Living As a Christian Community in an Unbelieving World (1 Peter 4:7-11)

Sermon by Rev. Daniel L. Sonnenberg | February 5, 2012


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.


Last week we looked at what it means to live with the same attitude as Christ in an unbelieving world. This week we’re looking at what it means to live as a Christian community in an unbelieving world. To live as a community of faith in an unbelieving world there are five things we should know:

  • What time it is
  • Where to begin
  • What’s most important
  • How to use our resources
  • What our ultimate purpose is

 Knowing what time it is – should cause us to Feel a Sense of Urgency

Verse 7 begins, “Now the end of all things has drawn near…”

Saying the end has drawn near here is equivalent to Jesus’ saying in Mat 4:17, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near (is at hand). In other words, since the KOH has drawn near, you should repent. “Since the end has drawn near” is a prelude to a call to action, as we will see later in this verse. Peter is simply saying that since Messiah has come, and we are expecting his return at any time, we should feel a sense of urgency to make preparations for his coming. Like the wise virgins in the parable of the bridegroom and the servants in the parable of the talents, we are not to be complacent, but prepared for his return, working diligently on his behalf and praying “Come, Lord Jesus.” We don’t know when he is coming, but we are certain that he is coming. Therefore, as his servants who have been given a job to do on his behalf, we should be prepared for his return at any time.

Notice the use of the phrase “all things.” It is a single word, (pantone), meaning all or every in the original and it appears three times in this passage: here, in the next verse and in the last verse.

It invites us to look at the big picture and make preparations for the big changes that are in the making. I want us in the coming months to step back and look at the big picture by asking the question, “In view of the end of all things, what should we as a church be doing? Since our time may be limited, what are the most important things we should do individually and corporately. What should we do – to use a phrase from last week – with the time remaining to us?

Have you ever known a person who was facing the certainty of his own end? Persons who know the end is near often look at life differently and do life differently. I recently watched the movie title, “I Am” produced by the same man who became very rich by producing a number of silly, but very popular movies including “Bruce Almighty.” He experienced a very serious accident and sustained some very serious injuries that caused him to take another look at his life. What he discovered was a life of self-gratification and consumption. The result was a decision to make some significant changes in his life so that his focus was on serving others rather than simply serving his own desires.

Sometimes these changes take place at Mid-life / half-time: what’s the best use of your remaining time?

Knowing that the master will return, we should prepare for his coming by faithfully doing what he has called us to do. But what is the first step?

The second part of verse 7 reminds us that as a community of faith in an unbelieving world, we should

Know where to begin – by Preparing our Minds for  Communicating with God

7b “Therefore, be self-controlled and sober-minded in your prayers.”

A more literal translation would render it, “be self-controlled and sober-minded into your prayers or for the purpose of your prayers. The picture here is of a person making mental preparation before entering into prayer with God or in order to better enter into prayer with God. Let’s look first at what it means to be

  •  Self-controlled for the purpose of prayer

This is the self-controlled found also 1:13: “Fully set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed by making your mind ready for action by being self-controlled.” A self-controlled mind is a mind that is ready for action.

A self-controlled or disciplined person has his life in order. He does so not out an obsessive need for order, but so that he can be ready for action at a moment’s notice. He has put the affairs of his life in their proper places so he can find them when he needs them and use them as necessary. His life is not like indiscriminate piles of paper on the desk. Rather, it is like papers organized in alphabetical folders so they can be found as needed. He is self-controlled and therefore ready for action. As he comes to prayer, his mind is ready for action, to do whatever the Lord tells him to do.

Second, we are to be

  • Sober-minded (or clear-minded) for the purpose of prayer

A sober mind is clear of the fogginess of a drunken lifestyle. A sober mind is free from the dissipations of a worldly lifestyle. A Christian obtains a clear mind not by practicing eastern meditation, focusing on a particular color or reciting a mantra. He becomes clear-minded by focusing on the work and words of Christ.

Hebrews 12:1-2 (NAU) …let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith… 

 With self-controlled and sober minds, we can enjoy a vital prayer life individually and corporately. When our focus is on Christ, we can pray in one accord. Jesus had a vital prayer life with his Father because he kept first things first and kept his Father’s will at the top of the list. By contrast, a community of faith that is made up of members who are undisciplined and fuzzy in their thinking cannot have a vital prayer life together and therefore must forego the confidence and power that goes along with it.

As we seek the Lord together in the coming months with minds ready for action and focused on Christ, we can trust that he will guide us safely into the next phase of our ministry here.

