On Christmas Eve this year it was reported that a showdown over the last turkey in a supermarket ended with one woman shopper getting the bird and another having the stuffing knocked out of her. Both had tried to seize the 18lb bird at Morrisons. After a tussle, the older of the two women, described as being in her late forties, walked off with the coveted purchase in her trolley. Then the two rivals had a second encounter in the supermarket car park. As the successful shopper was loading the bird into her car, witnesses said that the younger woman shouted: "I hope you burn it." At that the older woman stormed over with the turkey and clobbered the other woman with it. The customer who had been hit came back into the shop in tears with clumps of her hair pulled out.
Last weekend the wife of the Newcastle United striker Carl Cort was banned from Tesco's Kingston Park after jumping the queue at the checkout to be served first. When challenged by other customers she is reported to have said, "Don't you know who I am?"
And if you've been given a BT Cellnet or MMO2 mobile phone this Christmas you'll know that their slogan is 'Put yourself first'.
These illustrations show our sinfulness as human beings – our selfishness and our desire for status and our desire to be served.
"I did not come to be served but to serve and give my life as a ransom for many" (Mk 10:45).
If we are followers of Christ then we too are to serve and to give ourselves – to serve Christ and one another – to live in the light of his return - not in our own strength but in God's and for his glory not our own. To live for God and for his will even if that brings persecution and suffering. And even in this country Christians must be prepared for that – suffering for doing good and what is right as they were in Peter's day (as we see from chapter 3 of this letter). In the wake of September 11 there are those who would like to sweep away church schools and in fact any Christian input into policy making. Look at v1&2 of chapter 4:
Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of hios earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.
All Christians are to be servants in Christ's church and follow the example of the head of the body (cf Philippians 2:5-8). Yes there is given human leadership of the church but it must be servant hearted leadership among all. Jesus says in Mark 10 that whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. They're not just to serve one or two people but the whole body, prepared for service.
Moreover the need for servant hearted disciples is urgent. The end of all things is near says 1 Peter 4 :7. We are living in the last days. The time between Jesus' first coming and his second coming. The Bible says that only the Father knows when Jesus will return (Mk 13:32) and that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night (1 Thess. 5:2). So, as Jesus continues in Mark 13,
'Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It's like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch…If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you I say to everyone: Watch!'
Are we watchful, alert, prayerful, serving, helping people to know Christ before its too late? How is our serve? How will Christ find us when he comes again to judge? Ready and serving? Jesus says in Luke 12:35,
'Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet…'
Todd Beamer was ready and serving on September 11. He was a friend of a friend of mine in the USA. He was ready to meet Jesus face to face as he had put his faith in Christ a number of years ago. He was married and he and his wife Lisa were expecting their next child. On September 11 he boarded United Airlines flight 93. Also on board were 4 terrorists who took over the plane to fly it into another building. Todd and a number of other passengers decided that they must try and stop the hijackers and they managed to make sure that the plane crashed not into a building but into the Pennsylvanian countryside. He died serving and saving others. Todd is with Jesus and his wife is setting up a charity and ministry to those who lost spouses on that day.
1 Corinthians 15:57-58 reminds us that our serving, our labour in the Lord is not in vain. Paul says that,
God gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore my dear brothers stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.
Now I want to stress at this point that we cannot earn our way to heaven. Serving Christ and others is evidence of faith in Christ but the only way to come to the Father, avoid judgement and have a place in heaven is through faith in Christ alone. Jesus said,
'I am the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me' (John 14:6).
The Queen in her Christmas Day broadcast said that the outrages of September 11 highlight the need for faith. What she should have said and what needs to be made very clear is that the outrages of September 11 highlight the need for faith in Christ alone. The media has been saying that the world has changed since September 11 and there is uncertainty. In Christ we have a sure and certain hope if we have put our faith in him. 1 Peter 4:1-7 reminds us of the hope we have in Christ and of what God has done for us and given us even though we may face trials now. Look at those verses.
1Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. 2As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. 3For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. 4They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. 5But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.
7The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.
Do you have faith in Jesus Christ the only Saviour? There is sure hope in him for the future – eternal life which begins now and life in heaven forever. But 2 Cor 5:10 also says that we will all appear before the judgement seat of Christ to give an account of what we have done in the body. The end of the age could happen at any time so Christians as individuals and as a body should be focussed and living in the light of it. The end of all things is near. Therefore:
First, BE CLEAR MINDED AND SELF CONTROLLED SO THAT YOU CAN PRAY (v 7)
In contrast to the pagans who choose to live in debauchery, drunkenness and detestable idolatry (1 Peter 4:3-4) we are to be clear minded and self controlled - sane and sober. The pagans will heap abuse on us for being so (1 Peter 4:4), as some of us will have experienced (perhaps even over this Christmas period), for
"they think it strange that we do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation".
"But", v.5, don't be put off by their abuse and their accusations of being rightly strange. Remember that
"they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead".
And if the end is near how can we be watchful and alert if we're drunk or mentally intoxicated in some other way? How can we be serving Christ and other believers in that state? How do we want Jesus to find us behaving and thinking when he returns?
And our thinking, our attitude of mind is very important in these last days as well as our actions. The word be sober or self controlled does not only forbid physical drunkenness but also forbids letting the mind wander into any other kind of mental addiction or any laziness of mind which inhibits spiritual alertness. How easy it is for us to lose our spiritual concentration through mental intoxication with the things of this world. The word be sane or clear minded means having a sound mind, thinking about and evaluating situations maturely and correctly. Thinking biblically and Christianly and with the perspective that the final judgement is near.
