The End Of All Is Near
What if the last day were today? That question makes you think, doesn’t it? Would you take a different course of action? Would you take the day off from work? Martin Luther was once asked that question, “what would you do if today was your last day?” He said that he’d go out and plant a tree. You see, the point he was making was that if today were our last day, we don’t need to go out and perform some amazing, over-the-top, dramatic act. No, instead, we live our last day the same as all the rest: trusting that God has all the details of the universe in his safe hands. Last Thursday was Jesus’ Ascension. He is with his Father preparing a place for each of us. All the signs and all the prophecies are fulfilled. He could come back for Judgment day at any time. And so God’s word says to us: “The end of all things is near.” (1 Peter 4:7 NIV11-GKE) And what follows then after this is the answer to the question how should we live our lives if the end of all is near? So Peter answers our question: “7 Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (1 Peter 4:7–9 NIV11-GKE)
The end of all is near. So then, what should we do? Do we finish off a bucket list? Do we make a mark in the world so that our name will be remembered after us? Peter’s words are so clear and simple: love each other. Now, in these words, first we need to define our terms. I make it a point to not say in my sermons, “the Greek word here is this.” But here is the exception. If ever there’s a word worth memorizing, it’s this one. The word is “agápe.”1 This is the sort of love that looks for and does what is best for its object. You think of the love a mom has for her tiny toddler. Out of love for the child, she’ll pick the child up and play games with her and snuggle with her. But also, out of love for her, when that little toddler thinks it’s fun to pull the cat’s tail, that mom will say, “no!” And that might hurt the little toddler’s feelings. But it is what is best.
That’s the invitation that God’s word gives to us. Jesus has ascended. He could come back at any time. The end of all is near. So Peter invites us to love each other, doing for others what is best for them. But what’s the problem? Each of us has a sinful nature that does not want to do what is best for the other person. Instead, we want to do what is best for ourselves. I can speak to this. For there are days I spend my days listening to people in my church. And I get home. It’s been a long day for my wife or my girls. And all they want to do is have me listen to them—that’s it. But, all my listening energy is already used up. So, I look at them, pretending to listen.
How, then? How do I show this sort of love to others? It starts when we see how much Jesus loved us. It starts there on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It starts when we see a sea of sins covered by Jesus’ love for us. Years ago I worked at a summer camp. And there at that camp I got to see teenagers interacting with other teenagers. I remember seeing a young man go over to a pretty young girl by the beach. And he wanted to strike up a conversation with her. So what did he do? He made fun of her. Because that worked out fine with all of his guy friends. It didn’t work out well with her. What he did was not very loving at all. So also, I remember a young woman. She had eaten her meal and she was still hungry. She went to her counselor and asked if she could have some more food. And there was a kind, generous young man at that table. Even though he was very hungry, he offered to give her his french fries—his cherished french fries. She got this disgusted look on her face and said, “Yuck, that has your germs all over it.” That was not the most loving way of handling the situation.
I remember those events so many years ago for one simple reason: I remembered myself in them. I remembered the times in my teens when, without thinking and without caring I said words I could not take back. And I remember how my Savior was there to forgive those sins day by day. How patient he was with me! How unwavering and unswerving his love was for me! And it is that love toward me that moved me to be there for those teenagers at camp, to reach out toward them with the same love that Jesus showed toward me.
So, Peter tells us that the end of all is near. And if today were your last day, there would be no better way of spending your day than loving others. But as these words travel on, Peter gives us another invitation: “10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4:10–11 NIV11-GKE)
The end of all is near. We have the invitation to love others. But here in these word we also then have the invitation to serve others. In a gracious, undeserved way God has given to each of us at least a gift.2 And many of us, if we looked at our lives and our abilities, we could find many examples of gifts God has given to us. And since the end of all is near, how does God invite us to live? He invites us to use those gifts to serve others. What does that look like? It’s the older brother helping the younger sister with the homework. It’s the daughter putting away the dishes in the dishwasher. It’s you picking up the garbage that blew over onto your neighbor’s lawn. This kind of an interesting picture, isn’t it? The end of all is near? Where’s the bucket list? Where’s the mountain to climb or the ocean to plummet down into? Notice what the wise and sober action to take is: loving others.
But, my dear friends there are traps that we can fall into as we serve others. First, we can envy the gifts of others, wishing,
“if only I had that gift, not the gift God gave me.” Second, we can serve in such a way that we need need thanks when we serve others. Jesus says: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16 NIV11-GKE) Notice how Jesus speaks. He does not say, “glorify you”; instead, he says, “glorify your Father in heaven.”
These are the traps we can fall into. And when we do, these are sins we repent of. And gently and unfailingly, our Savior, Jesus forgives our sins. And he sends us our once again to thank him by serving others. And that, right there, is an amazing thought. Our Triune God made all and owns it all. What good act could I perform that would get his attention and make him pleased with me? The answer to that is found first in your forgiveness. God does not see you as one who needs to earn his attention and devotion. No, you already have it. Sunday after Sunday you say, “Our Father” not so that you might wear him down into being your dear Father in heaven. No you say those words as baptized children of God who already have his attention and devotion. And second, if we ask the question, “what would God be pleased with,” we do not need to look to the sky above or the lakes below. All we need to do is open our bibles. For yes, it’s true that we look to the 10 commandments to show us our sin. But to our new person inside of us they are a different tool entirely. If we want to thank our Lord and praise him—If we want to know kind of service the Lord cherishes and rejoices in, then children listen to your parents, Parents love your children, help others protect and care for their bodies, take care of the property of others, defend the reputation of others. The end of all is near. How then will you live? There is no need to climb the highest mountains or plumb the lowest depths. There isn’t even any need for a bucket list. The wise, sober way of living, knowing that today could very well be our last, is to reach out and love others and to serve others. What do we say to all of this? Peter’s final words are a beautiful way of saying , “amen:” “To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:11 NIV11-GKE)
1 “ⲁⲅⲁⲡⲏⲛ” (1 Peter 4:8 GNT-ALEX)
2 “ⲭⲁⲣⲓⲥⲙⲁ” (1 Peter 4:10 GNT-ALEX)