“And above all things have fervent love for one another. . . “– 1 Peter 4:8a
In the last few days we’ve experienced two tragic shootings, one in El Paso Texas, one in Dayton Ohio. Much of the mainstream media and liberal politicians were quick to seize upon the tragic circumstances to push their agenda. We have grown to expect not the truth from our media or politicians, but a self-serving propagandized version of the “truth,” that only serves to throw salt in the wounds of such tragedies. There were claims that America has the highest rate of mass shootings and therefore gun control laws needed to be enacted. But the truth is that America is not anywhere near the worst nation in terms of mass shootings. In fact, evidence shows we rank around 62nd in the world. President Trump was quick, and right to condemn such violence. Franklin Graham was right to respond that such shootings are senseless. And that is literally true in that the one most common, common-denominator is that those who perpetrate such terrible tragedies are mentally ill.  And these tragedies, while perpetrated by the mentally ill or demonically soulless ghouls, often become opportunities for heroes to be born. Such was the case with a heroic mother and father who gave their lives to protect their baby from the attack.  Another hero, at risk of his own life, rescued children from the active shooter scene putting himself in the line of fire.
Gun control is not the answer to such violence. If you ask those in charge of protecting us where most mass shootings occur, they will tell you that shooters target soft targets such as schools and other “gun free” zones. One writer rightly stated, “What gun control advocates apparently fail to realize is that a gun doesn’t have a heart. It has no soul. It does not feel. It does not think. It does not love. It does not hate. It cannot conceive of intent (either good or ill).” Then he goes on to comment, “You and I, however, are capable of all these attitudes (and more).”
If we removed all guns from the earth, people would still find instruments of destruction. Cain killed Abel long before guns were around (Genesis 4). People use sticks and stones, rocks and ropes to kill. They use clothes and even pillows to murder. The instruments of death are not the problem. Indeed, there’s evidence that if more people carried guns, mass shooters would think twice about attacking people. The problem is with the heart of those wielding the weapons.
If ever there was a time and circumstance in crying need of the good news of the gospel, this is it. Now is the time to act in love and share the gospel with our fellow citizens. Now is the time to follow the inspired words of the Apostle Paul who stated, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power fo God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16a). The gospel of Jesus Christ is powerful. The gospel enacted by the Holy Spirit is able to change and transform the sinful human heart. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
You know it used to be when there was a national tragedy that the pulpits of America would speak God’s word of hope and encouragement and instruction. And in that time, the people of the country would look to those pulpits and listen and receive hope, encouragement and instruction. But the Church over the years has squandered much of its authority and credibility capital through selfishness, lovelessness, compromise of the truth, greed, lust and perversity. You name it, the church and its clergy have indulged in it. The world sees the church and its clergy as hypocrites. And unfortunately, to a great extent that’s true. At least the world might respect us if we stood for something, for truth. But the church is so infatuated with size and numbers and fame and fortune that its no longer a “pillar and ground of the truth” as it is supposed to be (1 Timothy 3:15).
But let’s just assume, let’s pretend, that the church still holds some credibility. Let’s pretend it still sees the word of God as “given by inspiration of God,” and that it is, “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). What could, what should the church, based on the pillar of scripture, proclaim about tragedy? A place to find some answers for tragic situations in life is in 1 Peter chapter 4 where the Apostle Peter is inspired to write:
1 Peter 4:7-12 – “But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers.8 And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”9 Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.10 As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.11 If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” 12 “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you;
Tragedy, trials or difficulties are an inevitable part of Life. They are pervasive. They can be found in masses of people or with solitary individuals. Trials can be global or nationally related such as in wars. Political revolutions, social chaos, rioting, or economic collapses all have their tragic victims. Sometimes the tragedy of the loss of life can become so common that it is even overlooked. Millions aborted babies, thousands of persecuted Christians, you seldom hear of such things in the mainstream media. That is a terribly tragic revelation on the darkness of some human hearts. Part of the blindness imposed on this world by the prince of darkness is a callousness to human calamity that doesn’t involve “me.” People will do just about anything for “me.” And “me,” the sister of “I,” is at the center of S-I-N.
Tragedy doesn’t have to involve the taking of life. Trials and tragedy can take the form of a relational conflict, family breakup, loss of personal income. It’s tragic to see a nation headed for destruction. It’s tragic to see people duped by politicians and their pundits and manipulated to see good as evil and evil as good (see Isaiah 5:20). Tragedy and trials take many forms. How can we handle such circumstances in life?
