1 Peter 4:8-11
Over the past several weeks we have been looking at the foundations of the church. We have discussed communion, baptism, membership and gathering. And now, in conclusion of this mini-series, we come to the capstone of them all, serving. This is tying everything up together and putting all we have learned and know and believe about the church into action. Serving is the practical outworking of gathering and membership. Those things don’t mean much if we don’t serve.
And so what I want to do this morning is focus on two things: the question of who is called to serve and our motivation to action.
And before we jump into the text, I want to ask up-front, please don’t want you to check out. When we hear the topic of serving, it is easy to groan, “here we go, guilt trip about signing up for stuff.” That is not what I am after here, and I pray is not what you will take away this morning. What I hope that we see is that
Serving in the church is motivated by our love for one another and our love for God.
And I pray that really sinks deep into our hearts and minds and God uses his Spirit through our study of his word to drive us to joy in serving from our hearts. That is what I am after, so please don’t sign off before we get even begin!
- Who is Called to Serve?
So, first and foremost, we should determine who it is that is being addressed here in this passage. Is this calling to serve just for certain people? Those with extra time or energy? Who is called to serve in the church? We find the answer to that important question in verse 10.
When Peter says that each has received a gift, he is speaking about each and every follower of Jesus Christ. Each and every one of us, who has been saved by grace through faith in the life, death and resurrection of Christ, has been given a gift, a spiritual gift.
Well, what is a spiritual gift? A spiritual gift is a free and gracious work of the Holy Spirit where he specially and supernaturally empowers his people in specific ways to build up the church. It is a work of God in us and through us where we are particularly growing in and able to serve by his strength. And while it includes my natural abilities and personality, I think, it goes beyond it as a special outpouring of God’s work in our hearts and lives.
The Bible lists several specific ways in which the Holy Spirit gifts his people, and we aren’t going to get into the debate about which gifts are still active and spend time defining them all, you can come talk to me after if you would like more on that. For our purposes this morning, we just need to be aware that there are multiple passages that get into details about the gifts that the Spirit gives to the church. Right here in this passage, in verse 11, we see two of them: speaking which means teaching, and serving. In other passages like Romans 12, Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12, we see there is also giving, faith, mercy, exhortation, leadership and on and on.
So when we come to faith in Christ, the Holy Spirt gives us at least one spiritual gift. This applies to all of us, do you see that in verse 10? “As each has received a gift.” There are no exceptions. If you are a true follower of Christ, you have been given a gift. Whether you are certain you know in what way the Holy Spirit has gifted you or not, it is still true. Each one of us believers has been given a gift.
Therefore, each and every one of us is called to serve. We are all called to use the gifts that God has personally and purposefully given to us to build up the church, to serve one another. Just as there are no exceptions to who has received a gift, there are no exceptions to who is called to use them in serving the body of Christ. And that service is going to look different for each one of us. Just as the gifts are from God’s varied grace, the gifts are different, so too will our calling to serve be different. You may be more gifted to lead, or to do more visible, up-front things like teaching. Or you may be more gifted to be behind the scenes in giving, or serving, or through one-on-one conversations where you exhort and encourage and pray for people. Whatever the case may be, the Holy Spirit has gifted you so that you would serve the church; so that you would serve your brothers and sisters in Christ here.
And notice that phrase at the end of verse 10, we are each called to be good stewards of that gift. What is a steward? A steward is someone who has been put in charge of something, who is the manager over some task. We have been entrusted with, put in charge of, growing in and using our spiritual gifts to serve others. We are to be good, faithful stewards with what has been given to us by God. Again, he has personally and purposefully chosen the way in which he has gifted you. Have you ever really thought about and consodered that? God himself intentionally gave you a gift in order to serve his people. We cant treat that non chalantly like it is of little consequence, no big deal. This is a personal gift of Gods grace meant to turn me into a vessel of his grace and blessing to others!
Therefore I need to frequently ask myself, “Am I taking that charge seriously? Can I say that I am acting as a good steward of the grace of God in my life? Am I using my gifting faithfully to serve others? Do other people see Gods grace through me because of my service to them?"
