Practical Suffering, Part 3b: Preparing for the End – 1 Peter 4:7-11
“So, the end of everything is at hand. Therefore, be sensible and be sober for the purpose of prayer. Above all continue having strenuous love for each other, because Love covers a multitude of sins, being hospitable to one another without grumbling. Just as each one received a gift for serving each other as good stewards of the various grace from God: If one speaks, as a word from God. If one serves, as from strength which God supplies. So that in all things God is glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom is the glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.”
It is necessary to see the connection between these verses and those that come before them. Some English versions capture this connection (δὲ) by implying some sort of contrast (but). The connection is not a contrast, but a continuation of Peter’s grander point: setting our minds to suffer like Christ (4:1). That command was issued in the context of believers in a fallen world surrounded by those who hate them and their Master. Beginning in v. 5, Peter’s attention turns to the final judgment and the day when the Lord Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. That day is still in view as he begins writing in v. 7, though his attention moves from the reprobate to the redeemed. This text is shot through with exhortations to each other (ἑαυτοῦ) and to one another (ἀλλήλων). The focus has changed from the believer’s response to the wicked and watching world to that of the community of the church. It is the context of the final judgment and the end of the age that Peter uses to impress three things into the minds and hearts of his readers.
A Right Mindset (v. 7)
Peter begins another round of exhortation here with the use of two imperatives. He commands his readers to be sensible (σωφρονήσατε) and to be sober (νήψατε). Both commands deal with the readers’ mindset and attitude, and both are used to govern the rest of this text. Here Peter commands the right mindset for believers so that they are able to engage in their primary duties toward each other. Peter first refocuses the readers by reminding them of their context (v. 7a) before delivering his opening salvo of exhortation (v. 7b).
Understanding the Times (v. 7a)
“So, the end of everything is at hand.”
This simple statement continues the thread from v. 5. Peter is stating more than the fact that the final day of judgment is set in stone, but that it is ready to appear. The whole span of history has been leading up to the appearance of Yhwh’s Messiah, the atonement that He would accomplish, the judgment of His enemies, and the righteous rule and reign He would establish over the earth. The prophets foretold many things that would have to happen before Messiah would come. But Messiah has come and atonement has been accomplished. While we continue to wait for the return of the King to establish His kingdom upon the earth, there is nothing standing in the way of that happening. There is no prophecy that is left to be fulfilled before Christ begins to execute His conquest of the earth.
When Peter writes the end (τὸ τέλος) he means much more than to indicate a conclusion. The idea is more like the goal or purpose. As an example, the conclusion of a way could be as simple as a cease-fire. The goal, however, is nothing short of victory. Peter is speaking of the goal of all things, which cannot be anything less than the return of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom He will establish. Time is no longer running in the direction of this goal but runs parallel to it and at times the gap between them seems to be razor thin. No man knows the hour or the day, but those who belong to Christ stand ready as if today is the day.
Eschatology is a discipline that few Christians know anything about because it is seldom taught in churches. Shame upon all those who masquerade as shepherds and keep this hope from Christ’s sheep! The purpose of eschatology is to encourage believers to live as if each day is the day when their Master will return. The Christian hope motivates both their personal obedience and their conduct in society. We must live our lives so that we might be caught as obedient slaves upon the Master’s return. We must behave in such a way that prepares the watching world for the coming Kingdom. Any eschatological system that separates the kingdom from the King misses this point entirely.
Responding Rightly (v. 7b)
“Therefore, be sensible and be sober for the purpose of prayer.”
Peter’s therefore (οὖν) draws out an inference from the fact that the end is at hand. There are serious implications for living in the final days before Christ’s return. Peter gives two aorist imperatives that demand immediate and wholistic obedience. He does not say “continue doing thus” nor does he state “you must begin doing this” but simply do it.
