By this we are reminded that our Redeemer has erected in this world a kingdom, of which we are all a part. And our Lord has instituted a particular form of government for the proper maintenance of this kingdom.
We are not spiritual anarchists. None of us are permitted to go about on our own, doing what we think is right in our own eyes. We are to be governed by Christ, and that means we are to be ruled by those he has raised up among us as elders.
But what we have here is more than a simple endorsement of the Presbyterian system of church government. Peter lays out for us a number of things that we need to understand about elders. If we are going to be true Presbyterians, we need to have a few things set straight. The very first lesson regards the dignity of the office of elder.
I. The dignity of an elder
As I said, the passage starts out with Peter identifying himself as a “fellow elder.” I think that this is a glorious beginning to this section. You would think that, in addressing elders, he would just come out and play the authority card. He could have easily said, “Hey guys, I’m an apostle and this is the way it’s going to be.” But he doesn’t do that. He starts off by identifying himself as being on the same level.
By doing this he signifies to everyone that he shares the same spiritual role as those who would be common elders in the church.
In essence, he dignifies the office of elder. He invests it with a great deal of nobility—a nobility that we might not otherwise give it.
We might be tempted to put the office of elder in some disrepute. We could easily say, “Well, these guys are not apostles. So we don’t really need to give them that much credence.” But Peter puts all that to rest in identifying himself as one of that number. He lifts the office out of the mundane and common and reminds us that it is a lofty office in the church of God. It shares something of the apostolic authority.
Later we are going to talk about submitting to elders. But before you get to that, you need to start here. You need to grasp the fact that this office is no mundane thing. It is a monumental thing to be an elder in the church.
So that is where we begin. Do not disparage this office. Do not give it less credence than it deserves. It is apostolic in nature in that Christ has invested these men with a great deal of authority.
And that really brings us to the next thing we are to know about the elder, and the main point for which Peter writes. That is the duties of an elder.
II. The duties of an elder
The main words to focus in on are the words “shepherd the flock of God” and “exercising oversight.” These two phrases sum up the totality of an elder’s work within the congregation. Peter is talking about the pastoral care of a congregation. By using these terms Peter is reminding us that the elder’s job is the spiritual care of a congregation. He is to look after them and see to their spiritual welfare, just like a shepherd would tend to the physical welfare of his flock.
And what exactly does that look like? How does an elder “shepherd the flock of God?” Some of you might like to know what exactly “exercising oversight” entails.
First of all, it means faithfully teaching the congregation the truths of the faith. That is, of course, the primary way an elder shepherd’s the flock. He feeds them with the nutrients of the gospel. But don’t think for a minute that this is the extent of his work.
I think that is a common misnomer. We think that an elder teaches a bible study or two or preaches once a week, and maybe he’ll attend some meetings here and there. But that is by no means the extent of his duties.
The sad thing is that we have people becoming elders who think that’s all they have to do. And the church suffers exceedingly because of it. They don’t have a clue what it means to really exercise oversight of a congregation. If you think about it, that is not shepherding a congregation. You can’t exercise real oversight with that amount of contact with a congregation.
If you really want to nurture a congregation and help them grow as a church, there is so much more you need to do. For instance, an elder is to be visiting his flock in their homes. They have to pop in every once in a while and make sure that they are practicing Christianity in their homes.
The church my wife grew up in is excellent at this. The elders there have a regular rotation. Each week they pray for a specific family during the congregational prayer time. And when your name comes up for the congregational prayer, that means it is your turn to receive a visit from the pastor of the church and your designated elder. At some point they come to your house and begin to inquire after your spiritual well being. They will ask you about your devotions as a family and how those are going. They will take time to talk to each of the kids and ask them particulars regarding their walk with the Lord. Above all, they will share some scripture with the family to encourage them in their faith and spend some time praying for the family before they leave.
That’s part of and elder’s duty. If he is going to exercising oversight he’s got to be mingling with the sheep on a regular basis outside of Sunday worship.
