Jumping in to Ministry

1 Peter 4:7-11

September 17, 2006 | Brian Bill

After watching the game last Sunday afternoon, I realized that the end is near for the beloved Packers.  I received an email from a Bears backer that went like this: “…May I suggest a couple of topic ideas for next week’s sermon?  ‘Not putting the cart before the horse,’ or ‘humility.’”  Another member, who is theologically astute and a bit more gracious, wrote: “It kind of feels like being in captivity in Babylon but without any prophecy from Jeremiah saying it’s going to end.”  And it has not ended for me.  I still need to do ten pushups in front of the high school but I’m trying to get out of it because I’m not sure I can even do five.  On Sunday night someone dropped off an old Packer Hat with a note that said, “This hat is from Christopher’s brief Packer days, when he was young and foolish.”  When I came into work on Tuesday this paper bag was taped to my office door.  It’s hard to read but the words “shame mask” appear at the top and “Brett who?” at the bottom.  I can tell you that eating green and gold socks left a lot to be desired.  

Indeed, the end sure does seem near for the dear Packers.  And it’s probably the end of my Packer backer talk from the pulpit…at least until next year.  Last week I mentioned the persecution I experience but it’s obvious that I bring it all on myself.  In the book of 1 Peter we read of Christians who were being persecuted for their faith.  Look at 1 Peter 4:12: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.”  And verse 16: “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.”  

I’d like us to begin this morning with some words that are both encouraging and challenging in 1 Peter 4:7: “The end of all things is near…”  This has nothing to do with a football team but is a sober reminder that things are coming to a conclusion in God’s redemptive history.  Jesus will return and we better be ready.  Some of us are so weighed down with worry and so tied to our troubles that we don’t even think about the coming of Christ.  Jesus warned us about this in Luke 21:34: “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.”  While I believe the return of Christ is close, even if He does not return in our lifetimes, each of us is near the end of our own lives, relatively speaking.  James 4:14: “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

Five years ago this week our entire country was well aware that the end of all things was very near.  We were terrified by the terrorist attacks and wondered when the next one would come.  Americans filled churches, started reading their Bibles, and seemed to genuinely want to change.  Unfortunately, a recent Barna survey shows “that despite an intense surge in religious activity and expression in the weeks immediately following 9/11, the faith of Americans is virtually indistinguishable today compared to pre-attack conditions.”  The leader of the study put it this way: “Spiritually speaking, it’s as if nothing significant ever happened.”

Whether the rapture happens this afternoon, terrorists strike tonight, or we die in an accident tomorrow, our time here is short.  Because of that, we must live with a sense of sober urgency.  It’s time for the church to wake from its slumber and to be done with a casual and convenient Christianity!  1 Thessalonians 5:6 says: “So then, let us not be like the others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.”   In light of the brevity of life, how then should believers live?  Peter asks a similar question in 2 Peter 3:10-11: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar…Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives.”   

Let’s come back to 1 Peter 4:7 and notice the word “therefore.”   Because the end of all things is near, we can’t just keep living like we’ve been living.  Robert McCheyne, the 19th Century Scottish minister, once said: “Let nothing dim the eye that is looking upon eternal realities.”  Since the end is near, what are the most important things we should be doing?  If you knew you only had a month to live, how would you spend your time?  In our passage for today Peter reduces the Christian life to four clarion calls.  We could say it this way: Since the end is near, bend your ear and hear these four calls of commitment.  We’ll go through the first three rather rapidly and spend the majority of our time on the fourth one.

1. Pray with passion (7b). 

“…be clear minded and self-controlled so you can pray.”  God is calling us to be clear about what is important and calm about what isn’t.  Tom Ferrell puts it this way: “This is God’s call to a sane and sober, a deliberate and disciplined life.”  In light of the impending end of the world as we know it, the first thing we’re called to is prayer.  As we wrap-up this series on servanthood, we’ve been learning that our primary emphasis must be on God, not on ourselves.  And the best way to get the focus off self is to get God’s perspective through prayer.  Peter is speaking as one who knows how easy it is to get off track in this regard for he remembers how he and his buddies fell asleep in the garden when Jesus needed them to stay clear-minded and self-controlled: “Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping.  ‘Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?’ he asked Peter.  ‘Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (Matthew 26:40).

Because the end is near, bend your ear and hear that we must pray with passion.

