Living in the Light of the End of All Things

by Sam Storms

It is widely reported (but may not be true) that the great 16th century Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, once said: “If I knew for sure that Jesus was coming back tomorrow, I’d plant a tree today.”

Luther wasn’t trying to be cute, nor did he think that his words were contradictory. He was simply pointing out that no amount of speculation or confidence or doubt or belief about when Jesus might return should ever undermine the fulfillment of our basic ethical obligations or lead us to abandon the routine responsibilities set forth for us in Scripture.

Sadly, many Christians through the centuries have taken an altogether different and unbiblical approach to this problem. Convinced that Christ was to return very, very soon, they abandoned their daily tasks and embraced a form of hyper spirituality that served only to bring reproach on the name of Christ and disaster to their own lives.

How often have we heard and seen something like this:

“The end of all things is at hand! Therefore, let’s shave our heads, adorn ourselves in white robes, and run to the hills!”

“Christ is coming back soon! Therefore, let’s sell our possessions, quit our jobs, and turn our backs on a culture that is hell-bound!”

“The end of human history is just around the corner! Therefore, let’s refuse to bathe, learn how to cry on cue, and contort our faces in a show of deep concern for the plight of all lost souls!”

“We are certain that Jesus is coming back before we die! Therefore, let’s set a specific date for Jesus’ return, write it up in a best-selling book, and then make sure we’ve got an excuse for why he doesn’t return on the day we said he would, in order to protect our reputations!”

“The end of all things is at hand! Therefore, let’s abandon the local church, launch a para-church movement that will gather thousands of followers, and forget about higher education, paying our taxes, getting married, having children, and mowing the grass!”

“The second coming is surely on the horizon! Therefore, let’s host a seminar and work hard at identifying the Antichrist and figure out ways that 666 applies to all the people we don’t like!”

Well, not exactly. The Apostle Peter’s advice is of a different spirit. “Yes,” said Peter. “The end of all things is at hand! Therefore, be level-headed and sober-minded as you pray for one another. The end of all things is at hand! Therefore, love one another, and be hospitable to one another without grumbling about it, and use your spiritual gifts to serve and minister to one another, always seeking the fame of God’s name, not your own.” Look again at the passage itself.

“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4.7-11).

Eschatology is one of those technical, ten-dollar terms that theologians like to toss around to impress people with their intelligence. But it’s really a very simple and very important word. The Greek word eschatos simply means “last” or “final,” and thus Eschatology is the study of last things, final things; it is the study of events leading up to and including the second coming of Christ and the end of human history as we know it.

What most Christians don’t grasp, however, is that the primary purpose of eschatology is two-fold. First, it is designed to deepen our confidence and faith in God as the sovereign Lord over history who will bring his purposes to their proper consummation in such a way that righteousness will prevail and evil will be defeated and Jesus Christ will be glorified. Eschatology is important because it tell us that God wins! And because he wins, he is to be worshipped.

But eschatology has a secondary purpose as well. It is also designed to encourage and sustain us in practical righteousness. It is precisely because we know that Christ will return and put the world to rights that we are to be obedient to the Word of God.

Did you see the word “therefore” in v. 7? It is because the end of all things is at hand that we are to pray for one another and love one another and be hospitable to one another and to serve one another. Countless other texts affirm the same thing. Here are a few:

“Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:11-14).

After describing the return of Christ and how our bodies will be gloriously transformed, Paul says:

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).

“Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:11-13).

“Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).

So that is what I want to address in this article and in a few that will follow. I want you to think about how you should react to the reality of Christ’s impending return. I want you to think about what kind of person God wants you to be in view of the end of all things. As Peter put it in his second epistle, chapter three, I want to focus on “what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness.”

If the “end” is near, how ought we to live?

But before we answer that question we need to determine what Peter meant when he said in v. 7 that “the end of all things is at hand.” Many liberal skeptics have pointed to texts such as this as proof that Christianity is false and the Bible is in error. After all, the second coming of Christ didn’t occur in the first century when Peter and his readers lived.

