1 Peter 4:7-1 appears to be the final climactic section of the Apostle Peter’s letter. After all, it ends with a doxology and an Amen! Of course, it isn’t the end of the letter, it is a compact “manifesto” for church life in difficult times.
1 Peter 4:7-1 [ESV]
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.
The Apostle Peter is writing to Christians facing persecution. They are God’s people with a “living hope,” due to the mercy of God who has brought about their new birth through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Their destiny and inheritance in Christ are secure, but their present reality includes trials and testing. These believers scattered over many regions (in the area of present-day Turkey), really had a two-fold identity. They were God’s special people, but sojourners or exiles in this world (1 Peter 2:9-12). They were Christians living in a non-Christian world awaiting the coming of the Lord.
Peter’s theme in this letter is to stand firm in the grace of God (5:12). The “God of all grace” is their God and He will establish His people after they have suffered “a little while.” Much of the letter before our text is written to help these believers know how to live during their challenging times. In 1 Peter 4:7-11, the Apostle focuses on a few practical instructions on how these believers should live with each other for the glory of God. In these verses he does not express ideas, he calls for various “practices” that should be part of the lifestyle of believers in local fellowships.
These believers, elect exiles, were in communities of Jesus Christ, living in a “stormy environment.” They had come to Christ for salvation, but now needed each other to “weather the storm” and maintain a “living hope” by God’s grace. And the means of grace in the context of community are (in part) what the Apostle Peter is presenting here.
So, what are the necessary ‘practices’ or characteristics of a God-glorifying community nearing the “end times?”
“…..therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” (4:7).
Even though prayer is not discussed at length in this epistle, it comes first in these instructions attached to a call for self-control and right thinking. The main verbs can be translated in a number of ways as is seen in the different English versions. The ESV translation above is as good as any. Together the two words present a call for appropriate and clear thinking in the light of the times, in order to pray. There may be the nuance also of alertness and sobriety given both the cultural and eschatological urgency of the day. This can be seen in the NKJV translation, “therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers.” The word (translated “sober-minded”) is found also in 1 Peter 1:13, and 5:8. It is clear that Peter is very concerned about right thinking that leads to personal stability in the midst of the challenges faced. Such truth-driven thinking will lead to praying according to truth. Anxiety unchecked can keep us from clear thinking and from praying to God about our concerns. Coming at this point in the letter, the Apostle Peter has already presented solid truth to help guide the thinking, the faith, and the hope of these believers.
In 1 Peter 5:7, Peter encourages these same Christians to cast their “anxieties” upon God, knowing of His care for them. This surely includes praying, and this is followed by exhortations to be “sober-minded” and “watchful.” So, prayer and watchful truth-guided thinking really go together. Notice that it is assumed that these people are praying. The Apostle’s words here are not a call to prayer. They comprise an exhortation to strengthen the prayer ministry of the local churches. We can assume that prayer was an important part of the life and activity of these believers in community, but this instruction underlines the critical role of prayer. (The teaching of Apostle Paul in Philippians provides a specific call for prayer instead of being anxious, Philippians 4:6-8.)
We are living in days of worry, anxiety, frustration, and even anger. The Covid-19 has had a role in this. Meanwhile, we see so many concerning trends in the culture and international struggles. Rather than giving in to error, false narratives, or anxiety, we should pray. And we should pray with a sober estimate of what is taking place and a spiritual alertness. The truth of the grace of God, and especially God-given hope should surround and permeate our prayers. We can cast our cares on the Lord, knowing He cares for us. Is that not wonderful? To really grasp that God Himself cares for us surely should bring comfort, confidence, and clarity to our prayer lives.
I think it is helpful to think of this directive as being relevant to local churches and not just to individuals. When God’s people gather to pray, the atmosphere should be one of clear thinking according to truth, and confidence in the Lord. We should always be aware that we are in the last days, and the revelation of the grace of God in Christ is our expectation (1:13). Christians should pray earnestly and truthfully for God’s glory in these days. All our cares and needs can be brought before God within this broader perspective on prayer. This is especially true when we face hardships, direct challenges, and persecution for the Name of Jesus.
