Many of you have likely heard the legendary story of how Alfred Nobel came up with the idea of the Nobel Prizes that are given each year in December. According to the story, the idea began to germinate in 1888 when Alfred’s brother Ludvig died. Supposedly the papers got the obituary wrong and instead of sharing the news of Ludvig’s death the paper said that Alfred had passed away. Alfred Nobel was already a famous person at the time and known in particular for inventing dynamite. When Nobel read his own obituary and saw that the article zeroed in on his life’s great contribution being his creation of dynamite, it got his attention. It made him want to leave some other, more redemptive type of legacy.
Now, this is a great story. The only problem is that no copy of the mistaken obituary has ever been produced and thus there is no proof that this is what led Nobel to create the prizes that bear his name. What we can say with a higher degree of certainty is that no one, not even Nobel’s family, knew about his plans to leave most of his fortune to create the prizes until the plan was discovered at the reading of his will. As a result, whether it was reading his obituary before he had actually died or whether it was the act of having to deal with his own mortality as he wrote his will, Alfred Nobel came face to face with his legacy, the brevity of life and the desire that we all have to be remembered for doing something good. (Did A Premature Obituary Inspire the Nobel Peace Prize? Evan Andrews, history.com, July 23, 2020)
I am reminded of what Alfred Nobel did as I read the invitation to early believers in I Peter related to the brevity of their own lives and the need to consider their mortality and what sort of legacy they wanted to leave.
In the early church, there was a strong belief that Jesus would return in their lifetimes. This idea came from their Jewish heritage which taught that when the Messiah came, his presence would signify the beginning of the last generation on earth. So, in naming Jesus as the Messiah, the early believers came to the natural conclusion that the clock was ticking. This imagery of the ticking clock and days that were numbered, provided the perfect setting for I Peter, with perhaps a heavy influence from Paul’s writing, to invite early believers to really think about their priorities and how they were choosing to live particularly if these were indeed their final days on planet earth.
In turn, our three verse passage, names three attitudes for these final days: prayerfulness, love and hospitality. If these are the last days, the implication is that the early church should be people of great prayer, people characterized by love and people of hospitality.
Love is the middle of the three ideas mentioned and in so doing I Peter makes two statements about love. These two statements come alive for me in the way that Eugene Peterson translates this verse in The Message. First, Peterson translates the text as saying “love as if your life depended on it” and second, realize that love “makes up for everything”.
Today I want to focus our attention on the first phrase calling us to “love each other as if your life depended on it” and next week we’ll come back to this verse and ponder what it means to say that love “makes up for everything”.
With the context in which I Peter says these words and then with the statement itself in mind, I think there are two big truths about love for us to embrace.
First, as it relates to the context, I Peter suggests that we must love as if these are our last days. Again, though they were ultimately proven wrong, early church leaders and believers really believed they were earth’s final generation. In turn, their calling here is to prioritize what was important and what was not.
One of the things we should have learned in this pandemic is to embrace this same attitude about life, that our days are short, fleeting and will be quickly gone. Now, I am not saying that we have learned this lesson. I am simply saying these have been fertile days in which we should have learned this lesson. Life gets by in a hurry. In the blink of an eye, our situation in life, our health and the world itself can change leaving us with the realization that our best days are now behind us not in front of us. The question the texts seems to imply is if we really lived like today might be our last, how would we love? How would we love others, God, our family? Would we love as we have over the last week or in a different way? Would we say the same things? Would we post the same messages on social media? We would prioritize our families in the same way? Or would we have acted differently if we had only known this was it? We must live as if today is our best day left on this earth.
Second, our text is also inviting us to love with every fiber of our being. We are not to love half-heartedly. Of course, the idea of doing something as if our life depends on it, carries the idea that this act is so critical that we are going to give it everything we have; again, as if our life depended on it. To further support this idea, the imagery behind the Greek vocabulary used here is of an athletic competition where a runner is using every muscle and every ounce of energy to run as fast as possible.
The image that comes to my mind is of runners at the finish line, thrusting his or her body forward, using up every ounce left to offer the very best effort possible. Is this the way that we love the important people in our lives?
I want to end this morning with a story I read recently. It is about a fellow by the name of Matt Emmons who competed for the US in the 2004 Olympics in the rifle event. At the time, he was considered one of the finest marksmen in the world. That day, back in 2004, Matt was at his best. With one shot left, he was well on his way to winning the gold medal. When his final turn came, he zeroed in on the target, pulled the trigger and had another bull’s eye. Yet, rather than applause, there was dead silence. Matt had made a fatal mistake. He had focused in the wrong place. Rather than aiming at his own target, he had aimed at his neighbors’. In turn, he had completely missed his mark. (As told by Bob Goff in the book Dream Big)
This is how our lives so often play out. Our aim is in the wrong place. It is not that we don’t exert a lot of energy and accomplish great things. Instead the issue is that our priorities are out of kilter and our focus is on things that don’t matter. We are hitting lots of bull’s eyes but they are the wrong targets.
Our text is so helpful. Let us love God, family and friends like today is the best day we have left. Let us love God, family and friends with all of the energy that we have. Let us aim for the things that really matter. Amen.