WHAT TO DO WHEN LIFE IS SHORT
1 Peter 4:7-11
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
September 22, 2013
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. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: 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, ESV
I used to have this recurring dream about being on death row. Though it was only a dream, it was very unsettling to feel like my life was about to end. Have you ever felt this way?
Unfortunately, terminal cancer patients know too well how this feels. Sometimes a soldier knows that death is waiting just around the corner. But most of us do not live with the constant expectation that the end is near.
So, leave it to Simon Peter to be a killjoy for us all. “The end of all things is at hand,” he says. Our lives, the world as we know it, indeed all things are so close to the end that we can reach out and touch the finish line. Thanks a lot, Pete.
Actually, the inspired Apostle wasn’t being unduly pessimistic. He was being very realistic. Speaking to Christians about the Christian life, he was simply communicating the obvious truth that our lives are quite short, extremely meaningful, and filled with opportunity. He wanted believers to understand how to make the most of the short life that we have. He offers instruction that will train our minds, fix our hearts, and direct our bodies on how to make the most effective use of our time and opportunities. So let’s listen and learn what to do when life is short.
Life is short, so pray.
When confronted with the fact that life is short, the first thing to do is pray. I’m sure there are a lot of prayers said on death row, in cancer hospitals, and in the trenches. Remember, all of us, especially those of us with a Christian world view, have a time appointed for our deaths, live with the terminal disease of humanity, and live our lives in constant spiritual warfare. We should heed the words of the bad little boy being carted out of the sanctuary by his father who cried out to the congregation, “Pray, people, pray!”
Actually, the first things Simon Peter said to do include being “self-controlled and sober-minded.” This summarizes his previous admonitions to disciples to be disciplined (especially in the previous six verses). But the reason stated here to be holy and godly and serious about your faith is “for the sake of your prayers.” Prayer is the foundation of a life in tune with God, and prayers can be hindered by sloppy discipleship and unconfessed sin (ref. Psalm 66:18).
The Christian life begins with repentance (and faith). Repentance is a changing of the mind that unlocks the changing of the heart and the will. Once we’ve been given the gift of repentance that leads to life (ref. Acts 11:18), we have a responsibility before God to keep our minds fixed on Him and focused on how He wants us to live. So pray, people, pray.
Pray at regular intervals, like morning and evening. Pray unceasingly, speaking to God throughout the day in communion (with Him), intercession (for others), and supplication (for yourself). Pray in confession when you sin against Him and others. Pray in adoration for His grace, mercy, and love. Prayer is the way in which we rub shoulders with God, and when we rub shoulders with God enough, God begins to rub off on us.
Prayer puts the mind in the right gear for the short lives we have to live. But we need something for our hearts, too. In the words of John and Paul (in this case the Beatles, not the Apostles), “All You Need is Love.”
Life is short, so love.
Simon Peter sings three songs about “loving one another” in this text. He sings about how to love, what love does, and what love looks like. And while most rock songs speak of love in the erotic sense (physical, sensual love, which is actually not mentioned in the New Testament), our inspired Apostle uses the two common New Testament words for love, agape (sacrificial love, twice in vs. 8) and phileo (brotherly love, once in a compound word in vs. 9).
As for how we are to sacrificially love one another, we are to do it “earnestly.” The word literally means outstretched, which means at least two things. It means to reach out, for you can’t really love from a distance. And, it means to strain or hurt. Yes, “Love Hurts” (which was a folk song by Graham Parsons and Emmylou Harris before it was a rock song by Nazareth). How did and how does God love us? So, put this love in your heart for one another.
As for what love does, it “covers a multitude of sins” in a multitude of ways. Love leads to forgiveness and reconciliation when a sin has taken place. Love does not retaliate nor spread gossip. Love does not let differences of opinion fester into accusation and division. Love keeps families together, keeps churches from splitting, makes the devil madder than Hell, and makes the angels rejoice in Heaven. So let love be your leading attitude.
And let love lead you to action, especially towards your bothers and sisters in Christ. This is what love does. It “shows hospitality.” Christian love is brotherly, friendly, helpful, reciprocal, and active. The word actually is used for showing kindness to strangers or outsiders, but here it is to be applied to “one another.” Can you imagine what our church would be like if we treated each other like the first-time visitor, or like the person we’ve met for the first time who is interviewing us for a job, or someone else you are trying your best to make a good impression upon?
One of the best ways you can put love and grace in action is to use your spiritual gifts in the service of your church and others.
Life is short, so serve.
“Gift” is literally grace gift, sometimes referred to as spiritual gift. When a person is born again by the regenerating and indwelling Holy Spirit, God brings a special mixture of spiritual giftedness to every Christian soul. 1 Corinthians 12 mentions a plethora of spiritual gifts used by the Apostles and Christians in the early church. Romans 12 gives a great list of seven predominant spiritual gifts endowed upon believers today. Here, Simon Peter classifies all gifts neatly into two categories: speaking and serving. Generally speaking, most Christians can serve in only one area.
“Whoever speaks” is someone especially gifted to understand, communicate, and apply the “oracles of God.” Pastors, elders, teachers, evangelists, and other church leaders speak and lead only in the power of God’s Spirit informed by the truth of God’s word. Those who have a special burden to study and pray are generally those who have the ability to teach and lead. Throughout church history, those given the speaking gifts by God are the minority rather than the majority, although you’d never know that in most Baptist churches. Gifted speakers serve by speaking, while everyone else in the church should speak by serving.
“Whoever serves” is just as special, if not more so, to God as gifted speakers. Servants who perform caregiving and menial tasks inside (and outside) the church have a special touch of the Spirit upon them that makes them so much like Christ. They have compassion, mercy, empathy, humility, and energy that comes from “the strength that God supplies.” They would rather be behind the scenes than behind the pulpit. And we who preach in pulpits would have no one to preach to if it were not for the servants in the church.
Whether you serve by speaking or speak by serving, you’ve got a short time on this earth to serve the Lord by serving the body of Christ. We can rest when we get to Heaven.
Life is short, so glorify God with your life.
In actuality, Simon Peter is not preaching three sermons in this text, but one. “The end of all things is at hand; therefore ...” glorify God. This is the true meaning of the short, Christian life on earth. To believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and glorify God with our minds, hearts, and service.
At the end of the day, it will not matter if you prayed three times a day or memorized the Lord’s prayer; but rather, did your glorify God in your prayer life? At the end of the day, it will not matter how many people loved you or how many people you loved; but rather, did you receive and share the love of God? At the end of the day, it will not matter how many sermons you preached or how many shifts you served in the nursery; but rather, did the Spirit of God show Himself through you in prayerful, loving, service in Christ’s church? If you are doing, or will do, these things, then you know what to do with your short life. Glorify God.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org