Bibliotheca Sacra 139 (1982) 243-254.
Copyright © 1982 by
Selected Studies from 1 Peter
Living in the Light
of Christ's Return:
An Exposition of 1 Peter 4:7-11
The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound judg-
ment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep
fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multi-
tude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As
each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one
another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever
speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever
serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies; so
that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to
whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen (1
Pet. 4:7-11, NASB).
The hope of Christ's return is an essential part of the be-
liever's equipment for fruitful Christian living. In this passage
Peter discusses aggressive Christian service in the light of the
impending end. The anticipation of the Lord's return must
have an impact on present Christian conduct.
In the face of persecution from without, believers, inspired
by their hope of the future, must band together in loving ser-
vice to each other to the glory of God. Peter here asserts that
the end is near (v. 7a), he delineates Christian living in view of
the end (vv. 7b-1 la), and he points to the true goal of all
Christian service (v. 11b).
The Assertion concerning the End
“The end of all things is at hand" (v. 7a) summarizes the
Christian anticipation concerning the future. "Of all things"
244 Bibliotheca Sacra — July-September 1982
(Pa<ntwn), standing emphatically forward, underlines the com-
prehensive nature of the end in view. The genitive "all" could
be taken as masculine, "all men, all people"; in 4:17 reference
is made to "the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel."
But here this comprehensive term is best taken as neuter, "all
things" depicting the eschatological end. "The end" (to> te<loj),
the consummation of the present course of history, implies not
merely cessation but also the goal toward which this present
age is moving. It is the prophetic message of Christ's return.
It is unwarranted to limit this comprehensive designation
to "the end of the temple, of the Levitical priesthood, and of the
whole Jewish economy" in A.D. 70.1 Neither is it to be under-
stood as a reference to the impending death in martyrdom
awaiting the readers.2 These views offer no proper basis for the
exhortations which follow.
The verb "is at hand" (h@ggiken) is used in the New Testa-
ment of the approach of the
First Advent (cf. Matt. 3:2; 10:7; Mark 1:15; Luke 10:9, 11) as
well as the Second Advent (Rom. 13:12; Heb. 10:25; James
5:8). The verb means "to approach, to draw near"; in the per-
fect tense, as here, it portrays the event in view as having
drawn near and now being in a position as near at hand, ready
to break in. It thus depicts the return of Christ as impending.
Newell characterized His return as "the next thing on the
program."3 Peter's statement expresses the conviction of the
early Christian church (Rom. 13:12; 1 Cor. 7:29; Phil. 4:5;
Heb. 10:25; James 5:8-9; Rev. 1:3; 22:20). Christ's anticipated
return was "always near to the feelings and consciousness of
the first believers. It was the great consummation on which
the strongest desires of their souls were fixed, to which their
thoughts and hopes were habitually turned."4
The delay in the expected return of Christ did create a
problem for some in the early church (2 Pet. 3:4-7). Yet the
passing of the centuries has not invalidated this hope. No
dates for the return of Christ were revealed to the apostles
(Matt. 24:36); they did not know when their Lord would re-
turn; they were instructed to be expectant and ready for His
return. They were not conscious of anything that expressly
precluded such an expectation; much that they saw encour-
It may be said that the lengthy time interval must be
understood in the light of God's chronology (2 Pet. 3:8-9), not
Living in the Light of Christ's Return: An Exposition of 1 Peter 4:7-11 245
man's. Peter's assertion that the end is "at hand" and ready to
break in expresses the Christian conception of the nature of
the present age. With the Messiah's first advent the reality of
the eschatological kingdom broke on human history; but with
the King's rejection, His eschatological kingdom was not estab-
lished. It awaits the day of His return. But that eschatological
encounter introduced a new element into the nature of history.
