Serving is Essential - 1 Peter 4:10-11
This is our third week revisiting the vision of Good Shepherd as we start a new year. You can see our vision statement at the top of the inside cover of your worship guide. Week one, we looked at our vision for worshipping according to Scripture. Week two, our vision for gathering on a regular basis as the body of Christ. Both of those are clear in our vision statement. Today and next week, however, we look at things that are implied in our vision. Not clearly stated, but necessary; and both relate to the vision as a whole. Today, we look at Serving. For GS to worship, to gather in various ways, and to introduce people to Christ, all of us must serve according to our abilities. In a young church like ours, one which we started, perhaps there is a stronger sense of duty to serve because there are so many jobs to do and not as many people to do those jobs.
I don’t believe it always will be that way; one day, I believe, we will have a more permanent location, and one day, I believe, we will have more people and thus more folks scheduled to serve. But even though Good Shepherd will change as she becomes more established, the need for God’s people to serve does not go away. Serving is essential for the follower of Jesus; the apostle Peter says as much here. We have a responsibility to it and we receive personal benefit from it. We need to serve. And yet we know that serving shouldn’t be a self-focused activity, should it? We want to be motivated by or fixed upon the needs of others when we serve. Otherwise, we’re just being self-serving. But when we serve within the body of Christ, we should have in mind how it benefits others and how it benefits us as we serve.
Now, we know that we are naturally bent toward using our gifts and abilities for self-centered reasons. You naturally leverage what you have to achieve happiness. Yet we understand from Scripture that God redeems us from sin and death so we can use our gifts for God-centered reasons.
Understand this when it comes to serving: a God-centered life brings God the most glory and offers you the greatest benefit. The WSC, written in the 1640s, attempts to summarize the teachings of the Bible in a question and answer format. Question and answer 1 says this about the main purpose of our lives: “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Anything you enjoy is a benefit to you. God’s redemption glorifies him and benefits us. This is God’s reason for creating us.
And so, we should have in mind God’s reasons for our serving. So, what are those reasons? I attempted to state them on page 6 of your worship guide looking at 1 Peter 4. What does serving do for us? Why serve the body of Christ? Why serve at GS? Well,
Number 1. Serving allows us to be good stewards of the abilities entrusted to us by God. Number 2. Serving allows us to meet basic needs of the people connected to us by God. And number 3. Serving allows us to give proper glory to the One sent to us by God. (v.11b)
Now, look again, please, at verse . Peter writes, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: Each member of the body of Christ has some “gift” – an ability bestowed by divine favor. You didn’t earn it or merit it. Your gift enables you to serve the body of Christ in some way. This subject of “gifts” is apparent throughout the NT instruction to the churches. When God establishes a local church, he provides all the gifts needed for it to function.
The church needs the gifts in order to join God on mission. Using our gifts is our part in God’s mission. So, when a person is born again, the Holy Spirit activates, if you will, your ability to use your gift to benefit the body. Your talents and passions are coupled with the power of the Holy Spirit. The ability itself (the skill you have) and the power to use it for the body of Christ have been entrusted to you by God. Deposited in you, so to speak. Our responsibility, Peter says, is to be good “stewards” or “managers” of the gifts. In this way, our serving in the church isn’t exactly the same as volunteering. Serving your brothers and sisters in Christ is required by the Lord. We can either be a good steward or a bad steward of what God entrusted to you. Bad stewardship would be negligence on our part. It would be squandering what God entrusted to us. And I do think that “entrusted” is a good word because we do have a choice. You and I can waste our opportunities, our money, some resource at our disposal, and that is bad stewardship – bad management of what we have. Here, Peter is telling us that not using our gifts to benefit the people of God is wasteful.
