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Our gifts, abilities and opportunities are given to us by God. In a way, they are loaned to us, and we are to use them not for ourselves, but rather to glorify God and bless other people. God has chosen to give us blessings when we live that way, though much of that blessing will not be fully ours until we stand in the New Creation. Recognizing all this, and living this way, is part of what it means to follow Jesus, and it will often make us stand out, and appear different from the world at large.
1 Peter #28. 1 Peter 4:7-11
7 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.1 Peter 4:7-11
Last time we looked at how following Jesus causes us to have a different way of looking at life, compared to the rest of the world. We don’t live for our passions and desires. Instead, we trust that in some ways, God has placed limits on us, and we try to live within those limits for God’s glory, and because, ultimately, that is what is best for us, too. Instead of a life focused on ourselves, we are called to live in selfless love, particularly love for other Christians.
Peter then unpacks some of what it means to live in God’s limits, loving others. First, he says, “show hospitality without grumbling.” Hospitality was an important value in the Old Testament, and it continued to be important in the New Testament church. One of the requirements for leaders in the church is that they are hospitable. In Romans 12:13 and Hebrews 13:2, just like here, all Christians are urged to engage in hospitality.
I think this is something that is often neglected among modern Western Christians. What, exactly, is hospitality? In the world of the New Testament, this applied to Christians caring for other Christians who were traveling, or new in town. Luke records a journey with Paul. In the passage below, you see over and over again that when they came to a city, they looked for other Christians, who took them in and housed them and fed them.
2 Finding a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we boarded and set sail. 3 After we sighted Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we sailed on to Syria and arrived at Tyre, because the ship was to unload its cargo there. 4 So we found some disciples and stayed there seven days. Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go to Jerusalem. 5 When our days there were over, we left to continue our journey, while all of them, with their wives and children, escorted us out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach to pray, 6 we said good-bye to one another. Then we boarded the ship, and they returned home.(Acts 21:2-8, HCSB)
7 When we completed our voyage from Tyre, we reached Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and stayed with them one day. 8 The next day we left and came to Caesarea, where we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the Seven, and stayed with him.
Of course, usually once they found believers, the believers were eager to host them. A few years before, they met Lydia, a god-fearing woman. Once she became a believer in Jesus, she immediately invited Paul and his companions to stay at her house.
4 A woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God, was listening. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was spoken by Paul. 15 After she and her household were baptized, she urged us, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.(Acts 16:14-15, HCSB)
Hospitality also refers to hosting church gatherings. In New Testament times, and for three hundred years after, there were no church buildings. When churches gathered, it was in the homes of believers. Therefore, if no one opened their home, there would be no church gathering. Some churches apparently rotated their meeting place from home to home (Acts 5:42 & 20:20). Others apparently met most of the time in the same home (Romans 16:5, Colossians 4:15, among others). Either way, unless Christians practiced hospitality, the church had no place to gather. In this way, the early church depended upon hospitality for its very existence. So Peter says, “don’t grumble about hosting each other.” From extensive experience, I can say that sometimes hosting church can be a bit of effort. But by far most of the time, it feels like a tremendous blessing to have church gatherings in our home.
Of the churches in the LTC network, some of us rotate from house to house, and others meet mainly in one home. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but if you have never hosted a house church gathering, I encourage you to try it sometime. It is a special kind of blessing.
By the way, this is one of those instances where the Bible makes a lot of sense to people who meet in house churches. In a church-building paradigm, these sorts of verses are harder to understand. But for house church folks, of course hospitality is an important topic. It’s obvious why Peter brings it up.
Peter goes on: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 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. (1 Peter 4:10-11, ESV).
Remember, Peter has given us a contrast between the ways of ungodly culture, and those who follow Jesus. Rather than following our own passions, or living for self-fulfillment, we trustingly accept the limits God places on us. That is the paradigm of self-control. Then we live, again not for ourselves, but for others, so that God may be glorified. Within that way of looking at things, Peter tells us to use our gifts as stewards of God’s grace.
You see, God did make each one of us with special purposes in mind. We are unique individuals, and we do have a calling and purpose. But we don’t find those things by looking within, or by “trying to be the best me I can be.” No, we find our calling, and our special purpose by living within God’s limits, and making it our purpose to love others and glorify God. When we trust God by living this way, he leads and directs us in many and various ways, according to how he made us. We do find fulfillment, but it is in God and his purposes, not in self. Our gifts, our uniqueness as individuals, are the result of God’s creation and intention. Peter tells us to use these things as “stewards of God’s varied grace.”
I want to unpack this a little bit. We don’t really use the word “steward” any more, except in some churches where “stewardship” essentially means “giving money.” But stewardship is much bigger than just money. Nowadays, a better word than “steward” might be “caretaker,” or even “manager.”
Imagine a person who manages a store. She is not the Owner of the store. However, she has a connection to the Owner. The Owner has hired her to make sure that the store fulfills its purpose: to serve customers, and make money, and perhaps be an important feature of a local community. The manager uses the resources of the store to accomplish the purposes of the Owner. She does get paid, but in addition to that, she might have a budget that amounts to millions of dollars each year. That is not money to spend on herself. Instead, her budget is a resource which should be used for the store: perhaps to buy goods, and hire employees, or maybe renovate the building. A manager takes care of resources that are not her own, and uses them responsibly on behalf of the Owner.
So we are called to be managers of God’s grace. The personality, talents and opportunities we have do not really belong to us. They have been entrusted to us by God, the Owner. We are to use such things on behalf of the Owner, to accomplish the purposes of the Owner.