The command to be sensible (σωφρονήσατε) indicates a state of mind that is in control and not prone to extremes. A sensible man is one who is level-headed, serious, reasonable, and in control of his emotions. This term (σωφρονέω/σώφρων/σωφρονίζω) was a favorite of Paul’s when he wrote to Titus regarding the churches of Crete (1:8; 2:2, 4, 5, 6). The connection is within the context of the end. Believers cannot run around like Chicken Little claiming that the sky is falling. They are not ruled or bound by their emotions. Christians have a duty to perform and the context in which they must perform it has not changed since the day of their conversion, nor from the day of Pentecost for that matter. The King is coming. The world is gathering to resist Him. We must serve Him. There is nothing new under the sun.
Peter follows the command for sensibleness with a command for sobriety (νήψατε). Our English term sober can indicate either a state free from the inhibitions of alcohol or emotion. The Greek term shows the same flexibility. In some ways, the two commands are synonymous as both describe a state of self-control and being well balanced. The term used here marks one of the moral qualifications of an elder/overseer (1 Tim. 3:2, 3) as well as the mature older men in the church (Tit. 2:2). The point here is that the believers in Asia Minor must be in control of their faculties rather than running around in a frenzied state of emotional drunkenness. This is the end game and thus a certain level of sobriety is required. Much could be said here regarding the mess of the church today and their priority of feelings and emotions. The New Testament, however, views emotions to be something one must place in subjection rather than letting them run loose. The pagans with whom these readers once ran are characterized by their feelings and desires (4:3). Believers are no longer concerned with the desires of men, but by the objective will of God (4:2). Therefore, we must be sensible and sober.
It is possible to take the final phrase “for the purpose of prayer” with both commands or with the second command only. If we consider (1) lexically that the basic definitions of both commands tend to overlap and (2) syntactically that the two commands are joined by καὶ (and), it makes little sense to take this prepositional phrase (εἰς προσευχάς) as only modifying the second command. The purpose of prayer (εἰς = purpose) is behind both the command to be sensible and to be sober.
It is good to understand that Peter is not speaking of the ability to pray but rather the quality of prayer. Only a mind that is sober and sensible, one that understands the times and understands his own duty can pray intelligently and effectively. Prayer is a task that is so easily disrupted by confused minds and flighty emotions. Rather than communing with the Almighty in order to increase our strength in Him, we turn to endless babblings of confession in a strange attempt to make ourselves right with Him. As believers prepare themselves for the end, they must face this end with a clear and controlled mind so that they are able to be in ceaseless communion with God. This is the right mindset.
A Right Community (vv. 8-11a)
From this point forward, Peter shifts his focus to the community of the church. Everything that Peter states hangs upon the two imperatives of v. 7 and the communion with God for which they are given. Christianity is never an individual event and is always addressed in the context of other believers. Each individual receiving this letter must master their emotions so as to be sober and sensible, but that individual obedience is for the benefit of the body.
When Peter says, above all, he does not place this love over and above the commands to be sensible and sober but brings this matter to the attention of his readers as one of great importance. He uses a participle rather than another imperative because this statement flows from the commands found in v. 7. The sense becomes labored and clunky in English, but the idea is this love is an outworking of being sensible and sober.
Love the Body (vv. 8-9)
“Above all continue having strenuous love for each other, because Love covers a multitude of sins, being hospitable to one another without grumbling.”
Peter, of all people, should understand what it means to love (ἀγάπη). The last recorded personal conversation that Peter had with Christ revolved around this very issue (Jn. 21:15-23). This love is to be extended to each other (ἑαυτοὺς) with the implication that each member of the body is to love each member of the body strenuously. The adjective ἐκτενῆ is translated as fervent or earnest in many translations, but the image is that of being stretched. This term goes beyond implying effort to picturing effort that stretches the subject to his limits. It is used to describe a horse at full gallop or the tautness of an athlete’s muscles in full exertion. This love, this selfless consideration for the best of another, is that which strains the subject to the breaking point. We do not love as the world loves, when it is convenient for us or when the mood strikes us. We love as Christ loved us (Jn. 13:34) in that He laid down His life for us (Rom. 5:8). This love of the body by the body is essential for the body’s survival.
