April 26, 2020
This is now our seventh Sunday of live-streaming. Seven weeks in which we’ve tried to gather separately, to worship, pray and spend time in God’s Word. And maybe the first week or two you kinda liked it – you enjoyed sitting on the couch in your pajamas, eating a bowl of cereal. Scrolling through Facebook, watching the kids color or squirm. Or maybe you’ve enjoyed tuning in at your convenience. And you’ve thought, I could get used to this. As if church is just like…turning on the TV.
But now, by the seventh week, it’s getting a little old. Not just the stay-at-home order and all the Facebook memes which have been hilarious – no, I’m talking about this not gathering as a church family. Is this the way it’s meant to be? Yes – of course, it’s been good the church has left the building, been deployed, forced out of our fortresses and into the community – well, at least to our homes – all those good things. I’ve heard a lot about all that extra family time. But does all that indicate some lack of value of our corporate gatherings? I mean physically being together.
You see, while we can do some of those churchy things separately, it’s just not the same. And there are many things we cannot do separately – like communion, fellowship, service, to warmly greet each other in the name of Christ, enjoy a Stickboy pastry, a cup of Bald Guy Brew with a brother or sister, smile, shake hands, maybe even hug. Worship and pray, together. I know – the jury’s out as to whether we’ll ever be able to do some of those things again. And right now, with our governor’s announcement last Thursday regarding the stay-at-home order being extended to May 8, followed by a lengthy phased-in process – we may not be meeting until late June – or later. And what things, as a result of all this, will be changed forever?
As great a job as Ethan and his tech teams have done with live-streaming, Hunter and the worship teams have done in leading us remotely, as many others have done with videos and emails and phone calls and Zoom meetings, it’s just not the same. And it’s not supposed to be. We were meant for human interaction and fellowship – being together. The word for fellowship is koinonia, and speaks of a bond of life that unites us. My daughter told me about a FaceBook post from one of the airlines – we’re all in this together. To which one commented, we weren’t all together when my suitcase weighed 52 pounds. What weight/burden are you carrying that is too much – that needs a church family to carry it with you? You see, we need each other. We are in this all together.
There’s lots of biblical truth that talks about the importance – indeed, the indispensability, of being the church together. In Acts 2, at the birth of the church, we read, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer….And those who had believed were together….”
We saw in our study of Hebrews, talking about the importance of being together, “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” We’ll to come back to that. But notice – there is a one-another nature to our faith – of the church Jesus Christ. In fact, there are a number of so-called one anothers of Scripture:
- Love one another
- Be devoted to one another
- Honor one another
- Live in harmony with one another
- Accept one another
- Instruct one another
- Greet one another
- Serve one another
- Bear with one another
- Be kind and compassionate to one another
- Forgive one another
- Encourage one another
- Show hospitality to one another
- Submit to one another
There are many more – the point is, most of those require presence – being together. I would add further – we need each other especially in times of crisis. Whether that’s personal crisis – health, financial or relational, a global crisis like a pandemic, or a church crisis – like persecution. We are not expected to do the Christian life alone. Isolation and quarantine is not for the church. Now, to be clear I’m not calling for revolt – this is temporary. But, what we are experiencing now – by government mandate – is not some new normal. We desperately need each other. Peter addresses this great truth, rather appropriately for our day, in our ongoing study of I Peter.
You’ll remember he started the body of his letter in chapter 2, where he wanted to address the crisis facing the church in Asia Minor – and in fact that has faced the church throughout its history. Yes, we’ve lived in a bit of a bubble in the US, but even that is coming to an end as we become less of a Christian nation. Persecution, opposition, even for doing good, was the norm. Again, I cannot help but think of Samaritan’s Purse and the opposition they’ve faced in New York as they’ve sought to care for some of the very people opposing them.
So Peter began in chapter 2 with these words, “Keep your behavior excellent (beautiful) among the Gentiles/unbelievers, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds glorify God.” Live beautiful lives in front of unbelievers – even doing good to them – remember, returning evil with good – with blessing. As we’ve seen, following Christ will cost us – last week, we saw when we say yes to Christ and no to sin, they will malign us – be shocked that we no longer run into vile sin with them. But that’s okay, Peter said, because judgment is coming, and you will vindicated. Further, even though we will be maligned in the flesh, we will live in the spirit and be raised in the Spirit at the resurrection. Eternal life is ours. The best is yet to come.
And having mentioned the judgment to come, and our soon coming resurrection, Peter focuses on the end, bringing us to our text today – I Peter 4:7-11. As we read it, notice the one another nature of the Christian faith Peter highlights in the midst of crisis. The truth is, we need each other. Read.