Here’s another thing that elders need to be doing. They need to be going after their sheep when they stray. A shepherd isn’t supposed to let his sheep wander in and out of the pasture. He’s not supposed to sit idly by when a sheep skips out on the flock.
But that’s what a lot of elders do. It is almost as if they see themselves more as lifeguards at a pool than shepherds. A lifeguard will just watch people come and go. His job isn’t to chase them when they leave.
That is the job of an elder though. As a shepherd his is not to let his sheep act as if they were aimless and autonomous vagabonds. If they haven’t been in church for a couple of Sundays, you should at the very least receive a call from your elder saying, “Hey, I’ve noticed you haven’t been in worship for the last three Sunday’s. I’m just calling to see if everything is all right.”
I know one church that did this well. It was a church of over 500 members, but they kept diligent track of their members. They had those little pew pads, and every Sunday you had to fill out your pew pad to show that you were in attendance. And the secretary tallied them up each week. And if it was found that you missed 2-3 Sunday’s in a row, you would receive a letter. The congregation jokingly called that it was the “excommunication letter.” But it was a letter reminding them of their responsibility to worship the Lord and fellowship with the rest of the body. And if there came to be a pattern of absence, then you would receive a special call or visit from the elders. They would express concern for your spiritual well being and try to find out what was going on. They might end up rebuking you for your laziness or warning you of your lagging faith.
All in all, these elders took this very seriously. They sought to make sure that no one was going astray in that congregation, and if they were they went after them.
Now, I spent a lot of time explaining and illustrating these two concepts of “shepherding and exercising oversight.” But by going into specifics, you understand why Peter goes on to talk about an elder’s attitude. After you understand all that is entailed, you understand why Peter says, “do this willingly, and not as under compulsion…do it eagerly.” An elder can easily shy away from this kind of stuff. It is a lot to do.
And the other extreme is shot down too. All this power can go to one’s head. You can become controlling as an elder and you can end up lording it over your congregation. That’s why he says that an elder shouldn’t be domineering.
I’m not going to say much more than that. I think that those things speak for themselves. I think it is more important to spend the time we did outlining some of the specific duties of an elder as it pertains to oversight.
I hope that you find that profitable, especially as you consider the next generation of leaders in this congregation.
But now that we’ve talked about the dignity and the duties of an elder, let’s think about the elder’s destiny.
III. The destiny of an elder
Peter encourages the elders to execute these duties by pointing them to their future. One day, he says, Christ will come back. One day you will meet Christ face to face and, if you have been faithful in your work, you will receive a reward.
To be sure, there is a hint of a warning here. It is subtle, and should not overshadow the primary emphasis of blessing. But there is a slight reminder that elders will be held accountable for their actions if they mess up.
This warning if found in the term Chief Shepherd. Back in those days the main shepherd wasn’t always out and about with his flock. If he was well to do in the shepherding business, then he might hire a number of men to take care of the flock for him. So these men—these under shepherds—would take the sheep out to pasture. Of course, that might be a distance where they are gone for more than a day. And every once in a while the Chief Shepherd would come and check up on his under shepherds. And if anything had run amiss, then the hireling would have to pay the consequences.
Peter draws on that imagery here. And there is a hint of that “hey, you better make sure you are not shaking down the sheep or neglecting them any way.”
But the primary emphasis here is the happier side of things. There is that subtle warning, but the stress is put upon the reward that a faithful elder will receive. He says that when Christ comes, you will receive an unfading crown of glory.
Now, we don’t know exactly what kind of reward it will be. Peter is speaking metaphorically here. He’s using a comparison to the crowns that champion athletes would receive in their games. Back in those days athletes would receive a crown made out of leaves and branches for winning their specific competition. But in a matter of days, it would dry out and wither.
And Peter says you will be likewise rewarded, except yours will be much more glorious in nature. It will be something that lasts because it won’t fade or wither. You will have a blessing that has a much more lasting luster.
