January 5, 2020
New Year’s Day – 1 Peter 4
This year I mean it! Have you found yourself saying that? Here we are just 5 days into the New Year-and I’m sure you’ve thought about this question. What does the New Year mean for you? What are your goals? What are the things you want to accomplish? The changes you want to make? New habits to form-old habits to get rid of? Okay Lord-this is the year-and I mean it! And in early January this is when we’re trying our best to do it. I’ve had people tell me about their exercise and running goals this year. I’ve had people tell me about their Bible reading goals; relationship goals and staying in touch with people. What is it for you? And even more importantly This year do you mean it? And I’ll be honest- that’s the right way to phrase it because God isn’t calling us to make all the changes in our life-as if we can muster up the strength or the courage on our own to do it. Instead, He wants our hearts. He wants our willingness. He wants us to come to that place of surrender and openness to Him where He’s able to bring those changes about. He wants us to say-This year, Lord, I mean it. Mold me and shape me as you see fit. And that’s what we want to talk about this morning.
But first we need to set the context-and I want to do that both historically and biblically. And for the historical part we need to all realize that we’ve entered the year 2020! Can you believe that? Every new year always sounds futuristic-2019 sounded futuristic compared to 2018-but 2020 sounds like something straight out of a science fiction book. I was telling my kids that I can remember my 3rd grade teacher back in the 80’s having us draw a poster of what life looked like in 2020. It was so far away then! My poster had flying cars, personal jetpacks and a space station colony on Mars. Now I realize that technology is working hard on self-driving cars-but I’m sort of bummed out that by 2020 there aren’t flying cars-although we do have robots in the grocery store. Has everybody met Marty at Stop & Shop? He points out the spills but can’t actually clean them up! There’s some technology! On New Year’s Eve Monica and I were remembering Conan O’Brien’s late night show when he had a skit-In the Year 2000-and he’d make hilarious predictions of what was to come-because back in the 90’s the year 2000 sounded futuristic. He said robots would do 80% of our housework-but that we would do 90% of their work! So not far off from the truth! But here we are 20 years later than the year 2000! We have just entered a new decade. When people talk about the Roaring 20’s that was now 100 years ago-we’re in the new roaring 20’s! That’s where we’re at historically on planet earth-2020!
But to set the stage biblically I want us to open our Bibles to 1 Peter 4. And this is a text that’s particularly relevant for the start of a new year, to the start of a new decade-especially one as futuristic as 2020! Peter makes a very interesting statement in v. 7a. Now there’s a verse to start the year off. Peter is saying the show is almost over, the curtain is ready to be drawn, times up, this world is nearly finished. The end of all things is at hand. If you have the NIV is says-the end of all things is near. And of course when we watch the news and hear about all the crime and violence and natural disasters taking place-even all the political fighting we wonder-How much longer can the world last before we destroy ourselves and implode? So what Peter is saying here in chp 4 has been the thought of every generation from the early church onward-wondering if we’re living in the last days where the world is ready to end. But of course, here we are- nothing’s happened yet-the world is continuing on like it always has, the end hasn’t arrived. Even though we’ve been prepared for it. Do you remember back to the turn of the Millennium when everybody was worried about Y2K thinking that all the computers were going to crash and the banks and power grids would shut down? That didn’t happen. Or remember the infamous date of the Mayan calendar that Dec 21, 2012 was the end of the world? It was a 5,000 year old prediction that asteroids would crash into the planet or the magnetic poles would shift causing earthquakes and tsunamis. But nothing happened then either. It was just another day. So the question to consider is this: Does the world’s continued existence- even into 2020-invalidate what Peter’s saying here? Is the urgency of living in the last days an empty statement because life’s continuing on as normal and another decade’s arrived? How would you answer that?
Now let me begin by admitting that I do a bad job of predicting time. Does anybody else struggle that way? My kids will be the first to say that I have a bad habit of claiming that our destination is just a few minutes away. Like when we’re walking somewhere in the city I’ll say-it’s just a few blocks away, we’ll be there really soon-like 10 minutes. Or if we’re driving in the car I’ll say-It’s just right up the road, it’s like 10, 15 minutes away. We’ll be there in no time. And yet Monica and the kids wisely recalibrate my prediction by doubling the time to 30 minutes because they’ve been on plenty of journeys with me that have taken a bit longer than my alleged 10 minutes! Anybody else struggle with this? So sad to say the lack of faith in my prediction of time is well-deserved. But what about a lack of faith in the prediction of Scripture when it says-The end of all things is near? Do you believe that? Or does it sound more like the scare tactics of doomsdayers or crazy people who think about the end of the world too much? This is a hard statement to accept in 1 Peter when the sun comes up everyday just like it did the day before.