Human history now moves under the shadow of the divinely
announced eschatological kingdom. Newman wrote as follows:
Up to Christ's coming in the flesh, the course of things ran
straight towards that end, nearing it by every step; but now,
under the Gospel, that course has (if I may so speak) altered its
direction, as regards His second coming, and runs, not towards
the end, but along it, and on the brink of it; and is at all times
near that great event, which, did it run towards it, it would at
once run into. Christ, then, is ever at our door.5
As human history moves along the edge of the eschatolog-
ical future, "it is always five minutes to midnight," and "that
edge at times becomes a knife-edge.”6 Only God's long-suffer-
ing holds back the impending manifestation of that day (2 Pet.
3:8-9). This consciousness must have an impact on present
The Duties in View of the End
"Therefore" (ou#n) grounds the duties now depicted in the
consciousness of the impending end. In the New Testament
this eschatological hope is frequently used to motivate Chris-
tian conduct (Matt. 24:45–25:13; Rom. 13:11-14; 1 Cor.
15:58; 1 Thess. 4:18; Heb. 10:25; James 5:8-9; 1 John 2:28:
3:2). "The return of our Lord," Erdman observes, "has always
furnished the supreme motive for consistent Christian living."7
The proper apprehension of this hope does not lead to uncon-
trolled excitement and fanatical disorder (cf. 2 Thess. 2:1-3;
3:6-16) but rather to self-discipline and mutual service. Peter
sets forth the believers' duty concerning their personal life
(v. 7b) and describes proper community relations (vv. 8-11 a).
THE DUTY CONCERNING THEIR PERSONAL LIFE (v. 7b)
"Therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the
purpose of prayer." Two aorist imperatives set forth the urgent
and decisive nature of these personal duties.
246 Bibliotheca Sacra — July-September 1982
The first verb, "be of sound judgment" (swfronh<sate), was
used of a person who was in his right mind as contrasted to
one who was under the power of a demon (Mark 5:15; Luke
8:35). It was also used more generally of one who was reason-
able, sensible, and prudent, one who retained a clear mind.
The readers are thus urged to be self-controlled and balanced
in their reactions, able to see things in their proper place.
Cranfield remarks, "The sound mind is equally far removed
from the worldliness and unbelief of those who think to ex-
plain away the promise of Christ's coming again, and from the
fanaticism and sensationalism of those who would fain predict
the hour of it and the manner."8
The second verb, "sober" (nh<yate), conveys the thought of
sobriety as the opposite of intoxication. The Authorized Ver-
sion renders this "watch," but it is a watchfulness related not
to sleepiness but to drunkenness. It is a call to remain fully
alert and in possession of one's faculties and feelings. The
eschatological context of this passage indicates that they must
"be free from every form of mental and spiritual 'drunken-
ness.”9 resulting from befuddled views and feelings about the
The two verbs, akin in meaning, are connected by "and"
(kai>), marking a connection between the two duties. It is a
question whether both imperatives or only the latter is to be
connected with "for the purpose of prayer." The former seems
to be the intended view of the NASB, as quoted above. The NIV
also supports this position by joining both verbs with prayer:
"Be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray." The
ASV, by putting a comma after the first verb, keeps the two
commands as distinct duties: (1) They must maintain a per-
sonal disposition of balance and self-control as they face life,
and (2) they must be alert in mind and attitude so that they
can pray. This author prefers the rendering of the ASV.
The phrase, "for the purpose of prayer" (ei]j proseuxa<j,
"unto, with a view to prayer") implies that prayer is a normal
and expected activity of the Christian life; but it is easy to be-
come distracted and unfitted for its performance. "Prayer" is a
general term and includes prayer in all its aspects. But the
original is plural, "prayers" of all kinds, both private and pub-
lic. What follows suggests that they must maintain the practice
of prayer in relation to their own lives as well as in their com-
Living in the Light of Christ's Return: An Exposition of 1 Peter 4:7-11 247
THE ACTIVITIES IN THEIR COMMUNITY RELATIONS (vv. 8-11a)
The close connection between the personal and the
brotherhood relations is underlined by the fact that verses 8-
11, consisting of a series of participles, depend grammatically
on the imperatives of verse 7. Although the participles are sub-
ordinate, the words "above all" (pro> pa<ntwn) make clear that
the duties now enjoined are of primary importance. Peter urges
the practice of fervent mutual love (vv. 8-9) and depicts two
broad areas of mutual service (vv. 10-11a).