Peter gives us just two examples. We aren’t supposed to think that these are the only two things we are to do in service to God – they are just representative examples. He says: “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.”
We understand what public speaking and teaching is. As far as “service,” the Greek word has a very broad range of meaning. Because Peter says to serve “by the strength God supplies,” I think he might have in mind physical types of service, like helping someone repair their home, or helping someone else in a physical way.
I think Peter uses speaking and service as his two examples, because they are on either end of a kind of spectrum. Some people have a gift and calling to speak or teach. This kind of ministry usually involves standing in front of people, or in some way, openly communicating with many people at once. It’s a very visible kind of ministry, and often involves public leadership. Some of you might be called to some kind of public, visible ministry like that – it is a legitimate calling of God. For those who are called in that way, Peter urges us to treat it as a sacred trust. When I bring you these sermons, I am not doing something on my behalf, but rather I need to see it as God’s work. This isn’t my ministry – it is God’s, therefore I’m not supposed to be speaking my words, but God’s.
Service is a very different kind of ministry. It may not be public. It might appear very ordinary or mundane to some people. But again, Peter says, this, too is a sacred trust. When you serve, you don’t offer your strength and skill – you offer the strength and skill that actually belong to God.
So whether your gifts and calling are public and easy to see, or if they are quiet, and behind-the-scenes, or somewhere in between, they are from God, and should be used to benefit others and bring glory to God.
Just to make sure this is clear, let’s look at Romans 12:4-13, where Paul says something similar, but uses more examples than Peter:
4 Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, 5 so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.(Romans 12:4-13, NLT)
6 In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. 7 If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. 8 If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.
9 Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. 11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.
You can see the similarities here. Our talents and abilities are given to us to be used to bless others and glorify God. Here Paul lists a few more gifts than Peter, but this list is not exhaustive, either. It would be hard to catalog all of the different gifts God has given people to be used to bless others and glorify Him, because there are so many. Again, I think that’s why Peter lists only two – one very public and visible, and one fairly private and quiet. In other words, he means to include the entire spectrum that lies in between these two types of gifts. The point is, whatever gift or ability you have been given is a trust from God. You are a manager of those gifts, not the owner of them. Use them well on behalf of the owner. Of course, both Paul and Peter, in this, as in everything they write, are merely passing on the teaching of Jesus. On one occasion, Jesus used an illustration to talk about this subject of being a manager for God:
35 “Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast. Then you will be ready to open the door and let him in the moment he arrives and knocks. 37 The servants who are ready and waiting for his return will be rewarded. I tell you the truth, he himself will seat them, put on an apron, and serve them as they sit and eat! 38 He may come in the middle of the night or just before dawn. But whenever he comes, he will reward the servants who are ready.(Luke 12:35-48, NLT)
39 “Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would not permit his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.”
41 Peter asked, “Lord, is that illustration just for us or for everyone?”
42 And the Lord replied, “A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them. 43 If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward. 44 I tell you the truth, the master will put that servant in charge of all he owns. 45 But what if the servant thinks, ‘My master won’t be back for a while,’ and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk? 46 The master will return unannounced and unexpected, and he will cut the servant in pieces and banish him with the unfaithful.
47 “And a servant who knows what the master wants, but isn’t prepared and doesn’t carry out those instructions, will be severely punished. 48 But someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly. When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.
I think we’ve got the point that our abilities and opportunities are on loan from God. I want to make sure we remember something else. God’s purpose for those things is twofold: to bless others and to glorify himself. Bringing blessing to others glorifies God. Glorifying God brings blessings to others. God did not have to design things that way, but he did. He made it so that when he is glorified, human beings are blessed. This is pure grace – we don’t deserve to be blessed, ever, yet God made it so that he is continually blessing us, because he is continually being glorified. When we become a part of that glorifying and blessing, we get additional blessings of joy and fulfillment.
Let’s go back to the store manager and owner. It’s a little bit like this: the store exists to serve the community and make money. When the community is served, money is made, and when money is made, the community is served. Not only that, but every time the community is served and money is made, the store manager gets a bonus! She is not just a drone that is being used up by the Owner. No! the Owner makes sure that the manager has a stake in the store doing what it is supposed to do. He makes sure that when she does her job well, she is rewarded. So now, when the community is served, and money is made, the store manager also benefits. This is how God deals with us.
Now, let’s be honest. There are times when you are glorifying God, and serving others, and you don’t get so much as “Hey, thanks!” At times, it feels hard to perceive that extra blessing, that reward that Jesus talks about. But in the words of Jesus, above, it sounds like the main reward is coming after he returns. We have many verses reminding us that God does indeed see our work for him, that he does see when we live within his limits, and love others, using the things he has entrusted to us for his glory:
58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.(1 Corinthians 15:58, ESV)
7 Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. 8 Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. 9 So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. 10 Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.(Galatians 6:7-10, NLT)
10 For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers, as you still do.(Hebrews 6:10, NLT)
I think we have plenty here for application now. Some questions for application that you might ask: How does thinking about these things help me to live within God’s limits, while loving others? Are there ways that God is calling me to practice hospitality? What are the abilities and opportunities God has given me? How can I use those to bless others and glorify God? What encourages me to persevere in blessing others and glorifying God, even when I don’t seem to get much out of it? How can I help others see the abilities and opportunities God has given them, and encourage them to use those things as managers for God?
Let the Holy Spirit speak to you about these things.