Stay Focused on God

Have you ever driven down the highway, 65 mph, and decided just to let the car drive itself? Get the car going straight, set it on cruise control, take your hands off the steering wheel, maybe climb in the backseat to look for some munchies?

What advice would you give a student with an important exam coming up? One possibility is to tell him not to worry, perhaps take some time off and relax. After all, the student has probably studied for other tests in the past. It wastes a lot of time to keep studying over and over again.

What advice would you give if you knew the end of the world was imminent? How about, “Don’t worry, this sort of thing happens all the time. Just make sure you pack an extra pair of underwear.” Our lesson today begins with 1 Peter 4:7, “The end of all things is near.” Let’s not climb in the backseat to look for munchies, let’s see what Peter has to tell us about living in the last days.

We know the end of all things is near… “for the bible tells me so…” but we mortals have such short memories. We forget and we take our focus off God. Peter, the author of our book today, was our textbook example of taking our focus off of Christ. When Peter saw Jesus walking on the water, Peter’s eyes were on Jesus and Jesus called him. And Peter walked on water! But then Peter looked at the world around him and noticed how high the waves were and how deep the sea was and started to sink. Peter’s salvation was still secure – Jesus reached in and caught him – but would Peter have sunk if his eyes remained on Jesus?

In the middle of going to work, shopping for groceries, exercising at the gym, we look at our watch and think, “What time was the world supposed to end?” And the end of the world becomes less important than picking up the dry cleaning. But the end of all things are near, and it’s not hard to imagine the last days becoming closer. If you forget the end is near, turn on the TV and watch the news for 5 minutes.

Daily focus on Christian living is important. I’m not talking about a checklist of Christian things to do daily – I had my quiet time, I prayed over my meals, I read my bible – I’m talking about minute-by-minute focus on how God wants us to live. What do we do, what do we think, what do we say. We are to live in a way that glorifies our Living God every single moment. Last week Fred taught us about living with joy in the midst of suffering. We’re first class passengers and we know our plane is landing safely, so a little turbulence is exciting. With joy in our hearts, what do we do with our lives? We glorify God through our character, and we glorify God for the way we endure suffering.

What do people see when they watch you and listen to you? In Matthew 5:16, Jesus says, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” With every action and with every single word, what do people see when they look at you? Are you Christ’s ambassador?

I. Glorifying God through our Character
A. Focused Prayer

1 Peter Chapter 4 is about our character and how serving and suffering interact. To be good servants and to be good witnesses, we must be developing a character that glorifies our Lord. All of us – and especially me – tend to focus on the characters of other people and how they do not meet our needs. We think it’s very easy to fix somebody else’s problem. That’s a mindset that takes focus and prayer to overcome. Instead, we are to focus on our own character and how we can meet the needs of others.

1 Peter 4:7, “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” The very first thing toward building a focused Christian character is to pray. To pray effectively, be clear-minded and self-controlled. As children of God, we have a communion with the Holy Spirit living inside of us that interprets our prayers and gets answers from God for His glory. Our prayers are powerful and God desires them, it moves God to work in our lives. But to have effective prayers, the NIV says we must be clear-minded and self-controlled. KJV says serious and watchful. NLT says earnest and disciplined. To do this we must be focused on what God wants, not what we want. We clear our minds and we seek God’s will. The best way to do that is to study God’s word and see what God’s will is. Through study, prayer, and meditation, we clear our thoughts, we seek His will, and then we can exercise a disciplined prayer to God.

B. Focused Love

1 Peter 4:8, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” This is agape love, the self-sacrificial love that Christ showed us. We are to sacrifice for each other with no hesitation or reservation. I don’t think the NIV captures the essence of the word “deeply” here. The Amplified bible calls it “intense and unfailing love for one another.” This agape love is from God working through us and has nothing to do with how we feel. Sometimes we don’t “feel” loving. Love anyway. Sometimes we feel irritated. Love anyway, because love covers a multitude of sins, both their sins and especially our own sins.