If you want to ask me whether or not it is a literal crown, I’ll tell you, “I don’t know.” Will there be people walking around heaven with special hats on their heads? I don’t know about that. I’m not sure we can press the metaphor very far. All we can say is that God has something glorious stored up for those under shepherds who have been diligently tending the flock.
What we can say is that this is an excellent motivation for you elders here, or for any prospective elders in our midst. Certainly that was something that motivated the Apostle Paul. At the end of his life, as he was reaching his final destiny, Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith, henceforth there is laid up for me a crown.”
IV. The distinction of an elder
In verse 5 Peter turns to address the congregation, particularly the young men in the congregations. He says, “you guys, you need to be subject to your elders.” Your elders have this distinction of deserving your respect. So obey them.
Now, there is a sense in which younger guys can be a little more bull headed. There is an inherent pride that lurks in the hearts of youth that says, “Don’t tell me what I must do.” And perhaps that is why they are singled out.
A number of years ago Pope John Paul came to America. I don’t remember exactly why he came, but I remember that one night there was a big event for catholic youth. It was almost like a Billy Graham rally. They rented out a stadium and they packed it full of young people. And Pope John Paul gave a special speech to these youth.
After the event one of the young people in attendance was interviewed by a TV news reporter who was on site. And, on national television, the kid said, “I don’t know who this guy is; thinking he can come in here and tell us how to live our lives.”
Come on! It’s the pope! To those of us who are protestants, this doesn’t mean anything. But for a Catholic kid to say this, that’s the epitome of disrespect.
As Protestants, we don’t regard the pope as a leader in the church. We know that it’s a blasphemous thing to call yourself the head of the church. But that kid is a good illustration of how young people can disregard their leaders. It is that spirit that Peter is speaking against here.
And if we are honest, we will admit that this is not something that is confined to young men. We all have a desire to cast off authority and live autonomous lives.
Peter even says as much. In the next part of the verse he says that all of us must “clothe ourselves with humility.” And then he adds that stinger, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
You know, you will not succeed in life if you do not submit to your elders. If you blow off your elders, it is equivalent to blowing off God. And if you want to align yourself against God, then you will find yourselves experiencing a great deal of frustration. He opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.
And I really want to press this point home. I really want you to understand this. It is a truth that so many in our day are not cognizant of, and there is a great deal of pain because of it. We live in this independent American cowboy culture. We are living the existentialist dream where we think that nobody should influence the way we act. We just do what we want to do. So what we have is a torrent of people dodging and disregarding anything their elders say.
It’s not often that it happens, but sometimes you actually have a body of faithful elders. And they come along and address an issue or perhaps they call you to repentance. They go out of their way to shepherd the flock of God, but the sheep just ignore it.
And if you are just such a sheep, then don’t be surprised when you find yourself falling into all sorts of ditches and experiencing all kinds of frustration.
Your elders have the distinction of being God’s agents of Christ’s love. As a result, they are to have the distinction of receiving your full obedience.
In sum, we must regard them as the under shepherds of Christ. They are men who Christ has set over us to lead us in the way that we are to go. They are given to us for our welfare. And the glorious promise is that if we do submit to them, we shall receive grace. God’s favor will overflow to us.
May that then be our aim and satisfaction. And may we all be the best Presbyterians we can be.
Our text for today (1 Peter 4:10-11) can be summed up in what someone once called “basin theology.”
Bruce Theilemann, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, told of a conversation he had with a parishioner in his congregation. This layman said, “You preachers talk a lot about giving, but when you get right down to it, it comes down to basin theology.’
Not ever having heard of it Theilemann asked, “What is basin theology?”
The man replied, “Remember what Pilate did when he had the chance to acquit Jesus? He called for a basin and washed his hands of the whole thing. But Jesus, the night before his death, called for a basin and proceeded to wash the feet of his disciples.”
After washing those feet Jesus said, “I have left you an example.” He took the form of a servant and he showed his followers exactly what they were called to do in this world. They were to focus their energies on serving one another.
