For God’s Glory and the Good of the Church
Passage: 1 Peter 4:10-11
Two weeks ago, we began studying this paragraph, and maybe you recall that the whole paragraph is built around the opening statement that “the end of all things is at hand.” In other words, Jesus could come again at any moment, and we need to be ready for his return. First, God commands us to pray watchfully. Second he commands us to love fervently. Specifically, we are to love each other by forgiving each other and by being hospitable. Finally, vv. 10–11 commands us to respond to the immanent return of Christ by using our spiritual gifts to serve the local church. And so the central question of vv. 10–11 is “How should we practice the spiritual gifts in the context of the local church?” I’ll just say up front that I recognize that’s not the most exciting question in the world. These two verses may not make your heart skip with joy or satisfy a felt need, like some passages of Scripture. But while these verses may not satisfy an immediate craving, they are vitally important for your long-term spiritual health and obedience to God’s will. And so I pray that we will listen attentively to what God has to say, that we will think seriously about what it means for my life, and that we will submit to God’s will with gladness. There is a lot I want us to see from this passage, and I have a more extensive outline than normal. Because of that, I’ve put together a slide presentation to help us soak in as much of this as possible.
There are five overarching principles regarding spiritual gifts that I’d like us to see from these verses. First…
Every Christian has a spiritual gift (v. 10a).
This is the assumption of v. 10a.
Let’s talk first of all about the nature of a spiritual gift.
A spiritual gift is a gracious enablement for service.
The NT gives several lists of spiritual gifts. Peter mentions two general gifts in v. 11—speaking and serving. Romans 12 mentions prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, giving, leadership, and mercy. And other passages list several other gifts. Since none of the lists are exactly the same, we know that none of them are exhaustive. There are many different gifts that God gives his people. But Peter states that all of them are gracious enablements. This is apparent in the word translated as gift. It’s the Greek word charisma, and it comes from the root charis, which means grace. It implies that spiritual gifts are gracious gifts from the Lord. Now, a spiritual gift can be tied to a natural ability or a life experience. For example, the gift of giving requires that someone has a lot of money. God doesn’t zap a person with money when he gets saved. But God’s Spirit may graciously work in the heart of a wealthy person and give him a heart a desire to use his money to serve God’s purposes. It becomes a gift because God prepared that person to give and then gave them a heart to give. Regardless of what the gift may be, the Scriptures are clear that God’s grace stands behind every spiritual gift. Why is that significant? The fact that God gives them means that they are not ultimately mine to use or not use depending on what I desire. No, God gave it; therefore, we are required to use it to serve his purposes. If you have a spiritual gift, it is not ultimately yours; it is God’s.
Notice as well that Peter assumes you have one.
Every Christian has received one.
Peter expresses this assumption by placing the phrase “each one” in the emphatic position at the beginning of the verse. He doesn’t say that some believers have spiritual gifts; he says that each one has a spiritual gift. This fact is going to drive the commands in the remainder of the passage. But before we get to them, I want to emphasize the fact, that if you are saved, you have a spiritual gift. You have been equipped to fulfill a role in the life of the church. I’m guessing that some of you have never really thought about what your gift is and how it fits at Life Point. So how can you find your role? Take some time to prayerfully consider the list of gifts in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. Ask me or someone else that you trust what gifts they see in you. Or just jump into ministry and see what you are good at and what God-given passions you have. Since God sovereignly puts the church together, you could ask what needs the church has that maybe God has designed you to fulfill. You might want to think outside the box. Maybe God has given you a passion to start something new. I’d also encourage you to recognize that you don’t need a title to serve. In fact, much of the most significant ministry in the church isn’t tied to a title. We don’t have a title for Tehachapi Rd evangelist, but reaching your neighbors is a significant work. We don’t have a title “Servant of Single Moms” or “Encourager of a Saint on the Brink of Spiritual Disaster,” but these are vital ministries. Folks, if you are a Christian, God has given you a spiritual gift. You need to think seriously about what that gift is and about how you should be using it.
The second principle is…
God expects us to use our gifts to serve the local church (v. 10b).
I’d like to break this command down to four parts.
Ministry is service.
I’m basing this statement off the verb that is translated as minister. It’s the same root from which we get the word deacon, but it is used in the NT for many other contexts. It simply means servant or service. And so the logic of the verse goes like this. Every believer has a spiritual gift, and every believer must use it to serve; therefore, every believer is a minister of the church. If you are a Christian, you are a minister. It’s also important that we feel the weight of seeing ministry as service because sinners can get proud or selfishly competitive about anything. We can jockey for seemingly prestigious roles or get upset that we don’t have the role we think we should have. Of course, that’s sinful, but it also is doomed for failure because the glory of ministry never equals the work, even for the most “prestigious” positions. If you are in it for the glory rather than because you love the church and love people, you will flame out quickly. Ministry is humble service. Second…
Ministry is local-church centered.
