Last Sunday morning I mentioned that there had been a survey in which the American people were asked what they would do if they knew the world would end in a week. Two of the top responses, sadly, were that they would either get drunk, or go to Las Vegas if they knew the world was going to end. We all know that’s NOT what our response as God’s people should be. But what SHOULD we do, if the earth – or just the days of our life – is near an end? Peter tells us in this passage what we should do. He says:
“The end of all things is near; therefore be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.
Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.
Be hospitable to one another without complaint.
As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
I. Focus on your relationship with God in prayer.
“The end of all things is near; therefore be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.”
Peter says here if the end is near, DON’T go get drunk; he says stay sober in spirit — and he says to do it for a specific reason; he says “For the purpose of prayer.” He says if the time is short, or if your own days are limited, which may be true for every one of us, then you should pray.
Why do we pray? The most important reason we pray is to have fellowship with God. So this is the first thing he tells us to focus on. If the end is near, you should work on the most important thing: your relationship with God in prayer.
God designed us originally to thrive on a personal relationship with Him. But our relationship with Him was broken by our sin. Isaiah says “your iniquity has caused a separation between you and your God.” But Jesus came and died on the cross to pay for our sins, so that if we would repent of our sin, and put our faith in Him as our Lord & Savior, we could have that relationship with Him back again! So if you are saved, the door is open for you to “enter His gates” and have a real relationship with Him. That is what prayer is all about: prayer is an expression our relationship with God. It is how we talk to Him. So let’s DO IT! We have this amazing privilege — we have the ability to access God Himself in prayer! — so we should take advantage of it, and pray!
Sadly, prayer is one of the most talked about, and one of the least PRACTICED things in many Christians’ lives. Crossway Publishers did a major survey recently of 14,000 Americans and their prayer life. One of the most condemning things revealed in this study was that 1/3 of pastors indicate that they spend between 5 and 15 minutes a day in prayer! Almost half of pastors say they spend less than 20 minutes A DAY in prayer! And that is what they ADMIT to! Statisticians warn us that people often exaggerate when they take surveys; they don’t tell you what they really think or do, but what they think you WANT them to say; or what will make them look better, not what they really do! So if all these pastors are ADMITTING that they pray less than 20 minutes a day, you can almost be sure the truth is even worse than that! (In fact I’ve seen other surveys which indicate that many pastors spend about 5 minutes a day in prayer.) And if that is what the PASTORS in our country are doing, then what do you think their PEOPLE are doing? Jesus said “a disciple is not above his teacher.” No wonder we have so many weak and ineffective churches, and so many weak and ineffective Christians, when our pastors aren’t praying like they should, our people aren’t praying like they should — when the Bible makes it clear that our power as Christians is supposed to come from our prayer life!
So Peter says, listen you need to be “sober” — in other words, you need to get serious — about PRAYING! What does it MEAN for us to get serious about praying?
— First of all, it means we need to pray more. How much? I don’t know that I should put a number figure on it for you, but I think it’s safe to say that it should be somewhat north of 5 minutes a day, don’t you? I think it’s probably somewhat north of 20 minutes a day too. Our prayer time with God should be THE most important thing in our life. We need to pray more.
— it means we should get up and seek God first thing in the morning because HE is the most important thing in our life. And we should spend a good “block of time” with Him in prayer.
— it means that we don’t stop with that morning time in prayer, either, but that all through the day we continue to talk to God in spontaneous prayers.
— it means that we should be getting closer and closer to “praying without ceasing” like I Thessalonians 5:17 talks about.
— it means we get serious about praying for our loved ones, to make sure they are “on the ark.”
Several of you told me that you watched the OU/Baylor game a week ago, when the Sooners got 25 points behind Baylor in the first half, but came back to win it in the 4th quarter in a very exciting game. (Lauren Skeen said she was pretty sure she could hear Cheryl screaming from her house!) And it WAS a very exciting finish. But after the game Cheryl said, “You know, this game doesn’t mean anything. We need to be praying for our grand babies’ salvation like this. We need to praying for people with more passion than we are putting into this football game.” And I agreed with her 100%. In fact, God was convicting me about that same thing during the game — Saturday morning is the day I specifically pray for people who don’t know Christ — did I have that kind of passion in my intercessions that morning that I had that night during that game?
Listen: there’s nothing “wrong” with football, or whatever other hobby or diversion you are into. But God says, be sober about all these things. Keep them in their place. We don’t know how much time we have left here on this earth; we’d better get sober — we’d better serious about praying for our loved ones who need to be “in the ark.”