The duty of mutual love (vv. 8-9). "Keep fervent in your
love for one another" (v. 8a). Peter has already mentioned love
several times (1:8, 22; 2:17; 3:8). He fully realized its impor-
tance. "At a never-to-be-forgotten interview, the Master thrice
reminded him that the supreme qualification for ministry was
"Your love for one another" underlines the mutual nature
of the love being urged. The noun "love" denotes a love of in-
telligence and purpose which desires the welfare of the one
loved. The use of the definite article, "the love," points to the
love which they have already experienced. Its mutual character
is underlined by the attributive position of "for one another"
(th>n ei]j e[autou>j) before the word a]ga<phn, literally, "the into-
yourselves love." Peter's reflexive pronoun brings out the
thought that they are all members of one body (cf. 1 Cor.
12:12) and that love for other members promotes one's own
Assuming that this love is already operative among them,
Peter urges that their love must be "fervent" (e]ktenh?),
"stretched out" and up to full capacity. The term was used to
describe a horse at full gallop or to picture "the taut muscle of
strenuous and sustained effort, as of an athlete."11 "Keep" rep-
resents a present tense participle (e@xontej, "having" or "hold-
ing") and indicates that they must maintain their mutual love
at its highest level. Such love can be actively cultivated.
The words "because love covers a multitude of sins" (v. 8b)
justify the demand for fervent love. It has a beneficial impact
on social relations because it "covers" sins. The meaning is not
that love condones or hushes up sins, either before God or
men. The reference here is not to sin in its Godward relations
but rather to sins and failures in human relations. Love re-
fuses deliberately to drag out the sins it encounters so as to
248 Bibliotheca Sacra — July-September 1982
expose them to the gaze of all; it prefers to refrain from and
discourage all needless talk about them. It prefers to throw a
veil over these sins, like the conduct of Shem and Japheth in
throwing a covering over their father's shame, in contrast to
Ham's viewing of it (Gen. 9:20-23). This gracious action of true
love promotes the peace and harmony of the brotherhood, and
is the very opposite of hatred which deliberately exposes the
sin in order to humiliate and injure. "Only when Christians
become mean and ugly do they favor the devil by dragging each
other's failings out into the public and smiting each other in
Love's action is necessary because believers are still weak
and failing. In 'their close associations with each other in the
brotherhood believers do, regrettably, encounter "a multitude
of sins." "Sins," (a[martiw?n), "the most comprehensive term for
moral obliquity"13 in the New Testament, basically denotes all
that misses the mark in falling short of the standard of right;
it may thus include sins of weakness and moral shortcomings
as well as overt acts of sin. Love will deal with these sins
according to the principles Jesus set forth in Matthew 18:15-
17. Peter here is thinking of believers in their mutual relations
and not of their individual personal relationships to God. It is
unwarranted to assume, as some do (e.g., Moffatt14), that such
covering of sins wins forgiveness of one's sins before God. That
would be a form of salvation by works.
The command "Be hospitable to one another without com-
plaint" (v. 9) widens the application of this principle of love. As
indicated in Young's literal rendering,15 Peter continues his
directive without any verbal form: "hospitable to one another,
without murmuring." He thus names a positive expression of
the presence of love.
"Hospitable" (filo<cenoi) is a plural adjective describing
those who have an affectionate concern for strangers, which
expresses itself in offering them food and shelter. The practice
of hospitality was highly valued in the early church and it is
frequently mentioned in the New Testament (Rom. 12:13;
16:1-2; 1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8; Heb. 13:2; 3 John 5-8; cf. Matt.
