Stewards of Grace

“As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. … that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” 1 Peter 4:10,11

It has been said that each person should find out what they love doing and then find someone to pay them to do it. From a worldly perspective that seems like a good idea. For the Christian it is a little different. We are to discover what spiritual gifting God has given us and then develop it by use. In doing this we will discover that we love expressing the gift given and in the process bring glory to God. That doesn’t mean it will be without cost and hardship.

I have been asked by family members what I would like as a birthday gift and then they may choose from the items mentioned. The Bible reveals that we don’t get that choice. Each one’s spiritual gifting is at the sovereign will of God. Keep in mind that it is a gift not a reward.

Peter, the last New Testament writer to mention spiritual gifting writes that spiritual gifting is for the benefit of the whole body of Christ. Each one is to “minister it to one another.” Such gifting is not for the purpose of boasting in ourselves. That is pride and we know the origin of pride (Ezekiel 28). Spiritual gifting is not a reward for service but it is divine ability in stewardship to serve others. We will give account at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:12-15) as to how faithfully we performed this stewardship.

Spiritual gifting is an expression of the Divine attributes of Jesus Christ and leave no room for pride or boasting on our part. The exercise of spiritual gifting is all to the glory of God. As Paul wrote, “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).

Paul and the other apostles all had spiritual gifting but exercised them for the benefit of the church and not for personal benefit. Often they paid a considerable price to enact this stewardship.

Peter writes, “… be clothed with humility” followed by, “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God” (1 Peter 5:5, 6). If anyone boasts with regard to spiritual gifting it reveals that they are out of fellowship with Jesus Christ and speaking on behalf of Satan. Of all people, Peter knew what it was to be humbled by God and he became a good steward of the grace gift that God had given to the church through him.

Pursue Love

“So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken?” 1 Corinthians 14:9

This chapter begins with the words, “Pursue love” and follows a chapter describing the characteristics of God’s kind of love. This in turn follows a chapter describing the nature and purpose of spiritual gifting to the church through members of Christ’s body.

The Corinthian church regarded spiritual gifts as a thing of which to boast as if they merited the gift. Further to this they argued that their particular gift was better or more important than others. The focus was on exalting themselves in the eyes of others. There is no shortage of such people today and, unfortunately, we contribute to their pride when we idolise them.

Pursuing love is described by Paul in this chapter. It means to develop and exercise our spiritual gifting in order to edify other members of Christ’s church. This is accomplished through communicating understanding of God and His word in a language easily understood by the hearers. The key words in this chapter are edification and understanding. Rather than attempting to proclaim Christ in a language his hearers did not understand Paul writes that in the church he would rather speak five words with understanding than ten thousand words in a language not easily understood (v 19).

Love will demand that we minister to others and that means building up, strengthening and encouraging other believers. Apparently a spirit of pride had overtaken the Corinthian church and self exaltation had erroneously become recognised as a spiritual blessing. Paul corrected this attitude to spiritual gifts when he wrote, “Since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel” (v 12). This is love in action.

To other Christians Paul described the difference between the spirit of manipulation and the spirit of ministry. “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit.” That would be manipulation of others to serve one’s own pride. “But in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” This is the right attitude of mind. “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” This is ministry to others out of love (Philippians 2:3-4). In the same chapter, commending Timothy for this right attitude and ministry, he comments of others, “For all seek their own, not the things of Jesus Christ” (v 21).

Paul gives to the Corinthian church, and to us, the principle to be applied, “Let all things be done for edification” (v 26).  He concludes his letter by writing, “Let all that you do be done with love” (16:14). That is how we pursue love.

The Secret Place

“The heavens declare the glory of God” Psalm 19:1

Returning to Perth by air this week I was again struck by the beauty of the upper surface of the clouds. From beneath, clouds are shades of grey and reasonably level. From above, where the sun is upon them, they are pure white and shaped like bundles of cotton balls. Off on to the horizon and beyond this beauty exists but for the most part it was unseen by any person and possibly even less recognised as God’s handiwork. Largely hidden from the eyes of people, day after day and for millennia, God has been expressing Himself in such beauty. It is only in the past hundred years that people have been able to see the clouds from above yet it has been unrelentingly showing off the glory of God.

