7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 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. 1 Peter 4:7-11
In the passage cited above, the Apostle Peter, writing to the elect exiles of the Diaspora, encourages them in the midst of suffering and persecution by making reference to the imminency of the end of all things. Because of this, he writes that they should be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of their prayers. The concepts of sobriety and self-control are central in the writings of Peter. Here their apparent application relates to the troubling circumstances swirling around these believers, with regard to their suffering, and the arrival of the last days. In a sense, he’s saying keep your wits about you and be diligent, though he adds an interesting reason, “for the sake of your prayers.” The opposite approach, i.e. that of panic and anxiety would therefore be a hindrance to prayer, likely in knowing for what and how to pray.
Moving along, next there is a shift to the supremacy of love, a defining characteristic of believer’s relationships, specifically as it is evidence in how they react to one another when sinned against. Because of their love towards one another, it cover’s a number of offenses within the relationship, wherefore believers should be willing – more so than others – to overlook these for the sake of reconciliation or avoiding fractures in the relationship. To support this point, Peter cites Proverbs 10:12, adding weight to the idea that because of love, the focus shifts from the sin to the person. Granted, this is not an instruction to ignore sin.
In the contextual flow of the passage, it seems that the remainder of the section is supportive of this concept of love. In other words, the upcoming discussion on the exercise of spiritual gifts is seen as an expression of love. First, we have the exhortation to show hospitality, with a noted exhortation against grumbling. Simply stated, this is making guests feel welcome, perhaps most evidenced in inviting others into the home. Interestingly, this word for hospitality, philoxenos, is only used two other times in the New Testament, both in passages that have traditionally been used to uphold the characteristics of those who hold the “church office” of overseer/bishop/elder/shepherd (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8)). However, here in 1 Peter it has all believers in view. Perhaps this deserves more of our attention.
From hospitality, indeed flowing out of it, the passage moves towards an emphasis on the exercise of gifts, which we find specifically falling into two categories: speaking gifts and deaconing (service) gifts. For all of the wrestling and wrangling over spiritual gifts that has taken place throughout Christian history, our passage offers some much needed simplicity, those who have been gifted to speak or teach and those who have been gifted to serve. Largely, the New Testament list of gifts, found in Romans 12 and 1 Cor. 12 and Ephesians 4 can fall into one or both of these categories, with some distinction and some overlap.
The subject of gifts is introduced by noting that they are given [by God] to believers. These gifts, which again generally fall into two categories, are to be used, not neglected, not shelved, not wasted, but used. If you have been given a gift, use it. If there is nowhere to use your gift, find a place, create a place, and use it. As in the parable of the talents, we will be held accountable for the gifts we have been given. Similarly, to those who have been given much, much will be required (Luke 12:48). The first purpose for these gifts, we are told, is to serve one another. All gifts are for serving one another, regardless of the category or type.
The literal word used here for serving is the same word translated elsewhere as deacon, diakoneo, most notably Acts 6:22, 1 Timothy 3:10, and 1 Timothy 3:13. Again we are confronted with the reality that those functions so traditionally assigned to church officers are in this passage expanded to all believers. A gathering of believers was never meant to be dominated by a few “officers” who did all the work and exercised their individual gifts. Rather, it was always the expectation that everyone had been gifted in some capacity and should have both the initiative and the opportunity to exercise those gifts.
Further, we see that we are to exercise these gifts as, as good stewards of God’s varied grace. Two points worth noting here, first, that we are to use our gifts as good stewards, or literally good house managers. Regarding this, Vine’s dictionary describes this as a, “superior servant responsible for the family house keeping, the direction of other servants, and the care of the children under age.” If in a house there are servants and superior servants, separated by the exercise of the gifts they have been given, which should we aspire to be?
The next point is that this stewardship is of, “God’s varied grace,” which seems in part to be referencing the various ways God’s grace has been manifested through the giving of gifts to believers. As we read elsewhere, there is diversity in the body of believers, and as such each should operate according to the gifts they have been given, which are a reflection of the variety in God’s grace. There, of course, is a general measure in which we have all been given the gifts of speaking and service, yet here in view are those especial manifestations of gifting. Therefore, it would be inappropriate for anyone to refuse the opportunity for one to exercise their gift, or for anyone to force the exercise of a gift which someone has not been given. Perhaps a practical example of this, from the early ekklesia and our churches today, would be that if there’s no elder/overseer, then there’s no elder/overseer. Filling that with a warm body is harmful to the individual and the fellowship of believers.
Turning now to the two categories of gifts, first in view are those gifted to speak, laleo. A general word for speaking, it is held in combination with the oracles of God, literally the Word of God. In Peter’s day, this was a clear reference to the Scriptures which we now call the Old Testament. In our day, not only would it include the Old Testament, but the whole corpus of God’s written revelation. This provides the guardrails for our speaking, much like the “Great Commission” given in Matthew 28:18-20. We are limited, by Scripture, in what we are to speak.
Next are our second category, the gifts of service. These we read are to be exercised not through self-effort or self-strength, but through the strength that God supplies. In Western Society where “church” is a near equivalent with Christendom and where the institutional nature of the church, i.e., business, budgets, and buildings reign supreme, burnout is a very real possibility in ministry. This is due to a number of factors, not the least of which is the pursuit of enlarged influence, even when properly motivated, through self-strength. Contrary to this is the exercise of gifts of service in the context of one-anothering through the endless supply of strength that the Lord supplies allowing us to operate under the banner of love for the glorification of His name.
Which brings us to the final point. All of these things, writes Peter, are so that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. The gifts that God supplies through the variations of His grace are meant to be exercised for serving one another such that God is glorified, bringing it full circle back to the Originator. Surely then we may sing with the Apostle who writes, it is from Whom, through Whom, and to Whom are all things (Rom. 11:36)! Consider the gifts that God has given you and exercise them for the service of your brothers and sisters in Christ for the glorification of God.
Soli Deo Gloria!