In middle school, I tried out for my school’s basketball team and I was chosen to be a part of the team. I got to practice with the team. I receive much playing time during scrimmages. When it came to a real game, though, I rode the bench. I like to say that I was part of the red dot club. I would rest my chin on my hands, which were propped up by the resting of my elbows on my knees. My elbows would leave little red pressure spots on my knees because they were there so long. I sat on the sidelines during basketball games because there were others who were stronger on the court than I was. In any sport, the coach will place people in positions based on their strengths, their natural gifts, and their talents.
As we return to Peter’s first letter, I want to consider whether or not we are being good stewards of the gifts and talents that God has given to us. If you have trouble figuring out what God has called you to or wonder what you should actually expect of others, perhaps you might read more closely. We know that we ought to serve. What sort of service, in response to God’s election, does God’s sovereignty call us to?
1 Peter 4:7-11 HCSB
Now the end of all things is near; therefore, be serious and disciplined for prayer. Above all, maintain an intense love for each other, since love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Based on the gift each one has received, use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God. If anyone speaks, it should be as one who speaks God’s words; if anyone serves, it should be from the strength God provides, so that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ in everything. To Him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.
The enabling of love
Peter, in this passage, states that the end of all things is near. There will be an end to suffering, wickedness, and an end to all flesh. This world will one day pass away and will be recreated by God in perfection. Not only this, but we all have very short lives with respect to eternity. Just because the world did not begin to end on September 23rd, does not mean that our present history will not one day come to a close. Jesus, himself, stated very clearly that no one but the Father knew the day or the hour (Matthew 24:36). Because the end of all things is near with respect to eternity, we are to be serious and disciplined in our prayer.
Here, I have to ask what attitude in our own hearts would draw us to pray genuinely? When we believe that things are good or that we have something to offer God or that we can succeed by our own plans and design, we have no reason to pray to God. When we begin where Peter began, with God election of His people, we are again brought to the realization that we did absolutely nothing on our own to achieve salvation. Again we are reminded of the fact that God chose His people from the foundation of the world according to His own knowledge, will, and purpose and we are humbled. Before the God of the universe, we have nothing to offer. We are entirely depraved. We are unable to genuinely succeed in anything. We are in desperate need for God’s leadership in our salvation, in our evangelism, in our discipleship, as we teach our children, as we try our best to love our spouses, as we live in the context of retirement and as we approach life’s final war with pain. There is nothing that we can figure out well without the direction of God. Only when we come to this realization can we possibly have a healthy prayer life. Desperation in light of our own failure and the end of our existence leads us to come humbly before the God of the universe, who is, according to Peter sovereign over salvation in election (and over everything else), in prayer. When we come before the sovereign king in prayer, we come not to advise Him, but to hear from Him. We are depraved and desperate, so we have reason to fall to our knees.
As we connect with the God of the universe, and our hearts are conformed to His, we are lead by Him to maintain an intense love for one another. Our ability to love genuinely and intensely comes from our recognition that God is sovereign over salvation (and everything else). It is a result of a fervent prayer life. Without a fervent prayer life, we will be unable to love genuinely and intensely. Within the community of believers, then, what does genuine and intense love look like? According to Peter:
- It covers a multitude of sins.
- If someone sins against me, but I love them, I will be quick to forgive. Every church that I have been in makes the claim that it is the most loving church in the area. Almost every person agrees that love is one of the most important characteristics that a person can have. One of the evidences of genuine love is that it covers a multitude of sins. In our personal lives, then, when we find that we are not quick to forgive or are unable to be with someone when they have done some wrong toward us, then we are not full of genuine love. Shorter and shorter friendships, significant relationships, and marriages are, therefore, clear signs that we do not love genuinely.
- In our churches, love covers a multitude of sins. If we experience conflict because of a disagreement, love is lacking. If churches are unable to overcome the shortfalls of their pastors (and every pastor has his shortfalls), it is lacking love. If pastors are unable to overcome the shortfalls of their churches (and every church has her shortfalls), he is love-lacking. For these reasons, a clear and present sign that a church does not have genuine love is short pastoral tenure. We become so concerned about people being good enough, that we forget the beautiful doctrine of election: God is the one who is sovereign and is the one who shows all of us, sinful people, His own grace.
