Living in the Last Days
“The end of all things is at hand.” That’s what Peter wrote in his first letter. It was believed by everyone then, including Peter, that Jesus was coming back in that generation. James, the brother of Jesus wrote in his letter, “The judge is standing at the door.” Paul wrote, “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night…But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief.” Peter and James and Paul believed Jesus would return soon, and it has been believed by everyone since then. Every generation of Jesus-followers believes he is coming in their lifetime. Every generation of believers, at least in my lifetime, cannot imagine that the world could get any worse. Jesus said himself, “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
How are we then to live? Peter writes in his second letter, speaking about the destruction of the earth by fire, “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God…?” And that’s the question he begins to answer in his first letter. How would you and I live if we knew it was our last year? Would we stop everything and go preach on the streets? Would we double-down on work and pile up as much money as we could? Would we just lock our doors and binge on food and drink and Netflix? Jesus’ question to his disciples gives us the answer: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith (or, faithfulness) on the earth?” That’s what we are to do. Be faithful. What does that look like? Peter gives us four things to do and to consider since the end of all things is at hand, but I will focus on one.
“Above all,” Peter writes, “keep loving one another.” The greatest thing we can do as we await Jesus’ return is love one another the way Christ loves us. The word is “earnestly” and it means “stretched out, continual, intense, and enduring.” When Peter was in prison and James had already been beheaded, the church prayed “earnestly” for Peter. They were stretched out in prayer for their beloved apostle and friend. I believe it is God’s love that stretches our love to its limits for one another. John wrote, “We love because he first loved us.”
What does love do? Peter tells us it covers a multitude of sins. A tree that is wounded produces new wood to grow around the wound. This isolates and protects the wound from further exposure and damage. That’s what God does for us, and even more, with his love through grace. David wrote in Psalm 32, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” And it is what we do for one another. Love them to health. We don’t love well if we delight in finding and exposing sins and faults.
DL Moody used to share this story years ago: “Show me a church where there is love,” he said, “and I will show you a church that is a power in the community. In Chicago a few years ago a little boy attended a church I know of. When his parents moved to another part of the city the little fellow still attended the same church, although it meant a long, tiresome walk each way. A friend asked him why he went so far? There are plenty of others just as good nearer his home. ‘They may be as good for others, but not for me,’ he said. ‘Why not?’ she asked. ‘Because they love a fellow over there,’ he replied.”
Moody continued, “If only we could make the world believe that we loved them there would be fewer empty churches, and a smaller proportion of our population who never darken a church door. Let love replace duty in our church relationships, and the world will soon be evangelized.”
Living in the last days is changed by how well we love others the ways Jesus loves us.