Peter includes the reason (ὅτι) for this love by pointing to Proverbs 10:12. This strenuous love is necessary because love covers a multitude of sins. The idea is not that Christians show love to one another in order to sweep sins under the rug, nor that Christian love for each other works to earn favor with God. The point is that of Christian relationships. The everyday offenses and immaturities of believers can grind on others like a stone on steel. Only a love that stretches to the breaking point enables a body to function. Hate does quite the opposite.
The first line of Proverbs 10:12 reads, “Hatred stirs up strife” (NASB). When believers hold on to every offense and go looking for shortcomings to hold against their brothers, they conduct themselves more like the devil (Rev. 12:10) than they do their Savior (Heb. 4:14-16). This by no means excludes church discipline, for that is an extension of love. But where love abounds, offense is not taken. The small and irrelevant weeds that rend churches asunder from the inside-out are never given time to grow, but wither and die in the garden bed of love.
To this Peter includes a statement regarding hospitality. There is no verb in v. 9, but the continued idea of a participle may be inserted for the English reader to connect Peter’s flow of thought from the commands in v. 7. Hospitality, or the love of strangers (φιλόξενος) was an essential part of the early church. Persecuted Christians on the run were left destitute and relied on Christians in other towns for their survival. Traveling Christians would not dare to stay in an inn, for such a place was little different than a saloon or a brothel. Even within the Christian community, hospitality was required on a weekly basis for no independent church buildings existed. The church would gather in someone’s home and thus much hospitality was always needed. This love of someone who was, by all accounts, a stranger would be strange indeed to the watching world. Yet, this is one of the marks of a true disciple of Jesus Christ (Jn. 13:35). This hospitality must be guarded and executed without grumbling. Such service is exhaustive, expensive, and time consuming. The load is placed squarely upon the host and so the situation is bound to stretch the giver of such love. To grumble is essentially a complaint against God and the circumstances that He has already ordained. Such an attitude robs us of joy and leaves doubt instead of faith and complaint instead of thanksgiving.
To love what Christ loves is not easy and is, in fact, impossible in our own strength. The point of loving to the breaking point is to feel the might of Christ’s love and know that He never breaks. It is to this extreme that we must love the body.
Serve the Body (vv. 10-11a)
Love is not an abstract idea, emotion, or feeling. To love assumes that there is an action involved. If the noun ἀγάπη expresses the quality of affection and desire for another’s best interest and the verb ἀγαπάω describes the action of desiring and working toward the interest of another, then we must assume that some sort of service is involved with this love. Peter develops this idea in the following verses by explaining not only what love within the body of Christ looks like, but also where this love comes from.
God Supplies the Means of Service (v. 10)
“Just as each one received a gift for serving each other as good stewards of the various grace from God:”
Peter presents the topic of spiritual gifts as the most natural and obvious means of expressing love within the body. There is a linguistic connection between the term gift (χάρισμα) and grace (χάρις) for a gift is something that is given freely with favor and cannot be repaid. The church seems to be largely confused on spiritual gifts and their purpose. Many seem to think that a spiritual gift is nothing more than natural talents that have been sanctified for the use within the church. Such teaching has led to the gross misunderstanding that one can throw a football, play the saxophone, or tap-dance in a manner that offers service to Christ. Such thinking is foolish, ridiculous, and narcissistic. A gift does not come from within to only be polished off for better use. The gift comes from outside the person and is completely devoid of their ability so that God receives the all the glory. It is much better to view these gifts in the way that the Bible describes them (Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:7-11, 28-30; Eph. 4:11) rather than including personal talents. Rather than talents that are designed to propel and exalt the individual, these gifts are designed to serve the body.
