Recent Sermons
“Stewards of God's Grace”
1 Peter 4:7-11

Bob DeGray

Preaching Date: July 11, 2004
Key Sentence: Those who serve bring praise and glory to God.

Outline:
I. Principles (1 Peter 4:7-8)
II. Practices (1 Peter 4:9-11)
III. Praises (1 Peter 4:11)

Message:
        While I was on vacation I read an anthology of short stories by Orson Scott Card, who has become one of our favorite science fiction and fantasy writers. One of the stories in the collection was called The Bully and the Beast. The bully in the story is a giant, a very large man about seven feet tall who dwarfed his medieval peers in both size and strength. Bork was a commoner, but from time to time the Count, and later the King, would use him as a knight in tight spots. So Bork battled an army, defeated a champion, assaulted a castle gate, and anything requiring extraordinary strength. In between, however, he was despised as a commoner, and the king wouldn’t allow him to be betrothed to his beautiful daughter. So he usually lived in the village outside the castle, and used his strength to plow the fields, gather the firewood, harvest the crops, and whatever else the village needed to survive.

        The crisis came when the princess, Brunhilda, was taken away by a dragon, the beast in the story. The king beseeched Bork to go and slay the dragon. But it turned out, in a fairy tale way, that the dragon couldn’t be beaten by strength of arms, but only by a man who was strictly truthful, even to himself. Slowly Bork learned the truth about himself, the truth that he didn’t really want to be a knight, he didn’t want to marry the princess - what he really wanted was the simple joy of working, serving, helping, doing good, and the occasional word of appreciation. When he told this truth to himself and to the dragon, it killed the dragon, but since he didn’t want the princess or the knighthood, he went back and served in the village, doing the lowly tasks that were only occasionally appreciated.

I. Principles (1 Peter 4:7-8)

        I like the story because I think there is tremendous joy and heroism in serving. This week we begin talking about service as the most important ministry in the church. Is it? It could be, because the text we’re looking at today, 1 Peter 4:7-11, shows that the willingness to serve underlies everything Christians accomplish. We’re going to find that those who serve bring praise and glory to God. Let’s begin in verses 7 and 8 where we see the priorities of those who serve God. 1 Peter 4:7-8 The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. 8Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

        The first priority of those who serve God is an eternal perspective: “The end of all things is near.” We find this same perspective throughout the New Testament, and it is frequently the motivation for Godly behavior. Peter himself often makes eternity a part of his thought. 1 Peter 2:12 “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

        This is a call to be live godly lives and to serve in light of the end that is coming. You do the good deeds; others see those deeds; God gets the glory when Jesus comes. A fuller explanation is given in 2 Peter 3:10-14 “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. 11Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 14So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” It’s not a sign of despair or defeatism to remind yourself from time to time that this is all going to burn. Only what we do out of a right relationship with God has eternal meaning.

        So Peter says in our text: “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” ‘Clear minded’ means, ‘having a sound mind, thinking about and evaluating situations maturely and correctly.’ When we look around the church at those who are serving, in any area of ministry, we find that those who are really effective are those who take a mature, clear headed view of the problems and difficulties in their particular task. Those who are panicky or easily offended or easily fatigued don’t last. In the same way the servant must be sober - which doesn’t just mean ‘not drunk’, it means not flighty, not frivolous. It means practical, earnest, realistic. Peter says ‘be this way’ so you can pray’, or ‘in order to pray more effectively’. Prayer is a unique ministry of it’s own, but it is also a way of serving others, and it is best done out of mature thinking, realistic thinking, earnest thinking and thinking that recognizes that even our prayers are not done in our own strength or for our glory, but in selfless dependence on God.

        Peter turns the discussion even more toward servanthood when he reminds his readers of the priority of love. Verse 8: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” Love is the foundation of servanthood; it is the lubricant that makes serving others not a burden but a blessing. But it has to be deep and mature love. The word ‘deeply’ in this verse could also be translated earnestly, or even ‘stretched’. Now that’s a neat image, and a true image. The kind of love that we are called to share with other believers is a love that stretches us. It is not an easy romantic love, it’s the love of someone who works hard to care.

