E. Maintain love.
It is interesting to note what Peter says in this context concerning the end of Israel because of what Jesus said in His prophecy that is recorded in Matthew 24 and Luke 21. Jesus said in reference to the end of all these things, that “the love of many will grow cold” (Mt 24:12). Peter said, “And above all things have fervent love among yourselves, for love will cover a multitude of sins.”4:8 It seems that our love for one another is strained in times of struggle. Struggle moves us to think more about ourselves than others. Peter, therefore, knew that his readers needed exhortation to focus on loving the brotherhood throughout the Roman Empire, for all believers, Jews and Gentiles, were struggling at the time Peter wrote. They were struggling under the personal vendetta of Nero against Christians. Nero subsequently committed suicide, but the persecution Christians would continue off and on until Caesar Galarius issued the Edit of Toleration in A.D. 311 (1 Pt 1:22; 2:17).
Sometimes love for others covers a multitude of sins in ourselves. Proverbs 10:12 expresses a great truth: “Hatred stirs up strifes, but love covers all sins.” If we harbor hate, we will behave accordingly. We will sin against our fellow man. But if the love of God is in our hearts, then we guard ourselves from acting in a hateful manner toward our fellow man.
We do know that during the Roman persecution that would come upon the church in the years to come some would deny their faith in Jesus in order to escape persecution. One of the fellowship problems that developed in the church after the state persecution of Rome was lifted in A.D. 311, was on the part of some who did not want to receive back into the fellowship of the church those who had denied Jesus in order not to die for Him. But in the spirit of love, even this sin of betrayal should be forgiven. We must always remember what John wrote in reference to the forgiveness of God: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins …” (1 Jn 1:9).
F. Hotels for Christ:
There were no hotels in which fleeing Christians could check into during the times of struggle. It is not surprising, therefore, to see the Holy Spirit instituting that every Christian home should be a hotel for traveling evangelists, or fleeing Christians. “Be hospitable one to another without grumbling.”4:9 Gaius was known throughout the brotherhood for being one who received and sent forth those brethren who came his way (See 3 Jn 5-8). His house was a hotel for those on the move.
It may have been that Gaius lived during these times, and thus, some of the “strangers” he took in could have been fleeing Jewish Christians (3 Jn 5,6). We do not know all the circumstances as to why Diotrephes hindered the well-doing hospitality of Gaius and those Christians in the area as Demetrius. But since Diotrephes was one who had a Greek name of aristocracy, it may have been that he did not want to be seen as one who was working against Rome’s efforts to silence Jewish insurrection. We can only assume the circumstances and the political pressure that the early Christians had to endure, even by taking in fleeing Jews from Jerusalem (Mt 24:15-20; compare Ph 1:15-18).
When the “end of all things” transpired, many Jewish Christians would be fleeing their homes. Thirty-five years before, Jesus said that these Christians should flee Jerusalem (See Mt 24:17-20). It would be a time, therefore, when loving hospitality had to be shown to those who were fleeing from their homes in Judea. The flight of Jewish Christians had earlier happened during a local persecution by Jews upon Jewish Christians when Saul led unbelieving Jews against believing Jews (See At 8:4). The persecution about which Peter, James and Jude wrote would come indirectly on Jewish Christians who would be caught up in Rome’s termination of national Israel.
The hospitality of Christians is not to be expressed exclusively toward the household of faith. Hospitality is a behavioral pattern that Christians should have toward all men. In times when we are often burdened with receiving guests, we need to remember that as children of God we are to manifest a spirit of hospitality toward all men. And in maintaining our behavior of hospitality, we must always remember what the Holy Spirit said through Paul: “Do all things without grumbling and disputing” (Ph 2:14).
In the historical context of what Peter foresaw, he was preparing the Jewish Christians of the Diaspora that they should be ready to receive many Jewish Christians who would be fleeing Palestine when the Romans started to bring to an end all things in reference to national Israel. They would certainly carry a great responsibility in housing a large number of resident Jewish Christians whose homes in Jerusalem were destroyed when Jerusalem was burned.
G. Gifted for ministry:
Since every person is born as a gifted human being, then we conclude that God created us to use our gifts to survive in this world. It is evident that our natural gifts that we receive as an offspring of God’s creation are to be used for living. However, in the context in which Peter writes he seems to reflect on the miraculous gifts that were distributed throughout the first century through the laying on of the apostles’ hands (At 8:17,18). Since these gifts were distributed liberally in the absence of any inspired written directions from the Spirit through the New Testament letters, then we must assume that in the background of what is said in the letters that the miraculous gifts were functioning to build up of the body of Christ. This seems to be the situation of Peter’s readers as they headed into some trying times of suffering.