What compounds and increases the severity of tragedy is that it is most often unexpected. We don’t expect someone to act violently or shoot or attack innocent civilians in some way. (Though, with the increased occurrence, we have grown to not be as shocked as we once were.) And when a tragedy strikes us, like an earthquake, a landslide, a brush fire, or a terror attack, a mass shooting, a murder, it shocks us and we seek a cause and effect reason. We think that “understanding” will ease the pain. But it really doesn’t. When you lose a loved one, understanding the “why” only a watery means of easing the deep heartfelt pains. There needs to be something more. There must be something more. There is something more.
How can we weather the storms of life? How can we prepare (if that is truly possible) for the inevitable tragedy that hits everyone in one way or another at some time in life? There will be, unexpected disasters, both natural and human made. There will be unexpected losses. There will be unexpected illnesses. There will be unexpected changes for the worse. There will be unexpected negative actions and reactions of others. A day can start fine and suddenly turn to the worst day in your life. Smelling the roses, watching a sunrise or sunset, giving birth, being part of a wedding, reaching a goal, are all a part of life we relish. But so is tragedy. And we need to find a way of balance to keep us standing and headed in the right direction regardless of the blessings or curses that we encounter.
When we consider the above passage, we need to recognize that Peter’s letter was written “To the pilgrims” (1 Peter 1:1). A pilgrim is a sojourner. A pilgrim is on a journey to somewhere. And we as human beings, but particularly as Christians, are pilgrims. As human beings we are on a life journey that takes us from birth to death. We are created by God to fulfill a purpose (E.g. Isaiah 43:7; Romans 8:29). Its’ tragic when people live out their life journey never seeking or fulfilling their life purpose. Life lived like that is unfulfilling and aimless. Some people live life by the seat of their pants never heeding or taking hold of God’s prevenient gracious outstretched arm to show them the way (cf. Isaiah 59:1-2). But when someone becomes a Christian, when someone is regenerated by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4-7), when someone is born again through faith in Jesus (John 1:12; 3:1-36), they come to realize what life is really all about. Coming to Jesus as Savior provides us with meaning, purpose, direction. With God’s manual for life, the Bible, God speaks to us and helps us understand the way things are and why they are the way they are. 
When we go to God’s word and when we examine the passage in question, we see the inspired Peter tells these pilgrims, “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you.” He warns these “beloved” brethren and encourages them that the “fiery trial” or incident of suffering they were experiencing should not be thought of as “strange.” “Strange” (Greek xenidzo) means an unexpected house guest, to be shocked or surprised by the arrival of someone unexpected, to be surprised by an uninvited person at your door. In this fallen sinful world we should expect the uninvited intrusions of suffering. Hardship will come knocking on your door like an unwanted salesman or nuisance neighbor, or a thief, or a murderer. Hardship comes like a home invasion. This is par for the course in this fallen world. Fiery trials will intrude into our life. You can count on it! That is the reality of living in this world. That is truth.
The apostle Peter wrote his first epistle to pilgrims who had been displaced from their homes and jobs and communities by persecution. While Christians probably saw the writing on the wall of oncoming persecution, when it finally did hit them, there was a suddenness to the reality of it. Even though the persecuted Christians of Peter’s day felt the tide turning against them, there was a certain sudden reality and finality to that persecution. Seeing something coming and then being hit by it does not discount the sudden impact of it. Like a cresting wave that suddenly smashes us down or an oncoming car coming your way, there is a sense of slow motion and then an explosion of sensory overload. You can prepare and “expect” tragedy to befall you all you want. You can even see it coming. But when it hits, there will still be shock.
Though Peter had such circumstances in mind when inspired to write his epistle, he knew that these people were not exempt from personal “normal” trials too. Personal trials don’t take off and stop because of societal difficulties. Quite the contrary, the enemy likes to pile on. So, the persecuted may still experience a terminal illness. And terminal illness, even though it brings with it the awareness of an impending end to life, when that end comes, it is sudden and a shock to our system; death always is.
So, this is reality. This is our plight. Should we be forlorn? Should we be reclusive? What should we do in the face of such life realities? Regardless of the difficulty we encounter how should we respond? There are a number of things Peter mentions as helpful in the context of sudden suffering. These should be mentioned before we get to the most important response to suffering. There is something that “above all” we should do when difficulties hit us. These are wise words from the inspired fisherman. And we live in times where we see the writing on the wall. The tide is turning against us in many ways. Or we may, unbeknownst to us, be about to face a sudden unexpected personal difficulty. These things will come. What is Peter inspired to instruct us in this regard?
