A couple of years ago they conducted a survey of Americans which asked what they would do, if they knew the world was coming to an end soon. Two of the very top responses given were: 1) to go out and get drunk, and 2) go 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. But even if the Lord doesn’t come back in 2023 — and perhaps He will NOT — we should still live our lives this year in a way that will honor Him as He watches what we do. So what should we, as those who claim to be God’s people, do this year in light of that?
We don’t have to just “dream up” an answer; God’s word gives us directions for this very 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 — which I think are also things we should commit to do as we face a brand new year:
: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 isn’t 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 God DOES hear and answer our prayers for the lost! A few years ago I received an e-mail from a member of the church in Oklahoma where I served as interim pastor while I was coming back from being sick. We had been praying for this woman’s son-in-law, who had declared that he was an agnostic, and had left his wife and little baby — to be saved. This woman told me in the email that he son-in-law decided that he didn’t want to be alone for Christmas, so he came home to 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! THAT was a Christmas miracle! At that time we had been praying for him for two years that I know of — and others probably longer than that.
I know some of you here today are praying for some people like that, and this is just a good reminder: DON’T GIVE UP! God DOES hear and answer those prayers! And especially as we get into more and more difficult days in our country, and as we get closer to the end, we need to be praying even 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 moral and doctrinal apostasy which God prophesied would happen in the last days.
— We need to pray that we would personally not be led into temptation, but delivered from evil. Jesus admonished His disciples near the end of His earthly ministry: “Watch and pray, that you may not enter into temptation.” He would say the same to us today: “Watch and pray”, as you start this new year. Watch and pray, as the end is drawing near.
As Jesus Himself modeled for us in His last hours here on earth, prayer does not somehow become of lesser 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 prayer? 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 this last year? 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 2023, I don’t think you could make a better change than rededicate yourself this New Year to prayer.
That’s one of the reasons why we will be starting a new Discipleship class on prayer, two weeks from tonight, on Jan. 15, at 6:00. We will be studying what I have called “THE” best book on prayer I have ever read, by pastor Bill Elliff, called “Simply Prayer.” It talks about WHY we should pray, HOW we should pray, WHAT we should pray. It’s short; it’s simple; but it’s THE best book on prayer for us to study. So if you haven’t already, sign up for a book today, and plan to join us Sunday night, Jan. 15 at 6:00, and let’s grow in prayer in 2023.
I like what Mikelle Challenger told me on the way out of church last Sunday: “this year I really focused on being “In the Word,” so I’m looking forward to growing in prayer next year!” That’s exactly what I want us to do! Plan to join us, and let’s grow in prayer together.
Peter tells us: 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 our little grand babies. We are so excited to have them ALL with us here today! They are precious treasures to us. And as a good grandparent, I often overlook some of the little things that they do. Several years ago I got my first iPad, and when I did I got one of the best accessories ever: a Zagg keyboard case, that serves both as a case for the iPad, but it also folds out into a keyboard, which basically turns your iPad into a laptop — for a time after I got that, I didn’t even use a desktop computer or laptop for some years — I just loved it.
But one day the grandbabies were over, and one of them wanted to play with my iPad. I generally guarded that 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! I tried several times to fix it, but it never worked again. Now, if one of Y’ALL had done that, I can tell you I would have been pretty ticked off at you! But when my precious grand daughter did it; I just laughed, “Oh well, she’s sweet!” Then a couple of months later, one of our other grandkids were over, and SHE reached down and tore the “M” off. I must admit: it slowed my typing down considerably; it was VERY inconvenient! But I overlooked the “transgressions” of those girls, because I loved them. Now there are probably some 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 wasn’t 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 our lives. 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 love them. You overlook it, and say, “Well, that is just how they are,” or “Well, they just forgot,” or whatever. But if someone ELSE did the VERY same kind of thing, you would get ticked off at them for it. What’s the difference? It’s not the transgression; tboth did the same thing — the only difference is YOUR LOVE: you really love the one, and not the other.
As we begin this new year, some of ups need to consider our relationships with others: in the church, in our own families, or our neighbors or our work associates: are you being very critical of some, and holding things against them, when the truth is, you are forgiving these very same kinds of things in other people? Why? The Bible tells us here that the difference is not what they are doing, but in YOUR lack of love for some of them!
