By Mark D. Proctor
Pastor, Highland Park Baptist Church, Columbia
A favorite Gary Larson cartoon of mine is one with two deer talking in the forest. One has a marking on the fur of his chest that closely resembles a target. His friend remarks, “Bummer of a birthmark, Hal.” Christians in the first century church must have felt the same way. Their Christianity made them easy marks in a hostile, Roman world. How could a Christian live a victorious life in Christ in that world? Peter’s letter, written to the ‘sanctified elect’ (I Peter 1:1), was intended to encourage just such a life and is every bit as appropriate today in an increasingly hostile world as it was in the first century.
In chapter 4, Peter deviates from his personal encouragement to instruct Christians that serving others is just as important to the glory of God as the personal acts of submitting and suffering. When the guns of the world seem aimed straight at us we find our greatest encouragement often when we come out of the bunker and scurry to serve others. Peter gives us four things to consider as we do.
First, pray for others (I Peter 4:7). There’s a seriousness about his command. The end is at hand, Peter says. Be sober and watchful for time is short. And the uniqueness of his command is that the prayer that glorifies God during the threat is a prayer for others. Foxhole prayers are usually prayers for our own protection but Peter’s encouragement in verse 7 is an “other-focused” prayer. When we pray for others the Bible promises that our own needs are covered as well.
That opens the door for the second of Peter’s commands: love others. Pray for them in turbulent times and don’t take offense at every little thing they do. People under stress tend to say things and do things they wouldn’t normally do. Hurting people hurt others, scared people scare others. So, Peter says, pray for them and love them for “love will cover a multitude of sins” (v. 8). Victorious living under fire requires a soldier willing to focus prayer and love on other soldiers.
Next, Peter gives two more pragmatic commands, be hospitable and minister using your gifts (vv. 9-10). Soldiers under fire can live victorious lives when they show hospitality without complaint. Here’s where most churches miss the mark. When times get tough, when criticism flies, when the troubles seem to mount for the local church, we often batten down the hatches and close the doors to newcomers. Strangers seem to be the last priority. Peter says to be different and to do it using the gifts that God has given uniquely to us. We can all pray, we all are to love, and we all are to be hospitable to strangers in the difficult times. We all have a distinct birthmark that makes us able to minister to others. It’s not a target. It’s a blessing!