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.

Vultures and Darkness

“It came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram” (Genesis 15:17, 18).

It is not difficult for us to put ourselves in Abram’s place and to share his experience in this great event in the history of God’s redemptive program. However, there was much that was needed to pave the way for this day. This chapter begins with the words, “After these things …”

There was the first step of obedience by Abram to leave his homeland without knowing his destination. Chapter twelve records his arrival in Canaan. He also had to be separated from his family. Chapter thirteen records his eventual separation from his remaining family member – the worldly Lot.

Abram showed that he wholly trusted the Lord to fulfil His covenant when he rejected the world’s offer of a reward (Genesis 14) and by offering a tithe to Melchizedek, king of Salem. There was still an important experience for Abram to endure, one that we would not desire ourselves but one that we can expect.

In Genesis 15:6 we read that Abram already had God’s righteousness accounted to him so what follows is subsequent to his believing – what we would refer to as subsequent to salvation.

God asked Abram to offer animal blood sacrifices. When they were placed as God commanded, instead of heavenly visions as we might expect, there came vultures. Instead of showers of blessings came the vultures of doubt (v 11). Instead of God’s peace came the thief to steal away that which Abram was offering to the Lord. There was also the great darkness of depression (v 12) that seemed as though it would consume him. We offer ourselves as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1) but somehow it doesn’t go to plan and we feel doubt and depression.

The vultures, the deep sleep, the horror of the darkness all made Abram feel absolutely helpless. Doubt and depression may visit us and make us feel helpless. If we did not experience doubt we would not experience having the truth confirmed. If we did not experience the darkness of depression we would not be able to experience the joy of assurance. Out of Abrams’s experience the Lord confirmed all that He had said to him and gave him assurance. God alone passed through the sacrificed animals and Abram knew that the fulfilment of the covenant was based solely on God’s faithfulness and ability.

Our ultimate deliverance from sin and from this fallen world is dependent solely on Jesus Christ. Neither doubts nor fears will prevent Him from delivering us into the presence of the Father. Doubt and depression may at times infiltrate our lives, but they cannot steal away the Gift of God (cf. Romans 8:38-39). Peter writes that we “are kept by the power of God through faith” (1 Peter 1:5).

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).

The “Would Have Beens”

“He would have fed them with the finest wheat; and with honey from the rock I would have satisfied you” Psalm 81:16

We may often ponder what might have been if we had made a different choice or acted and spoken differently but there is a certainty about these words: “Would have been.” This Psalm is a prayer for Israel to return to the Lord. Things would have been much different had they heeded the word of the Lord that had come through His prophets.

“Hear, O My people … O Israel, if you will listen to Me” (v 8) and “Oh, that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways!” (v 13). Had Israel heeded the Lord the nation would have been immeasurably better off. The Lord would have subdued their enemies and provided abundantly for them. Instead, He has allowed their enemies to have power over them and their land had been much less fruitful than it would have been.

Nothing can be done about the past except, hopefully, to learn from it. The Word of God will let us know what would have been had we been more willing to hear and conform to the will of God. The person without Christ will merely reflect on what might have been but God’s Word opens the door to realise that we have at times missed the perfect will of God. In His grace, as a loving Father, God has kept us through those times and not disowned or abandoned us.

Let us come to the Lord confessing our failure to hear and heed His word and determine in our hearts that, by His gracious enabling, there will be no more “would have beens” in our lives and plenty of “have beens!”

We discover His will for us through reading and studying the Bible combined with prayer and life experiences that the Lord sends our way. The temptation is to do that which seems right in our own eyes without seeking His will and way.

Vance Havner writes, “I suspect that much of our praying to be used is selfish and underneath it is the sneaking desire to make our mark and be recognised.” Our desire may be to glorify ourselves so that we and others think better of us but Peter writes that we are to live so “that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11).

The key question we must ask with regard to all things in our lives is, “Is God glorified or am I?” If we are really honest before the Lord the answer might not be as we had hoped but this is an opportunity to grow in grace. Then He shall satisfy our hearts.

Please, Take a Seat

“Be filled with the SpiritEphesians 5:18

Every couple of months I take time to have my hair cut. In preparation I wash my hair within twenty four hours of going. When I arrive, I sit in the seat and let the hairdresser go about cutting my hair. The first few times I visited this hairdresser I explained what I expected the end product to look like. When it is all over I make a quick inspection to see if he has fulfilled my expectations.

There are parallels with having a hair cut and being filled with the Spirit. Paul expresses this as a commandment in Ephesians 5:18. Further, the grammar used means that we are to be continually submitting to being filled with the Spirit and also that it is not something we do. How can it be a commandment to believers if they can’t do it?

When I was conscripted into the army one of the first commands I received was to have a hair cut. I didn’t cut my own hair. The hairdresser did it. Being filled with the Spirit is similar in that we are commanded to be filled but it is not we who do the filling. It is God who does the filling. Our part is to ensure that we are in the right place spiritually and ready to receive this Gift of God.

