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 ESV
Peter lived with a powerful and behavior-influencing belief that the return of the Lord could happen at any time. He truly believed that “the end of all things is at hand” (1 Peter 4:7 ESV). He obviously remembered the words of Jesus spoken to he and the other disciples: “if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3 ESV). Peter had no idea when Jesus was going to return, but he lived his life as if it could happen any day, and he encouraged his readers to do the same. A fervent expectation of Christ’s return will have a powerful impact on our behavior as we wait. That is why Peter tells his audience to be “self-controlled” and “sober-minded”. The first word is σωφρονέω (sōphroneō) and it means to “think of one’s self soberly, to curb one’s passions” (“G4993 – sōphroneō (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org). Remember, Peter had just told his readers to “have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8 ESV). They were to have the same attitude that Christ had. They were not to be controlled by their sin natures, repaying “evil for evil or reviling for reviling” (1 Peter 3:9 ESV). They were to live their lives “in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God (1 Peter 4:2 ESV). To live differently, they were going to have to see themselves as different, set apart, distinct. They were going to have to remember that they belonged to God and had His Holy Spirit living within them.
The second word is νήφω (nēphō) and it means “to be calm and collected in spirit, temperate, circumspect” (“G3525 – nēphō (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. http://www.blueletterbible.org). It is the same word Peter used earlier in his letter when he wrote, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13 ESV). It conveys a seriousness of outlook that should pervade our lives as Christians. We are not here for our own pleasure, but to fulfill the purposes of God. Like Jesus, we have been given a job to do and we are to live our lives focused on the will of God. Our hope is to be in the return of His Son and the ultimate redemption and the glorification of our bodies. To live self-controlled and sober-minded is to take sin seriously and to make our calling by God our highest priority. As Peter suggests, it has a dramatic impact on our prayers. Not so much that our prayers will not be answered if we fail to live self-controlled and sober-minded, but that we will not know what to pray for. We will tend to pray selfish, myopic prayers that are based more on our will than God’s. They will focus more on making our lives easier, rather than more holy. They will be surface-oriented, instead of heart-focused.
Our prayers should be a reflection of our love for God and others. We should want for others what God desires for them – either their salvation or their sanctification. Love should motivate all that we do. And as Peter suggests, “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8 ESV). Love allows us to patiently put up with the sins of others, especially when those sins are against us. This doesn’t mean we tolerate or turn a blind eye toward sin, but that we allow love to dictate our reaction to it. We should never forget that “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). He didn’t demand that we get our act together first. He loved us in the midst of our sinfulness and provided for us a means of being freed from our slavery to sin.
Peter tells us that all that we do in this life is to be done for the glory of God. Every word we speak is to be carefully considered, and treated as if you were speaking for God. When we serve others, we are to do so with a complete dependence upon His strength, not our own. Paul expressed it well when he wrote to the believers in Rome: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36 ESV). We are to live our lives in complete reliance upon Him and with the intent to glorify Him through all that we do. We exist for His glory, not our own. We are to live like Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Romans 12:2 ESV). Our future glorification is coming. But in the meantime, we are to live in such a way, “that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11 ESV). And God is glorified through Jesus Christ as we live in faithful obedience like He did. When we emulate the life and love of Christ in this dark and dying world, we bring glory to our heavenly Father, just as He did.
Peter speaks of the eternal glory and dominion of God. That is something we need to dwell on more as we live in this temporary, time-constrained world. This is not all there is. God has something greater and grander in store for us. The end of all things is at hand. We don’t know when the Lord will return, but He will. So we need to live in eager anticipation and expectation of that day. We must long for His return more than we long for our best life now. We must focus on our future glorification rather than our immediate gratification.
…but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. – Romans 8:23-25 ESV