- It increases hospitality and stops complaining.
- Hospitality is a genuine acceptance of one another. As hospitality increases, complaining decreases. I have to wonder what we insinuate about the God of the universe when we complain about anything. When we complain, we are suggesting that things ought to be different than they are. If it is God who has allowed things to be as they are, then we insinuate, by any complaint, that God is not just and that we would be a better king than He. To complain about anything, then, is an act of blasphemy against the God of the universe.
- Then, we remember that Peter begins with a doctrine like election. From the start, Peter has promoted God as sovereign. At the beginning of chapter 4, Peter calls believers to commit their lives to an attitude of suffering in this world because Christ suffered. There is the idea, here, that if God is sovereign, if election is in His hands, if this is His work, then I don’t have the authority to complain about my life circumstances, about someone else’s sins or habits, about the downfall of my community, or about the leadership that God has put in place. As soon as I complain about anything whatsoever, I fail to love genuinely. Prayer helps me to be content, to be hospitable, and to not complain about others. Recognition of God’s sovereignty, particularly in the doctrine of election, draws me to deeper and more intense prayer.
- It increases service to one another.
- If I am not serving, I am not loving.
- It covers a multitude of sins.
The enabling of service
In December, I will finally receive my Masters of Divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (hopefully). In light of God’s sovereignty, though, I realize that the certificate will mean nothing. Peter calls believers to serve one another in light of God’s election. I would just like to read this for us again so that we can marinate in God’s word together. In light of God’s election:
“Based on the gift each one has received, use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God. If anyone speaks, it should be as one who speaks God’s words; if anyone serves, it should be from the strength God provides, so that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ in everything.”
It is God who gifts each one for service in His kingdom. This has some amazing implications for the way in which we love one another. First of all, we are not called to serve outside of the capacity that God has given us. There are those who will expect a few people to do everything and to span every type of ministerial service. Peter, though, tells us that we are to serve according to the specific gifts that we have been given. We dishonor God when we overextend ourselves and force ourselves to do something for which we are not gifted. This is not an excuse for us to cower away from service, but it is an encouragement for us to serve simply despite the temptation we often have to do things that we may not be good at just because we see that someone needs to be there.
Secondly, we dishonor God when we expect someone else to serve in an area that God has not gifted him or her. If God is the one who elects for salvation and gifts for service, we claim God’s place if we ever expect someone to serve in a way that God has not gifted. In the same way, we present ourselves as kings and queens when we expect someone else’s service to look exactly like our own or like someone who filled a position previously. God has gifted each of us uniquely, therefore our service will also be unique within the body. This is good! I believe that God knows what He is doing! If we believe that God is sovereign, we love one another with the understanding that God gifts for service according to His plan and purpose.
The sovereignty of God (again)
At the end of this passage, Peter returns, again, to God’s sovereignty. Earlier I stated that most churches (certainly every church that I have been in) will claim that it is the most loving church. Never have I seen a church or a person have the perfect and genuine love that Peter describes, here. I certainly complain sometimes and sometimes I am slow to forgive. When a church body makes the claim that it is the most loving church body, it boasts in itself and will likely prove to be unloving on one of the points mentioned. When we come to a place where we begin to recognize that God truly has all authority, all power, and all glory; we will begin to be honest about our own shortfalls. We will recognize our depravity in light of God’s work of election. We will realize that we fail to love genuinely on many occasions. Our desperation in sin will draw us to prayer and to deeper love. Without admitting our own depravity and without admitting that sometimes we are just wrong, we will never understand what it is to love intensely. I make this claim again because Peter makes it again: God is king, we are not. We cause great damage to ourselves when we pretend to know it all, when we say that we love and do not, and when we try to do more or less than what God has gifted us for.
Thank God for His work of election. It means I don’t have to promote myself or boast in my own accomplishments.