The Bible is God’s message to man reminding us of the important things and teaching us how to prepare ourselves for eternity.
We read therein: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:7-8; ESV)
Various students of the text differ as to their understanding of the “things” the apostle is referring to with the phrase, “end of all things.” Quite a few think it means the end of all “Jewish things,” while others suspect that the most natural reading is that he is referring to the end of all “temporal things,” or else all “physical things.” That aside, it is clear that Peter is telling his readers there is a change coming, and they need to be ready when it comes. Whether he is referring to the end of Jerusalem, in line with the prophecy of Christ in Matthew 24, or whether he is referring to the end of the world, as he does in 2 Peter 3, or whether he is simply talking about the rapidly approaching end of life which every man must face,… the message is the same: be ready for it by being prepared spiritually.
In this context he reminds them of the need of sobriety (as in the absence of intoxicants) and self-control. These are subjects he has just finished addressing in verses 1-6. We aren’t going to be ready to face the judgment of God if we haven’t learned how to behave ourselves properly. Yet, as important as this is, in general, there was one aspect of righteousness which the inspired apostle thought to be of particular importance, one thing they should seek to do above all other things: love one another earnestly.
This isn’t the only place in Scripture where love is declared to be the one thing, the one principle and doctrine, that should be placed above all others. In 1 Corinthians 13, in a lesson to the church concerning those foundational principles most important to stress, we read, “Now there remains faith, hope and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (vs. 13). When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, He supplied two, each working with the other in perfect harmony to create a spiritually well-rounded person. Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40; ESV)
It is notable that Jesus is quoting from the Law of Moses. Too many think that God’s standards changed somehow from the Old to the New. But in both the Old and the New Testaments, love is the one thing that helps us understand and do all the rest that God has told us to do. It’s not that love allows us to neglect the other things God has said. Rather, when we are properly loving one another, and loving God, we will be doing, naturally and easily, all that God has taught us that we should be doing. Thus, we read another of Jesus’ apostles teaching us that, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:2-3; ESV)
As a brief aside, chances are good that if you do find the commandments of God to be burdensome, you have a love deficiency somewhere.
That said, over and over again the Spirit of God stresses to us this point: “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony (Colossians 3:24; ESV).”
Everything of this life comes to an end. This world is passing away (cf. 1 John 2:15-17). The things of this world, even those things which seem so durable, fail and falter and are no more (cf. Matthew 6:19-21). Your life is going to come to an end and you are going to have to stand before God and give an account (cf. Hebrews 9:27). On that fateful day what is really going to matter is our relationships. Money, possessions, nations, and the rest will all be gone. You won’t have any of that to carry with you to offer to God as evidence of a life well lived. On that day what is going to matter is how good is your relationship with God. Were you the loving child that He desired, or were you sinful and rebellious. If you have learned love from the Father, reflecting His image within you, and the image of His Son, if you have showed love to Christ by showing love to His servants (cf. Matthew 25:40), if you have learned that most important of lessons concerning what God truly wants, you are going to hear, “Well done.”
The end of all things is at hand. Pay attention to the things that are really going to matter in the end. Learn self-control, abstain from sin, but above all else, learn the love of God and reflect that love in your life.
The church of Christ, in love, invites you to study God’s word with us, and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. If you have any questions, including subjects you might like to see addressed, please share them with us through our website: chapelhillchurchofchrist.org
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.