- First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi - https://www.fpcjackson.org -

Steward’s of God’s Varied Grace

Well as you’ve heard, today is “Commitment Sunday,” the second Sunday of our stewardship season, and to help us think about our giving, the stewardship committee of our diaconate identified 1 Peter 4:10-11. You’ll know if you’ve been with us on Sunday mornings we’re working through 1 Peter. We’re sort of skipping ahead to consider this verse because of its subject matter and we will come back to it again in due course in our ongoing studies in the letter. But 1 Peter 4:10-11 do have something to say to us about our stewardship. We’re going to think about the teaching of the passage under five headings. First, the perspective that we need. The perspective that we need. Then, the presupposition that we doubt. Then, the purpose we must pursue. Fourthly, the pattern we must follow. And the priority we must maintain. The perspective we need. The presupposition we doubt. The purpose we must pursue. The pattern we must follow. And the priority we must maintain. Before we read the passage, let me invite you to bow your heads with me again as we ask for God to help us. Let’s pray.

Our Father, we know that our hearts are open books to You. Our lives, in all their varied needs and all our blind spots, all our besetting sins, are known perfectly, comprehensively to You. We can’t hide from You. And so now with Your Word open before us, we pray that You would, by the work of the Holy Spirit, take Your Word and apply it to our hearts, to our lives, to make us like our Savior, in whose name we pray, amen.

1 Peter 4. We’ll begin the reading from verse 7. You can find it on page 1016 if you’re using one of our church Bibles:

“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 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.”

Well if you knew the world would end tomorrow, what would you do? It’s an often-asked question. Martin Luther, probably apocryphal, but Martin Luther is alleged to have answered that question, “If I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree today.” Whether Luther said it or not, the point being made, I think, is a sound one. If you knew that the end of all things was at hand, would that make you do crazy, injudicious things? Would you rob a bank? Would you eat yourself sick? Would you binge-watch endless hours of Netflix? Would you collapse in despair? What would you do if you knew the world was ending tomorrow? Well the Christian can say calmly, “If I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would plant my apple tree today.” Or to put it in slightly different terms, since we are to live every day in the certain knowledge that the end of all things is at hand, our duty today is the same as it was yesterday and the same as it will be tomorrow. We are to live each day, every day, today in light of the soon approaching end of all things.

If you look back at 1 Peter 4:7 where we began reading together this morning, you’ll see that it stands at the head of a section of the letter of which our text today is a constituent part. We’re going to be focused on verses 10 and 11 of 1 Peter 4, but that comes in a series of exhortations that follow on from the proposition of verse 7 – “The end of all things is at hand; therefore…” And in verses 7 through 11 he gives us a string of exhortations about how to live in light of the end of all things being at hand. “Be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” And then our text, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another,” and so on. So here, first of all, is the perspective that we need.

The Perspective That We Need 

If we’re going to be good stewards of God’s varied grace, if we’re going to be faithful givers, diligent Gospel servants, bold Christian witnesses in the world, this is the vital perspective that we need. We must learn to live in light of the soon-coming end of all things. We don’t know when it will be, but for believers in Jesus Christ that doesn’t throw us. The prospect of the end does not throw us into panic mode. It should inform each new day’s commitment to steady, faithfulness to the call of God in Jesus Christ, to live for Him. If we’re going to live generously and serve sacrificially, go boldly not just for a little while, you know, because its stewardship season at church, but as the settled pattern of our lives, we need this perspective to be bolted firmly into place in our thinking. The instinct I suppose many of us feel at the thought of the question, “If you knew the world would end, how would you live?” would be to say something like, some version of, “Well we would want to squeeze the most out of every remaining moment.” Right? And that’s the right instinct. But Christians know, or at least they ought to know, what that really means – to make the most of every remaining moment. 

Jonathan Edwards, the great 17th century New England theologian, I think captures the spirit of it really very well. He wrote a series of resolutions across the course of his life. His sixth resolution reads like this. “Resolved – to live with all my might while I do live. Resolved – to live with all my might while I do live.” He’s living in light of the certainty of the end, seeking to make the most of every moment. How shall we make the most of every moment knowing that the end of all things is at hand? Well it means that we must strive to obey the Lord with every breath, resolve to serve one another with all our strength, to give ourselves to worship and ministry and witness, to work at our daily vocations, to practice patience with our spouses, with our children, with our friends and neighbors, to give our time and our talents and our treasure, to support the cause of Jesus Christ in the world through the local church. That’s what it means. And that is Peter’s point here. If we’re going to understand stewardship, there is a perspective that we need. If we’re going to be good stewards, this is a vital perspective. The end is at hand. Time is short. Make the most of every opportunity. Give generously. Serve one another. Spread the Gospel. The perspective that we need.

