A COMMENTARY ON FIRST PETER
" 4:7 But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. 8And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. 9 Use hospitality one to another without grudging." (1 Peter 4:7-9, KJV)
Faith approaches life in a unique way. Fleshly satisfaction becomes subordinate to preparation for eternity. Time and life are perceived as an investment in the world to come. In the context of the coming of the Lord and the end of the world, life is viewed quite differently than is common among men. The value of the brethren of Jesus is elevated when we consider these things. An eagerness to be of assistance to one another becomes paramount, and fervent love for the saints of God makes perfect sense. Although the contemporary church tends to ignore the "end," or conclusion, of all things, due consideration of this reality goes a long way to resolving problems common among believers. The Holy Spirit will now use Peter to put us in mind of the reality of our situation. Once the message is grasped by faith, the appropriateness of the attending exhortations will become obvious, and compliance with them will not be burdensome.
THE END OF ALL THINGS IS AT HAND
" 4:7 But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer." KJV The words "at hand" mean "is near."NIV, NRSV It is "the end" that is near-the next significant event on the Divine calendar. From the language point of view, "end" means termination, conclusion, or cessation. But it is more than simply an abrupt close of things as they presently are. In Scripture, the word carries the idea of achievement, completion, and fulfillment. "The end" refers to the achievement of a Divine goal or purpose. Once the purpose for the "earth and the fulness thereof" is completed, "heaven and earth shall pass away" (Matt 24:35). The ultimate reason for the existence of all created things is this: the completion of God's appointed purpose. Thus it is written, "Jesus . . . whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began" (Acts 3:20-21). That "restoration" is the time when God will fulfill His word: "Behold, I make all things new" (Rev 21:5).
The Spirit frequently refers to "THE END," and we do well to make it a matter of everyday consideration. For believers, such thoughtfulness will yield becoming sobriety and devotion. Jesus spoke of enduring "to the end" (Matt 10:22). He said the "harvest" of humanity is "the end of the world" (Matt 13:39). "The end" is the time when Jesus will deliver the Kingdom back to the Father, that He might be all in all (I Cor 15:24). Believers are urged to hold their hope firmly unto "the end" (Heb 3:6). "Confidence," together with the "full assurance of hope," are to be maintained steadfastly "unto the end" (Heb 3:14; 6:11). There is a grand objective that is driving the presence and history of the world. The conclusion of that objective is appropriately called "the end."
It should be apparent the world will not end by some accidental or deliberate act of humanity, whether it be war or the theoretical imbalance of the "forces of nature." "The earth is the Lord's." His purpose brought it into being, and that same purpose will bring it to a conclusion. This is accentuated by the expression "the end of ALL THINGS." The reference, therefore, cannot be to the destruction of Jerusalem, as some erroneously teach.
The words "at hand," or "is near," are not time words, but faith words. Faith leaps over the constraints of time, taking hold of Divine utterance. It enables the believer to shape his life with "the end" in mind. How frequently the Spirit uses this kind of language. "Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed . . . The night is far spent, the day is at hand" (Rom 13:11-12). "The Lord is at hand" (Phil 4:5). "The day of Christ is at hand" (2 Thess 2:2). "Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!" (James 5:9). "Behold, I come quickly" (Rev 3:11). Faith compels us to live with a lively awareness of these realities.
The effect of this knowledge. Once the soul accepts the fact that the conclusion of everything is the next significant occurrence, a certain impact registers upon the soul. First, it enables us to approach life soberly, or with seriousness. Various versions read as follows: "be ye therefore sober,"KJV "therefore be serious,"NKJV "be of sound judgment and sober spirit,"NASB "Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled,"NIV and "therefore be serious and discipline yourselves."NRSV This is particularly relevant in our time and culture, when entertainment, jesting, and humor have been exalted. All of these things tend to dull the conscience and put the mind and heart to sleep. But this is NOT the time for such things, and the church should have no part in such an emphasis.
The prayers of God's people are directly affected by their state of mind-whether or not they are sober, serious, or of sound judgment. The phrase, "watch unto prayer," is also translated, "for the purpose of prayer,"NASB and "so that you can pray."NIV On one occasion Jesus admonished His disciples, "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation" (Matt 26:41). Again, when speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world, Jesus said, "Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man" (Lk 21:36). A distracted and non-serious church will not be ready for "the end of all things," because it will not be able to pray properly. If there is a single condition that emphasizes the spiritual jeopardy of our times, it is the lack of seriousness in the professed church.
ABOVE EVERYTHING ELSE
" 4:8 And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins." KJV The expression "above all things" is significant. It means more than "most importantly," or "this is the most significant thing. The idea of "above," in my judgment, is best illustrated by the mercy seat, which was on the ark of the covenant (Ex 25:21). The idea is not that it was more important than the ark of the covenant, but that it covered that sacred piece of tabernacle furniture. So it is with "fervent charity." It is a covering that is to characterize all of life--a sort of spiritual umbrella that oversees all the affairs of life. No facet of life is to be excluded from this covering.
There is a reason why the word "charity" is used in the KJV. The "love" of reference is unique, and has no parallel among the sons of men. Even in English, the primary meaning of the word "charity" is "benevolent goodwill toward or love of humanity." Merriam-Webster This is love that seeks the betterment of another. It includes affection and preference, but extends far beyond them. The ultimate example of love is found in the Lord Himself. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). Not only did our Father have the ultimate affection for us, He made the ultimate provision for us. That is what "charity" does-it provides.