25:35). This fruit of brotherly love strengthened mutual ties
among the churches, often widely scattered. Without its prac-
tice the early missionary work of the church would have been
greatly retarded. When travelers or delegates from other
churches arrived, their hospitable reception was regarded as a
Living in the Light of Christ's Return: An Exposition of 1 Peter 4:7-11 249
matter of course (cf. Acts 10:5-6, 23; 16:15; 21:15-17). Believ-
ers who were on journeys found it highly desirable to find lodg-
ing in Christian homes, fostering mutual fellowship and
strengthening the ties between churches. Even more impor-
tant was it for believers to find refuge in Christian homes
whenever they were fleeing from their persecutors.
But Peter's use of the reciprocal pronoun (ei]j a]llh<louj)
implies that hospitality within the local group is involved.
Since there were no separate church buildings for the first two
centuries, each local congregation met in the home of one of its
members (cf. Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19: Phile. 2). This practice
put their hospitality to a practical test.
"Without complaint" (a@neu goggusmou?) is a frank recogni-
tion that the practice of hospitality could become costly,
burdensome, and irritating. The Greek term denotes a mutter-
ing or low speaking as a sign of displeasure. It depicts a spirit
the opposite of cheerfulness. Such a spirit negates the value of
the hospitality rendered and destroys the recipient's enjoyment
of it. It is a ministry to be shouldered cheerfully if it is to be
worthwhile. The addition simply emphasizes the true charac-
ter of Christian hospitality and does not imply that Peters
readers were chronic grumblers.
The duty of mutual service (vv. 10-11a). The thought now
passes from mutual love to mutual service. The participle con-
struction again ties this picture of Christian service to what
has gone before. Verse 10 describes the ministry of the believ-
ers individually as stewards serving the needs of the household
of God with the means their Master has entrusted to them.
"Each one" (e!kastoj), standing emphatically first, stresses
that the duties and functions of a steward have been assigned
to each believer. Each member of the body of Christ has been
entrusted with at least one gift (1 Cor. 12:7: Eph. 4:7). Each
member has his own distinct function, "as each one has re-
ceived a special gift." "As" (kaqw>j, "just as") indicates that the
service of each one is to be governed by the nature of the gift
received. Since each member has received a gift, it is clear that
these gifts are not offices in the church. The term "gift"
(xa<risma), derived from the same root as "grace" (xa<rij), basic-
ally denotes something that has been bestowed freely and gra-
ciously. The term includes any capacity or endowment which
can be used for the benefit of the church. It is not to be re-
stricted to miraculous gifts; included is any "natural endow-
250 Bibliotheca Sacra — July-September 1982
ment or possession which is sanctified in the Christian by the
Spirit."16 Each should be employed as an expression of Chris-
Each must employ his gift "in serving one another." The
reflexive pronoun (e[autou>j) again points to the mutual benefit
when these gifts are used for the sake of the whole body of
Christ. God has made the members interdependent; what ben-
efits others has a reflexive benefit for the one exercising the
gift. The participle "serving" (diakonou?ntej) denotes any benefi-
cient service that is freely rendered to another.
All must minister in the personal consciousness of being
"good stewards of the manifold grace of God." Christians are
"stewards," not owners of the means and abilities they possess.
A steward was one to whom property or wealth was entrusted
to be administered according to the owner's will and direction.
He was entrusted with its use, not for his own enjoyment or
personal advantage, but for the benefit of those he served. This
entrustment involved responsibility and demanded trustworth-
iness (1 Cor. 4:2). "As good stewards" means that they not
merely resemble but actually are such; they must render their
service in a noble and attractive manner.