        Where love is a priority among believers it will, first of all, “cover a multitude of sins.” Wayne Grudem comments: “where love abounds, many small offenses, and even some large ones, are readily overlooked and forgotten. But where love is lacking, every word is viewed with suspicion, every action is liable to misunderstanding, and conflicts abound – to Satan’s perverse delight.”

        We’ve often talked before about this concept of love overlooking sins. When we studied the peacemaker materials we learned that one of the godly responses to an offense is to overlook it. But we also recognized that not all sins can be overlooked, or be allowed to go unchallenged. The distinction we tried to draw, which is of course not cut and dried, was to say that if an offense continues to bother you after you have tried to overlook it, then you probably need to take some other peacemaking approach. In the same way, if a sinful offense is causing harm to the person sinning or to others, then it is not a sin that can be over looked. But this still leaves a large number of morally neutral behaviors that we need to not be offended by, and even real sins, that ought to be overlooked because we love one another.

II. Practices (1 Peter 4:9-11)

        So we’ve seen that priorities form the foundation for serving. If we have a sense that “the end of all things is near,” we will take our eyes off our own selfish interests, and with clear and sober thinking focus on what needs to be done for the kingdom. If we love deeply, we will not allow the actions or behaviors of others to deflect us from showing love. We will serve in the ways God has gifted us to serve. Verses 9 to 11: Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. 11If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides.

        Most of the kinds of serving talked about here are associated with the spiritual gifts God has given you. But the first one, hospitality, is not. This is a service expected of all believers. The Greek word for hospitality is put together from two words that literally mean loving strangers. And yet Peter says this hospitality is to be shown to one another. The implication is that we are to care in practical ways for those in the body with whom we are not especially close. We are to go out of our way to invite people we’re just getting to know into our homes, because this will strengthen the bonds of our fellowship. The thing I like about hospitality is that it’s measurable. How many times in the last month have you had people at your table for the first time. How many times in the last year have you invited someone to stay in your home just because they needed a place to sleep? How many meals have you prepared? How many children have you cared for?

        And what has been your attitude as you have done these things? Peter says that our hospitality is to be ungrudging. More literally this would be ‘without grumbling’ for ‘without murmuring’. In the Old Testament this term is used to refer to the repeated complaints of Israel, often a prelude to rebellion. Such grumbling is ultimately a complaint against God and his ordering of our circumstances, and its result is to drive out faith, thanksgiving, and joy, not to mention discouraging both ourselves and others from ongoing hospitality.

        So hospitality is the first kind of serving Peter requires of us, but in verses 10 and 11 he expands on that to remind us that we must serve in the areas God has gifted us, not for self advancement or to draw attention to ourselves, but for the benefit of others. Verse 10: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others” ‘Each’ implies both that everyone in the church has been gifted, spiritually, and that everyone has a responsibility to use those gifts for the benefit of others. No one is exempt and no one is supposed to get a free ride. Later in the text Peter will distinguish between serving gifts and speaking gifts, but here he says that every gift has to serve. The word serve is ‘diakoneo’ the word from which we get ‘deacon’ - but the command isn’t limited to people with a formal serving ministry - it is meant for everybody. At any moment if someone comes and asks ‘how are you serving?’ you ought to have an answer. Some folks here have too many answers, and that’s probably because some have too few. This is a situation where you have to examine yourself, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and ask ‘am I serving?’ And, ‘am I serving where God has gifted me to serve and where he now wants me to serve?’

        We serve this way in order to be good stewards of what God has given. Stewardship is a key principle of the New Testament, and it applies not just to financial things, but to all we’ve been given. Remember, a steward is not an owner but a manager. Ken Lay is under indictment this morning because he forgot he was a steward for Enron’s stockholders. If you’ve been given financial resources or any kind of resources or gifts, they’re not given for your benefit, as if you owned them, but they are yours to manage, for the benefit of the true owner, God. This is so clear in the parable of the talents. The talents in the parable are money, but they can also represent everything we are to steward on God’s behalf, including our talents and spiritual gift. Our goal is to hear the “well done good and faithful servant.” But woe to us if we fail to invest what God has given us in the work of the kingdom.