Stewardship involves the use of one’s grace-given gift in ministry for others. The miraculous gifts were not given for selfish gains. This leads us to believe that in this context, the gifts under discussion were the miraculous gifts of the Spirit that Paul explained in the context of 1 Corinthians 12:28-30, which gifts he said would eventually pass away in the first century (1 Co 13:8-10). These gifts were given by the grace of God, but the natural gifts were received at birth.
Since Peter states that the gifts about which he is speaking come with the responsibility of using them to minister to others, then we would conclude that these gifts were the miraculous gifts that were specifically given only by the favor (grace) of God, and for the building up of the early church in the absence of the written word of God. These gifts were given for ministry, not to be used selfishly by the recipient to make a better life for himself.
Natural gifts, however, were different than miraculous gifts. Everyone is born with one or more natural gifts that are to be used to carry one through life. Natural gifts are to be used responsibly in order that one work for his own food and provide for his family. When we discuss natural gifts, therefore, we use the word responsibility. But when we refer to miraculous gifts, we use the word stewardship, for the miraculous gifts were not given for one’s own selfish use. This is what some tried to do in Corinth when they arrogantly spoke with other languages they had not learned. Some were using the miraculous gifts to manifest their pride, and in reference to those who had the gift of teaching (prophecy), they were using their gifts arrogantly.
H. Focus on the word:
“If anyone speaks”4:11 in the context of Peter’s readers, they could not quote from the New Testament Scriptures, for most had not been fully circulated among the churches. They possibly had copies of the Old Testament Scriptures that they had read to them at the local synagogue. But we would assume in this context, however, that those who spoke must speak the revealed word of God that came to them from the Holy Spirit’s gift of prophecy. In other words, what Peter was speaking against here were those speakers who spoke nonsense, while there was one in the presence of the disciples on whom hands had been laid to receive the gift of teaching (Compare Rm 16:18; 2 Tm 4:3). The speakers of nonsense needed to be quiet while the one to whom the gift of teaching had been given could speak the oracles of God.
The word “oracles” came from its use among the religionists of the day who claimed that their priests delivered to man the “oracles” of their deity. We see such today by the same false teachers who claim before the people, “God told me.” When a preacher stands before an audience and proclaims, “God told me,” he is trying to intimidate the audience into accepting his word over theirs. Such may have been happening among some of Peter’s readers, which thing happened among apostate Israelites in past years (Compare Jr 23). What Peter is cautioning is that his readers not fall victim to the false proclamations of the religionists who were simply false prophets seeking a following.
Years before, Jesus had warned His disciples concerning these matters: “And many false prophets will arise and will deceive many” (Mt 24:11). As today, so it was in the final days of Israel. “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Lo, here is Christ,’ or “There,’ do not believe it.” (Mt 24:23). There are numerous false prophets today who proclaim that they are witnessing the signs of the times that indicate the final coming of Christ. We still follow the advice of Jesus. We do not believe them! We will still heed Jesus’ warning that He gave to those who would hear of proclamations of the end: “For there will arise false christs and false prophets. They will show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” (Mt 24:24; see 2 Th 2:10-12). One can determine, therefore, that he is not a part of the elect if he believes the self-proclaimed prognostications of pseudo-prophets who continually cry out, “God told me!”
I. Dedicated to ministry:
There were those among Peter’s readers who had dedicated themselves, as the household of Stephanas, to the ministry of the saints (1 Co 16:15,16). In the case of Peter’s readers, they had been blessed “with the ability that God gives.”4:11 Since they had been given the ability to minister, such a blessing assumed their responsibility to use their gift for the benefit of others (See 1 Co 12:28). God’s opportunity to use our gift of ministry assumes that we will be a good steward of our ability to help others. Therefore, we must not murmur when an opportunity to minister crosses our path. The crossing may be the work of God to draw out of us our gift.
J. Glorify God.
It is significant to understand why one was to use his or her God-given gift for the benefit of others. The recipients were to use their gifts for others “so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”4:11 God-given gifts were to be used to the glory of God, not for the glory of ourselves. Churches should be careful, therefore, that they do not work in order to bring glory to themselves as a church. God will not profit narcissistic churches. All glory is to be given to God because it is because of His work in our lives that we are able to do that which gives Him glory. Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians might help us understand this point better: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Cl 3:17).
[Next lecture: SURVIVOR FAITHFULNESS: January 28]