What is agape love? 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 tells us exactly what love is and what is not. As an engineer, I’m sort of spreadsheet oriented and I’ll eventually have the entire bible categorized properly in a giant spreadsheet like it should be, but for now, here’s a spreadsheet on love that you can stick on your refrigerator:

1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Love is Love is not Love does Love does not
Patient Jealous Rejoice with truth Brag
Kind Arrogant Bears all things Act rudely
  Provoked Believes all things Seek its own
    Hopes all things Keep a record of wrongs
    Endures all things Rejoice in unrighteousness

C. Hospitality

1 Peter 4:9, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Have you ever been asked to do something and you say, “oh, all right, I’ll do it. Sheesh, why does everybody always ask me to do it?” Whatever we do, do it in love and joy. Offering to help somebody while being grumpy about it does not glorify the Lord. God loves a cheerful giver, so… give cheerfully.

D. Use Spiritual Gifts

Hospitality is one of the spiritual gifts described in the bible – we all have gifts, and as faithful stewards of these gifts God has given us, we are to use them for His glory. Give yourself to others cheerfully because you are doing the Lord’s work. In 1 Peter 4:10, he says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” You have a spiritual gift, an ability given to you by God. Are you using it? Are you unsure whether you have a gift? There are three main scriptures that describe spiritual gifts and are listed in Ephesians 4:11, Romans 12:3-7, and 1 Corinthians 12:1-12, 28. These scriptures clearly say that each one of us as a member of the body of Christ are given one or more gifts, each member is just as important as any other member, and that gifts we are given are to be used to glorify God.

What is your gift? If you’re not sure, get clear-minded and self-controlled and pray about it. God always answers those prayers when you’re asking His will. If you’re still unsure, pick one. Your gift will not grow unless you’re using it. Volunteer for something – anything – and start building your spiritual character. To some extent, our spiritual gifts will fall into two broad categories, gifts of speech (such as evangelism, encouragement and teaching) and gifts of service (such as administration, giving and mercy).

1. Guarded Speech

When we speak, speak carefully. I think this is one of the hardest things to control. We can talk the good talk, but it is so hard to remember 24 hours a day to control what we say. James 3 has very strong words about what we say, that the very same tongue we use to praise God we also curse people who are made in God’s image. What comes out of our mouth reflects what is really inside our hearts. And our words can be destructive, like a small spark that can set an entire forest on fire. James 3:6 says our “tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” That makes me shudder.

Listen to how important our speech is: Peter says in 1 Peter 4:11 that “If you speak, you should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.” When you profess to be a Christian, every word that you speak represents Christ on earth, for you are Christ’s ambassador to your brothers and sisters in Christ, to your spouses, to non-believers. Every word you say reflects your heart and reflects Christ, so choose each and every word carefully. Once you say them, you can’t take them back.

2. Serve with Strength

When we serve (and serve without grumbling), we are also using our God-given gifts. But sometimes when we serve, we take credit for the service we’re providing. Whatever and whoever we are, we did not create ourselves. Whatever IQ you have, you didn’t create your own intellect. God gave you your brains. Whatever ability you have to serve others, God gave you that ability. You didn’t grow your own arms and legs, God gave those to you. So when you use them, don’t depend on yourself. Learn to lean on the strength of Christ. 1 Peter 4:11 says, “If you serve, you should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.”

Why do we serve? For the same reason we exist – to glorify our king. God doesn’t want you to do it alone – God will grant you the strength you need to accomplish what He wills for you. Philippians 4:13 says “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Good Christian character is focused prayer, hospitality without complaint, words that reflect the Holy Spirit within you, and service that depends, not on you, but on the strength that God provides. We glorify God through our character.

II. Glorifying God through Suffering
A. Testing

We also glorify God for showing our Christian character when we suffer. Peter tells us that we are to expect hardships, trials, and suffering. 1 Peter 4:12, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” Why do we suffer? It tests this character we have been building. James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Without hardships, our faith doesn’t grow, it atrophies.

