RPM, Volume 16, Number 18, April 27 to May 3, 2014

Living to the Praise of God

1 Peter 4:7-11

By D. Marion Clark


We've been learning about how to live in a nonChristian world. Our present text instructs us on how to live in a Christian community. Peter denotes both the activities and the attitude necessary for Christian community that glorifies God.

Alert Prayer

The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.

The verb tense in the Greek indicates that the end has already come near. The end is nearby, ready to take place at God's word. We've noted before that all of Christ's acts have been completed save his return. He has been incarnated; he has made atonement for sin; he has risen from the dead, and he has ascended into heaven. Furthermore he has sent the Holy Spirit as he promised. One act is left. It may be tomorrow; it may be several more millennia away; it may be today; whatever the case, the end of this earthly age is ready to take place. Therefore, Christians ought always to be ready for that time.

What does it mean to be ready? We should be ready in the sense that we are not caught in sin. When Christ returns, we ought to be found morally prepared. This is the context Peter had in mind back in 1:13-16. Be alert, living holy lives. In this passage, however, his concern is that we be alert in prayer. Be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.

Peter only speaks of prayer twice and almost as a passing comment each time. He doesn't teach how to pray or elaborate on its value, and, yet, he seems to share unconsciously with his readers a high regard for its importance. What is the warning he gives to husbands who don't treat their wives properly? It is that their prayers will be hindered (3:7). Peter apparently thought he was giving the men something to worry about. Here, now, he commands his readers to be clear headed so they can pray effectively. Prayer, at least the prayer Peter has in mind, is for those who remain calm in the midst of turbulence. It's as though the Christians are to wield prayer like a weapon or tool. It's not for the careless or befuddled.

A scene in the movie The Titanic illustrates well the world's different take on prayer. The ship is about to split in two, causing the ends of the ship to rise sharply. Leonardo DiCaprio, keeping his wits about him, leads Rose to the stern to avoid sliding into certain death. He passes a priest praying and reading scripture to a small band of people, who, of course, slide to their death. Prayer, as the world knows, is for people who feel helpless and can't figure out what to do anymore.

Actually, we Christians have to agree with this view to a certain extent. We do pray because we have more faith in God than in ourselves, and I hope that I would have been in that band of pray-ers. But Peter here is speaking of prayer that will help Christians accomplish what they are called to do. The end is near. This is not a warning of judgment for the Christians. Remember the context. The Christians are getting put down by their nonChristian neighbors. Peter tells them not to worry about it. They are under God's protection. But they do need to worry about their neighbors' status before God. Their neighbors are lost and the end is near. Be alert; now is the time for serious spiritual warfare.

Get to work and pray! Pray for your neighbors that God will change their hearts. Pray for yourselves that you will be bold, wise, and loving in your witness. We need to pray if we have any chance of carrying out the mandate to bless those who insult us. We need to pray if we are going to submit to officials and supervisors who abuse their power. These are the things that our King calls us to do that we may extend his kingdom against the kingdom of Satan. And prayer is vital to the cause.

Now, if prayer is essential to Christians living out their callings, equally important is the bond we maintain together. For us to face the world, we must be able to embrace one another. We could have easily passed over Peter's emphasis on prayer, but we cannot miss his emphasis on love within the Christian family. Above all, love each other deeply…

Remember how he threw us off balance back in chapter one? In verses 13ff, he lectured on the importance of living holy lives, impressing upon his readers to fear God in light of how Christ had redeemed them with his precious blood. He then continued in verse 22: Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that… (and it seems he should have said) "you may be holy." Instead, he said, you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.

He's doing the same thing again. You expect Peter to say something like, "Above all, press on. Testify boldly for the Lord. Fight the good fight." No, for Peter, what really will make the difference for Christians is the love they show to one another. This time, Peter actually gives a reason: because love covers over a multitude of sins.

Peter's intention could be misinterpreted. One might think he intends for love to act as a mere covering over real problems; love ignores real divisions and wounds. I think Peter has in mind Proverbs 10:12: Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs, which helps understand his intention. Love does the opposite of hatred. Hatred stirs up old wounds creating dissension; love covers those wounds with the healing power of kindness and forgiveness. As Calvin comments: "Who is there who has not many faults? Therefore all stand in need of forgiveness, and there is no one who does not wish to be forgiven."

Peter knows this is needed in Christian community. There is much to cover with love. I find Ephesians 4:2 instructive in this regard: Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Having to bear with one another means that there are sins and trying traits about each other. You don't have to bear with someone who is pleasing to be with. The simple truth for Christian community is that we must exercise love towards one another in order to overcome the offenses we will experience from one another. We will let each other down. We will say and do things that will hurt. And only the love of Christ in us can cover over the wrongs so that they do not create dissension and bitterness. Only love can give us the right spirit in which to approach our brother or sister who has offended us. Only love can cause us to do what is right, whether it be to excuse a slight offense or to speak to the offender.

Peter goes on in verse 9 to speak of love in practice: Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Nothing is more uncomfortable than to receive hospitality from someone who is not hospitable, nor more embarrassing than to discover that the hospitality you joyfully received was considered a burden to the giver. An act which should nurture good feelings within the body becomes an agent for bitterness.

