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.
When we have a bad day, what do we tend to talk about? Usually we talk about all of the things that frustrated us (angry boss, messy kids, harsh weather, flakey friends, hard schoolwork). When our circumstances are continually hard, what do we tend to do? Usually we do whatever it takes to make our circumstances better (quit our job, discipline our kids, invest more in climate control, give our friends a piece of our mind, slack in school). When you and I encounter trials of various kinds, how do we pray? Usually our prayers focus on some sort of plea for God to take the trials away.
Have you noticed yet that Peter’s readers are in far worse circumstances than most of us have ever encountered (and probably will ever encounter)? And have you noticed yet—and make sure to wrap your mind around this—that not once in the letter has Peter so much as hinted that the main issue in their lives was their the circumstances? Peter did not instruct his readers on how to escape their difficult trials. We’ve not yet read a prayer from Peter asking God to deliver them from their circumstances. He did not tell his readers to expect that the false teachers would go away or even instruct his readers to try to get rid of them. He did not lead his followers to believe that the enemies of the gospel were likely to lighten up in their persecution. And he did not tell them to get away from their oppressive governments, masters, spouses, or fellow saints.
In short, and let this be a wakeup call for us this morning, Peter has not yet suggested anything that you and I would normally do and expect in similar circumstances.
In all of these things Peter’s main message was not that his readers ought to work hard to change their circumstances—as challenging as they were. His main message was that they needed to work hard to change their perspective—as glorious as the gospel is. That’s what we’re going to consider today: the power of perspective and the proper perspective to endure the trials of these last days.
This text forces us to reconsider something that’s already come up in several 1 Peter sermons: in this life our perspective (far more than our circumstances) really matters. In fact, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that our ability to see and properly interpret reality (our perspective) is almost everything.
In 1 Peter 4:7-11 Peter introduces another aspect of the perspective that allows us to honor God in our suffering; namely, that “the end of all things is at hand” (v.11). However, this sermon is actually going to end at the beginning of this text. Throughout the week I became more and more convinced that we really need to slow down and consider the power of perspective if we’re really going to apply this letter in the way God intends; if we’re really going to engage our trials in a manner pleasing to God.
So let’s consider together what the bible says about the power of perspective.
Indeed, right at the heart of the message of the bible is the tragic reality that from birth all mankind is united with Adam in his sin and the spiritual (and eventually physical) death it produced. Worse still is the fact that spiritual death produces spiritual blindness. In rebellion to God we stand condemned before God, sentenced to death, but without the faculties to properly recognize and understand it. What’s worse than being spiritually dead? Being spiritually dead and not even having the ability to truly realize it. We’re running straight at a 1000′ cliff, don’t know it, and can’t really understand its inevitable, deadly result.
We see the effects of this everywhere. Have you ever wondered why most people (your friends, neighbors, coworkers, family members) believe in some sort of divine being but live in constant contradiction to that professed belief? Have you ever wondered why most people believe in some sort of universal morality but aren’t really bothered by their hazy definition or continual falling short of it? Have you ever wondered why most people believe in a type of objective beauty and ugliness but can’t seem to quite conform themselves to it (or against it)? Have you ever wondered why there are so many different religions and philosophies, but all of them seem to be dealing with the same basic questions?
The reason behind those things is a broken perspective; a spiritual blindness. All people feel God’s presence and nature and expectations (Romans 1-2) and therefore all people do their best to make sense of those things. And yet, because of our sin-broken perspective, apart from divine intervention we can’t help but to go on fumbling around in Adam’s darkness until God’s judgment finally falls upon us.
There is a God who is entirely sovereign, righteous, and beautiful, and we have all fallen short of God’s glory. Being made in his image means knowledge of those things is hardwired into our personhood. Our spiritual blindness, however, keeps us from truly being able to see and understand them.
Consider Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 29:2-4: “Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: ‘You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, 3 the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. 4 But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.’”
The Israelites had witnessed God’s marvelous, unprecedented works, but lacked the spiritual sight and insight to rightly appreciate any of it. It was their broken perspective that allowed them to see all that they saw—plagues, parted rivers, impossible military victories, shaking mountains, pillars of fire, water coming from rocks, food coming from the dirt, and on and on—and still decide that the best response was to build a cow out of gold and worship it. If they’d had eyes to see things as they truly were, they would have acted differently. They didn’t need different circumstances (less suffering or more miracles), they needed a different perspective.
Jesus taught the disciples that they believed in him—unlike the Pharisees—because they were blessed by God with spiritual sight (Luke 10:23-24). How many times have you read the gospels and wondered how the Pharisees could be so dense? They saw Jesus perform miracles and teach with unprecedented wisdom—right in front of them—and still doubted. Their problem wasn’t their experiences, it was their blindness.