This is the calling on each and every one of us, all followers of Christ.
- The Motivation to Serve
And this passage goes deeper into the matter, it gets to the heart and motivation behind serving. If you remember last week, we looked at the topic of gathering and answered the question of “why.” Why should we gather? And we talked about how answering that question helps get us to the heart, which motivates and drives us to fulfill our calling. And in this passage Peter does the same thing for us in regards to serving. We get to the heart, the motivation to serve. If we don’t have that, we will never really get into the habit and discipline of serving. It is much easier to just be a passive receiver; to come and go and leave the work and service up to others. But if we feel motivated and impassioned to serve, then we will go to great lengths to fulfill our calling to be good stewards of our gifting even when it is difficult. It will become a priority in our lives, it will be natural to our hearts if we have the right perspective and motivation.
So, what then is our motivation to serve in our church? I see in this passage two things: love for one another and love for God.
a. love for one another
First, in verse 8, we see love for one another. Peter says that above all, or of first importance, we have to continue steadfastly, earnestly, in our love for each other. Our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ in this place should be evident in all that we do. It should drive us, motivate us, to be members of the church, as we talked about a few weeks ago. It should get us up in the morning to gather together like we talked about last week. And it should energize us to serve one another because we want what is best for each other. We want to do all we can to bless one another, to encourage each other, to pray with and for one another, to give, to be hospitable, to weep and rejoice with each other, to serve each other in whatever ways we can, especially in how we have been gifted, because we have love for each other. That love is what drives us, it is what fuels our actions.
It is what keeps us serving one another, even when it hurts, even when someone sins against us. Love covers over a multitude of sin, as Peter says. It is not always going to be pretty; our service will not always be well received or easy. People can be hard to work with and serve! And if we are not properly motivated, if we don’t have the right hearts and are just serving because our wives signed us up, or out of a sense of guilt, we will burn out and stop serving in the face of other people’s sin.
But a proper heart, one driven by love, will continually, earnestly, steadfastly, love and serve one another. We will have deep, heartfelt desires to see one another grow into the image of Christ and we will do whatever we can to get them there. We will see their sin not as a reason to stop and give up, but as a greater reason in which we should love and serve them!
We will put their good above our preferences. Our desire to remain distant from others, to make a quick exit, to not really invest in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ, all of those desires will get swallowed up and pushed out by our love for each other and we will be moved to serve.
We will reflect the very heart of Christ to one another. We will be like him when he said that he did not come to be served, but to serve. God the Son himself, the creator of the universe, stepped into his creation and instead of being a passive receiver, which was very much in his rights, he came to serve. He came to reveal the heart of God to his people, and he calls us to follow in his footsteps. To serve like him, to serve through the strength that he supplies, to take on his servant heart and show one another his love through our service.
And again, this can take so many different forms. We don’t need to put ourselves into a box, we can be creative in our service and use of our gifts. Maybe it is giving to someone in financial need. Or praying with someone and checking back in with them who is going through a difficult time in their life. Or having an intentional discipleship relationship with someone in order to help them grow in their faith. Or serving in the children’s ministry to teach the little ones and give their parents an opportunity to be able to focus more here in the service. Helping with the social committee as they plan and set-up for fellowship events. Church work days to keep our building in good order. Bringing a meal to someone who is sick. There are so many different ways we can express our love through service to one another here in our church. If we are motivated to find those opportunities, we will.
We should purposefully and dilligently pray that God would grow our love for one another. That he would enflame our hearts to earnestly love and serve each other with the intentional goal of blessing one another and spurring each other on to growth in Christ.
b. love for God
And secondly, we should be motivated to serve one another in the church by our love for God. We see this in verses 10 and 11. Did you notice how many times Peter points to God in these two verses? We use God’s gifts that are from his grace. Someone using their gift of teaching is speaking God’s words. Someone serving, is serving in the strength that God gives. And all of it is to be done that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ because to God belongs glory and dominion forever.
