Heavenly-shaped community

Bible Readings

  • Romans 12:9-21
  • 1 Peter 4:7-11


My dear brothers and sisters,

Some 24 years ago the Lord led our family to leave our homeland and migrate to Australia. The buzzword for migrants was “culture shock”.  

Initially living in a different culture was somewhat interesting.  People expect you to be different, and quite frankly, we expected others to be different.  People went out of their way to make us feel welcome, and we tried our hardest to introduce them to South African food, customs and expressions.

After the first year or so things change.  The locals expect of us to assimilate and stop being different, and the migrants find it hard to interpret local customs and every day expressions.  That’s when culture shock comes in. It is easy for migrants to measure everything by their past and never become part of the culture of their new country.  If they don’t they are always referred to as foreigners.

Something of this dynamic applies to Christians and the conduct living in this world, but something of quite the opposite should be strived for: we are forever foreigners, but we need forever to win people in Christ for the Kingdom of God.

Our study of 1 Peter up to the reading of chapter 4 taught us about our heavenly citizenship, our rebirth by the Spirit of God, our status as aliens in this world—being built into the spiritual temple.  Remember this verse.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his [God’s] own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. You once were not a people, but now you are God’s people. You were shown no mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9–10, NET)

Back to the future

The paragraph we will study together today, 1Peter 4:7-11, in some way, looks back from the future. The gist of what Peter brings across is that the church, redeemed by the completed work of Christ, and having received a new birth by the Holy Spirit to become God’s holy people, should have their community life shaped by their future citizenship.

Christians live today by tomorrow’s standards, which are anchored with Christ in heaven.  Christians are called to have wisdom to influence their surrounding culture with heavenly shaped living. Our task is to serve our King, Jesus Christ, in a world which hates Him. We are called to not love the world, yet our calling includes a calling for compassion upon those who are facing eternity without hope.

In 1957 Nevil Shute wrote a book titled On the beach.  It dramatises an accidental nuclear explosion, with clouds of nuclear radiation drifting from the northern hemisphere down over the southern hemisphere.  Here is a quote from that book:  

There would be time to prepare, time to seek solace in religion, or alcohol, or frenzied sex, or in the thing that one had always wanted to do. To drive a fast, expensive car. To buy some splendid object with one’s life savings. To consume the best bottles of wine from the cellar of one’s club.  

In the end, when the sickness could not be stopped, the government would issue cyanide pills to those who waited, hoping they would not have to use them, knowing they would.

(As quoted by  Helm, D. R. (2008). 1 & 2 Peter and Jude: sharing christ’s sufferings (p. 144). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.)

This is an apt description of the hopelessness of a world without Christ. The end of this world is gulping down a cyanide pill in an effort hasten death without hope.

This is not the view of the Christian.  Our hope is in the eternal sovereignty of God, displayed in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. We live our today united with Christ, grounded in eternity.

This is the background for verse 7:

… the culmination of all things is near.

How can we possibly remain focussed, calm, collected and clear-minded when culture and community are crumbling around us?  Let’s get to the next points—and they are connected: prayer, love, service, keeping the glory of God in focus.

So, in what way is the life of the church then shaped by eternity?

Uncluttered minds

If someone knocked on your door to tell you that he saw your house is on fire, panic strikes and clear thinking flies out the back door.  To announce that the end of all things are near, might send panic into the hearts of unbelievers, but believers should react calm and collected.

We might even be alarmed by what is going on in this world and be overcome with fear.  Peter insist that Christians remain collected, single-minded, and mentally prepared.  It is easy to get distracted; it is easy to despairingly throw the arms up into the air over the persecution of Christians, the change in the marriage act, the stupidity about gender fluidity and how it may find it’s way into law; or become flustered about the so-called Safe School program, or the general direction of the United Nations and godless world leaders.

Now is the time that we need to think into the future and act back to the present—because we are seated with Christ in heaven.  We share his victory, and we will see his purposes worked out.  Do you remember our call to worship? 

I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure…’ (Isaiah 46:9–10)


The time is near when all things will end. So think clearly and control yourselves so you will be able to pray. (1 Peter 4:7)

At our last assembly meeting our new moderator spurred us on in our task because of the urgency of our time.  He made this remark: the task of the church is not to pray so that we may embark on successful programs; prayer isthe task of the church!  A church which stopped praying can have all the programs they wanted, but it will not come to fruition if their first and foremost task—prayer—is neglected.

