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.

Build up in Love

“I do not seek yours, but you.” “We do all things, beloved, for your edification” 2 Corinthians 12:14, 19

Peddlers of a false Gospel had, among other things, accused Paul to the Corinthian church of preaching for reward. In this letter Paul reminds the church of how he ministered among them when he was there. He took no money from them and neither did they provide for him in other ways. He writes in this letter that he either provided for by himself or he was provided for by other churches. He chose to forgo the right to their providing him so that he would not be accused in this way. Ending his response to the accusation he leaves his readers with these two primary motivations for ministry; he doesn’t want their money but he does want to edify the church.

His accusers were likely doing the very thing of which they accused him. This is a common ruse of Satan and those who serve him. Before they are rightly accused of some wrong doing they falsely accuse those they wish to discredit. We observe this in politics and business; in fact in any sphere of life including, sadly, the church. When a person thinks they are about to be exposed they accuse the other of the very thing so as to create confusion and attempt to divert attention from themselves.

Paul had been accused of using religion to manipulate people to serve him and gain reward when in fact this was the motivation of those who accused him. They were jealous of the people’s affection for Paul. In his reluctant defense Paul explains his motivation is not to manipulate to receive but to minister by giving and building up the church.

In 1 John 3:1 John encourages his readers to take time to seriously consider the kind of love that God has lavished on us. His kind of love is one that gives, not takes, and that is the kind of love that Paul had shown to the Christians at Corinth. He was saddened that they were so easily deceived by the peddlers of false teaching when they could easily have seen through their ruse.

His motivation for ministry is the only motivation that is faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ, that is, love expressed in these two things: desiring the eternal benefit of others (v 14) expressed in building up other believers through personal sacrifice (v 19; 13:10).

Eagerly Waiting

“We ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we are saved for this hope … we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” (Romans 8:23, 24, 25)

If Paul could visit our contemporary Christian Church he would probably be terribly grieved in his heart. So few of us know what he really meant. We have little or no experience of what it is to eagerly wait for Christ’s coming and the new creation and neither do we “groan” under the weight of sin, decay and death in the world.

The things that many of us seem to be eager about today is our boy/girl friend, prospective marriage partner, career, super and retirement, or the next holiday to see the world.

Paul says that this world groans to “be delivered from the bondage of decay” and that it “groans and labours with birth pangs.” Both people and the physical world we live in are “groaning” under the weight of evil and degradation more than ever.

Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). It would seem that the hearts of many Christians are not eagerly waiting for Christ’s return and for the new heavens and a new earth. For many our treasure is earthly and not heavenly. Millions are still going into eternity without having the opportunity to even hear the Gospel. They are dying in natural disasters, wars, famines and through sickness, many while still children, but our concern is more focussed on our own comfort and well being. We hoard so we can live comfortably in retirement. We build “barns” to hold our ever increasing material goods, we worry about our earthly investments with only a modest thought to heavenly investments.

We have become replicas of Jonah who refused to take God’s message to Nineveh preferring they perish without God’s grace rather than that he obey the Lord and warn them of the judgment and destruction to come.

We are not called to change the world by argument or force. We are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ and prepare them for His invitation to “Come up here.” Heaven is being with Jesus.

If Jesus were to come to you and say, “Come up” would you falter or would you eagerly press into His presence?

You have answered the question in your heart. If there was a “what about …” or “who would care for …” or any other thought other than “lets go” then your treasure is on earth and you are not “eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of your body.”

You can do something about that.

What Kind Matters

“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the children of God” 1 John 3:1

When John wrote this he quite likely did so after a lengthy pause to consider the kind of love that God has toward us. In the world there are several kinds of love but this kind of love is uniquely God’s kind of love.

People often express a brotherly kind of love toward each other which occasionally includes acts of self sacrifice. Yet this kind of love is often conditional. If the object of the love does not reciprocate then it may fail.

There is a kind of love that may be better described as lust. Lust means that I must be gratified now; I must have it now. Coveting something that another person has may be the motivation for this kind of love. This is a self-serving kind of love.

The love that parents have for their children is often sacrificial and is evidence that we are created in the image of God. It is limited in its expression to our children and perhaps to grandchildren. Yet even this love can fail.

So that we are in no doubt as to the kind of love God has toward us John states it in verse sixteen: “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.” Paul describes it this way, “God demonstrates His own [kind of] love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” and “Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:8, 6). This is why Jesus can ask us to love our enemies (Luke 6:27-35). When He lives in us we will show this kind of love from the heart – not out of a sense of duty or necessity.

God did not have to make a decision to love us in this way. “God is love” (1 John 4:16). He loves in this way because it is His nature. When His nature abides in us we will also love others in this way, even those who mock us and spit on us as they did the Lord Jesus.

When we know that God has this kind of love toward us we will have no difficulty trusting Him. The evidence that we trust Him is that we obey His word because we know it is for our good. When we do not obey Him we reveal that we doubt his love for us.

We can now see the exceeding sinfulness of unbelief. How could we doubt God’s goodness toward us when the evidence is plain before our eyes that while we were His enemies Jesus died for us?

Behold and meditate on this kind of love that the Father has bestowed on us and then let Him love even our enemies through us. God’s kind of love gives what is rightfully ours to another who previously had no right to it. It will cost us something to benefit another who doesn’t deserve it.

