Here is concluding counsel for a marginalized, victimized group. As exiles and aliens (1 Peter 2:11-12) within Roman society, Peter calls them to transcend their situation by living as an authentic community, which seeks only good for its surrounding culture.
This section concludes the major exhortation section of 1 Peter. It opened with the vocative “Beloved” (1 Peter 2:11), and Peter identifies the next movement of the epistle with another use of “Beloved” in 1 Peter 4:12. Also, the section begins with the purpose of faithful living—the glory of God (1 Peter 2:12) and ends with the goal of such a life—the glory of God (1 Peter 4:11). The glory of God functions as an inclusio, to which is attached a doxology: “To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:11).
Given we are “aliens and exiles,” how, then, should we live? Peter’s first summary point is:
The end of all things is near.
We live, Peter writes, in the light of the “end of all things.” But what does that mean?
Some suggest it means Peter believed the final revelation of the kingdom of God would soon arrive. In other words, the second coming of Jesus was “near,” that is, it would happen soon, perhaps within his own generation.
However, there is another way of reading this. The term “end” (telos) also has the meaning of “goal.” As such, Peter envisions the goal of the kingdom of God, which is the arrival of the fullness God intends for the creation. That is the inheritance God promised in Christ (1 Peter 1:4).
But what does it mean to say it is “near?” This is the language Jesus himself used. For example, Jesus heralded the reality, “The kingdom of God is near” (Mark 1:14). Both Peter and Jesus use the same verb, eggizo (to draw near, come near). In the ministry of Jesus, the verb embraces both the present (the kingdom is “breaking into” the world) and future (what is not yet fully realized) kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is imminent and spilling over into the present even as we wait for the future to arrive.
Peter has something like this in mind. The goal of God is near. That future is already present but has not yet fully arrived. It is here in the lives of “exiles and aliens” who embody the glory of God within Roman culture but the goal of God is not yet fully here such that a new world has emerged where peace, righteousness, and justice fill the cosmos.
Christians live as if the new world has arrived because it has arrived in their lives. They live with the hope and expectancy of the fullness of that new world in the future. It shapes how they live now. They live in the shadow of God’s final and full eschatological reality, the kingdom of God. They live under an eschatological horizon, and this shapes their values, ethics, and communal life.
There are many ways in which we might understand and apply Peter’s exhortations in this section. His counsel has a wide application, and it may have no specific focus. However, I want to suggest a possible Sitz im Leben for this text, a specific setting for hearing it.
Since this section concludes with a liturgical doxology to which the congregation responds with “Amen” and, given the nature of circular letters in early Christian congregations, this letter is read in the midst of a gathered people, an assembly, we might hear this language in connection with a gathered community rather than simply in terms of broad relationships (though it has application there as well).
First, there is a contrast between Christian gatherings and pagan association gatherings so prevalent in Roman culture (see the previous section, 1 Peter 4:1-6). Drinking parties, excessive wine, and inebriating feasts characterized association meetings, but Christian gatherings are “right-minded” (self-controlled) and “sober-minded” (disciplined). The former are chaotic and often erotic but the latter are ordered though earnest. This contrast is probably what Paul had in mind in Ephesians 5:18-21. “Prayers,” in fact, may reflect a communal activity, and those prayers reflect order rather than pandemonium or confusion.
Second, Christian gatherings are shaped by love. Just as Jesus talked about his disciples loving each other while at table with them in John 13, so Peter stresses this as part of their assemblies. It is what, above everything else, should shape Christian life and relationships.
To reinforce this, Peter quotes Proverbs 10:12b: “love covers all offenses” (or multitude of sins). The best way to understand this statement is to see with what it stands in contrast. The first line of the parallelism in Proverbs 10:12 reads, “Hatred stirs up conflicts.” The contrast between “covers” and “stirs up” illuminates the contrast between “love” and “hatred.” Love covers a multitude of sins in this sense: love does not stir up strife or conflicts within the community. Instead, love overlooks faults, which lead to strife and interpersonal conflict. Such love brings harmony to a community and enables assemblies to gather in peace; it enables community despite each others faults.
Third, Christian gatherings are made possible by hospitality in the apostolic period. While Peter may have in mind a broad sense of hospitality such as caring for traveling strangers, evangelists, and prophets (which was necessary due to the lack of public Inns in the ancient world), he may have in mind—more specifically—providing space for communal meetings. Christians needed safe places to gather, and that may have involved some cultural risk for their hosts. And it may have provided an occasion for grumbling within the community (like no one has ever complained about how the small group meeting is at their house, right?).
Fourth, community means serving each other out of their gifts and speaking to each other in ways that reflect God’s own speech. This is the grace of God within a community. God gifts a community for speech and service, and those gifts are for the sake of the community. The divine grace present in the community is God’s own strength, and this enables the community to excel in their God-given gifts. As “good managers” of this grace, the community must serve each other and speak to each other in gracious ways, which reflect God’s own work in the community.
Purpose: the Glory of God
As in 1 Peter 2:11-12, the purpose for Christian community, the goal of all things, and the meaning of Christian “good works” within the world is the glory of God. This is achieved “through Jesus Christ” and in the sanctifying work of the Spirit (1 Peter 1:2; 4:6, 14). God the Father is glorified through the work of the Son in the power of the Spirit, which points us back to the opening salutation of the letter (1 Peter 1:2).
Responding to his own point, Peter concludes his exhortations with a doxology. He himself breaks out in praise.
To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever.
The church, listening to the reading of the letter and hearing the doxology, is given their cue. Peter writes: Amen! And we might imagine that the congregation responded with an “Amen” of their own.
And we, too, say, “Amen!”