B. Christ’s Suffering

Just as James says, “consider it pure joy,” Peter says in 1 Peter 4:13, “But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” Pure joy! Rejoice! Wahoo, I’m suffering! Ok, that’s a little over the top, maybe, but the minor suffering we endure mirrors the suffering of Christ. To focus on the suffering itself focuses us on this temporary life. When we focus on eternity, though, these hardships are only temporary.

1 Corinthians 4:16-18 says, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” When we reach our heavenly destination, all this suffering will seem as nothing, all totally conquered by the saving grace of Jesus.

C. Verbal Abuse for Christ’s Name

1 Peter 4:14, “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” This is what Peter means by “participating in the sufferings of Christ.” Christ was persecuted and crucified because of who He is, and if we are persecuted because of who He is, we share in His suffering. Peter tells us that we are “blessed” and it can be difficult to understand how persecution is a blessing.

Our Chinese friends returning back to China have told us they miss our church here and the freedom of worship. In China, the official position of the Communist Party is that party membership and religious belief of any kind are incompatible. Religious organizations are required to register with the government and accept supervision from the government. The official position from Beijing is that no one is persecuted for their beliefs, but evangelism is not permitted. Worshipping in groups is often prohibited. Peter tells us that those persecuted in this way are blessed. More than just being happy, the blessing is the favor that God finds with these martyrs for the Holy Spirit of God rests upon them. Knowing that God finds favor in us for persecution in His name gives us encouragement.

D. When Suffering is Not from God

Not all suffering comes from God, though. Just because we are suffering doesn’t mean God is blessing us. Sometimes we deserve the suffering. 1 Peter 4:15, “If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.” “Or even as a meddler” – I found that interesting. If we’re punished because we’re bad, we deserve it. If we commit murder or we steal and go to jail, Christ is not honored and the suffering endured is merely punishment. If our persecution is because we’re sticking our nose into other people’s business and it annoys them, we’re not blessed. We’re bringing hostility on ourselves and Christ is not honored.

E. Suffering for Christ

Christian suffering that brings God’s blessing is specific; “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” Martyrs that preach the name of God to their captors are blessed. Cassie Bernall was reportedly asked by the Columbine shooters if she believed in God, and when Cassie said, “Yes,” she was killed. God blesses those persecuted in His name. Peter, the author of our book today, was also martyred preaching the name of Christ and was supposedly crucified upside down outside of Rome. Do not be ashamed, the end of all things is near, and persecutions in the last days will increase. Stay focused on God and not the light and momentary persecutions of this temporary life. We have hope in Jesus.

F. Judgment

In verse 17 & 18, Peter tells us that the time of judgment is near. The followers of Christ will be judged and found righteous through the covering of the sacrifice of Jesus. As sons and daughters of God, we have no fear of judgment. We know we are sinners, but we also know that Christ our Lord died for those sins so that we may appear unblemished before God.

Sometimes we long for the Rapture to come and take us away from this wicked world, to save us from this corrupt generation. But God placed us here for a reason, and God doesn’t make mistakes. If we long for the Rapture because we want to be closer to the Lord, that’s a beautiful thought, but our purpose in this life is not simply to exist then go to heaven. Our purpose in this life is to see His will done on earth as it is in heaven, and He will use us and give us the strength we need to do His will. Why do you exist today? Because God is using you to show His glory. Your looks, your body, your possessions, your talents and your spiritual gifts are given to you by God to show His glory in us. We have purpose in this life, given to us by God.

Those that do not know the good news, that Christ died for us and that we may have a relationship with the living Christ need to know this. Suffering and persecution are all around us, but those that suffer for Christ have hope. It can be a difficult life, but Peter reminds us that we should not be surprised, this fiery ordeal tests us. How much harder then, is it on those that do not know the love of Christ and do not know why they suffer? We exist so that the love and hope of Christ may shine on them with every word, with every deed, with every hospitality we show them in order to bring glory to God. This is God’s will. Verse 19, “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”

So Pray. Love. Serve. Speak His name. Live like there’s no tomorrow because someday you’ll be right.