlier, they had been with Jesus on a boat in the Sea of Galilee after fishing all night and catching nothing. At His insistence they had lowered their nets into the sea and had pulled them up tight and full of fish.
Several years have passed and they are back.
ē It is the same Sea of Galilee.
ē It is in the same boats
ē They are the same disciples.
ē They again have fished all night.
ē Again they are given instructions about their actions.
ē And once again there is a great catch of fish.
After it is all over, they sit with Jesus by the sea as they finish up their meal and Jesus turns to Peter and asks the question: "Do you love me?" Three times the question goes forth and again there is the same sense of deja vue, for Peter had recently been asked on three successive occasions, "Do you know Him? And on three successive occasions Peter had denied His Lord.
But this time it is different. Jesus asks, "Peter, do you love me?" And when Peter answers in the affirmative, Jesus gives a repeated injunction: "Then feed my sheep." Do you see it? Peter is passing on that same command here.
Here is the point. Do you love the Lord? Then show it by loving His people. Show it by keeping fervent in your love for one another.
BECAUSE THE END OF ALL THINGS IS AT HAND, WE OUGHT TO BE HOSPITABLE TOWARD ONE ANOTHER
Be hospitable to one another without complaint. (1 Peter 4:9).
Hospitality. It isnít a word that we use much within the city. Our English word "hospitality" sounds too much like "hospital" and no one likes to go to a hospital. But the Greek word has a different sound: Philoxenoi -- literally "lovers of strangers." Our English language has coined a different word -- "Xenophobia" -- a fear of strangers. But the Bible says that we ought to be characterized by a love of strangers.
When you live in a big city, everyone becomes a stranger and itís hard to love everyone. But that it exactly what we are commanded to do. And furthermore, we are called to exercise that hospitality without complaint.
Do you ever complain about the traffic? All of those other people on the road. People you do not know but who are in your way and who are slowing you from getting to your destination. You are called to be hospitable to them and even to that one who cut you off.
But notice that Peter gets specific in this verse. He says to be hospitable toward one another. That is a family phrase. That brings it here into the church. The church is to be a place of hospitality.
When I think of the quality hospitality, my mind goes back over 30 years ago to an elderly couple in a church where Paula and I eventually served as youth directors. Their names were Mr. and Mrs. Bucksbaum and it was likely on our first or second Sunday to that church that they invited us into their home for a small lunch. I donít recall what they served or what we talked about, but I can remember their hospitality. They loved the Lord and they wanted to share that love with others. So whenever they saw an unfamiliar face in church, they would make it a point to invite that person to their home.
Have you opened your home to strangers who come to the church? Perhaps it could be through the hosting of a small group Bible study. Or it might be something as simple as inviting a visitor to the church to share in a meal.
BECAUSE THE END OF ALL THINGS IS AT HAND, WE OUGHT TO BE FAITHFUL IN OUR STEWARDSHIP
As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.11 Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10-11).
There are certain words that have both a denotation as well as a connotation. Do you understand the difference?
When I say the word stewardship, some of you automatically think I am speaking of giving money. What Peter says includes that, but it is not limited to financial stewardship.
A steward in ancient times was the one who managed a household. More often than not, he was the slave of the master of the house and it was his job to make sure that everything in the house ran properly. The steward did not own the house himself. The care of the house was entrusted to him. We might refer to him as the "housekeeper."
Here is the point. You have been entrusted with being the housekeeper of Godís house. What is His house? It is the church. It is the collected and gathered people whom He has called by His name. You are charged with the upkeep and the care and the growth of that body.
You might think, "Wait a minute, isnít that why we pay the pastor and staff? Isnít that their job?" And the answer is no. Their job is to equip you to do your job.
That is the principle that is seen in Ephesians 4.
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,
The same principle is seen here in the words of Peter. He doesnít say, "Go out and hire a senior pastor who will do the work of the ministry while everyone else comes on Sunday morning to watch."
Instead he says that each one of you has received a special gift and that you are to use that special gift in serving one another.
Three times in this passage Peter makes reference to "one another."
That tells me something about spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts arenít about me doing something for my own edification or spirituality. They arenít even about doing something for the Lord. They are about me doing something for you and they are about you doing something for me. They are about serving one another.
That is important for you to know because there is some wrong thinking among Christians today about spiritual gifts. It is easy to spot the wrong thinking. Merely look for the emphasis. If the emphasis is upon my own growth or my own experience or my own effort or my own feelings, then it is a wrong emphasis.
We live in the "me" generation. Comedian George Carlin does an amusing skit in which he points out the way magazine titles have changed in our lifetime. When we were young, there was a magazine called Life. Later on there came a new magazine called People. That is a smaller subsection than "Life." In more recent years there has come a magazine called "Us." I suppose that is as opposed to "them" and certainly doesnít include all of "people." Someone told me that now there is even a magazine called Self.