24/7 Grace

“Therefore we also pray always for you … that the name of the Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Thessalonians 1:12

This verse sums up Paul’s greeting to the church at Thessalonica, a church that abounded in the grace of God in such a way that he used them as an example of God’s grace to other churches (v 2).

He commented that the evidence of God’s grace among them was cause for continual heartfelt thanksgiving and praise to God (v 3). The good thing for us is that he mentions what the two most important evidences of God’s grace in that church were.

Firstly, he writes that thankfulness to God is appropriate because their faith grows exceedingly. They were rapidly and correctly growing in faith.

Secondly, he writes that the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other. Paul was also thankful that their love for each other was not just tolerance or out of duty but a genuine care and concern for each other’s physical and spiritual welfare.

We may dismiss this by responding that they had a favourable environment but such is not the case. They were enduring persecutions and tribulations and they did it patiently because of their faith in God’s promises (v 4) concerning Christ’s coming again.

What was it that made them patient and faithful? It was because they believed that Jesus would ensure that righteous judgment would come to all at His coming. Notice the contrast between believers and unbelievers in verses 6 & 7 and 9 & 10.

God is gracious and this attribute, like all His attributes, are in full effectual working all the time, 24/7. We often only comment that God has been gracious to us when things, in our estimation, go favourably for us. However, God’s grace abounds to us 24/7. Sometimes it doesn’t seem that God’s grace abounds. When this happens it is our perception that is wrong. It is not a lack of God’ effectual grace that is wrong.

In correction, chastisement or instruction God’s grace abounds to us just as much as in meeting our physical and spiritual needs. It is a 24/7 grace.

Do we really believe that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose? If we do, we will be thankful for God’s 24/7 grace. It reveals itself in that your faith grows and we will have an abounding love toward each other.

Love Expressed

“For God so loved the world that He gave …” John 3:16

The apostle Peter was very confident that he would stand by Jesus no matter what the circumstances. In John 13 we read that after Jesus washed the disciples’ feet He told them that one of them would betray Him. Naturally they wanted to know which of them would do such a thing. Peter was certain it would not be him because he would lay down his life for Jesus’ sake. It must have come as a tremendous humiliation to hear Jesus’ response that before the morning he would deny knowing Jesus three times. Peter was determined that this wouldn’t be so. He was sure he knew he wouldn’t fail Jesus.

Later that night while in Gethsemane the servants of the chief priests and Pharisees came for Jesus. Peter still determined not to deny Jesus and to fulfil his statement that he would die for Jesus’ sake, took out a small sword and cut off the ear of one of the high priest’s servants. Imagine Peter’s amazement when Jesus put it right back. At this point all he thought he knew about Jesus fell into a black hole.

Peter thought he knew Jesus; he thought he knew himself. To some degree he did but we can discover here that he didn’t know Jesus as well as he thought and he certainly didn’t know himself very well either. He was willing to die for his idea of Jesus but he had the wrong idea of Jesus and His mission.

We must be careful that we don’t do the same and that we never close the door to understanding more clearly who Jesus is and also allowing Him to reveal more of who we really are to ourselves.

Of course Jesus had a purpose and a favourable outcome for Peter in the pipeline but this unhappy experience was necessary for Peter to arrive at the happy outcome.

Peter really did love Jesus but it took this experience and the cross of Jesus for him to fully realise the extent of that love. After His resurrection Jesus came to Peter again and probed his heart three times with the question, “Do you love Me?” At the third time Peter knew what Jesus knew, he really did love Jesus. The realisation that Jesus knew it too would have been a strong motivation for the sacrificial life Peter lived thereafter.

How did Jesus ask Peter to express that love? The specific ministry for Peter was that of being a shepherd to Jesus’ followers – “Feed My sheep.” The general ministry principle for all of us is that love for Jesus is expressed in sacrificial service and ministry to other believers. Love for Jesus is not self-absorbed, it is others conscious. That was the principle lesson of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet.

If God’s love for us moved Him to give His only begotten Son then our love for Him will be expressed in giving ourselves to service and ministry to His people.

The Pendulum Swings

“Remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:4)

In many things in life we have a tendency to move to either one extreme or the other like the pendulum of a clock. Always overcompensating we appear unstable or even hypocritical but it need not be so. I managed to roll a car in my youth by overcorrecting the steering in deep, loose gravel but I obviously didn’t need to do so. In the Christian life we are also in danger of wrecking our witness for Jesus Christ by going too far one way or the other.

When Jesus said, “Judge not” He surely did not mean that we should not be discerning or that would make a mockery of much of His own and Paul’s writings in the New Testament. It would even contradict what He said at the same time as quoted above.

The issue is that we should not be hypocritical in our judgments of others. In this we see that the issue is not the exercise of looking on another but the reason for so doing. The Pharisees judged Jesus to be unworthy and themselves to be worthy. They did this for their own glory and to retain their position of power and influence in the nation. To make themselves look better they tried to make Him look bad.

Motive is the key point. Am I looking on another in order to help them (brotherly love) or to make me feel better about myself (self-centred – brotherly hatred)? We have the freedom of choice but Jesus warns that whatever our motive it will return to us in kind (Matthew 7:2). Kind begets kind- God’s Law!