1 Peter 4:7-11 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies- in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
This is my third sermon on this text. In the first I attempted to demonstrate Peter’s teaching (along with the rest of the bible) that right perspective, far more than “right” circumstances, is at the heart of honoring God in this life. I summarized Peter’s overall plea this way: As Christians, instead of trying hard to get out of our circumstances, we need to be trying hard to get the gospel into them.
Last week, then, in the second sermon on this text, we looked at the opening clause (“the end of all things is at hand”). Insodoing I suggested that these few words raise at least three crucial questions: 1) What did Peter mean by “the end of all things is at hand”, 2) Why did Peter share that perspective in this text, and 3) What practical difference does it make that the end of all things is at hand.
In answer to the first question we saw that the end of all things (or “the last hour” or “the last days” or “the fullness of time” or “the last times”) is primarily a NT idea referring to the period of time between Jesus’ first and second comings. Peter’s readers were living in that time; as are we today.
In answer to the second question we saw that this period is significant because it reminds us that Christ secured our victory, it forces us to live with a sense of urgency to evangelize unbelievers who are fast approaching God’s judgment, and it fuels us (as we’ll see in this sermon) for God’s call to live in righteousness. That is, in writing what he did, Peter meant to further refine the kind of perspective God’s people must have if we are to honor God (particularly during times of suffering).
All of that was in the first two sermons. This week we move on to the third question, “What practical difference does it make that the end of all things is at hand”? Let’s pray, therefore, that God would grant us swift understanding and equally swift application. Let’s pray that none of us would leave without a fresh commitment to the things required by our living in a time when the end of all things is at hand. And let’s pray that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.
COMMANDS, REASONS, AND A ROCK-SOLID FOUNDATION
In light of the fact that the end of all things is at hand, Peter issued four direct commands, specific reasons for three of the four commands, and one rock-solid foundation undergirding all of this.
The first command and its specific reason are found in v.7, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded…”. Peter’s specific reason for this command is found in the last part of the same verse, “for the sake of your prayers.”
The second direct command resulting from the fact that the end of all things is at hand is in the first half of next verse, v.8, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly”. And immediately following is the reason for the command, “since love covers a multitude of sins.”
The third command, found in v.9, does not have a specific reason attached. The command is to “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
The final end times imperative, with a bit of an explanation, is found in v.10. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another”. Peter’s reasoning behind this is revealed in v.11, “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
Finally, at the end of v.11 we find the foundation upon which all of this is build. Peter’s readers, God’s people, ought to think and then act these ways throughout the last days because, “To him [Jesus] belong glory and dominion forever and ever.”
That’s the basic structure of this passage. Lord willing, this morning we’re going to cover the first direct command and the reason behind it. Please listen with an ear toward joyful, gospel-driven obedience.
DIRECT COMMAND #1: BE SELF-CONTROLLED AND SOBER-MINDED
Whenever I think of self-control or sober-mindedness I can’t help but think of one of my cousins from many, many years ago. He was an otherwise normal kid who had some sort of internal switch. Once it was flipped, he appeared to possess no ability to regulate himself.
I remember one time in particular. We were camping and riding ATVs (something my dad and I, along with several cousins and uncles, did every year). This particular cousin would get so excited to be there it truly was as if he were drunk. So, of course, the men in the group decided the best solution was to give him a motorized vehicle capable of going 40 or so mph.
Having just set up camp and been released to go ride our ATVs, all the cousins were a bit jacked up. After riding for a bit I headed back to the camp and waited for the rest of my cousins to return. I got there in time to watch my cousin (the one with the switch—which apparently had been flipped already) riding in from a distance, really fast. In fact, it was very obvious very quickly that he was coming in way too hot. It was absolutely surreal watching him drive his 4-wheeler straight at our camp and straight at our van without seemingly seeing either. Within the span of a few seconds I remember thinking “he should slow down,” then “he really needs to slow down now,” then “I don’t think he even sees the giant gray van in front of him,” then “oh man, he’s going to hit it head on…” which he did. He drove straight into it without ever even seeing it. To this day I’ve never seen anything else like it.
My cousin was (at least for those few moments, and whenever the switch got flipped) entirely without self-control and sober-mindedness. He was out of control and drunken-minded. If that scene represents what those things aren’t, we’re left with the question of what, specifically, they are.
The word for “self-controlled” used by Peter in v.7 literally means “of right mind.” It means exercising sound judgment. It means being under mental control. It means seeing things as they truly are. It means not being carried away by passion or emotion. It is a conscious choice to remain mentally clear in order to act properly.
The second phrase used by Peter, “sober-minded,” wasn’t meant to make a significant distinction (between that and being self-controlled). Peter used the word virtually synonymously with “self-controlled”. “Sober-minded” may also be translated as “of sober spirit”. Paul uses a similar phrase in 1 Thessalonians 5:6. There he wrote, “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.” The idea, once again, is to be clear minded and alert; especially as chaos and temptation swirl around us.