I sense that many in our day are gathering for prayer, seeking God for His will and way. This was a priority concern for Peter as he presents these directives calling God’s people to glorify God “together.”
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly. Since love covers a multitude of sins.”
Being a community of love is given the “above all” status by the Apostle. It is so easy to talk about love, but real earnest love needs to be displayed in the context of relationships under pressure. It is very easy for people to be offended, hurt, ignored, misunderstood, and otherwise sinned against when individuals are under pressure. It is bad enough when life is good and relatively easy! The call to the Christian community is for earnest fervent love that will result in the covering “of a multitude of sins.” It may be that this phrase “love covers” is speaking of a willingness and readiness to forgive on the basis of love. In this sense, love enables a person to offer forgiveness when they are asked to forgive. It is not an excuse for sinning, it is a loving readiness to forgive and to not let sin disrupt fellowship in the church. There is another possible aspect of this phrase to consider. This is in keeping with 1 Corinthians 13:4c that speaks of love not being “irritable or resentful.” In other words, on the basis of love, we do not take offense easily nor do we keep records of wrong. Love enables us to graciously deflect things that might otherwise cause us to “take offense.” Yes, as loving people we need to be willing to forgive directly when that is requested. But also, as loving people, we need to refuse to be touchy and easily offended by others. Love covers matters that could bother us, but they do not need to cause resentment or offense. For love's sake, we can let little irritations “slide.” We need real, practical fervent love in our relationships
How we need the Lord to strengthen us to love! We need the Holy Spirit to make real in our lives the love of the Lord. Loving communities in Christ reflect the love of the Savior. Indeed, our Lord Jesus prayed that His people would have the same love that the Father has for His Son (John 17:26). This goes beyond just putting up with each other, but that’s included!
Reflecting on this directive, it is worth remembering Peter’s own experience. Peter failed his Lord by denying Him three times. His sorrow over his denials and his “re-commissioning” by the Lord must have left their mark on His life. When the Lord engaged Peter at that breakfast meeting in John 21, the Lord questioned Peter’s love three times. But, the Lord also called Peter to the ministry he had previously predicted (Luke 22:31-34). Even though the Lord's questions must have been penetrating, the Lord was calling Peter to service, not to further remorse. Peter experienced the challenge, love, grace, and calling of the Lord at the same time. Peter knew what it was to experience the love of the Lord, a Lord who restored him. In a sense, Peter’s multiple sins were covered, and he could go forward to follow the Lord and serve Him.
“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
In a sense, this directive can be viewed as an aspect of Christian love. It is also a separate directive from the Apostle. The need for hospitality increases during hard or dangerous times. People in Peter’s time would need to open up their homes or living quarters to provide a safe place for fellowship or a safe place to stay. The need for sudden hospitality could increase during these difficult times. I would guess that this hospitality would include a welcome place for travelling visitors. It could also be providing help for any in need within the church community. This hospitality was to be done cheerfully as an aspect of regular church life.
What draws my attention is the qualifying phrase “without grumbling.” How realistic and practical! Hospitality can take time and stretch resources. There are risks with hospitality. Hospitality changes household habits and arrangements. In short, it adds responsibility and inconvenience, especially if unexpected. I think we can easily understand the reason for the added words “without grumbling.” Acts of kindness including hospitality can take energy and can add stress. It would be easy to say “yes,” and yet to be inwardly unhappy or upset. Grumbling in the hearing of the people helped would be hurtful. Grumbling to others would spread the displeasure. Grumbling reveals the true heart of the person grumbling, which is not in keeping with the hospitality offered. Christians in community are to be welcoming and available to help others practically.
I don’t think it is difficult to apply this to our lives today. It is easy to grumble and complain, It is easy to grumble and complain about almost anything! It is especially easy to grumble and complain when something adds pressure and stretches resources that are already stretched. The Apostle Paul told the Philippians to “do all things without grumbling or questioning…” (Phil. 2:14). This is to be true of all Christians about all things we must do. So, how are we doing with that directive? The Apostle Paul wanted the witness of the Philippians to be bright and impactful and he saw grumbling and disputing to be contrary to an effective witness.