The Presupposition That We Doubt 

Then secondly, there is a presupposition that we doubt. A presupposition that we doubt. One reason that we do not give generously or serve faithfully or reach out boldly is because we don’t really believe 1 Peter 4:10. Do we? Look at 1 Peter 4:10. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another.” There’s a command and there’s the presupposition upon which that command rests. What is the command in verse 10? “Use your gift to serve one another” – there’s the command. And what is the presupposition? Verse 10, “Each one has received a gift.” Don’t we doubt that all too readily, that each one has received a gift? We discount ourselves and we think that we have nothing to offer because we’re not Bible teachers, you know. We’re not office bearers. We’re not upfront leaders. “I’m just an ordinary Christian,” we mumble, and by that we typically mean, “I don’t have any gifts to speak of that I can harness in my Master’s service.” 

And look, that’s always wrong-headed but it’s sometimes an expression of misplaced humility, but sometimes I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t really in the end little more than an excuse. You see, if I have nothing to offer, I can’t be expected to serve. If I have no gifts, then I needn’t engage in ministry. I can be a mere consumer, a passenger, a spectator. I can linger here at the fringes of things and never really get involved. I can hang back and take what I need and not feel too guilty about not giving anything back. But the Scripture says if you’re a believer in Jesus, “each has received a gift.” God has wired you in certain unique ways, shaped you by nurture and nature and by super-nature, if I can put it that way. He’s given His Spirit to you to take your natural abilities and to elevate them and to sanctify them and make them useful as an instrument of blessing to others in His service. And He is still free, we confess, from time to time as He pleases, to endow us with gifts and abilities even beyond our natural capacity that He might be glorified and His people edified. 

Look, if you haven’t noticed it before now, I am a terrible introvert. The longest walk of my week is the walk from this pulpit to those doors back there. It is an agony to me. You all want to make eye contact, you know, and smile and have a moment, and I just want to run and hide most of the time! I think I’ve told you this before. It was illustrated for me the difference, I guess between Brits and Americans, certainly between me and Billy Dempsey. When Billy was assisting one Sunday and you know we meet down here and we’re walking down the aisle, and Billy was high-fiving people and I was sort of hiding like this! So I’m an introvert! It was particularly acute when I was a teenager, so if back then you had told me I would stand in front of any group of people for any length of time to talk about any subject, I would have laughed in your faces – if I could have looked in your face at the time. But God works in us. Right? That’s the point. And He shapes us and He renovates us and He gives gifts to us, to each of us, and then He calls us to use them. And we’ve got to get over ourselves is the point and learn to obey. So here I am and here you are, and God has a call on our lives to take what gifts we have, however small and meager we may think them to be, and use them in His service.

If you deny the truth of verse 10, you are giving yourself an out. You are letting yourself off the hook. But when we take God at His Word, that we each have received a gift, there really only is one option left. We must use it. Why don’t we give generously? There may be lots of reasons. Why don’t we serve sacrificially? I’m sure there are many – I was going to say “excuses,” but perhaps “reasons” is less pejorative, that we would offer to explain why we do not serve sacrificially. Why don’t we witness boldly? I think part of the answer is because we think our resources don’t matter. We think our meager abilities won’t help. We think our words won’t get through. But brothers and sisters if I can say this in love, that is just plain unbelief. And 1 Peter 4:10 calls us all to repent of it. 

So there is a perspective that we need. Do you see it? We’re to live in light of the end. The end of all things is at hand. There’s a presupposition that we too often doubt. God has given to each a gift and therefore has a call on our lives to serve Him.

