Imagine you had to give yourself a "rating" from one to ten on how involved you are in Christian service, one being not at all and ten being doing as much as you can. What would you give yourself? Some of us would say a nine, or a ten. I know many of you are over-busy and you can't serve any more than you are already. In fact, you're scanning the horizon looking for reinforcements.
That's probably how the original readers of 1 Peter felt. They were having a hard time at work and at home. Some were struggling to stand firm for Christ and others were being persecuted for their faith. So if life is tough for you, and serving is difficult, then these verses are an encouragement to keep going and to be more effective in the time you do have.
Some of us might give ourselves a lower number, because, if we're honest, we could be doing much more than we are. Of course if you've just arrived in Newcastle, like any new students among us, it will take time to settle into church. You need to get to know us, we need to get to know you. But in a few months' time it would be great for you to really get going in serving. Which is one reason to settle in one church family sooner rather than later. As soon as you settle there are lots of informal ways to serve.
And if you've been with us for a while, and you're not serving as much as you would like – don't feel guilty. The point of the exercise was to think honestly about how we're doing in service. None of us has got everything sorted and absolutely none of us serve anywhere close to perfectly. And if you've been here for a while, as a church we should have helped you to get going, or step up, in your service before now.
Wherever we are in Christian service, 1 Peter 4:10-11 will help us consider the main way Christians should serve each another – through the church family. Look around, this is your family. So let's get going.
1. Use Your Gifts to Serve One Another (v.10)
Let me read 1 Peter 4:10 again:
"As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace."
So each one of us has been given at least one gift from God to be used to serve others.
The Bible contains lists of gifts e.g. 1 Corinthians 12 – and these highlight particular abilities God has given us, by his Spirit, to serve others. Serving as a Christian means loving others as Jesus loves us. And, in fact, the context to 1 Peter 4:10-11 is verse 8 – that we should love one another earnestly, i.e. deeply.
We read that these gifts are a result of "God's varied grace". God's grace is his unmerited goodness to us – seen supremely in Jesus' work on the cross. Our gifts are graciously, and freely, given to us by God. And they are varied gifts – we are all different people and so our gifting is different too.
Now, perhaps some of you are thinking: 'Ok but I just don't know what my particular gift is'. If you feel this way, then I'm sorry. As I said, that is partly our fault as a church family for not helping you. We need to be better at saying to each other: 'I think you could serve in this way, have you ever thought about it?' But please see that verse 10 is a promise: "each has received a gift". You are gifted and you do have a role to play. So if you're unsure what your gifts are, ask someone to help you think about it. And remember three things:
- Firstly, by default, we all have the gift of the circumstances God has put us in.
So, e.g. some of us live in locations suited to having students at church round quite often, but some of us circumstantially live a little further away and that's a bit harder. We see another example in 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul says both marriage and singleness are gifts to be used for the gospel. Now this doesn't mean everything about either is easy – and that's especially the case for unwanted singleness. But it is saying that both circumstances afford something for the gospel the other doesn't. And, Paul says that is a positive thing. So, e.g. the single among us might have the time, and the flexibility of time, that the married don't – which can be used for God's purposes. And, e.g. the married among us can open our families up to people and help those that, for whatever reason, have no family, or no family in Newcastle, feel part of ours. So, remember: we can all use our unique circumstances for the gospel.
- Secondly, often we are gifted in ways we might not expect.
E.g. I sometimes help with our Holiday Club here, and I'm often startled by how many of you respectable Jesmond people can, so naturally, make animal noises with seven-year olds! And, more importantly, really engage them while you teach the Bible.
- Thirdly, our service depends on our needs. We need to do what needs done to meet each other's needs - even if that isn't always what seems immediately appealing to us.
In a big church like JPC, it's easy to think 'there are so many people, I'm not needed'. Please don't think that. We have a great many needs in this church. And if we're going to meet as many of them as we can, we all need to play our part. Students, you have a role to play too, even if you are just here for three years that's more than enough time to get seriously plugged in. Don't waste it! For any of us who want to get going in serving, or to do more, please grab an 'Opportunities to Serve' flyer from the back of church, give it a read and chat to one of us.