We have different gifts throughout the body. Notice Peter says “God’s varied grace.” There is a diversity of gifts. We see this here at Good Shepherd. People with different skills, bringing knowledge from different experiences, folks with various backgrounds who can do certain things well. Folks with various resources. All your abilities, plus what you’ve learned at some point in time, things you’ve been through, even what you care deeply about and are motivated to do – all of these things have been entrusted to you by God. God’s providence has been at work your whole life. And what do I mean by providence?
Again, the Westminster summary helps here: God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures and all their actions. Who you are and what you have to offer us here at GS is entirely the result of God’s providential working in your life. Romans 8 in the NT explicitly assures us that all things which happen to us work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose. They work together for the good of you and for the body of Christ. You don’t want to waste it all!
Jesus famously talks about stewardship in Matt. 25 in what we call the Parable of the Talents. We will look closer at the parable many weeks from now as we complete the book of Matthew. But in short, Jesus tells a story of a wealthy man who has servants and he “entrusted to them” the Scripture says, his property. Before departing on a journey, he gives to three different servants these different amounts of money.
Two of them invest the money and multiple it. One just buries the money in the ground. When the wealthy man returns, he’s pleased with the two who invested and multiplied; in fact, he says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” But with the one who buried the money – sat on it, basically – he is furious. What a waste! The man didn’t give the servant the money to protect it. He wanted him to use it, manage it and make it grow, produce something with it!
Serving is not part of our vision just because Good Shepherd needs it to function. You need opportunities to serve so you don’t bury your talents in the dirt; so you don’t find yourself guilty of bad stewardship. Is that how you view your abilities – as gifts entrusted to you, deposited in you by God? Over the past 2+ years, we’ve seen the host of things that need to be done at GS, and some folks are more naturally talented or able than others at things. You know, even the ability to set things up and tear things down like the nursery and the lobby and all the things we use in here during worship – that ability is a gift from the Lord. Not everyone can walk easily or pick up heavy things. Walk through the lobby and you might take for granted that not everyone has the knack for making this place feel like home on Sunday mornings for a few hours. It is a gift. Likewise, it is a gift to be able to greet others as they walk through the door and make them feel welcome and at ease. It is a gift to be able to care for children and teach them. It is a gift to be able to organize and operate in a school and do all the things necessary. Gifts of music, preaching, leadership, fixing things, solving problems – all are on display here. At this point, we have 74 members (adults and children), which includes 45 communing members who have taken the vows of membership and join us for the Lord’s Supper, and I’ve seen the gifts of every single one on display here at GS. That’s how it should be. God’s people being good stewards of what he has entrusted to us.
Look now at the first part of verse 11. Peter writes,  whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—The church has many needs, but here Peter breaks them into just two categories: gifts of speech or word, and gifts of action or deeds. That would be one way to describe it. “Oracles of God” refers to God’s revelation, his message to his people. We speak it, through the reading of his Word, and through preaching, teaching and prayer. Even singing. We sing the great truths of God’s revelation. Also, Peter says “whoever serves.” This is noteworthy. You might unintentionally pass over it. But the meaning here involves another word we use a lot in the church: ministry. The meeting of various physical needs. And for that reason, the two big categories here fall under the headings of the offices of elder and deacon. Elder is an office of shepherding, teaching, and ruling in the church. Deacon is an office of sympathy and service. All the gifts used for the benefit of the body of Christ here at GS fall under the supervision of those two God-ordained offices. That doesn’t mean everyone with some Word-related gift is an elder, or that each one with a serving-related gift is a deacon, but when you use your gifts to benefit the body of Christ, you do so under the care and guidance of those offices.
Both categories are extremely important because they meet the full scope of basic congregational needs – the basic needs of the body of Christ. All the gifts bless and benefit the people of God, and by “people of God” I mean all of us who are in union with Jesus and each other. We need congregational worship, we need fellowship, we need encouragement and prayer, we need teaching, we need opportunities to serve, we need to reach out to those outside the church and introduce them to Christ. All the serving that is done, both word-related and deed-related, makes those things possible.
