Good Stewards of God’s Grace
Comfort and Courage in a Worrisome World
1 Peter 4:1-21
Chapter 4 of First Peter makes a stark contrast between the world and the Christian community. In making this contrast, Peter gives us the basis for dealing with the suffering, anxiety, and worry that inevitably result from Christians living in a godless world. Christians are to live the rest of their earthly lives no longer by human desires but by the will of God. Peter reminds his audience, and us, that we have already spent enough time doing what the Gentiles (the pagans) like to do.
Peter descries the world of his day in verses 3 and 4. Pagans were living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, lawless idolatry, excessive dissipation, and blasphemy. Peter’s description calls to mind the old adage, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” The modern world is vastly different from the first century A.D. in terms of science, medicine, and technology, but we have made little to no advances morally or spiritually.
Peter’s description of life in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (modern- day Turkey) in the first century is no different from the moral and spiritual climate of the twenty-first century. Peter’s words are an accurate description of what we call “pop culture” today. “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
There is one other element to the ethos of the world that Peter draws attention to. In verse 4 Peter says, “They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation and so they blaspheme.” “They blaspheme” in this context can be translated as “they malign you.” In addition to being morally and spiritually degenerate, the world was hostile to Christians and their faith.
Verse 16 is one of only three places where the word “Christian” occurs in the New Testament. The other instances are in the book of Acts (11:26 and 26:28). In each case the name “Christian" is a label imposed on believers by the world. It was a negative, pejorative term.
The result of living in a morally and spiritually degenerate world that is actively opposed to Christian faith is a “fiery ordeal” (vs. 12). We have noted that the theme of persecution is very prominent throughout First Peter. The world’s hostility to Christian communities produced a great deal of anxiety and worry in the churches of the first century. Peter writes to encourage believers to persevere in their new faith and way of life.
We are not facing overt persecution in our secular, pluralistic democracy, but the ethos of our days also produces anxiety and worry in us. I compiled a list of things that are worrisome and anxiety producing: inflation, economic recession, millions of people crossing our southern border, spiking crime rates, mass shootings, violence stemming from mental illness, homelessness, fentanyl, addiction, racial animus, extreme ideologies, political and cultural polarization, corruption in our institutions of politics, intelligence, and justice, natural disasters, elitism in our educational institutions, the moral turpitude of our entertainment industry, and the evil axis of China/North Korea, Russia, and Iran. I am sure there are other things we might add to the list.
Peter highlights three things to help Christians living in anxious and worrying times. The first is to focus on the life of the Christian community. The epistle is addressed to congregations, not individuals. Peter characterizes the church as a place of prayer. “Therefore, be serious (sober-minded) and discipline yourselves (plural) for the sake of your payers” (vs. 7). The focus is on corporate prayer, not individual prayer. The church is a place where we can gather to pray about the great problems of the day.
The second element, which is prominent in the entire New Testament, is “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins” (vs. 8). The church is a place where we bear with each other’s failings. The story of Noah after the flood is a perfect biblical example of this kind of love in action. “Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. He drank some of the wine and became drunk, and he lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backwards and covered the nakedness of their father; their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness” (Genesis 9:20-23). Shem should have done what his brothers did. Instead, he spread the word about his father’s sin. Shem and Japheth literally covered the multitude of Noah’s sins. That is how we are to behave in the church.
Hospitality is the third element of Christian community. “Be hospitable to one another without complaining” (vs. 9). Has anyone ever helped you but in a begrudging manner? That is not to be done in the church. When we see a need, we try to meet it to the best of our ability.
The fourth characteristic is stewardship. A steward is a manager of another person’s assets. “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each is given” (vs. 10). We have received God’s grace to manage on God’s behalf. Peter mentions serving and preaching. This may have been addressed primarily to the Elders and Deacons of the churches, but the principle applies to us all. All of us are to be good stewards of the manifold grace of God. God has given gifts to each one of us, and we are to use them for the common good.
The world “may be going to hell in a handbasket,” but in the church there is prayer, love, hospitality, and stewardship. God is our Father, and the Church is our mother who teaches, nurtures, and strengthens us. Our church is a refuge from the worries and anxieties of our day.
After Christian community, the second source of solace is the return of Jesus Christ. Peter says, “The end of all things is near” (vs. 7). The Day of the Lord is coming when we shall “be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed” (vs. 13). The return of Christ is the true final solution to all of the world’s woes. Until he comes again, we will know trouble, but when Christ is revealed from heaven, our faith and way of life will be vindicated. “There will be glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous” (Ps.118:15). The face of the earth shall be renewed, for there will be new heavens and a new earth wherein righteousness dwells. God will judge the people with true justice and equity. This is our ultimate hope for the world.
The result of the fast-approaching return of Christ is that “The time has come for judgement to begin in the house of God” (vs. 17b). We must not allow ourselves to take a laissez-faire approach to sin. Peter mentions heinous sins in vs. 15: a murderer, a thief, or a criminal. Notably, he also includes “a mischief maker.” The Greek words mean a “busy body” or a “meddler in other people’s affairs.” This is certainly not on the same level as being a murderer, a thief, or a criminal. Commentators wonder whether this was an issue in the communities Peter was addressing. This kind of behavior is something to be avoided in the church at all costs. Another way then of coping with anxiety and worry is to get our house in order, personally and corporately.
Finally, Peter commends trust in the Creator. “Therefore, let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator” (vs. 19). Last week we studied Psalm 121, which is a song of trust.
1 I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
4 He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
8 The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and for evermore.
The key words of the Psalm are “my help,” “keep,” and “keeper. Dr. James Mays in his commentary on the Psalm draws a connection between the phrase in verse 2, “the Lord who made heaven and earth,” and questions from the Heidelberg Catechism commenting on the affirmation of the Apostles' Creed, “I believe in God the Father almighty.” Questions 26 and 28 are particularly comforting.
26 Q. What do you believe when you say, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth”? A. That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing created heaven and earth and everything in them, who still upholds and rules them by his eternal counsel and providence, is my God and Father because of Christ the Son. I trust God so much that I do not doubt he will provide whatever I need for body and soul, and will turn to my good whatever adversity he sends upon me in this sad world. God is able to do this because he is almighty God and desires to do this because he is a faithful Father.
28 Q. How does the knowledge of God’s creation and providence help us? A. We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing in creation will separate us from his love. For all creatures are so completely in God’s hand that without his will they can neither move nor be moved.
This is the God with whom we have to do. Trust in our faithful Creator is the ultimate antidote to anxiety and worry. As Paul wrote to the Philippian Christians, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be known to God. And the peace of God, which passes understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). The peace of Christ stands guard at the doors of our hearts and minds.
Brothers and sisters, friends, there is a great deal to worry us and cause us anxiety in our present time. Peter’s balm for our souls is the church marked by prayer, constant love, hospitality, and stewardship. He reminds us that the end of all things is near, and so we must get our house in order, but above all, we must trust our faithful Creator.
Thanks be to God that by grace we have been born again to a living hope. God has made us a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people to proclaim the mighty acts of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord and the Holy Spirit. Amen.