Peter turns his attention to the truth we need each other in this challenging life. The end of all things is near, it’s coming, we’re living in the last days – but in the meantime, keep your behavior beautiful among unbelievers, and care deeply for one another. You see, we cannot expect care from those who oppose us. We’ll care for them – but in the meantime we must love one another fervently– expressed in very specific ways, which form our outline:
- The End is Near – meaning, we are living in the finality of God’s plan for His created order (7) Therefore,
- Be Soberly Committed to Prayer (7) Crisis should drive us to our knees.
- Be Earnestly Committed to Love (8) – when there are pressures without, love one another deeply within.
- Be Joyfully Committed to Hospitality (9) When pressures increase, care for one another.
- And Be Faithfully Committed to Service (10) God has gifted you to serve, so serve one another.
Which, by the way, all results in glory to God. What a great text. We are facing a crisis. Now, it’s not the same as Peter’s readers, nor the same for our brothers and sisters around the world – yet. But by principle – in crisis, do this – what a great text.
Peter starts with, the end of all things is near. That can be a bit challenging, given this book was written almost 2000 years ago. Seems like he was mistaken – it clearly wasn’t that near. What did he mean? Was he mistaken? Did error slip into the Bible? No.
We need to think here not of secular history as a timeline, but of redemptive history. To recognize that all the major events in God’s plan of redemption have now occurred – all things are now ready for His return and rule. What are those major events of redemptive history? Creation, the Fall, the Call of Abraham, the Building of a Great Nation, the Incarnation of Christ, His Death, Burial, Resurrection, and Ascension, the Creation of the Church, and the Spread of the Gospel through the Church. We’re living in that final phase of His plan. Before which He comes to make all things right, for His glory.
How long will that gospel spread? How long until the last curtain in this unfolding drama of redemption falls? We don’t know the exact time, but we can rest assured God knows and has all things in control. It’s all unfolding according to plan. Apparently, it was a problem for his readers, because he brings up the subject again in his second letter. Mockers will come asking, where is this coming He promised? The answer? The last curtain will fall when the last soul to be saved is saved. God is patient. He will not return prematurely. And He is in no hurry. His plan will be accomplished. We’ve seen it unfold – we’re in the last phase. In light of the fact the end is near – all is ready to be fulfilled, what kind of people ought we to be, he asks in II Peter – but tells us here.
This is always the context of the end of all things. Eschatology is always to encourage believers to live in godly ways now. It’s never so we can start setting dates, creating charts, trying to figure out the end. Remember, the disciples wanted to know the when in Acts 1 – and Jesus said, it’s for you to know. Rather, you be My witnesses. In other words, since we are living in the last days – awaiting His return – ours is not to put things in neutral, gazing toward heaven. Nor are we to withdraw from the world – even in the midst of crisis. The certainty of the end is to stimulate us to action. Ours is to be busy. In what ways?
First, we should be a people committed to sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. We are soberly committed to prayer. Sound judgment and sober spirit are likely synonyms – repeated for emphasis. It means to have a sound mind, thinking about and evaluating situations maturely and correctly. It means not letting the mind wander into any kind of mental intoxication which inhibits spiritual alertness; not allowing laziness of mind which lulls Christians into sin through carelessness. No, be alert.
So that you can pray, meaning, you can pray more effectively and appropriately. Very simply, Christians should be alert to events and evaluate them correctly in order to pray more rightly. Crisis – whether by persecution and opposition or global pandemic ought to drive us to prayer.
Which brings us to the first of the three one anothers in Peter’s list. And the first one another, easily said is difficult, keep fervent in your love for one another. Why would he have to command us to keep loving one another? Because outside pressures can increase tensions and produce divisions within. Further, because love is not just a feeling, it is a commitment expressed in action. Which is why John said, “Dear children, let us not love in word or deed, but with action and in truth.” Love is expressed in action – so, he says, keep displaying your love to each other – keep acting like you love each other. Even when it’s hard out there.
And remember from chapter 1, we are to grow in our love for one another. Peter had said, “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart.” Since you have a sincere love, fervently love one another – sounds redundant. The first word for love there is one many of you know – phileo, which speaks of brotherly love. The second word is agape, which speaks of a self-sacrificing love. So, Peter is saying, now that you have a brotherly love for one another, go on to have a deep, self-sacrificing love. It’s not enough to feel buddy-buddy, we’ve got to love each other deeply, fervently, from the heart – and make the practical sacrifices to demonstrate that love.
The purpose for such a command is love covers over a multitude of sins. What does that mean? Do we atone for others’ sins by loving/forgiving them? Certainly not. It means, while love doesn’t overlook sin, where love abounds in a fellowship, many small offenses, and even some large ones, are readily forgiven and forgotten, meaning, not held to someone’s account. Christians forgive others because they know the forgiving grace of God in their own lives. We are quick to forgive, having been forgiven much. We overlook wrongs committed against us.