2. Love without limits (8).

The first thing we must do is pray.  This makes sense because our focus must be God-ward before we can even begin to consider others.  Look at verse 8: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”  The word “deeply” was used of stretched-out muscles as when a runner is straining towards the finish line.  Sometimes we do have to strain to love someone, don’t we?  As we learned last week, our serving must be done in love.  That’s why 1 Corinthians 13 is found between two chapters that deal with spiritual gifts.  Here Peter is saying that on top of everything else, love must be the fuel behind everything we do.  It literally means, “More than anything, our love must be warm and fervent for others.”  In 1 Thessalonians 3:12, Paul wants believers to not just love but to have a love that brims over: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.”  Put simply, if we don’t overflow with love for others, we’re certainly not going to go out of our way to serve people.  

Wayne Grudem writes: “Where love is lacking, every word is viewed with suspicion, every action is liable to misunderstanding and conflicts abound – to Satan’s perverse delight.”

Love lets it go

Quoting Proverbs 10:12, Peter points out that love is so powerful that it allows us to forgive and forget other people’s sins: “love covers over a multitude of sins.”  That doesn’t mean it condones sin; but it does provide a cover.  Love lets it go.  Conversely, if we are not operating out of love, we’ll hold people’s sins against them and we’ll also withhold service to them.  In a wedding I performed yesterday, I prayed these words from Ric Cannada for Mike and Kristin Tuley: “May they minimize each other’s weaknesses, be swift to praise and magnify each other’s strengths and beauty, and see each other through a lover’s kind and patient eyes.  Give them a little something to forgive each day; that they may grow in the grace of long-suffering and love.”

Because the end is ear, bend your ear and hear that we must pray with passion and love without limits.

3. Give with gladness (9). 

One very practical way we can serve others is by having people in our homes.  Love lets it go and love also has legs.  Look at verse 9: “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”  Since there were no hotels to speak of back then, Christians had an opportunity to serve those who were traveling.  The early Christians were known to open their homes not only for worship and teaching, but also to meet needs.  Romans 12:13: “Share with God’s people who are in need.  Practice hospitality.”  John writes in 3 John 5: “Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you.”  We could stand to do more of this in our culture today.  Most of us value our privacy more than openness.  We go home and cocoon instead of welcoming people in. That’s one reason most of our small groups meet in a home.  There’s just something about an open home that helps to open hearts.

When we do offer hospitality we’re to do so without grumbling.  This word means “without murmurs.”  Have you ever counted the number of times you complain in a day?  Just this week I kept track of not only my verbal complaints but also my heart murmuring and I didn’t like what I learned.  Yes, pastors can get grumpy and whiny too.  That reminds me of the man who joined a monastery.  He was allowed to say just two words every ten years.  After the first ten years, he said, “Hard bed!”  Ten years later he said, “Bad food!”  Finally, ten years later, he says, “I quit!”  The other monks commiserated and said that they knew it was only a matter of time because he had a bad attitude since he arrived. 

Too many of us are like this monk.  We hang around for thirty years but we never engage in ministry and we grumble more than we give with gladness.  God wiped out a group of grumblers in the Old Testament because complaining is a direct assault against the Almighty (see 1 Corinthians 10:10).  Remember the words of Philippians 2:14: “Do everything without complaining or arguing.”  James 5:9 raises the bar: “Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged.”  Do you have a spirit of sourness when you serve?  Do you grumble when you’re called on to give to others?

Because the end is near, bend your ear and hear that we must pray with passion, love without limits, and give with gladness.  Only then can we move to a ministry mindset and serve with sacrifice.

4. Serve with sacrifice (10-11). 

Look at verse 10: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” Let’s make some observations:

