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“What are You Living For?” (Intro to Spiritual Gifts)

Jan.8, 2012 1Peter 4:1-11


Spiritual gifts are key to any church’s growth and development, but they may be one of the most undervalued and ignored aspects of God’s grace. Too often at church we ask people to serve or volounteer ourselves without finding out what each of us does best. Suppose we tried to lead an orchestra that way. As the book LifeKeys (Jane Kise, David Stark, Sandra Krebs Hirsh) imagines it: “Hmmm, the drums did such a great job keeping the beat last week – let’s give them the melody for ‘The Blue Danube.’ And the strings? Well, the bows would make great drumsticks. The cellos can be the timpani and the...” None of us would expect great music from such an orchestra, but in church that may be the way we approach recruitment efforts or the way we choose our own places to serve. So we end up with round pegs in square holes. ‘Who can we get to fill this slot?’
    In Peter’s first letter to the dispersed early church, we find him helping believers see themselves not only as freed from former destructive fleshly passions, but also as fully available to God to serve in a variety of ways that will give each one an experience of allowing God’s energy to flow through them to serve others in such a way that His love is realized and Jesus becomes more beautiful to all involved.


First let’s set the stage for 1Peter 4. Christians were suffering in the midst of a culture that worshipped idols and exalted immoral living. Suffering is clearly a theme in 2:19-23 addressing slaves who bear up under unjust treatment from their masters. “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps...When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats.Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.”
    The subject of suffering comes again to the foreground in chapter 3 vv9,14,16-17, and 4:1. In this section it is plain that believers are encountering evil being done to them; insults; people are speaking maliciously against their good behaviour; they are suffering for doing good. Then again, immediately after today’s passage, the theme of suffering continues: 4:12-19 urges, “Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ...” It goes on to mention insults, and suffering for bearing the name of Christian. Clearly the church is going through much hardship, as in many parts of the world today. Shouwang (‘Lighthouse’) Church in Beijing recently completed their 38th outdoor service at Christmas. They had signed a rental contract to move back indoors with the cold winter weather, but the leaseholder was pressured by government officials and the contract was cancelled. Every week through this period since April, some of those who showed up for service were hauled off to police stations although they had committed no crime. The state has been harrassing them simply for trying to assemble peacefully for worship.
    A young Canadian woman I know recently attended Christmas Eve worship in Egypt. The cathedral was packed, thousands jammed in together standing shoulder to shoulder; as they left, some joked about possible bombings. Here in Canada, does our faith mean that much to us that we would dare to attend?
    The church in Peter’s time is suffering because, as 2:7 puts it, they hold Jesus Christ “precious”. But for unbelievers, the next verse says He is “‘A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.’ They stumble because they disobey the message...” Pagans ‘stumble’ over Jesus because they disobey, they refuse to believe, like Adam and Eve they rebel against God’s counsel. Our selfish pride, inherited from the Fall in Eden, makes us sin-prone, even inclined to sin, that’s our ‘bent’. Turning from God puts one in ‘darkness’ as 2:9 terms it. We become susceptible to what 2:11 describes as “sinful desires which war against your soul.” In contrast, Christians are “aliens and strangers in the world”, so are to abstain from those desires. But that doesn’t make believers popular with others, who may view us as stand-offish puritanical types, even enemies. Thus the early church was well acquainted with suffering, particularly insults and malice; 4:4, “they heap abuse on you.”