Each believer has his share in ministering "the manifold
grace of God." The collective singular, "the grace of God," com-
prehends all the gifts graciously bestowed, while the adjective
"manifold" (poiki<lhj) displays the "many-colored" gifts in their
infinite variety. The Lord of the church has distributed His
bounty with masterly variety to enable His people successfully
to encounter the "manifold trials" (1:6) to which they are sub-
In verse 1 la Peter divides these gifts into two functional
categories: the speaking gifts and the service gifts. The two
categories are given in two conditional sentences, but no ver-
bal form is expressed in the conclusion, which the Greek did
not feel essential. In English one feels compelled to insert some
verbal form, either an imperative, "let him," or a participial
"Whoever speaks" (ei@ tij lalei?, "if anyone speaks") assumes
the speaking function in operation. The verb may be general,
simply denoting use of the faculty of speech; it is frequently
used in the New Testament of teaching and preaching, and so
here the speaking may be in the form of teaching, prophesy-
ing, or exhorting. While speaking in the assembly seems pri-
Living in the Light of Christ's Return: An Exposition of 1 Peter 4:7-11 251
marily in view, the verb is broad enough to include speaking
outside a church setting, such as ministering to the sick, or
Speaking "as it were, the utterances of God" (w[j lo<gia
qeou?) marks the necessary subjective feeling of the speaker as
he exercises his gift. He must be conscious that what he says
is God's message for the occasion. In classical Greek the lo<gia
were the utterances or responses of some deity. In the Sep-
tuagint the term is often used of "the Word of the Lord," and
elsewhere in the New Testament it has reference to the Old
Testament Scriptures (Rom. 3:2; Acts 7:38: Heb. 5:12). Here
the sense seems to be that the speaker utters his message with
the consciousness that he is giving not merely his own opinion
but God's message under the leadership of the Spirit.
"Whoever serves" (ei@ tij diakonei?) seems best understood
as including all forms of Christian ministry other than speech.
The one rendering the service (tij, "any one" ) is again left en-
tirely indefinite. It is unwarranted to limit the reference to the
office of the deacon, as Demarest does.17 The context simply
limits the service to the realm of deeds.
"By the strength which God supplies" is a timely reminder
that Christian service must be rendered in a spirit of humility
and divine enablement. The one serving must avoid the conceit
that the strength and ability to perform the service are his
own. If his service promotes the well-being of the brotherhood,
he must realize that this ability is "by" (e]k, "out of") divine
enablement (cf. John 15:4). God abundantly "supplies"
(xorhgei?) the needed strength to carry out His work. In classical
Greek the verb was used of paying the expenses of a chorus in
the performance of a drama: since the performance reflected
on the prior provision of all that was needed, the term came to
denote supplying in abundance. Christian service must be
humbly yet aggressively performed in full reliance on God's
The Goal in Christian Living
The added purpose clause, "so that in all things God may
be glorified" (v. 1 lb), declares the true goal in all Christian liv-
ing. The comprehensive "in all things" (e]n pa?sin) is best under-
stood as looking back to the entire paragraph. All that they
have and do must magnify "God" (o[ qeo>j), the God whom they
252 Bibliotheca Sacra — July-September 1982
now know and serve. He is the Fountain of all their gifts and
blessings. In all they are and do, they must desire to thank
Him and to extol and ascribe honor to His name.
"Through Jesus Christ" is a reminder that only through
the reconciliation achieved in Him can God be truly glorified
(cf. 1:21; 2:5; 3:18). "There is only one way to God, and our
incense must be scattered on coals taken from the true altar,
or it can never rise up acceptable and pleasing to Him."18
Peter's own grateful heart moves him to glorify God: "to
whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever.
Amen." The use of the indicative verb "belongs" (e]stin, "is")
marks his words as an assured declaration, not merely a de-
vout wish. "To whom" may refer to either Jesus Christ or God
the Father. In favor of Jesus Christ is the fact that He is the
nearer antecedent here and that in Hebrews 13:20-21; 2 Peter
3:18; and Revelation 1:5-6 the glory is ascribed to Christ. In
favor of God the Father is the fact that He is the subject of the
sentence. Best cites three considerations in favor of God the
Father as the intended antecedent:
(i) The reference to the glorification of God in the preceding
clause links with "glory" here; (ii) The majority of NT
doxologies are offered to God, and in particular the very
similar doxology of 5:11 is offered to him; (iii) To speak of
glorifying God "through Jesus Christ" and then to speak of
glory belonging to Christ seems odd.19
It is preferable to take God the Father as the subject of this
God is magnified as possessing "the glory and dominion"
(h[ do<ca kai> to> kra<toj). The definite article in the Greek with
both nouns marks them as separate and distinct possessions,
rightfully belonging to Him. He possesses "the glory," the
radiant majesty and sublimity characteristic of deity, and He
exercises "the dominion" (kra<toj, "might and power in
action"), marking Him as the sovereign Ruler over all.