Now, how do we demonstrate our love for one another in sacrificial ways? That brings us to the second one another. Peter tells us to show hospitality to one another. Now, technically, the word hospitality is used to having a stranger into your home for the purpose of feeding and/or clothing them. An example of its usage this way is found in Hebrews 13:2, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
But here, Peter says, be sure to show hospitality to one another. Did you know there’s actually a biblical command to have one another into our homes to show hospitality to each other? The point is, we’ve got to spend time with one another. In a church facing crisis where believers are ostracized, opposed, maligned in society – show hospitality – care for each other. Further, offer this hospitality to one another without complaint – not because we have to, whining about it, but because we love each other fervently.
Bringing us to the last one another. “As each one has received a special gift, employ it (or put it to work) in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever 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; so that in all things God may be glorified.”
In other words, steward, manage, use your spiritual gifts. This verse is one of the most important in understanding the proper use of spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are divine enablements given to us by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of serving one another in the church. There are several points that need to be made:
First, each one indicates that everyone has one or more spiritual gifts. Paul makes that abundantly clear in I Corinthians 12. We all have a gift or gifts – different – as the Spirit determines. No believer is without a spiritual gift. Paul also says, we don’t all have the same gift. Like a body, we have different gifts to meet different needs.
Second, spiritual gifts are for the purpose of serving others – not for self advancement or to draw attention to ourselves. They are not even primarily to benefit ourselves, but others.
Third, they are a result of God’s grace, hence, charisma, grace gifts. As God’s grace is richly varied, so are the gifts He gives.
Fourth, they are done in the strength God provides. Service performed by merely human energy and for one’s own status in the eyes of others can soon become a weary activity. When you speak, speak with the words of God – the Bible – as your foundation. When you serve, serve in the power and under the direction of the Holy Spirit.
Now notice, they come in two forms, speaking and serving gifts. Some gifts, like prophecy or tongues or exhortation or teaching involve speaking. Others, like helps and mercy and miracles involve serving.
To be clear, everyone who knows the Lord has received a special gift. Here’s the question, what are you doing with that gift? How are you serving the body? Paul says it this way in I Corinthians 12:7, “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” You have been given a gift by the Holy Spirit of God to serve in this church. Think of it this way – has this quarantine changed what you do in this church called Alliance – or are you just now watching from home?
In his book, Natural Church Development, Christian Schwarz made an intriguing discovery about people involved in ministry. He surveyed over a thousand churches in 32 different countries to discover the principles that made a healthy church. Listen to what he found, “An interesting result of our research was the discovery that probably no factor influences the contentedness of Christians more than whether they are utilizing their gifts or not. Our data demonstrated a highly significant relationship between ‘gift-orientation’ and ‘joy in living.’” He said joyful Christians are serving Christians. God intended your gifts for the good of the body and for your fulfillment.
Notice back in our passage, we are to serve as good stewards. The gifting we have is a stewardship. Stewardship carries with it three distinct ideas:
- What you have is not yours; it’s been given to you by another.
- Second, you are to manage what you’ve been given well.
- And third, you will give an account one day as to how you have handled the trust.
Remember the parable of the talents in Matthew 25? – one servant received 5 talents from the master, another 2 talents, another 1 talent. The master went away – but he came back to see what the servants had done with their talents. The same is true for the spiritual gifting we’ve received – it’s a stewardship, and we will give an account for how we have handled them. We want to use them so we can hear those words, well done, good and faithful servant.
Everyone of you has been gifted to serve. And here, you are commanded not to be a spectator, not to just tune in to the computer, but to be involved, to employ your gifts to serve one another. Statistics show that people are about as involved in church as they are sporting events – meaning, most are spectators. A Gallup poll revealed that only 10 percent of those people who go to church regularly are personally and actively involved in some kind of ministry. Which means, 90 percent of the people are consumers – showing up on Sunday mornings, waiting for the professionals to do the work. John Maxwell, pastor, author and leadership conference speaker, calls it the Pareto Principle. He says that in the average church:
20% of the people do 80% of the work.
20% of the people give 80% of the money.
20% of the people bring 80% of the visitors.
20% of the people lead 80% of the people to Christ.
But is that the picture the New Testament paints of the church? That only the pastors or some select spiritual elite do the works of service? Is Christianity to be a spectator sport?
My goal for Alliance is that no less than 100% of the people do 100% of the work. Can you imagine the work of the kingdom we could accomplish if all 1500 or so people who call Alliance their home were involved in some kind of gift-oriented ministry? John Stott said, “If the 16th Century (that is, the Reformation) recovered the priesthood of all believers, perhaps the 20th Century will recover the ministry of all believers.”
And all this results in glory to God through Jesus Christ. You see, we bring glory to God when we obey His commands in Scripture. We bring glory to God when we love and serve His people. And we bring glory to God when we realize everything we do – whether in word or deed – is done by Him, through Him, and for Him. To Him be all glory and dominion – rule – sovereignty. He’s in control. And Peter finishes with an affirmation – amen.
The point today – we are meant to be a body of believers together. So don’t get used to this. We need you, and we need each other. With me, count the days to when we can be together again.