Jesus is coming again. Though we do not know the exact time, and trying to figure that out is warned against in the Scriptures, we know He is coming, and his coming is imminent. We believe this. We also believe that knowing this should lead us to live differently. Our church’s Statement of Faith affirms the immanency of the return of Christ, and that this blessed hope has a vital bearing on the personal life and service of the believer. Jesus urged His disciples to live with the ever-present reality that He is coming again: Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Matthew 24:44).
First Peter 4:7 begins the final section of the apostle’s first letter with these words: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore.” Peter’s urgent call to ministry was based upon the fact that our time on earth is limited. We’ve all had enough time already to live for the flesh, but now that we know Christ we are to live for Him (see 4:1-2). The day is drawing near. Time is short. On the day Jesus returns, many will be ashamed because of laziness and procrastination. But let us each strive to live in such a way that we will not be ashamed when Jesus returns. And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming (1 John 2:28).
In 1 Peter 4:7, the apostle calls us to be self-controlled (to have a cool head, balanced mind, and live in moderation) and sober-minded (calm, collected, and serious). Together, these words speak of having a disciplined mind, a mind focused on Christ. All of this, again, speaks of the priority of Christ-centered living. Christ-centered living begins with having a Christ-centered mind (see Colossians 3:1-4). Since the end of all things is at hand, we ought to be urgent about being active in ministry in the body of Christ.
The Activities of Urgent Ministry (v. 7-10)
If we really believe that Jesus is coming again it will impact how we approach serving His church. Peter draws out attention to 4 activities.
- Pray earnestly (v. 7b). We should be disciplined in our mind “for the sake of” prayer. Effective prayer requires a disciplined mind (1 Thess. 5:17). Prayer is labor. It is spiritual work. It is not for the faint-hearted (Col. 4:12; Rom. 15:30). Prayer is the God-ordained means through which we call down the power of God to act upon people and situations in our lives. Prayerlessness is a subtle sin (1 Sam. 12:23). The reasons we fail to pray are many: pride, laziness, stubbornness, anger, self-sufficiency, lack of conviction, lack of God-dependency.
- Pursue love (v. 8). Keep loving; that is be “fervent” (NAS) in love. This speaks of intense love, love that is stretched out like a muscle. The words “above all” call attention to love as the supreme Christian virtue since love makes all the other virtues what they ought to be (1 Cor. 13:1-3; Col. 3:14). And Peter says we must keep loving because “love covers a multitude of sins.” A true Christian who truly loves others as God loves will be willing to forgive over and over again. One commentator writes, “Where love abounds in a fellowship of Christians, many small offences, and even some large ones, are readily overlooked and forgotten. But where love is lacking, every word is viewed with suspicion, every action is liable to misunderstanding, and conflicts abound – to Satan’s perverse delight.”
- Practice hospitality (v. 9). To be hospitable is literally to be “friendly to strangers; a lover of strangers.” It means your home is open to anyone, not just family and friends. When was the last time you had a stranger over for a meal? In Peter’s day, there were many travelling Christians who had been cut off from their families because of their faith in Christ. They desperately needed the hospitality of other believers. We must practice hospitality without murmuring or grumbling. To grumble about your hospitality is to lose your blessing. Every believer is called to practice biblical hospitality, even to be eager about it (Rom. 12:13; Heb. 13:1-2). Hospitality is a powerful means to evangelism. A contemporary illustration of this is the conversion of Rosaria Butterfield, a prominent university professor in the fields of feminist and lesbian theory. Listen to her interview, Hospitality on Mission, with Desiring God ministries. How about you? Do you practice hospitality? Look at your calendar for the past year or two. Did you open your home to anyone? If so, who did you have over? Did you have any strangers over? Did you have over anyone who you are not related to by blood or marriage? Or who is not in your inner circle? The time is at hand. Therefore, let us practice love toward strangers!
- Perform service (v. 10-11a). Peter makes it clear that “each one,” every believer has been given at least one spiritual gift to be employed in the service of the church. We must be “good stewards” of these gifts of grace by using them to edify the body (1 Cor. 12:1; 4:7). If we fail to use our gifts, the body of Christ suffers, and others must pick up our slack. “But,” you say, “I don’t know what my spiritual gift is.” Fine. Then get to work and see what it is. Are you eager to serve? Do you have initiative? Or must people beg and plead with you to serve? Jesus is coming again. Therefore, we must be active in serving the Lord and His church.
The Ambition of Urgent Ministry (v. 11b)
What should be the goal of our service? The proper motive for ministry and the use of spiritual gifts: the glory of God. Spiritual gifts are never given for the glory of the individual. If you have speaking gifts then be sure to speak the “oracles of God,” i.e. Scripture, the writings of God (2 Tim. 3:16). Teachers will be judged by a stricter standard. Therefore, do not depart from what is written (Titus 2:1; 2 Tim. 1:13; 4:3). If you have a serving gift then serve in “the strength of God,” not the strength of your own flesh. God is glorified by the growth of the body as believers use the gifts He has given to them.
What does it mean to live with “constant expectancy”?
Jesus is coming again. In light of this, we must be urgent about ministry. People are dying and going to Hell. We must rescue them. Christians are stuck in immaturity. We must help them to grow. Serving Christ this way means we must live with constant expectancy. What does constant expectancy mean? Here’s the answer I gave in my EFCA ordination paper, last year.
Constant expectancy for the believer implies a call to live in holiness and hope, longing for His return, being excited that He could return at any moment (Luke 12:40; Phil. 3:20; 1 John 2:28). We are called to be patient, and stand firm because His return is near (James 5:8). Constant expectancy also means we are to live with a sense of evangelistic urgency. He will come like a thief in the night and, therefore, we must be ready (1 Thess. 5:2). There is no prophesied event that must occur beforehand and, therefore, we must live with constant expectancy; we should want to be found “waiting,” but not passive (Jude 21). We are commanded to be “looking” for His appearing (Titus 2:13). The prayer of our heart should be “Even so, come. Lord Jesus, come” (Rev. 22:20).
[Adapted from last Sunday’s sermon at Cornerstone Community Church in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.]