First, remember our present state of suffering is not eternal but temporary. Peter states, “But the end of all things is at hand.” God has revealed His prophetic plan in His word. There is an end to this fallen world as we know it. It will be a glorious end with a glorious transformation by God (cf. Revelation 19-22). It’s easier to endure pain when you know it’s not permanent. I can endure the dentist or go through surgery if I keep in mind it will all be over soon.
We can persevere through suffering if we just keep in mind that “the end of all things is at hand.” Jesus is coming back! Paul referred to the return of Jesus as the Christians’ “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13). It’s blessed because it helps us endure to the end. Jesus is coming back and He is going to bring eternal order to this temporal mess the devil and his minions of lost rebellious humanity have concocted.
Second, pray seriously and watchfully in light of the temporariness of our suffering state. Peter continues, “therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers.” Prayer is a declaration of dependence on God. We can’t weather the storms of trial in our own strength. We need to tap into God’s power by way of prayer. If we don’t tap into God’s powerful reserves, we will eventually tap out of life. Prayer brings the peace of God that surpasses understanding (Phil. 4:6-7). When we keep our mind on God in prayer it settles and strengthens us (Isaiah 26:3; Phil. 4:8-9).
The term “serious” comes from the Greek word sophreneo which means to be of sound mind, sane, be in your right mind, to exercise self control, curb your passions. When we pray, we speak to God, but God speaks to us through His word. So, when we pray, we should have His word close by. And as we pray in this way, it helps us have a steady stable mindset regardless of what we encounter.
But there are a lot of prayerless people, and therefore unstable people in this world. Some of them are Christian! What do I mean? An example of sophreneo might be not getting carried away with various conspiracy theories floating around the Internet. Some go so far as to claim the earth isn’t round but flat. Others are related to so many topics space does not allow to list them all here. The people who hold to such theories are very passionate about them. Peter’s words don’t instruct us to not investigate truth. They tell us to investigate truth in a sober self-controlled way.
There may be an element of truth in some of the “conspiracy” theories in the world today. But not all are true. A heresy is a half-truth. Cults lure people in with the hook of a half truth and then carve them up with boldface lies. Some conspiracy theories are simply a means used by people to manipulate and influence others in a direction they prefer. Some of these theories are meant to divert our attention from the real issues and problems. Some are disinformation. Some are genuine exposes on real clandestine cutthroat activities. As we wade through the proliferation of information we need to do so with prayer, God’s word in hand, levelheadedness, and the discernment provided by the Holy Spirit.
“Watchful” (Greek nepho) means to abstain from wine, sober, discretion, watchfulness. The context would direct us to see this word in light of Peter’s previously mentioned indulging in “lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries” (1 Peter 4:3). In light of the closeness of “the end of all things” we need to be on high alert. We can’t afford to allow our senses to be diminished in any way by mood-and-mind-altering worldly stuff like alcohol, drugs, rampant materialism, and the religion of recreation. The world may say that marijuana is fine to use recreationally, but the child of God trying to be alert in the last days of this fallen world will not compromise or curtail their spiritual senses with such junk.
We shouldn’t allow any temporal entity or diversion of this world keep us from focusing in on eternal priorities related to heaven and eternity. We are living in a dangerous time and need to be on the top of our game spiritually, mentally, and physically.
Third, be hospitable; use your resources (e.g. homes) to facilitate fellowship. Peter states, “ Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.” “Hospitable” (Greek philoxenos) means fond of guests, given to hospitality, inviting people into your home. Christians need mutual support. The Comforter comforts through other Christians. Therefore, we should be open and eager to welcome people into our homes. We should hold our possessions and resources with open handed extensions of an open heart. Christians should facilitate spending time with each other. We should seek to build relationships with other Christians.
We shouldn’t settle for spending an hour in church and then run out without spending time with other Christians and getting to know them. Peter points these persecuted pilgrim Christians to friendship and relationship as a network of encouragement and resource of help and support during difficult times. The Holy Spirit comforts through others and He may just want to comfort someone through you! Christian, in light of the times in which we live we need to open our homes, open our kitchens and even open our bank accounts to help others. We need to spend time with one another.
