To God Be The Glory
Rev. Bryn MacPhail
The apostle Peter begins this particular passage by telling us that, 7The end of all things is near. What is this? Is Peter addressing the first century equivalent to a Y2K scare? Is Peter predicting the fall of Jerusalem? Is he predicting the end of human history? Or both?
Perhaps a precise answer is not necessary here. Peter had the end in view. Peter had the finish line in sight and it affected how he lived. 7The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.
For the Christian reading this passage, Peter establishes four priorities, the first of these being prayer. Notice, however, that Peter does not simply say: 'The end of all things is near; therefore pray'. No, Peter points to a certain disposition for our prayers--that we be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.
Robert Murray M'Cheyne provides a helpful explanation of what it means to be of sound judgment and sober spirit when he writes 'Let nothing dim the eye that is looking on eternal realities'. This is fundamental. God-honouring prayer necessitates that we have these 'eternal realities' in view. God-honouring prayer necessitates that we understand that 7the end of all things is near. Surely, if we always had our eyes on the eternal prize it would drastically affect the nature of our prayers.
How about you? Do you have the finish line in sight or are you still looking for the starting gate? Are your prayers for the advancement of your temporary kingdom or for the advancement of God's eternal kingdom?
What about our church? Is the ministry of this church being done with the perspective that 7The end of all things is near? Is the ministry of this church saturated with prayer?
8Above all, Peter continues, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.
Another responsible translation of this is "love one another deeply". The Greek word here, translated as love, is agape. Agape, sometimes translated as "charity", refers to the benevolent nature of our love. With this use of the word, love is not so much something you feel as it is something you choose to do. God's love towards humanity is often described with this word, agape. Just as God chooses to love us, in spite of all of our shortcomings, so are we to love others.
The Greek word, translated "fervent" or "deeply", is sometimes used to describe the taut muscles of an athlete who strains to win a race. We may not like the idea of having to 'strain' to love someone, but this is precisely what Peter calls us to do.
What does this type of love look like? When we choose to love someone, when we choose to have fervent, stretched love for someone, what does this look like? This type of love "covers a multitude of sins".
Peter is not saying that we can atone for our own sins by loving others. Peter is pointing out that love that is strenuously maintained sees and accepts the faults of others. Agape love, when applied with great effort, does not allow the shortcomings and failures of others to keep us from loving them.
It follows that if we are to love others in spite of their faults, we should act out that love in a tangible way. For this reason Peter exhorts us to 9Be hospitable to one another without complaint. Hospitality then, is one way to apply our agape love for others. Agape love is not merely tolerating the faults of others; it is blessing them with hospitality in spite of their shortcomings. This, of course, is the way God loves. God's love does not cease when He forgives our sins, but He continues to bless us.
Peter has called us to pray, he has called us to love one another, and he has called us to be hospitable to one another. And now, the fourth priority Peter establishes for the Christian is how we use our spiritual gifts. "10As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God".
Notice that Peter begins his instruction on spiritual gifts the same way Paul does in Romans 12, and Ephesians 4. Peter and Paul remind us that "each one has received a spiritual gift". Spiritual gifts are not something bestowed to a select few, but every Christian has been given special abilities by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of strengthening others.
Peter is also very clear on how we are to employ our spiritual gifts--we are to employ (them) in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Our spiritual gifts are not so much for our own benefit as they are for the benefit of others. Here is an excellent verse for why all Christians should attend church and why we should become members of a local church: we are commanded to be "good stewards" of our spiritual gifts. This cannot be done in isolation. This cannot be accomplished if we play the role of a spectator in church.
Peter continues, in verse 11, to give us some insight as to the nature of spiritual gifts, 11Whoever 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.
Spiritual gifts cause us to speak as God would speak, and to act as God would act. This makes perfect sense. We are called 'the body of Christ'. One would expect then, that the body of Christ would speak and act in such a way that is consistent with how Christ, our Head, would speak and act. How is this possible?, you ask. It is possible to act as Christ would act because, as Peter tells us, we are to serve "as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies".
We can speak and act as Christ would speak and act because He is the One providing us with the ability to do so. This is where we need to make a distinction between spiritual gifts and 'natural gifts'. John Piper gives an excellent definition for what a spiritual gift is when he says that, 'a spiritual gift is an expression of faith which aims to strengthen faith'.
This is very different than a natural gift. Many non-Christians have great abilities in teaching and in administration, for example, and these abilities are God-given whether the people recognize this or not. But these cannot be called 'spiritual gifts' because they are not expressions of faith and they are not aiming to strengthen faith.
Even as Christians, if we are serving God in such a way that we are not relying on Him, then we are not utilizing our spiritual gifts. Peter could not be any more clear--we are to "serve . . . as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies". Spiritual gifts are energized by God, not by us.
We would do well to ask, at this point, 'Why is all of this important?' What is to be gained by praying, by loving one another, by showing hospitality, and by using our spiritual gifts?
Peter gives us the answer at the end of verse 11, "so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen".
The reason we are here is to glorify God. Speaking through Isaiah, God says that "everyone who is called by My name . . . I have created for My glory". The benediction of the apostle Paul, in Ephesians 3:21, is "to (God) be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus".
This all means that God's purpose in giving us faith, God's purpose in giving us spiritual gifts is that His glory might be displayed. God wants His glory to be displayed "in the church and in Christ Jesus". This must be our ultimate goal. Our ultimate goal is not satisfy the preferences of every church member. Our ultimate goal is to glorify and satisfy God.
This goal, my friends, is not as unobtainable as it might sound. We serve God, not by our own strength, but with "the strength which God supplies". We pray, love, and show hospitality to others, not by our own strength, but with "the strength which God supplies".
We must recognize that God's grace does more than just save us. God's grace sustains us. It is grace that 'has brought (us) safe thus far, and grace will lead (us) home'. We are weak, but He is mighty. He will hold you with His powerful hand. The Psalmist says that if we call on God in the day of trouble, He will rescue us, and we will glorify Him(Ps. 50:15).
What does this mean for us as individual Christians? What does this mean for us as a church? It means that we have no excuses when it comes to our responsibility to glorify God. God supplies the strength in this equation, not us. Our only responsibility is to call upon God to help us.
Put aside your pride. Put aside that attitude that says if you try hard enough you will succeed. The only way to progress as a Christian, the only way to progress as a church, is to serve God with "the strength which God supplies".
This is how God is glorified. The Giver gets the glory. We don't want the glory, we want the joy that comes from glorifying God. This is a great partnership. God gets the glory and we get joy and fulfillment. Any other equation and we dishonour God and short-change ourselves.
To God be the glory in the church. To God be the glory in our church. Amen.