Grumble-free Hospitality

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.

Good morning and welcome once again. Welcome to those of you who are regular attenders of Grace. And welcome to those of you who are guests. I hope you all leave here this morning with a greater understanding of and appreciation for the glory of God and the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. I hope you also leave here with a greater burden to order your entire lives around those things (God and the gospel).

Let’s pray that this would be so.

I mean to preach on 1 Peter 4:9 this morning. Before we get there, however, I want to remind our regular attenders and be upfront with our guests about something that’s especially significant, given the fact that today is Reformation Sunday and this year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

Right at the heart of the Reformation and right at the heart of Grace Church is the deep, deep conviction that the bible is the very Word of God, and is, therefore, entirely and uniquely authoritative, sufficient, and necessary to instruct us unto salvation in Christ, reveal God’s nature and will to us, strengthen us for obedience, and persevere us in faith until glory.

Nothing else is able to do those things for us. No worldly wisdom can do them. No stories from my life are able to accomplish them. No personal experience of your own is capable. No extra biblical books, godly individuals, church officers, artists, marketing specialists, philosophers, or events in Church history will do. God’s Word alone, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is sufficient for knowledge of life and godliness in Christ Jesus.

For this reason, it is our intention that every aspect of Grace Church be shaped by God’s Word; every event, every ministry program, every building decision, every relationship, every budget item, every everything.

Similarly, based upon that conviction, we mean for this entire service to be focused on God’s glory as revealed in his Word. All of the different elements of our service—the songs, the exhortations, the dedications, the readings, the prayers and times of prayer, the announcements, the sacraments, and the sermons—are meant to draw us to God in faith and awe as we encounter God’s revelation of himself in the bible and experience his presence among us.

As it relates to this portion of our service, the sermon portion, our conviction concerning the unique authority, sufficiency, and necessity of God’s Word means that the main sermon diet of Grace Church is what’s called expositional preaching. Week by week and verse by verse we work our way through a book of the bible. To this end, I have been preaching through 1 Peter over the past several months, landing in 4:9 this morning.

On the most down to earth, practical level, our understanding of the nature of God and his Word and the purpose of this gathering has an important negative and positive implication. Negatively it means that if you came here for a self-help, make me feel good, generic spirituality, everybody’s OK, God loves you on your terms, meet my felt needs, fix my life while I continue walking my own path, entertain me and my kids, type of experience, I imagine you’ll find the sermons (and services and ministries) here initially disappointing; for you’ll find that they’re not ultimately focused on you, but on the glory of God as revealed in His Word.

On the positive side, however, this means that if you stick around long enough and press in deeply enough I think you’ll find that our focus on God and his Word is much, much more valuable and satisfying than any and all of those things. Positively it means that in this church you’ll find us esteeming a book, the Bible, that is thousands of years old and a bit difficult to understand at first, but you’ll also find that it contains wisdom and insight and commands and descriptions that are more valuable than all the money in the entire world. You’ll find that while the bible presents ideas that the world around us calls outdated, silly, and even hateful, with proper vision you’ll see that instead of those things God’s Word is actually the power of God unto salvation. In the bible you’ll find a God who will only receive you on his terms, but you’ll also find that his terms are infinitely greater than anything you could possibly come up with on your own. In the bible you’ll find a God who is fiercely and unwaiveringly determined to receive glory, but you’ll also find that all you’ve been seeking throughout your entire life is that glory. In the bible you’ll find a God whose righteousness and justice demand that the wages of all sin is death, but you’ll also find a God who sent his one and only Son to die in the place of all who would hope in him. In this Church you’ll find a people who are scarred by sin, but are being made new as God transforms our minds through the Bible. You’ll find a people who struggle in significant ways, but by the power of God, love one another and the world, and will love you deeply because the bible calls us to and tells us how. And you’ll find a place where all of your felt needs aren’t necessarily met, but deeper needs you may have never known you had are exposed and met by the amazing grace promised in God’s Word.

We want you to know that all of this is made possible only by the blood of Jesus, accessed by grace alone through faith alone, and revealed authoritatively, sufficiently, and necessarily in the Word of God. Consequently, on Reformation Sunday (and every other Sunday of the week) I can confidently say that our focus on God and his Word is truly good news for you for in his Word, God offers something infinitely greater than whatever you came here for. With that exceptionally robust introduction, let’s look at the actual text, and one piece of the glory of God revealed in his Word.

Our text for this morning, 1 Peter 4:9, is the third of four direct commands in vs.7-11. It is the only one without a specific reason attached to it. That’s probably because it really belongs with v.8. Had time allowed, I would have preached on it alongside v.8 last week because in some ways, vs. 8 and 9 are two sides to a single coin.

1 Peter 4:8-9 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.

Love through Hospitality
How are these verses two sides to one coin? On the surface they seem to be addressing two different things. In v.8 we see a clear command to Christians to love Christians. In v.9 we find what appears to be a different command, a command to Christians to “show hospitality.” Here’s the key: the words “show hospitality” come from the same Greek root (phileo) that is translated as brotherly love or affection. Literally, the word means “love strangers”. Combined with the “one another,” v.9 is another command for Christians to love Christians.