I want you to flip ahead to 2 Peter for just a moment because he continues on with this idea of the world’s end-2 Pet. 3:1-2 Peter wants us to remember what both Jesus and the prophets said-that He will return and the world will end. Don’t forget that fact-Peter is saying. Even though there will be lots of naysayers and doubters. And listen to how he describes them–v. 3-4. These scoffers are not engaging in biblical thinking-they’re scoffing (which I define as sarcastic coughing-scoffing!) But instead of speaking in faith which looks to the Lord’s promise of His return-they’re speaking from sight. These scoffers are basing their thoughts on what they observe with their eyes. This world is carrying on like it always has ever since the beginning of time. Nothing’s changed, the sun rises and the sun sets. Chicken Little was wrong, the sky hasn’t fallen, so why should we think it will one day? These scoffers that Peter speaks of might be the news media or scientists of today. I read an article where one physicist said our sun is only about halfway through its life, having another 5 billion years left, but another physicist said-In 20 to 30 billion years, the sun will expand into a red ball and burn up, overwhelming the earth with its heat. Oceans will boil and evaporate, and the other nearby planets will be consumed, leaving nothing behind but orbiting chunks of barren rock around a darkened sun. Clearly that doesn’t sound like a fun time, but it’s anywhere from 5 billion to 30 billion years away so I think it’s safe to say we’re all in the clear on that one-don’t have to worry about the sun burning up. That is, if we’re looking at things from an observational point of view instead of a biblical one. That difference is massively profound-v. 4. Why should I bother to think about the world’s end? And be honest, do you tent to think like these scoffers? I get up every day, I go to work, get my job done, then I head home, eat dinner and it’s off to bed to start again tomorrow. Life is so normal and regular. And as you think about it, the idea of the world ending sounds more like something out of a hyped-up zombie apocalypse movie. But what does God’s Word say? How does Peter respond to the scoffers-v. 5-6. This is the flood from Noah’s day. And there were lots and lots of scoffers then too. In fact, everyone but Noah was a scoffer. Look at Matt 24:38-39 Life was continuing as normal, like it always had, until a raindrop fell, and everything changed. But that’s the comparison Peter’s making-just as they weren’t thinking about the end of their world despite Noah’s warning-so people today won’t be thinking about the world’s end despite God’s warnings-v. 7. The world as we know it will perish and be destroyed-it’s not fiction, it’s fact. Remember that old REM song-It’s the End of the World as We Know it–and I feel fine. Yes for the believer-but not for the unbeliever. The world’s end is going to happen when they’re unaware, unprepared-and they won’t feel fine. Verse 9 says the Lord is not slow to fulfill His promises, He will keep them-v. 10. What vivid language! Peter repeats himself in v. 12. Chicken Little will get the last word in-the sky will fall-along with the ground, the trees, the rocks and mountains crumbling away until they’re no more. Can you picture such a reality? Do you believe what this is saying? This is the biblical viewpoint. Peter said at the start of the chapter-I’m stirring up your mind with a reminder. The NIV says-I’m stimulating your mind for wholesome thinking. And you might think such cataclysmic, doomsday thoughts aren’t very wholesome-but they’re the truth and the wholesome thinking comes in at v. 11-12a. The knowledge and certainty of the world’s end, no matter how unbelievable it might seem, needs to fill you with an urgency to examine your life. What sort of person ought you to be, because if you believe in Christ you don’t belong to this passing world, you belong to the next world-and it’s spelled out in v. 13. And if that’s the place where you belong, what sort of person ought you to be now? That’s the question at hand.
