For several days now, we have considered Peter’s exhortation to honourable behaviour. Each time, he has anchored his exhortation, in part, to the thought of final judgement.
He exhorted his readers to behave honourably before unbelievers in light of “the day of visitation” (2:10–11). He then followed this with specific examples of honourable behaviour before unbelievers: unbelieving government (2:13–17), unbelieving employers (2:18–25), unbelieving spouses (3:1–7), and unbelieving enemies of the gospel (3:8–17). He then highlighted the reality that, in the day of judgement, Christians who display such honourable behaviour will be vindicated (3:18–21) before exhorting his readers to hopeful sanctification in light of the final judgement (4:1–6). The theme of judgement has played a significant role in Peter’s ethical exhortations.
As we approach 4:7–11, we once again see the idea of judgement taking a front-and-centre motivating role. “The end of all things” is again a reference to judgement. In light of this judgement, Peter exhorts his readers to faithful and hopeful service.
As we have seen, Peter’s readers were suffering. When we suffer, we are easily tempted to withdraw and to lick our wounds instead of moving beyond our pain to serve others. Peter knew that his readers would face this temptation. He also knew that withdrawing and, as it were, burying one’s God-given gifts would not earn commendation in the judgement (see Luke 19:11–27). He therefore urges hopeful service in light of accountability to God in judgement.
We are frequently tempted to withdraw and to bury, instead of using, what God has given to us. Peter would not allow his readers to do that. He therefore exhorted them to faithfully serve by giving them four examples of what hopeful service looks like.
First, faithful service in the face of suffering looks like fervent prayer: “Be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” Recognition of our weakness and sufficiency should drive us to prayer. Suffering has a way of muting our prayers by clouding our minds with other things. When we focus too closely on our suffering, we can sink so deep into despair that we neglect the very thing that gives us power to overcome: prayer. Since we will answer to God for the way we served, prayer should play a crucial role in our response to suffering.
Second, faithful service in the face of suffering looks like brotherly love: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” Suffering tends to turn our focus inward so that we neglect to love others as we should. It can make us short-tempered and irritable, which causes us to respond sinfully to others. It can make the smallest issue into a mountain. Paul exhorts his readers to intentionally love one another in the face of suffering. This love will cause us to overlook minor offences, which will ultimately produce wonderful unity in the community of faith.
Third, faithful service in the face of suffering looks like Christian hospitality: “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” As suffering turns our attention inward, it causes us to neglect the needs of others. This is an entirely anti-Christian attitude. Christian love is careful to receive others, welcome them, meet their needs, and provide fellowship for them. This is difficult to do when we are suffering, but we should work hard at practising hospitality in light of our accountability to God.
Fourth, faithful service in the face of suffering looks like the loving exercise of spiritual gifts. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 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.” More than simply putting up with others, a Christian attitude to suffering deliberately looks for ways to serve others. In suffering, we must remember what God has gifted us to do and then do that for the good of the body.
The ultimate motivation in all of this is God’s glory: “To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.” We do everything we do to his glory.
As you reflect on these verses today, remember that, even in suffering, Christianity looks outward for opportunities to pray for, love, and serve others, as Christ did for us. Be challenged in that regard today.