Commentators point out that in this paragraph Peter most probably had in mind the last night before our Lord was crucified.  More than once did Christ warned the disciples to not be “troubled”—which is opposite to our word “being sober-minded.” This was in connection with the announcement of Jesus Christ that his time with them is coming to an end.  Later that night they were with Christ in the garden, and repeatedly they could not stay awake to pray.  Jesus said: 

Stay awake and pray for strength against temptation. The spirit wants to do what is right, but the body is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)

I think the apostles looked back on that night with deep regret.  If only they could stay awake and pray with Jesus.  When Peter wrote the letter, the part we read from this morning, he most probably had had more than one experience of being in prayer to Jesus to help him in very difficult circumstances.  

Our bodies are weak and will certainly fall if be prayer we need to resist temptation.  Prayer is our connection with God in the Name of Jesus who overcame death, hell, sin and satan.  Prayer feeds our faith and helps us to be focussed as we trust God.

O, that we would once again rediscover the beauty of prayer, so that we can remain focussed when the waters around us are getting troubled!

Love for the brethren

I sometimes think Christians do not need a destructive force from without, because we can sometimes do a better job ourselves. How sad that we sometimes boast in our assertion that we are Christians, but if left to our own devices, we can easily tear one another apart, and sometimes even enjoy it!

It is only logic that Christians who are united with Christ, who has open heavens gate to now intercede with the Father, for Christians who are filled and guided by the Holy Spirit, would demonstrate in their lives and conduct something of their their heavenly origin.  It is not unreasonable to expect Christians to live together in the church as a community of God’s people, to live together in love.

We’re suppose to not hold grudges one against the other.  Instead, love helps us to act proactively:  we forgive and forget.  That’s what is meant by Peter’s words, “love covers a multitude of sins”. We need to learn to say, “It’s okay. I forgive even before you ask for it.” Love does not keeping harping about wrongs done.  This sort of love covers a multitude of sins.  Self-righteousness on the other hand, keep uncovering things, it always open the wounds, and it always wants to wring out apologies.  Christians don’t do this sort of thing.

John writes, as he too recalls the night on which Jesus stooped down as a servant to wash their feet, giving them the command to love one another—he writes: 

We know we have left death and have come into life because we love each other. Whoever does not love is still dead. Everyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderers have eternal life in them. (1 John 3:14–15)

Service to build one another up

I remember the exercises in the Army to drill it in that a unit of soldiers is indeed a unit.  There was a thing called “buddy” training. We had to pick and carry a “wounded” soldier and care for a fellow soldier who seemed to be caught up behind the line of fire.  Officers issued us with a backpack with canned food of which the labels were removed, so that we would share with one another, just in case you opened a can of beetroot for breakfast—if you had to rely on your own supply you were stuck, but because you had buddies, you could share. 

For the upbuilding of the church God gave some people different gifts.  We even refer to a preacher as a minister—which only means “servant”. Whatever the God-given gifts may be should be used to mutual upbuilding, and not personal boast; or even worst, to look down on others who do not have the gift we have.  That was the problem of the Corinthian church. Paul took them to the most useful of all gifts:  love!

Something of this must be seen in the life of every church.  Therefore the command to be hospitable.  If my brother or sister in the Lord is in need, my house becomes their house.

It was quite common in those days that itinerant Christians, mainly because they lost their jobs elsewhere, or maybe they were on a journey looking for scattered families, or maybe even as missionaries, travelled far and wide.  There was no money to pay for accomodation, but it was not needed, because the home of a fellow-believer should be open to travellers. It was not the custom in Rome  for unbelievers; for Christians is was the normal thing to do.

Another circumstance arrived:  people became Christians are converting from paganism to followers of Christ.  How would they find shelter in a hostile world?  Go to your fellow brother and sister: they will treat you like Christ did.  What if they can afford it?  God will provide when He demands of us to give which we cannot afford.

The glory of God

We need to tell one another over and over again, each one should keep in mind, we are citizens of heaven.  Whatever we do, we need to do as unto the Lord.  It is always for his glory.


Christ’s community on earth is unique.  It is a community with its foundations in heaven.  It is a community of aliens living in a world which doesn’t understand them.  They are called to shine their light in this world and show practical Christian living, but by doing so, Christians live counter-culturally. When the world seems to be in a mad rush, Christians keep their heads and stay focussed.  Christians live on the oxygen of prayer.  Christians love when others follow their natural instincts and rather live for themselves.  Christians always serve with the upbuilding of all members of the church in mind.  Therefore when the call for hospitality presents itself, they open their homes, because they understand what they have, is in any case a gift from God.

Let’s live like that.  Let’s follow God’s command and make the church a slice of heaven for those we come in contact with.  Let’s make God look great in a world without hope.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 8 February 2018


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