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.

Seduced by Pride

“The king was greatly displeased with himself” Daniel 6:14

There will be times when we are displeased with ourselves – but will we seek out the root cause of those words or actions that brought about that displeasure? It is a lot easier to blame someone else, or sulk and have a period of depression until it becomes a distant and faint memory.

King Darius had brought about the downfall of the Babylonian empire. He attributed this to his own might and military wisdom. He established a new leadership consisting of people from the nations that the king of Babylon had conquered. He also attributed this to his own political wisdom.

Daniel was given the highest position in this new order but others were jealous of him. Since they could find no legitimate fault to present to the king they devised a way of creating a case for Daniel’s death. They appealed to King Darius’ pride. Their flattery found its mark in a proud heart.

Daniel had “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself” (1:8) and he would not waver from worshipping the one true God even under threat of death. The other governors, by appealing to the king’s pride, manipulated him into signing a decree that he alone should be worshipped as if he were God for thirty days. Flattery turned the king’s head so that he did not look at the consequences of his action.

Daniel was not moved by the decree. He knew the one true God and, like his friends (chapter three), he would not be persuaded or seduced into worshipping other than the Lord.

If we allow pride to have a toehold we will be vulnerable to being deceived and manipulated by others. We do need to encourage one another, but we also need to be able to discern between genuine encouragement and flattery. We also need to guard our hearts that we don’t allow even genuine encouragement to feed pride.

At the time of his seduction King Darius was not aware that it was the Lord who gave him the victory and the wisdom in establishing his rule. The Lord’s plan was for Daniel to be in the lions’ den as a means to open the eyes of king Darius. The moment in time was right because King Darius “was greatly displeased with himself” and was in a place of humility and repentance. As much as he tried he could not undo what he had done and this brought on a sleepless night of anguish. He did not try and blame someone else although he had that opportunity. He had been seduced by the leaders he had appointed and he knew that he alone was responsible for the pride in his heart.

After Daniel was safely delivered King Darius wrote, “I make a decree that in every dominion of my kingdom men must tremble and fear before the God of Daniel. For He is the living God and steadfast forever” (6:26).

In this one event King Darius was saved eternally, Daniel was delivered and Israel preserved in exile in readiness for their return (9:2).

Thank the Giver

“Thus says the Lord, “You have sold yourselves for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money” Isaiah 52:3

When the Lord spoke these words through Isaiah to Jerusalem the people had turned to idolatry and away from knowledge of the Lord. This sounds much like our world today. As we consider how the Lord dealt with Israel we will gain an understanding of how He will deal with people now.

The book of Isaiah makes it clear that the Lord’s intent is to redeem Israel. By the time we get to chapter 51 the Lord is pleading with Israel to “Listen to me,” stated three times. God wants to be heard but the people were not listening. Our world is not listening to God’s word either. There are few who really want to hear what God has said.

For those who do listen there is another step. The Lord then says to Israel, also stated three times, “Awake, awake.” It is not enough to just hear what God is saying but to respond to it. As our world is today so was Israel then. People who expect utopia on earth without Christ are dreaming. Israel had tried everything to keep safe. They attempted to build their own military, they had paid tribute to other nations and they had bought mercenary armies and yet they still suffered. For all their attempts to buy freedom they had failed. The Lord says they sold themselves for nothing. Their treasuries were emptied for no gain. All attempts that people make to buy deliverance the Lord says are futile.

Many people seek forgiveness and salvation but they want to be able to boast that they achieved it by their own effort, merit and wisdom. Such is the nature of pride. Paul responds to this by writing, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the Gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

It goes against pride but forgiveness of sin and salvation are a gift from God. The Lord says through Isaiah, “You shall be redeemed without money” (52:3). Israel will be redeemed as a gift from the Lord. In this we observe the Divine Nature of God. In chapter 53 the Lord describes how He will do it. That chapter is a description of Jesus Christ at His crucifixion and resurrection. In a nutshell we have it in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Jesus Christ is the Gift. Those who receive Him are the children of God (John 1:12). Later Paul would write, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

The Lord’s plea with Israel and with all people today is to cease futile efforts to buy forgiveness and salvation with money, by acts of righteousness, by personal achievement, or religious ceremony and ritual, and simply receive forgiveness and salvation as the Gift it is in Jesus Christ. There is only one thing left for us to do. When we have received a gift, we thank the giver.

Nipping At Our Heels

“Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live” Isaiah 38:1

In my teenage years I frequently and often worked in my neighbour’s dairy in school holidays and weekends. He had a black and white border collie dog named Rastus that had a particularly useful skill for rounding up the cows. At considerable risk he would nip the heels of a cow and then drop flat on the ground to avoid the inevitable hoof flashing over his head. For extra fun he would also have a swing on a cow’s tail. He lived to a ripe old age without ever being hit by a hoof. King Hezekiah had a dog nipping at his heels as well, a dog called pride.

The apostle Paul would later write, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain … I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you” (Philippians 1:21-23). Paul’s desire was to be with the One he loved but he was willing to postpone that joy for the sake of the mission Jesus had given him. Let us compare that with King Hezekiah.

When Hezekiah was told of his impending death he went to the Lord asking for more time. We can discern his motive by his prayer. It was quite different to Paul’s desire. His request was based on his earthly position. He wanted to enjoy and boast of the earthly blessings God had given him in preference to the joy of actually being with the Lord. There is no suggestion that he wanted to remain for the sake of God’s will or God’s people.

