Pray, Love, Welcome, & Serve

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
March 5, 2023
1 Peter 4:1-11

Sermon taped at Bluemont Church on Friday, March 3, 2023

At the beginning of worship:

This morning, think about this: “how is your life different now that you follow Jesus? To put it another way, what difference does Jesus make in what’s important to you? How does our faith in him and our hope in the life to come change how we live in the present?  

Before reading the sermon:

One of Peter’s concerns in his first epistle is what our lives should look like once we begin following Jesus. Being a Christian means more than just saying the right words about our faith. As Paul says to the Corinthians, if we’re in Christ, we’re a new creature: old things have passed away.[1]

Being a Christian means we look at other people through Jesus’ eyes. We offer grace and show them love even when they don’t deserve it. It also means there are things we do and avoid doing to bring glory to the God who showed us mercy when we didn’t deserve it.

I am going to read the passage today in the Message translation. I like how it translates this passage into contemporary language.[2]

Read 1 Peter 1:1-11 in The Message translation

The early Christians addressed by Peter knew how it felt to be marginalized by others. But then, by following Christ, they had an example. Jesus endured everything they endured and more. Peter encourages his readers, who were suffering, to think of Christ and what he endured as he took on the sins of the world. Then he reminds them to think of their suffering as a “weaning” from their old sinful habits. 

Peter makes it clear that when we become followers of Jesus, there should be a noticeable change in our lives. It’s as simple as this: we go from pleasing ourselves to trying to please God. Peter knows many of his readers have lost friends and perhaps even have been written off by family members for their decision to accept Jesus as Lord. But that’s okay. In other translations, we’re provided a catalogue of things here we should leave behind. The New Revised Standard Version lists them as debauchery, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and idolatry. 

When we give up such behavior, our former friends may want to know what is up with us. “Why be a goodie two-shoes,” they ask? The Message translation captures this perfectly. “Your old friends don’t understand why we don’t join in with the old gang anymore. But you don’t have to give an account to them… They’re the ones who will be called on the carpet—and before God himself.” In other words, instead of us worrying about pleasing them, they should worry about not pleasing God. 

Next, Peter encourages them to listen to the Message. We might say, “hear the good news.” It is a message not just for this life. Even those who have died, who have accepted the message, will discover life. The worldview in which Peter lives is that life on earth is temporary. As I’ve reiterated repeatedly, we’re resident aliens. Sooner or later, we will die. That’s what happens. But for those secure in the grace of Jesus Christ, there will be a world to come. This is the living hope Peter introduced at the beginning of this letter and continues to focus on even here in the fourth chapter.[3]

Our passage begins with a sense of urgency. “Everything is about to be wrapped up,” Peter writes. Time is short so take nothing for granted. Be active and diligent and build up the fellowship by grounding yourselves in four areas: prayer, love, hospitality, and service… 

Peter may have developed these characteristics from his observation of Jesus as he followed our Savior throughout Galilee and Judea. Peter saw Jesus pray continually, often late at night. He remembers how he had trouble staying awake while Jesus sweated blood during his prayers.[4] Peter knew, firsthand, Jesus’ love for all people. He’d seen him reach out even to the outcast. He’d witnessed Jesus’ love for sinners be they women of the night, dishonest tax collectors and even sinful fishermen like him. Jesus cared for those no one else worried about. 

Peter had also witnessed the hospitality shown by Jesus such as when he welcomed the children. And Peter knew of Jesus’ service on behalf of others. He himself helped the Lord fed the five thousand. And he saw Jesus give of himself for the sins of the world. From Jesus, Peter learned firsthand the importance of prayer, love, hospitality, and service.  

Let’s spend some time with the last three items: love, hospitality, and service. Unlike prayer, these three are done only on behalf of others. They are a response to what God has done for us. God helped us, so we help others. 

In the 8th verse, Peter tells us to “love for love makes up for practically anything.” In other translations, its: “love covers up a multitude of sins.” This can be confusing and has been debated throughout the ages.[5] It sounds like we need a little excess love to overcome some of our sins. But if that’s the meaning, it contradicts the over-riding message of grace in the Scriptures. Jesus, alone, atones for our sins. 

But there is another way of understanding this verse. Peter, after all, addresses the characteristics of a Christian community. When he encourages us to maintain love for one another, Peter is not saying our love will wipe away our sins against God. Instead, he refers to our relationships with others. 

Peter knows every community is made up of imperfect people. Imperfect people do and say things that are often thoughtless and sometimes downright cruel. It’s part of our human condition, tainted as we are by sin, which gives us the ability to screw up relationships so easily. Ever since Cain struck Abel, human beings have had a hard time getting along. On the individual level, we fight with our spouses, our children, our parents, our neighbors, our coworkers. And this carries on to a global level.