And all of life is deciding which basin will we chose? Will we be like Pilate and cast Christ aside? Will we not care about who he is and what he has called us to do? Or will we plunge our hands into the basin of Christ? Will we follow him and reach down into the very lowest depths in order to assist those around us.
When we look into our passage this morning we find that Peter puts the later basin before us. Peter tells us that we need to be serving one another.
I know its not the most appealing thing. A servant’s life is not the least bit desirous. Serving others is of vital importance to the life of the church, especially in times of persecution. But even when times are smooth, it is necessary. Church cannot happen without it. This is part of the very warp and woof of what it means to be a church.
As we look at this passage this morning, the first thing we should notice is that we are commanded to serve.
I. We must serve because we are commanded to serve
In verse 10 Peter says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” This, as you see, is nothing other than a divine mandate.
Verse 11 expands this command with a few examples to help you understand exactly how you are to serve. He says, “whoever speaks, as one who speaks the oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies.” In other words, do whatever you do with some vigor. It shouldn’t be like pulling teeth. You shouldn’t have to be coaxed into it or do it grudgingly. You should do it heartily. Do it with zeal and gusto.
What I want you to see is that this is not optional. This is an apostolic order. It is a divine decree that we are to obey. When it comes to life within this body, we are obligated to serve one another.
This is something that really needs to be brought out today. Many of us have been influenced by our consumer driven culture. So we pick our churches like we pick where we want to eat. We go to this church because it has a better package for us, and we can get more out of it. And if I don’t get much out of it, or if I feel the thrill is starting to wane, then I’m going to pick up and go somewhere else. So you have a lot of people who come to church and sit in their pew like they are pulling up at the drive through window at McDonalds. They are just waiting to be served.
But that is not what Christ commands us here. He does not allow us to cherry pick from the church. He tells us that we are to get into a local fellowship and get busy serving one another. If I might modify President Kennedy’s inauguration speech a little: We are not to ask what the church can do for us, but ask what we can do for the church.
This is one of the reasons why Christians throughout history have put a high priority on membership in a local church. This command can only be carried out in that kind of context. You cannot be a church hopper and fulfill this command. If you are always jumping from one church to another, you are never really in a position where you can do this. It is virtually impossible to connect with people on a deep level and pour yourself into them in any meaningful way.
As a matter of fact, in my denomination this is one of the things you profess in your membership vows. In the PCA, to become a member, you have to make a public profession of your faith before the congregation. And during that ceremony you are asked a number of questions and you make a covenant with the rest of the church. One of those questions goes like this, “Do you promise to support the church in its worship and work to the best of your ability?” In that question you must affirm that you will do everything within your power to support your brothers and sisters in the Lord. You pledge the full use of your gifts and graces to the brothers and sisters of that congregation.
Now you might not have had a formal ceremony here like we have in the PCA. But you still have that obligation. The word of God insists that you serve in some capacity. And it doesn’t matter how menial your service may be. That’s actually something that is brought out in the text here. The word “serve” literally means “to wait upon,” as in a servant. Servants often do menial tasks around the house. But they are necessary tasks. They are needed tasks. And God is saying to you that you need to do this. You need to direct your energies away from yourself and start serving one another, because God has commanded it.
But you’ll notice that we are not only commanded to serve, but we are equipped to serve.
II. We must serve because we are equipped to serve
In this passage Peter starts off by talking about our divine design. He says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another.” Peter reminds us that God has made each of us in a unique way. He has given each of us a certain gift. Most likely, He has bestowed upon us various gifts! But the point is, when God made us he equipped us with the capacity to serve one another.
So serving one another is etched right into our very being. It is something that is supposed to come naturally to us. But due to sin clogging up our system, we don’t. Our natural inclination is to avoid other people or neglect our gifts.
I think that this is why Peter calls us “stewards of God’s varied grace.” He is reminding us that we are not sovereign over our gifts.
We often talk about right stewardship of our money. That means we are to use our money responsibly because it is not ultimately ours. We are only stewards of what God has given us.
