“Stewards of Grace”
1 Peter 4:7-11
August 25, 2019
Serve one another as stewards of God’s varied grace.
I. Give me that short-time religion (1 Peter 4:7-9)
II. As a steward of God’s grace (1 Peter 4:10-11)
Eight weeks ago we began our stewardship series with the truth that you are not your own, you were bought at the price of Christ’s sacrifice, and you are now God’s treasured possession. Since you are not your own, nothing you possess is your own. It’s given by God. You’re the manager of his possessions. This includes money. We are to manage money well and give as generously as possible, carrying out clear plans to support the work of the kingdom. We also extended this to stewardship of our time, energy and skills. Dan showed us how this applies in the family, Todd in the priority of the Gospel, and Joseph in the lives of young people, but really all of us, in speech and conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. Now I want to close the series with a few further comments on the stewardship of our Christian lives, both personally and toward others.
The text is 1 Peter 4:7-11, in which Peter calls us to serve others as stewards of God’s grace. We’ll wrestle today with the call to serve one another as stewards of that grace. Let’s begin by reading the whole text, then we’ll look into verses 7-9, which I’m calling “give me that short-time religion.” 1 Peter 4:7-11 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
There is an old African American spiritual that goes “give me that old time religion, give me that old time religion, give me that old time religion, it’s good enough for me.” But I think short-time religion is good enough for us as stewards. By short time I mean a religion that believes “the end of all things is at hand.” The resurrection, reign, and promises of Jesus have led every generation of believers to long for “the end of all things.” 1st Peter is full of “resurrection, reign, and promises” He begins by saying that “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to his great mercy, has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” He says at the end of our section that glory and dominion, or reign, belong to Jesus forever. All through the letter, especially in chapter 2, he reminds us of the promises that have been fulfilled for us in Jesus. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.”
These things lead Peter to a confident expectation of the return of Christ. In Chapter 4 he says that every nonbeliever "will give an account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead,” and that those who die in faith will "live in the spirit the way God does.” Peter's teaching proclaims that due to Christ's resurrection, we shall be raised from the dead upon his return and shall reign with him forevermore. He says all this explicitly in 2nd Peter 3. chapter 3.
But like Jesus, and like every other New Testament author, Peter sees the promised return as a reason for right living as believers. “The end of all things is at hand, therefore.” Our motivation for stewardship is first that we are not our own, we are bought at a price, but second, that the master, the true owner of all things is returning soon, and he has said that there is blessing for the one who is found caring for his people in faithfulness and wisdom when he returns.
Peter’s first exhortation is “therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” These two virtues, self-control and soberness, have been the implied virtues of a steward throughout this series. Self-discipline is entirely necessary in budgeting our money, not wasting our time, investing our energy and developing our skills. As Jesus says in Luke 14, “which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” Or to give another example, which of you, gifted musically, has not had to study and practice for hours and hours before that gift could be a blessing to others? Stewardship requires self-discipline, much as we might want to avoid it.
Also soberness. Just as a soldier can’t fight well and a pilot can’t fly well while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, so too a steward cannot steward well under these things. Addictions of all kinds, whether to alcohol, drugs, pornography, or money become like a fever in our blood. They take hold and consume us. But the word could also be translated “clearheaded.” A steward stops to think before acting or even speaking. A steward does not act on impulse or whim.
This clearmindedness, Peter says, is for the sake of your prayers. In other words, if you are not, by the power of the Spirit, pursuing self-control and sobriety, it will hinder you from praying as you should, and may cause God not to respond as you want when you do pray. Peter makes this clear when he says to husbands in chapter 3 to “live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” I recently read a good book called Evangelism as Exiles by Elliot Clark, and he talks bluntly about this. “Peter repeatedly highlights this particular truth about prayer—what God hears from us depends on what he sees in us.:
“So Peter could write that if you’re going to call on the Father, who judges according to people’s deeds, then you need to take care how you conduct your lives (1:17). He could quote from Psalm 34 to establish that God is observing our actions, and his ears are open to the prayers of the righteous (3:12). He could also call believers tempted to fall back into sin to be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of their prayers (4:7). And, of course, he could tell inconsiderate husbands like me that we can go ahead and forget having him answer our cries for help until we get our hearts in order.”
He goes on to say “I’m sure you can see how this truth matters for our everyday lives. So many frustrated Christians describe their prayer experience as dead and cold. They don’t know if their prayers are even making it past the ceiling. Usually in such situations, our go-to answer is to affirm that God hears and answers all their prayers. Maybe his answer for now is to wait, but he’s listening. However, I wonder if our confidence is misplaced, and I wonder if their sense of God’s deafness is sometimes more accurate than we realize. Could it be that their unconfessed sin has hindered their prayers?”
So the first instruction for those who serve as stewards is to be self-controlled and sober-minded. But that’s the only inward aspect of the Christian life that Peter addresses. The rest is relational and community oriented. Verse 8: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” The command to “love one another” is found not only here, but on the lips of Jesus, and in the writings of Paul and John. This is agape love, a selfless active love for others. It is by nature relational. You can’t love in a vacuum. As Jefferson Airplane sang when I was a teenager, “You gotta find somebody to love.” It’s also highly intentional: love earnestly, love deeply, strain to love. And finally, because it is agape love, it is “capable of being commanded because it is not primarily an emotion but a decision of the will leading to action.”
