George R. Cottenden
What time it is often determines the way you act. For example, you behave differently on Saturday morning, when you don’t have to get to work or school, than you do on the other days of the week. You may even sleep in.
In a football game, strategy changes at different times in the game, especially once the two-minute warning has sounded and the team with the ball is eager to score.
What we eat and drink also depends on what time it is. If I want a good night’s sleep, I avoid caffeinated coffee in the evening.
In each of these cases, the way we live is shaped by what time it is.
In 1 Peter 4:1–11, the apostle wants his readers to understand that we live in a certain kind of time that must govern our actions. He says, “The end of all things is at hand” (v. 7).
Similarly, the Epistle to the Hebrews begins, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”
The apostle John says, “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18).
In 1 Peter 1:20, we read that Christ “was made manifest in the last times.” The last days, the last hour, the last times—this is the period in which we live. These expressions refer to the years from the first coming of Christ until he returns in glory. This period is seen as one block of time that shapes who we are and the way we are to respond to the varied affairs of life.
How are we supposed to live in the end-time? What is special about the period of time in which we live?
In the first place, we are to live with an awareness of who we are in Christ. We are to think in the same way he did when he was on earth. Peter says in verse 1, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking.”
The reference to Christ suffering in the flesh points back to what Peter said in 3:18: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit.” What is in view in this verse isn’t simply Christ’s suffering in a general sense during the period of his humiliation. Rather, it refers specifically to Christ’s suffering unto death on the cross.
Jesus endured a substitutionary death. He suffered, “the righteous for the unrighteous.” He died in the place of his people. He bore our guilt on Calvary. He took our place, so that the New Testament can say of us that we have died with Christ. Our union with Christ in his death defines who we are now. We are people who have died. We no longer have the same relationship to sin and death that we had before.
Peter picks up on this in chapter 4. The Christian who has suffered in the flesh, in the sense that Christ has suffered in the flesh, has “ceased from sin” (v. 1). The point is not that Christ was sinning and then stopped sinning because of his death. Rather, he bore our guilt and, having taken it to the cross, he no longer bears that burden. He has taken care of it once and for all.
United to Christ through faith, we too have died to sin. We have ceased from sin, not in the sense that we no longer sin or are tempted to sin, but in the sense that we have been set free from the curse and bondage of sin. We are no longer slaves to sin. When temptations come, we have the ability, by God’s grace, to resist them and turn away from sin to live in accordance with the will of God.
Believers been have united to Christ, not only in his death, but also in his resurrection. This too has consequences for the way we live.
Near the beginning of his letter, Peter blesses God the Father because we have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1:3). In that hope, we have been set free from the control of sin, “so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (4:2).
“Human passions” could be taken in the general sense of “human desires.” It is true that union with Christ sets us free from being dominated by our desires. In the light of the next few verses, however, it seems that Peter is focusing especially on the sinful desires that dominate unbelievers. If we know who we are in Christ, we can live as those who are free from such desires to do the will of God as revealed in his Word.
In verse 7, Peter points to a second truth that should shape our lives as we live in this present age. We are to live in expectation of the return of Christ.
He says, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded.” He goes on to speak of conduct that should be seen in us because the end of all things is at hand. History has a goal. There is an end to the present order. We don’t know when it will occur, but we do know that, ever since Christ’s first coming, it has been “at hand.”
This knowledge must shape the way we act. An approaching deadline can change the way you think about a project. Consider how knowing that a term paper at school or a project at work is due tomorrow can concentrate your attention. Well, we are staring at a deadline. Christ is coming again. We don’t have forever to show love or hospitality. We don’t have forever to pray for and share the gospel with those who are lost in sin.
Peter says, “Be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” (v. 7). He tells us to be a focused, praying people, self-controlled and sober-minded as we address ourselves prayerfully to the needs of our sin-cursed world.
“Above all,” he says, “keep loving one another earnestly” (v. 8). This is not simply an emotional “I like you and I like to be around you” kind of love. Peter is describing love that is stretched taut. That is what biblical love looks like in practice. It is not something that just flows as emotions gush. It involves a disciplined application of the resources we have for the benefit of those whom we love.
This love “covers a multitude of sins” (v. 8). What sometimes gets in the way of our loving people is that they are not very lovable. We forget that we aren’t very lovable either, but Christ still loves us. If we really love someone for Christ’s sake, that love will cover a multitude of their sins. As we read in Proverbs 10:12, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.”
This covering of sins, of course, does not mean ignoring them to the hurt of the sinner or of others. There are times when you have to approach someone about their sins so that they can get right with the Lord. But we are not to let those sins be barriers to a proper love for the sake of Christ.
This love involves showing hospitality to one another without grumbling. In the first century, hospitality was very important. Travelling missionaries needed believers to open their homes to them.
That isn’t as often the case today. But hospitality can be shown in a variety of ways as we reach out to people to meet their needs, share our resources with them, and welcome them into our homes. If we see ourselves as stewards of the gifts and resources that God has entrusted to us (v. 10), there is no room for grumbling.
But there is still a third characteristic that shapes faithful end-time living. We are to live in such a way that our focus is on the glory of Christ.
Peter speaks first about God being glorified through Christ. We are to live “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” We have a variety of motives for why we do things, some good and some not so good. Is your dominant motive that you want to glorify God through Christ? God sent his Son to redeem a people who would be conformed to his image. As we live in the ways he has just described, the fruit of Christ’s work becomes evident and God receives glory.
Peter ends the section with an ascription of praise. “To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (v. 11). Does “to him” refer to Christ or to God? The sentence structure makes the former slightly more likely. Also, there is a similar doxology in Revelation 1:5–6, where it clearly is Christ who is in view. But God is also glorified through Christ, because of the way the work of Christ shows itself in your life and mine.
Peter goes further, saying that Christ himself, the second person of the Trinity made flesh, receives glory. This is what Jesus prayed for in John 17:5, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” As the second person of the Trinity, he always has had glory. Now, as the God-man, ascended to heaven and seated at the right hand of the Father, he is glorified when we live as those who know that we are in the end-time. Live then for his glory, as those united to him by faith and eagerly awaiting his return. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.
The author is a retired OP pastor. New Horizons, April 2017.