A New Power Source

1Peter 4:7-11

The Reverend Bryn MacPhail / June 8, 2003


            Christians should be different. In this chapter, the apostle Peter outlines for us certain characteristics which should be prevalent in the life of a Christian.


            Previously, Peter had motivated us to godly living by reminding us of what Christ has done for us at Calvary. But now, Peter motivates the reader by turning our attention to the future: 7The end of all things is near. Therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.


            Admittedly, Peter does not give us enough information for us to deduce precisely what he means by his statement “7The end of all things is near”. The best explanation of this verse I have come across is from 19th Century Church of Scotland minister, Robert McCheyne, who writes, ‘Let nothing dim the eye that is looking upon eternal realities.’


            In this statement, our prayers are given an appropriate platform. What I hear Peter saying is that God-honouring prayer has ‘eternal realities’ in view. In my mind, this is a distinction of paramount importance. For if we examine our usual motivation for prayer what we will find is that our present circumstances, our present realities, drive our prayers. But that is not where Peter points us. When Peter calls you and I to prayer he does not have the advancement of our temporary kingdom in mind. But rather, the advancement of God’s eternal kingdom is what Peter has in view here.


            Once we have challenged our own motivation for prayer and service, it would be wise to ask what is motivating ministry efforts within this congregation? In our outreach, is it eternal realities we have in view? Or, is it our current budget realities that motivate our efforts to bring in new members? Or is it something else?


            In other words, whom are we working for? Are we working for ourselves? Are we working for the institution? Or are we working for God?


            What I hear in Peter’s exhortations is that we need to have a God-ward motivation for all things. This extends also to how we treat one another. 8Above all, Peter continues, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.


The Greek word here, translated as love, is agape. Agape is sometimes translated as "charity", and refers to the benevolent nature of our love. In the New Testament, agape love is not so much an emotion you feel, as it is an action you choose. God's love towards humanity is often described with this word. Just as God chooses to love us, in spite of all of our shortcomings, so are we to love others.


The Greek word, translated "fervent", is sometimes used to describe the taut muscles of an athlete who strains to win a race. We may not like the idea of having to 'strain' to love someone, but this is precisely what Peter calls us to do.


What does this type of love look like? When we choose to love someone, when we choose to have fervent, stretched, love for someone, what does this accomplish? This type of love "covers a multitude of sins".


Peter is not saying that we can atone for our own sins by loving others. Peter is pointing out that love that is strenuously maintained sees and accepts the faults of others. Agape love, when applied with great effort, does not allow the shortcomings and failures of others to keep us from loving them.


In a community such as this, Peter’s words should have immediate application. Christian author, Howard Hendricks, recounts an occasion when he was approached by an individual who was deeply distressed about the fact that there was conflict in his congregation. Hendricks’ response was to ask a question, ‘Do you have people in your church?’ ‘Yes, of course’, the man replied. ‘Then you have problems in your church! Wherever you have people, you are going to have problems.’


Peter’s exhortation assumes conflict within this newly formed community of faith. Peter is aware that human beings will often sin against, and offend, one another. So what is his answer? Do we harbour bitterness? Do we avoid, at all cost, the person who has offended us? No. Peter says, 8Above all, love one another deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.


 And it follows that if we are to love others in spite of their faults, then we should act out that love in a tangible way. For this reason Peter exhorts us to 9Be hospitable to one another without complaint. Hospitality then, is one way to apply our agape love for others. Agape love is not merely tolerating the faults of others; it is blessing others with hospitality in spite of their shortcomings. You see, we should not equate loving the unlovable with a contrived Sunday morning smile. Agape love requires that you do something; agape love implies hospitality.


The qualifier is also important here: 9Be hospitable to one another without complaint. Presbyterians are known for their hospitality. We are always serving food; the coffee flows like water in this place. But the question needs to be asked: Is our service within the church without complaint? Again, Peter anticipates complaining; he anticipates the objection of some to making yet another loaf of egg salad sandwiches; he anticipates the reluctance of some to take another turn at serving tea. So what does he say? 9Be hospitable to one another without complaint.


Peter has called us to pray, he has called us to love one another, and he has called us to be hospitable to one another. And now, the fourth priority Peter establishes for the Christian is using our spiritual gifts. "10As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God".


Peter reminds us that "each one has received a spiritual gift". Spiritual gifts are not something bestowed to a select few, but every Christian has been given special abilities by the Holy Spirit.


Peter is also very clear on how we are to employ our spiritual gifts—we are to employ them in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Our spiritual gifts are not so much for our own benefit as they are for the benefit of others.


It seems to me that this is an excellent verse for explaining why all Christians should attend church and why every Christian should be a member of a local church: we are commanded to be "good stewards" of our spiritual gifts. This cannot be done in isolation. This cannot be accomplished if we play the role of a spectator in church.


Peter continues, in verse 11, to give us some insight into the nature of spiritual gifts, 11Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so with the strength which God supplies.


Spiritual gifts cause us to speak as God would speak, and to act as God would act. This makes perfect sense. We are called 'the body of Christ'. One would expect then, that the body of Christ would speak and act in such a way that is consistent with how Christ, our Head, would speak and act.


‘But, how is this possible?’, you ask. It is possible to act as Christ would act because, as Peter tells us, we are to serve "with the strength which God supplies".


We can speak and act as Christ would speak and act because God is the One providing us with the ability to do so. God, if you will, is the power source behind our service.


Peter could not be any more clear—we are to "serve . . . with the strength which God supplies". Spiritual gifts and Christian service is energized by God, not by us.


And why is this so important? Why must God do the work for us?


Peter gives us the answer at the end of verse 11, "so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen".


The reason we exist is to glorify God. Speaking through Isaiah, God says that "everyone who is called by My name . . . I have created for My glory". The benediction of the apostle Paul, in Ephesians 3:21, is "to (God) be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus".


This all means that God's purpose in giving us faith, God's purpose in giving us spiritual gifts is that His glory might be displayed. God wants His glory to be displayed "in the church and in Christ Jesus". This must be our ultimate goal. Our ultimate goal is not to satisfy the preferences of people. Our ultimate goal must be to glorify, and satisfy, God.


Beloved, this is within our reach. We pray, we love, we serve, we speak, not by our own strength, but with "the strength which God supplies".


As Christians, we have a new power source. The key to Christian living is not digging down deep within us. Jesus has said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). The only way to progress as a Christian, the only way to progress as a church, is to serve God with "the strength which God supplies".


The temptation here is to relegate God’s sustaining grace to tasks such as preaching, praying, and teaching Sunday School, but Peter does not do this. Many think that serving tea, managing money, or caring for the sick is merely a matter of rolling up one’s sleeves and getting the job done. Not so. If God is to be glorified in your service, the ministry must be performed in His strength (Clowney, 1Peter, 186).


We must recognize that God's grace does more than just save us. God's grace sustains us. Intellectually, we know this: 'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home'.


The Psalmist says that when we call on God in the day of trouble, He will rescue us, and we will glorify Him(Ps. 50:15).


This is how God is glorified. God is glorified when we turn to Him as our power source. God is glorified when we bring the only thing we have to offer—our need of Him.


To God be the glory in the church. To God be the glory in our church. Amen.