And we should open our homes and be in fellowship “without grumbling” (Greek goggysmos). This means not grudging, not murmuring, not having a secret debate, or secret displeasure about interacting with people or having them in our homes. We should count it a blessed privilege to be used by God to interact with others by using our homes or getting together with them in some way. We should be thankful God has blessed us with such resources to share.
Don’t grumble when people come to fellowship empty handed. Don’t grumble when they track dirt into your home. Don’t grumble when people are unappreciative or inconsiderate. Just cover it all with “a fervent love for one another.” Be gracious. And for those who do come empty handed, or track dirt into homes, or aren’t appreciative or considerate, repent! Show your love for those who host get-togethers and fellowship by being considerate of their generosity. Both hosts and guests should show their love for each other.
Fourth, use your spiritual gifts during times of suffering. Peter writes, “ As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” By God’s grace we have received spiritual gifts to be used corporately in the body of Christ to strengthen the church. Our spiritual gifting is aimed at uniting and strengthening the members of the church. We each have a responsibility to discover and use our spiritual gifts for the benefit of others (cf. Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12 and 14; Ephesians 4). Spiritual gifts are given for the profit of all not the preoccupation with self. This implies unity, working together, being other oriented, and leaning on each other in the church. This is essential to persevere through trials.
And I might add, this implies taking action to reach those outside of the church. Those with the spiritual gift of evangelism, prophecy, teaching, mercy, or who can counsel, or helps, take action. Reach out to the unsaved who have experienced tragedy. I recently saw people gathering together to help clean up the squalor in Baltimore.  That’s something we should all be involved in. Samaritan’s Purse sends people to help in times of tragedy.  These are the types of things that can help win the church and Christianity back some of the credibility it has lost! Be active in helping others, in actively loving others, whether or not they are churchgoers or Christians.
Fifth, rely on and share God’s word. Peter says, “ If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God.” “Oracles” (Greek logion) means an utterance of God, a divine oracle, words from God. We need to speak as God directs us to speak. The best way to assure we speak in line with what God would have us speak is to speak words from God’s word or words that can be backed up by God’s word. We should speak as the Spirit leads us. But the Spirit will provide a verification of what we speak in His word. Speak God’s word!
Sixth, minister in the ability God provides. Peter comments, “ If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, . . .” The word “ability” (Greek ischys from is) means force, forcefulness, ability, might, power, strength. In other words, don’t live and serve in your own strength but in the strength provided by the Lord. This would encompass the empowerment of the Holy Spirit (e.g. Acts 1:8 and Acts 2ff.). Do what God enables you to do. God’s callings have His enablings. Where God guides, God provides. If you have it in your head to do something, make sure it is God who is directing you to do it. If the ability is not there, and or the provisions to do it, it’s not likely God has called you to do it. But if you step out in faith to do the uncomfortable, and God empowers you to do it, you will be blessed and He will be glorified.
Seventh, live to glorify God. Peter states, “ that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” In all we do we should purpose to bring God glory. We shouldn’t do something to get glory for ourselves. Don’t be a pharisee or someone who does what they do to be seen as righteous (e.g. Matthew 6). Do what you do for God’s glory. We should aim at giving credit and praise to God.
Our response to difficulty should point to the faithfulness of God. So, do what you do with the right attitude. Complaining or grumbling accuses God of not being faithful. But God gets the glory when His fingerprints are on what is done. Something done in mere human effort only yields limited temporary benefit and diverts glory from God to people. But something done that could clearly only have been done with God’s intervention and provision, yields eternal lasting fruit and benefit, and gives glory to God.
Eighth, the most important response to suffering is LOVE. Finally, Peter states, “ And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” The most important thing to do in response to suffering is “have a fervent love for one another.” The word “fervent” (Greek ektenes) means a love that doesn’t give up, a love that is alive with hope! To have a fervent love means to have a love that’s on a mission, love that will not give in or give up.
How can we get such love? Such love only comes through a personal saving relationship with God in Jesus Christ. There is no love like God’s love. God’s love is filled with hope. And hope is what we need in times of tragedy. Love is filled with hope because such love from God brings us close to God. And with God nothing is impossible (e.g. Luke 1:37; Philippians 4:13). With God and His love within, we can face anything or anyone, any tragedy in life. Indeed, God in His word states, “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given us” (Romans 5:5).