Some believe that “the end of all things” is a reference to the events of 70 a.d. Thus the “end” in view is of Israel’s national existence that came in the wake of the destruction by the armies of Rome of both the city of Jerusalem and its Temple. That’s possible, but is that the best language to describe the destruction of Jerusalem and Temple? Granted, the events of 70 a.d. were of huge significance: it marked the end of the Jewish age and the judgment of God against an apostate nation that had rejected the Messiah. But does it make sense to describe the events of 70 a.d. as “the end of all things”? Furthermore, how could that event possibly be such a motivating factor to those living in northern Asia Minor? These are largely Gentile believers living in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bythinia (see 1 Peter 1:1-2).

The NT writers believed that with Christ’s death, resurrection, and exaltation to the right hand of the Father, the “last days” have dawned. See Acts 2:17, Hebrews 1:1-2; 2 Tim. 3:1; 1 John 2:18. But Peter didn’t know if the last of the last days or the end of the end times would come in his lifetime. Christ’s death and resurrection mark the beginning of the end, although neither Peter nor we know when the end of the end will come.

Yet another reason why I’m persuaded that Peter did indeed have in mind the end of history at the second coming of Christ is because of what he’s just said in vv. 5-6 regarding the final judgment of all mankind. “They will give an account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. . . . The end of all things is at hand; therefore . . !”

As I noted in the previous article, one might think that the reality of the end would lead Peter to call for extraordinary deeds of great power, works that would capture the attention of the world and gain for us fame and glory. No. It’s the simple, basic tasks of everyday life that must be pursued: Praying for one another, loving one another, hosting one another, and serving one another. Stunning!

So let’s look at them.

(1) Our first responsibility, in view of the impending end of all things, is to pray for one another. Peter here calls for mature and level-headed intercessors (v. 7b).

“Self-controlled” and “sober-minded” are words that are virtually synonymous and should be taken together, both of which are essential to effective intercession.

A good way to see what it means is to look at that with which it is contrasted. Look again at Mark 5:15 (the Gadarene demoniac) and 2 Cor. 5:13. Simply put: Keep a cool head! Keep your wits about you. Don’t get caught up in wild-eyed, irresponsible fanaticism where you think the ordinary rules of Christianity no longer apply. Maintain spiritual and mental discipline in a time when others cast common sense aside and forget who they are.

The idea is not simply “so that you may pray” but “so that you may pray more effectively and intelligently.”

Consider what often passes as intercession and the mistakes people make when they feel called to it: fanaticism, the neglect routine responsibilities of life, withdrawal into monastic solitude; some shake and bake and fall down; others are swept away into flights of religious euphoria and physical manifestations; loss of control; the recipients of new revelation and novel insights; etc. No!

Thinking about the end of all things has led some to lose their composure, to forsake common sense, to ignore the Scriptures, and to act irrationally. But one can be a faithful and fervent intercessor without losing perspective or composure.

Peter couldn’t be any clearer: Use the nearness of the end as an opportunity for prayer, but don’t lose your heads in the process! What we desperately need today are self-controlled, level-headed, mature, sober-minded intercessors. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t also be passionate and energetic and sensitive to the Spirit, but they need to keep their wits about them.

(2) Our second responsibility, in view of the impending end of all things, is to keep on loving one another. Peter here calls for earnest and passionate affection for one another (v. 8).

Peter’s use of the present tense here requires that we translate this exhortation as “keep loving” (ESV), “maintain” love for one another (NRSV), “hold” love (RSV). Love already existed, was already active and real and Peter calls for them to retain and sustain their fervency (cf. 1 Thess. 1:3).

Is there, among our many responsibilities, one that stands out from the rest, one that is to be elevated above the rest? Yes: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly” (v. 8a).

Let’s look more closely at how Peter portrays this sort of love. The best place is 1 Peter 1:22. There he highlights three features or characteristics of this love.

First, it must be “sincere” (v. 22a). In other words, it won’t work to put on a face that says “I really love you” all the while your heart says, “You’re a jerk and I can’t stand the sight of you and I’m only doing this to avoid the disdain of others who expect me to love you.” If the outer expression of affection isn’t matched by an inner enjoyment of the person you say you love, it’s useless.

