Someone has said that you can tell how successful of a person one is not by what it is they are doing but by what it is that stops them from doing it! For instance, an athletes character is often judged by whether or not he can play through an injury. Those we judge as successful and with athletic character will not let an injury stop them from playing in the game. It is not only what they are doing but what may or may not stop them from doing it that success is measured. Getting an education or fulfilling our career goals or having a healthy marriage or growing up spiritually are other areas where we can measure our success and character by what it is that stops us from pursuing what is good and godly in these arenas of life.
We can also measure our spiritual character by how we respond to suffering when it comes into our lives because of our decisions to live godly lives. When the consequences of living a godly life produces hardship for us, will it produce contention, strife and self-protection in our lives or will we continue to give ourselves sacrificially in service of one another? Do you stop serving just because you are suffering? This is the question that the text answers for us. The temptation and tendency for us will be to turn inward and to become self-focused. Woe is me! Anger! Bitterness! Strife! Jealousy! Complaining! God wants us to endure suffering for Him without it effecting our service for others.
1. WE MUST BE MOTIVATED TO SERVE CHRIST BECAUSE THE TIME REMAINING IS SHORT 7a
It is true that nearly 2000 years have passed since this was written. How can it be said that the time is short then? (1) The time is short in the sense that it is ‘near’ but not ‘here’. At least not yet. The word ‘end’ refers to the outcome of a sequence of events. It is speaking of the consummation of all of God’s plans, purposes and prophecies. The end is not just one event but the converging of all things to draw to a close, to pull the curtain, on the eternal purposes of God. In this sense the end seems to begin with the first coming of Christ 1 Cor. 10:11; Heb. 9:26. It is interesting that when Jesus came the first time He was identified more in terms that describe His second coming than those which depict the first Matt 2:1-6; Luke 1:30-33. When Christ ascended and the HS descended the next phase of the end materialized. The next phase of the culmination of all things is the ‘rapture’ of the church. Each phase builds on the previous until God’s full and final act is complete. We are nearer to that culmination than ever before. (2) The time is short and the end is near for each generation. Since death claims every one of us, that makes eternity something that is near for everyone. For every generation their response to the gospel, the good news in this life determines their eternal destiny. There is an urgency to the gospel because a person's response to it determines where they will be forever. So every generation lives on the edge of eternity because their eternal fate is sealed in life and death. In this sense we can say that the kingdom of God is at hand for you. And you. And you. The beginning of the torments of eternal separation from God or the bounty of heaven are as close as the day of your death! The shortness of the time remaining both for Gods program to culminate and for us to live should motivate us to serve Christ. Does it?
- The call here is for each of us to live with an eternal kind of time clock ticking inside of us. We are never sure when the alarm is going to go off. Either Christ will come for us or we will go to Him. Either way the alarm will sound! In the meantime, is that reality making a difference in the way you are conducting your life? It does not matter if serving Him, obeying Him, honoring Him, brings difficulty or some kind of hardship and suffering into your life. That is no excuse to cave in, cop out or turn around. Is this reality motivating you to confess and repent of your sin? Is it motivating you to obey the commands of Christ? Is it motivating you to become holy? Is it motivating to serve God? We have four commands from God through Peter that we are to carry on with while we are here in this world. These are things we are to persevere in until the end either when Christ comes for us or we go to him. Four things that persecution, suffering, hardship, difficulty should never stop us from doing.
A. DO NOT LET YOUR PRAYING BECOME PERVERTED BY LACK OF DISCERNMENT 7b
Praying is a resource most of us take advantage of when things get tough. Praying is something we need and want to do when things get difficult. We do not want to use that resource with minimal results. We can pray off target James tells us. As we communicate messages to God while He is not visibly manifested to us, we are told to do that with sound judgment and reasoning. The two qualities of ‘self-controlled’ and ‘sound mind’ will keep us from spoiling our praying. Our praying must be based on truth and reality rather than deception and distortion. Our praying ought to be clear, reasonable, clear minded communication to God. The danger seems to be that without this we can pervert and spoil our praying so that God cannot answer and our praying is hindered rather than helpful.
- Our praying to God should be very serious business for us. First, we should never take the resource of praying for granted or lightly. When we are praying we are communicating to God. We pray because He told us to pray and He told us that when we are under the pain of suffering because of Him, make sure our praying is not perverted by a lack of judgment. That is our business. It is God’s business to answer. Second, we are free to pray about anything. There are no limits as to what we can pray about in this passage. It’s just that when we pray, while we pray, it must be with discernment. James has a similar perspective in 1:7 where we are warned about unstable praying. Where our praying is really two-faced because we do not know if we really want what God wants, and instead we use praying to direct God toward what we want. James tells us not to suppose that we will receive anything from the Lord. We must not let our perspective get clouded by self-interest, by prolonged unrepented sin, by fear, jealousy or envy. God knows the difference and the difference is between our prayers being effective or ineffective with our Father in heaven. In light of the nearness of the end make your praying a discerning habit and investment with God! You only have so long for your praying to be effective. Do your utmost to make it so. It is a tremendous resource from our Father. Do not wield it foolishly and think anything may happen because you have prayed!