For even less time we have been able to see the beauty and variety of creatures that live below the seas at depth. Some had been caught in nets or found dead on the shore but multitudes of new creatures of extraordinary appearance are now being discovered in the depths of the oceans. For millennia these creatures have been expressing the beauty and wisdom of God without any person observing them. Perhaps more than at any time since God brought “every beast of the field and every bird of the air … to Adam to see what he would call them” (Genesis 2:19) we are closer to discovering all the living creatures that God has created. All that time since the creation these creatures have expressed God’s glory even though many have not been seen by people until recently.

As we look up into the night sky we marvel at the majesty, beauty, wisdom and power that has created all that exists in the heavens. Mankind has discovered more distant heavenly bodies with each new telescope and marvelled at their beauty but they have all been present since the creation expressing the glory of God, whether seen by people or not.

We may be inclined to think that God is only glorified by things seen by people. However even the things unseen by people glorify God. Jesus told His disciples, “When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut the door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6).

People who follow Jesus do reveal and express the glory of God publicly but perhaps the time we glorify God most is in the secret place for there we have no need to play the hypocrite. There we can be honest with God since nothing is hidden from Him. Like all the things of creation that are rarely if ever seen by people it is perhaps our time alone with Him that glorifies Him most. It is when we are alone with God that we worship Him from a pure heart. “Do all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

In the Potter’s Hand

“If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” 1 Peter 4:11

There is sometimes talk about spiritual gifts that goes beyond what Jesus and the New Testament writers intended. Peter sums up all the spiritual gifts into two categories – preaching/teaching God’s word and serving by ministering to other needs of His people. These two areas of gifting provide earthly and spiritual sustenance and care for God’s people. Peter writes that the purpose of exercising these gifts is that God will be glorified through Jesus Christ because His nature and some of His attributes will be seen in His people.

Our fallen nature is deceitful beyond our understanding and ability to discern without the Holy Spirit searching our hearts by way the God’s word. From time to time we will realise that we are using God’s gracious blessings to bring glory to ourselves and not to Him.

We want to feel good about ourselves so we will attribute the good that we have done to ourselves instead of to God’s working power in us. We want others to think well of us so we accept their praise as if the good they have noticed originated from ourselves and not from Christ (Colossians 1:27). We may even want to garner praise from God for some good that we have done but Jesus reminds us that without Him we can do nothing of value to God or His kingdom (John 15:5).

We may seek positions and roles that we think are likely to gain God’s or other people’s praise but none of that will glorify Jesus Christ if our motive is selfish. Even in public prayer we can be guilty of speaking to be heard by people or to gain God’s praise for what we think is a wonderful prayer rather than desiring that the name of Jesus be lifted up and glorified in the earth.

We pray to be used by God but we need to search our hearts to ensure that such prayers are not selfish; to be recognised as a ‘godly’ person, a rung in the ladder above others. We may seek to be one piece of pottery while the Potter would make us for another purpose and place. We can glorify Him best when we are where He wants us to be doing what He wants us to do.

The overriding principle is stated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Do all to the glory of God.” We will do well to keep checking our motive when praying, sharing the Gospel and serving other saints. Why we do what we do is more important that what we actually do.  Paul also wrote, “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).

Reason for Joy

“We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” 1 Corinthians 15:51-52

For two thousand years Christians have looked forward to this great and glorious day by meeting for worship on the first day of the week. This is the day of the week that Jesus rose from the dead. We worship the Lord Jesus on the first day because we look forward to that day when we will see Jesus face to face in resurrected bodies.

The Law called for a day of rest and worship on the last day of the week but because of Christ Jesus’ substituttionary death on our behalf we are free from the requirements of the Law and the penalty for sin. We now look forward to experiencing all that it means when we are called home to be with the Lord.

This past year has been a trying one for the world. People who do not know or understand God’s word grope around for solutions to the world’s problems but they do not inquire of the Lord through prayer and reading His word. The answers are there but as long as they are rejected and men place higher value on their own wisdom they will remain in darkness and never find the right answers.

Anyone who will choose to turn from sin and put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ will receive His forgiveness and be among those mentioned in the passage above. The New Year looks rather bleak for the world but the Bible forewarns us who believe God’s word that this is what we can expect. As tragic as this future is, understanding what God has said about future events will bring comfort, peace and joy to anyone who will trust Jesus.

He promises that “the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” and He gives the reason. “This is the will of Him who sent me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:37, 40). Please note the emboldened words: “everyone” who sees and believes has everlasting life and it is Jesus Himself who will raise up all those who have believed – at the appointed time.

