(Preached at Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church, Jan. 1, 2017)
A couple of years ago I read a survey of Americans which asked what they would do, if they knew the world was coming to an end soon. Two of the top responses included going out and getting drunk, and going on a trip to Las Vegas. I was amazed — but perhaps I shouldn’t have been. That is the kind of attitude you should probably expect from a person who doesn’t know God: “eat, drink & be merry, for tomorrow we die.” But the Christian person, on the other hand, should have an entirely different attitude. Jesus is coming back. The end is near. We don’t know when, but it is closer than it has ever been before. Climactic events could well take place in 2017. What should we, as those who claim to be God’s people, do this year in light of that?
We don’t have to fabricate an answer; God’s word gives us directions for just this case: in I Peter 4:7-11. This passage begins with the phrase: “The end of all things is at hand” (or “is drawing near.”) And then he follows that with several admonitions about what we should we do when the end is drawing near:
:7 “The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.”
A thoughtless person, contemplating the end of all things, might think that prayer was not of much use near the end. “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” What time is there now for answered prayers? Everything is about over. But this is really a godless attitude. Prayer is not somehow of LESS importance as we move towards the end; it becomes even MORE important. Think about it:
— We are drawing nearer to appointment with God, in whose presence we will live forever; we must spend even more time preparing ourselves in prayer for our coming to Him.
— We need to spend more time in prayer purifying our lives from sin as we draw close to the end.
— We need to be praying for lost people to be touched and saved — if we are near the end, then a lot of people we know are about to have their last opportunities to be saved before “the door of the ark is closed”; we need to be even more fervent in our intercessions for them as the end draws near.
And listen: God DOES hear and answer our prayers for the lost! One day last week I received an e-mail from a member of the church in Oklahoma where I served as interim pastor before I came to Pleasant Ridge. We had been praying for her daughter’s husband, who had declared that he was an agnostic, and who had left his wife and little baby to be saved. This woman told me that this man decided that he didn’t want to be alone for Christmas, so he decided to come home and at least be with his family. He went to church with them on Christmas Day, and the message spoke to him in a personal way. That afternoon he told his family that he wanted to be saved, and they called the preacher over and that son-in-law asked Jesus to be his Lord & Savior, and he wants to be baptized as public profession of his faith! THAT was a Christmas miracle! We had been praying for him for two years that I know of — and others probably longer than that. And I thought of some of us here today, and people we are praying for — DON’T GIVE UP! God DOES hear and answer those prayers! Especially as we get closer to the end, we need to pray more fervently than ever before for our loved ones to be saved.
— We need to pray even more for our church to remain faithful amidst the falling away morally and doctrinally which has been prophesied to happen in the last days.
— We need to pray that we would personally not be led into temptation, but delivered from evil. “Watch and pray, that you may not enter into temptation”, Jesus admonished His disciples near the end of His earthly ministry. He would say the same to us today: “Watch and pray”, the end is drawing near.
As Jesus Himself modeled for us in His last hours here on earth, prayer does not somehow become of diminished importance as we draw near to the end of our stay on earth. Rather it becomes even more crucial. So is the end of all things at hand, as many believe? Then let us heed this verse: “Therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.”
I really believe that prayer is one of the biggest differences between the lost person and the person who really knows the Lord. There are some things that we Christian people do, that a lost person may do as well: lost people may go to certain meetings, fellowship with people, give to help someone or some cause, etc. But prayer is one thing that you will only do if you really believe in God. If God is not real, why waste time with it? Why spend 30 minutes or an hour of your prime time and energy at the beginning of the day, if there is not a God who is really hearing and answering prayers. It is a waste! But if you really believe in God, you know it is NOT a waste; it is the best thing you can do with your time. If the end of all things is near: you will pray!
How has your prayer life been in 2016? Are you faithful in morning prayer? Are you following that up by consistently praying little “spontaneous prayers” all through the day? If you were to make ONE change in your life for the better in 2017, I don’t think you could make a better change than to PRAY. Rededicate yourself this New Year to prayer. Peter tells us: the end of all things is near — so PRAY! PRAY!
But he also reminds us in the next verse of THE great priority for the Christian:
:8 “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.”
