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.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.