Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sermon: 1 Peter 4: 1-11 Time Is Short

[Did you hear about the man who went to the doctors? The doctor told him that he had just three minutes left to live. ‘What can you do for me, doctor?’ The man asked. ‘I could boil you an egg.’] This morning I’ve got a serious question for you - if you knew that today was your last day on earth, how would you live it? What would you do? What would you do differently?

Last year, the newspapers reported on a palliative care nurse who had recorded the regrets of her patients. What do you think made the top five? ‘I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.’ ‘I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.’ ‘I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.’ ‘I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.’ ‘I wish that I had let myself be happier.’

Perhaps those would be your regrets. Maybe not. Perhaps as you’ve come to trust in Jesus, your regrets are the sins you’ve committed; the ways in which you’ve let down the Lord. It’s as if your past cries out against you, and as you look to the future, it seems as if you’re caught in this cycle - you want to be different, you try to be different, but then you stumble again. The same old sin; it’s much easier to go with the flow.

But in our passage this morning, Peter gives us some much needed encouragement to keep living for Jesus, even when it is difficult. You’ll remember that Peter is writing about the true grace of God, what the Christian life looks like for chosen exiles. Throughout this passage, Peter reminds us that time is short - and how we use our time matters.

First up, we’re given the principle - commit to live by the will of God. Here’s what Peter says: ‘Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention... so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh, no longer by human desires but by the will of God.’ (1-2)

We’re given a reason for doing it - since Christ suffered in the flesh (and some versions include ‘for you’ or ‘for us’) - throughout the letter we’ve seen time and again that Peter returns to the cross and the Lord’s suffering as the key to the Christian life. It’s the same here - Jesus has suffered to bring us to God, so now, follow his pattern by living in the will of God - for the rest of your life.

Peter is saying that there are two ways to go - human desires, or the will of God. You can’t do both, you have to choose - it’s like coming to a fork in the road, you have to decide what way you’re going to go. Have you ever been in a car and two different people are trying to give you directions at the same time? There comes a point when you have to decide who to listen to, who to follow.

Follow God’s will - for the rest of your life. That’s the general principle. Now it might surprise you that Peter has to urge us to do it, but that’s because he knows that we don’t do it by ourselves. ‘You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry.’

Do you have a favourite noise? I’m sure it isn’t your alarm clock. Now what’s the point of an alarm clock? What does it tell you? It’s saying ‘it’s time to get up, the time for sleeping is past, it’s time to get up and milk the cows or make breakfast or get to work...’ The sleep time is over, the day is now here. Peter is attempting to be an alarm clock for the Christian - the time for sin is past, so get up, live instead by the will of God.

Do you see what he’s saying - you used to live like this, but no longer. Now, when you don’t join in, people will be surprised. They’ll see that you’ve changed, they’ll malign you, speak evil of you. Around where we grew up they talked about someone becoming ‘good living’ if they stopped drinking and started going to church. Now if you’re facing this, wouldn’t it just be easier to give in and go with the flow?

But like the salmon going upstream, we’re called to be different. The time for drifting is past, we’re now in a new day, as we seek to live by the will of God. And, as Peter reminds us again, time is short. These opponents may give you a hard time now, but ‘they will have to give an account to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead...’

I’ve never been in a courtroom - apart from at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum - but I’ve read enough John Grisham novels set in courts and seen enough TV dramas to hear those words ‘All rise’ - Peter says the judge is about to enter the courtroom. Our words and actions will be weighed and judged - whether we are dead or alive when he returns.

So we’ve seen a couple of times already that Peter talks of time being short - urging us to live the rest of our lives by the will of God; we’ve had enough time living in sin; for the judge is ready. Now in verse 7 he says it again. You simply can’t miss it: ‘The end of all things is at hand’ (or near). So you might be thinking to yourself - what will it look like to live by the will of God?

We’ve had a pen picture of living by human desires - now Peter goes on to spell out what God’s will is for our life together. ‘be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers.’ Rather than living for the weekend, we’re seeking after God.

‘Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.’ Why does Peter go on about love so much? Because we’re naturally inclined to not love - we have to be reminded of it, and to keep on doing it. We have a choice to make - to love the church family - and to choose to think of loving them rather than remembering their sin. There’s also the call to be hospitable without complaining - welcoming one another, serving one another.

Finally, Peter urges us ‘like servants of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.’ Do you see what Peter is saying here? It’s not that some people receive God’s gifts of grace and they should use them, but that everyone has received a gift, and they should use it to serve each other. So what gift is it that you have received from God? What are the talents and abilities that you have which you can use to serve the church family?

Peter gives two examples - one specific, and then a call to everyone: ‘Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ.’

As one who speaks, folks, this is the challenge - that I don’t just get up and say what I want to say, but rather, that I speak God’s words - I need your prayers as I seek to study and speak. But each of us, whether speaking or serving or reading or praying or catering or weeding or building or teaching or clearing up or welcoming or whatever it is - find your strength in God, and not in your own power. The time is short. The Lord is near. Together we can seek to live by God’s will as we support and encourage each other, as we go against the flow of the world and our desires. Wake up, and live for him.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 30th June 2013.

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