The same is true when it comes to our gifts and talents. We don’t call the shots when it comes to whether or not we want to use them. Our gifts belong to God. And since he has entrusted them to us we are not allowed to squander them. Instead we must employ them for the mutual good of the church.
Some of you might have heard about the incident with the cruise liner about a month ago or so. There was a cruise ship that was out at sea and it was doing its cruise thing. There were lots of people on board, and they were all having a merry old time. But all of a sudden, the ship lurched as it ran aground. The captain had ordered the ship to veer off course on a superfluous little errand. As a result, a hole was punctured in the ship and it started to sink. You can imagine how frantic the passengers might have been as they were ordered into the lifeboats.
Thankfully the consequences were not as bad as they might otherwise have been. Almost all of the passengers were rescued. However, there were about 20 people who were killed. Of course, there is now a large ocean liner carcass laying in an Italian port.
But here is an instance where a man was not a good steward. The captain had been entrusted with that ship by the cruise line. They gave him that ship so that he could serve the passengers on board and give them a wonderful holiday. But he took some liberties with what had been given. He thought he could tool around the ocean in that ship all he wanted and do whatever he desired. As a result of his dereliction of duty he caused a great tragedy.
That is precisely what it is like when it comes to the church and the gifts God has given us. We have been suited out with many gifts, and we are to be using those gifts for the purpose of serving the church. When we do, we thrive and experience great joy. But when we don’t it is a tragedy. The church ends up experiencing a great deal of turmoil because it is not functioning as it should.
So I want to encourage you to remember that you are a steward of your gifts. If you are an organizer, then remember that God has given you that gift for a purpose. If you are one who is compassionate and likes to care for elderly people, then try to schedule a time where you can sit and talk with someone’s grandparents. If you have the gift of making boatloads of money, find ways to support people. Help them start a business or find a way to help people in the church adopt some children.
Whatever the case may be, just remember, God has equipped you to serve. And your gifts and graces are vitally important for the welfare of the church.
We need to serve. As we’ve seen, we are commanded to ser and we are equipped to serve. But I want you to notice that we are given some pretty good incentive to serve too.
III. We must serve because we are incentivized to serve
We are encouraged to serve because of what Peter says in verse 1.1 Peter says that the outcome of our serving one another will be that God is glorified. Then, as if just thinking about it causes him to well up, he bursts into a doxology, “To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
The point is that something amazing happens when we minister to one another. There is a huge payoff: God is glorified. When use our gifts in service to one another, God is worshiped. As we serve one another it is almost as if we unite our voices in the adoration of his name.
And is that not the best incentive we can have?
I am almost tempted to say that Peter tries to bribe us here. It is like holding out candy to a little child and saying, “I’ll give you this chocolate bar if you obey me.” We all know what that is. It is bribery.
That’s almost what it seems like Peter is doing. Think about it. When you bribe a kid with a chocolate bar, you are trying to appeal to their deepest craving in order to get them to do something they might not otherwise do, right? You would never say, “If you sit and be quiet, I’ll give you this branch of the broccoli.” Of course not! That’s not going to persuade any kid. You have to appeal to their appetites. You have to give them something they really want.
And I believe that Peter is doing that very thing in this verse. He knows that you are not as inclined as you ought to be to serve one another. He knows that serving one another is a pain. So he pulls out a candy bar. He appeals to your greatest appetite.
If you are a Christian, then the thing you want most is the advancement of God’s honor. The one thing that you desire more than anything else is to see God glorified. So he says, if you go out of your way to serve one another, then guess what is going to happen? God will be praised!
So I just want to encourage you, as Peter does, to have your fill. Serve one another, and let God be praised.