This passage tells us not only what time it is and where to begin, but third,

Know what’s most important – Loving One Another

8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.

The phrase, “all things” appears here again. Above all things… keep loving one another earnestly since love covers a multitude of sins. And then he gives an illustration of HOW we should love one another.

When it comes to Christian community, love is the most important thing because love covers all the ways we will sin against one another. When you are in community – real community – you rub one another the wrong way – often.

Your family is in community when you live together in the same house. You make deposits into and withdrawals from one another’s emotional bank accounts when you live together. You love one another, but you often you don’t agree on the best or right way to do things. You each have preferences that are not the same as the others, and you each have habits, some of which, grate on the others. When a couple gets married and move in together they discover annoyances about the other that they weren’t aware of during the engagement – the way he unrolls the toilet paper or doesn’t put the lid down, the way she leaves her clothes on the floor or doesn’t cook the meals the same way as mom used to, for example. When children come along, the pressure goes up because there’s less time for one another and often less money to go around. As the children grow into teens and young adulthood, they have their own ideas about things and their own habits that can grate on each other and on their parents. It’s not easy living in a family.

A church is in community by virtue of the members’ common life in Christ and their common worship, fellowship, ministry and even their government. We don’t always agree on the best way to do things, on what’s most important, and some of us have personalities and habits and preferences that are difficult to understand and hard to live with.

That’s why love is the most important thing. We need lots of love for one another because love covers – puts up with, makes allowance for, overlooks, and doesn’t keep a count of – the sins of the other person. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things  . (1Co 13:7 ESV) about the other person.

But that is not to say that we never confront one another about our sins. We do, and Matthew 18 tells us exactly how we should do that. But first, we try to overlook the offense. “So far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (Rom 12:18) Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult. (Pro 12:16 NIV)

Peter quotes a source that is quoted also in Pro 10:12 “Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all transgressions.” It shows the contrast between hate and love. A person who hates, stirs things up. A person who loves, smooths things over. The person who hates, uncovers the bowl, as it were, and stirs in some additional ingredients, that ruin the recipe, while the person who loves, leaves the cover on the bowl, leaving well enough alone.

If you can’t or refuse to love one another, you will eventually become overwhelmed by all the ways you will sin against each other. This was perhaps more pronounced to Peter’s original audience than it is to us. In our day, if we get offended in one church, we can go to another church. In Peter’s day, the number of Christians was much smaller, and they may not have been able to change churches as readily. By the way, many people don’t leave their offenses at the previous church. They take them with them to the new church and the cycle begins again. If we stay offended by what happened to us in our previous church or with our previous pastor or his spouse or children, we stir up strife wherever we go. Rather, we should forgive and return to love that covers the sins of others.

Second, Peter illustrates a practical way this love is demonstrated – through our hospitality to one another. From time to time, people need our hospitality – perhaps when they’ve been hospitalized, or have a death in the family – and we are asked to help them out by bringing a meal to their home. Or sometimes a person’s car breaks down and they need a ride to get to work or to the doctor or to the store.

Peter says we should do this without grumbling. Yeah, it’s inconvenient, it’s a pain, it’s more work than we planned for that day, it might cost you some money, but that’s what we’re supposed to do, because we’re in Christian community with one another.

It’s a little bit like a natural family. Did you or your kids ever say, “I didn’t ask to be born into this family?” In some ways, you didn’t ask to be put in this faith family, and you certainly didn’t ask for Mr. So and So or Mrs. What’s Her Name to be here. But here you are, stuck with each other. So you are being commanded to make the best of the situation, to love one another, and moreover, to do it without grumbling.

Jesus demonstrated how to show hospitality without grumbling when he washed his disciples’ feet. He went above and beyond the call of duty. He had a meal prepared for them, and when they showed up for the meal, he took the time and the effort, he put up with the grit and the grime they brought with them, to wash their feet.

A few years ago, on June 28 (2005), four Navy SEAL commandos were on a mission in Afghanistan, searching for a notorious al-Qaeda terrorist leader hiding in a Taliban stronghold.

As the battle ensued, three of the SEALs were killed, and the fourth, Marcus Luttrell was blasted unconscious by a rocket grenade and blown over a cliff. Severely injured, he spent the next four days fighting off six al Qaeda assassins who were sent to finish him, and then crawled for seven miles through the mountains before he was taken in by a Pashtun tribe, who risked everything to protect him from the encircling Taliban killers.