Because "the end of all things is at hand," and sobriety and prayer are imperative, the people of God are to have "fervent charity" among themselves. Other versions read "love each other deeply,"NIV "maintain constant love for one another,"NRSV and "preserve an intense love for each other."NJB Our love for one another is not to be casual or merely formal. That simply is not acceptable. A profound consideration for one another is required in this verse. An intense desire for the brethren to gain the advantage in life is fundamental in "fervent charity." This is one of the primary evidences of identity with Christ. "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:35). If this is true-and it surely is-where such love is not obvious, there is no evidence of affiliation with Jesus.
One of the marks of the last times is this: "the love of many will grow cold" (Matt 24:12). Not only will professed believers leave their "first love" for Jesus Christ (Rev 2:4), they will also lose their preference for the people of God. An even more grievous situation will be found than once took place with Israel. God said of them, "I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert, through a land not sown"NIV (Jer 2:2). When the love for the Lord wanes, it no longer is possible to love His people-"the brethren."
In an unprecedented way, this is taking place in our generation. It is seen in the lack of desire to assemble with followers of Christ. It can be detected in the demand for brevity and shallowness, as well as the desire for extracurricular activities. These conditions cannot be excused, or the claim of a growing and vibrant church maintained, where fervent love for believers is not found. The demand of the Spirit is a "fervent" love among the saints-one that cannot be quenched, and that is characterized by growth and intensity. If God Himself teaches us to love one another (1 Thess 4:9), who is the soul that can defend a lack of fervent love for those God has redeemed from the power of the enemy?
Still, the Spirit reasons with us on this matter. "For charity shall cover the multitude of sins." This is no doubt an allusion to Proverbs 10:12. "Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins." The idea is not that of overlooking serious breaches of morality, such as that of the Corinthian fornicator (1 Cor 5). Rather, the reference is to personal wrongs, as well as an eagerness to forgive those who have trespassed against us (Matt 18:35). None of us is without fault, and all stand in need of forgiveness. When we refuse to look at, or divulge, one another's weaknesses, we help to strength each other's faith. God works through our love for one another to make progress in our weak areas. When we have a sin that "so easily besets" us (Heb 12:1), fervent charity among ourselves will be used of God to enable us to put such things away, lest we be turned aside from the way. If God "so loved" us, why should we not seek fervent love among ourselves?
" 4:9 Use hospitality one to another without grudging." KJV Other versions read, "Practice hospitality,"NASB "Offer hospitality,"NIV "Be hospitable,"NKJV and "Cheerfully share your home."NLT This is a vastly neglected aspect of spiritual life. While sundry explanations are often provided for the lack of hospitality among Christians, they are never acceptable. The word "hospitality" literally means "fond of guests," "generous to guests," and "kind to strangers." This is one of the qualifications for an elder, though often ignored (1 Tim 3:2). An elder is even to be a "lover of hospitality" (Tit 1:8). One of the endearing traits of the "well beloved Gaius" is that he faithfully ministered to both brethren and strangers. He brought them forward on their journeys for Christ (3 John 5-8). Among the qualifications for widows receiving support from the church is the following: "if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints' feet, if she have relieved the afflicted" (1 Tim 5:10).
There are many examples of hospitality in Scripture. Martha received Jesus into her house (Lk 10:38). Zacchaeus did the same (Lk 19:5-6). Simon the tanner entertained Peter (Acts 10:6). Lydia received Paul and Silas into her house (Acts 16:15). Even the Barbarous people of Melita courteously received Paul and those shipwrecked with him (Acts 28:2). Phebe was noted for often refreshing the saints, including Paul himself (Rom 16:2). Onesiphorus was also distinguished for being hospitable (2 Tim 1:16). Rahab, of Jericho, and her household were saved because she was hospitable to the spies (Josh 6:17-25).
Hospitality was commanded under the Law (Lev 19:33-34; Deut 26:12-13). Through Isaiah, the Lord declared He called for the hospitable treatment of the poor (Isa 58:6-7). All believers are exhorted, "Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality"NIV (Rom 12:13). In a most telling admonition, the Spirit reminds us of the possibilities uncovered in hospitality. "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels"NKJV (Heb 13:2). Both Abraham and Lot entertained angels who came in the appearance of men (Gen 18:2-10; 19:1-3). Menoah and his wife, Samson's parents, also confronted an angel who had the appearance of a man. Menoah offered "the man" (actually an angel) a nourishing meal (Judges 13:15-25). God once preserved the prophet Elijah through a hospitable widow (1 Kgs 17:9-16). Through her hospitality, the Lord miraculously sustained her meager supply, once thought to be adequate for only a single meal for her and her son.
You may remember that Jesus spoke of the day of separation as a time when the eternal destiny of people would be determined by their hospitality, or lack thereof, toward His people (Matt 25:31-46). The early church, filled with the freshness of grace, was unusually productive in this area. "And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need . . . And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common" (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32). We are not, then, speaking about some mere incidental of life. Many a soul has forfeited the blessing of the Lord simply because they have thought only of themselves. They did not practice hospitality, and thus experienced undue inconvenience and hardship that could have been avoided.
But this is not a mere law-an obligation laid upon the people to be heartlessly obeyed. Hospitality is to be practiced "without grudging," or "without grumbling"NKJV or "complaining."NRSV By so doing, we will come into an area of blessing precious few believers ever experience. "Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they [men, KJV] will pour into your lap. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return"NASB (Lk 6:38).
Many godly works have been sustained and even enhanced because of thoughtful and hospitable expressions by fellow believers. When Jesus was among us, there was a cluster of hospitable women who ministered to Him "of their substance" (Lk 8:2-3). This is an area of especial benefit and encouragement when evil days are upon us.