This self-centeredness has infected Christianity in America and it has impacted the way in which we view spiritual gifts.
This emphasis is seen today in the way people deal with the issue of tongues. Iím not going to get into the identification of tongues or all of the issues surrounding the modern charismatic movement, but if you look at what the Bible has to say about tongue in the book of Acts and in 1 Corinthians, you will see that the emphasis is upon how this gift was used or in how it is to be used or in how it is not to be used with respect to the service of others in the church.
The same thing is taught here in Peterís epistle. He teaches us that spiritual gifts are for one another. Your spiritual gift has been given for my benefit and my spiritual gift has been given for your benefit. If I ever start to try to focus upon me benefiting from the use of my own spiritual gift, I have moved into an area of gross imbalance.
I know all about imbalance. I was sitting in an elderís meeting last week and all of a sudden the room started to spin around. It wasnít the room that was spinning. It was me. I had somehow contracted an inner ear infection and it wrecked havoc with my sense of balance. It felt like I was on one of those spinning, turning, dropping roller coasters and it got worse and worse and it just would not stop. It felt as though the whole world were moving, but in reality, the problem was in me.
Spiritual gifts are a wonderful thing and can greatly benefit the body. But when there is an imbalance that focuses upon the "me" then instead of edification there comes a great sickness and a troubling state of affairs.
People start playing spiritual games:
"My gift is better than your gift."
"If you donít have my gift, then you are not even a part of the body." Paul actually addresses this problem in 1 Corinthians 12 when he talks about those who think that a certain member of the body is the only part that really counts. To combat such an idea he asks, "What would it be like if the entire body were an eye or an ear?"
This brings us to our next point.
Peter could have mentioned any number of gifts. Paul gives several lists of the various gifts and each list is different. There is no exhaustive list of the gifts given in the Scriptures. People have tried to collate all of the different lists and put together a "master list" of all of the gifts, but the Bible never tells us that we have to do such a thing.
There is nothing wrong with this sort of study except that you might come away thinking that your particular list is all there is. I donít believe that to be the case. This list is no exhaustive. It is REPRESENTATIVE. Both Paul and Peter only mention a few of the gifts as a representative sampling.
The point that Peter is making here is that the gifts are different. There are some who speak and there are some who serve. Those are two general categories of gifts.
There are a lot of different ways to use gifts in speaking and there are a lot of different ways to use gifts in serving. Both are good and both have a wide variety of ways in which they can be worked out.
When you speak, speak Godís words. Make sure that what you are saying is what God is saying.
Iím not just talking about Bible teaching, although this principle very obviously does apply to Bible teaching. One who teaches the Bible has a great obligation to teach Godís word instead of lacing such teaching with his own opinion.
This principle applies to all sorts of things that we speak.
Make sure that you are saying Godís words. Let Him be the source of your speech and the Guider of your tongue.
Peter also has this same principle for those who serve. They are to serve, not from their own strength, but they are to serve in faith. They are to serve in the strength that God provides.
The result is that God is glorified.
Peter points this out when he says that gifts are so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever (4:11).
Spiritual gifts are merely a means to and end. The end is that God might be glorified. This takes place as we are filled with His Spirit so that His fruit is manifested through us.
The proper use of your spiritual gift will result in the fruit of the Spirit. This is why the Scriptures tell us that the gifts will cease, but that love will continue. Spiritual gifts are secondary. Balaam prophesied and yet he was a false prophet. His donkey spoke in tongues. Gifts will cease -- some of them already have. Donít get so caught up in various gifts to the point that you miss the Giver.
When we are speaking of Spiritual Gifts, we ought not to lose sight of the fact that we are talking about GIFTS. A gift is something that you are given. You donít earn it. You donít deserve it. You are given it.
In our discussion of gifts, I would be remiss if I did not point you to THE Gift. If you miss that gift, then all of the others are for naught.
Godís gift was wrapped in human flesh, born as a baby and growing up to walk our dirty streets and to die on our dirty cross as an atonement for our dirtiness. His body was broken and His blood was shed for you.
He was the perfect sacrifice for sins. He came to die in your place, taking your sins upon Himself and suffering the penalty for you sins. He is the Savior who saves the undeserving.
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
There are only two possible ways to be saved. The first is through the effort of another. The second is through self-effort.
One works. One does not. I can illustrate this without having to say a word. There is a cross behind me. I can be saved either by pointing to the cross or I can be saved by pointing to myself.
To whom are you pointing? Upon what have you been depending? Your church attendance? Your abstinence from certain sins. Your involvement in some ritual or religious action? Your good works?
All of these may be commendable, but they do not save. To be saved, you need a Savior. Jesus is the only Savior. He is the ultimate fire fighter. Call upon Him today and He will save you.