The Purpose That We Must Pursue 

And that brings us, thirdly, to the purpose we must pursue. If we accept the clear teaching of verse 10, well then what will that mean for us? What does the text say? “As each one has received a gift, use it” – how? To make a name for yourself? To collect favors? To garner the approval of your peers? For what purpose has God gifted you? Look at the text. Use it, he says, “to serve one another.” If you were with us last Lord’s Day evening you will have heard an excellent exposition by Ed Hartman and he pointed out that this is the pattern provided for us by our Savior, isn’t it, who “came not to be served but to serve and give His life a ransom for many,” and gave us the great picture of that in this enacted parable in John 13 in the upper room when none of the other disciples thought to wash the feet of the group. It was a customary, you know, basic courtesy, and they all thought it beneath them. None of them were willing to stoop to it. And so Jesus rose from supper, took off His outer garment, wrapped Himself in a towel and did the menial task. 

And He gave us two explanations for it. First He says, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in Me.” He was really saying, “This is a picture of the true cleansing that I came to provide – not with a bowl of water washing the grime from your feet, but the cleansing that I will provide from the grime and filth of sin by means of the washing of My blood. I will shed My blood, give My life to make you clean. And unless you receive that cleansing that I give, you have no part in Me.” And then He says secondly, “Now then, since I have washed your feet, I have given you an example that you should do likewise.” You see what He’s saying. If you have received the cleansing blood of Jesus, if you are clean in His sight by His grace through the cross of Jesus Christ, having been served, now you must serve. God has been gracious to you. Hasn’t He? More gracious than you deserve. Me too. And now He says, “Okay, having received the gift of His grace and having been given gifts to use in His service, I want you to use it to serve one another.”

That’s what stewardship season is really about, you know. It’s not about guilt-tripping you to dig deeper into your pockets for more money to pad the budget. It is about serving one another with the riches lavished upon us. The perspective we need – the end is at hand. Live in light of eternity. The presupposition that we doubt – we think we have nothing to offer, but God has given to each a gift and so the purpose we must pursue, we must use our gifts to serve one another.

The Pattern That We Must Follow 

And then fourthly, the pattern that we must follow. Look at the text again. Verse 10, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another.” How? According to what rule shall we use our gifts to serve one another? What does the text say? “Serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” Do you see that phrase in the text? A steward – you may know this – a steward in the ancient world was typically a slave who worked in a household or on an estate in the management of its business and economic affairs. In 1 Corinthians 4:2, Paul says the key thing that you should always be on the lookout for in a steward is reliability. “It is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” Faithfulness is the mark of a good steward. And Peter says we are, every Christian, we are, all of us, “stewards of God’s varied grace.” Notice that carefully. Not consumers. Not connoisseurs of God’s varied grace, but stewards of it. That is to say, we are slaves in the Master’s household and it is necessary that we be found faithful in the wise use of the varied grace of God lavished so freely and generously upon us. 

And if you look at the text, Peter even goes on to show us what that will ordinarily look like. In verse 11, we are to be good stewards of God’s varied grace and so, “whoever speaks, as one who speaks the oracles of God; and whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength God supplies.” He’s mentioning here the two great categories of ministry gifts that the ascended Christ has given to the church – gifts of speaking and gifts of serving. Now it’s clear, isn’t it, that while we are not all Bible teachers and preachers, we are, all of us, nevertheless required to use our words in Christ’s service. We all have some measure of speech gifts to be harnessed in His service of King Jesus. 

And the same is true also with regard to service. And notice what Peter says about speaking – in Christ’s service, for Christ’s glory and cause. He says, “Sure, you may not be a preacher, but you have gift enough to open your mouth and speak for Christ to some loved one or family member or colleague.” You can’t all teach the Bible in a Bible class or before a crowd, but you can teach your children about Jesus. Can’t you? We can give a reason to anyone who asks us for the hope that is within us with gentleness and respect. Can’t you? Only Peter says in this area of speech, make sure when you open your mouth that you fill it not with your own words and your own ideas and your own empty ramblings, but you fill it with the oracles of God. That is, speak the Word of God. Here is the refuge, you know, for anyone who says, “The reason I don’t share my faith is because I don’t know what to say.” Peter says, “Well then, store up Bible and speak Bible to people. Learn the Word of God. Memorize the Scriptures. That way, when you don’t have words of your own, you have His words, wonderful words of life.” Speak as the oracles of God. Point them to Christ. Open the Scriptures. Suggest that perhaps they might like to take a gospel and begin to read it. Suggest that you would read it with them. “Let’s read Mark together and we’ll have a conversation about it. Let’s see what you make of it.” Speak as the oracles of God. Let your message be God’s. Let His words fill your mouth. That’s how to be a good steward of God’s varied grace in this area of speech.

