“To Sin or to Serve?”
1 Peter 4:1-11
October 21, 2012
The world expects you to sin; God calls you to serve!
I. The world expects you to sin (1 Peter 4:1-6)
II. God calls you to serve (1 Peter 4:7-11)
When Gail and I were at seminary, we went to a church in Lake Zurich. They were a very missions minded group, and one missionary they supported was John Goodfellow, who worked for Youth with a Mission in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. He had a very interesting story, which he shared one day in a visit to this church, and which he tells in a book called ‘Streetwise.’
John Goodfellow was born and grew up in Nottingham, England, but he was always rebellious, and after finishing high school he alternated brief stints as a bricklayer with drunken, drugged carousing trips around Europe. He finally ended up in Amsterdam, where he supported his habits with constant theft. In fact he became the head of a gang that robbed businesses all around the city. Yet, at the same time, John Goodfellow was extremely unsatisfied. He began searching some kind of meaning to his life. Now at that time there were several young missionaries from YWAM who ran a coffee house on two houseboats in the worst part of Amsterdam. John and his gang started to hang around, and even attend times of worship and teaching. And it was there that he heard, over and over, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So this young thug who had given his life to every form of sin imaginable, gave his life to Jesus. And as often happens in a radical conversion, Jesus gave John Goodfellow freedom from drugs just like that. But as time went on, he began to see he still had two choices: he could serve Jesus, or slip back into sin. And at some point John Goodfellow made the choice to serve Jesus, and for the rest of his life - at least through 2005 from what I see online - he’s been rescuing kids from the streets of Amsterdam and other cities, leading them to the Lord, and placing them into the Lord's service. When he spoke in Illinois he said to the youth: You want a life of excitement? You want a life of fulfillment and purpose? Serve the Lord: give your life to serving Christ.
John Goodfellow did in a very dramatic way what Peter is asking each of us to do here today, to exchange a life of sin for a life of service. In 1 Peter 4:1-11, He paints a strong picture of the world's view of sin, and a strong picture of the greatness of service, And he challenges us exchange sin for service.
I. The world expects you to sin (1 Peter 4:1-6)
Verses 1- 6 show that the world expects you to sin: Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.
3For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. 4With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; 5but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.
The world expects you to sin because the world doesn't understand Christianity. First, it doesn't understand suffering. Peter says, ‘Therefore, since Christ suffered in the body, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking,’ or attitude. In 1st Peter 2:23 we saw that the way Jesus thought about suffering was that in it he must entrust himself fully to the God who judges justly. You should be prepared - armed - for the reality of suffering, and your attitude in suffering ought to be to trust God fully.
Now is this the way the world thinks? No. The world’s thinking was captured by Dylan Thomas, who said ‘do not go silent into that dark night; rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ The world does not accept suffering as something with a positive value, but rages against it. But Peter sees in suffering a purifying purpose. He says: he who has suffered in the body is done with sin. We saw in the verses we studied last week, that Christ's suffering had a reason: to bring us to God. Here we see that our suffering has a reason: to be done with sin.
Verse 2: “so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” The world expects you to sin, to follow evil human desires. But God enables you to do his will, to live for him. The suffering of Jesus paid for your sin, And the suffering you may endure can more and more put sin out of your life. The world doesn’t understand this. It foolishly sees greatness only in strength, wealth, happiness and success. But the wisdom of God is to purify and ultimately to bless, those who suffer.
Steve Green captures the Christian attitude: There burns a fire with sacred heat, white hot with holy flame And all who dare pass through its blaze, will not remain the same Some as bronze, some as silver, some as gold and with great skill, All are hammered by their sufferings on the anvil of his will. The refiners fire has now become my soul's desire; purged and cleaned and purified that the Lord be glorified. He is consuming my soul, refining me making me whole. No matter what I may lose, I choose the refiner's fire. The world expects you to sin, because the world doesn't understand suffering.
The world also expects you to sin, because the world doesn't understand morality. Verse 3: “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.” The Christian is one who says "I’ve had enough sin" And the world we live in says "never enough sin" The agenda of the our culture, the agenda of Satan in our culture, is to make more and more sin less and less sinful. In fact to make sin noble, and morality immoral.
Peter says you yourselves have spent enough time in the things the pagans choose to do. He begins or summarizes his list with the word sensuality, living in unrestrained pursuit of every pleasure. Second, passion or lust, strong desires ignited by the flood of images and sensations that bombard us. Not just sexual lust, either, but the shop til you drop craving for more and more, and better and better. Third, drunkenness. Our two-faced culture rightly condemns alcohol abuse and drug abuse. while at the same time glorifying them in a million beer commercials a week. The results is drunken parties that lead more often than not to sexual immorality. as well. I talked with a young man recently who said that he had walked away from the party scene at college when a drunken party led to the rape of a young woman.
And all of these are idolatries. In fact anything we have to have is an idol, whether an iPhone 5, a drink, a few minutes looking at porn on the internet, a better body, perfect health, or whatever. So often people say ‘I can live without that’ when it’s obvious they can’t. That’s idolatry, and our culture expects us to indulge these sins. But the time that is past, Peter says, suffices. In our sane moments we look at these desires and say ‘there is no real satisfaction.’
