New Year’s Greetings

“But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’ Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” 1Pe 4:7–10
The above passage has valuable guidance for each of us as we enter into this new and most likely challenging year. Here we find five priceless practices that have the power to change our lives for the better and assure us of a useful and joy-filled year, regardless of the dark times in which we are entering.
First, we must learn to live in light of eternity. “The end of all things is at hand.” Many assume here, as they do with similar statements by Paul, that the Apostles were expecting Christ to return immediately. Let’s not forget that we are dealing with inspired Scripture. Rather than a false hope, consider that God is speaking to us through His Word, with absolute clarity and certainty. In light of the finished work of Christ, and our faith in Him, all of life must be lived in light of that day when we will answer for our lives (cf. Rom 13:12; 1Co 1:8, 1Co 3:13; 2Co 1:14; Phi 1:6, Phi 2:16; 2Th 1:10; 1Pe 2:12; 1Jo 4:17). Because “it is finished,” life takes on an eternal purpose, and we should learn to live in light of the grand culmination of all things, knowing that it is always “at hand.”
Second, and because of the first point, we desperately need to avail ourselves of the grace of God through constant prayer. Peter says our prayer life should be both serious and watchful. These two words imply a sober mind-set grounded in reality. Too often, believers enter into prayer with an “Alice in Wonderland” mentality, and then become disillusioned when they see no results. Our prayers should be offered in light of the reality of God’s Word as it applies to the realities of our existence. There is no situation we can find ourselves in which is not addressed in the Bible—either by precept, command, or example in the lives of the saints. We would do well to learn to pattern our prayers after the many examples of prayer found throughout the Bible.
Third, and this is especially true in perilous times, we are to have “fervent love” toward other believers. The English word “fervent” suggests strong emotion. This is not what is implied in the Greek. The word ektenes means to “reach out, to stretch forward—like a runner at the finish line.” Rather than emotion, the word implies focused effort. It is most difficult to love in this way, and we all find some people around us who are not easy to love. In truth, it is impossible for us, apart from the fruit-filling ministry of the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18; Gal 5:22–23) to do this. Under the Spirit’s control, “the love of Christ compels us” (2Co 5:14), and we extend ourselves beyond our natural limits. We “reach out” to others in time, support, encouragement, prayer, and all other helpful and beneficial ways. We will be surrounded, in days ahead, by many in need. If our lives are lived in light of the Bema Seat of Christ, and lived in effective prayer, we will be empowered to love with the love of Christ. The fellow-believer you help today may just be the one who rescues you tomorrow! Love, which alone can forgive, will “cover a multitude of sins” (cf. Pro 10:12).
Fourth, we will develop true “hospitality.” The root word here speaks of a love of strangers. Here we reach out beyond the bounds of the Royal Family of God, to those who are “outside” the family. Hospitality, in the sense used here, is what we see in the story of the Good Samaritan. We see the care of a total stranger—without expectation of any return. Our world can be a cold and uncaring and even hostile place. All around us are people in need, most of all for the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Hospitality has the power to open doors for evangelism, as hurting souls see in us the love of Christ. Note the connection between “brotherly love” and hospitality in Heb 13:1–2. Not only should we be hospitable, but learn to do it “without grumbling.” In other words, have the right attitude behind the action, and let the grace of God motivate and empower the actions.
Finally, we need to excel in the service of our spiritual gift. “Minister it [the gift] to one another.” If you do not know your gift, look at the various passages where gifts are catalogued (Rom 12; 1Co 12–13; Eph 4), then pray for guidance as you seek to implement those that are most useful to others. Gifts are not about the possessor, but about the recipient. Be humble and realistic, and “do what you can” (Mar 14:8). If you are rightly motivated in submission to the Spirit of God, you will soon come to know your spiritual strength, and will grow in its usage to the glory of Jesus Christ. Note that Peter calls our exercise of our spiritual gift good stewardship “of the manifold grace of God.” Several helpful things are hinted at here. You cannot exercise a gift for which God has not empowered you. Furthermore, if you are not serving, you are not being a faithful steward of the grace God has bestowed upon you. And finally, it is by faithful service that God is both thanked and honored, while others are blessed.
While we were in Zambia with Pastor Mwashamputa at the conference in Mporokoso, the District Commissioner came to greet us, and spoke briefly to the crowd of over 400 people who had come from near and far. His name is Fidelis Tundashi, and he is a fellow believer. The grace and truth of God was evident in every word and action of this fine gentleman. In his greetings to the crowd he said …
“Believe me when I say, the Word of God came to us from Europe and America, but I say today that the Word of God is going to come back to America from Africa! … At the gates of heaven you will not be asked how many cars you had, how big your house was, what you may have had in this world, but how much did you love your neighbor? So I pay tribute to our visitors from America and Australia. They did not bring money, but rather the love of God, and I thank them for coming all the way to Mporokoso.”
Pray for this man as he continues to serve the people of Zambia. And let us all pray for ourselves to fulfill the charge of Peter in the passage cited above. What kind of year will 2012 be? That will be determined above all by what we do with this message. May God grant each of us the grace and the gumption to live it out. May the grace and the love of our Lord Jesus Christ compel us in the coming year!
In the joy of the Lord,
Gene and Nan