In Mark 5 we find an excellent biblical illustration of all of this. There Mark recounts a story of a demonically oppressed man who wreaked havoc everywhere he went. He was repeatedly unable to be restrained by anyone. Many had attempted to place shackles and chains on him to that end, but he had broken them all. Tormented, he cried out continually, day and night. Under the influence of unnamed demons he even went so far as to beat his own body with stones. He was in a very real sense (like my cousin) without self-control and sober-mindedness.
The meaning of Peter’s command, and the power of Jesus, is seen in the contrast we find a few verses later.
After being exorcized by Jesus the man was described as being “in his right mind”. The phrase “in his right mind” comes from the same word as Peter used in v.7 (“self-controlled). Instead of being out of mental control (as he was under demonic oppression) and, therefore, acting wildly and impulsively and destructively, the same man (after being healed by Jesus) is described as the picture of controlled calm; sitting down, properly clothed, and of sound mind. His mind became so sound in fact that he pleaded with Jesus to allow him to follow him and eagerly obeyed Jesus when he instead instructed him to proclaim the grace and power and mercy and blessing of God.
The point of Peter’s first command is that those of us who have encountered the same healing and saving power of Jesus (as the demoniac) must respond with the same type of calm, sound-mindedness in light of the fact that the end of all things is at hand.
But what does being self-controlled and sober-minded have to do with living in the last days? Why did Peter issue that command here? I think I can best help you understand Peter’s reasoning by asking you to consider what advice you would expect Peter to give. All things are coming to an end. Therefore…what? If we hadn’t already read this text and weren’t already familiar with this letter, we would probably expect Peter to write something like, “head for the hills,” or “gather your loved ones and find a safe place to wait it out,” or even “begin to share the gospel indiscriminately.”
That is, we’d probably expect Peter to acknowledge the craziness of the times and call for immediate, urgent action in light of it. That’s not what he wrote, however. Instead, in light of the fact that the end of all things is at hand, Peter’s first charge was not for his readers to focus on some particular action or behavior (although those will come), but, once again, on a particular mindset. Before anything else in this passage he called them to stop, gain control of their minds, and think. Again, then, we see the emphasis on perspective over and above that of circumstances. If our minds aren’t thinking rightly, we have no chance of acting rightly.
Whatever we do—in times of peace and turmoil—we must do it with a mind fixed on truth; with a mind tuned into God’s perspective and promises and priorities. If we just spend life running around in mental drunkenness we cannot honor God.
How, then, is all of this connected to the last clause in this verse; the specific reason for the command?
“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” What is the relationship between all of these things and our prayers?
SPECIFIC REASON FOR THE COMMAND: FOR THE SAKE OF YOUR PRAYERS
If we are not in control of our minds, who knows what we will do? If, on the other hand, we obey Peter and have self-control and sober minds—that is to say, if we are able to think clearly and rightly about the fact that the end of all things is at hand; if we look at our circumstances through the lens of God’s Word—we will quickly realize that our first and greatest need is for God’s sovereign grace to lead and guide and strengthen us. We’ll quickly realize that anything we do apart from God’s help will be futile. We’ll quickly realize that God’s faithfulness to his good promises is our only hope for whatever comes our way. And once we realize those things, we’ll do the only thing that makes sense, we will pray.
Self-control and sober-mindedness are for the sake of our prayers in that they make prayer necessary. If we are not people of prayer, it is because we are not self-controlled or sober-minded. All people of sound mind, all people who understand the world we live in and the God who made it, will be people of prayer. It can’t be otherwise. The only thing that would keep us from praying is a lack of clarity. When we see things rightly, we pray.
But self control and sober-mindedness are for the sake of our prayers in another sense too. If we are out of control we’ll likely run around being led by impulse or the impulses of others. At best, in that scenario, if we pray at all, our prayers will be misguided, distracted, selfish, and ignorant. Those aren’t the kind of prayers that God hears, though.
1 John 5:14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.
God hears prayers that are prayed according to his will. But knowing and praying God’s will requires control and sobriety of mind. It is primarily in that sense that our self-control and sober-mindedness are “for the sake of our prayers.”
PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE
What does all of this mean? Let me suggest a few practical things.
First, we must learn the distinction between reacting and responding. Most of the time, when we’re confronted by difficult situations, we react. That is, we reenact what was done to us; usually without even thinking. If someone takes a swing at us, we swing back. If someone hurts our feelings, we give them a piece of our mind. If someone harms us, we seek justice or, more likely perhaps, vengeance. We don’t even really think about those things, we just do them. That is reacting.
We’ve all done this countless times, haven’t we? We hear the unique sound of our kids pounding on one another in the other room and what do we do? We respond in kind, verbally pounding on them. A friend doesn’t respond to us for a time and what do we do? We reenact their perceived disrespect spitefully dragging our heels the next time they reach out to us. Our boss doesn’t appreciate our hard work and what do we do? We react by defaming them in front of our coworkers. More to the point, an unbeliever mocks us for our faith and what do we do? We entertain anger, bitterness, and frustration towards them.