At a private meeting of friends, on one occasion, George Whitefield, after referring to the difficulties attending the gospel ministry, said he was weary of the burdens of the day, and was glad that in a short time his work would be done, and he could depart to be with the Lord. All present owned to having the same feeling, with the exception of Mr. Tennant. On seeing this, Mr. Whitefield, tapping him on the knees, said, “Well, Brother Tennant, you are the oldest man among us; do you not rejoice to think that your time is so near at hand when you will be called home?” Mr. Tennant replied that he had no wish about it. Being pressed for something more definite, he added, “I have nothing to do with death. My business is to live as long as I can, and as well as I can, and serve my Master as faithfully as I can, until He shall think it proper to call me home.”
Here was a man who knew his lot in life. He knew that he was to be dedicated to the service of God. Retirement was the farthest thing from his mind.
This should be said of us as well. May we seek to serve as faithfully as we can until Christ should think it proper to call us home.
This week my wife and daughter were introduced to a new puppy while they were at my In-laws. A friend of the family had just bought him and they wanted to show him off, so they brought him over.
My wife said that the puppy loved Katelyn. They didn’t know if it was just because Katelyn was smaller or what, but the puppy wouldn’t give anyone else much attention. It would follow Katelyn around everywhere she went. If Katelyn ran somewhere, it ran after her. There were others around. No doubt they were ready to lavish the dog with attention as we are big dog lovers. But the dog wouldn’t be distracted. It stuck with our daughter.
There was something about my daughter with which the dog had become infatuated. As a result, nothing (or nobody) else mattered.
That is but a small example of what happens to all God’s creatures, including us. As creatures of habit we are prone to sectarianism. After we join a certain circle and find acceptance there, we begin to ignore or neglect what is outside of that little sphere. What is familiar and dearly beloved becomes our normal range of concern. Even though there are lots of different people all around us, we don’t concern ourselves with them.
And while this is not necessarily a bad thing, we must never allow such sectarianism appear within our church. There is a danger that we can become exclusive. Though nothing is written, we can make certain rules or set a certain culture. As a result our church can become like an elite club. The members of a church can become so introverted that they build a wall between themselves and rest of the world.
Our passage urges us to guard against sectarianism. It urges us to reflect the cosmic scope of Christianity in three very practical ways. It tells us to expand the range of our prayers, see the extent of our Lord’s salvation, broaden the reach of our ministry.
In order to reflect the cosmic Scope of Christianity, verses one and two tell us that…
I. We must expand the range of our prayers
This is what Paul urges us to do in verses 1, 2. He says, "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way."
I would bet, if we were to examine each of our prayer lists, we would find them to be very exclusive. I would assume that they would be limited to family members and those within the church.
That we are praying for such items is a wonderful thing. And that we are regularly interceding for our dear loved ones shows that we are following the biblical mandate to do so. It is good that we call upon the Lord for our needs and offer our burdens to him in times of secret prayer. But our prayers should not be limited to these areas.
The Lord calls us to expand the range of our prayers. He wants us to pray for all kinds of people. That’s what he means in this verse. He does not mean that we should pray for every person in the world. That is impossible, and it would be an absurd thing to require of us.
No, that he means we should pray for all kinds of people is evident from verse 2. He clarifies what he means by specifying a certain kind of people, namely kings and those in high positions.
Obviously here he indicates that we should be in prayer for our national and civil leaders. And this is a matter of great importance. Our leaders make decisions every day that affect our lives. Their policies affect the freedoms we enjoy as citizens and especially as Christians. Therefore, it is important that we intercede on their behalf, asking that they may be filled with wisdom and grace.
Now we do not have to do this every time we bow our heads in supplication. Maybe it will be once during the day, or perhaps you select a specific day of the week to pray for leaders. You might set aside every Monday, or rather include them in your Sunday afternoon prayers. The occasion doesn’t matter. What is important is that we devote some time in prayer for those whom God has placed in authority over us.
But keep in mind that we can be exclusive even here. By that I mean that we can pray for leaders, but only the ones we like.
It is a great thing to hear so many people lifting up our president in prayer. Ever since he came to office the Christian community has been diligent to pray that he be protected and guided by God’s wisdom. But I’m not so sure that the oval office has always been so privileged. We have been earnest for President Bush, but did we demonstrate the same sort of diligence for former president, President Clinton?