God challenges us here in His word: be “fervent in your love for one another.” That’s a good challenge for this year. A lot of us in the church “like” each other, and we’re “fond” of each other with a brotherly love, but God says it’s time to grow into real “agape” love for each other: a sacrificial love like Christ has for us; 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 some “great thing” in 2023. But if you will LOVE people: love them enough to truly care for them when it’s hard to do so; if you will love people when it costs you to do so; if you will love them enough to overlook their slights and transgressions — then you will have accomplished what GOD says is THE greatest thing you can accomplish. Because HE said the greatest thing is love. Let’s recommit ourselves to LOVE this year; 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, as we have seen before, 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. As part of our “Discovering First Baptist Church” class that we will all be going through starting next week, we will pass out a survey, where you can indicate what your gifts and abilities are, and what some places of service in our church are, so we can get you in the place of service God has for you! I think this may be one of the best things that will come of that class. Be sure to be here for all four sessions of “Discovering FBC,” so you don’t miss some of these things!
— Second, we see here that 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.
Among the gifts I got Cheryl for Christmas was one of those electronic photo frame. It was really neat; all the kids downloaded the Frames app, and sent pictures right to her frame. So we got to watch the pictures and videos come in all night — and add some to it ourselves. Near the end of the day, Cheryl said: it was fun to have a gift you can “play with” on Christmas Day! I was so glad; I wanted her to USE it! And it’s that way with all the gifts we gave for Christmas. We want the person to use it!
And it’s that way with God too. He wants us to USE the gifts He has given us, to serve His church and His people! He didn’t give you gifts and abilities so you could “feel good” about what you can do. He wants you to USE them, in specific ways in His church: to teach Sunday school, to care for babies; to visit people who are lonely, to give to special efforts, to serve on ministry committees, and so on. USE what He gave you!
— And 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 the gifts God gave you?
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.
Just before Christmas I had gone to get some groceries, and I picked a can off the shelf — and I instinctively pulled the other cans from behind to the front of the shelf. That comes from my first job as a stocker and clerk at the little “Country Boy” grocery store and gas station about a mile from the house where I grew up. The manager of the store was a woman named 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. The worst sin at Country Boy was to be caught standing around at the cash register doing nothing when Barbara came by unexpectedly. When I was working nights after Mrs. Barbara had left for the day, and she came in unexpectedly and saw me straightening the shelves, it was always a good feeling to be caught doing well. One or two times, unfortunately, when she came by, I was just standing up at the front, talking to the cashier. I hated that feeling. I wanted to be found doing what I had been told to be doing when she came. You’ve probably been in a situation like that before, and you know what that’s like.
But if that’s so with an earthly manager, how much more so with the Lord? If this 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 back, and I am doing NOTHING in His church when He comes. Folks, let’s not be found standing around with “our hands in your pockets” when Jesus comes back. Let’s recommit ourselves to SERVE Him in 2023! Let’s be found doing what He called us to do when He comes.
We don’t know what 2023 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 certain that some of us who are here this morning, will NOT be among our number if there is a 2024. In light of that, God’s word says here that we need to be “of sound judgment and sober.”
I’ve mentioned before the name of Augustine of Hippo Regius, whom many call “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 never recover. Those who were with him said that in his last weeks, Augustine had 4 Psalms posted on the wall around his death bed. He spent his last days meditating on those four Psalms, in prayer and repentance — and preparation for His coming to the Lord.
We would do well to imitate this great Christian. If the end is near, then let’s get ready for it. I Peter 4 says among the things we need to do to get ready, are to PRAY, to LOVE, and to SERVE. And even if the end of the world does NOT happen in 2023, or even if it is NOT the last year of our lives, we won’t have wasted our efforts. These are the things we should do 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 make sure He finds us PRAYING, LOVING, and SERVING, when He returns!
Christian person, would you ask God to help you rededicate yourself to these three things today:
— to pray (sign up for the “Simply Prayer” class if you haven’t already)
— to love (maybe there’s someone right now God’s = you need to purposefully love
— to serve. (USE your gift this year; find a place to serve if you don’t have one already)
Or maybe you’d say you really don’t know if you ARE a Christian for sure. That’s the first step. Admit your sin to God, and ask Him to save you because of what Jesus did for you on the cross!