I remember at primary school my class had lessons on diving from the 10-metre platform. Beforehand we were taught all the sensible things, like only one person on the platform at a one time, and how to actually dive so you don't decapitate yourself as you hit the water, and so on! But there's only so much diving theory you can teach. Eventually, you've got to jump in! It's like that with serving. You don't know until you try. So the best way is to trust God and give it a go, that is how gifts are discovered.
And also how gifts are developed. Because – verse 10 we are to be "good stewards" of our gifts. A good steward cares for her gift but also grows, refines and protects it. So find your gift and always keep working at it! And this is a reminder to those of us who feel like we're doing as much as we can, to keep trying to be as effective as possible in what we do.
Now if you're here this evening and you feel that you have a gift but you can't develop it at JPC, please talk to us. We will try to help you find a way to grow your gift. Tonight we're considering serving within the life of this church, but Christian service outside the local church is important too, and it may be that's the best way for your gift to grow. In church we always want to do more, but we certainly can't do everything.
So whatever our gift is, let's be people that use our gifts to serve one another. And the very direct challenge for all of us is 'what are we going to do with this?' What can we commit to doing? How can we do more? Or do what we do better?
2. We Need to Rely on God in Serving One Another (v.11a)
That's the main point in verse 11:
"whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies…"
So two types of ministry are mentioned: 'speaking', i.e. 'word ministry' and 'serving' which is an all-encompassing term for all the other 'doing ministry'.
So, let's take word ministry. Whoever in verse 11 shows that word ministry is not just giving sermons. Bible study leading, a gospel conversation with a Christian/not-yet Christian friend, a talk at Scramblers, leading Discipleship Explored, a talk at camp, reading the Bible one-to-one with someone – these are all word ministries.
And in these "whoever speaks" is to do so "as one who speaks oracles of God". The word "oracle" here means 'words spoken from God to man' which is a description of the nature of the Bible. And the nature of the Bible needs to inform how we teach the Bible – as God's word, not ours. So when we hear someone teach we need to be 'Bible open people' – looking to see whether what is being said is true to God's word.
And when we exercise our word ministry we need to be careful we are doing so in a way which is faithful to the Bible. That means we will put serious effort into understanding the Bible and we'll teach exactly what it says.
It means we won't overly rely on books or leaders' notes making them a substitute for the Bible, but instead use them to help us understand it better. It means if someone reaches a wrong conclusion we must not be afraid to gently help them work out what the Bible actually says. And we must be open to being corrected if we get it wrong. Because word ministry is about teaching God's word, not human thoughts.
But no word ministry can happen unless a whole host of other 'doing ministry' takes place. These things are not inferior. We need sidesmen, and tea and coffee made, and tables set up, and so on to make all that we do happen and to make it effective, efficient, welcoming and safe. This includes Sunday and everything we do throughout the week, including our own small groups, e.g. organising a social for your Focus/CYFA/Home group, is thoroughly worthwhile 'doing ministry'.
In all of this we must rely – verse 10 – on the "strength that God supplies". Perhaps it's telling that Peter speaks of God's strength when talking about other non-word ministry? Maybe things we attempt to rely on ourselves for. 'I know how to sing – I don't need God's help at music group.' Until you get a stinking cold and lose your voice, or you've had an exhausting week and music practice feels like the final straw, or that new song is a lot harder to learn than you thought! Then we feel like we can't do it.
But often, by God's grace, things do go well. We revolutionise how a rota is organised, we put out chairs seven at a time, the Parish Lunch we've made as a home group is nothing short of a Michelin star sensation: the prep in the kitchen was seamless, everyone enjoyed the meal – David Holloway's had seconds of the Apple Pie and, the big one, Joy wants the recipe!
But, how do we feel when things go well? Thankful to God? No. So often we actually feel proud, because we've relied on ourselves and feel like we've pulled it off.
Peter reminds us that the antidote to feeling like we can't do it, or feeling prideful and certain that we can, is to rely on God's strength. That means that we'll pray to God, asking him for strength, and we'll trust God's ultimate strength and power, no matter how things go.