Rather than reacting, Peter calls his readers to respond. Responding is deliberate. It is intentional. It is purposeful. It is tamed. It is tethered to something beyond our emotions and fleshly desires. It is self-controlled and sober-minded. It takes in the situation and rationally thinks through it before doing anything else.
When you and I are faced with a challenging situation—later today, perhaps—obeying this command means refraining from reacting (reenacting the harmful behavior done to us) and instead gathering our thoughts.
A second practical thought on all of this is that our aim in gathering our thoughts isn’t merely mental and emotional calmness. Our aim is to gain calmness in order to allow God’s Word to come to bear on our situation. That is, we must gather our thoughts around the Word and gospel of God. We must be clear enough minded to carefully consider what instructions God’s Word gives us for the situation and, specifically, how we can bring the gospel to bear upon it. All of that requires self-control and sobriety.
But what do we do once we’ve gained control and sobriety and pressed our thinking and situation against God’s Word? Third, all of that means that when trials come our way we must join Paul in destroying “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
We must destroy the treasonous thoughts that our own minds or the minds of our lying counselors produce; that we deserve comfort, that justice is ours to discern and execute, that our circumstances aren’t fair, that this world is our home, that our perspective is trustworthy, that …
When a trial comes our way and a thought (or feeling) about it enters our mind, we obey Peter and follow Paul by grabbing a hold of it—taking it captive—and (as we clearly see in Peter’s reason for the command) prayerfully demanding that it submit to Jesus. If it will, we let the thought or emotion pass into us and act on it. If it will not, however, we must quickly turn it away.
You’ve probably heard the analogy between the front door of your house and your mind. We have front doors on our houses for a reason. It is where we greet people in order to determine whether or not to let them in. We do not let people enter our homes indiscriminately. It would be dangerous and irresponsible to do so. We’re welcoming and eager to care for strangers, but they still need to come to the front door and gain our permission to enter.
Our minds are the front door to our souls. The problem is, and Peter means to address it here, many of us don’t use the same type of caution and care when it comes to our souls. Often, we simply allow anything that passes by, any thought or feeling, into them. To honor Christ, especially in these last days, we must meet every thought and emotion at the front door and determine whether or not to allow it to pass.
You’re diagnosed with cancer. Your immediate reaction might be to place your hope in the prognosis and treatment options. But then you remember Peter’s words. You remember the need to be sober-minded. Before they’re able to fully enter, then, you stop, pray, and demand that your thoughts submit to Jesus. With God’s help you remind yourself that real hope is found only in the work of Jesus which is not affected in the least by your cancer. Through prayer then you realize that by living in light of that you will give a powerful testimony to the oncologist and unbelieving family and friends.
You’re cheated by your boss. Your immediate reaction is toward anger and quitting. But then you remember Peter’s letter. You remember to be self-controlled. You reel those thoughts back in, cry out to God, make them bow down to Jesus, and instead of storming out or verbally sparring with your boss, you begin scheming about how to handle things in a manner which will point to the gospel.
You’re at the end of your rope with your kid’s selfishness. You’re tired of being single. Your spouse lets you down again. Your whole body aches in your old age. You’re struggling with lust. Your classmate constantly mocks you for your Christian convictions. The loud counsel you receive from inside and out is to stand up and fight, to get back at whatever seems to be causing your struggles, to despair or rage. But then the Spirit reminds you of Peter’s words and you pray. You beg God to help you to see what’s real and true. You cry out to God, praying his Word, asking him to deliver you from the lies that feel so strong inside you and are trying so hard to control you. You regain self-control and sober-mindedness. You remember that the end of all things is at hand. You remember that the gospel is good news even for this and that your primary charge is to use your trial to highlight the gospel. And you walk, just like Jesus before you, according to Peter’s command, away from the world and toward righteousness no matter what it costs.
The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.
As you encounter suffering (especially suffering owing to your allegiance to Jesus), honor God in it by remembering that it is always first and mainly an opportunity to highlight the saving and sanctifying power of the gospel. Do that (highlight the power of the gospel), according to this text, by being self-controlled, sober-minded, and full of prayer. Find help to do those things in the knowledge that the end of all things is at hand. And all of this, as we’ll dive into more next week, is done in light of the fact that all glory and dominion belong to Jesus forever and ever. That, once again, is the key to understanding how all of this makes sense. It is only in a universe with a God like ours that this equation balances out. It is precisely because Jesus is entirely worthy of eternal glory and dominion that it makes sense for us to lay our lives down—our comfort, our rights, our success, our plans—take up our cross, and follow Jesus.
Therefore, let’s continue to cry out to God for the perspective, will, and strength to do just that—glorify the godhead before and above all.