The two verses taken together, then, are a call for Christians to love Christians—earnestly and above all—because the end of all things is at hand (v.7). V.8 focuses on the love Christians are meant to have for the Christians we know; the people in our church, Christian friends and family in other churches around the world, and the missionaries we’ve sent, for instance. V.9, on the other hand, focuses on loving Christians we’ve not even met; i.e. immigrant Christians, Christians in other local churches, and Christians in churches that have been destroyed by a natural disaster. That is, Peter commands his readers to sacrificially give themselves to affectionately pursuing that which is best for every follower of Jesus; even, as this verse charges, those who are otherwise strangers to us.

This charge is not unique to Peter. It is common throughout both the OT and NT. In the OT, in Exodus 22:21 God commanded the Israelites to care for strangers, “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” Likewise, God instructed Israel to “bring out all the tithe of your produce [at the end of every three years]…and lay it up within your towns. 29 And the …sojourner… shall come and eat and be filled, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.”

And in the NT, in Romans 12:13 for instance, Paul commanded the church to “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” It’s significant that according to 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:8, one of the qualifications for leaders within the church (elders/pastors) is that they must be “hospitable.” And perhaps clearest of all, in Hebrews 13:2 we find the command, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.”

Ultimately, God calls his people to love like that because he loves like that—he loves the stranger. God’s love for us is a model for how we are to love others. Further, when we love like God loves, it puts the goodness and loving-kindness of God on display. And in that display God is glorified and the church is strengthened.

In addition, there were many practical reasons this type of hospitality was crucial during the time of the writing of 1 Peter. It was important because many Christians had been driven from their homes and needed a place to stay. When a Christian refuge came into town, Peter expected Christians to love them by welcoming them into their homes. It was also practically crucial because many had gone out with the gospel, taking it to those who had not heard, and couldn’t afford lodging for weeks and months and years at a time. When Christian missionaries came into town Peter expected his readers to love them by hosting and caring well for them. And it was necessary for Christians to love strangers because Christians were despised by virtually everyone else besides other Christians. Obeying Peter’s command was meant to be a source of God’s comforting love to his lonely people. In other words, showing this type of hospitality, this type of stranger-love was not only theologically necessary; it was also practically and emotionally necessary for the early church.

Again, in simplest terms, the main charge of this verse is for Christians to love stranger-Christians in real, practical ways. The importance of this was especially significant during the times of difficulty and trial accompanying the end of all things. And all of this ultimately as a means of displaying the love, power, and glory of God.

In my experience this is the kind of command that we tend to nod our heads in agreement with, without really giving thought to what it means and costs. Therefore, let’s take a minute to consider what it would obeying Peter would have meant and cost for his initial readers as a means of better preparing ourselves to obey.

Hospitality without Grumbling
In Peter’s day it certainly was, as you can probably imagine, very difficult for Christians to get themselves through the day faithfully. They were being persecuted on every side. The Jewish leaders wanted them crushed. The Roman leaders wanted them crushed. This disdain from the religious and governmental leadership would have inevitably put pressure on average citizens to steer clear of these Christians. Life was hard—very hard—for many who bore the name of Jesus. Just holding on to their own hope in Jesus must have felt nearly impossible on some days.

This daily, individual hardship meant that something as simple as loving and caring for one’s own family would have been a remarkably tall task. When life is hard enough that keeping our own eyes fixed on Jesus is a challenge, adding anything to that is heavy indeed. Now imagine adding to those things the charge to continually, earnestly, and sacrificially love the Christians not only in one’s own family, but also in their church. As if all of that were not enough, in our verse for this morning, Peter added another set of plates to the bar by not only calling his readers to all of these things, but to also continually, earnestly, and sacrificially love Christians who were complete strangers.

All of that must, at times, have felt absolutely overwhelming. There must have been the temptation to complain, murmur, whine, and play the victim. Anticipating this Peter called his readers to do all of this “without grumbling;” to do it not begrudgingly or coldly or merely dutifully, but joyfully and eagerly.

Paul worded it this way in Philippians 2:14-15, ” Do all things without grumbling or disputing; 15 that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world…”.

Love-Expressed Hospitality Because of the Gospel
But how is this even possible? What hope did the Church then, or does the Church today, have to actually obey this high, high command? The answer was and still is the gospel. I mean that in two senses. First, the gospel compels this kind of stranger-love. And second, it empowers this kind of stranger-love.

Here’s what I mean by the gospel compels us to love like this…One day, many years ago, I received an email from a man from Belgium claiming to be a distant relative. Obviously I was initially skeptical, but something in his email made it seem legitimate enough that I replied. After a couple of correspondences I put him in touch with my dad and the two began a friendship. At some point it was decided that our Belgish relatives would travel to the U.S. for a vacation and a visit. Here’s the point: a friendship began and my parents were willing to host these strangers from around the world merely because of a common last name.