When is the Holy Spirit given to us? He is given to us when we admit our sin, and ask God to forgive our sins because of what Jesus has done for us on the cross. Freely, as a gift of God’s grace, in His love and mercy, God wonderfully looked down at lost sinful people like you and me and everyone, and made a way for us to be forgiven and saved from our sin (cf. Ephesians 2). All we need to do is trust in Jesus and receive God’s forgiveness for our sins. He will tell us what to do from that point on. He will direct us by way of His word.
God loves us and that’s why Jesus came for us (cf. John 3:16). In a nutshell this good news of salvation, this gospel, is summed up in the words, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). “He” God the Father, “made Him,” Jesus Christ, “who knew no sin to be sin for us,” because as the only sinless Man, Jesus alone was qualified for this mission. Jesus did this “for us,” because of the Father’s love and His love for us.
And the result is that when someone puts their faith in Jesus as Savior, the effectual purpose is, “that we might become the righteousness of God” or just as if we’d never sinned person, “in Him,” or in a faith relationship with Jesus. That is a message of hope. We know its true because Jesus defeated death and rose fro the dead. Therefore, if death, the last and greatest enemy is defeated, we can have hope in every circumstance of life. Indeed, Peter referred to this as a “living hope,” a hope that is always alive (1 Peter 1:3).
Fervent love is first aimed at God who loves us. We should always love God supremely. But such love, God’s love, is always sacrificial. If God’s love is in us, it will move us to love those around us. We love God supremely, but we also love others sacrificially. For instance, fervent love results in prayer for others, hospitality toward others, serving others in God’s grace. It is love guided by God’s word. And all of this is aimed at bringing glory to God because He loves us. When we love it will glorify God.
It is a fervent love that loves people enough to tell them the truth. It is not loving to not tell people the truth. If you walk by a burning house and fail to warn those within that they are in great danger, that isn’t loving. Similarly, those who have yet to receive Jesus as their Savior remain in sin and if they were to perish, would spend eternity in a terrible place called hell. The wages or consequence of sin is death (Romans 6:23). And all people, no matter how good they or others think they are, fall short of what God requires to spend eternity with Him. No one on their own is good enough to get into heaven. But the good news is that Jesus has paid our death penalty on the cross. He did that for us. And we know His atoning death on the cross is acceptable to God because He has risen from the dead. Jesus is not dead, He’s alive! You can “know” God and His only Son Jesus personally. And that relationship will get you through any difficulty or tragedy.
How can you experience this? Simply pray from your heart a prayer of faith. You might pray something like this:
Dear Father, I come to You in Jesus’ name. I admit my sin. My sin has separated me from You. I know nothing I can do can make my sin forgivable. But I believe Jesus died on the cross for me. He paid my death penalty for sin. I accept Him as my Savior. Please forgive my sins based on what Jesus has done for me, not anything I have done for myself. I trust in Jesus and Him alone as my Savior.
Please give me eternal life. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit. Regenerate me. Please give me a second birth, a spiritual birth. And help me live my life for You. Help me to know You more and more each day. Help me to read and understand Your word. Help me to live in a way that pleases You. Help me to love You supremely and others sacrificially. In Jesus name. Amen. 
If you pray that prayer, I encourage you to start reading God’s word (you could start in the gospel of John and on through the New Testament). And you should look for a Bible teaching church family to become a part of.
So, as we live through our days and prepare for the inevitable often sudden difficulties let us purpose in our heart to have a loving God glorifying response ready. When there is a natural or human disaster in the public square we should pray and look for ways to minister the love of Christ to others, especially Christians. When a sudden personal trial comes our way or to a loved one close to us, we should pray and look for ways to love in Christ. When the terminal illness threatens, comfort and assure in love. When the means of income is lost, love in word and deed (cf. 1 John 3:16-18). When the fires of relational conflict rear their angry head, quench it with love. With an arm around the shoulder, hold people close in love. Love with a listening ear. Love with holy words of hope (e.g. Romans 15:13). Love with a helping hand. In whatever difficult circumstances we find ourselves, sudden or not, find a way to love in Christ. Love people into the Kingdom. Love people to Jesus. And don’t forget, you are loved by Him too. That will glorify God. That will get us through.
 If you haven’t yet received Jesus as your Savior, I encourage you to look up and pray over the verses I’ve listed in parenthesis. Contact me if you have further questions. There are links included in this blog for that.
James Strong, New Strong’s dictionary of Hebrew and Greek words [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1996.
 Here are some Bible passages that will help you understand the gospel and further you in your faith: Isaiah 53; John 3; Romans 1-16.