  • Everyone has a gift: “each one.” 1 Corinthians 12:11: “…He gives them to each one, just as He determines.” 
  • Everyone is to use their gifts.  There’s no exception clause: “should use.” A gift that is not being used is really a slap in the face of the Giver.  When we don’t use what we’ve been given it’s as if we’re saying to God: “Thanks, but not thanks.”  Too many times we want to “figure it out” when God says, “let it out.”
  • Everyone has different gifts: “whatever gift.”  We’re getting ready to begin a new membership class in a few weeks.  One of the things we offer in this class is a spiritual gift assessment tool to help people figure out how they may be gifted.  We expect every member to minister, and therefore we want them equipped for the task.  
  • Gifts are received not achieved: “he has received.” Like grace, our spiritual abilities come to us through no merit of our own.
  • Gifts are not for our benefit: “to serve others.” The word “serve” is where we get the word “deacon” and was commonly used for a “table waiter.”  We are to offer God’s gifts to people, as a waiter serves well-prepared food to guests.  We don’t offer it with pride, for we didn’t make the food; we don’t keep it to ourselves because it’s not meant for us.  Instead, we have the privilege of being the ones to “carry” God’s grace to others.  I wonder what would happen if we changed the rules at the church picnic next Sunday so that no one was allowed to take anything for themselves.  If you want something you can’t even ask for it.  You just have to wait until someone else asks you if you want it and then they go and get it for you.  If no one gets you anything, you’ll just have to go without.  Question.  How many of us would go hungry?
  • We are managers of what we’ve been given: “faithfully administering.” The idea here is that you and I are to administrate what really belongs to God.  A steward is a slave that manages resources that belong to someone else and he must answer for how he uses what has been entrusted to him.  Just as we are to manage the money He’s given us we’re to be stewards of the gifts we’ve been given.  1 Corinthians 4:2 says: “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”  Erma Bombeck once said: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’”
  • We are conduits of God’s grace: “God’s grace.”  In a real sense, when we use our gifts we are dispensing grace to the world.
  • Serving shines the spotlight on God’s multi-faceted beauty: “in its various forms.” The idea here is that God’s grace shines through the prism of his people when they use what they’ve been given.  I like the King James rendering: “manifold grace of God.”

In verses 11-12a, Peter sees spiritual gifts as speaking or serving.  Some are verbal and others are non-verbal: “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.  If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides…”  While there are many ways to categorize the gifts of the Sprit, I like Chuck Swindoll’s perspective.  He sees three gift groupings.  Based on this passage, there are two primary areas of distinction: speaking and serving.  

The third category includes the “sign gifts,” which are more temporary in nature.  2 Corinthians 12:12 says that these gifts were given to the apostles and were critical to the church in its embryonic stage: “The things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles—were done among you with great perseverance.”  These gifts were especially important in the first century, before the cannon of Scripture was completed.  1 Corinthians 13:8 suggests that many of these kinds of gifts will cease to function: “Love never fails.  But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”

We could list them like this:

-Speaking Gifts: Word of wisdom, prophecy, evangelism, pastor-teacher, and teaching

-Service Gifts: Administration, faith, giving, helps, serving, and mercy

-Sign Gifts: Apostleship, tongues, interpretation

  • Speak with God’s words.  Those who have spiritual gifts that involve speaking are to use those gifts with a sense of awe and in a spirit of trembling as if they are speaking the very words of God.  James 3:1 says that those “who teach will be judged more strictly.”  We need to watch our words but we should also rejoice that God chooses to use us as His conduit.  
  • Serve in God’s strength.  

If we want our spiritual gifts to produce spiritual fruit, then they must be used in God’s strength.  The word “provides” originally was used of a wealthy person who supplied the funds for a choir to perform at public festivals, much like a modern philanthropist who supports the arts.  Likewise, God provides all the support we need to sing His praises through our service.  When we’re weak, He is strong.  Philippians 4:13: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Jumping In

It’s fascinating to me that while spiritual gifts are very important; we are never told how to figure out what gifts we have as there aren’t any assessment tools found in the pages of Scripture.  There are over 20 gifts listed, but there’s no emphasis put on how to discover your gift.  Instead, the focus is put on deployment.  The Bible is clear that gifts are given to be used; and servants are to serve because they are servants.  We could say it this way: A Christian who is not serving is a contradiction in terms. 

Imagine that this gift bag represents the spiritual gift I was given at conversion.  I can learn about the fact that I have a gift but until I open it I won’t do anything with it.  Actually, even after opening it, I still have to use it.  I’m afraid that many of us don’t even know that we’ve been given at least one gift.  Others of us know but we’ve never bothered opening it.  Still others have opened it and have never used it.  I can open the bag and see a box of Kleenex, representing the gift of mercy.  I have a choice to make.  I can use this Kleenex to help hurting people or I can throw it back in the bag and put it up on the shelf.  What will I do?  What will you do with the gifts you’ve been given?

Here’s another way to look at it.  If God is more interesting in us using our gifts than just admiring them or ignoring them, then why should He let us know what our gifts are if He knows we’re not going to use them?  In a similar way, many of us cry out to God, asking Him to show us His will.  Perhaps He’s not letting us know simply because He knows that we’re not serious about doing His will.  Friend, if you want to know what your gifts are, first settle the servanthood issue and make sure you are completely surrendered to Him.  Once you are, you will have multiple ways to minister using the grace gifts He has given you.