Growing up, my dad always wanted to own a Corvette. I remember a time when he and I were out driving (not in a Corvette) and we saw a Corvette broken down on the side of the road. My dad said—off the cuff—”If I had a Vette I’d stop and help him.” I’m not sure why we couldn’t without a Vette, but his point was clear: there’s a kind of brotherhood among Corvette owners that draws strangers to connect and help.

If I see a complete stranger wearing an article of Michigan State clothing I’ll say “Go Green.” And their automatic response is “Go White”. That which allows us to engage one another when we otherwise wouldn’t is the simple fact that we went to the same school. I’ve seen this in motorcycle riders (the hand down low as they pass), people with number stickers on their vehicles (26.2), backpackers, hunters, etc.

The fact is we have examples all around us of relatively insignificant commonalities drawing strangers together. Now if our last name, car, alma matter, career or hobbies are powerful enough to create a bond between strangers, how much more must the gospel—by its very nature—compel us to feel a joyful responsibility for the well being of others who love the gospel like us? That is, because of what the gospel is—the good news that God loves us such that he adopts us through faith into His family—it necessitates, it compels, those who have received it to love in new, radical ways. When we have experienced the overwhelming love of God for us, we cannot not love others in kind; we are compelled to do so.

But how does the gospel empower this kind of stranger-love? Simply, the gospel is the good news that Jesus died to save sinners. Saving sinners, though, does not merely mean allowing us to go to heaven when we die. It also means that Jesus died to save us from our bondage to and love for sin and replace those things with freedom and righteousness. Salvation means that we are being actively made more like Jesus. It means that we are being transformed and renewed to live as God made us to live and, therefore, love what God made us to love. The gospel empowers us, then, in that it is the power of God to strengthen us for everything God requires of us.

In short, loving like this is hard. Indeed, it’s impossible on our own. But we are not on our own. Jesus’ death on the cross compels us to love like this and, at the same time, it empowers us to love like this. Here, as in every other place, God strengthens his people for all that he requires of his people. Let’s give ourselves in confidence, then, to obeying Peter’s command in real, practical ways—earnestly and above all.

I want to close, as I have the previous two sermons, with a few (5) practical suggestions as to how we might put this into practice ourselves; for the command remains on all of God’s people today.

  1. Love God. We saw last week that the single greatest thing we can do to grow in and express love for the Christians we know is to grow first in our love for God. The more we love God ourselves, the more we will be able to love Christian friends. The same is true with loving Christian strangers. If you want to grow in affection and pursuit of that which is best for the scattered Church, give yourself to loving God above all. He is what’s best for them. The more you know of and delight in God, the more you have to offer others.
  2. Pray. Again, like we saw last week, the second most important, practical way we can love others is by praying for them. As you drive by other churches, pray for the gospel to be clearly taught and holiness to be expected in them. As you come across news articles about Christian persecution around the world, pray for them to persevere in faith. When missionaries come and tell of the people they’re working with in other countries, stop and pray for them.
  3. Reject comfort as an idol. Once we determine to get beyond ourselves and those close to us, and into the lives of Christian strangers, we’re going to have to leave behind a good deal of our comfort. Loving friends can be hard and messy. Loving stranger can be even more so. If our aim is make our lives as comfortable and easy as possible, obeying Peter’s command won’t happen. 90% of the time loving strangers and personal comfort are not compatible. The simple fact is: loving strangers is commanded and being comfortable isn’t. Let’s determine, then, to make God’s priorities our priorities.
  4. Walk across natural bridges. Strangers are strangers because they are strangers. If we are going to love Christians we don’t know, then, we must find a way to get to know them. There are a number of already-existing bridges we might walk across to make this happen. For instance, we are part of a larger association of churches in the EFCA. Consider taking part in one or two events/year hosted by the Free Church as a means of getting to know and love Christian strangers. Likewise, consider attending a banquet for a solid ministry (like New Life or TLI or Anselm House) in order to connect with and love the larger Church.
  5. Build other bridges. Sometimes other bridges need to be made. Mat and Miranda have been going into a pocket of the Twin Cities in order build a bridge between us and Christians in that isolated community in order that we might love them well (and help them reach their community). Consider joining them. Perhaps God has given you a burden for a different group of Christians—maybe a group of persecuted Christians somewhere else in the world. That might mean that obedience for you requires building a bridge that doesn’t already exist between those people and our church.

Our lives are not meant to be run by a checklist. Peter’s command and my five suggestions for obeying it, therefore, aren’t meant to simply give you more boxes to put on an already endless list. Instead, Peter’s command and my list describe the kind of heart that God is working out in all of his people. Lovers of Christian strangers is who we are before it is what we do. As we are increasingly transformed into Christ’s likeness by the renewing of our minds through the Word of God, love for Christian strangers will naturally and increasingly flow out of us. In the mean time, we obey in faith. Let us look for ways, then, to love strangers for the glory of God and the good of his Church.

I hope all of you were able to see, even in this simple command in this simple passage, that the God of the Bible offers so much more than the things we’re chasing. The greatest things we can possibly imagine absolutely pale in comparison to what is offered to us in Christ; including the pleasure of God in the love of strangers. We need eyes of faith to see the glory and superiority of these things, though. Let’s pray that God would grant us such a perspective.