B. DO NOT LET THE OFFENSES OF ONE ANOTHER KEEP US FROM FERVENTLY LOVING EACH OTHER 8
This is something we must never lose sight of. It is what we are to make sure we are doing above everything else. There is nothing more important in our relationships with one another in the community of Christ than this kind of loving. There is a three-tiered concept here. First, we must ‘have’ love for one another. That has got to be there in the first place. You cannot give love if you do not first have it to give. This tells us that love is a choice we must make. It is something we must choose to give and we must choose to give it because we are commanded to do so. This is not an option for us. If we do not ‘have’ love for one another then we better find it and choose to give it. Second, that love must be ‘constant’. The word conveys the idea of an athlete with taut muscles straining to win the race. This is the kind of love we must have to give. It is not conditional or petty or moody or emotional. It is a sound choice I make to give to you in such a way that your greater good is going to be served and I keep giving that to you all of my life. It does not matter what it costs me. That never enters into the equation. This is my lifestyle. This is above everything else in Gods economy! And I am to do with one another. With everyone who names the name of Christ. Third, this love does not stop because of the offenses of one another. Love does not ‘cover up’ sin but it ‘covers’ the sin of another. This phrase is picked up from Proverbs 10:12 which says ‘Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions.’ Love takes the initiative to deal with the offense in such a way that the sinning brother is won back over from his sin by repenting. It is serving them with their greater good at heart. It is what James tells us in 5:20 when he says "Let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins." So it is not a cover-up but a covering that is in view. So that patience, forbearance and forgiveness can give time to confront the sin and provide an atmosphere where confession and repentance can bring reconciliation.
- The time is short and the time to love is as well. We must be motivated by the nearness of the end to go ‘all-out’ in our love for one another. This is the second most important commandment God has given us and we are far too frivolous about this. Whether it’s from given our wives the hot end of the poker to being impatient with one another to not taking in consideration the interests of others to not bearing one another's burdens. We must not violate our love for one another especially in light of the nearness of the end.
C. BE HOSPITABLE WITHOUT GRUMBLING ABOUT IT 9
The idea here is of another extension of our loving spirit. It should even extend toward those who are strangers in need. Historically, during times of intense persecution, hospitality was especially welcomed by believers who were forced to journey to new areas to save their lives and those of their families. Today, too, there are people, especially needy believers, who can benefit from our hospitality. Hospitality can come in all kinds of forms but we must be ready to give it whenever it is needed. You can test the sincerity of your hospitable spirit by determining if your hospitality is mixed with resentment, complaining or grumbling of some kind. Romans 12:9 tells us ‘Let love be with hypocrisy’ literally ‘without a mask’.
- You never have to wonder if it is right for you to be hospitable toward a needy believer. We are commanded to do so. Even if it is inconvenient and costly to do so. In light of the nearness of the end, we should be motivated to serve Christ in this way. He would do it if he was here and He expects nothing less of us until He comes or we go. Is it ever really possible to be too hospitable? I hardly think so. Why don’t we all determine to get to the point where hospitality is second nature to us? Hospitality comes in all kinds of ways.
D. DO GOD’S WORK, GOD’S WAY 10-11
The first thing we note is that every believer has been gifted by God. WE have at least one spiritual gift from God. It is a divinely endowed ability, which empowers us to perform spiritual ministry. A supernatural capacity for ministry God has given to me. You received it when you became a believer. Second, we are to use our gift/s to serve one another. As these gifts operate, people are sincerely served. When our spiritual gifts are engaged, spiritual ministry is happening. Something that counts for eternity takes place. Without that gift and our engaging of it, there would be no spiritual ministry. Our human and fleshly outcome and results. Third, we have been entrusted with these gifts. They are not ours but Gods. They have been sovereignty distributed to us from the wealth of God. These gifts stem from the grace of God notice. And His grace is manifested to the community of Christ as we exercise our spiritual gifts in service to one another. The manifold and rich variety of that grace is displayed! God is doing all kinds of things at the same time as we engage our spiritual giftedness toward one another! The life of the body of Christ is rich and varied as a result. All kinds of lives are being touched and the rippling effect goes on and on throughout the body.
- Fourth, these gifts are placed in two categories. There are speaking gifts and there are serving gifts. The speaking gifts are gifts that serve the community of Christ by speaking the words of God. Literally the utterances of God verses the utterances of man or anyone else. It is only the words of God that can minister and serve the community. It is an awesome thing to realize that when we speak Gods Word we speak for God Himself! Paul urged Timothy to ‘Preach the Word...’ 2 Tim 4:2. Then those who serve do it with the ability that God supplies. Both the speaking and serving gifts are divinely enabled capacities which in turn truly serve the community’s greater good. He alone supplies the gifts and the abilities to carry them out. Our part is to submit, obey, and step out in faith so God can use us to the fullest. We need to cooperate with clean lives and hands. The source of our success is the HS
- The result of doing Gods work, Gods way, will be Gods glory. Relying on Gods word and strength will give God praise through Jesus Christ who is at work bringing glory to the Father through the use of our spiritual gifts! So, if you have speaking gifts and/or serving gifts, God wants to use you to serve His community for Gods glory and our good! As the end is approaching, either because He is coming for us or we are going to Him, let’s get on with it! To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. We cannot serve out of the resource of our fleshly nature and strength. We do not have the capacity to go the distance in true service for one another.
1. WE MUST MAKE EVERY MINUTE COUNT FOR ETERNITY.
God tells us that what we do here has ramifications for eternity. Every day I forget that is a day lost to make that difference. I can never have a day back that I wasted on selfish pursuits or sinfulness or slothfulness or rebellion. It is gone. Right now I can make that difference. Today I can have sharpened prayers, passionate love, generous hospitality, and engaged gifts. I can give that now and God says that makes a difference. Every minute matters.
2. WE MUST CHOOSE TO MAKE THIS THE PATTERN OF OUR LIVES.
It is up to me to keep from getting entangled in the web of this world and its pursuits. I have to choose to obey these commands and say "I will" to God. I must make this choice everyday.
3. WE MUST MAKE GOD’S PRIORITIES OUR PRIORITIES.
The world, the flesh and the devil will try to infiltrate our thinking and affections so that we will make expedient choices instead of eternal ones. The battle will rage everyday. If we take these commands and make them our priorities, we will find a greater motivation to do things God’s way. They have to become your priority first!