Now, this is surely reason for us to look forward to the coming year with hope, joy and expectation. The world is enshrouded in the darkness of ignorance but we who have trusted and come to know the risen Jesus live in the light. “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).

Tender Affection

“When He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” 1 John 3:2-3

Many years ago before I was married my friends sometimes visited me at home but I would do little or nothing in preparation. The day came when my fiancé, who had not met my parents or family, came from interstate to meet them and stay for Easter. There was a lot of activity on my part to prepare for her visit including the purchase of a new bed to ensure her comfort and washing the car. She was very special to me being the girl that I would marry. Nothing was too much trouble or expense to make her feel welcome and loved after three months without seeing her.

This kind of excitement and expectation can be ours as we “eagerly wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:7). The apostle Paul lived in eager expectation of seeing Jesus. He wrote with longing and anticipation, “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). He would later write to his young pastor friend, Titus, to teach all people to keep “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

Observation over the years suggests that some Christians are satisfied that they have a home in heaven but without any real longing or eagerness to be in that home and be with Jesus. Heaven is heaven because of the presence of Jesus. Without Him it would be hell. If we truly love Jesus, there will not just be the knowledge that we will be with Him and see Him face to face, but a genuine heartfelt longing for that day.

John writes that this expectation will cause us to prepare ourselves for that day. If we remain content with a “ticket to heaven” with no thrill at the prospect of seeing and being with Jesus it may be that we do not have a home in heaven at all. Surely one in whom dwells the Holy Spirit will have this thrill and excitement that will motivate them to clean the house in readiness and eagerly look forward to the day.

When I speak the name of my wife it is with tender affection and it stirs the emotions every time. To better understand longing desire and tender affection read the Song of Solomon. When we are in intimate fellowship with the Lord Jesus we will speak the name of Jesus with tender affection also. Jesus is the name by which we are saved. Jesus is the name above all names. The name Jesus means Saviour. Let us speak His name but speak it with tender affection in anticipation of His coming.

Seeking F.A.T. Christians

“… because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before God when you heard His words …” 2 Chronicles 34:27

In our part of the world many people have become fat from the pleasures of this world. For the Christian, to be spiritually fat can be a good thing if we utilise the following acronym: F.A.T. God is seeking F.A.T. Christians: Christians who are Faithful, Available and Teachable.

 

Faithful: A key aspect of the Divine Nature is faithfulness. If God is not faithful to His word then we have nothing in which to trust. Those who are His people will also be faithful. Paul writes, “It is required of stewards that one be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). Jesus spoke a lot about faithfulness of His people in Matthew 24 and 25. Instructing Timothy in regard to the fulfilment of the Great Commission Paul writes, “The things you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).

A faithful person is one who knows the truth from God’s word and then lives it out and passes it on. To know the truth is not enough as we see in the parable in Matthew 25:14-30. The reward for faithfulness is to be given more responsibility. Jesus said, “Well done good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things” (Matthew 25:21).

 

Available: To be available to Jesus means that He is the priority over everything in our lives. In Luke 9:59-62 we read that a man wanted to take care of his father until he died before following Jesus. Another wanted to delay by returning to his family. In both these cases the men had a priority over following Jesus. There delaying tactics may have resulted in them never following Jesus.

Jesus does not need advisors but much of our prayer would seem to be along that line. We ask that He physically heal this person, provide funds for another and relational healing for yet another. While we do pose these as requests outwardly, it is possible that inwardly we are actually advising Him how to run His church. It may be that many of us are available to Jesus but only in an advisory capacity. To be available to Jesus means that when He calls we come, when He sends, we go (James 2:20).

 

Teachable: A person who is teachable is always a humble person. Only the proud are unteachable. To be teachable does not mean that one should be gullible or without discernment. Quite the contrary (Acts 17:11).

Jesus (Matthew 28:20) and Paul (2 Timothy 2:2) both exhort those who are teachers to seek out people who are teachable. The reason is that they will then pass it on to future generations. It is a waste of time and effort to try and teach and disciple a person who is neither humble nor teachable.

A teachable person is also responsive to the Holy Spirit (Luke 12:12; John 14:26). The Holy Spirit resists the proud and unteachable (James 4:6). Let us be humble and teachable students of the Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful, available and teachable.