Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to walk our readers through 1 Peter in order to help them understand what it teaches and how to apply it to our lives. This series is part of our larger commitment to help Christians learn to read, interpret, reflect, and apply the Bible to their own lives.

1 Peter 4:7-11, “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. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 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.”

We can feel that we are made for something when we exercise our God-given gifts. Gifts equip believers for service in God’s Kingdom—for the church first, but also for work in the wider world. God grants abilities to all people, believers and doubters alike. These abilities become gifts when we dedicate them to God and the Spirit wills to make them fruitful for His purposes.

Living Faithfully in Community

Since 1 Peter 4:5-6 says that all flesh must render an account to God, who judges “the living and the dead,” Peter easily shifts in 1 Peter 4:7, to the end of all things. More importantly, this passage concludes the long middle portion of 1 Peter, stretching from 1 Peter 2:11 to 1 Peter 4:11, describing the social conduct of a disciple. 1 Peter 2:11-12 is the overture, as the apostle urges His beloved readers to “abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul,” and to “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” The outline is simple: abstain from evil, do good, and remember the last day. 1 Peter 4:7-9, similarly, urges that disciples keep a clear mind and do good, while remember the times.

The Greek has an untranslated conjunction, de, that loosely connects 1 Peter 4:6 and 1 Peter 4:7. The gospel is proclaimed because all humanity will be judged (1 Peter 4:6), and this is significant because “the end of all things is near” (1 Peter 4:7). The world as we know it, fraught with ambiguity at best and misery at worst, will not continue forever. When this sage ends, Jesus will return to overthrow sin and establish His new order. Then creation will reach its proper end. This end “is near” not chronologically but theologically. Peter asserted that the end was near almost two thousand years ago, and he was right, because we have been brought into the final phase of God’s plan of redemption by the resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter already noted that we are in the last times in 1 Peter 1:20, saying that Jesus “was revealed in these last times for your sake.” When this sage ends, Jesus will return to overthrow sin and establish His new order. That day is near in the sense that it could happen at any time (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 10:7; 24:44; Mark 1:15).

“Therefore,” Peter says, we must live in light of Jesus’ return and be clear-minded, self-controlled, prayerful, and full of love and forgiveness (1 Peter 4:7-8). Because we are in the last phase of god’s plan of redemption, because the end is near, certain conduct follows. These commands are the backbone of the passage:

  • Be clear-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray (1 Peter 4:7b).
  • Love each other persistently and unfailingly, and so cover sins (1 Peter 4:8).
  • Offer hospitality to one another without complaining (1 Peter 4:9).
  • Use the gracious gifts that god has bestowed to serve one another (1 Peter 4:10).

One could argue that Christianity is the most intellectually demanding of the faiths. It has robust and complex doctrines, and it regularly summons believers to be mindful of the implications of the faith and to let god’s truth govern their lives. To be clear-minded is to see things as they are and to act appropriately. The root of the verb translated “self-controlled” comes from a term that originally meant “sober” rather than “drunk,” but came to mean alert, sound-minded, and mentally disciplined. This promotes the life of prayer (1 Peter 3:7). This is no generic prayer but the prayer that calls upon and submits to God in the light of reality seen from God’s perspective and thus obtains power and guidance in the situation.

The word all links 1 Peter 4:7 and 1 Peter 4:8. Because “the end of all things is near,” believers should, “above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). A disciple loves everyone, even his enemies, but Peter focuses here on love within the Christian community. The reference to “grumbling” in 1 Peter 4:9 underscore the need to maintain Christian unity. The word deeply (Greek ektenes) can describe an attitude of perseverance, not by covering them up, and not by atoning for them, since Jesus does that (1 Peter 1:18-19; 1 Peter 2:24). Rather, we cover sins by forgiving them. This is first taught in Proverbs 10:12, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.” The phrase also appears in James 5:20 and we see the concept in Matthew 18:21-22; Luke 17:3-6; and 1 Corinthians 13:7. Further, such forgiveness is vital to Peter’s interest in preserving Christian community.

Why does Peter claims that such love is “above all”? Because the church is a society of sinners, redeemed by God’s grace. Because we are sinners who both offend each other and take offense when no real offense is given. We cannot hope for a strong Christian community if we fail to extend to one another the grace that the Lord first gave us. Church splits, at a local and national levels, give sad testimony to the evil effects when such grace is missing. Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Love includes feelings (Romans 12:10), but it is more than a feeling. Love is a resolve to do good to others, including the good of forgiving their sins.