Turn back to 1 Peter 4-our main text this morning-v. 7a. How does that truth affect your life in 2020? It should. What sort of person ought you to be? Back in December I would have loved to decorate our church with this question. The end is near! The sky will fall! Are you ready? But I suppose we don’t want to be known as the crazy doomsday church in town-plus pictures of mayhem and destruction don’t work too well with Christmas decorations. But you and I know from reading God’s Word that the world’s end is near, it’s at hand as Peter says. God is patient to keep His promises-so whether it’s in 2020 or 2040 we have to live ready. That despite all the scoffers, it will end one day and Peter’s big point, in both of his letters, is to make us think how we ought to live differently, how we should make some changes, and be the people we ought to be-because we don’t when this world will end and Christ will return-we just know He will!
So The end of all things is at hand; therefore…go stockpile a bunch of canned goods and build an underground bunker that can survive nuclear fallout? No! Look at what he says-v. 7-11. This is fascinating. Peter doesn’t describe the end of the world so that we live in constant fear and arm ourselves with food and weapons for a zombie battle, instead he tells us of the world’s end in order to affect our character in the present. What changes do we need to make in our lives, how ought we act to the people around us? And notice that Peter doesn’t describe those changes as extra bonus things in order to beef up your spiritual resume. He’s not talking about Christian add-ons or upgrades so you can make God really happy with you, He’s talking about the essentials that must be present in every believer knowing that the end is near. When you go camping you’ve got to have the essentials-water, a tent, some matches, some food. It’d be a miserable camping trip if you forgot that stuff. And the same is true for your Christian life.
So Pt1:The End of all Things is at hand…Be Self-controlled. Now I don’t know about you but whenever I hear the fruit of the spirit listed I never like it when self-control shows up at the end. I can feel okay with some of the other ones-love, joy, peace, patience, kindness…-but with self-control I feel really convicted, because this is where I often blow it. My anger gets the best of me, my pride takes over, my tongue lashes back, my emotions start to snowball, I get all worked up and stressed out, or I start feeling sorry for myself and throw a pity party, poor me. All of those things are the result of little or no self-control. Fruitful Life, 154. He goes on to say that self-control is the curbing of our emotions-how easy is it to let them spiral out of control? He also says self-control is about breaking the chains of self-indulgence. And maybe coming off the holidays you need some renewed self-control in your eating patterns! He goes on to describe places in our lives-Bridges, 167. Self-control is essential to our Christian lives because it means that we’re responding according to who we are in Christ, not reacting according to who or what is around us. I’ve often said, a Christian should never react because reacting always comes out of our old natures, reacting is always based on our emotions. I couldn’t help it! They made me act this way-they drive me so crazy. What else am I supposed to do? What we’re supposed to do is exercise self-control. Instead of reacting, we have to respond with peace and confidence in God, knowing that whatever is happening around us He’s in control and we can trust Him, not get all stressed out or blow up in anger. Look at 2 Thess 3:16 What would your life look like if that was true of you? Things would probably be a whole lot different, I know they would for me. God’s Word is saying that as the end is near what the world needs isn’t a bunch of people swept along by every whim of their emotions and desires, people who are just as frantic and worried and stressed out as everybody else, what the world needs is a group of men and women who are self-controlled and clear-headed; filled with a super-natural peace because they’re trusting in a super-natural God. As the end continues to draw near, this world will keep spiraling out of control, so might you and I be a people who remain in control; firmly anchored in God and led by Him.
But self-control isn’t all, in fact, it’s just the start-v. 8-9. So Pt2:The End of all Things is at hand…Earnestly Love others. Some translations say to love deeply or fervently-and all those words describe being stretched or strained. Earnestly describes a runner running at maximum speed with muscles pushed and stretched to the limit, going as hard and fast as you can. Or maybe you studied earnestly for an exam or earnestly worked hard on a project at work-and love can feel like that at times. Don’t miss what it said-Love covers a multitude of sins-meaning that you can overlook the injustices done to you instead of always holding a grudge, keeping a list and growing bitter (which is what we often do!) And that key word-multitude is so important. If it was up to me it would say-love covers 1 sin. I like the limit. I overlooked that mistake you made last week-you reached your limit, sorry you’re out. Or maybe even 3 sins-like 3 strikes and you’re out. But love overlooks many sins, lots of them. Don’t think you’re loving when you just overlook one thing. Love keeps on forgiving, keeps on showing grace, it continues to respond with compassion. Now that doesn’t mean you ignore confronting someone, sin needs to be dealt with, but love is quick to forgive, quick to heal and move on. Love means putting someone else’s concerns ahead of yours. Earnest loves means that you’re not always so self-absorbed in your life and what you’re doing. Part of our problem today is that love runs thins because we don’t have time to love other people, we don’t have time to show hospitality, as v. 9 says, because we’re too busy doing our own thing. These days life tends to be about everyone’s favorite word, me, but love says otherwise. Love is about others. It’s as simple as not always talking about yourself but asking other people how they’re doing, listening to what they have to say and praying for them. Why does Peter say that love is essential for these last days? Look at 2 Tim 3:1-4. That sums up the world we’re living in-but as followers of Christ we have to be different-v. 10.
