Marriage, Singleness, and the Christian Virtue of Hospitality
From Gospel Translations
By John Piper
About Loving Others
Part of the series Marriage, Christ, and Covenant: One Flesh for the Glory of God
1 Peter 4:7-11 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.
What’s driving this message is a desire for Christ to be magnified in the way married people and single people—especially at Bethlehem—show hospitality to each other. Or, to put it another way, if it’s true, as I tried to show in the message on singleness, that God’s family, that comes into being by new birth and by faith in Christ, is more central and more lasting than families that come into being by marriage and procreation and adoption, then how that spiritual, eternal family—the church—relates to each other—married and single—is a crucial witness to the world that our lives are oriented on the supremacy of Christ and that our relationships are defined not just by nature, but by Christ. I long to see Christ magnified through married people folding single people into their lives, and single people folding married people into their lives for the sake of Christ and the gospel.
“Because He Is a Disciple”
Jesus said, “Whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42). Of course, Jesus also said that we should love our enemy (Matthew 5:44), and Paul said to give a cup of water to our enemy (Romans 12:20). That kind of love will receive its reward. But here Jesus says, Show simple kindness to people precisely because they are followers of Jesus. And that too will receive its reward.
In other words, when you look into the eyes of a single person or a married person and you see the face of a follower of Jesus—a brother or a sister of your own eternal family—that relationship with Jesus that you see should draw out your heart in practical kindness—like hospitality—for Jesus’ sake. Jesus is the focus here. He says, do this “because he is my disciple.” I will be honored in a special way if you give my disciple a drink for that reason. If you have him into your home, do this for my sake.” That is what I mean when I say, I long to see Christ magnified through married people folding single people into their lives, and single people folding married people into their lives.
The Material World—for the Glory of God
Just a few more words of introduction before we look at the text in 1 Peter. I just gave a message last Thursday in Deerfield, Illinois, on “The Triumph of the Gospel in the New Heavens and the New Earth.” It raised for me many questions that I addressed only very briefly in the message. Like: Why did God give us bodies and make a material universe? And why does he raise our bodies from the dead and make them new and then liberate this earth so that it is a new earth that we can live on forever in our new bodies? If God meant to have great praise (“Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised,” Psalm 96:4), why not just create angels with no bodies but great hearts who can only speak to God and not to each other? Why all these bodies and why should persons be able to communicate to each other? And why trees and ground and water and fire and wind and lions and lambs and lilies and birds and bread and wine?
There are several deep and wonderful answers to these questions. But the one I want to mention is this: God made bodies and material things because when they are rightly seen and rightly used, God’s glory is more fully known and displayed. The heavens are telling the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). Consider the birds of the air and the lilies of the field and you will know more of God’s goodness and care (Matthew 6:26, 28). See in the things he has made his invisible attributes—his eternal power and divine nature (Romans 1:20). Look at marriage and see Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:23-25). As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you declare the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26). Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). The material world is not an end in itself; it is designed to display God’s glory and awaken our hearts to know him and value him more.
Making Food and Sex Holy
Physical reality is good. God made it as a revelation of his glory. And he intends for us to sanctify it and worship him with it—that is, to see it in relation to him and to use it in a way that makes much of him and in doing so gives us joy. All of that has direct bearing on marriage and singleness. It protects us from idolizing sex and food as gods. They are not gods; they are made by God to honor God. And it protects us from fearing sex and food as evil. They are not evil; they are instruments of worship—they are ways to make much of Christ. Here’s the key text: 1 Timothy 4:1-5. It is one of the most important texts in the Bible on the meaning of physical appetites or sex.
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
Sex and food—two great idols in first-century Asia Minor and twenty-first-century America. And God’s response to those who solve the problem of the idolatry of sex and food by merely renouncing or avoiding them is to say these teachers are demonic—“teachings of demons” (v. 1). What is God’s solution? Everything created by God is good; nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving and made holy by the word of God and prayer. You make food holy by using it according to the word of God in Christ-dependent prayer. You make sex holy by using it according to the word of God in Christ-dependent prayer.
Making Much of Christ—Single or Married
All of that is simply introduction to make clear that in what I have said about the beauty of marriage as a physical parable of the covenant love between Christ and the church, and what I have said about the beauty of singleness as a physical parable of the spiritual nature of God's family that grows by regeneration and faith, not procreation and sex—to make clear in all these things that neither marriage nor singleness is idolized or feared. Marriage and celibacy can be idolatrous. Spouses can worship each other or worship sex or worship their children or worship double-income-no-kid buying power. Singles can worship autonomy and independence. Singles can look on marriage as a second-class Christian compromise with sexual drive. Married people can look upon singleness as a mark of immaturity or irresponsibility or incompetence or even homosexuality.
But what I am trying to clarify is that there are Christ-exalting ways to be married and there are Christ exalting ways to be single. There are ways to use our bodies, our appetites in marriage and in singleness that make much of Christ.