Being hospitable was to be a characteristic of those aspiring to be overseers according to the Apostle Paul in 1 Tim. 3:2. This underlines the importance of such hospitality (and the care and fellowship that go with it) in the early church. Here in 1 Peter 4:8, the Apostle Peter stresses the importance of hospitality within the fellowship of believers, having just emphasized the pre-eminence of love for these Christians.
As I write these words, we have just had another natural disaster in the USA. I know that the Apostle Peter is not thinking about such an event specifically, but the scenes from such disasters are instructive in this matter of hospitality. There is the need for temporary shelter for some whose houses are destroyed or damaged. There is the need for water and food. There is the need for comfort and support. There is the need for encouragement and hope. On the broader level, there is the need for next steps of recovery (if possible), whatever they may be. You know “the picture,” it is all too familiar with all the crises we are seeing in our world today. Think of the millions in refugee camps or situations, with the basic need for hospitality, having left all behind them.
People can experience their own personal and family “crises” that leave them in desperate need. Hospitality is a vital ministry in these situations. Let’s call this crisis hospitality, which is a great way to show the love of Christ.
At the same time, there is the need for “regular hospitality” or daily hospitality. Hospitality builds relationships, provides a safe place for fellowship, and can meet temporary needs. I would include hospitality to visiting believers in this category as well.
Our local churches should be welcoming communities for those who need hospitality. We need to be ready to provide hospitality for “one another.” In a season of sickness and strife, hospitality is a beautiful ministry. The present pandemic has divided people, and hindered personal interaction. The local church should remain a welcoming place, and a place where hospitality is done with cheerfulness.
“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 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.
These verses lead to the beautiful doxology and the “Amen” that conclude this section of the letter. They contain the last directive for mutual responsibility: prayer, loving one another, offering hospitality to one another, and now serving one another (vs. 10).
Much is taught in verses 10-11. These verses remind me of the Apostle Paul’s instruction in Romans 12:3-8, (especially 6-8). What stands out is the God-centeredness of this instruction on using gifts to serve one another. Each believer is a steward of God’s grace manifested in the gift(s) each one has and should use. The implication is that each person by God’s grace has been given a gift to serve. This lays the foundation for understanding why and how these gifts should be used. All are involved. There is no room for claiming your gifting as your own to be used for your own purposes. The manifold grace of God is demonstrated through the diversity of gifts being used to serve one another. No hierarchy of ministry is presented here. The emphasis is on each person’s involvement in demonstrating the grace of God through their gifting.
The Apostle Peter presents two types of ministries or categories of serving. He does not give us a detailed list as you get in Romans 12:6-8, or 1 Corinthians 12-14, or even Ephesians 4:11. What is similar to these other passages of Scripture is the God-centered, grace-centered, others-oriented way in which this brief instruction is presented.
“Whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles (logia) of God.” However this is translated, you sense that content and manner of speaking are both being addressed. The words, the message, the utterance is to be God’s words for those listening. The speaker is to speak with an awareness that delivering God’s logia is what must take place. Stephen, in his address in Acts 7 speaks of Moses as having received “living oracles” to give to us (Acts 7:38). The Jews were privileged according to Paul in Romans 3:2 to be entrusted with the “oracles of God” (Romans 3:2). The writer to the Hebrews scolds his readers for their lack of maturity because they still need someone to teach them “the basic principles of the oracles of God” (Hebrews 5:12). We can gather from these other references that Peter is making a strong statement about the nature of the speaking that is to be taking place within the fellowship of the church. Whether he intends the Old Testament Scriptures to be used directly is not stated clearly. Whether at that time there were “logia” of Jesus forming the basis for authoritative teaching is not stated here either. Certainly, the writings of the Apostles were available to an extent. Whatever the case, though, Peter is speaking of instruction that ultimately must be God’s truth and have the authority of God behind it. The accountability of the speaker is being emphasized here. Speaking is not just a matter of sharing helpful thoughts or personal opinions. What Peter is referring to is speaking that is - the accurate communication of God’s words. The Apostle does not develop this directive to explain the nature of the speaking he is calling for, but he is clear about the words needing to be “of God.” Since this directive is not just going to “speakers,” all the readers are being made aware of the need for authentic communication of divine truth within the fellowship of believers.