And from Paul we learn that the devil is actively working through the sin of fallen mankind to block his perspective, to blind him, to the glory of God in Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:3-6). One of the devil’s greatest weapons isn’t atheism, for he knows that true atheism isn’t possible. (That’s the point of Romans 1:19-20, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.“) Rather, one of his greatest weapons is to tell us a different story in our blindness; to reinterpret the things we cannot deny in a way that further distorts our understanding of God. As we fumble around in our spiritual blindness, trying to make sense of what we encounter, the Devil doesn’t whisper “there is no God” nearly as often as he whispers “God is boring” and “God is happy with you because you’re basically a good person” and “You are free to come to God on your own terms.”
Make no mistake, Grace, having a broken perspective is a problem for Christians too. Although becoming a Christian is, in part, defined by being given new sight—by being enabled to see what really is there—we don’t immediately receive perfect vision. Our eyes are opened, but our perspective is still blurred. We are made to see God, his glory, our sin, the need for a savior, and the uniqueness of Jesus’ as savior, but we are far from 20/20. Even as Christians, one of our greatest needs is still greater sight. Consider 2 Kings 6:8-17.
Once when the king of Syria was warring against Israel… he sent there horses and chariots and a great army, and they came by night and surrounded the city. 15 When the servant of the man of God [Elisha] rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” 16 He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
Elisha’s servant hoped in God, but he feared the enemy because he lacked sight. He could see the enemy’s horses, chariots, and great army. He could see the city. He could see the few Israelite soldiers. He believed in God and looked to his prophet. He had sight, even some measure of spiritual sight, but his struggle resulted from the inability to see fully. He couldn’t fully see what was there so he was afraid. He was granted greater sight and then he no longer feared. How often does that happen to us, Grace? How often can we see much of the landscape, but our inability to see more fully leads us to despair when we ought to (like Elisha and unlike his servant) trust and hope and rejoice.
I have been praying for a man for some time who found himself in a tough financial situation. His faith is real, but so was the reality of his financial struggle and his anxiousness about it. At times during this ordeal his hope in God would flow and at times it would ebb. Together we prayed without any real guess as to how he could get out of the situation.
It’s easy for both of us to see now that it was largely this limited perspective that made it challenging to know how to trust in God and led to times of fitful sleep and stress. That is, unknown to us at the time God had begun to prepare this man’s heart for the strength he’d need to endure this trial and put into works a plan to bless him in ways and through means we could never have imagined.
Perspective really matters. In some ways it’s almost everything.
Similarly, consider Mark 8:22-25. “[Jesus and his disciples] came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to [Jesus] a blind man and begged him to touch him. 23 And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see men, but they look like trees, walking.” 25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.”
This passage describes with remarkable explaining power the experience of every Christian day after day after day. We can see, but things are still blurry. We know what we’re dealing with in part, but the fuzzy edges often cause us great distress.
One more: in Ephesians 1:16-21, Paul prayed for the eyes of those in the Ephesian church (Christians) to be opened. Remember, these are Christians. And yet Paul wrote that greater sight was a necessary prerequisite for them to know God’s calling on their lives, the hope it provides, the riches of their inheritance in Jesus, the immeasurable greatness of God’s power in Christ, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and the sovereign reign of Jesus. Paul knew that without the proper perspective, given by God, they would and could know none of that, and apart from knowing those things they’d wander in fear and restlessness instead of courage and peace.
Again, Grace, have you ever wondered why you continue to sin even though you don’t want to? Have you ever wondered why it is so difficult to trust fully in the God who you know has saved you? Have you ever wondered why faithfully enduring suffering is so challenging even though you understand the gospel?
The answer, once again, is perspective. As Christians, we are immediately given forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God, adoption into God’s family, everlasting life, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but we are not immediately given perfect vision. That (which is another way of saying sanctification) God has determined to give us over time. It is only as he grants us a greater perspective that we are able to see God, God’s promises, our sin, and ourselves as these things truly exist. And it is only as he grants us this greater perspective that we’re able to live in a way that makes sense and honors God.
On a practical level all of this means that what we need to walk in holiness isn’t new power, it’s new perspective. We don’t need different circumstances, we need the ability to see them as they are. And that means that the irresistibility of God’s grace isn’t like a tractor beam—compelling belief and obedience by force—as much as it is like being offered the choice between a vacation in a porta-potty and in a 5-star resort on the Caribbean—compelling belief by the vast difference between choices. The problem of sin is that it makes porta-potties look like 5-star resorts and 5-star resorts look like porta-poties. The sanctifying work of God opens our eyes to see the truth.
Grace, the fact people cannot see it does not make God less glorious. The world’s lack of perspective on Jesus’ atoning work on the cross does not make it any less sufficient. The blindness caused by sin and the devil does not undo a single aspect of God’s victory through Christ. All of those things are certainly and unchangably true whether or not we have eyes to see them. But once again, our ability to live and feel and act rightly is utterly contingent on being able to see them properly.
We’re left, therefore, with the unmistakable reality that perspective is almost everything. It really, really matters.
All of that leaves us with three very important questions: 1) How do we get a proper perspective, 2) What do we do until we get it, and 3) What does any of that have to do with 1 Peter?
