Lord, we ask that this evening you would speak to us through your word to see how we can serve one other better. In Jesus' name. Amen.
'What does it mean to serve one another as Christians?' That's what we're thinking about this evening as we continue our series on 'The Christian Life'. Serving as a Christian means loving others as Jesus loves us. There are lots of ways to serve as a Christian, both inside and outside the church. Both are important. But this evening, because of the context of this passage I want us to focus most of our time on serving within the life of the local church - for us the family that we're part of here at JPC. The Bible tells us that serving through the local church is the main way Christians should serve one another.
So, I wonder how you're doing at that? I know many of you are serving as much as you can, you're over-busy and you can't do any more. Instead you're looking at the horizon wondering when the reinforcements might be coming. That's probably how the original readers on 1 Peter felt. A quick scan through the letter and you'll see that the Christians Peter was writing to 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 for you if life is tough and serving is difficult then these verses are an encouragement for to keep going.
Perhaps some of you are keen to get started serving for the first time, or to begin to do a bit more, perhaps as a new student. Maybe you're thinking: 'JPC has plenty of people helping, am I really needed?' Or maybe you're not yet Christians and just looking into things. Well, if you're thinking any of these things, these verses will show you some of the how and why Christians serve in the way that they do.
So let's dig into these verses. Do please have your Bibles open at 1 Peter 4.10-11. And you may like to look at the outline of where we are going on the back of the service sheet and make notes if you find that helpful.
1. Use Your Gifts to Serve One Another.
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"
"Each has received a gift…" Each one of us has a gift from God to be used to serve others. This isn't saying we can't have more than one gift but rather we have at least one. The Bible contains lists of gifts in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 – and these highlight particular talents or abilities, that is gifts God has given us, by his Spirit, to serve one another by sharing the gospel or helping one another grow in faith. We read that these gifts are a result of "God's varied grace". God's grace is his unmerited favour to us – we see it supremely in what Jesus has done on the cross. But our gifts flow out of God's goodness to us. And they are varied – just as we are all different people our gifting is different too. Some of us our gifted at working with children, some of us aren't and so on. And our gifting, as well as talents and abilities, are also the circumstances God has given us, for example marriage or singleness.
Now, perhaps some of you are thinking: 'Ok but I just don't know what my particular gift is'. If you do feel this way, then that is partly our fault as a family for not helping you to find what your gift is and how it can be used. We all need to be better at encouraging one another in our service by saying 'I think you could serve in this way, have you ever thought about it?' But be assured by the promise of verse 10 that "each has received a gift". You are gifted and you do have a role to play. So if you are unsure what your gifts are, ask someone for help and advice in how you could serve. And perhaps remember two things…
- Firstly, often we are gifted in ways we might not expect. For example, I sometimes help with our summer Holiday Club here and I'm often struck by how many of you respectable Jesmond folk can suddenly, and so easily, morph into making animal noises with 7 year olds! And, more importantly, really engage them in explaining the Bible in small group time.
- Secondly, our service depends on our needs. Remember in verse 10 it is about serving one another and that means collectively we need to do the jobs that need done to meet each other's needs (even if that isn't always what seems appealing or comfortable for us). Here at JPC it wasn't long ago that we went multisite with St Joseph's, and we praise God for that. But we still have a great many needs. Could you help? Students, let me assure you have a role to play too, even if you are just here for three or four years that's more than enough time to get seriously plugged in; don't waste it!
As we heard earlier, if you're thinking you want to get going in serving, or to do more, please grab one of these sheets, give it a read and chat to Jon.
Many of you will know Rich and Hannah Ballard who are members of our family here. What you might not know about Rich and Hannah is that they have recently completed a course meaning that they are trained… excuse me, qualified, scuba divers. So if you want to begin a new career in underwater welding or pearl diving seek them out after the service…! Now I've heard a bit about this course from them, and the first thing they learnt is all the theory… For example, how to put the equipment on properly and how to not get decompression sickness. But you can only learn so much theory before you have to dive in and give it a go. And it's like that with serving. Ultimately, you don't know until you try. So the best way is to trust God and jump in because that is how gifts are discovered.
And also how gifts are developed… Because we see, verse 10, we are to be "good stewards" to the gifts we have been given. A good steward cares for his gift but also will grow, refine and protect it. So find your gift and always keep working at it! And if you feel that you have a gift but you can't develop it here then please talk to us. We will try to help you find a way to grow your gift. Or it may be that your gift is one which God will use outside the central life of our church, and perhaps we need to encourage you more in that. You may enjoy playing rugby or taking photographs… and you can enjoy using those talents and in so doing witness to people and share the gospel. But, whatever it is, let's be people that use our gifts to serve one another.
2. We Need to Rely on God in Serving One Another.
Let me read the first part of verse 11:
"whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies…"
In this verse two types of ministry are mentioned: "speaking" or word ministry and "serving". These broadly incorporate a lot of the serving that we do.