When Peter instructs, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling (1 Peter 4:9), he shifts from the general principles of 1 Peter 4:7-8 to particulars in 1 Peter 4:9. Hospitality is a form of the love mentioned in 1 Peter 4:8. Indeed, the Greek term for hospitality, philoxenos, is a compound formed from philos (love) and xenos (stranger). Hospitality is a specific form of love: caring for strangers, who might be part of the Christian mission. Of course, believers with larger homes are most capable of offering hospitality. The little phrase “without grumbling” reminds us that the hospitality can be burdensome. Yet hospitality is necessary, given the imperative of Christian mission and the lack of decent lodging, in that day, for travelers. This implies that all the service we offer each other should be humble and joyful.

Through, Peter stresses mutuality, as we see in the repeated use of “one another.” He says that Christians must “keep loving one another” (1 Peter 4:8), “show hospitality to one another” (1 Peter 4:9), and exercise our gifts to “serve one another” (1 Peter 4:10). These are universal obligations, but we are most likely to help one another cheerfully—“without grumbling” and effectively when we act within our God-given endowments.

Peter speaks to every Christian, not just elite believers or church officers, when he urges, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others” (1 Peter 4:10). We serve others because our gifts ultimately belong to God, not to us. We are “good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). God’s gifts are gracious in two senses: one, they are given widely and freely, and two, they are bestowed apart from human merit.

Because we received gifts from God, they are never simply ours. Gifts in some senses do, and in some senses do not belong to us. We receive them from God, but they are not our possession or trophy. There is no room for pride, and we have nor right to view them as a windfall.

Paul says that those who hold office are stewards of God’s grace (1 Cor. 4:1-2; Titus 1:7). But 1 Peter 4:10, like Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12, asserts that every believer is a steward of God’s grace. For Peter, grace usually means the gift of salvation awaiting all who believe in Jesus (1 Peter 1:10, 13; 3:7). And to be sure, every gift, rightly exercised, points to God’s grace, but this passage is not saying that we steward or manage God’s saving grace. The grace of 1 Peter 4:10 is the grace that gives abilities and ministries to all.

For most gifts, there is no office, so Peter speaks to all disciples, not office-holders. Nonetheless, the two main categories of gifts, speaking and serving, do correspond to the two principal church offices. 1 Peter 4:11, “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.” Elders lead the ministry of words, and deacons lead the ministry of deeds.

Peter says that speakers should act as if they utter “the very words or oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11). This is the exact phrasing of the Septuagint of Numbers 24:4, 16, where Balaam’s words are God’s words or oracles (Romans 3:2; Acts 7:38).

Historically, church leaders and scholars have taken this as a comment on preaching.Chapter 1 of the Second Helvetic Confession famously says, “The preaching of the word of God is the word of God.” Earlier, Martin Luther said “Every honest pastor’s and preacher’s mouth is Christ’s mouth. and the word which he preacheth is likewise not the pastor’s and preacher’s but God’s.”[i] John Calvin said, “When a man has climbed up into the pulpit… it is so that God may speak to us by the mouth of man.”[ii]

So preaching is God’s Word in some sense, yet the preacher’s words are human, too, and therefore often garbled weak, or even false. But the Spirit makes the broken human words become a living word of god to the hearers. Hebrews states that this happens in the church and not only through the apostles, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you” (Heb. 13:7; 1 Thess. 2:13; 1 Peter 1:25).

Preachers can and must prepare, yet we must pray that the Lord will excise what is false, improve what is true, and apply all the truth, even things hinted at rather than articulated, to receptive hearts. At best, when a congregation hears Christ proclaimed, according to the pattern of Scripture itself, they hear more than explanation and application; they hear Christ Himself, imploring them to believe and to live by grace.

1 Peter 4:11 also mentions those who serve. They give to the poor and need, feed the hungry welcome the stranger, and visit the sick and the prisoner. Some of them do the work; others organize it. Servants are also stewards of grace. Our service has greatest effect when it is performed not with grim resolve but “with the strength God provides” (1 Peter 4:11). If servants know that their strength and resources come from God, they will not condescend or patronize. Whether we speak or act, we focus on God, who is the source of all strength and every accomplishment. Then “God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory” (1 Peter 4:11; Phil. 4:13; Rev. 5:12; 7:12).

This passage harks back to 1 Peter 2:12. There Peter sees evildoers glorifying God (perhaps not willingly) on the day that God “visits” mankind, for they must acknowledge the good deeds of believers. In this chapter, Peter sees believers doing good and willingly giving God all praise and glory. This passage also looks to the end of Peter. A united, gifted, and God-centered church will endure fiery trials. It will live together well under Jesus, the Good shepherd, and will await the day when Christ exalts us (1 Peter 4:12-5:10).

[i] Quoted in Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, ed. G.W.  Bromiley and T.F. Torrance, vol. 1.1 (New York :T.&T Clark, 2009), 107.

[ii] T.H.L. Parker, Calvin’s Preaching, sermon 22 on 1 Timothy 3:2 (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1992), 24.