Christians today need to have the same awareness and have the same desire to hear God’s words and not the opinions of people. We have the blessing of the complete canon of Scripture, 66 books in one Bible. It is our responsibility to preach, teach, and share these “words” trusting in their reliability as the revelation of God. In the Scriptures, we have the word and the words of God to be spoken in the life of the church community.
“Whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies….” This is a parallel statement to that concerning speaking. It is not as if speaking must be God-directed and serving in something different. No, serving or ministering must be done with God’s strength. It is just as much as an expression of the grace of God. The person serving is not depending upon personal strength and ability. The server has the strength of God to enable whatever service is needed. This is such a great corrective to the idea that speaking gifts are somehow more spiritual than serving gifts. Both are directly connected to the God who graciously enables. God enables His speakers to speak His words, and God enables those who serve to do so in His strength. So, God’s grace is at work in the use of all gifts.
“….. in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” This wonderful purpose clause certainly concludes the immediate section (vs. 10-11), but it is also a fitting climax to 4:7-11. These practical directives are “grace enabled activities” that will bring glory to God, a glory that comes “through Jesus Christ.” There is a very real sense in which everything in the Christian life is done through Jesus Christ. Christians as a “holy priesthood” are “to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (25). It is through Jesus Christ that His people’s worship is both possible and acceptable. Here in 4:7-11, these directives are all to bring glory to God which is likewise possible and acceptable through Jesus Christ.
So, if someone is asking how God can be glorified in the midst of challenging times, here is vital instruction. Times of suffering within a hostile context should not pressure Christians to live sub-Christian lives. No, God through His Son, Jesus Christ, can enable His people to live as they should live by His grace. And as they live in this manner God Himself will be glorified.
We should not underestimate the value of a Christian community following these specific directives. The corporate lifestyle is a powerful witness to Jesus Christ, and that corporate lifestyle provides the backdrop and framework for individual Christians to give witness to the “living” hope that is within them. Through thoughtful prayer, fervent love, cheerful hospitality, and gifted serving we glorify God together, and together is an important word.
The Apostle ends this section with these triumphant words: “To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever, Amen” Some scholars beyond me have considered “to him” refers to God and some consider “to him” to refer to Jesus Christ. The context can support either God or Jesus Christ as the one being referred to specifically in this final doxological statement. If consistency is a deciding factor, then it is more likely that the reference is to “God,” God the Father. This would be in keeping with the phrase “in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
Affirming that glory and dominion belong to God is a strong statement. (This is true if Jesus Christ is the primary referent here.) The affirmation of the eternal reality of God’s glory and dominion gives the people of God the broader perspective. Keeping in mind the hostile context that these Christians were facing, this statement takes on the role of a strong creedal affirmation. God’s glory and sovereign power are ultimate and everlasting. All of life is to be lived for Him and with the “living hope” of eternity. For it will be in the future that the sovereign power and glory of God will be manifested in fullness. What a glorious “Day” that will be.
Meanwhile, God calls His people to a lifestyle that will enable believers to stand firm in His grace. The practices mentioned in these few verses are not just nice suggestions. These practices help God’s people to be faithful to the God of grace, and to experience His grace. Standing firm in the grace of God is best done by standing firm together. This is what church life is all about. The church is not a building, it is not a time slot, it is God’s special people, strangers in this world, living together for God’s glory. Such a lifestyle that brings glory to God is not just religious talk, it is the corporate expression of the life of God’s people as we seek to glorify God together.
Note: I share with you these sermon or devotional thoughts to aid the preparation of your own preaching outline. If my thoughts and outline are to be used in full in your preaching or writing, then it would be appropriate and honest to “give credit” and to say in the simplest of ways that you are using or following Dr. David Olford’s notes on the passage. For more permissions of use and our thoughts on pastoral plagiarism see "Avoiding Plagiarism in Preaching".