We need to be PRAYING like we never have before; both praying for our loved ones who need to know God, and praying to build our relationship with Him, because we are getting ready to go and see Him in His glory, very soon! We’d better get warmed up for it! We need to learn to focus on our relationship with God, and PRAY like never before.
II. Focus on your love for others.
“Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint.”
Those of us who were in MasterLife remember that the Disciples Cross show us that Christianity is not just about our “vertical” relationship with God, but also about our horizontal relationships with other people as well. That is what Peter is saying here as well: since the end is near, don’t just work on your relationship with God in prayer — but also work especially on your relationships with others. He says “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another.”
It’s hard to overemphasize how important this is. He says, “Above all”, love each other. That’s pretty strong. Love IS the most important thing, as I Corinthians 13 says: “now abide faith, hope, love — but the greatest of these is love.” When this world comes to an end, and this life is over, SO many things we have done are going to be worthless, and everything we have spent on them, will have been totally wasted. But not love. The love that we have shown for God AND for people, will endure forever. So he says, if the end is near, LOVE! Make a point to love people!
And I think it’s important to note that he specifically adds to this: “because love covers a multitude of sins.” What does that mean? It does NOT mean that if we show love to others, it will somehow “cover” or forgive our own sins. There is only ONE thing that can cover our sins, and that is the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ! So that is not what this means.
So what DOES it mean? A good principle of Biblical interpretation is that the best commentary on scripture is scripture. What does the Bible say about this elsewhere? Proverbs 10:12 helps us understand the meaning here. It says, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions.” That is almost exactly what Peter is saying here — “love covers all transgressions/love covers a multitude of sins” — and it helps us to understand what he means: that if you really love someone, your love will cause you to overlook so many wrongs and sins in their life.
If you think about it, I believe you’ll recognize instinctively that this is true. We tend to judge people for the things they do — especially those things that annoy us, or aggravate us. BUT when you really love somebody, you tend to “overlook” a lot of those little things they do. Sure, you see their flaws, and their mistakes, and so on — but you give them a LOT of slack, because you love them. Your “love covers a multitude” of their sins.
But then, if you are honest, you will probably admit that there are other people, whom you do NOT love as much (or maybe you don’t love them at all!). And if THEY do something wrong — maybe even some of the exact same things — then you come down really hard on them. Why do you do that? You may say, “Well, because they did … (such and such).” But the truth is, that is NOT the reason. Because the person you loved may have done some very similar things too — but you didn’t come down hard on THEM! See, often times the difference is NOT what the person does, the difference is in OUR LOVE (or LACK of love) for those people: you really love the one, so you overlook what they do; and you really do NOT love the other, and you show it because you do NOT overlook what they do — and it all goes to prove what this verse says: that “love covers a multitude of sins.”
So the problem, many times, in our relationships with other people, is not really them. Sure, they are doing some things wrong. We ALL do. But the real problem is with US. It’s that we don’t love them like we should. If we did, it would cover even “a multitude” of their sins!
Now, we need to remember that Peter is writing specifically to the church here. He says “keep fervent in your love FOR ONE ANOTHER.” “For one another” means he’s talking to the church. Do you know that sometimes people in the church can get on your nerves? Do you know that sometimes people in the church can say something that just hits you the wrong way? Do you know that sometimes people in the church can drop the ball, or make a mistake? We ALL do, don’t we — pastors, staff, deacons, teachers, members — we all do. (And some of us know that very well!). But God says, let your LOVE for each other, COVER those transgressions. Think about it: you have probably had someone you really loved, who said the same kind of thing or did a similar sort of thing that ticked you off about someone in the church — but you didn’t come down hard on THEM. Why? Because you LOVE them. So Peter says, show this same love to everyone in the church. Let your love for them, cover a multitude of their sins. Yes they are going to sin. Yes they are going to annoy you. But don’t get frustrated with them. Don’t speak badly about them. Don’t let Satan start a “root of bitterness” like Hebrews says, that will defile many. You know the devil wants to divide us. Don’t let it happen. Let love cover a multitude of sins in our church.
Jesus said in Matthew 24 that one of the signs of the end times is that “the love of many will grow cold.” So Peter (who was standing right there when Jesus said that!) reminded his readers — and us — do NOT let this happen to you. Do not let your love grow cold. There are a lot of things in this world that happen that, if we aren’t careful, will make us cynical, and uncaring, and “insulate” ourselves from trying to care about people. But God says don’t let that happen. One of the best things you can do, in light of the end of all things, is to LOVE. When this world ends, or our own lives are over, there are a lot of things we will look back on and regret. But you will never look back and regret that you loved. He says, if the end is near, then focus on love; and especially love each other in God’s church.