What this means practically speaking is that God does not want us to be timid or tentative when it comes to serving.  We don’t have to take a course on spiritual gifts before we start serving.  The key is to settle the servanthood issue and then to start serving.  

If you’re not sure where to serve, and you’re afraid of making a life-long commitment, take some time to experiment and explore by trying out some different ministries.  I can assure you that you won’t be made to feel guilty if you don’t come back.  Just jump in and try something.  Get out of the stands as a spectator and start serving as a servant.

Our Ultimate Goal

The ultimate goal in using our gifts is the glory of God.  In fact, God’s glory is the only motive that will keep us ministering for the long haul.  Look at the last part of verse 11: “…so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.  To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever.  Amen.”   Too many of us are not living the way life is supposed to be lived.  Instead of going for God’s glory, many of us are obsessed with what we think is good for us.  Listen to these telling words from Cornelius Plantinga: “Making a career of nothing – wandering through malls, killing time, making small talk, watching television programs until we know their characters better than we know our own children – [which not only] robs the community of our gifts and energies [but] shapes life into a yawn at the God and Savior of the world.  The person who will not bestir [himself], the person who hands herself over to nothing, in effect says to God: you have made nothing of interest and redeemed no one of consequence, including me” (“Not the Way its Supposed to Be,” 188).

Our ultimate aim is not even to help people but to honor God.  God’s glory is a bit difficult for us to understand so let me try to explain it.  In the Hebrew the word translated “glory” has the nuance of weight or heaviness.  We give God glory when we consider Him to be weighty and mighty, as more important than us, and His kingdom as paramount.  The Greek word means to “seem or think” and has the idea of reputation or honor.  To glorify God means to show forth His Excellencies to others.  We will only do that when we consider Him to be weighty and heavy.  Or as Steven Cole puts it, “To glorify God is to make Him look as good as He really is.”  Tom Ferrell says it well: “To glorify God is to esteem Him as most excellent, to worship Him as most worthy, to love Him as our most delightful treasure, and finally to obey him as our Creator, Redeemer, King, and Friend.”  Our prime motivation and deepest concern should be that God be glorified in all that we do.  As John Piper often says, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

In 1959, the Queen of England visited Chicago and elaborate preparations were made for her arrival.  Litter baskets were painted and a red carpet was rolled out.  Hotels were alerted and restaurants got themselves ready.  When the Drake Hotel was contacted and told to get ready, the manager replied, “We are making no plans for the Queen…our rooms are always ready for royalty.”

Are the rooms in your life ready for royalty?  Since the end is near, bend your ear and hear these four questions.

  • Are you praying with passion?
  • Do you love without limits?
  • Are you giving with gladness?
  • Are you serving with sacrifice?  

The King is coming soon.  Will He find you serving when He returns?

He offers Himself to you because He loves you

Some of you still need to open the gift of salvation.  Will you receive what has already been given to you by transferring your trust from self to the Savior?   The end is near and if you don’t know the Lord Jesus personally, you have a lot to fear.  Friend, have you ever received Jesus Christ?  He is all the provision you will ever need.  Jesus is offering Himself to you as a gift.  You’ve done nothing to deserve Him and you certainly could never afford Him.  He offers Himself to you because He loves you.  Will you accept what He did for you on the Cross, when He died in your place, paying the full penalty for your sins as He exchanged His life for yours?  

The gift is free but it’s not cheap.  It cost God the death of his one-and-only Son.  Salvation is available to anyone and everyone who wants it.  John 1:12:“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”   To “receive” means to welcome a visitor into your home.  It’s what happens when someone knocks at your door and you open the door and invite him or her to come in.  To “receive” Christ means to welcome him as an honored guest and to have him make your heart his home.  

If you’re ready to do that right now, you could pray this prayer in your heart: “Lord Jesus, for too long I’ve kept you out of my life.  I admit that I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself.  I repent of my sins by changing my mind about the way I’ve been living.  No longer will I close the door when I hear you knocking.  By faith I gratefully receive your free gift of salvation.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth.  With all my heart I believe you are the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead on the third day.  Thank you for bearing my sins and giving me the gift of eternal life.  I believe your words are true.  I accept you into my heart.   Be my Savior and Lord, my Forgiver and my Leader.  I surrender to you right now.  Make me into the person you want me to be.  Amen.”

If you’re done with sitting in the stands will you stand right now to indicate that you’re ready to jump in to ministry for the glory of God?

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?