“Given to You to Give It Away” (I Peter 4:7-11)

Imagine you are trying to run a home construction business. You have to have workers with a variety of building skills and trades. Concrete workers are needed for the foundation, who begin the project after the heavy equipment operators have prepared the site. Then framing crews build out the house according to the architect’s plans and prints. Plumbers and electricians rough-in the pipes and wires before the drywall crew puts up the interior walls. Flooring workers and painters begin to finish the interior, while bath and kitchen installers do their expensive work. All sorts of other personnel finish off the project inside and out. It takes quite a variety of people to make the project a success.

But imagine that the electricians are just, frankly, flakey about their commitment to the project and dependability when really needed. They always seem to have some excuse or conflict of life right at the time their work is needed to efficiently advance the construction project. It not only negatively affects the schedule to complete the home, it impacts everyone else and messes with their plans. Sometimes other tradesmen have to cover for the electricians and do the best they can to get some of the work done.

This week we are talking about why we gather as God’s people … why should we value regularity and consistency in attendance together? Another reason is because we need you, and you need us. All of us have been given different gifts to serve others. None of us have all the gifts, so all of us need something from someone else. And just like with the construction illustration above, when segments of the church family don’t value being regular in attendance for whatever reason, they hurt everyone else by not having their skills and gifts present. And without realizing it, over time, they are hurting themselves even worse.

When we think of the topic of the variety of spiritual gifts that are given, we think of three passages: 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4.  But another great Scripture is 1 Peter 4:7-11, where it says …

7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.

If the end of all things was near in the thinking of Peter, how much more true is it now? And in the family of faith there is nothing more significantly effective for family health than being committed to deeply loving one another. The verb here in the Greek language is a word that speaks of an effort with great straining, most often used of an athlete straining to win and compete at the highest level. If everyone in a church was committed to love like that, a lot of silly annoyances would be overlooked and a healthier atmosphere would ensue.

Another unique word is the verb in verse 9 about offering hospitality. It is a combination of the word for brotherly love (phileo) and a term for strangers (xenophos). So expressing care and kindness to lesser-known folks as if they are family, and doing so without grumbling, is a great value for a body-building church.

And then Peter turns to people using gifts to serve one another, each person doing it as a faithful steward. This word is an oft-used term of the manager of a household — the person put in charge of a wealthy master’s multiple resources to dispense them and use them for the good of the whole household.

The gifts of the Spirit given to the body of Christ have varied forms. There will be speaking gifts and serving gifts. They are all of value for the total good and success of the church, and they are all needed to be dispensed in regular and faithful ways by those who possess them … and that includes everybody.

So, are you a dependable tradesman in building the body of Christ in the local church, or are you like one of those annoying electricians who always have some excuse for not showing up and helping and getting their work done in a timely fashion? Don’t be an annoying electrician. We need YOU (and you need us). You’ve been given a gift to use.

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Love More; Whine Less (1 Peter 4:7-11)

The human soul craves justice.  Peter tells his readers that God’s justice is coming.  “The end of all things is at hand,” he tells them (1 Peter 4:7).  Throughout his letter, Peter places special focus on God’s promised future—a future that includes both restoration and righteous judgment.  Yesterday we even noted that those who slander God’s people will “give an account” to God (1 Peter 4:5).

If you are unfamiliar with Christianity, I know that this might be hard to swallow.  Speaking of judgment and righteousness starts to sound like the fire-and-brimstone preachers who sweat through their polyester suits in an effort to scare you into joining the church.  But justice is more than that—much more.  Consider the recent popularity of the television series Breaking Bad.  The show centers on Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who pays for his cancer treatments by cooking and selling crystal meth.  The entire series is about his descent from middle class America into total moral depravity.  Why would this become one of the most-watched television series of all time?  In an interview with The New York Times, the show’s writer Vince Gilligan offers us a clue:

“If religion is a reaction of man, and nothing more, it seems to me that it represents a human desire for wrongdoers to be punished…. I feel some sort of need for Biblical atonement, or justice, or something. I like to believe there is some comeuppance, that karma kicks in at some point, even if it takes years or decades to happen. My girlfriend says this great thing that’s become my philosophy as well. ‘I want to believe there’s a heaven. But I can’t not believe there’s a hell.”[1]

For Gilligan, heaven is desirable, but hell is necessary.  Do you want justice?  Do you want wrongs to be set right?  We have this promise in the future return of Christ.

Peter says that this changes the way we respond to one another within the believing community:

7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever 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. (1 Peter 4:7-11)

If I know that the end is near, this changes my attitude toward others.  My focus is no longer on myself, but on others and—ultimately—God.  Peter lists a whole series of commands, here.  Some of these commands are about our attitudes (“be self-controlled and sober-minded”) while others are about our actions (“use [your gift] to serve one another”).  But in verse 11 Peter says that the higher purpose is that “in everything God may be glorified.”  The word glory most literally means “weighty” or “massive.”  We might use the word “significant.”

If we put the pieces together, what is Peter saying?  Peter is telling a community of marginalized Christians that when suffering comes, they must serve and love one another—so that others may see that the most significant thing in their life is not their comfort, but Christ and His Kingdom. 

Practically, this means that you and I are faced with a similar question regarding our own gifts.  What is a “gift?”  Sometimes I think it’s tempting to think of our “gifts” through the lens of Self. But when it comes to gifts, the issue is not: What makes me special?  the issue is: How can I contribute? 

The gospel promises us that ultimate justice is coming and may come at any moment.  In Peter’s view, this doesn’t promote fear, but provokes Godly character and sacrificial living.  We look for this ultimate justice by practicing justice even in our communities.  We contribute in meaningful ways because we want our present communities to mirror the values of God’s future kingdom.

So what about you?  How might you contribute?  For some of you, it might be something small.  Contributing to our Church community by serving as an usher, a greeter, preparing coffee.  Maybe you step up and serve in our children’s ministry—there’s always an opening.  Maybe it’s about serving outside our walls in your individual workplaces: humbly and graciously doing the tasks no one else seems fond of, engaging with your coworkers in ways that reveal the character and love of the Savior and—if opportunity allows and the Spirit leads—sharing with them the “hope that is within you.”

 

[1] Segal, David (July 6, 2011). “The Dark Art of ‘Breaking Bad'”. The New York Times. July 25, 2011