In our lifelong journey, we all want to be better than we are.
We want to be healthier. We want to be taller. We want to have more money. We want to have more friends. We want a nicer car.
And once we become Christian, we want to be a better Christian. But I sometimes think we equate being a better Christian with being a better person. And then we look around at all the perfect people in church and think, “I wish I could be like them, but there is so much garbage and filth in my past, I can never be as good as they are.”
Our perception of what it means to be a better Christian is flawed. We are putting the cause before the effect, we are putting the “after” before the “before”. Christians are not better people because we have Christ. We are blessed because Christ has us. And that is how we should live.
Peter is writing his letter in 1 Peter 4 to the early church, talking to those who have recently given their lives to Christ. We have spoken before of this initial transformation of the young Christian; how they one lived as enemies of God and slaves to their own sin, but now chose to be slaves of Christ and begin their eternal lives. Their eternal lives begin, not after death of the body, but the death of the old life. We are “born again” into a new family. But this can be a difficult transition; some new Christians may look back at their old lives and see their old friends partying and enjoying their old sin. Let’s face it, sin is fun. Satan doesn’t entice us to the dark side with healthy vegetables. He entices us with pumpkin cream cheese pancakes.
Let’s begin with the first part of our scripture today. We are in 1 Peter 4, and we have 11 verses to cover. There are about 35 separate topics in these 11 verses, but we’re going to focus on just 2 or 3 because, well, lunch.
II. We Are Not Who We Were, 1 Peter 4:1-4
1 Peter 4:1-4,
Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do – living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you.
The chapter begins with “therefore” and when you see a “therefore,” we have to ask ourselves what it is there for. This refers back to 1 Peter 3:18 which describe the life of Christ,
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
This was the purpose of Christ, to save lost sinners like you and me. The death of Christ brought us forgiveness through grace in 3 ways –
- Christ’s death fulfilled the Old Testament Law of a sacrificial offering. We know that Jesus answered the Pharisees accusation by saying that Jesus did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. Therefore, an unblemished lamb was sacrificed.
- Second, Christ died as a propitiation for our sins. I confess I heard this term for years before I finally studied it, and it’s just a big word for a simple concept. The bible says that God is a righteous and holy God, and God will not allow sin to go unpunished. It’s not in His holy nature to say, “well, boys will be boys, I think I’ll let that one slide.” No, God is a holy and righteous God, and God will punish every sin. The wrath of God is a terrifying righteous thing. And over the centuries, man has certainly given God plenty to be angry about. None of us are innocent; Romans 3:23 says all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The Good News, the gospel itself, is that this wrath has already been satisfied when Jesus was put to death on the cross. The wrath of God was satisfied when God’s own son was put to death. That is what propitiation is – God’s wrath, satisfied.
- And third, Jesus was a substitution. A guilty man cannot take the punishment for anther guilty man. Each must serve their own. But Jesus was perfect, sinless, innocent. He had no punishment of His own, so He is able to take our place. And as God, Jesus can take away the sins of you and me. Jesus can take away the sins of the world.
So this first “therefore” in 1 Peter 4 is powerful. Jesus suffered and died to defeat sin with his body. Therefore, we should arm ourselves, we should put on the whole armor of God, and put our sinful past behind us. We are done with sin. We are done with sin.
Sin might not be done with us, though. Our old lives, our old friends, our old decisions, our old life choices want to follow us. 1 Peter 4:3-4,
For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do – living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you.
But we are done with sin, and we have armed ourselves in the Armor of God, have we not? Our old friends are still living that life, and our old friends are surprised when we say we are done with sin. And when we say, “no thanks, I have a new life in Christ,” they taunt us, they heap abuse on us. Call us names and ridicule us.
And let’s be honest – when that taunting and name-calling comes from friends, it’s hard. But the worst part is that the words echo in our old sinful selves, and we taunt and ridicule ourselves. “Of course I’m not good enough to hang with those perfect Christians and their perfect spouses and their perfect 3.2 children. I’m a drunkard, carouser, idolater. Don’t they know what I’ve done?” We put ourselves in a self-induced purgatory, too good to be with our old sinful friends, but not good enough to be with our new perfect Christian friends.