The Holy Spirit can only “fill” a clean and holy vessel. We may be able to wash our hair before going to the hairdresser but only the blood of Jesus can cleanse us in the way necessary for the Holy Spirit to fill us. This requires confession of particular sins, not generalisations about being a sinner (1 John 1:9). What is the end product we desire? For a true disciple of Jesus the end product is to be just like Jesus. The New Testament writers express that in several ways (Romans 12:1, 2; 1 Peter 1:8, 9; 1 John 3:2, 3). At the hairdresser there is a mirror so that we can observe progress to see that the hairdresser is conforming to our desire. Likewise we have the Bible as a mirror so that we can see how we are progressing in becoming Christ-like.

With the hairdresser we have no more assurance than past experience that he will achieve the goal. However, with Jesus Christ we have God’s Word that guarantees that He is working all He can to complete the task (Philippians 2:12, 13). The main obstruction to His getting the job done right is how well we submit to His working. If we squirm in the chair or turn our head, the hairdresser may make a mistake. It won’t be his fault but ours.

We are inclined to be “stiff-necked” and resist the working of the Holy Spirit but James gives us the remedy – if we will accept it. “Submit to God … Draw near to God … Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord … For God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6-10).

More-ish

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him.” Psalm 34:8 (source: http://hilldaleworship.blogspot.com.au/2012/02/150-days-of-psalms-psalm-34.html)

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good;
Blessed is the man who trusts in Him.”
Psalm 34:8

Saturday night we sometimes treat ourselves to chocolate; “Just three pieces each,” we declare, “and we’ll have some more another night.” An hour later and the whole block has gone. Another night we might open a bag of cashew nuts with the declaration that we will only have a handful each. Three handfuls later we lock the remainder away where they are not easily accessible to discourage further pilfering. Does this sound familiar in your home? Maybe you are more disciplined but you know the feeling that goes with foods that are more-ish.

While many people still want to debate the existence of God many others have discovered that He can be known, loved and enjoyed. Perhaps those who find Him the most more-ish are those who have suffered in some way in this fallen world. They have tasted Him in a way that others have not and long for more of His intimate and comforting fellowship. The Psalmist knew this well when he penned, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (Psalm 42:1, 2). He longed to be in God’s presence. Peter wrote of this longing for the Lord, “… as newborn babes desire the pure milk of the word that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (1 Peter 2:2, 3). This comes from the heart of one who really knows the Lord Jesus. Again, the Psalmist writes, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth” (Psalm 119:103).

The writer of Hebrews tells us that some taste the word of God and find it unpalatable and reject it and Him. They never know what it is to have intimacy with the Lord (Hebrews 6:4-6). They choose to love the world rather than God.

Those who have truly received Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour discover that He is a true friend who loves them and desires to share their life in every aspect. Their appetite for His company and fellowship cannot be satiated. Chocolates and nuts will eventually fill us up (even if our taste buds still want more) but we will never get to a place where we have had enough of the Lord Jesus Christ. On the contrary, the one who has received more of Him will have an even greater thirst for more. On the one hand He satisfies our every longing but on the other hand He becomes even the more more-ish.

“O God, You are my God;
Early will I seek You;
My soul thirsts for You;
My flesh longs for You
In a dry and thirsty land
Where there is no water”
Psalm 63:1

The Word of Life Manifested

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life – the life was manifested, and we have seen, …” 1 John 1:1

There is most assuredly a “WOW” factor in John’s heart as he wrote these words. This is another way of expressing one of the names given to Jesus, Emmanuel which means God with us. It is hard to imagine that anyone could describe God’s presence in the person of Jesus Christ any better than John has.

John was able to hear all that Jesus spoke and taught, observe Jesus with his eyes, study Him with his mind and touch Him with his hands. He was even able to lean against Jesus at Passover. Who did John know Jesus was? He was absolutely convinced that Jesus is God co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. That is the testimony of this letter of his.

Since Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden no one had the opportunity to have this kind of intimacy with the Creator. This was especially so for Peter James and John. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that God had spoken to men in various ways through history but that the appearing of Jesus was unique beyond any comparison (1:1-4). The writer expresses the essence of Jesus coming into the world in verse 3, “who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”

The baby in a manger that we so readily picture at Christmas is God incarnate, the Creator and Sustainer of all that exists, and it all exists for Him. We exist for Him! Jesus may have appeared a helpless baby but He was anything but helpless. It was mankind that was helpless, helpless to deliver itself from sin and death but Jesus has made it possible for any person to be delivered. Millions have discovered this and every day Jesus continues to build His church with those who discover the same reality. Peter calls believers “living stones” being built into a “spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).

Fortunately for us the disciples were just ordinary men as we are today and that meant that questions were raised in their minds when they didn’t understand something. When they asked those questions Jesus answered them which is also to our gain. Thank God they were not so proud that they did not ask but rather humbled themselves before God and asked.

When Philip asked Jesus, “Show us the Father” (John 14:8), Jesus made it quite clear to him and all the disciples that He was claiming that He and the Father are one. That is, they are indistinguishable one from the other and inseparable (v 9).

As we spend time in reflection on who Jesus is this Christmas may it lift our hearts in praise and worship now and in holy submission for the years ahead while He tarries.