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Behavior in the Face of Persecution (4:7-11)

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How should we act when threatened with hardship or persecution? When trouble comes some people think only of themselves. Others try to escape it with alcohol or some other intoxicating substance. But the Apostle Peter says that the followers of Christ should respond to trouble by rendering loving service. In chapter 4 of his first inspired letter, verses 7 through 11 he writes, “But the end of all things is near. Therefore be of sound mind, self-controlled, and sober in prayer. And above all things be earnest in your love among yourselves, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, employ it in serving one another, as good managers of the grace of God in its various forms. If anyone speaks, let it be as it were the very words of God. If anyone serves, let it be as of the strength which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

It is not entirely clear what Peter means when he says, “the end of all thing is near.” It is possible that he is referring to the end of the world and the time when Jesus will return. If this is so, then it is important to keep in mind that Peter is not promising that Christ’s return will happen in the next few days or even years. God’s timing is very different from that of man. In his second letter Peter himself says, “But don’t forget this one thing, beloved, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (2 Peter 3:8) Though it has been almost 2,000 years since Peter wrote that “the end of all things is near,” his inspired words are still true. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “...salvation is now nearer to us than when we first believed.” (Romans 13:11)

When Peter says that the end of all things is near he may mean that the conditions which have brought about persecution are nearing an end. It is also possible that Peter means that the end of all things is near in the sense that some of those reading his letter will be killed in the persecution they are facing. But regardless of Peter’s meaning, how should the followers of Christ act when facing the end? There are four things Peter says Christians should do. The first is to pray. The word in this verse which is translated ‘sober’ actually means to be free from intoxicating substances. So we see that in order for someone to be able to pray they must be both clear minded and temperate. If we find it difficult to pray it may be that we are indulging in things that dull or befuddle our minds. If we wish God’s help, then we must refrain from those things that make it impossible for us to ask for his help.

In addition to praying, Peter says that the most important thing the followers of Christ should do is to love one another deeply. The reason he gives is that love covers a multitude of sins. It is important to understand that Peter is not saying that God will excuse sin because of His love for us. God never excuses sin. Instead He paid the penalty for sin on our behalf through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Peter is not speaking here about the relationship between mankind and God but about the relationship that there should be between the followers of Jesus. But how does love cover sin? One way is that love does not try to find evil in another Christian. The Apostle Paul wrote that love, “... takes no account of evil; doesn’t rejoice in unrighteousness...” (1 Corinthians 13:5-6) When love does discover sin, it forgives and refrains from spreading the matter. Proverbs 17:9 says, “He who covers an offense promotes love; but he who repeats a matter separates best friends.” Love also tries to reclaim the one who has sinned. The Apostle John writes, “If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life for those who sin not leading to death...” (1 John 5:16) The Apostle Paul says, “Brothers, even if a man is caught in some fault, you who are spiritual must restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; looking to yourself so that you also aren’t tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1-2) Are we following Peter’s instruction to love one another? Do we try to restore those who have fallen into sin? Or are we trying to find fault?

The third thing that Peter instructs the followers of Christ to do is to “Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.” (4:9) One of the benefits of extending hospitality is that it helps us take our minds off of our own troubles and to think of the needs of other people. When the followers of Christ share in this way with one another, the burdens of each become less. But hospitality should not be restricted to those we know. Sometimes God sends his blessings by means of strangers. Scripture says, “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for in doing so, some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2) We should all examine our lives in this area. Do we show hospitality to others?

A fourth response when facing the end of all things is that the followers of Christ should use what time they have to serve others. Peter says that God has given each follower of Christ a gift which is to be used to benefit others. He mentions only two of them, that is speaking and service, but the Apostle Paul mentions several more. He writes, “Having gifts differing according to the grace that was given to us, if prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of our faith; or service, let us give ourselves to service; or he who teaches, to his teaching; or he who exhorts, to his exhorting: he who gives, let him do it with liberality; he who rules, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:6-8) Several things should be noted about these gifts: 1) They are from God, not self-generated. 2) God has given each of Christ’s followers at least one of these gifts. 3) Everyone is gifted differently. 4) No one has all the gifts. 5) They are to be used in God’s strength. 6) The gifts are to be used in such a way that God’s glory is displayed. Each one of us who follows Christ should ask ourselves how we are using the gift God has given us. Are we using it for his glory? Are we serving others through God’s power? Or are we trying to do everything in our own strength?

The Apostle Peter follows his own instruction by closing this section of his letter with an expression of praise to God an Christ: “...to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (4:11)