To Him belong the glory and the dominion "forever and
ever" (ei]j tou>j ai]w?naj tw?n ai]w<nwn), literally, "unto the ages of
the ages." This strengthened form of "forever" emphasizes the
thought of eternity in the strongest way. The expression de-
picts eternity as "a series of ages flowing on endlessly, in each
of which a number of other shorter ages are gathered up.''20
"Amen" is a transliteration (alike in Greek and English) of
the Hebrew word meaning "so let it be." So used, it is not a
Living in the Light of Christ's Return: An Exposition of 1 Peter 4:7-11 253
wish but rather a strong affirmation, placing a seal of approval
on what has just been said. Its use was common in the early
Christian worship services as an expression of devout assent
(cf. 1 Cor. 14:16). The practice was adopted from the Jewish
This brief paragraph is significant as offering insight into
Peter's understanding of Christian life and service. For him the
hope of the impending return of Jesus Christ was a living real-
ity. But he firmly held that this eschatological hope must
promote loving Christian relations and faithful Christian ser-
vice. The hope of the future is to have a sane, sanctifying im-
pact on the present. In waiting as well as in serving, the true
goal of the Christian life must ever be to glorify God.
1 James Macknight, A New Literal Translation from the Original Greek of All
the Apostolical Epistles (1821; reprint ed.,
1969), 5:491. So also Jay E. Adams. Trust And Obey: A Practical Commentary on
First Peter (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co.. 1978), pp.
129-30; Guy N. Woods, A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles cf Peter,
John, and Jude (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Co., 1954), pp. 111-12.
2 John T. Demarest, A Translation and Exposition of the First Epistle of the
Apostle Peter (New York: John Moffet, 1851), pp. 224-26.
3 William R. Newell, "The End of All Things Is at Hand," Bibliotheca Sacra 109
(July—September 1952): 249.
4 Nathaniel Marshman Williams, "Commentary on the Epistles of Peter," in An
American Commentary on
the New Testament
ican Baptist Publications Society, n.d.), p. 61.
5 John Henry Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons (1896), p. 241, cited by
F. F. Bruce, The Epistles of John (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1970),
6 Bruce, The Epistles of John, p. 65.
7 Charles R. Erdman, The General Epistles (1919; reprint ed.,
8 C. E. B. Cranfield, I & II Peter and Jude, Torch Bible
SCM Press, 1960), p. 113.
9 William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New
Testament and Other
Early Christian Literature (
Press. 1957), p. 540.
10 F. B. Meyer,
"Tried by Fire ": Expositions
of the First Epistle of Peter (
Morgan & Scott, n.d.), p. 161.
11 Cranfield, I & II Peter and Jude, p. 57.
12 R. C. H. Lenski. The Interpretation of the Epistles of St.
St. Jude (Columbus, Ohio: Lutheran Book Concern, 1938), p. 198.
13 W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (1940:
reprint ed. [4 vols. in 1],
14 James Moffatt, The General Epistles, James. Peter, and Judas, The Moffatt
New Testament Commentary (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1947), p. 153.
15 Robert Young, The Holy Bible Consisting of the Old and New Covenants
254 Bibliotheca Sacra — July-September 1982
Translated according to the Letter and Idioms of the Original Languages
16 Lenski, Epistles of St. Peter,
17 Demarest, The First Epistle of the Apostle Peter, p. 231.
18 Meyer, "Tried by Fire," p. 171.
19 Ernest Best, I Peter, New Century Bible Based on the Revised Standard
Version (London: Oliphants. 1971), p. 161.
20 Robert Johnstone, The First Epistle of Peter: Revised Text, with Intro-
duction and Commentary (1888; reprint ed.,
tian Publishers, 1978), p. 351.
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