The words “above all” here refer to the priority of love. There is nothing more important:
— I Timothy 1:5 says “the goal of our instruction is LOVE.” The end result God is seeking from our teaching isn’t “knowledge”, but that we might grow in LOVE!
— I Corinthians 13:13 says “now abide faith, hope, love; these three — but the greatest of these is LOVE.”
Many Christians often think of wanting to do some “big thing” for the Kingdom of God: let’s build a great organization; let’s construct an impressive building; let’s do something that will make headlines throughout the region or even the world. But what we have to realize is that the Kingdom of God is not really about these things. The Kingdom of God is about LOVE! Love God greatly! Love people greatly! The “big thing” we are to build is LOVE!
And then notice what he says in the second part of the verse; this is significant. He says, “because love covers a multitude of sins.” What does this mean, “love covers a multitude of sins”? It means that when you love someone, you overlook the flaws in them, and the sins they commit against you. Think about it: the people that you love are not perfect; far from it. They do things that might hurt or annoy you all the time. But you overlook it, because you love them. You might say something like: “Oh, I know they did (such and such a thing)”– but you don’t care, because you love them. Now some OTHER person, whom you are NOT inclined to love, may do the SAME kind of thing, and yet you are offended or hold it agains them. What was the difference? It was not the deed, or the “sin” itself — because you forgave one for it. No, the difference was that you had LOVE for one, and NOT for the other.
For example, I love my little grand daughters. They are just precious treasures. And so I overlook a lot of things that they do. Several years ago I got my first iPad, and when I did I got one of the best accessories I ever got: a Zagg keyboard case, that serves both as a case for the iPad, but it also folds out into a keyboard, basically making the iPad a laptop — and ever since I’ve had it, I have hardly ever used a desktop computer or laptop again — I just love it. But one day the grandbabies were over, and Corley wanted to play with my iPad. I generally guard my iPad with my life, but I thought, well, I will let HER sit in my lap and do a few things on it. Before I knew it, she had reached down on the keyboard, and just ripped the “W” right off of it! It never worked again. Now I have got to tell you: if one of Y’ALL had done that, I would have been pretty ticked at you! But when Corley did it; I just laughed — and then a couple of months later, Abigail did the same thing to the “M”. It slowed my typing down considerably! But I overlooked their “transgression” because I loved them. Now there are probably other people, who if THEY had done that same thing, I would have been pretty unhappy about them tearing the numbers off my keyboard. What’s the difference? It was not the transgression — the difference is MY LOVE for one was greater than for the other.
And if you think about it, there are all kinds of examples of this in your own life as well. There are people who do things to you, or say things to you, or forget to do something for you, or whatever — but you don’t hold it against them, and the reason you don’t is because you are predisposed to really love them. But someone ELSE might do the VERY same kind of thing — and yet you get ticked off at them for it. What was the difference? It wasn’t the transgression; it wasn’t what they did — the only thing different is YOUR LOVE: you really love one, and not the other.
Some of us here today need to consider our relationships with others in the church — or maybe even our own families or neighbors or work associates. Are you being critical of some, or holding things against some, when you are forgiving these very same kinds of things in others? Can you see that the difference is not what they are doing, but in YOUR lack of love for them?
God challenges us here in His word to be “fervent in your love for one another”. A lot of us in the church may “like” each other, and be “fond” of each other with a brotherly love, but God says it’s time for you to grow into real “agape” love for each other: the kind of love that overlooks transgressions in others — because GOD has this same kind of love for YOU!
Listen, you may or may not accomplish what some people will call a “great thing” in 2017. But if you will LOVE people: love them enough to let them lean on you; love them enough to overlook their slights and transgressions — then you will have accomplished what GOD calls the greatest thing. If the end is near, then LOVE — more than ever before!
“As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”
We find several truths in this verse about gifts and service in the church:
— First of all, we see that every Christian has received a gift or ability to serve. He says: “As EACH ONE has received a special gift.” EVERY Christian has a gift. I Corinthians 12:7 echoes this same thing: “To EACH ONE is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” God has left none of His children out. “EACH” of us has been given a gift with which to serve. It is only a matter of discovering what our gift IS, but if you are a Christian, God has given you an ability with which to serve Him.