Understanding this, Peter insists we love one another. For when we love, it is easier to forgive. Think about it in this way, it’s easier to forgive (or at least I hope it is), a spouse or one’s on child than it is to forgive that truck driver who cut you off driving down I-77. Why, because we already have a relationship with them. Of course, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t forgive the truck driver, but that’s another subject.  

Peter refers to being a part of the Christian family which is like being in a marriage. I don’t know of a marriage in which the husband and the wife don’t do something to irritate the other. But it’s not the actions of the individuals within a marriage that keep them together. Actions won’t do it. It takes love and commitment. In the same way, we who are in a Christian community are kept together by our love for and commitment to each other and by Christ’s love for us all.

Love may not be the best word here since it’s been so tainted in the English language. The type of love Peter calls for Christians to show one another is agape love. Agape is love that doesn’t seek to possess but to give. Too often we’re concerned about what we possess, wanting and desiring more. We forget the old cliché, “we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” 

The King James Version translates Agape love as charity. Today, a better interpretation might be caring. Look out for each other. Keep the best interest of your sisters and brothers in your heart. 

You know, a caring community has appeal. If our mission is to continue the work of Jesus, it’s imperative we care for each other. It’ll help draw more disciples, for who doesn’t want to be such a fellowship? 

Peter’s next characteristic is hospitality. When Peter wrote this letter, missionaries were running all over in a heroic attempt to tell everyone about Jesus. In the early days of the church these missionaries stayed in the homes of believers. There were not many hotels and even if there had been, few missionaries would have had the resources to stay in one. So, Peter tells Christians to open their homes and set out a table for their brothers and sisters.[6]

The art of Christian hospitality (it’s an art because it that takes practice), is needed more than ever. As a society, few of us are grounded like we once were. At one time, we knew where home was at, but many of us have lived in so many different places, it’s no longer the case.[7] We are often rootless and need the acceptance we find in friendships with other Christians. Today, as much as in the first century, hospitality should be a priority of the church. 

Now, being hospitable doesn’t mean we agree with everyone or all of what someone does. Nor does it mean we condone someone’s sin of choice. Instead, it shows our willingness to befriend others including the unpopular and social outcast in a way that maintains their dignity. In other words, following Jesus’ example, we accept others. 

Then Peter adds an addition to showing hospitality; he says we should do so cheerfully. There must have been some folks who acted hospitable but complained behind their guest’s back. This would never happen today… Yeah, right. But how can we truly be hospitable when we resent what we are doing? 

John Calvin, in writing on this passage, links the ninth and tenth verses together, noting that there is no better way to address our complaints than to “remember that we do not give our own, but only dispense what God has committed to us.”[8] “Be good stewards of God’s grace,” Peter tells us in the tenth verse. “God’s been good to you, therefore pray for one another, care for one another, be considerate of one another, and use what God has given you to serve one another.” Prayer, love, hospitality, and service are traits Peter considers necessary components of the Christian life. 

 In the eleventh verse, Peter adds a fifth trait. He warns us that we must speak as if we’re speaking the very words of God. Think about that before you say something critical or belittling. Then he closes out this section with a doxology—focusing us on the one who should receive all glory and honor. After all, all that we do are to be done for the glory of God. 

Pray regularly, love deeply, show hospitality, and serve one another. That’s our calling from God. Amen.

[1] 1 Corinthians 5:17, KJV.

[2] While the Message refers to the old gang, the traditional translations speak of while we were gentiles. Peter sees Christians as a part of God’s covenant. So, it makes sense from his viewpoint to speak of no longer being gentiles. On the other hand, Paul, whose mission is primarily to the gentiles, speaks of gentiles as Christians. We’re adopted into Christ. It’s a subtle difference. But both Paul and Peter insist that once we became a follower of Jesus, we live differently, which is the meaning of this passage.

[3] See 1 Peter 1:3-12. For my sermon on this passage, see

[4] Matthew 26:36-46.

[5] For a discussion of various ways this passage has been treated, see J. N. D. Kelly, Harper’s New Testament Commentaries: The Epistles of Peter and Jude (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1969), 178.

[6] Kelly, 178-179,

[7] See M. Craig Barnes, Searching for Home: Spirituality for Restless Souls (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003).

[8] John Calvin, Commentary on Hebrews and First and Second Peter, 1 Peter 4:10.

a predawn view looking east with the sky red and the trees still bare in winter
Waiting for the sun on this new day

15 Replies to “Pray, Love, Welcome, & Serve”

  1. To answer your question, I would like to say that loving Jesus has made me “Pray regularly, love deeply, show hospitality, and serve one another”, but it’s not quite true. I love that I can believe in miracles, thanks to the wonder of God. That’s our calling from God. Amen.

      1. I have always insisted that people not think of their calling as being called into ordained ministry (as many think that’s what it means). Our calling from God is different from vocation. All of us have a calling to do what we can to love our neighbors.

  2. I totally agree with your observation that hospitality takes practice. It doesn’t always come naturally for some.

    I’m partial to sunrises.

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