This becomes even more obvious when the messengers from Babylon came to visit. He showed them “the silver and gold, the spices and precious ointment, and all his armoury – all that was found among his treasures. There was nothing in his house or in all his dominion that Hezekiah did not show them” (Isaiah 39:2). The dog named pride was nipping at his heels guiding him to a gate called “Stumbling” and he did not resist it. He boasted as if he had obtained all he enjoyed by his own effort. Pride will dog us all of our earthly lives so we need to learn how to recognise it and make our resistance effective.

We need to regularly check our motives as to whether we love Jesus Christ or just the blessings He gives. Hezekiah loved the worldly blessings in preference to the Giver of the blessings. Consequently he desired a longer life on earth absent from the Lord. In the end he lost it all and all the good he had previously done for Israel unravelled after he died.

What if the Lord should say these words to you today? As we consider our response we will discover whether it really is Jesus we love or whether it is just the blessings He gives. Will you respond like Paul or like Hezekiah? When it is Jesus we love we will readily receive His command to come home and ask for no delay. His timing will be perfect.

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).

Fit to Give

“Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king” 1 Samuel 15:23

Saul became king of Israel because the people wanted a king like those of the surrounding nations. The Lord was Israel’s King but they rejected Him and sought one that fitted their desire (1 Samuel 8:7). Not surprisingly, the king of the people’s desire would be like them and also reject the Lord.

King Saul was given the task, under delegated authority from the Lord, to utterly destroy the Amalekites (15:3). This was not a difficult instruction to understand but Saul did what many of us do; he interpreted the instruction to suit his desire rather than take it literally. Consequently he expressed his own initiative by sparing Agag and keeping the best of the flocks and herds.

He may genuinely have believed that he had obeyed the Lord when he stated, “I have performed the commandment of the Lord” (v 13) when in fact he had not fully obeyed. His excuse is also one that is used to this day. He claimed it was to honour God with a better sacrifice (v 15). This was how he and we often justify disobedience. We think we can please God by offering something that we think is better than He has asked.

Saul did not understand his error and insisted that he had performed what the Lord had commanded, “But I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me, and brought back Agag king of Amalek; I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites” (v 20). He did not obey. He brought back Agag. He had not followed the command of the Lord literally but interpreted it in a way that would give him the praise of men.

Can you see that sin subtly captivated his mind so that he really believed that he was obeying the Lord when in fact he was not? We live in a period of church history that must grieve the Holy Spirit greatly. People who claim to belong to Jesus Christ are not taking His word literally but interpreting it such that it gives man at least some of the glory due to the Lord.

Sacrifice of material things has its place but it is never a substitute for obeying the Lord’s will. If the Lord sends us to a task then we must perform it, not pay someone else to do it.  No amount of giving to the church or missions or any other enterprise related to the kingdom of God will substitute for obeying the Lord when sent by Him.

Because King Saul did not take the Lord at His word and perform it he lost the kingdom. If we make the same error we will lose fellowship with Jesus Christ and become ineffectual in His kingdom. “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice” (v 22). The sacrifice that Lord desires is “a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17) and that we “present our bodies a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). Paul commended the Christians in Macedonia that they “first gave themselves to the lord” (2 Corinthians 8:5) and then they were fit to give material things.

Free to Serve

“Let My people go that they may serve Me” Exodus 8:1

The Lord commanded Moses to speak this to Pharaoh on several occasions until Pharaoh eventually capitulated. While the events in Exodus were specific to Israel these same words of the Lord may be spoken to those who, like Pharaoh, enslave God’s people by false teaching.

Jesus said. “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). The truth here is the truth of the Gospel of Christ not merely a person telling the truth. The world has high-jacked this phrase and applied it incorrectly. When a person knows the truth about Jesus Christ and the Bible they will be less likely to be captivated by false teaching.

Any religion that holds people in captivity is false by Jesus’ definition. Religions that say a person must belong to their organisation, obey their rules and perform in accordance with their traditions or rituals in order to gain God’s favour or heaven are liars and deceivers.

Unfortunately many Christians become enslaved to false teaching because they do not know or have not believed the truth revealed in God’s word. It appeals to our fallen nature to have a set of rules and a religious format or program to follow because that lends itself to pride. It gives us something to boast about. Instead of relying on Jesus Christ’s finished redemption we are inclined to want to take some credit for ourselves. When we do, we are in bondage whether we realise it or not. Pride says, “Look what I have done for Christ.” Humility says, “Look what Christ has done.”

It is a delight to reveal the truth to people who are tired of being enslaved in religious and legalistic bondage and see them set at liberty by God’s word. The legalist will hate this because it hurts his self image and he will have nothing of which to boast. He gives only lip-service to the words of Paul in Galatians 6:14; “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world.”

When people are set free from bondage the control the legalist loved to have over them to his set of rules will be lost. The adoration and affirmation of his followers that he craves will also be lost.

The truth of the Gospel makes people free of this form of slavery so they may enter the place of trusting Jesus Christ only. The Lord is still seeking people who will follow Moses example and be His messengers to deliver others who are in bondage to false teaching so that they can worship and serve Christ freely.