1 Peter 4:7-11
Be Prepared, Jesus is Coming!

Copyright 2009 (c) American Journal of Biblical Theology 
www.biblicaltheology.com     Scripture quotes from KJV

Chapter 4 of Peter’s letter focuses on the task of Christians to live under the Lordship of Jesus Christ while living in a world that rejects the gospel.  The conflict that arises between these two opposing world views will always bring stress into a believer’s relationship with the world, a stress that comes from the world if the believer is faithful, or from the church if the believer is apostate. Some might prefer to sit on the fence, hoping to avoid the conflict only to find out that such a position finds stress in relationships both within the body of faith and without.

Peter has been encouraging Christians to live under the Lordship of Christ without compromise, taking on the heart-view of faith, the “mind of Christ,” accepting the inherent conflict with the world while loving all people and serving Christ by serving those who would show only persecution in return.

As first-century Christians were dealing with this conflict another question was continually in the debate as it still is today:  how long will be wait for Christ to return and this conflict will end?  The context and language of the New Testament writers implies that they believed that Jesus would come back in their own lifetimes.  There are people today who make similar arguments as they would set dates and watch them pass without event.  Paul wrote to the Thessalonians[1] concerning those among them who were preaching of an imminent return of Christ, or even that Christ has already returned.  Paul reminded the Thessalonians that two events had not yet taken place that are prophesied:  the world will be in a state of utter apostasy, and the antichrist will be known to all the faithful.  Though these two events have not yet taken place, they could happen in a very short period of time, less than a day.  If the antichrist were to declare his deity tomorrow morning, the media would have the message spread throughout the world before dinner.  Consequently, though we have been waiting for 2000 years, we must be ready because the return of Christ could, indeed, happen very quickly.

1 Peter 4:7.  But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.

Peter clearly teaches that the faithful are to live in the expectation of Jesus’ return.  That expectation is to be so real that we organize our lives and activities in preparation for the Perousia, the second coming of Christ.  It would be easy to argue that, since Jesus has not returned in two centuries there is little reason to expect that His coming is imminent.  However, That argument does not diminish the probably that Jesus’ return is imminent indeed. 

Consider what would you do if you knew for a fact that a dangerous thief was going to enter your home, brutalize your family, and steal your possessions.  Furthermore, consider that your knowledge of his coming is certain, but you have no idea of when this would happen.  What would you do?  You would be prepared.  Jesus gave this identical counsel when He told His disciples to be ready as they would for a “thief in the night.”[2]  Peter gives some advice on how to be ready.

1.  Be sober.  The word that Peter uses describes one who is in an attitude of self-control, not swayed by the influence of others.  When we use the word the first thing that comes to mind is one who is drunk from too much alcohol.  Drunkenness dulls the senses and robs the individual of the alertness and self-control that is necessary to do even the simplest of tasks.  Any influence that can serve that purpose steals away our sobriety.   Though one may not intoxicated by drugs, one can be intoxicated by ideas and false teaching including eschatological alarm.  One can be intoxicated by their own pride and arrogance that blinds them to the truth.  There are many subtle intoxicants that can cause our view of the truth to be distorted.  Consequently, Peter calls upon the faithful to be vigilant and clear-minded in preparation for Jesus’ return.

2.  Watch unto prayer.  The Greek word for watch is a military term that refers to one who is guarding a position, watching intently for an invader.  Another relevant metaphor might be the wife who watches the ocean for the return of her ship-captain husband.  It is a form of watching that implies a continual and uncompromised expectation.  The Greek grammar ties the words sober and watch together in a manner that requires sobriety for effective prayer to take place. 

If one were waiting for the thief in the night and was armed with a weapon of defense, one would not lock that weapon away in a safe.  The weapon would be loaded and kept close at hand.  One would be listening and watching, ready to respond to the danger.  Likewise, as Jesus is coming, the faithful are called upon to be on the watch.  The “weapon” that we keep close is prayer, the continual communication with God through the words and attitudes of the heart.  As one is alert and unimpeded by insobriety, one must continue in prayer as one awaits Jesus’ return.   

1 Peter 4:8.  And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.

3.  Love one another.  As we prepare for the coming of the LORD, we are to love one another deeply.  The love that Peter refers to is the unconditional agape love that God gives us that we can give to one another.  Agape love is not the natural or reflexive response of an individual towards another.  Our own pride and prejudices would lead us to choose whom we would love and reject those whom we consider undeserving.  The gift of, agape love is a choice.  The faithful are called to agape love by the LORD Himself, and the power to overcome our prejudices and love others unconditional comes from the Holy Spirit.   

4.  Forgive one another.  Some misunderstand the second half of this phrase and use it to argue that sincere agape love in some way atones for sins since several English translations use the word, “cover,” a word we often use to refer to atonement.  This is a false teaching that is the result of an incomplete exegesis of the text.  There is only one source of atonement for sin, and that is the work of Jesus Christ as He paid the price for sin when He died on the Cross of Calvary.  He experienced death so that those who place their faith in God would not have to.  However, if we take God’s act of atonement a step further we recognize that Jesus died on the cross because of His love for us.  Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them…” because of that love.  When we truly love one another, we are very quick to forgive, and forgiveness does indeed “cover” a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 4:9.  Use hospitality one to another without grudging.