That’s Satan’s lies. Our God is bigger than that. Our God is bigger than any sinful thing we have ever done. Our God is omniscient, seeing into our black sinful hearts. Our God is omnipotent and brought His wrath upon our sin and utterly destroying it, separating us from our sin as far as the east is from the west. Our God saw the worst we had to offer, and yet loved us so much and decided we were worth saving. He sent His son to die for those sins so we don’t have to live them anymore. We are free of that past. And I don’t mean just the past from 20 years ago, but the past all they up to this morning until the moment you walked into this class. You are an adopted child of the God, the Creator of All. Your past is gone, yesterday is a closed door and you don’t live there anymore.
You see, we look in the mirror and we see what we have done. But God looks at us, and He sees what He has done. He has done a miracle in us.
III. Judgement Day, 1 Peter 4:5-7
Our primary motivation for living our new eternal lives is gratitude and thanksgiving for what the Lord has done for us while we were still yet sinners. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. We know that Judgement Day is coming. 1 Peter 5-7,
But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. The end of all things is near. Therefore, be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.
God gives us a choice on how we would like to be judged. Our old sinful lives want to be judged by sinful human standards. If our mind is on worldly things and we desire the approval of worldly people, and turn down the free gift of salvation offered through Christ Jesus, then God gives us what we want. We are judged according to our deeds, our words, our thoughts.
Revelation 22 is the final chapter of the bible. The end of history. In Revelation 22:10-11, it says,
Then he (the angel) told me (John), “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near. Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy.”
The words “let him” implies “let him make his final decision.” The God Almighty has provided a free choice. After the Millennium Kingdom, The Book of Life is opened, and for those who have accepted Christ and their names are listed in the Book of Life, they proceed to the Judgement Seat, or Bema Seat of Christ, described in 2 Corinthians 5:10. As Christians, we are judged for our works while in this body, and we receive rewards for those deeds. And there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, for Christ died to pay the price for where we fall short.
Those that do not choose this gift of life and have decided to be judged on their own efforts and works, they appear at the Great White Throne described in Revelation 20 and judged exactly as they wished. And everyone at this judgement, without exception, falls short of the glory of God and is thrown into the Lake of Fire.
So this “let him make his final decision” is God granting us our free will forever and ever. God will not force us to accept His will, but that choice is final. Dinesh D’Souza gave a speech at Liberty University on Friday night, and began it with this thought:
That is why Peter tells us,
The end of all things is near. Therefore, be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.
The end of all things is near, but as mortals, we have short attention spans. We forget our eternal destination and focus on the world around us. Peter himself was an example of what happens when we take our eyes off of Jesus. 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 we never think, “What time was the world supposed to end?” The end of the world seems less important to us 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.
So we keep that in mind when we pray, remembering the urgency that comes with the end of the world. We need to be alert and focused. But to have effective prayers, the NIV says we must be alert and sober. The Holman Christian Standard Bible says serious and disciplined. The NASB says sound judgement and sober spirit. Others says clear-minded and self-controlled, serious and watchful, earnest and disciplined. We must be focused on what God wants, not what we want. We clear our minds and we seek God’s will.
I confess it is a mystery to me why God answers prayers. He alone is worthy; He alone is just. He doesn’t need my advice when I come to Him in prayer. But the bible is clear that our prayers move God to act and that our prayers are like a fragrant aroma to Him. It pleases God for us to pray.
So we pray for ourselves, we pray for our loved ones, we pray for our neighbors, we pray for our enemies. We pray out of love for one another, that nobody should face the Great White Throne of Judgement without our Advocate in Christ Jesus at our side. We pray out of love.
IV. We Are Not Who We Will Become, 1 Peter 4:8-11
1 Peter 4:8-10,
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
I think it is of no surprise that the word for “love” here is “agape,” the love that loves others so much that it is willing to sacrifice for others. 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|
Love is easy, and love is complicated. But it’s worthwhile to reflect on this list. It’s easy to say we love someone, but harder to actually love someone in action and in attitude.
For instance, the very first words of this list is, “Love is patient, love is kind.” I don’t know about you, but if this is a definition of love, I didn’t even make it past the first two words. I’m not always patient. What’s that old joke, God grant me patience, and grant it to me now? The things in my life that are my biggest source of frustration seem to be life-long battles. And I once thought of myself as patient, but I have a better understanding. Not that I’ve been able to put it into practice, but at least I have a better understanding of where I fall short.