We were disgusted with his immorality. We did not like his womanizing. Some of us might not have liked his policies either. But did these things make us pray for him, or keep us from it?
When God calls us to pray for all people, he means all kinds of people, even those we don’t like.
If you think about it, those authority figures we are most frustrated with are the ones who need the most prayer. Those who might not be as favorable to Christianity are the ones who are most liable to make our lives miserable. And we are commanded to pray for them. Why? The passage says, “That we may live a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”
Our prayers are God’s instruments of peace. They are the tuning forks that God uses to bring harmony where conflict exists.
Christianity is an inclusive religion. That is why we must expand the range of our prayers. But since its scope is so wide, we must also see the extend of God’s salvation…
II. See the extent of our God’s salvation
This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,  who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,  who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.
If we are going to pray for all kinds of people, we need the right perspective. And verses 3-6 give us the perspective we need. These verses say that God desires to save all kinds of people. Now note how I said that, “God wants to save all kinds of people.”
Some people like to use this verse against Calvinism. They think that this verse proves that the doctrine of predestination isn’t real. Their argument goes like this: “God wants to save all people, but, as we readily see, not everyone is saved. So God doesn’t effect salvation, he just provides it.” They argue then like this, “Jesus died for all, but anyone who is saved has to make himself believe.” Just like a waiter with a plate of h’ordeurves. Rather than God giving you the h’orderve, He provides the h’ordeurves. And, in your own strength, you have to reach up and grab it.
But such a belief doesn’t understand that we can’t reach up and grab God’s salvation. It doesn’t understand that we are dead in our sins, and have no ability whatsoever to make ourselves saved.
What we need to do is look at this verse in its context. Remember that we just said of verse 1 that we are to pray for “all kinds of people.” We noted that one kind of people we are to pray for are those of rank, our authorities. The same idea is used here. Jesus did not die for every individual, he died for all kinds of people. God does not want every person that ever lived to be saved from hell, he desires to save some people, that is all kinds of people.
Let me say it like this: God, out of his mere good pleasure, decreed to save people of every race, rank, and region. In heaven we will find that Jesus died and brought salvation to a great host of people. This people will be as diverse as there are people on this earth. Revelation 5:9 illustrates this. It says of Jesus, “You were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” In other words, there is going to be representatives from across the globe in heaven.
And this is exactly the point God wants us to see. To keep from becoming sectarian we must see that God’s plan of salvation reaches beyond the little borders we erect. If we are going to pray for all people we must understand that God’s salvation extends that far.
When I was at the Twin Lakes conference this past week the Lord helped me to realize this. The camp cite we were on was immense. There was a pool, multiple dorms and cabins, basketball courts, eating facilities, a lodge, high ropes courses, challenge courses. I knew that the camp was big, but I was only familiar with the main lodge and my cabin. And these two were right beside each other. My view of the campus was quite limited. It was only when I was taken on a tour of the camp that I came to realize how big the camp really was. For about an hour 8 of us road through the woods on various trails to see the sights. At points our guide would stop and point out and say over there is where we have horse riding. I would look where he was pointing only to see a vast sea of grass stretching out before me. At the end of our tour we had only viewed a small fractin of the 460 acres the church owned. I was blown away at the how immense that place really was.
This is the type of view God wants us to have of his vast salvation. He wants us to look beyond our little circle of familiarity and see that He is saving a vast multitude. He wants us to marvel at his limitless mercy. He wants us to view the extent of his salvation and see just a small glimpse of how gracious he really is.
And He does that so that we will move out beyond our little neighborhood. God does not want us to be a Christian ghetto. God doesn’t look at the outside of a person like we do. We look at someone and think, “Hey, that person is weird. They dress weird, they act weird.” And what we do we do, we put them on the untouchable list.
But God shows us that he touches the untouchable. God’s salvation is not dependent on one’s age, one’s dress, one’s economic status, or personal quirks. God gives salvation to whoever he wants, and he chooses different people, even weird people, (he saved you didn’t he?).