Second, it must be “earnest” or “constant” (v. 22b). This word points to energy, constancy, fervency; nothing half-hearted or weak or self-serving; a love that is concentrated and focused and faithful; a love that will tolerate no excuses; a love that asks everything from me; a love for others, quite simply, that is just like the love with which Jesus Christ loves me.

Third, it must be “from a pure heart” (v. 22c). My sense is that this points to what we hope is achieved by our loving another: their good and God’s glory. Love from an “impure” heart is love that is pursued for personal gain. I’ll love you because I think it might lead you to give me in return what I want. I’ll love you because it will get me a promotion at work. I’ll love you because that’s what is expected of me and I don’t want others to think I’m less than spiritual. That is love from an “impure” heart.

I can’t motivate you to love others in your church family by telling you that they deserve it, because they don’t. And neither do I. I can’t motivate you to love others in your local church because everyone there is inherently loveable. They aren’t. And neither are you. In the final analysis I can only urge you to love others as Peter says because as undeserving and unlovely as you and I are, God loved us and demonstrated that love by giving his Son as the sacrifice for our sins all the while we were his vicious and vile enemies. I hope that’s reason enough.

As you think about your final days on this earth, as you reflect on the glory and majesty of the return of Christ in the heavens, as you envision the skies above set ablaze by the myriads of angels who will accompany Jesus at his return, as you contemplate the destruction of his enemies and the impending inauguration of the eternal state . . . love one another!

Before we leave this exhortation, note that there is an explicit reason given for the priority of love beyond that of the nearness of the end. It is because of what love does to the relational dynamics of people in the church.

Keep loving one another “since love covers a multitude of sins.” Love ought to lead us to overlook the sins and offenses of others (see 1 Cor. 13:4-7). See especially Proverbs 10:12 – “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses” (cf. also James 5:19-20).

I agree here with John Piper who argues that Peter is not saying that we are to sweep under the rug every bad thing that happens or that in the name of love we are to let people run roughshod over us and others. He is not undermining the necessity of church discipline when it is called for. I think what he’s saying is that when love flourishes, we are not easily offended, we are willing to endure injustices, we become less defensive, we don’t demand our rights, we are quick to forgive, we harbor no grudges, bear no bitterness, and shelter those who wronged us from exposure and condemnation.

Where love is lacking every word is viewed with suspicion, every motive is questioned, and every action is interpreted in a twisted and incorrect way.

Perhaps the basic thrust of this statement is simply that where love prevails forgiveness is more readily pursued, offered, and received.

We’ve come to the third and fourth of Peter’s exhortations. Here again is how the Apostle put it:

“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4.7-11).

(3) Our third responsibility, in view of the impending end of all things, is to graciously and generously host one another. Peter here calls for happy hospitality (v. 9).

It’s really quite shocking to discover how important hospitality is in the NT and how essential it is to defining those who are truly followers of Jesus! Hospitality is one of the defining marks of the Christian church (Rom. 12:13; 1 Tim. 3:2 and Titus 1:8). And who can possibly forget Hebrews 13:2 - Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

Indeed, loving, heart-felt hospitality is one of the clear signs or indications of true, saving faith: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18).

It was especially important in the first century when public lodging could not be afforded or was not available. There was not a Motel 6 or Hampton Inn on every corner! The Christian mission depended on believers providing lodging and food and finances for those traveling with the gospel (Mt. 10:11,40; Acts 16:15; 3 John 7-11).

I call it “happy” hospitality because of Peter’s qualifying phrase, “without grumbling” (v. 9b). Hospitality is hard. People can take advantage of you (they stay too long; “are they ever going to leave?” and exploit your generosity). It is easy to begrudge your charity to others.

But let’s get specific and connect v. 8 with v. 9. Grumbling about what? Maybe about the time and effort it takes to fix a meal or clean the house or put things back together after your guests wrecked the place! John Piper believes that Peter means grumbling about people, and I concur. Love covers over sins. Let hospitality be without grumbling. Love says, "I'm just going to cover the things about which I could complain and grumble."

