1 Peter 4:1-19
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin), so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God. You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry. They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme. But they will have to give an account to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.
The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief-maker. Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name. For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, what will be the end for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And
‘If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinners?’
Therefore, let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about Tom. Now Tom was a devoutly religious man who was alway trying to do good for others. He also wanted very little in return. In fact, throughout his entire adult life he only prayed for one thing: he wanted to win the lottery. Day after day he would perform these acts of kindness without looking for reciprocations. When he would pray, he would note prayers for all of the individuals he had encountered that day, as well as friends and family, but nothing for himself until he would end the prayer, “Lord, please, just once, let me win the lottery.” As the years went by, age caught up with Tom and he took ill. Still he prayed for the needs of others until he ended the prayer with, “Lord, please, just once, let me win the lottery.” Eventually Tom passed away and he found himself standing in front of God who was welcoming him into heaven. He looked up at God and said, “Lord, I was your faithful servant for my whole life. I helped countless people and never asked for anything in return. Throughout my entire existence I only prayed for one thing and you would never grant it. Why, oh Lord, would you never–not once–ever let me win the lottery?” God looked kindly down at his faithful son and said, “Tom, you still needed to buy a ticket.”
A particularly timely joke considering the recent lottery ticket win of over $1 billion. Imagine ole Tom winning that kind of money! Well, he wouldn’t have because he never bought a ticket in the first place. But would $1 billion be adequate compensation for a lifetime of kindness? Should kindness be compensated for at all? If so, what would that compensation look like? Maybe Tom couldn’t care less about the financial reward of having his ticket chosen. Maybe it was just the idea that his ticket was chosen that was reward enough for him, that God singled out him and him alone to reward for a lifetime of service and asking. Of course, Tom had already won the lottery! Prior to his coming into existence, all that made up Tom was chosen by God to be put into existence, perhaps for the purpose of sharing God’s love and kindness with the world. That…or to show the world the foolishness of not buying a lottery ticket! In either case, Tom had already won the lottery and he shouldn’t have felt as if his one and only prayer in life had gone unanswered.
In fact, we’ve all won a lottery of sorts. We may not have won the $1 billion lottery like someone in Illinois but we’ve all been given lives in this world. Like Tom, we’ve all been given opportunities to love and serve those around us and that is the reward in itself. Why? Because in loving and serving each other we are revealing the love of God to the world. Recall from last week that this is what it means to be blessed, to be given the opportunity to reveal God’s love to the world. God gives us what we need for us to share his love with the world. Or, to use a tidy expression, we’re blessed to bless or be a blessing. Have you ever noticed how God continues to bless those who use his blessings to bless others? It’s why Tom was able to go through his life continually sharing acts of kindness with the world. God blesses those who are a blessing. What that blessing looks like is different for everyone. For some of us, it’s good health. For others, it’s good wealth. Yet for others, it’s more time or more experiences. Regardless, God blesses those who use his blessings to bless others.
Yes, it is a blessing to be given opportunities to love and serve each other. We ought to gladly heed Peter’s wisdom from today’s reading. “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” Love covers a multitude of sins, not only the sins of others but our own sins as well. All too often we focus on how the love we have for others is enough to cover their sins, that it’s something we do that enables us to continue to be in relationship with them. But our sin is no less than theirs. Their love covers our sin too. We ought to maintain our love for others and hope that they maintain their love for us! Praise God that their love covers our sin too! God’s grace and love have been poured out on all of us and oh, how lucky we are! As 1 John says, “we love because he first loved us.” (4:19) Peter tells us to put that love and grace to use in serving each other. In serving, we become a blessing to others and are, in turn, blessed.
Paul says in Acts, “In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (20:35) It is more of a blessing to the giver because God’s love is more clearly evident in the giver. We know the mind of Christ better who only gives to us. Christ only knows how to give of himself, never takes, only gives. This is the mind of which we are called to take on. Why? As Hebrews advises, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (13:16) It simply pleases God for us to give as He gives. It brings us closer to God when we give and serve each other.
And Peter wasn’t naive to the fact that sometimes in serving others we will suffer. Maybe those we serve won’t appreciate our service. Sometimes our service requires sacrifice. Sometimes our service is reviled and criticized by others. Such suffering is okay by Peter. In fact, such suffering should be expected. The world doesn’t expect us to serve each other. It expects us to fight and compete with each other! But just because we are in the world doesn’t mean we have to be of the world. We can “be serious and discipline ourselves” as Peter tells us to do. We can behave contrary to how the world would have us behave. We can behave how God wants us to behave, with love and kindness and forgiveness. We can heed Paul’s wisdom from his letter to the Philippians, “let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” (2:4)
So as we continue our series through Peter’s first letter, let us be mindful of our calling to serve each other. It may or may not come with suffering but regardless, it is how God wants us to be with each other. The Father sent his Son to show us this! And don’t expect to win the lottery after a life of service. We’ve already won! Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.