The rising tension between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has many preparing for the worst-case scenario. The National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers are feeling particularly justified in their concrete caves, as talk of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities consumes news stations throughout the United States. People are wondering, “What do you do when the end of all things is at hand?”
For Christians, this isn’t an unfamiliar question. The early disciples of Jesus lived with the expectation that the coming of Christ was imminent, and that the world would soon experience the final judgment of God. What’s interesting to me is the exhortations they gave to the church in light of this expectation, though.
The apostles of Jesus didn’t say, “Since the end is upon us, dig a deep hole in the ground and prepare for the worst!” or, “Move to the desert with all your friends and stockpile ammunition!”
Actually, the apostles’ advice might surprise you. Peter, writing to Christians throughout Asia said, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore…”
1. “Be self-controlled and sober minded for the sake of your prayers.” (1 Pet. 4:7)
In light of the end of all things, we should be a people committed to prayer. Peter suggests that it should be an intentional exercise of ours, dependent on our being self-controlled. We don’t often think of prayer like we think of exercise, but it would help us if we did! If we only went to the gym when we really felt motivated to go, we’d never do it consistently (or ever!). We have to be self-controlled, and disciplined, in order to reap the benefits of it. Prayer, like exercise, isn’t easy work, but it’s necessary for us. Peter, recognizing that Christians live at the end of God’s redemptive purposes, and on the brink of eternity, says we should live as a people of prayer.
2. “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Pet 4:8)
In light of the end of all things, we should be a people committed to love. Now, that might sound sweet, but the type of love Peter describes here is extremely difficult. It’s way easier to move to the desert and build a bunker for yourself than it is to live in community with other sinners and forgive them. That’s what Peter expects Christians to do, though. This is a love that covers a multitude of sins. The idea of covering sin reminds us of God’s actions toward Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden (Gen 3:21). David said, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Ps. 32:1). As the end draws near, Peter says we should be a people who love each other to the degree that we’re covering each other with God’s grace, even when it hurts.
3. “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (1 Pet. 4:9)
In light of the end of all things, we should be a people committed to hospitality. This third one should come as a shock. It’s as though Peter has said, “The end is here! Therefore, invite your neighbor over for dinner.” What? It’s weird until you understand just how central hospitality is to the heart of God. In the O.T., God repeatedly told his people to show hospitality to the stranger, and sojourner (Deut. 10:19; Lev. 19:34). Jesus told a parable about a man who cared for a stranger by nursing him to health out of his own pocket (Lk. 10:25-37).
In dire times, God doesn’t call us to isolate, but to press into loving each other, and showing hospitality. The reason Peter adds, “without grumbling,” is because he knows hospitality is costly. The couch gets dented, the carpet gets worn, a wine glass might break. In the end, however, hospitality is worth it. What you give to someone when you open your home to them is far more precious than the cost of the meal, or a stainless carpet. In hospitality, you extend the kindness of Christ to your neighbor.
4. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” (1 Pet. 4:10)
In light of the end of all things, we should be a people committed to service. “The end is here!” Peter is saying, “But guess what? Your life isn’t yours, to begin with!” Everything we have, the gifts we possess, ultimately belong to God. In his generosity, he has made us stewards of these various gifts. A steward is someone who takes care of property that doesn’t belong to them. We are stewards of God’s grace, called to use the gifts he has given us not for selfish gain, but selfless service. Since God has blessed you, bless each other, lest you squander the talent which God has entrusted to you (Matt. 25:14-30).
Christians have always lived with the expectation that Jesus could come at any moment. For the apostles, the end was at hand, but it wasn’t a cause for alarm. They prayed and persisted in love, hospitality, and service. Even amid dire threats, they kept pressing forward. After all, they were following the God who hospitably welcomed them into his house, covered their sins out of his great love, and served them in the weakness of human flesh. That God can give us hope today to do the same. Not to panic during rising tensions, but to pray. The end of all things is at hand.