Living with an eye to the end of all things, 4:1-11
Pressing on with the theme of a believer's survival in a hostile secular world, Peter encourages his readers to resist the temptation of lowering their ethical standards in order to escape suffering; synchronism must be resisted, v1-6. Reminding his readers that the day of judgment is at hand and that therefore believers need to practice discipline in the Christian life, Peter goes on to present a series of positive exhortations, all listed under the heading of love, v7-11.
v1-2. Peter, at this point, seems to reflect the teachings of Paul in Romans 6:1-11, particularly v10-11, "in dying as he died, he dies to sin, once for all, and in living as he lives, he lives to God. In the same way you must regard yourselves as dead to sin and alive to God, in union with Christ Jesus." Christ suffered bodily on our behalf on the cross; he conquered sin on our behalf, did away with it. We need to arm ourselves with the same thought, the truth that in his suffering Christ was victorious over sin, so that in our earthy struggle we too might be victorious over sin rather than be ruled by our own desires. Peter doesn't want his readers to compromise their ethics for self-preservation within a hostile environment.
v3-4. Peter now provides a reason why we should arm ourselves with the mind of Christ, arm ourselves with the knowledge that we who are united with Christ in his victory over sin, can claim victory over sin in our day-to-day life. The reason Peter provides is that we have spent more than enough time pursuing "human desires", v2 - a kind of "Aren't you tired? Surely its time to give wonton abandon a rest." Peter lists some of these "human desires": unrestrained desire for sex, food, and drink ..... along with wanton acts commonly practiced within the religious ritual of pagan worship. "Because of this" pagan neighbors are amazed - put off, offended.
v5-6. In the end, those who violate God's people and God's law will face judgment, a judgment covering those already deceased as well as those who are alive at the coming of Christ, v5. The judge is presumably Christ, given that the role of judge has been allocated to the risen Christ. Peter goes on in v6 to explain how this judgment relates to those believers presently facing the hostility of their pagan neighbors; suffering, v1, facing abuse, v4. Believers are indeed facing troubled times, but having heard and responded to the gospel, both deceased and alive will be awarded eternal life at the return of Christ.
v7. In the remaining verses Peter addresses the application of Christ's victory. If the future is just more of the same then we may as well eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. Yet, as believers we face the dawning of the kingdom of God, of glory untold, and this reality shapes how we live today. As Karen Jobes in her commentary puts it, "Peter continues to reshape his reader's self-understanding in Christian terms by providing an eschatological perspective for living out their faith in Christ."
v8. Above all, let us love one another. Peter says that love covers a multitude of sins. This statement has wrongly been interpreted by some to mean that our past sins can be expunged in God's sight by a kindness done today. Sin is expunged by God's grace in Christ, and by no other means. So, what is the point of this proverb? Karen Jobes puts it this way, "The love that covers sins is probably best understood as a forbearance that does not let wrongs done within the Christian community come to their fullest and most virulent expression."
v9. Let us offer hospitality to one another. "Keep open house for all and never grudge it", Barclay.
v10. Exercise our spiritual gifts. A Christian congregation is made up of a range of people with varying abilities, abilities which are gifts of God to his church for the upbuilding of the fellowship. Peter's exhortation is that his readers recognize this grace from God and apply it within their own congregation.
v11. Finally, speak graciously and serve powerfully. Peter wants his readers to understand the good, as well as the evil, that can be achieved by the tongue, so think with the mind of Christ and speak accordingly. And let us remember, that all that we do for the Lord we do in the strength which he provides.
I have just moved to a small beach-side village in northern New South Wales, Australia, called Scotts Head. How lovely! I can stroll down to the beach and shops, even ride my bike to the beach - such is retirement. In my early years it was a major effort to get to the beach involving an hour of driving, and now its just a minute's walk. And on Sunday, I can walk to church. Of course, as a minister I would always walk to church because the rectory was next to the church. Now I'm just a member of the congregation; a stroll up the hill and I'm at church.
Some weeks ago it was announced that the powers to-be were considering selling our branch church. I thought little of it because there were about 20 regulars, the church is brick and in good order and it is the only place of worship in Scotts Head. Well! What can I say; the church has been closed and soon to be sold off. I am presently without a church to attend and somewhat offended.
The reasons management committees sell off places of worship are many and varied. Some of the reasons have worth. I mean, maintenance issues can spell the end of a church building, particularly if it's a monster with a congregation of a dozen people trying to pay for its upkeep. Sometimes the reasons have little worth. I well remember one branch church being sold off so that the manse could be refurbished - good intent was struggling on that occasion. The issue of few attenders often gets a run, although Jesus did say he is present for "two or three." I suspect that small congregations are the future in Western societies, so we had better learn how to manage the situation.
Secular society is never going to fully welcome the Christian church, but there are many ways for the church to enhance that negative perspective. Probably the worst in recent times is the scandal of pedophilia, but amazing as it may seem, the sale of the local church building will often generate quite a bit of anger. Attenders, of course, are devastated, they have lost their spiritual home, but the wider community is also offended. They recognize in the sale a breach of trust, of discarding the work of countless locals who provided this place of worship for future generations.
In our passage today we are reminded that we will at times be treated negatively by those who do not understand the Christian faith - a burden balanced out when every tear is wiped away. Yet at the same time, we are warned not to magnify that negativity by our own behavior. Discipline, love, generosity, sharing of our gifts, speaking graciously and serving powerfully, is our calling. In this way we build a people who can be trusted by the wider community.
1. Discuss the pressure to comply with community standards. Consider the issues of marriage equality, gender neutrality.
2. In what sense will God set everything right, v5-6.
3. Examine each of the qualities of disciplined living covered in v8-11.
4. Discuss the issue of breaking trust in the sale of an under-used church building. Address the many practical issues as well as social.
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