So Pt3:The End of all Things is at hand…Exercise Spiritual gifts. Now it didn’t say physical exercise-so if you’re already behind your New Year’s resolution on that-you’re in the clear here. This is spiritual exercise and it says your life becomes an opportunity to exercise your spiritual gifts and be an instrument for serving others. Think back to 2 Timothy-the world loves money; it loves pleasure so lots of people use their gifts and abilities to amass things for themselves. If you don’t get anything out of it then what’s the point of doing it? That’s the motto for most people. Very few people do what this verse is actually saying-v. 10. So you don’t serve to be praised or noticed, you don’t do something so people think well of you or think you’re extra spiritual or talented-and for a lot of us that’s why we serve-to get the recognition. But this verse says we serve in order to display the varied forms of God’s grace. Have you ever thought about it like that? God’s grace is so big it takes countless ways from all of us to express it. And that means you, in the way God has gifted you, can uniquely show a part of His grace when you use your God-given talents to serve others. That makes the whole scope of service really important because it means that people get to see the Lord, they glimpse His glory through you as you faithfully exercise your spiritual gifts-v. 11. Your life becomes an outlet for that glory! So don’t miss the opportunity-that’s what following Christ is all about. Maybe you’ve been using your spiritual gifts lately for your glory. Stop and say-Use me, Lord, for your glory, use me to be a blessing to others. And here’s the part that’s amazing-in v. 10 it says that each one has received a gift, that means every follower of Christ, including you. God hasn’t missed anybody. If you’ve trusted in Christ to save you then you’ve been given a spiritual gift. The question isn’t whether you’ve been given a gift, the question is whether you’ll use that gift to serve others. It doesn’t matter if it’s speaking or teaching or talking to a friend about Christ, it doesn’t matter if it’s using your hands to help someone or your finances to give. What matters is whether you’ll exercise your spiritual gift. Or will you sit on it and do nothing and let your spiritual gift go to waste? No doubt using your spiritual gifts from the Lord isn’t easy, it rarely is, it might be one of the hardest things you do-yet there is nothing more worthwhile or satisfying than serving the King. Don’t be the person who buries his talent-Piper, 10. The time is short, who knows how many days this world has left, the end of all things is at hand. Do you believe it? Because if you do, you’ll make those changes and surrender your heart to God saying-This year I mean it!
When I was in London, our church took some missions trips to Kosovo-and on one of the trips our flight home from Kosovo to London included a 9 hour lay-over in Vienna. It was the bulk of the day so one of the ladies on our team who had lived in Vienna said we must go out and see the city since we were there-no point in just hanging around the airport. We were all tired from our missions week in Kosovo but she said-Don’t waste the day, we’ve got this one chance to see Vienna-let’s go and enjoy it. And so we did. We had a whirlwind tour of the city-we saw palaces and cathedrals, we hiked up a big hill that overlooked Vienna, we ate schnitzel and apple strudel and drank Vienesse coffee at this famous cafe-and even went to a great gelato stand. By the time we got back to the airport we were all so glad we didn’t waste the day. We did all we could in the short time we had because we knew we didn’t have tomorrow. By tomorrow we were back home, we only had the present. And that’s how we need to live our lives. If the end of all things is at hand then we have no idea about tomorrow, we must serve God today. But too many of us think-There’s always tomorrow-I can just sit around today, I’ll serve God later. We lose all the urgency because we think we have all the time in the world. But let us be reminded that the world’s time is short. Let us wisely use the time now to be a people of self-control, earnestly loving others and, exercising our spiritual gifts to the glory of Christ-v. 11b.