Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Sermon: 1 Peter 4: 1-11 Time's Up

I wonder if you’ve heard of the Time’s Up movement? It was launched in 1st January 2018 by Hollywood celebrities in response to the allegations surrounding the movie director Harvey Weinstein, #MeToo, and the casting couch culture. Over the past year and a half, the campaign has broadened from Hollywood to every sector of society, and every industry. Here’s what they say front and centre on the website: ‘The clock has run out on sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace. It’s time to do something about it.’

We’re familiar with the idea of the clock running out, of time being up - whether it’s on the sports field, or an egg timer, or sitting an exam. When time’s up, then it’s done, finished, completed. And this campaign says that Time’s Up for sexual assault, harassment and inequality. Those bad things shouldn’t happen any more; they should be finished.

That’s what’s driving the Time’s Up movement; and it’s also what is driving our reading tonight in 1 Peter. Long before the Hollywood celebrities were writing their open letter in the New York Times, the apostle Peter was writing his letter to say that the time’s up.

As we’ve seen in recent weeks, Peter’s letter is to people he describes as ‘God’s elect, strangers in the world.’ (1:1) That is, as Christians we are God’s elect, chosen by him, and brought near to him through the death of the Lord Jesus. But as well as being elect, we are also strangers in the world - we belong to a different kingdom, we’re different to everyone around us; we stand out like healthy thumbs in a world of sore thumbs. (h/t to St Helen’s Bishopsgate).

And this whole part of the letter is about living as aliens and strangers in the world. It might involve suffering, but we’re to follow the Lord Jesus’ example; and fear him; and be ready to give an answer for the hope we have - the hope of heaven with Jesus who reigns over all.

So as we get into tonight’s passage, we’ll see how the time’s up for living like the pagans do. But in order to get us there, first Peter gives us the pattern to follow in verses 1-2: ‘Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.’

Jesus is our Saviour, but he is also our example. It’s because Jesus suffered in his body, that we are also to be prepared to suffer in our struggle against sin. Back in 2:11 those sinful desires are warring against your soul; here’s what we’re to arm ourselves with - here’s our weapon against sin - suffering. This isn’t a masochistic kind of thing, as if we enjoy pain; but rather we embrace the cost of following Jesus as we commit ourselves to following him.

And what will it mean to follow Jesus? It means that Time’s Up! Verse 3: ‘For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do - living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.’

However much time you devoted to these things in the past, that’s enough time spent doing them. The time’s up - don’t keep doing them the way the pagans continue to do them. And, when you look at the list, it sounds remarkably like our society as well, doesn’t it? The pagans around us choose to do these things, but for the Christian, time’s up.

Here’s another aspect of being aliens and strangers, standing out - because the pagans will notice that we’re not taking part in their activities; that we’re not joining in: ‘They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you.’ (4) They notice, they think it strange, and then they heap abuse - all because we don’t plunge into the flood. (Remember he spoke about Noah a few verses before!)

“Come on and join in,” they’ll say. “Sure, why not? Everybody else is having fun. Who do you think you are, all high and mighty? Are you a holy Joe, too good for all this? Who will know? Who will care?”

Peer pressure on children and teenagers can be particularly high, but peer pressure can still affect older people. Maybe we fear missing out on fun. being thought odd, or a loser. Is time really up? Would it really matter, just this once?

‘But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.’ (5)

They might think it strange that you don’t join in; they might heap abuse on you; but they will have to give account for their actions. The judge is ready; the judgement is coming; and everyone will be judged - both those who are living and those who are dead. That’s why it matters; that’s why it’s time up for us as Christians when we have been saved. How could we continue in sin when Jesus has died for us? We will, sadly, often, every day fall into sin. But how could we gladly plunge into it?

Our answer is the gospel, our only hope. And it’s why the gospel, the good news, was preached to those who have now died. ‘So that they might be judged according to man in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.’ (6) Everyone will die, but those who trust in Jesus live according to God. There is life beyond this life, and as we trust in Jesus we will pass through the judgement safe and secure. Jesus, our Judge is also our Saviour who died for us.

So the time’s up for living for sin. In the rest of our reading tonight, Peter goes on to show that time’s almost up. And just in case that wasn’t clear enough, let me say it again - time itself is almost up. Look at how he puts it in verse 7: ‘The end of all things is near.’ Time is almost up for this life as we know it.

Maybe you’ve caught some of the Women’s World Cup matches on the BBC. Lots of goals have been scored in the last few minutes of the games. Why is that? When time is short, it clarifies and concentrates the mind! Or, to something more serious than football - when the doctor says someone has years, or months, or weeks, or days to live, doesn’t it clarify the things that really matter?

That’s what Peter is saying here. Time is almost up; the end of all things is near. Jesus is returning (as we heard this morning). So how should we live, knowing time’s almost up?

‘Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.’ (7-9)

We need to be clear minded (sober minded, as some versions put it), thinking clearly, knowing what’s going on. We need to be self-controlled, not losing the run of ourselves. Why? So that you can pray.

We need to love each other deeply (as he has also said in 1:22 and 3:8), and offer hospitality to one another - without grumbling! Why do these things? Why give ourselves in service to one another when the time’s short? Because love covers over a multitude of sins.

Finally, because my time is almost up, and time itself is almost up, Peter urges each of us to use the gift God has given to us - to serve others.You see, God gives us gifts, not for ourselves, but for each other’s benefit. His gifts are given to build one another up, ‘faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.’

He mentions two examples, but there could be many, many more. ‘If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.’

Whatever God has given you, use it for the good of others, and for the glory of God. If that’s speaking, as you share the good news in a growth group or in a youth group or as you stand having a cup of tea after the morning service or when you talk to your nextdoor neighbour - do it as one speaking the very words of God. You are God’s mouthpiece in the situation you find yourself in. You are communicating on behalf of God. So how will you speak? What will you say? Time’s short, remember, it’s almost up.

As you serve, in whatever way that may be here in the church family, don’t just try to do it in your own power. Do it with the strength God provides, for his glory, by his grace. So what are you doing? What could you do? Time’s short, remember, it’s almost up.

What are the opportunities that God is giving you, using the grace gifts he has given you, to make a difference, to share the gospel so that someone else will live according to God when they die? As the summer break continues, and planning begins for the new term, what could you do to build others up and bring others in and stand out like a healthy thumb?

The time’s almost up for life as we know it. Judgement is coming. That must clarify our priorities and hurry us along as we use the grace gifts God has given to us to build one another up. And time is already up for indulging in sin. What do you need to call time on? What do you need to stop? The time’s up. Let’s pray.

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday evening 7th July 2019.

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