Peter communicates this assumption with the phrase “one another.” The term translated “one another” clearly indicates that Peter has the local church in mind. He isn’t telling us to serve people in general or even Christians in general. No Peter wrote this epistle to local churches, and he is telling the people in those churches to minister to yourselves. The implication is that God didn’t give you a spiritual gift to use wherever and however you want. If you are using your spiritual gifts at work or to ministry to Christian friends who go to other churches, that’s all fine and well, but that is not the primary reason God gave you a gift. God gives spiritual gifts to use in the local church.
This should be sobering because…
Ministry is a stewardship.
In Peter’s day, a wealthy individual would often appoint someone to manage his home, finances, and servants. This person was called by the term Peter uses. These stewards were given a great deal of trust as they were responsible for tremendous resources which were not their own. And a steward could easily steal from the master or bring great ruin if he didn’t manage well. To be a steward was to have a weighty responsibility. This picture adds tremendous weight to Peter’s command because it implies that spiritual gifts don’t ultimately belong to us; they belong to God. He has simply entrusted them to us with the expectation that we will manage them well and make the most of them. And so God is teaching that if a Christian is not using his spiritual gift to serve in the local church, he is an unfaithful steward of God’s resources. Folks, the NT testimony is very clear that you cannot be a good disciple of Christ and not be serving in the local church. The Christian who just listens to sermons online or bounces from church to church or Bible study to Bible study is not walking in obedience. Of course, that’s assuming they are not providentially hindered. I realize that illness or other circumstances may hinder some people. But for most people, the problem isn’t providence. The problem is they don’t like authority or they don’t like commitment or they are hyper critical or they are too busy with work or play. Take a moment and consider the stewardship that God has given you. Are you serving the local church as a faithful steward? If God received his monthly statement on your use of his investment in you, would he be pleased with the returns? Ministry is a stewardship, and 2 Corinthians 4:2 says, “it is required in stewards that one be found faithful Fourth…
Ministry is grace.
In the final phrase of the verse says that spiritual gifts are demonstrations of God’s “manifold grace.” The word translated as manifold speaks of something with many facets, many sides, or great variety. A large mountain is a good comparison. It’s incredible the amount of variety or differing views a mountain can provide if you look at it from different angles or from different spots on the mountain. Similarly, there is great variety in how God has gifted his people to serve. We are all different, and that is a good thing because all of us have weaknesses that others can fill. And God in his wisdom puts all of these pieces together perfectly to construct his church. Rather than getting frustrated by how we are different or longing for a different role, we should embrace the wisdom of God in making us how he did and fitting us together. And remember that all of this is grace. The opportunity to serve is grace, and the opportunity to be served is grace. And so we should use our gifts liberally. Notice that the verse begins with “as.” Peter says that as we have received our gift, we should use them, but what is the point of comparison? The end of the verse says that spiritual gifts are gracious blessings of God. Therefore, the idea is that just as we have received gifts by God’s free grace, so we should liberally and graciously use our gifts to serve. We shouldn’t hoard them or hold them tight. We should serve the church with the same grace we have received. May God help us to do so.
The third principle of this passage is…
Teaching must bear the authority of God (v. 11a).
Again, there are a couple of sub-points I want to make. First…
We speak truth in many different contexts.
It is interesting that Peter doesn’t use a typical word for preaching and teaching; instead, he uses a general verb for speaking. Of course we should speak truth in a formal preaching or teaching context, but we can also speak truth when we do evangelism, disciple a young believer, or encourage someone who is discouraged or grieving. We may speak truth when confronting sin or sharing a testimony. Ephesians 5 says that we speak truth to each other when we sing. There are many different ways that you can speak truth even if you aren’t gifted to teach or preach.
But we must fulfill this responsibility with great care because…
Our speaking must be rooted in Scripture and presented with the authority of God.
The word oracles has deep roots in the OT, and it refers to God’s authoritative message. Within the OT that could be Scripture or one of God’s other forms of revelation—prophecy, visions, or dreams. In our context where the revelatory gifts are no longer available, the oracles of God are the Scriptures and by extension any legitimate use of Scripture to explain, exhort, or encourage. And so Peter commands us to make sure that all of our speaking in the church is rooted in the authoritative Word of God. But the presence of the word as indicates that Peter isn’t just concerned with the content of our speech; he is also concerned with how we deliver it. In particular, we are to deliver God’s truth with the authority of God in a way that glorifies him. This is an incredibly rich and vital command, and we need to understand its significance for our church.
I’d like to note four implications of this command for how we will do ministry at Life Point. First…
We must tell people what God intended. We must accurately represent the Word of God.
It is scary how easy it is for preachers and teachers to misrepresent God’s Word and blow it right past people because what they say sounds so good or it appeals to our sinful hearts or because they say it with such conviction and wit. But it doesn’t matter how good something sounds or even how helpful it is, when a Bible teacher claims to speak for God but doesn’t say what God said, he dishonors God. My first job as a pastor and your first job anytime you speak truth is to find out what God said and say it whether it’s exciting and popular or not. I hope that you will never tolerate anything less out of the ministry of Life Point.
We must tell people everything God said. We must completely represent the Word of God.
