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.

Interest Bearing

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit …”

“Let each of you look out … for the interests of others” Philippians 2:3, 4

The first part of this quote is a description of the character of our world. What we observe is a society that manipulates people, their environment and circumstances for their own personal gain and advancement. Paul makes it clear that this attitude has no place in the Christian life.

Paul exhorts Christians to take an active interest in the welfare (physical and spiritual) of others and gives three examples in this chapter of this principle in action: Jesus, Timothy and Epaphroditus.

Among the saddest words in the Bible must be Paul’s lament, “For all seek their own, not the things which are of Jesus Christ” (v 21). He is writing this of Christians. His experience was that most Christians were living as the world lives, being ambitious for advancement in the world. Paul’s sorrow was that many of the Christians with Him were immersed in the worldly culture around them instead of being immersed in Jesus Christ.

In contrast Epaphroditus had so given himself to ministry that he had become sick. Perhaps in attempting to make up for the lack of other Christians he had overdone it. That is a picture we see frequently in the church. A few give themselves in sacrificial service while the majority care primarily for their own interests.

In Galatians Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (6:2), and also, “For each one shall bear his own load” (6:5). Those who do minister need to be careful that they are not taken advantage of, too much, for too long; otherwise, they may come to a point where they cannot minister at all.

Those who minister need to be careful not to exceed the burden they should carry for another because it may be a burden God has given the other person to achieve His purpose in their lives. In our willingness to serve, we may actually hinder the work of God.

Evidence that Christians are seeking their own interests and not those of others may be seen in the way they evaluate a church. Quite often a church is evaluated on the basis of whether our needs are or will be met. We would do much better to evaluate a church based on prayerful consideration as to whether Christ would have us minister to others in that church. It is not my need that is under consideration, but the need of others.

Withdrawal of Service

“He threw down the thirty pieces of silver in the temple and departed and went and hanged himself” Matthew 27:5

Many years ago the union of which I was a member demanded that all members withdraw their labour in order to obtain higher pay. This action is a form of blackmail and contrary to God’s word, “Be content with such things as you have” (Hebrews 13:5). I refused to go on strike and withdrew my membership from the union.

What do we do when Jesus does not come through as we think He should? Judas went to the extreme of taking his own life. That is the ultimate and supreme act of rebellion against God by a total and permanent withdrawal of labour.

What many Christians do when they sense they have failed, they didn’t get their way or Jesus did not intervene or act as they thought He should, is that they withdraw labour. When some withdraw their service to Jesus Christ they become either spiritual policeman or spiritual advisors. The former considers it his service to Jesus to criticize those who actually do as Jesus taught (Matthew 28:20) and the latter believes he is serving Jesus by telling others how and what they should be doing. In both cases they have withdrawn their labour from Jesus Christ and replaced it with the appearance of service. It may look spiritual, and may feel spiritual; but it is an act of rebellion against Jesus Christ. This is similar to the kind of response that we observe in Judas. He withdrew his labour in one final act of rebellion from which there was no opportunity of repentance.

Jesus said, “He who is not with Me is against Me” (Matthew 12:30). When we fail to openly identify with Jesus we are identifying with the spirit of anti-christ and Satan. When we read of Peter’s failure to identify with Jesus we observe a much different response to that of Judas. Peter grieved in his heart that he had betrayed and hurt Jesus by not identifying with Him. In spite of this failure he pressed on proving a great depth of repentance and love. In spite of his past failure Peter pressed on and Jesus restored the relationship (John 21:15-19).

At times we will fail through ignorance, disobedience, or not identifying with Jesus – but what we do afterward will demonstrate whether we really were serving Jesus or merely serving our own ambitions and goals. Anyone who does not persevere, evidenced by a withdrawal of service to Jesus, gives evidence that they have been serving their own ambitions and goals, not Christ’s. They have been living in the realm of the flesh, serving the spirit of anti-christ, and not the Spirit, serving Jesus Christ.

