This evening we come to the last in our present series on the church andwith the theme the church and serving, a theme which has nothing to do with a little tournament going on in Wimbledon at the moment! And we're going to be looking later on at 1 Peter 4.7-11. Introduction But by way of introduction I want to begin in our Gospel reading from Mark 10. Today's world, although smaller with the massive growth of communications, seems to be more and more impersonal. There is a feeling of alienation in many communities. There is more loneliness. Neighbours talking to each other or even knowing who your neighbours are can be rare today. Even in friendly Newcastle that is a growing trend especially as the rented housing sector continues to grow, e.g. here in Jesmond. Yes even in a city as friendly as Newcastle there is a sense in some areas that we're losing touch with one another. The motivation to help, to encourage and to serve our fellow man is waning. People are still looking out for number one even at the end of the supposedly caring sharing 90's. And as the new millennium draws nearer there is much talk about how much money you can make by 'serving' in pubs and clubs on New Years Eve and will there be enough caring professionals to look after all the millennium babies. How all different this is to the attitude of Jesus Christ who came not to be served but to serve and how different should his church and disciples be as they conform to his attitude rather than to the attitude of the world. How the church can make an impact in today's world for the sake of the gospel and for the glory of Godas people see Christians loving and serving one another and loving and serving those outside. The evangelical church in Albania which took in many Kosovar refugees during the conflict is testimony to that. The early church of Acts 2 saw many added to their number as outsiders were struck by their fellowship and service. But do we have the attitude of Christ or are we flirting with the world? You see did you know that God is committed to one major objective in the lives of all his people? Do you know what that one major objective is? Well Romans 8:29 tells us that his one major objective is "to conform us to the image of his Son". So what exactly does the Father want to develop within us? What is that image of his Son? Jesus himself tells us in Mark 10:45 as he declares his primary reason for coming:

"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many".

He came to serve and to give. God desires that we do the same. And he is engaged in building into his people the same serving and giving qualities that characterized his Son. Are we co-operating? Do we have a servants heart? Are we serving and giving in this church? Or we happy just to receive? Or are we after power, status and recognition? False greatness? The disciples James and John struggled with this in Mark 10. They wanted position and power in Jesus' movement. But he told them that this could only be realised if they willingly submitted to servanthood. His movement , his church, his Kingdom are to be different. Look at vv. 42-45 of Mark 10:

Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. {43} Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, {44} and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. {45} For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

We are all to be servants in Christ's church and follow the example of the head of the body, the church. Yes there is given human leadership of the church but it must be servant hearted leadership among all. Notice Jesus says that whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. They're not just to serve one or two people but the whole body, exercising ministry so that the whole body of Christ may be built up and prepared for service. There's been a lot of talk about Greg Dyke's appointment as Director General of the BBC because people are concerned that he will not be the servant of all.And we are all to be servants and look to serve all. Again we are to follow the attitude of Christ. Listen to Phil. 2:3-5:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. {4} Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. {5} Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Moreover the need for servant hearted disciples in the church is urgent. The end is near says 1 Peter 4 :7. We are living in the last days. Jesus could return at any time. Are we watchful, alert, serving, helping people to know Christ before its too late? How will Christ find us when he comes to judge? Ready and serving? Jesus says in Luke 12:35,

"Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet"

The end of the age could happen at any time so Christians as individuals and as a body should act in a certain way. Therefore, writes Peter, First, BE CLEAR MINDED AND SELF CONTROLLED SO THAT YOU CAN PRAY MORE EFFECTIVELY v.7 In contrast to the pagans who choose to live in debauchery, drunkenness and detestable idolatry (vv.3&4) we are to be sane and sober. The pagans will heap abuse on us for being so (v.4), as many of us will have experienced, for

"they think it strange that we do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation".

This will no doubt be true on the eve of the new millennium when the pubs will be open all night. "But", v.5, don't be put off by their abuse and their accusations of being rightly strange, remember that

"they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead".

And if the end is near how can we be watchful and alert if we're drunk or mentally intoxicated in some other way? How can we be serving Christ and other believers in that state? How do we want Jesus to find us behaving and thinking when he returns? And our thinking, our attitude of mind is very important in these last days as well as our actions. The word be sober or self controlled does not only forbid physical drunkenness but also forbids letting the mind wander into any other kind of mental addiction or any laziness of mind which inhibits spiritual alertness. How easy it is for us to lose our spiritual concentration through mental intoxication with the things of this world. The word be sane or clear minded means having a sound mind, thinking about and evaluating situations maturely and correctly. Thinking biblically and Christianly and with the perspective that the final judgement is near. So we are to be sane and sober, clear minded and self controlled. We are to be spiritually alert. Why? Well here in v.7 the reason is so that we can pray. The original sentence suggests more. The reason is so that we can pray more appropriately and more effectively. We are to be alert to events going on around us and across the world and we are to evaluate them correctly in order to be able to pray more intelligently. And because Peter here links being clear minded and self controlled with praying he implies that prayer based on knowledge and on a mature evaluation of a situation is more effective prayer. Reading a newspaper or watching the news should turn us to pray and enable us to pray at least more knowledgeably. For example, last week's press contained the news that 80% of Britain's GP's are now pro-choice in terms of abortion on demand compared to 50% in 1973; that marriages in this country last on average 9 years. For the peace process in N. Ireland. There is much fuel for specific prayer for our nation there. Are we alert and prayerful? Secondly, LOVE EACH OTHER DEEPLY v.8 Look at v.8.

"Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins."

Keep loving one another earnestly, says Peter, because love covers a multitude of sins. (cf. Proverbs 10:12) If love is abounding in a church fellowship then many small offences and even some larger ones will be overlooked and forgotten. If love is lacking in a church then suspicion, misunderstanding and conflict will abound and grudges held on to. The end is near and Satan loves to see us biting and devouring one another instead of loving and serving each other and building the church. Do we love each other deeply? Notice that Peter doesn't say like each other deeply or have deep friendships with everybody in the church. No he says love each other earnestly. Just as Christ loved us and forgave us. Remember Jesus' words in John 15. Jesus said:

"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you" (Jn 15:12).

And Paul writing to the Colossians said:

"Therefore as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity".(Col. 3:12)

This deep or earnest love, which seeks the good of others before one's own and which involves serving others, here, as in Romans 12, leads us to offer hospitality to one another and to use every gift for one another. Which leads us on to my third heading: Thirdly, OFFER HOSPITALITY TO ONE ANOTHER WITHOUT GRUMBLING v.9 Peter is encouraging the Christians here to serve in the midst of suffering. Some of us here tonight have just been suffering for Jesus at sunny Blaithwaite on the church holiday weekend! But there was much serving of one another which helped to make the weekend go so smoothly. One way of serving one another is to offer hospitality. Hospitality is a Christian duty and not an optional extra. Listen to Romans 12: 9-13:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. {10} Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. {11} Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. {12} Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. {13} Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

And we are to offer hospitality to one another without grumbling or without murmuring. I.e. we are not to resent the time and expense which may be involved in welcoming people into our home or indeed complain about having to do a parish lunch. "Such grumbling is ultimately a complaint against God and his ordering of our circumstances, and its result is to drive out faith, thanksgiving and joy." (Grudem) So when we are next peeling the potatoes late on a Saturday night after getting the kids to sleep or after a night out to prepare the Sunday lunch for guests or shopping for 80 at a church lunch - don't grumble! And don't complain about the people coming either! But hospitality is not necessarily just about entertaining or having people round for meals or cooking for others at your tent at Blaithwaite! Here in 1 Peter hospitality is perhaps particularly mentioned because of the needs of those who had lost possessions through persecution. This may have involved taking families in for periods of time rather like the Albanian Christians who recently offered hospitality to the Kosovar refugees for many weeks. No wonder Peter was exhorting the brethren to offer hospitality without grumbling! The witness of the Albanian church reminds us that showing hospitality to all people is certainly pleasing to God but there is a stress in the NT on offering hospitality to one another in the church. When did we last offer hospitality to others from church? To those new to the church? To non Christian friends? And when did we last offer it without grumbling? Earnest love for one another within the fellowship of the church will also find expression in our use of spiritual gifts which brings us to my fourth and final heading: Fourthy, GLORIFY GOD IN USING YOUR GIFTS TO SERVE OTHERS vv.10-11 Look at vv.10&11:

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. {11} If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Each one of us here tonight, if we're a Christian, has received at least one spiritual gift for use in the life of the church. We have not received a gift for our own self advancement or to draw attention to ourselves but rather for the benefit and building up of others, of the whole church. We are to use whatever gift we have received to serve others, "faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms". Good stewards of God's gift will not hide it but use it for the benefit of one another and for the glory of God. And in v.11 Peter goes on to think of the particular gifts of individuals and how they should be faithfully administered. He refers to speaking and serving gifts, both of which are important to the building up of the church.

"If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God."

Speakers are not free to speak their own opinions but must preach the Word of God. Here Peter has in view the preaching and teaching of the Word of God. Inspired apostles and prophets provided the foundation. Peter himself spoke the words of God to the household of Cornelius (Acts 10:44). Those who now preach and teach the Word of God in the church must depend upon the gift of the Spirit to proclaim the written oracles of God. Not everyone is a teacher or preacher but all of us must handle the Word of God with care and seek the help of the Spirit to understand it and make it known to others. Also:

"If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides."

This serving ministry probably includes any kind of helping or encouraging ministry for the benefit of others in and outside the church. And as with teaching we are not to do it in our strength. The source of such service is literally out of the strength which God supplies. Yet although we all may agree that the ministry of the Word needs special grace we might be tempted to get on with serving in our own strength. We might think that waiting on tables, collecting money, caring for the sick, serving the tea and coffee, putting out all the equipment, tables and chairs etc. is just a matter of getting on with it. Well we do need to get on with it but service performed only in our own strength can soon become wearying. And if its done for the sight of others rather than for the benefit of others then it can just increase our pride rather than our faith. "If God is to be glorified by ministry in his name, it must be ministry performed in his strength." (Clowney) Romans 12:8 speaks of the cheerfulness that God gives for showing mercy to others. If we are to serve by showing mercy then we will need patience and strength, for which we are to look to the Lord. Remember this serving is not so that we might be noticed but is for the building up of the church and so that in everything God may be praised or glorified through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

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