THE SOURCE OF A PROPER PERSPECTIVE
How do we get a proper perspective, the kind that enables us to live in a manner pleasing to God regardless of our circumstances (and in some ways especially when our circumstances are most challenging)? Really unpacking that question is a different sermon for a different day. For our purposes this morning, and as a lead into the second question, I’ll simply say this: a proper perspective comes from God’s Holy Spirit illuminating God’s Holy Word. Apart from both the Spirit and the Word we cannot see at all. And even once we’re given sight it will remain unclear apart from both the Spirit and the Word.
God has determined to reveal all that we need through his Word. Everything we need to know about God, ourselves, our relationship to God, God’s means of reconciling us to himself, and the source of power to grow and persevere in salvation is in this Book. Amazing!
And yet, the Israelites had God’s Word. The Pharisees during Jesus’ day had God’s Word. The false teachers during the time of the early Church had God’s Word. Some of your wayward friends and family today have God’s Word. And all wonder in unbelief. What they all lacked, however, was the Spirit illuminating it.
Without God giving us His Word we’d remain lost. But without God giving his Spirit to enlighten us concerning God’s Word we’re equally lost. It’s like a treasure map without a point of orientation. It’s like a secret code leading to riches without the cipher. That’s what passages like, 1 Corinthians 1:18 mean, “…the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
We are transformed, Paul wrote (in Romans 12:1-2), by the renewing of our minds. And our minds are renewed by the Word of God empowered by the Spirit. Therefore, give yourself to knowing God’s Word and give yourself to prayer. Forsake shallow reading and shallow prayers. Study and plead. A proper perspective comes only from the Word illuminated by the Spirit.
That leads to our second question. As we give ourselves to God’s Word and cry out to God for his Spirit, as we await God’s perspective-giving, sanctifying work, what do we do? Again, a full answer is another sermon for another day. And therefore again, I’ll just state the answer: we live by faith in God’s promises. One day we’ll see everything clearly and we’ll have no need for faith. Today, however, is not that day. Today we live in a measure of darkness and blurryness. Lacking proper perspective, then, we must choose to live according to what God tells us is right and good and true even when we cannot see it.
Paul, in Galatians 2:20, wrote, “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Some days it might not feel like God loves us or that our sins are truly dealt with. Some days it seems like the devil and our flesh are winning. Some days it seems like there’s no possible way there could be a good reason for our suffering. On some days it seems like the darkness is overwhelming. On those days we choose to believe in the promises of God rather than our limited perspective.
That’s what 1 Peter is: the Word and promises of God for God’s perspective-deprived people. And that leads to our third and final question…
THE PROPER PERSPECTIVE
What does all of this have to do with 1 Peter? Specifically, what does it have to do with 4:12-17? Well, as I hope you’ve already figured out, 1 Peter is a letter that is almost entirely about perspective. Peter means to help his scattered readers understand their suffering from God’s perspective in order that they’d not only not despair, but excel; in order that they’d not only not walk away from the faith, but draw others into it by their holiness, hope, service, and love.
Above all the perspective that Peter has pleaded with his readers to accept is the simple fact that Jesus’ death on the cross changes the nature of the suffering of his followers. Instead of seeing suffering as something to escape as quickly as possible, by any means possible, Peter charges his followers to view their suffering as a means to pointing one another and the watching world to the saving and transforming power of the cross.
As we’ve seen over and over throughout our time in 1 Peter, this perspective changes everything.
In this particular passage, though, Peter adds another important aspect of a God-honoring perspective on Christian suffering. Not only does the cross change everything, but Peter’s readers were living in a time when “the end of all things is at hand.”
But what, specifically, does Peter mean by that phrase and what does living in light of it look like? Those are the questions we’ll consider in the coming weeks. Specifically, we’ll consider the nature of the last days and the five responses that ought to come from that knowledge: 1) be self-controlled and sober-minded, 2) love Christians, 3) be hospitable to strangers, 4) use spiritual gifts to build up the church, and 5) do all of this “that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
Here’s my conclusion and here’s how all of this touches ground. If your peace in life is based on things you can’t control, things that are likely to fluctuate, then you are likely to be a very restless person. God does not mean you to live like that. He means you to anchor your peace to things that cannot be moved; namely, his nature and the finished work of his Son. When your peace is tied to those things it will not be moved regardless of your circumstances. What’s more, your circumstances will move from obstacles to overcome to opportunities to display the glory of God and the power of the gospel. You’ll worry less about what’s going on around you and more about how to use it for gospel good.
Finding peace in this life, enduring trials in a manner pleasing to God isn’t about changing your circumstances; making sure you are as comfortable and insulated as possible. It is about changing your perspective; making sure your primary thought is on the example of Jesus and the outcome of his faithfulness through trial.
But make no mistake, our only aim in this life is not personal peace. We must also aim to lay our lives down for others. We find peace in the midst of suffering when we remember the gospel. And we find help to lay down our lives in gospel service when we remember that the end of all things is at hand. Again, we’ll learn more about how in the coming weeks. Thanks be to God. Amen.