That Infamous Sentence in 1 Corinthians 7:9
And I think I should say just one brief word about that infamous sentence in 1 Corinthians 7:9: “If they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” Remember, this is addressed explicitly to men and women (v. 8). And here is the one thing I want to say about it: When a person seeks to be married, knowing that as a single he or she would “burn with passion,” it doesn’t have to mean that marriage becomes a mere channel for the sex drive. Paul would never mean that in view of Ephesians 5.
Instead when a person marries—let me simply use the man as an example—he takes his sexual desire, and he does the same thing with it that we must all do with all our physical desires if we would make them means of worship—1) he brings it into conformity to God’s word; 2) he subordinates it to a higher pattern of love and care; 3) he transposes the music of physical pleasure into the music of spiritual worship, 4) he listens for the echoes of God’s goodness in every nerve; 5) he seeks to double his pleasure by making her joy his joy; and 6) he gives thanks to God from the bottom of his heart because he knows and he feels that he never deserved one minute of this pleasure.
Magnifying Christ by Showing Hospitality
Now to the text, 1 Peter 4:7-11, and what’s driving this message, namely, a desire for Christ to be magnified in the way married people and single people show hospitality to each other. We will walk through the text quickly with brief comments and then draw out simple and obvious implications—and pray that God would use this word powerfully to change us for his glory and our joy.
The End Is Near
Verse 7a: “The end of all things is at hand.” Peter knows that with the coming of the Messiah the end of the ages has arrived (1 Corinthians 10:12; Hebrews 12:2). The kingdom of God has come (Luke 17:21). And therefore the consummation of all things could sweep the world in a very short time.
Therefore, just as Jesus taught us to be vigilant over our lives and to watch, Peter says (v. 7b), “Therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” That is, cultivate a very personal relationship with the one you hope to see face to face at his coming. Don’t be unfamiliar with Christ. You don’t want to meet him as a stranger. And seek in prayer all the help you will need in these last days so that you may stand in the days of great stress (Luke 21:36). And don’t depend on your spontaneity to bring you to prayer. “Be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.”
Love Is Paramount
Then verse 8: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” Love is paramount, and it will be needed all the more as the end draws near. Why? Because the pressures and stresses and tribulations of the last days will put relationships under tremendous stress. But in these days we will need each other, and the world will be watching to see if we are real: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Will we cover and bear and endure each others’ faults and foibles, or will anger rule our hearts?
Hospitality Without Grumbling
Verse 9 gives one form of that love, and is it telling that he mentions doing it without grumbling? “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” If we are loving earnestly and love is covering a multitude of sins, then we will not grumble so easily will we? Love covers much of what makes us grumble. So hospitality without grumbling is the calling of Christians in the last days. In the very days when your stress is high, and there are sins that need covering, and reasons to grumble abound—in those very days, Peter says, what we need to do is practice hospitality.
Our homes need to be open. Because our hearts are open. And our hearts are open because God’s heart is open to us. Do you recall how John the apostle connected the love of God with our love for each other in relation to hospitality? He wrote in 1 John 3:16-17, “By this we know love, that [Jesus] laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need [single or married!], yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?”
Stewards of God’s Varied Grace
That’s as far as we have time to go in this text. Except to simply point to what happens when we get together in our homes. Verse 10: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace.” “Stewards of God’s varied grace!” I love that phrase. Every Christian is a steward—a custodian, a manager, a warden, a distributor, a servant—of God’s varied grace. What a great reason to be alive! Every Christian lives on grace. “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). If you are afraid of hospitality—that you don’t have much personal strength or personal wealth—good. Then you won’t intimidate anybody. You will depend all the more on God’s grace. You will look all the more to the work of Christ and not your own work. And O what a blessing people will get in your simple home. Your little apartment.
Welcome One Another As Christ Has Welcomed You
So there it is: the Christian virtue of hospitality—a Christ-exalting strategy of love in the last days. Now some closing applications: First, to everyone. If you belong to Christ, if you have by faith received his saving hospitality, which he paid for with his own blood, then extend this hospitality to others. Romans 15:7: “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” You live on free grace everyday. Be a good steward of it in hospitality.
Second, to married couples. Plan that your hospitality include single people—small groups, Sunday dinners, picnics, holiday celebrations. And don’t make a big deal out of it. Just be natural. And don’t forget that there are eight-year-old singles and sixty-year-old singles and fifty- and forty- and thirty- and twenty-year-old singles, male and female, formerly married and never married, divorced and widowed. Think like a Christian. This is your family, more deeply and more eternally than your kinfolk.
Third, to single people. Show hospitality to other single people and to married couples. Perhaps it seems odd. But should it? Would it not be a mark of unusual maturity and stability? Would it not be a mark of God’s grace in your life?
I pray that the Lord would do this beautiful work among us—all of us. The end of all things is at hand. Let us be sober for our prayers. Let us love each other. Let us be good stewards of the varied grace of God, and let us show hospitality without grumbling. “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you.”