They took Luttrell back to their village, where the law of hospitality, considered “strictly non-negotiable,” took hold. “They were committed to defend me against the Taliban,” Luttrell wrote, “until there was no one left alive.” (Lone Survivor – by Marcus Luttrell) [submitted by Austin Mansfield]

In order to live in Christian community in an unbelieving world, fourth, we should,

Know how to use (y)our resources – we do that by Serving One Another with the Gifts God has Supplied each of us

10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:

Everyone of us has received a gift. The word is charis or grace. Each of us has received a grace of God to use in serving others. But we haven’t all received the same gift. God’s grace is varied, it is multifaceted, multidimensional, and it is expressed in the diversity of his body. Eph 4 tells us we are one body with many gifts for the common good.

And we are to be good stewards of the gifts he gives us – not to waste them or bury them, but to maximize their potential for his benefit and glory, just as the wise servants multiplied the talents they were given five and ten times.

There are varieties of gifts as we know from Eph 4, Rom 12 and 1 Cor 12, but Peter summarizes them here – there are speaking gifts and there are serving gifts.

He tells us how they should be used.

First, speaking gifts should be used as though God is speaking through you.

11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God;

In seminary, our preaching professor told us what to tell ourselves as we approached the pulpit – not before then and not later, but only as we approached the pulpit preach. He said, “Tell yourself, ‘I’m the man.’”

Serving gifts, secondly, should be used as though God’s strength was enabling you to do the task at hand.

whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—

When you serve in the name of Jesus, you can trust that God’s strength is upon you. Paul reminds us in 2 Cor that “his strength is made perfect in our weakness,” and we can say “when I am weak, then I am strong” in him. This has, I believe as much to do with our effectiveness as it does physical or mental strength. We can trust God to accomplish his purpose through our efforts when we serve in his name.

So what are our greatest resources as a Christian community? Each other! I need you to serve me and you need me to serve you. One part complements another part, and all the parts, even the most unseemly, are important. I cannot say to you because you are a foot, that you are unimportant because you are not a hand like I am. Nor can you tell someone else they are not necessary because they are not like you. Again, we’re stuck in this body of Christ together, not because we asked to be, but because he called us into it and has given us the gifts he did.

Are you using the gifts he has given you to serve one another? Maybe you haven’t had the opportunity yet. Maybe you’ve become burned out. Maybe you think your gift is unimportant or not needed. The important thing is to begin, perhaps begin again, perhaps to begin in a different way than before. It’s never too late to begin again.

We’re simply to be faithful to use what we’ve been given to serve one another in some way, because when we do, we’re serving we’re serving Christ himself, and we’re serving as Christ himself as his tangible hands and feet and voice on the earth. When we love one another, others we see and believe that we are his disciples.

This in turn prepares us to love and serve those outside the body of Christ who are often even more difficult to love and serve than those inside. We really need each other to accomplish the task of going even further outside our comfort zone to love and serve those who don’t yet know Christ.

Finally, In order to live in Christian community in an unbelieving world, we should,

Know (y)our ultimate purpose: which is Glorifying God through Jesus Christ

11b in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

There’s that phrase again, “all things” translated here, “everything.” In order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. We began with “the end of all things is at hand.” In the middle we said, the most important of all things is love. And we end with the purpose of everything is the glory of God.

The Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms begin with the question, “What is man’s primary purpose?” The answer given is, “To glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”

The proof text cited is 1 Corinthians 10:31 (NIV) So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God,

Jesus’ highest purpose was to glorify his Father. He said in his high priestly prayer, in  John 17:1 “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 4 I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.

 It’s easy to become disenchanted with the church when difficult things happen – when people fail you, when people attack you, when people constantly disagree with one another about the small stuff.

But if we can be clear – and motivated by – our common purpose – to glorify God through Jesus Christ – we can survive and thrive as a church in an unbelieving world. The person – or the church – that loses its purpose, loses its way. When you have a clear purpose, as Jesus did, we can accomplish everything that God has called us to do, and we can persevere through persecution and suffering if necessary in doing it.

When I get fuzzy in my own thinking, I remember Eph 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which he prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

He has called you individually to himself to accomplish his purposes in the world, and he has called you together as his church, his body, to accomplish his purposes in the world – today, right now. Let’s don’t give up because we’ve had setbacks in the past, but press on to do all everything God has for us in the days ahead, and let’s do it together.

Click here for the series of twenty-three sermons on the entire book of 1 Peter.

Categories: 1 Peter, 1st Peter: The Church in the World, 2012, Sermons

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