7 May 2014

1 Peter 4:1-19

“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.” (vv. 7-8)


Violence, cataclysm, and catastrophe - are these the images that come to mind when we hear warnings that the "end of all things is near"? Most early Christian writings are laced with the expectation that Christ would soon return to end the suffering of the faithful and establish God's everlasting reign. While there was the expectation of God's coming judgement, the end was not viewed in negative terms. The word for 'end' in Greek is 'telos,' which can also mean goal or ultimate purpose. For the author of 1 Peter, God's ultimate purpose is salvation, revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Salvation is the goal toward which Christians strive. And the passage also anticipates the reign of God which brings about the end of things as they are.

Verses 7-11 are situated at the end of a much longer section of material that begins in the epistle's second chapter. In chapters 2 and 3 the letter's author encourages Gentile converts to Christianity to revere God and follow the example of the suffering Christ. He instructs them to fulfil their social obligations to different forms of authority so they can't be accused of any wrongdoing. The letter also promises that God will vindicate Christians for any injustice they suffer at the hands of others. One may infer from the letter than Christian converts in Asia Minor (now modern-day Turkey) were suffering. People insulted them for their beliefs. There was the underlying threat of violent abuse. Even in these circumstances, Christians are to love their enemies. People are encouraged with the words that "the end of all things is near" - their goal is at hand.

The letter then moves to relationships amongst Christians, who are the household of the faithful. Mutual love is the dominant theme. A key Greek word is 'agape', which means self-giving love. Christians express their love and forgive one another of sin. 1 Peter understands sin to have a corporate character. Sin amongst Christians damages the community spiritually and threatens its tenuous place in the larger society. Christians are not to cover up wrongdoing, but to reveal and obliterate it through practising the love and forgiveness exemplified by Jesus Christ. Faith, then, is intensely social for this community of Christians. And one important sign of their faith is the love they share and their willingness to forgive one another.

To Ponder

  • What is your response to verse 7 when you read it as: 'The ultimate purpose of your faith is near'?
  • How might the way Christians treat other Christians impact the way they are viewed by larger society?
  • Why might the idea that all sin is social in character be important for us today?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Cindy Wesley

Cindy Wesley is the director of studies at Wesley House in Cambridge. She is responsible for the life of the chapel and for advising students about their courses and modules.