Just as the members are to strenuously love each other (ἑαυτοὺς), so too are they to serve each other (ἑαυτοὺς). This serving (διακονοῦντες) is the purpose of these gifts. Here we see another reason why we cannot describe these gifts as mere sanctified talents that we already possess. Peter expressly states that these gifts have been received (ἔλαβεν). The aorist tense indicates a historical action. The reference is not to our natural birth, but our supernatural re-birth. Each believer is given at least one spiritual gift and we are expected to serve the body in accordance with (καθὼς) the gift we have received. It is in this sense that we are all called to be good stewards of God’s grace.
Don’t miss the connection between the grace of God (χάριτος θεοῦ) and these gifts (χάρισμα). Each person who has received God’s grace in salvation has also received a gift for the purpose of service. Each bestowment of a gift is an extension of God’s grace to the church. Just as there are many members of the body for many functions, so God has supplied gifts for the supernatural service to and for the body. This means that every Christian is needed and that every Christian must exercise their gift if the body is to run at full capacity. To restate the obvious, spiritual gifts are not designed for the individual, but for the body. They are not a fundamental privilege, but a responsibility. For a believer to shirk his duty in serving the body with his gift is to make him a negligent steward.
A steward (οἰκονόμος) is not the owner of the house, nor the one who is in charge of the house, but one whom the master of the house has given clear instruction to and entrusted the execution of the master’s orders. A faithful steward is not one who takes over the house in the master’s absence, but one who runs the household as per the master’s instructions until the master returns to assume his duties in person. We have all been given a sacred trust, an extension of God’s grace, a gift to be put into practice. If we fail to do so, we will be considered a rebellious slave rather than a good steward. The next question should probably be: how do we faithfully discharge this duty? How should we serve with our gifts? That is the question Peter answers in the next verse.
God Supplies the Source of Service (v. 11a)
“If one speaks, as a word from God. If one serves, as from strength which God supplies.”
While the Bible describes many different specific gifts, they can all be organized into these two categories. All spiritual gifts are either gifts of speaking or gifts of doing. Here Peter emphasizes the source of these gifts so that the one who serves can go about his duties in an intelligent manner. The first category addressed by Peter (and stressed in order of importance by Paul in 1 Cor. 12:28) is those gifts of speaking.
The verb from λαλέω has been used to describe the verbal act of teaching and preaching (Rom. 3:19; 7:1; 15:18; 1 Cor. 2:6-7) but is also general enough to describe the any speech (Matt. 9:18, 33; Lk. 1:20; 2:15). Peter thus refers to the gifts of teaching, preaching, and evangelism which all include speaking. But we should also include any work of service that edifies the body (Eph. 4:11) through speech to include any reason to reprove, rebuke, and/or exhort (2 Tim. 4:2). The point Peter is driving at is to reveal the source of this speaking.
What many translations state as an utterance or oracle of God (λόγια θεοῦ) might better be understood as a word from God. The difference between λόγια (saying) and λόγος (word) is minute. A saying or utterance or oracle (λόγια) emphasizes that the word was spoken. A word (λόγος) may be spoken, or it may be written. The context is in the verbal utterance and so Peter uses λόγια. There is no further significance in the distention between the two nouns. The one who speaks had better understand that he speaks the word of God, or he keeps his mouth shut. The only benefit that a speaker has to the body is to proclaim the Scriptures, what God hath said. He is a messenger, not an improviser. This goes well beyond the pulpit to the counseling table, to the hospital bed, to the grave side. Any who are gifted in teaching, preaching, encouragement, exhortation, or correction must speak what God hath said or remain silent. God is the source of this speech, not man. To call these gifts a word from God does not transform the gibberish and garbled messages of man into the words of God. On the contrary, the only power any human speaker has comes from the message itself, and that message must be God’s message, God’s word, and God’s utterance; namely, the Scriptures.
