1 Peter 4:7-11 - Pilgrims Need Strength for End-time Endurance
But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers.1 Peter 4:7
Time for an Alternative Lifestyle (Read 4:7)
In the preceding verses Peter pointed to the coming judgment as an incentive to endure suffering for Christ at the hands of 'outsiders.' In our passage for this lesson, the coming judgment serves to motivate an alternative lifestyle within the congregation, among 'insiders.'
The grammar of this passage is worth noticing: two imperatives (the main verbs of verse 7) are followed by a series of participles (the subordinate verbs of verses 8-11). Being serious and watchful in your prayers leads to the faithful use of God's gifts among co-believers, gifts of love, hospitality and service. The Bible never pictures prayer as an end in itself or as a retreat from responsibility. Prayer connects our love for God with love for our neighbor; we might even say that prayer transforms love for God into love for neighbor.
Peter's exhortation begins with a reminder: 'the end of all things is at hand.' Eschatology (doctrine of the last things) provides a necessary impulse to the Christian life and intensifies mutual relationships within the church. The alternative lifestyle that Peter is about to sketch arises within a perspective of the nearness of God's kingdom. With the end so near, there is no time left for loose living. Sobriety and alertness, which both feed our prayers and are fed by our praying, lead believers to construct a new network of relationships.
Peter may well be referring to regular, daily prayers at fixed times (see Acts 2:42; 3:1 and 10:9 for his own example). As one commentator puts it, praying at regular times prevents us from losing track of time — God's and ours (van Houwelingen). (Question 1)
Jesus Himself taught that the nearness of the kingdom required readiness and prayer:
So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near… But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always...Luke 21:31, 34-36
Closed Eyes Lead to Open Hearts and Homes (Read 4:8-9)
Because they follow Christ many believers forfeit their former social relationships. But the Lord compensates for such losses by providing new associations within the church. Preserving and deepening these ties deserves high priority.
The seriousness and watchfulness of end-time praying become visible in the exercise of 'fervent love' among fellow believers. This love is firm and durable, patient and strong: Stronger than the world's longest suspension bridge, Christian love spans a river of sins when forgiveness is exercised to restore fellowship.
The church's mutual bonds are strengthened as well by the practice of hospitality. In Peter's day his readers lived in and travelled among various harbor cities and commercial centers. Peter himself had enjoyed Christian hospitality in Joppa and Caesarea (Acts 9:43; 10:5-6, 48).
Hospitality is a distinguishing mark of the Christian church (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2) and of the church's elders (1 Timothy 3:2). More than a social duty, an open house reveals an open heart. In the early church, members opened their homes for congregational gatherings (see Romans 16:5, Colossians 4:15, and Philemon 2), and for traveling preachers like Peter, Paul and John. (Question 2)
Faithful Stewards of God's Grace (Read 4:10-11)
The congregation's alternative lifestyle becomes evident when members view God's grace not as a possession but as a practice. God's grace (charis) is a gift (charisma); every gift in the church (charisma) springs forth from the fountain of divine grace (charis). Practicing this grace is what the New Testament means by 'exercising one's gifts.' All the functions and capacities which God has given the church constitute opportunities that must be maximized.
Like Paul (see Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-11), Peter puts the various gifts in two categories: speaking and serving, which correspond to feeding faith and exercising fellowship. Here Peter is not pointing to official functions in the church, but rather to general occasions for mutual strengthening: 'Whoever speaks ... whoever serves.' Relationships in the congregation are cemented by keeping word and deed, speaking and serving, in proper balance. Both depend upon God, who in the one case provides the words to speak and in the other supplies the strength to serve. This latter notion likens God to the sponsor who in ancient times underwrote the costs of a theater choir. Similarly, the church is generously endowed with everything necessary for its alternative lifestyle in a pagan world. (Question 3)
These gifts and their use not only depend on God, but must be directed toward Him as well, for Peter says: '...that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.' Calvin reminds us that 'God does not adorn us with His gifts in order to rob Himself and make Himself as it were an empty idol by transferring His own glory to us, but on the contrary so that His own glory may shine forth everywhere.' What blasphemy, then, to employ God's gifts for any other purpose than to glorify Him! (Question 4)
In order to endure suffering for Christ's sake at the hands of pagans, pilgrim believers need to cultivate sober prayer lives and supportive relationships with fellow travelers. Strength for survival requires both fellowship with God through prayer and fellowship with co-believers. A praying church will enjoy rich fellowship together, and these relationships will in turn give believers something to pray about!
Questions for Reflection and Reply
Mention several benefits of regular times of prayer. Identify habits you have found helpful to engage in regular prayer. If families don't eat meals together regularly, what other ways can be found to pray together as a family?
Mention some helps and hindrances to exercising Christian hospitality. Is the requirement that an elder be hospitable (1 Timothy 3:2) still valid today? What spiritual blessings does God give to the congregation that practices hospitality?
What is the difference between a 'spiritual gift' (charisma) and a talent? According to Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, and 1 Peter 4:1011, are the following talents or spiritual gifts:
playing a musical instrument
comforting those who sorrow
What spiritual gift are you practicing in order to strengthen co-believers?
In the light of the passages listed in the preceding question, mention some objective, biblical tests by which to determine whether or not a spiritual gift is being directed to God's glory.