It's clear from the use of "whoever" in verse 11 that word ministry is not just giving sermons. So for example, Bible study leading, a talk at Scramblers, leading Discipleship Explored, a talk at camp, through to reading the Bible 1-2-1 with someone - these are all word ministries. And in this "whoever speaks" is to speak is to do so "as one who speaks oracles of God". This doesn't mean, for example, that what I am saying right now are the words, or oracles, of God. The Bible tells us we can only trust that is true of the Bible itself. The word "oracle" here means 'sayings spoken from God to man' which is a description of the nature of the Bible as being God's word to us. And the nature of the Bible needs to inform how we teach the Bible. 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 God's word. That means we will put serious effort into understanding it. We'll read and study the Bible carefully and we'll not overly rely on books and leaders' notes making them a substitute for the Bible - but instead as resources to read alongside the Bible to help us understand it better. When we lead Bible studies we must remember our role in helping the group understand the Bible. That means if someone reaches the wrong conclusion on what they think the Bible says we'll help them to look again and try to work out what the Bible actually says. We are dealing with the very words of God to us, and we need to rely on those not our own ideas.
However, none of this word ministry can happen unless a whole host of other vital things take place. And biblically speaking these are described as being just as important as 'word ministry'. So we need sidesmen, and tea and coffee made, and tables setup… 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 serving our own small groups, for example cooking for your home group. In all these things we can 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 play the guitar, I don't need God's help at music group.' But the strength to serve comes from God, let's not forget that. So we ought to rely on him in trust and prayer.
I know for many the constraints of time make you feel weary in service. You don't have time to serve as you would like and there's the frustration that you'd like to do more but can't. In the busyness of life what you already do is so hard to fit round the demands of family or work, or whatever it is for you… If you feel this way can I say thank you for all you do. But above all can I 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. Let's not be people that struggle on our own. He provides moment by moment strength, so trust him in prayer. In Galatians 6.9 Pauls encourages us to "not grow weary of doing good" because "in due season we will reap, if we do not give up". So we can be assured that there is a harvest for the gospel and our service is not in vain. And, practically speaking, we should remember…
- Not to overly prioritise the formal over the informal. There are many ways to serve which are informal but valuable. For example, caring and praying for your home group, or having the people you sat beside in church round for lunch (1 Peter 4.9). Some of you will know I have a slight accommodation problem at the minute. And a few of you have taken me into your homes, one couple in particular for quite a while. How very thankful I am to them. But they didn't sign up anywhere to do it. How much of our service is something listed in this yellow notice sheet? 15%? 20%? That's not all there is to the body of Christ.
- And, we also need to be sure we don't overly prioritise the regular over the irregular. So if you can't commit to doing something every week then can you commit to helping with things every so often? For example, we're about to begin a new Carols by Candlelight season where we'll have thousands of people come through our doors. All of which requires a lot of work. Could you help?
Friends, God provides the strength that we need to serve him. Let's be sure to rely on him in our service to one another.
3. We Are to Glorify God in Serving One Another.
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 why we serve… To glorify God. Literally so that God would get the honour and praise he deserves. Because, in the depth of the mess of our sin Jesus came and bled, and died for it and rose defeating it forever.
How often, so discreetly, we can make serving about us and not about God? Robbing God of his glory and focusing on ourselves rather than others? How often do we serve and walk away with a pang of hurt, feeling indignant that yet again nobody noticed half of what we've done? This is not to say we shouldn't thank one another, and do so more often. The issue is we easily make service about how we feel and we fail to ask: 'how did this serve God and his people?'
Or do we think: 'I don't need to worry about the wrong things I've done, I'm serving, that'll balance it out. That'll do for God.' Have you ever felt this way, subtly, deep down? Does serving in this way give us assurance in our relationship with God? No. Actually, this is just a recipe for doubt. The truth is we will never will be good enough for God. That's why Jesus came to die for sin. Because nothing we could ever do would be good enough; our rejection of God is too great. To think our service can earn assurance with God makes a mockery of the cross. And it steals God's glory.
Our service needs to be built on trust that Jesus first served us, to death for our sin. That is how we are in relationship with him. Only then will we truly serve him, not by trying to be good enough for God, or by trying to pay him back. Rather by seeking to serve others as he first served us.
So friends, in service we need to develop and use our gifts to serve one another and in doing so we need to rely on God. But we need to seek to glorify God in how we serve one another. Because, above all, so much of serving is about the attitude of our hearts. If we are truly working hard at serving one another and seek to glorify God in our lives of service, then we won't go far wrong. God will work through us – that's a promise. Let's pray…
Father, as we've dwelt on serving one another this evening no doubt we've felt challenged and prompted in different ways; maybe to begin to serve or to do more, maybe to keep going in your strength, maybe to reflect upon our attitude in service. Lord please help us respond as you would have us, even this evening as we chat together. We praise you that you could do it all – but you give us gifts, help us to rely on you in using them and ever stir us, in all our service, to seek to bring you glory. For Jesus' sake. Amen.