So say ‘I’ve had enough; the time that is past suffices’ for pursuing what the world wants me to do. I’ve spent enough time in front of the tube. I have spent enough time working for things that will burn; I’ve spent enough time seeking escape. I choose now to spend the time the Lord has given me differently. We’re going on a men’s retreat in two weeks to study the use of time. I don’t know whether Andy Stanley will mention something like this or not. But it is evident that giving less time to the things the world wants me to do gives me more time for what God wants me to do.
But when you make that choice, recognize that you open yourself for the ridicule of the world. They are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you. Our culture’s idolatry of personal choice and tolerance allows it to scream in support of sin. The vice president, in the debate last week, said that as a Catholic, “With regard to abortion, I accept my Church’s position on abortion as a de fide doctrine.
Life begins at conception. I accept that position in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians, and Muslims and Jews.” Do you see what he’s saying? ‘I believe the baby is a human life, but my worship of tolerance forces me to allow you to kill that baby.” That’s nonsense.
But it’s the politically correct position, so it receives little flack. But if you affirm that marriage was designed by God for one man and one woman you will come under fire. Some of you may have had a meal at Chick-Fil-A this summer because our culture lashed out at this kind of affirmation. Last week the chief diversity officer at Gallaudet University, the school for the deaf in Washington D.C., was fired because she signed a petition to put a traditional marriage amendment on the ballot. Apparently diversity, for this liberal school, doesn’t include the right to express a politically incorrect opinion.
What’s behind this? It’s as Peter says, “they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you.” When you take a position against true sin, you trigger the guilt God has built into people. That’s why there is so much energy given to defending immoral behaviors. The world expects you to sin because they don't understand suffering, don't want to understand morality, and they don't understand judgment.
Verse 5: “but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” The clear teaching of the Bible is that all will be judged. Hebrews says it is appointed unto men to die once, and after this comes judgment. We saw this in Revelation 20, when the dead were raised: those whose names were not in the book of life were judged and sentenced to the second death.
Peter says ‘the gospel was preached even to those who are dead;’ the implication is ‘now dead.’ The world doesn’t understand judgment because everyone suffers the first death: all are ‘judged in the flesh the way people are.’ But believers who have died live on in the spirit, as God does. The world sees no difference between unbelievers who sin and die and believers who suffer and die. They don’t grasp that the sinner’s death leads to judgment, so they mock those who reject the pleasures of sin. They don’t understand what believers must understand, that Jesus Christ offers eternal life, escape from the second death to everyone who will trust in him. He paid the price to free you from that death and suffering. And when you trust in Jesus Christ, you not only escape judgment, but you die to sin and are freed to serve God.
II. God calls you to serve (1 Peter 4:7-11)
Peter spells this out in verses 7-11 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.
10As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11whoever 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.
God enables you to serve. Peter has already said that the past suffices for sin. Now he says the end, or the completion of all things is near. Therefore, use the time you have got left to serve. This is the key turning point and application of the passage. Each of us who believes must choose between pursuing what the world expects of us and doing what God expects of us. And this is not a onetime choice, but an ongoing series of choices in things large and small. Whether it is the radical change from a broken life to sold out service that John Goodfellow made, or the choice to help with the dishes rather than lazing on the couch, all of us must live out our Godward focus every day.
Peter divides the list of things we can do into two parts: the general character of our Christian lives and the specific gifts by which we serve. He starts with 'be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.' This is the opposite of the things Peter listed as sins; rather than being sensual, drunken, and idolatrous, he commends sober thinking. And for the third time Peter encourages us not to let anything hinder our prayers. He said in 3:7 that husbands must know and honor their wives, so their prayers would not be hindered. He said in 3:12 that the Lord hears the prayers of the righteous.
Peter clearly sees prayer as key to the Christian life. The question we need to ask is, have we made prayer such a priority? Do we set aside time to pray? Do we pray for the people and situations we have said we will pray for? More than that, do we our prayers reflect an ongoing daily relationship with our Father? For many years my life has been increasingly shaped in response to Thomas Horton’s teaching on prayer, that “The life of our life consists in our communion with God, which we maintain not only by the set performances of Prayer, Morning and Evening, . . . But we maintain this communion more especially by a daily, and hourly, and frequent, and constant lifting up of our hearts to God in these sighs and groans, and so follow him, as that we will not let him go from us, or be one moment out of our sights.”
The second general character quality of those who serve is love for one another. Verse 8: ‘Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.’ You expected this, didn’t you? The command to love each other is universal: Jesus says it; John says it; Paul says it; here Peter says it. Loving each other is the most important distinctive of the church.
Twenty years ago when I preached this text I commended our fledgling church for obeying this command. But I said “My heart’s desire is that when our church is two years, twelve years and twenty years old, we’d still be characterized by love for one another.” I think that we have been, but sadly I know some people have not felt that love in our fellowship. Peter says this love for each other is the ‘above all’ way of serving the Lord. We can’t de-prioritize it.