Peter’s point regarding gifts of service travels along the same line. The strength to perform this service does not come from within, but from above. God is the source of strength that enables such acts of service. Those who show physical and tangible acts of love and mercy to the body by cooking meals, cleaning homes, hosting families, and providing transportation cannot continue to be stretched indefinitely if they rely on their own strength. Not only this, but they may be tempted to make their service (or ministry) all about themselves. This is not their work done in their strength. This is the work of Christ’s bride commanded and empowered by God Himself. As Grudem observes, “service performed by merely human energy and for one’s own status in the eyes of others can soon become a wearying activity and increases one’s pride rather than one’s faith.” If God’s glory is not the purpose, means, and goal of our service, then our service is something other than what God has designed. God is both the source and objective of our service. “The provider is always the one who is praised.”
A Right Objective (v. 11b)
“So that in all things God is glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom is the glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.”
Just as the end of all things (πάντων/πᾶς) is at hand, so too is God to be glorified in all things (πᾶσιν/πᾶς). The service that we render in the church and to the church is not primarily for the church’s benefit. All that we say, do, think, and imagine is for the purpose of giving all glory back to the God who is worthy of it. If we lose sight of this objective, the whole point is lost. If we replace the glory of God with the betterment of man, we cannot hope to remain faithful. By understanding that God is the source and power of our gifts we will use them rightly. As we use them rightly, God gets the glory.
The very significant prepositional phrase through Jesus Christ (διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ) concludes this thought. The church can only be served by those who are a part of the church. God only bestows gifts by those whom He calls. God can only be glorified through the works of men through Jesus Christ because He alone is the means of redemption and reconciliation. Apart from Christ, the work of men is disgusting in the sight of God (Is. 64:6). It is only through Jesus Christ that we can glorify God, and this is our chief objective.
From here Peter cannot help but burst into a doxology of praise. It is a shame that no one has gone through the various doxologies of the New Testament (Rom. 11:36; Gal. 1:3-5; Eph. 1:3-14; 3:21; Phil. 4:20; 1 Pet. 1:3-5; Rev. 5:9-10, 12, 13; etc.) and set them to music. How frail the scribblings of men compare to these rich texts. So intent and fixated on the glory of God that Peter explodes into praise. But if praise is to be rendered, it must be accurate and precise.
While it is completely true to state that Christ is to be praised and that He does possess the power and the glory forever, the pronoun to whom (ᾧ) is better understood as pointing to God rather than Christ. God is after all the subject of the sentence, not to mention that it would be strange to first state that God is glorified through Christ and then state that to Christ belongs all glory and power. It is not that the statement is not true, but only that Peter’s intention is focused on the Father at this point.
Peter makes a statement of fact. All the glory and all power belong to God and God alone. The eternal One who has no beginning, and no end possesses all things forever and ever. How can one come down from such heights other than to affirm the truth and beauty of such a statement? Amen.
Every ailment, every error, and every mistake that the church has made, is making, and will continue to make can be corrected by this single text. By fixating on the glory of God, as defined by God, as our chief goal and repenting of all that falls short of or hinders that goal, the bride of Christ would stand pure and holy. Woe to the men who have exchanged the glory of God for the worship of men. Woe to the men who have exchanged God’s grace for man’s feelings. Woe to the men who make sinners comfortable in their sin rather than calling the slaves of Christ to service. It is time to repent of our sloth and vanity. The end is at hand. It is time to get to work. We can work well past our strength, for we rely on the strength that God supplies. We can continue to speak, for we will never exhaust God’s Word. We can continue to love and serve each other, because it is God’s glory that we seek. It is to Him, through Christ, that we serve.
Soli Deo Gloria!
R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966), p. 192-3. D. Edmond Hiebert, 1 Peter (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1984), p. 269. Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter, vol. 17, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2009), p. 180-1.  Hiebert, p. 270.  Grudem, p. 181.  As per Lenski (p. 196), Grudem (p. 182), and Hiebert (p. 274-5). Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003), p. 214.  Ibid.  Hiebert, p. 276.  Grudem, p. 183.  Schreiner, p. 215.  Lenski, p. 199-200.  Hiebert, p. 278.