Friday, April 21, 2017

Compassionate Love in Pressing Times (1 Peter 4:7-9)

“The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint.” (1 Peter 4:7–9, NASB95)

Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven— A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1–2, NASB95) It is strange to read the words of Peter nearly two thousand years later that “[t]he end of all things is near.” But what was true then is still true today. The end is near. Maybe it is not near according to our timeline in light of the struggles that we face, but from an eternal perspective it truly is, as Paul said, “momentary.” For all of Peter’s readers their end was going to come by physical death. Their time to die would come, and they would step out of their mortal bodies into the presence of our Lord. It was true for them, and it is true for all who have died since as with those who died previous. Every single person who has lived has had his or her own time to be born and subsequent time to die. And, for everyone who has trusted in Christ for salvation there has also been a time to be born again and a time to step from their mortal bodies into His eternal presence.

Whatever struggle we encounter has a time limit to it, and regardless of its intensity or its earthly duration it is going to be followed by a release into eternity. In this Peter’s readers were encouraged both to have hope and to keep their focus. They were not to grow weary, but to keep their eyes on God and remain connected to Him in prayer.

There was no need to panic. God had not lost control. So, they were to stay sound in their judgment. They were to think about things rightly, keeping them in perspective of God’s sovereignty or infinite rule. They were to think properly about all things in light of who they were in Christ and not fearful of the issues or the people before them. They were to, as God told Joshua, “be strong and courageous.” This meant that they were to not only to pray individually but to with good courage pray with and for one another.

When we read “one another” in the New Testament it generally refers to believers sharing a common bond in Christ and united in proximity. It is used in conjunction with the various ways that we are to be with each other, and it reinforces God’s plan that we be and function as one in Christ. This is what Christ commanded. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34, NASB95) This is the starting place. It is the highest standard. It is our priority toward each other as believers. But love is not to be separated from truth. It is because of our love that we help one another when we stray from truth. It is in truth that we have learned from Christ how to love such that we are long-suffering, patient, and gracious. It is because of the truth of God’s great mercy shown to us that we are merciful to others when they stumble. We are all going to bump up against each other and create friction with each other. Love is the grease that smooths things out and reinforces our spiritual oneness. Love helps to trim off the sharp corners and round out the rough edges as we encourage maturity and not enhance shame. It is from God’s Word that we learn how about love, and it is in love that we help one another in times of trial, struggle, and hurt. Love builds up. Love comforts. Love encourages.

God has shown us His great love and we are to be fervent in our love for one another. Paul wrote in Galatians 6:9-10, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” (Galatians 6:9–10, NASB95) For any of us who have spent any time with others we know that loving others is sometimes a difficult task, just as I know it is for those around me to love me. It is a constant choice that we make, and when things look to most hopeless in the progress we are to be strengthened in Christ to not lose heat and continue in doing with is right and good. God will take care of the end result. It is in His hands. What is for us is to keep our eyes on Him and to do what He calls us to do, and in doing this even understand more and more how “love covers a multitude of sins.”

Then in verse 9, Peter wrote, “Be hospitable to one another without complaint.” I don’t know exactly why the instruction to “be hospitable to one another without complaint” is placed here. But I am going to make a presumption, and hope that in doing so that it is a proper handling of the passage. Going back to 1 Peter 1:1 we read, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen….” (1 Peter 1:1, NASB95) I think it safe to say that Peter's audience included those who had resided in the land for the entirety of their lives and others who had only recently arrived. From the letter, we read that believers had experienced persecution and were suffering as a result. What we don’t know is how these people were moved around and what the real estate market looked like when they arrived. We don’t know who might have easily found housing and who might have been in desperate need.

From this, it is a reasonable to assume that some believers would be called upon to house others who had fled their homes in being scattered and were in need of shelter. And, it doesn’t take much of a look at history to recognize that homes generally were not the sprawling estates that we see today, but were considerably more modest. In line with this, the resources of these homes were considerably more limited. So, taking others in to help them, whether short or long term, could easily put a stress on all involved. Yet, Peter wrote to them to be hospitable to one another without complaint.

Hardships happen and people need help. People can be very inconvenient, and when put in close proximity it is easy for sparks to fly. Hospitality here is the Greek word “philoxenoi” (Strong’s G3582 from philos (friend or friendly toward) and xenos (stranger, foreigner, alien)), and it has the meaning of being friendly toward a stranger or foreigner or someone outside your home. It has the meaning of taking in someone for some period of time, whether briefly or longer term, welcoming them and tending to their needs. Recognizing that times were tough, these believers were encouraged to show the kindness of Christ to one another as they paid special attention to those most in need of help, and doing so without complaint.

Putting it all together, these believers in the days ahead were going to need each other. They were going to need to encourage each other, to keep each other focused on the hope within them, to pray for each other and even to go the extra mile in helping and caring for each other. Just a few verses later, in verse 12, Peter would write to them, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”

Today our world is in turmoil. Christians are being persecuted and we are challenged in how to respond as brothers and sisters in Christ. Hopefully Peter’s words will be a help to each of us as we walk before Him and with each other in love with compassionate care.

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