5.  Practice hospitality.  Hospitality was an integral trait of ancient near-eastern culture.  Lacking the restaurants and hotels of modern society, it was necessary that travelers find food and lodging along the way in the homes of the people who lived there.  The opening of one’s home to strangers is simply a lost art in our society today.  It is considered rude in many societies today to knock on the door of one’s home without previous permission.  The practice is illegal in many local communities where cold-door visitation is allowed only by permit, and the visitor must carry some form of visible identification.

Hospitality is probably a lost art.  The act of hospitality is directly related to the expression of agape love.  Again, the expression of agape love is a choice, and to love a stranger requires such choice.  Often the expression of hospitality necessitates some form of sacrifice whether it be the giving of time, resources, food, or other things that meet the needs of the stranger.  Furthermore, there is a sacrifice of faith as one accepts the risks associated with close relationship with one who has not had the opportunity to engender trust.

It is easy for many of us to share hospitality with those whom we love and trust.  However, the same LORD came to share the good news of salvation with all people, both those who we trust, those who we do not trust, and those who we do not know.  Agape love, hence hospitality, is to be extended to all of these without dissention.  Such dissent is simply the voice of our sinful nature that stands against the expression of agape love.

1 Peter 4:10.  As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.

6.  Minister one to another.  Somewhere in the historical development of the modern church it has become common practice to believe that one person in a church fellowship has the responsibility to serve as its minister.  We typically call out individual ministers, execute some form of formal ordinance rite, and then sit back and expect them to minister to us.  Even the title of “minister” implies that the named individual has the unique and special task to minister.  This practice and philosophy is simply not biblical.  Ministry is the task of every believer.

Peter teaches, as does Paul, that all believers are gifted.  Gifts are manifestations of God’s grace[3] and can be given at birth or attained during maturation.  Gifts include that set of skills, talents, and interests that makes every individual unique.  We express our gifts in many ways, most often to bring personal gain.  However, the biblical stance is that these gifts have been received from God, and that they have been receive for a purpose.  We were created to glorify God, and the gifts we have been given were received by us for the purpose of glorifying Him.  Keeping gifts for ourselves, or using them entirely for personal gain is inappropriate for a person of faith.  Just as Christians are stewards of those things of this world that have been entrusted to them, they are also stewards of those gifts.  Peter goes on to state that proper stewardship of those gifts is expressed in ministry to one another.[4]  He then give a few examples.

1 Peter 4:11.  If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

7.  Speak godly words of love and grace.  Peter describes two forms of gifts: speaking and serving, and some have used this verse to organize the gifts under these categories.[5]  When the expressed gift is a speaking gift, one is to teach, to edify, to encourage, and minister to others by speaking the very “oracles” of God.  The content of one’s speech is to be consistent with the mind of Christ that Peter previously described.  A Christian’s words should stand on the foundation of God’s Word, expressed in agape love, and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  James wrote of the difficulties associated with ministering through words in a significant portion of his letter to the church.  How does one come to speak the “oracles of God?”  First, the believer must be saved, and be cognizant of the context and purpose of that salvation so that it can be shared with others.  Then, that sharing can include the correctly applied words of scripture as occasion allows.  The more one is familiar with the scriptures, the more one can draw from them in their speech.  Furthermore, the context of the oracles is the application of God’s love and grace.  We speak the oracles of God when we speak in God’s love towards others rather than through our own selfish motives.  Since the oracles present God’s grace, our words can also demonstrate grace towards each other rather than criticism and condemnation. 

8.  Serve one another.  The second category of gifts that Peter refers to are the ministry gifts.  These might be considered the entire body of gifts that are not speaking gifts.  For example, administration is a gift.  We often forget that the word is simply the perfect tense of the word, minister.  To minister to another is to actively meet their needs.  To minister in the context of the biblical call is to minister to the range of another’s needs from a motivation of agape love.  Again, all believers are given gifts that are to be used to minister one to another. 

Finally, Peter notes the reason for this list.  God has given to every believer a sacred task as we watch and wait in prayer for Jesus’ return:  that God would be glorified in and through everything we do.  God deserves our obedience because of what He has done for us, and the predominant context of that obedience is found in our love for Him as we praise Him continually.  When we declare of Jesus an eternal dominion, we are declaring His eternal Lordship over us.  Consequently, the list of tasks that Peter has described are not suggestions for better living, but rather commands from God that are to be obeyed until Jesus’ return.  This is how we fully prepare for the second coming of Christ.

[1] 2 Thessalonians, Chapter 2.

[2] Matthew 24:43, Luke 12:39, 1 Thessalonians 5:2, 2 Peter 3:10, Revelation 3:3, Revelation 16:15.

[3] Note that the Greek word for gift, charisma, is a derivative of the Greek word for grace, charis.

[4] c.f. 1 Cor. 12:7,25-26; 14:1-19, 26; et. al.

[5] Schreiner, 214. e.g.