This is especially important for some of you, who I know feel weary in service. You don't have time to serve as you would like – you struggle to fit in what you already do, and there's the frustration that you'd like to do so much more.
If you feel this way can I say thank you for all you do. But can I also encourage you to keep going. God asks you to do what you can, not what you can't. He sees what you do, and the attitude with which you do it and you can rely on God's strength in your service. He can provide moment by moment strength – so trust him in prayer.
For our ministry is not in vain! In Galatians 6:9 Paul encourages us to "not grow weary of doing good" because "in due season we will reap, if we do not give up". We can be assured that there is a harvest for the gospel. So we keep going.
And, because, to an extent, we all find service hard. Here are two important practical things we should remember…
- Firstly, not to overly prioritise the formal over the informal.
There are so many ways to serve which are informal. E.g. caring and praying for your small group, having the students you sat beside in church round for lunch (now there's an idea!), saying hello to someone you don't recognise, meeting up with someone who is new to Newcastle, or someone who is finding life tough.
A while ago I had a slight accommodation problem. And a few of you took me into your homes, two of you for quite a while. As tempting as it was, I didn't put a sign-up sheet at the back of church for that – "desperate church worker in need of shelter!" I just needed help. And some of you offered.
Friends, how much of our service is something listed in this yellow notice sheet? Or listed on our website? 15%? 20%? That's not all there is to the service. The informal is so vital because it can be so spontaneous, and so specific for individual needs. And in a larger church like JPC, where we, rightly, do a lot for groups of us, we must take care not to play down care for individual people. And we must not listen to the excuse we often tell ourselves that "someone else will do it".
- Secondly, don't overly prioritise the regular over the irregular.
We all have different capacities at the different stages of life we're in. So if you can't commit to doing something every week then can you commit to helping with things every so often? E.g. helping running a termly course like Christianity Explored, or a monthly event like Primetime lunch, or serving at something seasonal – like Carols by Candlelight (yep, Christmas is coming!) Whatever we do, the point is we need to do something. And we need to remember that God provides the strength that we need to do it. Let's rely on him in our service to one another.
3. We are to Glorify God in Serving One Another (v.11b)
So verse 11 continues:
"…in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."
This is the why behind our service – that God would get the glory, i.e. honour he deserves. Because, in the depth of the mess of our sin, Jesus died for it, and rose again defeating it forever. That, above all, shows us that God is a glorious God!
So discreetly, we can make serving about us. This robs God of his glory, as we focus on ourselves rather than God and other people. Do we ever serve, but walk away, feeling indignant that, yet again, nobody has noticed even half of what we've done? Of course we should thank each other, in fact, ought to be better at that. But, you see, the issue is we easily make service about how we feel: whether we get credit, or whether we get noticed.
The main thing we should ask ourselves is: 'how well did this serve God and his people?' Because that's what really matters: God and, and his purposes, and the work he is doing in people's lives. Not whether we get noticed. Because the best servants often don't get noticed, do they?
Or do we subconsciously have the attitude of: 'I don't need to worry about the wrong things I've done, I'm serving God, it'll all balance out'? Serving doesn't make us right with God, and it doesn't give us the assurance that we are. Actually, it's just a recipe for doubt. Because, actually there's no such thing as ten out of ten on serving each other, we will always be conscious that we haven't done enough, or done it well enough. The sure sign of that is the reality that often we fail to serve those we love the most, let alone our wider church family.
To think our service can make us right with God, or give us any assurance that we are, makes a mockery of the cross. It moves the spotlight away from God to us. Jesus came to die because nothing good we could ever do would be enough. That's why we need him. That's why he should get the glory.
That's why our service needs to be built on the trust that Jesus first served us - to the point of death. Only then will we truly serve him, not by serving to attempt to be good enough for God, but by seeking to serve others as Jesus first served us.
Friends, we all have a role to play in this life of service to God. We all have unique God-given gifts to be used to serve each other. If, in God's strength, we work hard at serving one another, and in that we seek to glorify God, then we won't go far wrong. God will work through us – that's a promise.