How to Live in the Will of God
Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek
I’m not going to say who, but on Halloween, one of the members of our music team dressed up as Michael J. Fox’s character Marty McFly in Back to the Future—red vest and a wig and lots of denim. It was great. Again, I won’t say who, but he might have been leading this morning.
Probably you noticed that there has been a recent re-kindling of interest in the Back to the Future movies. The reason was because in the 1989 sequel, they go to the future, which at that point was October 21, 2015, just a few weeks ago. Hence the interest.
At one point, Biff—the Old Biff from the future—goes back to the 1955 Biff—the young Biff—and hands him something and says:
“You see this book? This book tells the future. Tells the results of every major sports event till the end of this century.”
The book is a sports almanac. Sometimes, as Christians, we want to know the future as well. And when we say that and when we discuss it and long for this knowledge, in a way, what we are really after is knowing the will of God. What is the will of God for the present, and for the future. Who will win the Super Bowl, who should I marry, what job would I take, what house should I buy, when do I retire, where do I live, what missions organizations do I give money to, and what color shirt do I wear to church. What is the will of God for these things.
Theologians refer to this aspect of the will of God as the secret, or hidden, will of God. Not that it’s secret from God or hidden from God, but rather that God knows it, but he keeps it largely hidden from us (Deut. 29:29).
You be thinking, “Okay, what does this have to do with anything?” The passage we are about to read in 1 Peter, offers to us the will of God. In fact, Peter pleads with us to spend every single day from this day, until the our last day on earth, living all out for the will of God. And then it preceded to tell us what that will is.
The will of God that 1 Peter offers, however, is what theologians call the revealed of God. That is to say, those things that if and when we do them empowered by the Gospel, we can know for certain that God is smiling upon us, and rooting for us, and in fact giving us strength and energy to do them well. It’s these things, these aspects of God’s will, his revealed will, that we are going to talk about this morning. We’ll leave a discussion of when in the future we’ll have flying cars to another day.
1 Peter 4:1-11
1 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. 3 The time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. 4 With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; 5 but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does. 7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies – in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
This is God’s Word. Pray with me that he would be our teacher. Dear Heavenly Father, …
Generally speaking, we don’t like to be told what to do. If we are told to wear our seatbelts, even if we know it’s good for us, it makes us mad just to be told. If we are told to enjoy eating ice cream something inside us goes, “Don’t tell me to enjoy eating ice cream, thank you very much.”
But we need to see instruction—good instruction, necessary instruction—as a gift, as grace to us, even as lack of instruction would be miserable.
When I started my first job out of college, I was not given a whole lot of instruction, especially at first. I was working in construction, and I kept finding myself assigned to projects were I was way over my head. Projects where I needed help. It seemed as if we had the policy “figure it out for yourself.”
That was really hard of a young graduate. I wanted to do well, I wanted to get things right, I was motivated, but I needed helped more help and guidance.
I could tell a bunch of stories about those first few years, but I’ll just say one brief one. We were working on two hotels, both with Hilton, both with the same general contractor. My boss gave a folder and a roll of architectural plans and said, “Take these to a meeting on Thursday at 10am.”
So I did. That’s all I did. In hindsight, there was a little prep work that needed to be done. So I’m sitting in this room with half a dozen industry professionals in other construction trades, and this super gruff general contractor, the project manager, whose name was Larry, looks at me and says, “So what you have to say.”
I didn’t have anything to say but I felt keenly that I was supposed to say something. So I looked down at a folder, which I hadn’t opened, and decided that I would unroll my the drawings I had brought with me to see if there were any clues there.
I barely get them open and Larry barks, “Roll them up. Put them away.” I assume he can’t be serious so I keep going. He doubles his intensity and says, “Talk to me after the meeting.”
Oh, great. Got I’m going to the principal’s office. Well, I found out that I had the wrong plans for the wrong hotel. And we were the only contractor that was working on both projects and he didn’t want others to know that yet.
Anyway, after doing the job for a year or two, I knew exactly what to do when I was first handed a project, but at first, I needed more instruction. And even as I got better, sometimes still needed to be reminded of simple things.
This happens in other areas besides work, as well. I know of one Christian woman, who grew up in at Christian home, but the only advice she ever received about sex from her parents was this: “Don’t get pregnant.”
Wow, that leaves a lot of instruction missing, doesn’t it, and in a pretty important area of life, too.
Now, think of the audience of 1 Peter. This is a group of relatively young Christians in young churches. And they are suffering. They are going through hard times. In fact, we should point out that they are suffering not for the general reasons that all of us tend suffer, like job loss and health challenges and relationship struggles. They had those, too. But they were suffering precisely because they began to follow Jesus.