That is failure but there is still the opportunity to confess that sin and have a change of heart. That is what Jesus desires. Persevering after failure reveals true faith in, and love for, Jesus and is evidence of His working grace. This will lead to reconciliation and success in glorifying Jesus by bearing spiritual fruit.

A Hearty Amen

“Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (Colossians 3:23)

There are some verses in the Bible that we can admire because we take them rather lightly but when we look more closely at them we might wish they were not in the Bible at all. It is the other ‘bookend’ of another such verse: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (v 17).

We may have no problem giving a hearty “Amen” to these two verses but the heartiness may diminish when we look at what is between the ‘bookends.’

The context of these verses are our relationships with other people with special highlighting on the more intimate and built on love – the same kind of love that God has for us (vv 14-16). They presuppose that the love of God flows out of us through Christ in us (1:27c).

As he does in Ephesians Paul first mentions the marital relationship. Our thoughts, words and deeds within the marital relationship are our service to Christ and a witness of Christ’s gracious working power.  For both husband and wife that means living together as God planned.

Apart from having “Christ in you” there is also another prerequisite for this to be possible: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom” (v 16). It is up to us to discover what the Bible teaches about how we live in a marriage. Paul goes on to say how we can know what the Bible teaches on this and any subject, “teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”

It is all very well to leave it up to the preacher but that is not what Paul or Jesus had in mind.

The other relationships are children to parents, fathers to children and, dare we acknowledge it, our work place. Can you believe that Paul says that all our thoughts, words and deeds at work at school or in the home are our service and witness to the Lord Jesus Christ? No wonder some don’t want to acknowledge to work mates (or school mates) that they are Christians!

Paul writes that our work is our service, our parenting is our service and our marital relationship is our service for Jesus.

The more we meditate on this passage and those like it the more we realise that it is infinitely beyond us to conform to it in practice. When we realise that fact we finally know the truth: We cannot live it, only Jesus Christ in us can live it. Let us stop getting in the way and let Him do so.

Step by Step

“Lord, what do You want me to do?” Acts 9:6

More than three decades ago I became aware that there was a need for a Sunday School teacher in our church. When I offered myself for the role I was quickly accepted. There was a class of seven or eight boys that had proven to be difficult for others and no one seemed keen to take them on. I was quite unaware of this.

This class proved to be very difficult. These days at least one of the boys, perhaps as many as three, would be on some drug for behaviour issues. Fortunately they weren’t available then.

As the first weeks passed I began to find the role becoming a chore and something I anticipated with a measure of dread. Preparation was difficult and done with reluctance.

At the point of giving up thinking that this wasn’t for me the Lord gave me a clue as to the problem. I cannot remember why but I began to ask the Lord whether this was really something that He wanted me to do, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”

Within a couple of weeks the Lord had assured my heart that this was indeed what He wanted me to do. What I discovered then was that He changed my entire attitude and focus with regard to the class. Preparation became a blessing and joyous time and I looked forward to the half hour that I could spend in class with the boys. I was also able to visit some at home and take an interest in their lives. I found ways to make the difficulties with the three over-active boys an aid to learning instead of an impediment.

What had changed? The difference was that I knew that I was where the Lord wanted me to be and doing what He wanted me to do.

If we are to find satisfaction in serving our Saviour it is necessary that we first surrender ourselves entirely to Him and humble ourselves and ask this question, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” He may not respond until He knows that our heart is genuinely surrendered and willing to do what He asks. We do not want to be like Jonah who had his own ideas about serving the Lord. Jonah’s life could have been so much more pleasant had he obeyed with a glad and willing heart from the start.

Quite often we want the Lord to reveal what we consider the “big thing,” life’s direction, the career, that He wants us to do but, I think, for many people He reveals little by little, step by step as we progress in faith. We can ask the Lord this question often to ensure we haven’t gone off course or missed a change in place or role. This will give us encouragement and confidence.

When the Lord answers we can then take Mary’s counsel to the servants, “Whatever he says to you, do it” (John 2:5).