        So all of us are to serve, by hospitality and by the proper stewardship of our spiritual gifts. At the end of verse 11 Peter gets a little more specific about these gifts: we are to “faithfully administer God's grace in its various forms.” We are to be “good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” The word grace is from the same root as the word gift in the previous verse. We are to be stewards of his many gifts which are expressions of his multifaceted grace. Isn’t that totally cool? The same grace that saves us by giving us the gift of faith in Jesus Christ is the grace that manifests itself in the gifts God gives his people for their works of service. More than that, grace is what we impart to others when we serve, grace is the resource, the refreshment, that we have the privilege of offering others as we serve them.

        We are stewards of grace. But as members of a body, we don’t all serve in the same way. Peter keeps the distinction very simple, verse 11: If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides.

        According to Peter there are only two kinds of spiritual gifts - speaking or serving. These two categories are a useful organizing tool for all the other lists of spiritual gifts. So speaking gifts include not just teaching and preaching, but also things like evangelism, counseling, sharing words of praise or testimony or correction, and even singing when it is used as a ministry to others. These activities are pervasive in the life of the church, whether teaching 3-year-olds or adults, whether sharing one-on-one or in worship. These speaking roles are critical areas of service; there is a real need for this kind of service in our body. And as we serve this way we are to regard ourselves as people who utter the very words of God. The words of God are ‘oracles’ or ‘sayings’, Greek ‘logia’, a term used in the New Testament to refer to God’s words as found in the Old Testament Scriptures. Yet Peter doesn’t mean we should speak to one another as if our words were God’s own authoritative words, because that’s only true of Scripture. Peter means that we should speak to one another using the words of Scripture, and with the seriousness of purpose appropriate to bringing God’s message to the lives of others.

        One of the ways God may have gifted you is with a speaking gift - he wants to use your words to do his work under the guidance and correction of His Holy Spirit. And if he has graced you this way, in order to be a good steward, you need to use that gift in serving others. Don’t bury the talent. So many ministries, from Sunday School to worship, from Awana to Men’s and Women’s studies, from outreach to discipleship depend on the willingness of God’s people to speak, to share, to teach. And let me point out, as I have before, that this speaking, sharing and teaching doesn’t depend on you being the world’s foremost expert, or even having your own act all the way together. If you had to be perfect to do this, Christians would all be mute, and the work of words would never happen, and the church would die. But God has given so many way to use these gifts that you can easily find opportunities to practice and develop what he has given you, and to test how he has gifted you in one or more of these areas, based on feedback from having done it.

        It’s the same with serving gifts, though these are often the less visible gifts in the body. Grudem says these are a very broad category, which includes any kind of helping or encouraging ministry for the benefit of others in the church, and he would extend it also to ministries that serve those outside the church. From the lists in Romans and 1st Corinthians we might itemize some of these gifts as serving, giving, administration, healing, and showing mercy. We might also include intercession on this list: though it is a verbal activity, it is not necessarily one that we display publicly. And these serving gifts can even be used in outreach: this is normally thought of as a verbal activity, but when we do formal or informal kinds of servant evangelism we allow those with serving gifts to get involved. When we do the car wash there are some who stand at the side and talk with those whose cars are being washed. There are others who exhaust themselves to make sure the cars get well cleaned: that’s the way the body is supposed to work.

        But I’ve got to admit that I have a special place in my heart for those who serve in these ways, and I think it’s because there are so many ministries both inside the church and to a needy world that depend on these unsung heroes. These are the people who are here last on Sunday evening, running a vacuum cleaner or locking the doors. These are the ones who are cooking a meal or providing child care for a family in need. They are the ones who are shopping for a special event at Awana, and coming early to set up that event and making sure their part of it goes smoothly. They are the ones who are seeing financial needs in the body and responding quietly with a check in the offering or an anonymous gift. They are the ones who wash the cars in the spring, or distribute the water in the summer or bake the cookies at the height of the Christmas frenzy so that we can go caroling in December. They are the ones who order the supplies for Sunday School and fix the leaks in the roof and clean the tablecloths and all the other things that happen in a body like ours. And I have to tell you that even in this arena, some of the servants God has provided haven’t shown up, either because we haven’t made the needs clear, or because some are not taking seriously these and other Scriptures that call them to serve.