And when that happens, you need to know, you want to know: Am I doing the will of God? When you are suffering and when you come to Jesus and things get harder not easier, you want to know: Have I messed something up? Am I out of God’s will?
As I said at the start, Peter writes very, very practical instruction about how to live in God’s will. Isn’t that something you’d like to be better at? I would.
As I have looked at these verses, it seems like there are six or so main ways that Peter speaks of that are in line with will of God. I don’t want to preach a long sermon, but I do want to preach a helpful sermon and in many ways a very practical sermon.
To do that, I’m going to only cover three of these ways, knowing full well that I’m going to leave some things for another time. The three ways we are going to cover, which are the first three in your outlines, are 1. Abstain from sin, 2. Love sinners, and 3. Show joyful hospitality.
1. Abstain from sin, vv. 3-5
Let’s start with the first, namely, abstain from sin. We see this in vv. 3-5.
Living for the will of God means that we must abstain from participating in sinful activities we once participated in, even if they are things we formally enjoyed, and even if they are things that others encourage us to join in with them, and even if when we don’t participate in them, it causes us to be maligned.
Look at the verses 3-5,
3 The time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. 4 With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; 5 but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
Notice the phrase, “what the Gentiles what to do” (v. 3). Using the word “Gentiles” is a way of saying those who have not yet come to God. The point I want you to see is the phrase, “want to do,” meaning there is a desire involved. They want to do something.
And notice the words in v. 4, “with respect to this, they are surprised when you do not join them…” It doesn’t make sense to them that you would abstain from certain practices that everyone else knows that there is nothing wrong with.
Friends, you know this already, don’t you? That becoming a Christian changes things. If it doesn’t change things, than you have become a Christian. And because things change, I don’t want you to be surprised that when you abstain from sin, that outsiders will be surprised. And as the crust of Christianly that used to exist in culture, slowly falls away, the surprise that others have about your faith will only increase.
For example, many people will be surprised when choose not to overlay your Facebook profile picture with a certain symbol, when everyone else in culture seems to be overlaying their picture with a certain symbol because they see nothing wrong with it.
Being a Christian and following the will of God will likely make you and I seem like social dinosaurs in our antiquated, backwards, unenlightened views about FILL IN THE BLANK.
And notice the result of this surprise in v. 5. They “malign you.”
Earlier in the letter (3:15), Peter talked about speaking to outsiders with “gentleness and respect,” but the point he is making here is that even after we have done everything we can do to speak with respect and gentleness, it won’t be enough to avoided being maligned. It wasn’t for Jesus. He was always these things and yet they killed him for it.
And speaking of FaceBook, my I read with fasciation the thread of a conversation the other day from my friend James. James and I were in seminary together. And he had thrown out and idea which a few people engaged him on.
They didn’t like what James thought, which wasn’t surprising. But what was interesting is that James keep saying things like, “Look, I don’t think I have the right to decide this; it doesn’t matter what I think. I’m just trying to say, ‘This is what I think God has said about this issue.’”
(By the way, I know I’m not being clear on which topic it was; that’s on purpose because this conversation could stand in for a dozen issues).
Anyway, I couldn’t believe the way James was maligned. Certainly he was called arrogant, but at one point, someone equated him with ISIS.
Peter writes to these Christians, and he writes to you and I, that if we will follow the will of God, it will make us very odd people, but we will be a people deeply loved by God.
2. Love sinners, v. 8
The next aspect of God’s will that’s on display that we are going cover is in v. 8. It’s about loving sinners. Let’s read v. 8.
8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
I think it will be helpful to say what this verse does not mean, and then what it does mean.
First, what it does not mean. To “cover a multitude of sins” does not mean that when we love each other, God forgives someone sins. Only Jesus takes away sins. So this verse isn’t saying that.
But that’s probably not our biggest temptation in misunderstanding this. Here’s the real problem—potentially—you may be tempted to read this verse and you think, “It sounds like if I cover my brother or sister’s sins, then there won’t be consequences.” That’s not what it’s saying. He’s focused on other things. In fact, just above in this verse, Peter spoke of God judging the living and the dead, which is a way to say that sins always have consequences—always. And in chapter 2, he spoke of civil governments having a role in punishing those who do wrong.
What this verse does mean, what this verse is calling us to do is this: Will the love that we have received from God be so real to us that we might be able to overcome the bitterness and the rage and the vengeance and the violence that we might naturally feel when we are sinned against, and instead choose let the consequences of sin be carried out by those that are in the place to do so. In short, can we be a forgiving people?