This love, Peter says, covers a multitude of sins. Now this doesn't mean a love that overlooks every sin, but that love ministers to sinners. God's love is our model. God does not overlook sin, but deals with it through the sacrifice of his Son. We need to sacrifice time energy, prayer and money to help those who seem to be caught in sin. Love looks beyond the surface behavior to see the person God loves. Love forgives in a way that won’t hold a person’s sin against them. Love rejoices in any repentance and the softening of proud hearts. But love goes beyond this. It actively seeks relationships and persistently cares, not just for sinners, but for all people. There are people who are lonely. There are people who are busy or anxious. There are people who are suffering chronic illness or dying. There are people in very difficult relationships. You may be in one or more of these categories, but you are still called to love others.
Finally, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Hospitality literally means ‘love for strangers,’ and it is frequently used in the New Testament of the love that is shown to those serving Christ who may have to move from place to place. In recent years many people, like Rosaria Butterfield, have been showing believers that this particular command is crucial in our culture. Elliot Clark, for example, links hospitality to evangelistic effectiveness and says “Peter sandwiches the command to gracious hospitality between the twin admonitions to love and service. It’s as if being hospitable is one primary way he envisioned they would, through love, serve one another.” Then he says “we’d be mistaken to assume that Peter limited such kindness to only brothers and sisters in Christ. Our homes and our tables aren’t reserved for people like us. As Jesus said, our love and greeting should also be for those different from us. The Christian call to hospitality includes a love for outsiders—for strangers, foreigners, and the other. It implies sharing our homes with sinners. As such, the ministry of hospitality is essential for our evangelistic endeavor.”
So I think this service also extends to inviting brothers and sisters and visitors home for meals, caring for kids, providing food when people are sick, hosting small groups, pursuing true friendships, all the relational aspects of love. Peter says to do this without grumbling. It’s the practical expressions of Christian love we tend to grumble about, or complain about. We are prepared in principal to love others deeply and profoundly, but giving time or energy to it is hard. And yet love and hospitality are how we’re called to live out short-time religion.
Henri Nouwen is a great example of this. Nouwen was a Catholic psychologist who was skilled in helping others but who was himself subject to bouts of deep depression and doubt. In a few weeks we’ll study the parable of the prodigal son, and we’ll get some profound insights from his most well-known book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, where he explores these topics deeply.
Nouwen spent several decades counseling and teaching at Yale, Harvard, and Notre Dame, but his success and his faith left him largely unsatisfied. Then, in 1985, he visited the founding site of an organization called L’Arche, the arch, which ministered to people with severe disabilities. During that time Nouwen traveled to Toronto, Ontario, to officiate at a wedding and sought permission to stay for a week at L'Arche Daybreak in Richmond Hill. While there a core member, a disabled man named Raymond, was hit by a car and left in critical condition. Nouwen provided spiritual guidance to the community, ultimately helping to reconcile the community and Raymond’s family. Nouwen's intervention had such an impact that the Daybreak members asked him to serve as their pastor. Nouwen accepted and moved in the fall of 1986 to L'Arche Daybreak, where he would spend the last ten years of his life.
As Nouwen’s biography on the Nouwen Society webpage says “Daybreak was his homecoming. He lived in one of the homes and was asked to help Adam Arnett, a man with a severe disability, with his morning routine. Nouwen’s book Adam, God’s Beloved describes how Adam became his friend, his teacher and his guide.” Nouwen had been a minor celebrity, and he continued to write and speak, but he focused the rest of his life on serving. Adam was unable to walk, feed himself, bath himself or use the bathroom. His carer, Nouwen, had to love him in all these practical ways, true hospitality. Nouwen discovered that he was a steward of God’s grace, not so much seeking it for himself, which he had found unsatisfying, but pouring it out and reflecting it to those, like Adam, who had no way to care for themselves or return his care.
And what about you and me? Are we living these few days as the hands and feet and heart and voice of Jesus in the lives of others? Let me ask you directly: how are you doing at self-discipline and sober-mindedness? How is your prayer life? How about love? Are you pouring yourself into the lives of other? How practiced are you at hospitality? I don’t say how good are you at it, because that’s not the point. The point is to open your home and your life to people.
And what does all this have to do with stewardship? Well, hospitality is clearly the use of God’s resources. Your home, your time, your energy are his, and to use them to love others is the perfect expression of stewardship. But hospitality, as Clark says, is also linked forward to the idea of serving others. Verse 10 “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” We are to be stewards not just of the time, money and energy that God has given us to manage, but also stewards of the gifts of grace.
God has given us so much, not only in the physical realm, but through Jesus, and the Spirit also in the spiritual realm. Paul rejoices over this in Ephesians 1: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will-- 6to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace 8that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” Later in the same sentence Paul talks about the Holy Spirit “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of his glory.”