Because Christianity is cosmic, God wants you to expand the range of your prayers, He wants you to see the extent of his salvation. Most of all, God wants you to broaden the sphere of your ministry.
III. Broaden the sphere of our ministry
Look at verse 7. It says, "For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle ( I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth."
Paul didn’t choose to be an apostle. He didn’t even want to be an apostle. As a matter of fact he wanted to kill the apostles. But one day as he was going off to Damascus, Jesus appeared to him. He said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Paul responded, “Who are you lord?” “Jesus said, I am Jesus who you are persecuting.” Jesus then went on to say that He was drafting Paul into His service and making Paul the head of foreign relations. Jesus made Paul His Ambassador to the Gentiles. (See Acts 9:13-17, 22:17-21, 26:12-18 for a further description)
Now think about who Paul was. He was a Jew, and a really good one at that. In Philipians 2 he calls himself a Hebrew of Hebrews. He was trained in the best Jewish seminary. He grew up in Jerusalem, which is like the Paris of Jewish culture. Now you have to wonder if God really knew what he was doing. I can just see Paul saying, “You’re sending me to who? Ah, Jesus, I don’t think you understand the ethnic and geographical demographics going on here. You see, we Jews don’t associate with Gentiles. We don’t have that much in common, and we really don’t like each other that much.”
But God knew exactly what He was doing when he appointed Paul to this position. God was saying to Paul, “Hey, Paul. This Christianity thing, it’s not just for Jews. I created all types of people, and I want to save all kinds of people. And to get you used to what it is going to be like in heaven, I’m going to send you to people you’re not used to.”
The gospel is cross-cultural. The problem is: we aren’t. God created an array of people, as diverse as the colors on a rainbow. But we tend to keep the gospel in our little ghetto.
One of my friends in seminary made a very good point a few years back. He said, our problem is we think that the gospel is only for upper middle class suburban white males. In other words, we think the gospel is only for us.
But there are no Jim Crow laws attached to the gospel. It’s not for whites only. It’s for black people and for Asian people; for children and for the elderly; it’s for the inner city as well as for Billy Joe-Bob in the hills of West Virginia.
Our ministry must reflect that. We can’t be playing duck-duck-goose with the gospel. You know how that game is played don’t you. You go around the circle patting each kid on the head saying duck-duck-duck. And while your going around the circle your thinking about who are you going to goose. You only get one chance to be the goose-er and you don’t want to waste it on just anybody. So you try to pick just the right person.
And that’s how we can be with the gospel. We can go around, “No not you, no, no, no, not you.” And we disguise it with nice little rationalizations like “You’re too sinful.” Or “You wouldn’t fit in at our church.” Or maybe we say, “Someone with that many tattoos just wouldn’t get what the gospel is all about.” So rather than giving the gospel out indiscriminately, or administering compassion to someone in need, we withhold it until just the right person comes along.”
But God calls us to broaden the sphere of our ministry. He calls us to reach out to the different kinds of people he sets all around us. He could be a punk rocker or she might be someone we try to avoid. But if they are in our lives, God calls us to be ready to minister to them, no matter how different they are. Christianity is cosmic, and our ministry must reflect it.
If you have ever gone to Disney World in Orlando Florida you’ve been able to sample a bit of the world. There a section of Disney World that exposes you to all the different foods from a lot of different places. And as you sample those different cultures you get the idea that the world is a lot more wide-ranging than you’re used to. And if you think about it, it’s not a small world after all! It’s vast and diverse.
That’s the sort of religion Christianity is. God created a big world and he filled it with all kinds of people. And as the people of God, we should reflect that in our lives. God calls us to see that his salvation extends across this globe and reaches an array of people. With this view of the breadth of God’s salvation we should be ready to expand the range of our prayers, praying for people beyond our normal circles. And knowing that God is bringing a vast multitude to himself, we should be ready to minister to all sorts of people, even people who are radically different than us.
Kindled Fire is dedicated
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.