Again, this is speaking on an individual level. If you are in an HR department, in your official capacity, you don’t cover sins up. If you work as a police officer, in your official you don’t cover sins up. If you are an elder in a local church, in our official capacity, you don’t cover sins up. Other passage speak to these situations. But as individuals, we must be able to forgive.
If we can’t do this, I don’t know how church could exist? So, before moving on, I might just ask, is there someone in this room who you are not coving their sins with your love, but rather digging it up and flinging it everywhere?
3. Show joyful hospitality, v. 9
Next, he speaks of joyful hospitality. Let’s read v. 9.
9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.
I chuckle that he inserts the words “without grumbling.” Evidently, the temptation at that time was that people might be hospitable, but grumble about it. That would never happen today, right?
Of course it does. It’s hard work to have people over to your house. It costs time and effort and money.
But isn’t it nice to be somewhere where the host says, “Make yourself at home,” and you know they mean it? Isn’t that nice?
I think my wife is very good at this. But we have a deal in our house that if I bring someone in our family up in my sermon then I have to buy them ice cream. So I won’t brag on my wife. But there is a woman in our small group that’s so good at this. Actually, there are several. Over the last year, I’ve developed a food allergy. I didn’t know that could just happen out of nowhere, but I guess it can. And I never get to eat a meal anymore without thinking about whether or not it’s okay to eat what has been served. Again, that’s how I always used to eat, but that’s not possible anymore, at least if I don’t want to get sick.
We always have a meal together before we study the Bible and pray for each other. And a few weeks ago, the person hosting our small group, knowing about me, made an entire meal that I would eat without distinction. I felt like a million bucks.
But showing joyful hospitality isn’t only for insiders; it’s for outsiders, too. Yes, the saving message of Jesus Christ in the gospel is the only way people can be saved from hell, but—but!—so often God is please to bring people into contact with that message through the hospitality of others. How many of you, as you began to believe the message, a piece of your story included Christians inviting you into their homes.
The instruction here is so simple. And I know it’s hard to host people, but just think about this: if we do this well for the next 10 years, how many families might be changed by the gospel.
4. Steward gifts to the glory of God, vv. 10-11
The last aspect of God’s will I was going to cover was on using your gifts to the glory of God. Let me read the verse.
10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies – in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
As I was working through this passage, I wrote out in the margin, there is a whole word of assumptions in this passage. For example,
- Gifts are something you receive, therefore, DON’T BOAST!
- Gifts are for others. (In other words, God gives you the ability to do something but he gives it in order that you might re-gift your gift to others.)
- There are various/varied gifts of God, i.e. we are not all the same.
- This list is not exhaustive. “If speaking…” here’s one, for example. “If service…” Oh, here’s another. I think what this means is whatever gift you have, roll up your sleeves and use it to God’s glory. In fact, in the last membership class, we just went around the room giving everyone a chance to say how they have served in the local church, and it was so neat to hear 30 people say all sorts of gives.
There is so much that could just be said about these verses, but I want to close with two encouragements.
Your weakness and your inability to do the will of God by yourself is not a problem to God.
Did you see the phrase, “whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies”? Did you notice that? Well, right after that it says, “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
That statement—“ in order that in everything God may be glorified”—is focused specifically on one particular gift, but I think what it says is true across the whole passage. In other words, if you are called to do something, and you don’t have the strength to do it, then you should trust God, because if he supplies the grace, then he gets the glory. Do you see what I’m saying? Your weakness and your inability is not a problem to God. The only thing he has ever known is weak and sinful people in need of a great savior.
When this passage calls us to walk in the will of God, know this: Jesus Christ has done the will of God before us and for us. What God requires of us, Jesus did for us.
Think about this verse from the gospel of John. In John 6:38 it says,
For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.
Notice the phrase the will of God. Now, probably there were aspects of the secret will of God that Jesus accomplished, but he certainly did his revealed will as well. What I mean is that the very things this passage requires of us, Jesus did for us.
Think of the way Jesus abstained from sin. He never sinned. And he was constantly maligned.
And consider the way he loved sinners. We are to love so that we cover up sins, but Jesus… he actually covers them up with his own blood.
And joyful hospitality… Oh my. Jason pointed this out to me as we were talking about this. Whose world is this? It’s God’s world. Which means that every good thing we have ever known comes from him. The fact that we are in this world is God extending his hospitality to us. Amazing.
As Peter writes, “To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”