And how comforting and encouraging is this: that all of it is fueled by God for God. Notice the verse says we speak using God’s words and we serve with God’s strength. So, not only does God require us to be good stewards of our gifts, but he gives us what we need to be good stewards. So we join him in his God-centered mission.
We need each other, as the parts of the physical body need each other. How complex and fascinating are the lungs? But if the heart fails, then the lungs fail. Same way with the body of Christ. Christ is the head, and the parts need each other to survive and work. We are in a season of building an infrastructure to make the best use of everyone’s gifts, constructing teams of people with vision and gifts for Logistics, Children’s ministry, Hospitality, Worship, Prayer, Mercy, Care, Communications, and Discipleship. That’s where we are as a church. God has brought people, and people have needs.
So not only do we have a responsibility to God as stewards of our gifts, but we have this responsibility to each other. Do you see yourself as being needed? The body of Christ needs your skills and abilities. You bring something unique. I don’t mean to sound trite or clichéd, but there is only one you. You are essential to GS.
Now, let’s look, finally, at the last part of verse 11. It says, “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” We serve, first, to be good stewards, second, to meet basic needs, but ultimately, for this reason: to give God the glory he deserves. The way I read this, serving is essential for a believer to bring glory to God. Now, you might think, “Ok, I see how serving meets my own need to be a good steward, and serving meets the needs of others in the body and outside the body, but what is this need to be glorified that God seems to have? Acts 17, also in the NT, can help us here I think.
The apostle Paul was preaching the gospel to Greeks, who didn’t know or trust in Jesus Christ and who didn’t have a background with Yahweh, the God of Israel, as the Jews did. Anywhere you see “LORD” (in all capital letters in your Bible), we know that in the original manuscripts, the covenant name of God, which we pronounce “Yahweh” was used. The Greeks did not know Yahweh. They had a host of gods in their Greek mythology. But Paul wants them to understand that there is only one true and living God. He says,  The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,  nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”
Anything you might give to or for God, he gave to you in the first place. “Served” there in Acts 17(“nor is he served by human hands”), is a different word in their language from the word Peter uses in 1 Peter 4 and which Paul uses the same way in his other letters . In Acts 17, “served’ means something like “to take care of” as being needy or in need. We need to be good stewards; we need our basic needs met in the congregation, but God doesn’t need glory in that way. God is not needy of glory, you understand. Actually, we need God to receive the glory, because if he doesn’t get it, we’re either going to take if for ourselves to our own destruction or project it on to someone or something else, to their destruction, and to our own.
Let’s don’t do that. Let’s give it all to God through Jesus Christ. Let’s serve for the glory of Christ – for Jesus, the One sent to us by God so that we could know him and join him on mission. This calls to mind another moment from Jesus’ earthly ministry. Not a parable, but an actual event. The mother of two of Jesus’ apostles approached him and asked Jesus to place her sons in positions of authority, to be served by others. Obviously, Jesus would be King. Could he make her sons lords with great authority? Her sons would, in fact, receive authority, but not like they originally thought or wanted. They would have to suffer for Jesus’ sake, similar to his own suffering. And Jesus tells the apostles this: “…whoever would be great among you must be your servant,  and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,  even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Our serving is an essential response to him who first served us. He served us to death – literally. For that reason, Philippians 2 says,  God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Our need to serve and be served by each other is inseparable from the mission of God. When we look at the GS vision statement, serving is at the heart of it all, because the one perfect faithful Servant, Jesus, founded us and sustains us.
Is Jesus your daily source of rest and hope? Jesus stands to serve you and I daily in this way. He serves to help us with every need. Do you have Jesus? If you think you need to get your act together first and then come to Jesus, you don’t yet understand what he has done. We come to him simply with faith. We trust in his perfect life and sacrificial death, in the power and worth of his shed blood. To have Jesus is to have trust only in that life and that blood. All glory to Christ for our salvation, that is Peter’s message in verse 11. Turn from sin, and rest in him today.
Let’s pray together.