Series: 1 & 2 Peter. By Rosie Moore.
Peter’s own blood, sweat and tears drip onto every page of his letters, which the Lord has miraculously preserved for almost 2000 years for us to read. Peter became the faithful shepherd of God’s sheep that Christ commissioned him to be (John 21:17). Today we land on chapter 4, zooming in on Peter’s counsel to Christians in a season of violent and unjust persecution. It was a fiery ordeal that believers in liberal democracies can only imagine, but which is still suffered by many of our brothers and sisters around the world today (read here).
Under Nero’s tyrannical rule over the Roman empire, their fiery ordeal was about to get worse. Christians would soon be targeted and put to death for public amusement (read here).
For Peter’s readers, following Jesus cost them everything.
A credible counsellor.
As for the author, I can only imagine Simon Peter, the burly, ageing fisherman, writing from a cold prison cell, awaiting his horrendous execution, which Christ had foretold thirty years beforehand (John 21:18-19).
I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit skeptical when a hear elites issuing instructions from their ivory towers. Or handing out advice that is clearly not costing them anything. But that’s definitely not the case when we read Peter’s letters to exiled believers in the first century. He was crucified in Rome in 64AD, probably upside down. (read here).
One can almost feel Peter’s heart of longing for Christ’s return… his love for his suffering brothers and sisters around the Greco-Roman empire…his memories of his conversations with Jesus. With his own eyes, Peter had seen the perfect lamb of God pay the ultimate cost to redeem him (1 Peter 1:19). He’d seen Christ raised from the dead and glorified (1 Peter 1:21; Luke 24:52; Acts 1:9-1). He’d heard the angels assure him at the ascension that “this same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:10-11). Given the context, I think Peter’s counsel is highly credible. And this is what he wrote about living for Christ in a season of testing:
“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” (1 Peter 4:7-11).
Verse 19 is a handy summary of the whole chapter:
“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19).
The end of all things is near!
Peter’s tone is urgent, expectant and absolutely certain. There’s even triumph in his perspective of the future.
Without the perspective of Christ’s return at the forefront of our minds, we will not be able to entrust ourselves to our faithful Creator when the heat is on. Jesus said that those who are not watchful for his return, will be ‘weighed down’ by the excesses and cares of this life (Luke 21:34-36). That’s because the Second Coming crystallises what’s valuable in life. It’s the backdrop against which Peter paints the picture of the ‘good life’ described in 1 Peter 4:7-11. Without this future perspective, our life here is just whistling in the wind. It is exhausting and futile.
But the imminent return of Jesus is a powerful incentive to live now for the glory of Christ — expectantly, hopefully and joyfully, even in seasons of great testing. Because the end of all things is at hand, we know that even the worst season of testing lasts only ‘a little while.’ Christ himself will renew us and make us strong, firm and steadfast (1 Peter 5:10), until the day of final restoration. And so, we press on from a place of victory.
The return of our Lord is also our motivation to keep urging people to accept salvation in Christ, because “the Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:8-9).” This is our motivation to proclaim him patiently and persistently.
We base our lives on the promise of the Lord’s return, not just from Peter’s mouth, but from Jesus’s too: “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Matt 24:27-31).
I’m no prophet, but I’m certain that we’re getting ever closer to the day when the world will be rolled up like a scroll, and when “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the last trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor 15:52). Every day we are a day nearer to the great reckoning of John’s vision, when “the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” (Rev 6:15-17)
According to Peter, we need to live expectantly, as if we are ready for Jesus’s return. With a sober mind and self control.
Sober-minded and self-controlled.
Sober-minded and Self-controlled? When last did you hear that advice? Our culture’s mantras are usually along the lines of “Love yourself”, “Accept yourself”, “Live and let live”, “Untamed,” and my personal favourite, “Unleash your inner legend!”
Of course, there are half truths in all this advice, but according to Peter, the character traits that set us apart from the excesses of our culture (1 Peter 4:3-4) are self control and sober-mindedness. The need for an ordered, disciplined attitude is repeated several times in Peter’s letter, so it must be important:
Peter speaks about being mentally alert, disciplined, and focused on meeting Christ when he returns (1 Peter 1:13). In 1 Peter 5:8, he calls on us to be self-controlled and alert to resist our enemy the devil, who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” So, if Peter is to be believed, self discipline is not some boring legalism for accountant types, but the foundational mindset for effective prayer (1 Peter 4:7). No matter what our temperament, we need to order our private world.
Has Satan persuaded us that we can multitask while we pray, rendering our prayer life weak and ineffectual for yet another day?
Watch and pray.
There’s a clear link between self-control and prayer at the end of verse 7, and Peter knew this firsthand. The elderly apostle probably winced at the memory of himself, thirty years before, in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the eve of Jesus’s great time of testing on the cross. It was an urgent time for Jesus and his little band of disciples, a time that called for prayer and watchfulness, not sleep. It was the evening before Christ’s Kingdom was established on earth, as well as the most terrible ordeal in human history: “See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners”.
Jesus had asked Peter to watch and pray, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here and watch with me…Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is indeed willing but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:38; 41).
But, despite Jesus’s urgent pleas to stay awake and pray, Peter and his friends fell asleep over and over again. And that’s what makes Peter’s advice so poignant. And personal.
For me personally, my flesh is very weak and distractions flow far more fluidly than prayer. But I’ve discovered that an alarm clock is an essential piece of gym equipment for training the muscles of prayer! I’ve also found that I need to build boundaries intentionally in my routine to ensure that I actually pray, undistracted. Without self discipline, I either prioritise the most urgent needs of the day above prayer, or I descend into laziness. Those are my defaults. So, it doesn’t take long before my prayers become shallow and me-focused. There’s no sense of urgency or deep need for Jesus, just platitudes. How I hate those cold prayers!
I also need my husband, Christian friends and family to pray with me regularly, because their prayers strengthen me. Likewise, as our home groups and local church, we need to pray together, not as a rushed formality at the start and finish, but as an integral part of our time together.
For, if Peter’s letters are to be believed, there’s an urgency about the the way we live out our Christian lives. Like Peter, we’re living in the end times. And our lives are important, because God uses everything, especially seasons of testing, to burn off the muck of sin and prepare us for heaven (1 Peter 4:17-18).
I’ll end with a word from Joni Eareckson Tada, another credible counsellor who has lived as a quadriplegic for 54 years: “Your life is not a boring stretch of highway. It’s a straight line to heaven. And just look at the fields ripening along the way. Look at the tenacity and endurance. Look at the grains of righteousness. You’ll have quite a crop at harvest…so don’t give up!” (From Holiness in Hidden Places.)
Come Lord Jesus, and fill me with your Spirit today. Give me oil in my lamp, and keep me burning, burning, burning until the break of day. Amen.
Next week’s devotion: Loving others in a season of testing.
Join us next week as we flesh out three practical outworkings of love, asking ourselves how we can live them out in our Christian communities (1 Peter 4:8-11):
By offering hospitality (without grumbling).
By serving (with the strength God provides).
By speaking (the very words of God).