How long does patience last? A couple of hours? A week? A year? I think any number does the word “patience” an injustice. In Genesis 18, The Lord is going to wipe Sodom from the earth, but Abraham asks God if the Lord will destroy with righteous along with the wicked. Abraham starts by asking if 50 righteous people are found for the Lord to spare the city, and the Lord agrees. Through a serious of humorous bargaining, Abraham then tries to make it easier on himself, so he asks if 45 people are enough. Then 40, then 30, 20, and then 10. And the Lord agrees. But no righteous people were found; Lot and his family were spared, but not because of their righteousness.
Fast forward to 2 Peter 3:9,
The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
When Peter says, “The end of all things is near,” and then his next letter says “The Lord is not slow about keeping His promise,” I think of 1 Corinthians 13 saying “love is patient” and John 3:16 that says, “For God so loved the world” that over 4000 years have passed since the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. But the end of times hasn’t yet arrived. So patience is at least 4000 years if you love someone. To truly understand patience, we must be patient.
As for “Love is kind,” has anyone ever said an unkind word? It’s hard to keep our tongue in check. James 3:6 has these kind words to say about our ability to control our tongue:
The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
Now I understand why some monks take a vow of silence. Ouch. I have had some progress in this regard by remembering James 3:9, just 3 verses later:
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.
The thing to remember about how we express love and to who and what attitude we have while we do it … well, that seems to sum up our purpose while we are visiting this big blue marble in preparation for our eternal kingdom. We are to love our family; we are to love our friends. We are to love our neighbors. We are to love our enemies. In short, we are to lead a life of love that demonstrates the light of Christ in us.
What comes out of our mouth reflects what is really inside our hearts. When I read about some celebrity or sports figure apologize for something they said, I’ve been seeing this phrase being used, “That’s not who I am.”
A NYPD detective abusing an Uber driver, caught on tape. “I let my emotions get the better of me…. That’s not who I am.”
Marco Rubio when he was running for President implied that Donald Trump had a small… something. It was insulting to a man. But Rubio’s apology? “It’s not who I am and I shouldn’t have said that.”
Isaiah Crowell, running back for the Cleveland Browns, after a police shooting death of two black me, posted a graphic picture of a cop with his throat slit. He apologized, donated a game check to the Dallas Fallen Officer Association and said, “That’s not who I am.”
Dani Mathews, 2015 Playmate of the Year, took a picture of a heavier woman who was naked in a gym shower, with the caption, “If I can’t unsee this, then you can’t either.” After an uproar, she apologized saying she accidentally posted the photo and … “that’s not who I am.”
I find the trend disturbing; people are essentially claiming they are innocent – “that wasn’t me.” Like somehow if I robbed a bank at gunpoint and say, “That wasn’t me, I don’t rob banks.”
But it was them. And as Christians, we certainly are not immune to saying ugly things. The only reason it comes out of you is because it was in you. The only way to keep it from being in us is to fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit so full there isn’t room for our own iniquities. And if something ugly comes out of our mouths, then we apologize and say, “That was me. I am sorry. I am trying to be better but I still often fall short of the glory of God.”
Our scripture verses today end with 1 Peter 4:11,
If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
When we profess to be a Christian, every word we speak represents Christ on earth, for we are Christ’s ambassador to our brothers and sisters in Christ, to our family and friends, to our neighbors, to non-believers. Every word we say reflects our heart and reflects Christ, so we should speak slowly and choose each and every word carefully. Once you say them, you can’t take them back.
Our sanctification process is to be a better Christian daily. We look in that mirror and see what we’ve done or what we’ve said, but God sees what He has done. We want those two visions to be the same; we want to see what God sees. And we cannot do this on our own, for we battle daily with our sinful nature and the principalities of this world.
Some days, I hate to admit, that old sinful nature is going to get the upper hand briefly, and we are going to say or do something that hurts somebody. It will be unloving because we didn’t fill ourselves up with goodness, and we will reflect badly on ourselves and be a poor ambassador for Christ.
Don’t beat yourself up too badly. It will happen to all of us sooner than later. Some sooner than others. None of us are perfect. And our closest family and friends? They, too, will say or do something that is hurtful. But our key verse that wraps all of this together for us is 1 Peter 4:8,
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
Because of the love our family has for us, we can fail and it’s ok. Love covers a multitude of sins. Because of the love we have for others, they can fail and it’s ok. Love covers a multitude of sins.
Because God so loved the world and gave his Son as a perfect sacrifice, a perfect propitiation, a perfect substitution, we can fail, and He still loves us.
Love covers a multitude of sins.
To God be the glory.