— Gifts are to be USED. It says, “As each one has received a special gift, EMPLOY it”! God gave you your gift to USE in service. He didn’t give you the gift of teaching just so that you could enjoy the fruits of your study for yourself. You were given that gift to USE it in teaching others God’s truth.
— We see this emphasis here that our gifts are not for us; they are for OTHERS. He says as you have received your gift, Employ it “in serving ONE ANOTHER.” You are not to use your gift because it makes you feel good — although I will say there is often a certain that you get when you use your gift. But you feeling good is not the purpose of your gift. You are to use your gift to serve others, whether it benefits you in some way or not. I believe that God has given me the gift of understanding and teaching His word, but there may be times when it is hard for me to do that: it may be physically difficult for me to do it; or I may not always “feel” like doing it — but so what — this isn’t about me; it is about me using the gift God has given me, to minister to others. This is what Jesus did for us, and it is what we are to do for others as well.
— This verse also teaches us that you are accountable to God for the use of your gifts. It says to use your gifts: “As good STEWARDS of the manifold grace of God.” A steward is someone who is accountable for what he does with something that has been entrusted to him. The Bible says here that you are accountable to God for what you do with the spiritual gifts of service which He gave you. How will you fare when you are judged for the way you have used your gifts?
In Matthew 24 Jesus spoke of the events of the end, and in :46 He said, “Blessed is that slave whom his Master finds so doing when He comes.” In other words, we will be blessed if we are found doing what Jesus commanded us to be doing, when He returns.
Several of y’all have told me that you have been proud to see my son Michael working at K-mart — and I have to say that I am proud that he is working too. And he wants to; that is a good thing. I can remember my first job: it was as a stocker and clerk at the little grocery store and gas station about a mile from our house. The manager of the store was a woman by the name of Barbara Conley, and one of the things she emphasized was that there was always something to do: if there were no customers at the register, then stock the shelves, or dust them, or move the cans up to the front (I still do that when I walk in stores today!) But the worst sin was to be caught standing around at the cash register doing nothing when she came. When I was working nights after Mrs. Barbara had left for the day, it was always a good feeling when she came in unexpectedly and saw me straightening the shelves. One or two times, unfortunately, I was standing up at the front, talking to the cashier — and I hated that feeling. I wanted to be found doing what I had been told to be doing when she came.
If that’s so with an earthly manager, how much more so with the Lord? If 2017 is the year that Jesus comes back — or if it is the year that He comes for YOU — one of the most important questions of your life will be: are you doing what He called and gifted you to do, when He comes? I can’t imagine a worse feeling, than knowing that God gifted me to teach, or give, or serve, or sing, or whatever — and for Him to come and I am doing NOTHING in the church when He comes. Don’t be found standing around with “your hands in your pockets” when Jesus comes back. If we are near the end, then SERVE! Be found doing what He called you to do when He comes.
We don’t know what 2017 is going to hold. But we know that the end of all things is closer than it has ever been before. And even if the end is not this year, it could well be that the end of some of our lives is this year. In fact, it is almost a certainty that some of us who are here this morning, will NOT be among our number if there is a 2018. In light of that, God’s word say we need to be “of sound judgment and sober.”
I set a goal last year to read 25 books by the end of the year, and I did: I finished my 27th yesterday! One of the longest, and best books I read this year, was a biography on Augustine of Hippo Regius — the man we often refer to as St. Augustine. After being converted from a life of sensuality as a young man, Augustine spent a lifetime of service as a Bishop as an adult. But in his later years, he contracted a deadly fever, from which he would not recover. Those who were with him said that in his last weeks, Augustine had 4 Psalms (the penitential Psalms) posted on the wall around his death bed. He spent his last days in prayer and repentance and preparation for His coming to the Lord.
We would do well to imitate this great saint. If the end is near, let’s get ready for it. I Peter 4 says do the following things: PRAY. LOVE. SERVE. And even if the end of the world is NOT in 2017, or even if it does not portend the end of our lives, we will not have wasted our efforts. These are the things we should be doing every year, until our Master comes.
Remember Jesus’ words in Mt. 24:46 “Blessed is that slave whom his Master finds so doing when he comes.” Let’s rededicate ourselves today, to PRAY; LOVE; and SERVE until He returns.