You don’t have to look at church history long to see that the most destructive teachings are typically the result of someone obsessing over a biblical concept without seeing in light of the entire biblical theology. But you can’t understand grace without understanding law. You can’t understand love without holiness. You can’t understand God’s commands without the new birth. You can’t understand sovereignty without human responsibility. If we are to honor God, we must understand all of his Word, even the unpopular parts and teach them together.
We must show people where God said it. We must clearly point to the authoritative Word of God.
We certainly want our minds and our speech to be shaped by God’s Word, but simply relaying truth isn’t enough. If we want to speak with the authority of God, as Peter says, we must clearly ground our ideas in the Word of God. People need to see that God said it, and they need to see why you reached the conclusions you did. I believe this extends even to our regular speech. Our debates, confrontation, and encouragement ought to be always seasoned with Scripture.
We must tell people what God said with God’s authority. We must be authoritative and weighty.
Our world very much appreciates toleration, and saying, “Thus says the Lord” won’t go over well with many. But if we present God’s truth as one of many options, we are liars, and we dishonor him. Now, we do have to be careful that we are actually saying what he said, not our own opinions or conclusions. But when God speaks clearly, we ought to speak just as clearly with confidence that the authority of God stands behind us.
God’s Word is true and powerful. Speaking his truth is a great stewardship. If you speak, speak his Word truly and authoritatively.
The fourth principle of this passage is…
Ministry must be accomplished in the strength of God (v. 11b).
Ministry is service.
In v. 11 Peter divides all spiritual gifts into two broad categories. There are speaking gifts and serving gifts. I think these are helpful categories because we can think too hard about which of the more specific gifts the NT mentions belongs to me. It’s probably helpful to think more in terms of am I more gifted toward speaking or serving? Of course I would add that all of us should to some extent do both. I’m the pastor, so speaking is a big part of my ministry, but I should also gladly serve. It might be that you are more naturally inclined to put your head down and work, but you should also be willing to speak an encouraging word or to share the gospel. That being said, the middle statement of v. 11 speaks of serving, and it is very helpful to remember always that ministry is service. I am to be a servant of the body. You are too, whether you have been here for 2 months or you are a charter member, whether you have a public role or you move chairs. Even if you primarily have a speaking gift, you are a minister, a servant. Being a servant may sound like downer, but not when you recognize what we are a servant of. The church is the bride of Christ. It is the manifestation of God’s wisdom (Eph 3). It is a great joy to serve such a miraculous creation.
We must serve in humble, intentional dependence on God’s strength.
I naturally find it odd that Peter would say we need to rely on the strength of God to practice the serving gifts. Why do I need to rely on God to mow the lawn, move chairs, wash toilets, or cook food? I don’t need God for those things do I? There are a few ways that we need God’s strength for every task. First, without the strength of God empowering our ministry, it will ultimately be hollow. We can have the prettiest building and slickest programs. We can serve our tails off, but if God’s not in it, blind eyes will not be opened and hearts will not be transformed. All ministry is supernatural. Second, if we don’t serve in the strength of God, one of two things will probably happen. I may forget that God’s manifold grace stands behind my service and take a sinful pride in all that I am doing for the Lord. I may also get bored or burn out because no notices or it’s too hard, but if I remember that God sees and it’s a gift of his grace that a wicked sinner like me has the privilege to serve him, then I will serve with joy and gratitude.
Whatever role you may be, bathe it in prayer. Seek the Lord’s strength to enable you and to enable your service to lead to supernatural fruit. Serve in “the ability which God supplies.”
The final principle is that…
Christian ministry must glorify God (v. 11c).
Peter concludes by reminding us of the ultimate purpose behind everything we do.
I’d like to make four brief points regarding this statement.
We must intentionally purse God’s glory.
The NT is always very clear that the church is not ultimately for me. There is a sense in which this is my church and your church, but ultimately it is God’s church, and we are but servants. We better not ever lose sight of that. We ought to pray that the world would see a clear picture of our Savior in everything we do.
We must intentionally point to God’s glory.
In a context about spiritual gifts, I think this is a point that needs to be made because it’s easy to use spiritual gifts to glorify ourselves. A pastor can be more interested in showing off his intelligence than in making people long for God. A musician can be more interested in showing off his talents than in provoking godly affections. A program director can build an impressive program that doesn’t impress people with God. Whatever your role, make sure that the end product points to God, not you.
We can only glorify God because of redeeming grace.
Peter makes this point when he says that we can only glorify God “through Jesus Christ.” It’s only because of redeeming grace that we have spiritual gifts. And so God is only glorified through us because of what Christ has already done.
We do not add anything to God’s glory; we only set it before each other and the world.
Why is it that right after Peter says that we are to glorify God with our service, he adds that all “glory and dominion” already belong to him? The answer is that we don’t glorify God by adding something to his nature. God doesn’t need anything. But it is a wonderful privilege to point a lost world and especially needy saints to his great glory.
And so may God help us to see what a wonderful privilege we have been given, and may he strengthen us to serve him with such an obvious power that everyone who observes Life Point will say that surely God is in their midst.