Or could the grumbling be ultimately against God for having so ordered or arranged our lives that we are tired and worn out and running short of money because of the needs of those we are hosting?

Stress can intensify. Patience grows thin. Irritation begins to spread throughout your soul. Resentment begins to well up from within. The ingratitude of those for whom you have sacrificed so much starts to eat away at your spirit. Clearly, a lot of sins need to be covered. Do it!

What are your plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas? Before you quickly respond by saying, “But that’s a family affair! That’s for our immediate blood relationships,” let me ask you to expand your hearts and realize that your spiritual family is of greater importance still. There are young people and middle-aged people and old people in your local church who will spend Thanksgiving and Christmas all alone. God forbid!

(4) Our fourth and final responsibility, in view of the impending end of all things, is to use our spiritual gifts to serve one another. Peter here calls for grace-empowered, Christ-centered service (vv. 10-11a).

Let me mention several things about spiritual gifts:

First, they are undeserved expressions of divine favor, of his “varied grace”!

Second, every Christian has at least one (“as each” – v. 10a); no Christian has them all (1 Cor. 12). Spiritual gifts forever shatter the myth that there are two kinds of Christians: those who minister and serve and those who are served and ministered to; those who have spiritual gifts and those who don’t. All have at least one gift and all of us are to minister and serve.

No Christian can refuse to contribute to the life of the body of Christ without quenching the Holy Spirit! There is no such thing as passive membership in the body of Christ! To belong to the body of Christ is to have a function; it is to have a ministry. You may choose to sit back and do nothing, but if you do you are sinning!

No one can claim to be an exception to this, perhaps by insisting that he/she has been taken up into some heightened personal flight of spiritual fancy outside and beyond the community of faith. “So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5).

Third, they are always “other-oriented” and designed to build up the body (1 Cor. 7:7-10).

Fourth, spiritual gifts are a trust (we are called “good stewards”); i.e., they are less a privilege and more a responsibility. 1 Cor. 12:11. In a very real sense, then, my gift is not really mine. It is only entrusted to me for the sake of others.

Fifth, although there is only one giver, God, there is a variety of differing gifts. There are five separate and different listings of gifts; no one gift is on every list and no list includes all the gifts.

Sixth, gifts are divided by Peter into two kinds: speaking and serving. Speaking gifts include teaching, prophecy, apostleship, tongues, interpretation of tongues, exhortation, word of knowledge, word of wisdom; while serving gifts include giving, leading, administration, mercy, helps, healing, miracles.

Some of you have only one speaking gift; some have only one serving gift. Some have several speaking gifts. Some have several serving gifts. Some have both several speaking gifts and serving gifts. But no one has no gift!

Seventh, all gifts, regardless of whether they are speaking or serving, are empowered by God’s strength, not our own (1 Cor. 12:7-11). This is why this incredible paragraph concludes with a doxology: “To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Everything the Christian man or woman does, if it is to be virtuous and glorifying to God, must be done conscious of the fact that God is the one who supplies the strength for everything, God is the one who empowers every deed, God is the one who stirs our spirits and moves our wills and sustains our good intentions and inflames our affections.

Peter’s reference to “serving” here cannot be restricted to only a few spiritual gifts. All service is carried out by the power that God supplies. That means that the prayer which Peter commanded in v. 7 is undertaken in the strength that God supplies. And the love that we feel for others is expressed in the strength that God supplies. And the hospitality we show to one another is awakened and sustained by the strength that God supplies. And the exercise of all spiritual gifts finds its source in the strength that God supplies.

It’s critical that we know this so that when someone hears you praying or sees you loving or is the recipient of your hospitality or benefits from the use of your spiritual gift they will instinctively give God the glory rather than you (look again at v. 11b – “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ!”).

“Oh my, how those people do pray. Thank you God! Wow! They certainly know how to love one another. Thank you God! My, my, their hospitality is so joyful and devoid of grumbling. Thank you God! I was so blessed by that teaching and that word of encouragement and that financial gift. Thank you God!”

So, if I may again use the words of Peter from his second epistle, chapter three: what sort of person are you going to be as you patiently await the end of all things (2 Peter 3:11-12)?

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