Peter gives us one of the keys when he says “love covers a multitude of sins.” Now this doesn't mean a love that overlooks every sin, but that love ministers to sinners. God's love is our model. God does not overlook sin, but deals with it through the sacrifice of his Son. So we need to sacrifice time energy, prayer and money to help those who seem to be caught up in sin. Love looks beyond the surface which may be struggling, to see the person God loves. Love forgives in a way that does not hold a person’s sin against them. Love rejoices in any repentance and shows compassion to the softening of hearts.
Furthermore, we need to recognize that some of the things we call sins are not sins, they are just different choices and personalities. All too often we flinch away from such differences, whether they revolve around child raising choices, modesty, media or use of time and money. Love for one another accepts, embraces and even celebrates these differences.
So the general responsibilities of the church turn out to be prayer, and love for one another, and the third one maybe is a little bit surprising: ‘Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.’ Hospitality literally means ‘love for strangers,’ and it is frequently used in the New Testament of the love that is shown to those serving Christ who may have to move from place to place. So it’s caring for people in your home. Ruth and Joseph are moving to Indiana shortly, and they have been invited to stay for a while in the home of a friend of ours from seminary who is now grown and married. That’s hospitality - showing love to each other even if we don’t know each other.
But I think this service also extends to inviting brothers and sisters and visitors home for meals, caring for kids or providing food when people are sick, hosting small groups, being greeters for the Sunday morning service, etc.
And Peter says do this without grumbling. You see it's the practical expressions of Christian love, that we tend to grumble about, or complain about. We are prepared in principal to love others deeply and profoundly, but bring them a meal is tough. It kind of reminds me of the cartoon where Linus says "I love mankind, it's people I can't stand" Love one another, and as a practical outworking of that love, offer hospitality without grumbling.
So that's a brief list that Peter gives of the general responsibilities of Christian service. He then, in these last few verses, wants to encourage you to carry out the specific responsibilities for which God has gifted you. Verse 10: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” What is a spiritual gift? It is any talent or ability empowered by the Holy Spirit to be used in the ministry of the body. Some want to make a huge distinction between natural gifting and spiritual gifts, but I’m convinced God doesn’t make that distinction. Sometimes he empowers a natural ability to supernaturally do his work. Sometimes he gives gifts that directly contradict natural abilities. Either way his goal is to give grace to his people so that they glorify him and serve each other.
There are many spiritual gifts. There are four lists in the New Testament, and they show a variety of gifts. No one gift is on every list, and no list contains all the gifts. Even two people having the same gift, say evangelism, will be gifted in it in unique ways not repeatable by any other person. But all manifestations of the varied grace of God, and all used to serve.
Peter divides his list into only two categories: speaking gifts and serving gifts. And his concern is that you use your gifts to glorify God. Verse 11: “whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God” - or words from God. There are many kinds of speaking gifts, and it is not only the preacher who needs to depend profoundly on God for the right words. It’s also true if your gift is teaching, or evangelism, or encouraging, or singing, or sharing words of praise and testimony, or counseling. In every Christian activity involving words, we need to be concerned to represent God well, to speak words that he is pleased to say through us. This is a profound responsibility.
In the same way, “whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies.” Just as there are many speaking gifts, so also there are many serving gifts. There is the special gift of hospitality; the gift of giving; the gift of administration; the gift of helping others with physical needs; the gift of prayer for others; the gift of preparing meals; the gift of babysitting, the gift of fixing people’s cars or houses, or the church; the gift of organizing programs or events. Now are all of these mentioned in Scripture? No, not specifically, but they are all gifts that can be empowered by the Holy Spirit.
And just as speaking gifts are speaking the words God gives, So also serving gifts are serving in the strength God provides. Our lives are too busy, too demanding, too full, to be able to serve without God's strength. If we try, the only thing that can happen to us is burnout. But if we rely on the strength God provides, only then can we really serve others through our gifts.
Because God will not have us receive the honor for the working of these gifts. Peter says: “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” God's ultimate purpose in giving gifts is so that the life of the church may glorify him. When we speak God’s words and serve in God’s strength, we glorify god. when we speak our words and try to serve in our own strength, we fail - we neither glorify God nor truly help others.
That’s why Peter ends with this great doxology; in all our prayers, in all our love for one another, in all our hospitality, in all our speaking, in all our helping and caring, we say “To Him, to Jesus Christ, be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.”
So God is calling you from sin to service. What might that look like in your life? It starts by identifying an area or areas in your life where the things done in the past are enough; you’ve had a sufficient amount of this sin; maybe it’s porn, maybe it’s anger, maybe it’s materialism; maybe it’s just being too full of yourself to see the wisdom others are offering; maybe it’s spending all day thinking of your own wants and needs and not the interests of others. At some point all of these things get old. They don’t satisfy.
So, why not turn to praying for others, loving others, showing care to others? Why not put your skills and gifts and voice and hands to work for others? There is no shortage of needs in this world. There is no shortage of opportunities, to help others who are sick, or poor, or spiritually hungry; to bring justice and compassion to lives, to teach, to counsel, to heal. There is no shortage. What we God’s church in this world are still a little short on is people who have said ‘enough’ to sin and who are willing to pour themselves out in service. And only when we do that will God receive the glory he deserves.