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.

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).

Useful Contentions

“Then the contention became so sharp that they departed from one another” Acts 15:39

Wherever there are people there will be differences of opinion, debates and arguments that may lead to disputes, fights and even wars. It is the nature of fallen man. In Acts chapter fifteen we read of two different kinds of dispute within the early church. We shouldn’t be surprised that there were differences of opinion even in the church.

The first dispute was of a theological nature. This took place in the new church at Antioch where Paul and Barnabas were teaching. This was the same church that had sent Paul and Barnabas out on their missionary journey. They now sent them with others to Jerusalem to consult the apostles and elders of the more mature church for a resolution. The matter was not resolved immediately and a hot dispute arose.

Peter shared his own testimony of God’s grace through him to Gentile people but that was of itself insufficient witness. What settled the matter was James referring to Scripture. This dispute was only settled when the Scriptures were taken as authoritative. We discover that the church council concluded that the Holy Spirit was the One who took them through this process to the conclusion. This is how theological disputes should be handled – let God speak by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God.

The second dispute is not theological in nature but has to do with personal preferences. It is possible to argue that either Paul or Barnabas was right or that both were right or both wrong but that misses the point.

The contention between Paul and Barnabas came primarily out of their different spiritual gifting and Christ’s specific call although other influencing factors should be noted. Paul was a dynamic aggressive leader whereas Barnabas was an encourager. Both were expressing themselves consistently with their gifting and calling but because these were different conflict was inevitable in some circumstances. This happens frequently in our churches and may be one of the main causes of contention. The problem isn’t that there are differences of opinion but in how we resolve them.

So how did the church at Antioch resolve what had become quite heated? The church, guided by the Holy Spirit, made the decision to double the missionary enterprise of the church by sending out two parties. In this each person was able to exercise their gifting and calling to the full. It should be noted that both parties still remained part of and accountable to the same church (v 40). They didn’t break fellowship with the church or with each other. Both were given the freedom to express their spiritual gifting and calling.

When people have different spiritual gifting or calling they will see things differently but that difference is so that they can strengthen and multiply the ministry not break fellowship. For Paul and Barnabas the different gifting and calling meant physically separating but they did not separate spiritually. Neither denigrated or minimized the other’s ministry. For us it will usually mean different areas of ministry within our church but for some it may mean a mission field elsewhere.