III. Focus on using your spiritual gift until He comes.
:10 says: “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies …”.
Here Peter introduces an important principle of the Christian life that we all need to be aware of: that God has given to each one of us as His children, a special gift or ability to serve Him, in the power of His Holy Spirit.
— Ephesians 1:13 says when we are saved, God sends His Holy Spirit into our lives and we are “sealed in Him” with the Holy Spirit of Promise.
— And when the Holy Spirit comes into our life, He brings with Him a gift or ability to serve Him in His church in some special way. I Cor 12:7 says “But to EACH ONE is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Each one of us has some gift for service that the Holy Spirit gave us. Peter says the same thing here, “As EACH ONE has received a special gift …” “Each one … each one.” That tells us that EVERY SINGLE CHRISTIAN has some gift from the Holy Spirit with which they are to serve the Lord. “EACH ONE” means NO ONE is excluded; not you; not anybody. We ALL have some God-given ability to serve.
That means we are all to be serving God in some way in His church:
— Peter says here “Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God.” That’s preaching, or teaching. God has gifted some to do that.
— Then he says “Whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies.” God did not give every believer the gift of preaching or teaching — but He HAS gifted us all to “serve” in some way: to set and serve tables; or to visit the homebound or the hospitals; or to watch children in the nursery; or to drive or upkeep the vans; or like today to fill the baptistery, and to help those being baptized. There are countless ways to serve in the church, and it is important that we all do what God has gifted us to do in the church, or it will not function properly. For a church to run the way it should, EVERY believer needs to be involved, and using their gifts.
NOTICE Peter says in :10: “As each one has received a special gift, EMPLOY IT in serving one another.” In other words, he says, God gave you the gifts and abilities you have, to USE them. NONE of us are just to be “spectators.” We are to actually EMPLOY our gifts in service in His church. God didn’t give us these abilities so that we could sit around and congratulate ourselves on our spiritual gifts:
— He didn’t give you the gift of teaching so you could sit around and say, “Yeah, I am a pretty good teacher” – while you actually teach NOTHING in the church. NO! He gave you that gift to USE it to disciple His people in God’s word.
— God did not give you that singing voice so you could say, “Boy, I sure have a pretty voice!” — or to use for singing in the shower! He gave you that voice to glorify Him and to inspire others as you USE it in the choir and in our worship services!
That’s what Peter is saying here: God has given each of us gifts and abilities; USE IT! Preach, teach, serve, go, give — whatever He’s enabled you you to do, DO IT; USE IT until He comes back, or until He calls you home to be with Him.
Elizabeth Leyton was brought in by the British staff to work with Winston Churchill as his private secretary during World War II. She wrote a book about her experiences with Churchill, who was extremely particular, and very difficult to work for. But she did a great job, and worked hard to the end. She wrote that one evening, “(when it was evident the war was almost over) when I went into the study for dictation, Mr. Churchill looked up and said, ‘Hullo, Miss Layton … well, the war’s over, you’ve played your part.’”
Elizabeth Leyton was gratified that, as difficult and discouraging as it often was serving Churchill, she HAD indeed “played her part” to serve her country — and part of her reward was that she heard those words of commendation from one of the greatest men who ever lived: “you played your part.”
That should be the goal of each of us as God’s people, in using our spiritual gifts in the church. We should be faithful to USE them; to serve God; to serve His people; to serve His church; until the day the Lord returns, or calls us home to be with Him. And if we do, then one day we will hear Him say, “It’s over; you’ve played your part.”
What will YOU hear Him say? ARE you doing your part? Or did you give up long ago, because you got discouraged, or because somebody said something that hurt you, or because you didn’t feel appreciated — or maybe you were just serving in the wrong place, and you need to try something else, that really fits with your spiritual gift. That’s a lot of it. Everybody can’t do everything well; and we need to recognize that. Not everyone is a preacher; not everyone is a Sunday School teacher; not everyone can sing in the choir; not everyone can go on a mission trip; not everyone can give large sums of money to the building or to missions; not everyone has the patience to watch children or to serve tables; and all of us don’t have the ability to work on the building or the church vans. But God has gifted each one of us to do something. The question is NOT “are you doing what someone ELSE is doing,” or what someone else THINKS you should be doing. The question that matters is: ARE YOU DOING what God has called and gifted YOU to do? When you go to see Him, will He say to you: “It’s over; you played your part”? However much time we have left, in this world, or in our own lives, there’s no better use for our lives, than to be found DOING what God has called us to do, until He comes!