All this is evidence of God’s rich grace toward us. Now we are to be stewards of God’s grace, using the blessings he’s given as a foundation for serving others. Verse 10 “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another.” Peter is not saying we each receive one gift, but that every gift of God’s grace you’ve received ought to be used for the benefit of others. That would include the ones we’ve already looked at: self-discipline, sober-mindedness, love, and hospitality. We receive these as gifts from God, but having received them, and recognizing that the end is near, we use these gifts to serve others. We are not selfish receivers of all God’s goodness, but stewards, using his gifts to show the same love, the same hospitality to others that we ourselves have received.
But in verse 11 Peter expands that truth to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. What is a spiritual gift? Any talent or ability empowered by the Holy Spirit to be used in ministry to the body. Some want to make a distinction between natural gifts and supernatural gifts. I don’t think it’s necessary. At times God empowers a natural ability to supernaturally do his work. At times he gives gifts that contradict natural abilities. Either way his goal is to give grace to his people to glorify him and serve each other. Further, there are many spiritual gifts. There are four lists in the New Testament, and they show a variety of gifts. No one gift is on every list, and no list contains all the gifts. Even two people having the same gift, say evangelism, will be gifted in unique ways not repeatable by anyone else. God gives a unique gift mix to each one. But all are manifestations of the varied grace of God, all are to be used to serve.
Peter divides his list into only two categories: speaking gifts and serving gifts. Verse 11: “whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies.” There are many kinds of speaking gifts, and it is not only the preacher who needs to depend profoundly on God for the right words. It’s also true if your gift is teaching, or evangelism, or encouraging, or singing, or sharing words of praise and testimony, or counseling. In every Christian activity involving words, we need to be concerned to represent God well, to speak words that he is pleased to say through us. This is a profound responsibility, the very oracles of God.”
In the same way, “whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies.” Just as there are many speaking gifts, so also there are many serving gifts. There is the special gift of hospitality; the gift of giving; the gift of administration; the gift of helping others with physical needs; the gift of prayer for others; the gift of preparing meals; the gift of babysitting, the gift of fixing people’s cars or houses, or the church; the gift of organizing programs or events. Now are all of these mentioned in Scripture? No, not specifically, but they are all gifts that can be empowered by the Holy Spirit.
And just as speaking gifts are speaking the words God gives, so also serving gifts are serving in the strength God provides. Our lives are too demanding, too busy, too full, to be able to serve without God's strength. If we try, the only things that can happen to us are failure or burnout. But if we rely on the strength God provides, we can really serve others through our gifts. Because God will not have us receive the honor for the working of these gifts. Peter says: “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” God's ultimate purpose in giving gifts is so that the life of the church may glorify him. When we speak God’s words and serve in God’s strength, we glorify god. when we speak our words and try to serve in our own strength, we fail - we neither glorify God nor truly help others. That’s why Peter ends with this great doxology. In all our prayers, in all our love for one another, in all our hospitality, in all our speaking, in all our serving we say “To Him, to Jesus, be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.”
So what have we said? We know that stewardship is managing the things God gives us by grace for the benefit of the kingdom and the benefit of those around us. Everything we have is a gift from God. Let me close with an example. The Evangelical Free Church just released a video about Crossover Bible Church in North Tulsa, Oklahoma. It’s part of our District, the Texas Oklahoma District. Founded by Philip Obode and his wife Rosalyn, Crossover has done an incredible amount to steward the grace of God to the community. They formed a non-profit, Crossover Community Initiative, and they’ve done sports programs, after-school programs, which eventually became a full time school, home rebuilding programs, and medical care. Here’s a minute from the video which I believe captures in the real life of this church the willingness to serve of those who see themselves as stewards of God’s grace.
“Before CCI started, North Tulsa residents were dying 14 years earlier than the rest of Tulsa. 14 years. Both from proximity and affordability standpoints there just weren't realistic healthcare options for those in North Tulsa. At this point, CCI had started sports and after-school programs and they were well aware of the need for health care reform but the need was down the road. God had a different plan. Through a land swap with a local development company, CCI obtained a 10 acre plot of land in the middle of North Tulsa. On the edge of that land sat a small medical clinic. The doctor, whose name was on the building, had been ready to retire for a while but he couldn't find anyone to take over his practice. When the land swap came up, he agreed to sell his practice to Crossover along with the land.”
“So the clinic went from being one of the last things we were gonna do to one of the first things we were gonna do because now we have this building. One of our board members was a doctor, he's like hey I'm going to retire I'm going to give you guys $50,000 to fix up this building. He's like just pay me back and I'll even work here at the clinic to get it up and running.”
On April 7th, 2014, Crossover Health Services opened its doors. Now, five years later, the clinic has over 3600 patients – all from North Tulsa. And that 14 year life expectancy gap? It's down to 10.
Crossover could have demolished the building that God’s multi-faceted grace had provided, and concentrated on building their own facilities. The doctor on their board could have retired and gone to collect seashells in Florida. But instead they decided that having received these gifts, they would use them to serve one another, to show love and hospitality as good stewards of God’s varied grace, empowered by God and in the strength he provides. My prayer is that we will do likewise, as a body and as individuals.