We are to offer hospitality with cheerfulness. Offering hospitality merely out of a sense of duty to God is failing one's duty to God. We are to take pleasure in showing love to one another. Should we not offer hospitality, then, if we can't do it cheerfully? No. That's just an excuse to avoid the heart of the matter. The problem is with ourselves, and we are not going to overcome it unless we are determined to. The main enemy to hospitality is laziness. Hospitality requires us to think beyond ourselves and to factor others into our plans.

We noted in the previous passage how the sins of self-indulgence do not require an active choice of the will; one simply goes with the flow of natural base cravings. Living for the will of God, on the other hand, requires the strong-minded choice of the will. The same principle is at work in Christian community. Our danger may not be that we plunge into the flood of dissipation, but our very real danger is that we go with the flow of our personal concerns and convenience. Cheerful hospitality requires the strong-minded choice of the will. It may be true that hospitality comes easier to some than others; it is also true that circumstances can keep us busy, making hospitality harder. But then, that is all the more reason for us to put forth the effort and not float along the current of our self-interests.

Let's review. Peter has exhorted his people to pray with an alert mind, to love each other deeply, and to practice hospitality cheerfully. He next encourages them to use their spiritual gifts for the good of the community.

10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. Note what we learn about gifts. One, each of us has a gift or gifts. Peter says, each one, not "whoever." Two, each of us is to use whatever gift one has. We cannot excuse ourselves from service because we don't like our particular gifts or think them unimportant. Three, we are to use our gifts to serve, not to draw recognition for ourselves. Four, we are to serve one another. The NIV does not bring this out as well as it is in the Greek. But our gifts are to be used in service for one another, the community of believers. Five, we are not owners, but stewards of God's gifts. The KJ brings this out well: as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. These gifts are not ours by natural right or endowment, but have been given to us to use faithfully for his service. Six, gifts are but means of showing in many different ways the grace of God. The Greek word for gift (charisma) is simply another form for grace (charis).

So, we all have gifts that have been given to us by God to serve the community of Christ. As stewards of these gifts, we are to use them well in service for Christ. Peter further impresses upon his people how they are to exercise their gifts. He divides them into two general categories of speech and service.

If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. Such gifts would include preaching, teaching in its various forms, and, I think, speaking words of encouragement, comfort, and counsel. You can see easily how this ought to apply to preaching. The preacher ought to be faithfully proclaiming the Word of God. He must be careful to both bring forth the true meaning of Scripture and to appropriately apply it to his hearers. As such, he is one speaking the very words of God. Thus, preaching is a gift that the preacher must approach soberly, understanding the effect his words can have for good or ill.

But Peter's point is that all speech should be taken seriously, especially in service to God. We must understand the power of the tongue, so that when we do speak in service for God, we speak as though we are speaking on his behalf. The Sunday School teacher, the nursery worker, the visitor to the sick, the worship singer, the greeter at the church door — each is speaking on behalf of God to minister his grace. We are to keep that in mind as we exercise such gifts.

If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides. Here we have such gifts as possessed by the deacons and any who serve in ministries of mercy. One with such a gift is one who thinks, "Where is there a need in the church? Who around me could use help?" Peter mentions serving with the strength God provides. Looking to the strength of God is absolutely essential, because such ministry will quickly overwhelm you. Such gifts require being alert in prayer — praying for whom you are to serve and the task you are to do, and praying for God's strength.

And it's not simply a matter of praying for God's strength for your sake. When you serve in God's strength, you show others what the power of God can do. We tend to excuse ourselves from service, saying that we are not strong enough, talented enough, or bold enough. That's all the more reason God desires to use you. If you can serve well, then God must be able to work his grace in anyone! Are you too old or too young? Great, God will show through you that age cannot diminish his power. Are you too frail or too awkward? Great, God will show through you how his grace can flourish in weakness.

You see, God wants glory, and to each of you he has given his gifts that you will glorify him: so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. Our great hope is the day of our resurrection when we rise in glorified bodies and glorify God in his presence. But understand that, now, in your life now, God has given you the gifts through which you may glorify him. Your very weaknesses and limitations are his chosen instruments to display his glory.

In all things God [is to] be praised through Jesus Christ. Your strengths and weaknesses, your past success and failures, whatever it is that makes up you now, God takes it and manifests his grace through the gifts he has given you.


So what are we to do? Live to the praise of God's glory! God has not begrudgingly brought you into his kingdom and given you a little corner to sit in. None of us are just extra bodies that God allows to hang around while the really important folks do his work. He in his grace has given you a grace-gift that you may build up the body of Christ and extend his kingdom.

The question that often comes up is, "How can I know what my spiritual gift is? I want to serve, but I don't know what I should be doing?" Here is the simple truth about discovering and using your spiritual gifts. Praying with alertness, look around the church for a need, then try to meet it. That's basically it. The primary difference between those who seem to be gifted and those who aren't is that the so-called gifted feel compelled to do something. They are not comfortable simply attending church. They have a need to be useful.

Be assured that if you have a need to be useful to the body of Christ - if you have a desire to live to the praise of God - be assured that God will be a gracious giver. He created and redeemed you that you might glorify him. He brought you into his kingdom that you might do your part in building that kingdom. He has given you the gifts you have now that you may now play your part and live to his praise and glory.

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