So we are to be sane and sober, clear minded and self controlled. We are to be spiritually alert. Why? Well here in v.7 the reason is so that we can pray. The original sentence in the Greek suggests more. The reason is so that we can pray more appropriately and more effectively. We are to be alert to events going on around us and across the world and we are to evaluate them correctly in order to be able to pray more intelligently. And because Peter here links being clear minded and self controlled with praying he implies that prayer based on knowledge and on a mature evaluation of a situation is more effective prayer. Reading a newspaper or watching the news should turn us to pray and enable us to pray at least more knowledgeably, for instance for the situation in Argentina, in the Middle East, the continued threat of new terror attacks and the deteriorating relations between India and Pakistan which could lead to war.
The press also recently contained the news that marriages in this country last on average only 9 years, that Britons today tragically have more sexual partners, more affairs and more gay liaisons than ever before and that 30% of men and 26% of girls had sex under the age of 16. There is much fuel for specific prayer for our nation there and much need for abstinence education in schools and colleges, for biblical teaching on sex, relationships and marriage. Sadly the media misses much of the persecution of Christians around the world in places such as Indonesia and the Sudan. But you can get information from the Barnabas Trust, Christian Solidarity Worldwide and from the web. Are we alert and prayerful?
Secondly, LOVE EACH OTHER DEEPLY (v 8)
Look at v.8.
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.
Keep loving one another earnestly, says Peter, because love covers a multitude of sins. (cf. Proverbs 10:12 – 'Hatred stirs up dissensions but love covers all wrongs') If love is abounding in a church fellowship then many small offences will be overlooked and forgotten. (This does not mean that sin is not serious and that some situations will demand church discipline [cf 1 Corinthians 5]).If love is lacking in a church then suspicion, misunderstanding and conflict will abound and grudges held on to. The end is near and Satan loves to see us biting and devouring one another instead of loving and serving each other and building the church. Do we love each other deeply? Notice that Peter doesn't say like each other deeply or have deep friendships with everybody in the church. No he says love each other earnestly. Just as Christ loved us and forgave us. Remember Jesus' words in John 15. Jesus said:
"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you". (Jn 15:12)
And Paul writing to the Colossians said:
Therefore as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity (Col. 3:12).
This deep or earnest love, which seeks the good of others before one's own and which involves serving others, leads us to offer hospitality to one another and to use every gift for one another. Which takes us to my third heading:
Thirdly, OFFER HOSPITALITY TO ONE ANOTHER WITHOUT GRUMBLING (v 9)
Peter is encouraging the Christians here to serve in the midst of suffering. One way of serving one another in such a context is to offer hospitality.
Hospitality is a Christian duty and not an optional extra. And we are to offer hospitality to one another without grumbling or without murmuring. I.e. we are not to resent the time and expense which may be involved in welcoming people into our home. "Such grumbling is ultimately a complaint against God and his ordering of our circumstances, and its result is to drive out faith, thanksgiving and joy."
But hospitality is not necessarily just about entertaining or having people round for meals. Here in 1 Peter hospitality is perhaps particularly mentioned because of the needs of those who had lost possessions through persecution. This may have involved taking families in for periods of time rather like the Albanian Christians 2 years ago who offered hospitality to the Kosovar refugees for many weeks. No wonder Peter was exhorting the brethren to offer hospitality without grumbling! The witness of the Albanian church reminds us that showing hospitality to all people is certainly pleasing to God but there is a stress in the NT on offering hospitality to one another in the church. Romans 13 and 3 John speak of it and Galatians 6 more generally says 'let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers'. When did we last offer hospitality to others from church? To those new to the church? To non Christian friends? And when did we last offer it without grumbling?
Fourthly, GLORIFY GOD IN USING YOUR GIFTS TO SERVE OTHERS vv.10-11
Look at v.10&11.
10Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. 11If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it 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.
Each one of us here tonight, if we're a Christian, has received at least one spiritual gift for use in the life of the church. We have not received a gift for our own self advancement or to draw attention to ourselves but rather for the benefit and building up of others, of the whole church. We are to use whatever gift we have received to serve others, "faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms". Good stewards of God's gift will not hide it but use it for the benefit of one another and for the glory of God.
And in v.11 Peter goes on to think of the particular gifts of individuals and how they should be faithfully administered. He refers to speaking and serving gifts, both of which are important to the building up of the church.
If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.
Speakers are not free to speak their own opinions but must preach the Word of God. Here Peter has in view primarily the preaching and teaching of the Word of God. Inspired apostles and prophets provided the foundation. The apostle Peter himself spoke the words of God to the household of Cornelius in Acts 10:44. Those who now preach and teach the Word of God in the church must depend upon the gift of the Spirit to proclaim the written oracles of God. Not everyone is a teacher or preacher but all of us must handle the Word of God correctly and seek the help of the Spirit to understand it and make it known to others.
"If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides."
This serving ministry probably includes any kind of helping or encouraging ministry for the benefit of others in and outside the church. And as with teaching we are not to do it in our strength. The source of such service is literally 'out of the strength which God supplies'. Yet although we all may agree that the ministry of the Word needs special grace we might be tempted to get on with serving in other ways in our own strength.
We might think that caring for the sick, serving the tea and coffee, putting out equipment, serving on the PA desk or video team or in the various creches is just a matter of getting on with it. Well we do need to get on with it but service performed only in our own strength can soon become wearying and not glorifying to God. And if its done for the sight of others rather than for the benefit of others then it can just increase our pride rather than our faith. If God is to be glorified by ministry in his name, it must be ministry performed in his strength. Look at the second half of v11 again.
If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.
As we look back at the last year and as we look forward to the next will we say as they did in Joshua 24:
We will serve the Lord our God and obey him?
But remember this serving with the strength God provides is not so that we might be noticed but is for the building up of the church and so that in everything God may be praised or glorified through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.