        But don’t let me give you the impression that the serving gifts or the speaking gifts ought to be focused entirely within these walls. It’s not so. If Peter has a theme for this letter it’s the verse we read earlier, 1 Peter 2:12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. Service is not just service to the body, but service to the needs of those around us so that they can see Christ at work. So those with speaking gifts might serve at places like Hope for Youth, or the Crisis Pregnancy Center, or in short term missions, as Tim Rask is doing this summer in India. Those with serving gifts might also serve in short term missions, meeting physical needs, as my daughter Bethany is doing in the Philippines. And you can serve locally as well, in things like the food bank and other caring ministries. Or maybe best of all you can use your serving gifts or speaking gifts to serve those in your own neighborhood or your workplace, so that the people around you see Jesus.


III. Praises (1 Peter 4:11)

        Finally, we need to remember that the honor and praise for serving should go exclusively to God. “If anyone serves,” Peter says in verse 11, “he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever.” The strength to serve comes from God to begin with. Furthermore gifts of speaking and gifts of serving are gifts from God. Works performed in merely human energy and for one’s own status in the eyes of others soon becomes wearying. And it increases one’s pride, rather than one’s faith. But if the energy and the gifts are from God, then he should get the glory. The NIV says that he should be praised, but really, it is glorified: God should receive the verbal acclaim for what he has done, but he should also be glorified in our attitudes and actions.

        This is clear in the last phrase, ‘to him be the glory and power forever and ever’. Like most doxologies or praises in the New Testament, this could be viewed as simply a statement of truth: God does have all the glory and power that can possibly be - we cannot wish for him to have more. But in another sense Peter is praying that because of our service, because of our speaking words on his behalf and doing deeds that act out his heart, God will receive more glory among men, and his dominion will be increased and his kingdom more fully realized. This is what Peter wants to have happen more and more and forever and ever. What good is speaking, what good is serving, if God doesn’t get the glory from it?

        One of the biggest celebrations of the millennium took place in Sydney, Australia, where, on December 31, 1999 a magnificent fireworks display lit up a gloriously decorated Sydney Harbor. The centerpiece of those decorations was the much talked about Sydney Harbor Bridge, where a single word ‘Eternity’ appeared in three hundred foot high letters. Near the Sydney Square waterfall, set in aggregate, is the same word, Eternity, cast in aluminium and written in the same beautiful copperplate script. The plaque was placed there through the efforts of Ridley Smith, the man who designed Sydney Square. But why is it there? Why was it on the bridge? Because of a servant named Arthur Stace.

        Arthur Stace was born in the slums of Sydney in1884, The son of drunken parents, he too became an alcoholic. His sisters ran brothels and he was arrested many times for his involvement in petty crime. He went to the war in 1914 and came home blind in one eye. He was almost totally uneducated and the methylated spirits he was drinking very nearly sent him insane. He walked into a Sydney church one day in 1930 lonely, hungry and desperate to give up alcohol.

        Arthur gave his life to Chrst, and found the grace to give up drinking. Later, listening to a sermon by Reverend John Ridley, he discovered his unusual life's work. Ridley said that he wished he ‘could shout ETERNITY through the streets of Sydney.' Arthur suddenly felt called write that word. He was unschooled and normally wrote an indecipherable scrawl but when he wrote this word in chalk on the pavement it came out in the most beautiful copperplate script. He said himself that he could never understand how he was able to write only that particular word in that way.

        Over the next 30 years Arthur rose at 4 am each day, took direction from God as to where he should start and, for a few hours before work, he would write Eternity on the pavement every hundred or so yards. The word intrigued and unsettled people. It was a call to the people of Sydney to remember they were more than just movers and shakers in a busy city – they had a soul, they were part of something much bigger than themselves. Gradually people came to expect these chalk or crayon letters on the pavement as part of the Sydney scene. It is estimated that this simple, yet profound message, was repeated over 500,000 times.

        No one knew for many years who wrote this compelling word all over the city until Stace’s pastor at Burton Street Baptist Church actually saw him writing it one day in 1956. Arthur Stace finally confessed and the Reverend Thompson told the world his remarkable story. Arthur also led Gospel meetings on a Saturday night on the corner of Bathurst and George Streets. A young Ridley Smith, named after the John Ridley who had so inspired Arthur, heard him preach on that very corner and was affected by his fervor. That’s how the word got onto Sydney Square, and onto the millennial bridge, some thirty three years after ‘Mr. Eternity’s’ death. But more important is that through this servant of God who quietly did what God had gifted him to do, eternity got into the hearts of many, and God received the glory.