And then, Peter says we must all serve. Of course not everyone will be an elected deacon, as we’ve seen recently. We may not all be elders. We may not all go around the world as a career missionary, for sure. And yet, our service may be equally valid and true. It may be quiet service, often unnoticed service. Maybe you have the ministry of telephone calls, the ministry of writing notes of encouragement. Many of you make meals or visit shut-ins. Some of you quietly pray and pray and pray and pray. And how can you keep going? How do you serve like that, especially when it’s unnoticed and unrewarded and unremarked? How do you keep serving like that when it’s hard and slow, you don’t see a lot of fruit, you feel like you’re running out of stamina and energy? What does Peter say? How can you go on doing good and not grow weary in well-doing? He says, “whoever serves, as one who serves in the strength God supplies.” Have you been serving in your own strength, trying to tough it out and push through and you haven’t really been looking to God? He has resources of strength for you and He invites you to cling to Him and rest on Him and depend upon Him and then go in obedience to His service.

Our service to others may be small, it might be small because our resources are slight. We don’t have great, dramatic, spectacular gifts – just little, quiet gifts. And yet, God promises to lend His strength to feeble gifts. Don’t say, “Jesus, I only have five loaves and two fishes, and look at the need.” Don’t say to Jesus, “I only have five loaves and two fishes.” You know what He does with five loaves and two fishes. He can take your little gifts and multiply them to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we ask or imagine. Look to Him. He has grace, He has strength to make of you, make of me, a good steward. 

The perspective that we need – live in light of the end. The presupposition that we doubt – we think we have nothing to offer, and so we don’t need to serve. How wrong we are. God has given to each a gift. The purpose we must pursue – since we have gifts, we are to serve one another with them. The pattern that we must follow – we are to be good stewards of God’s varied grace, so be faithful in speaking His word and not ours, in serving others in His strength and not ours. 

The Priority That We Must Maintain 

And then finally, there is a priority we must maintain. All the way through all of this, there is a priority we must maintain. Look at verse 11 again. What is the final objective of a good steward, the singular priority at which we must take aim in our generosity with time and talents and treasure? We do it, Peter says, “in order that” – so here’s our goal; here’s our priority, our great focal point. We do it, “in order that in everything, God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” Peter, he’s really saying please don’t give merely to prop up the institution of First Church. He’s saying give because you long for the glory of God to be seen and known through the Gospel of Jesus Christ through this church, in our city, and around the world. Give for the glory of God. A passion for an institution, you know, will only take you so far, but a radical commitment to making the glory of God the great priority of your life – in your finances, in your service, at home, at work, at play, in conversation, what you do with your pocketbook, what you do with your eyes and your hands and your mouth and your time, making the glory of God your great priority, your chief ambition, your heart’s true desire, that changes everything. Then you’ll begin to be able to say, “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all. I see what has been done for me by my Savior and I long in response for nothing so much to glorify His name and that has colored how I think about my money, how I think about my time, my week, my relationships, my words, my home life. It’s changed everything, you see.” 

Why give and serve and go? Well, do it, Peter says, because the end is at hand. We need to learn to live in light of eternity. Do it, Peter says, because each of us has received a gift and we must learn to be good stewards. And so serve one another with it and be faithful. And do it because we want, above everything else, in light of the grace of God in the cross, to bring glory to the name of the living God. Well may God give to us the help of the Spirit of His Son that we might be faithful stewards of His varied grace indeed. 

Let’s pray together.

Abba Father, we worship You for Your extraordinary grace and gift in Your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who has served us with His lifeblood. Please will You forgive us for taking Him, taking the Gospel, taking Your grace for granted, living as if we were entitled to it and every other blessing and benefit we enjoy besides. Instead, O Lord, melt our hearts anew by the wonder of Your grace that we may learn to be faithful stewards, giving and going and serving, using our five loaves and two fishes and seeing You multiply them for Your glory and praise. Here we are, O Lord. Make use of us and do it that men and women, boys and girls, here and around our city and all over the world may join us in adoring You and glorifying Your name, to whom indeed belong all glory and dominion, forever and ever. Amen.