Our serving in the church is all about God. It is from him and through him and for him. If we truly love God, it should motivate us to serve one another in the church. Why is that? Because God has said, right here in verse 11, that our service brings him glory. He is glorified when we serve one another by using the gifts he has graciously given us. When we serve, we are pointing one another to him, we are bringing him honor, glory, fame, attention.
We are saying by our actions that we have hearts of love for God and we want everyone to see him more clearly through what we do. Our serving makes us transparent, so to speak, where people see through us to God. We want him to be glorified because he is worthy of it. He is worth it! He is worthy of our sacrifices of time, money, energy, of our days off, in order to serve one another so that he would be made much of, so that his name would be praised. If even just a tiny bit, if even for just a moment, we want everything to be an opportunity of praise to the God we love. That is what God deserves, that is where he belongs. That is where he is, in reality, right? To him belong glory and dominion now and forever. So our goal is to help one another see that through our service! Our hearts of love for our great God should drive us and motivate us into real action, into serving one another in the church.
And here is an important caveat to make: we do not serve to earn God’s favor. We do not serve to earn God’s favor. That is not what should be motivating us. I think it is easy to fall into that trap and I know I have wrestled with that a lot in my life. My thinking can go like this: “God commands obedience, like serving. Therefore, if I do it, he will love me more. My standing with him will increase. If I don’t do it, my standing will decrease, he will be tired and frustrated with me.” And so I get into this perpetual loop of guilt in trying to earn God’s favor or just giving up entirely. Guilt is a terrible motivator.
I want to make this clear again, we do not serve to earn God’s favor. How do we know that is true? Because we cannot earn anymore of God’s favor than what Christ has earned for us already. Jesus Christ, through his perfect life, his sacrificial death and miraculous resurrection, has given us his perfect standing before God the Father. God the Son bought that for us, it is forever on our account by grace through faith in him. There is no room for improvement there! We are forever secure in God because of Christ. Nothing can get between us, nothing can separate us, nothing can make our place as adopted sons and daughters increase or decrease. We are fully and completely brought into the family of God, forever loved and accepted by him. Nothing that I do or don’t do will ever change that reality. That is the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That he offers free and full adoption into his family. All we are called to do is believe that reality. We don’t work for our standing before God, we simply accept it by faith.
Yes, we can be disobedient and in need of restoration. But that doesn’t change our standing before God. When we sin his grace and forgiveness is always there to perfectly and fully restore us because the work has already been done by Christ on the cross. And yes, we can do things that bless God and please him. Obedience to him brings God joy. But that doesn’t make us more his children than we already are right now. We are fully and eternally his, in his heart forever and nothing can separate us from or earn us his love.
So we are not motivated to serve in order to receive his favor. But we don’t take this reality and let it lead us to being passive, not doing anything because we don’t need to for salvation. No, we rest secure in his love for us as shown fully and perfectly in Jesus Christ. And we let that drive us to continually look to him, to want to grow in our faith and knowledge of him, and be filled to over-flowing with our love for him. That in turn will spur us on, it will motivate us to want to point others to him!
It will give us a deep and abiding heart felt desire to have our whole lives say to others: Look at how great God is! Look at how glorious he is! I want you to see how powerful and gracious he is, that he would use even me in all my weaknesses and short-comings. He has gifted me in order to serve you! I want you to know his heart for you and my heart for you so that we can glorify God together in everything! So that we would look to him together and praise his glorious name as we grow alongside one another into his image!
That is what it means to serve one another. It is not a drudgery. It is not a chore; it is a joy and a privilege! It is a gracious gift and calling on each and every one of our lives and it is a blessing to serve each other so that our God would receive all of the praise, all of the glory that he so rightly deserves.
And as we wrap up our series on the church we ask where do we go from here? I think it starts with all of us praying that God would give us all hearts on fire for him and one another. And That it would turn into real action, That we would be a church, a people, so enamored with God and pointing one another to him that it would be contagious to everyone who steps foot in this building. That his glory will spill out of here into our homes, into our families, into our jobs, into our communities and that he would do a mighty work through our church for the sake of his great name.