At the heart of the matter is the question, “What are you living for?” You have a choice to make! What’s your purpose, your goal, your driving aim? If you’re not careful, it’ll default to our natural instincts and competitiveness which, if not controlled, can be destructive – either in this life or the next. Verse 2 in chapter 4 describes the person who is ‘done with sin’: “As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.” There it is, very plainly – what are you living for: ‘evil human desires’ OR God’s will?
    Here Peter digresses for a couple of verses to sum up un-Christian living, vv3-4: “For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do— living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you.” Debauchery - NRSV ‘licentiousness’, shameless or outrageous behaviour. The stories that circulate after wild New Year’s Eve parties. Lust - NRSV ‘passions’, giving full rein to desires that are forbidden. Drunkenness - excessive wine (today we’d add in other drugs along with alcohol - any intoxicant that interferes with functioning). Orgies or ‘revels’; the lexicon defines this, “a nocturnal and riotous procession of half drunken and frolicsome fellows who after supper parade through the streets with torches and music in honour of Bacchus or some other deity, and sing and play before houses of male and female friends; hence used generally of feasts and drinking parties that are protracted till late at night and indulge in revelry.” You get the idea!
    After ‘wild parties’ and ‘their terrible worship of idols’ (NLT) Peter adds, “Of course, your former friends are surprised when you no longer plunge into the flood of wild and destructive things they do.So they slander you.” NIV has “flood of dissipation” or ‘violent wasting of life’ (BBE) – down the drain is the general direction. If you’re just focussed on your desires, your appetites, it all just gets consumed, life is ultimately flushed away: you’re just living from paycheque to paycheque, party to party. For those who rule out the supernatural, who say ‘this life is all there is’, our desires take over: that’s all there is to give pleasure or meaning in life, seeking a higher ‘high’. But who’s left to pick up the pieces of shattered marriages, illegitimate births, and diseases too numerous to mention?
    One of the privileges of working with youth is that I get to listen to their music over our car stereo while driving them to events. I was listening to the lyrics of one song recently and the chorus seemed to have a guy saying something like: “Give me all you’ve got, baby, we know we’ve got tonight but we may not have tomorrow.” I commented to the young women in the vehicle that, if a guy starts talking to them that way, I hoped they would resist and explain they’re saving themselves for marriage. Now, I didn’t hear ALL the lyrics and someone might protest the song is talking about dancing rather than sex, but to me it seemed it could certainly be taken that way – perhaps kind of a double innuendo.
    Anyway, there are songs out there preaching the message “grab all you can, you only go around once.” Such songs reflect a closed mindset that refuses to consider what the Bible reveals about life-after-death. The apostle Paul summarized such thinking in 1Corinthians 15(32), “If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."” Do I hear an echo? ‘Tonight’s all we’ve got, baby!’
    But, v5 begins with a big ‘but’: “But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” For those pursuing the pagan lifestyle, the resurrection of Jesus, which underscores Biblical prophecies of future judgment, is a most inconvenient truth. V7, “The end of all things is near”: judgment will show that our current desires are disastrous fleeting whims. 4:13 looks forward to the time when Christ’s “glory is revealed”. Jesus Himself said in Matthew 12(36), “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.” Paul notes in 2Cor 5(10), “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” And Jude (1:15) writes that the Lord is coming “to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him."”
    So, Peter concludes in v3, “You have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do.” Enough of that! Start living for something more than human desires!


If not that, then what? To what shall we turn for purpose and meaning and fulfilment in life if not being enslaved to our wants? Remember the context here is one of suffering – these people are being insulted, maliciously treated, abused for their belief. Back up to v1 with me: “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.” The verb for ‘arm yourselves’ is a metaphor as if to take up a weapon! Something’s not going to come out of this alive – in this case, the attitude that prefers sin. Christ’s suffering enables you to suffer in your body and defeat those deadly evil desires. The Holy Spirit will help you to be ‘done with sin’.
    Verses 7B on turn very positive. “Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” Clear-minded, whole- or safe-minded, not having part of your faculties unavailable due to drugs or too much alcohol. “so that you can pray”: remember what the choice was here, what are you going to live for? V2, “he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.” Prayer - in combination with reflection on God’s word in Scripture - is how you come to be shown God’s will for your life.
    V8 is very important and should be the foundation for everything else I’m going to say today. “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” Interesting that both Peter and Paul embed any discussion of spiritual gifts in the overarching quality of love (1Cor 13, the ‘love’ chapter, comes smack dab between 12 & 14). Without love, a spiritual gift is as annoying as a resounding gong or clanging cymbal.
    Peter says, “Love each other deeply” – the Greek word for ‘deeply’ is literally ‘stretched-out’: love isn’t easy, it changes you, stretches you. Like giving birth to a baby, love leaves stretch-marks! Peter adds, “Love each other deeply, [WHY?] because love covers over a multitude of sins.” Perhaps he’s alluding to Proverbs 10:12 & 17:9, “love covers over all wrongs...He who covers over an offense promotes love...”
    True godly love ‘leaks’ Christ; it has a gracious, absorptive quality to it. A person full of the Holy Spirit will practically ‘ooze’ Jesus because of their kindness and caring. Absorptive in the sense of covering sin, forgiving in a costly way, absorbing the cost, making allowance, taking the hit that was directed to someone else. “Since Christ suffered in His body” for US, we in turn are called to show His grace to others, to make it real in our interactions.
    Forgiveness is not natural. Revenge comes much more naturally, getting even, NOT covering over a multitude of sins as love does. Another song I listened to with the youth had the chorus, “If it wasn’t for guys like you, there wouldn’t be songs like this.” It starts out with the singer saying she’d going to go out and break some poor guy’s heart because of the shoddy way her former boyfriend treated her. That’s how unforgiveness works, it causes a chain reaction of damage and pain. Love covers the sin, forgiveness is costly; because Jesus died for us, we can love others enough to show them the grace He’s shown us.


What’s God’s number-1 command as far as Jesus is concerned? Luke 10:27, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” Love is what we’re to be all about as Christians. Immediately after urging us to ‘love each other deeply’, Peter turns to practical examples. Skip v9 a moment; the general principle is in v10: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” I prefer the NRSV translation here: “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” It’s assumed here that God has gifted each believer in some way; Ephesians 4:7f, “To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it...He...gave gifts to men.” We are to be ‘faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms’ - NRSV ‘good STEWARDS’ of God’s many-splendoured grace. A steward was someone who managed the owner’s household or business, a superintendent; today we have ‘managers’ in a business, or think of the township ‘clerk’ or ‘treasurer’. They have to be faithful with the tax money, what goes in had better go out where it’s needed. The clerk doesn’t OWN it, they just ‘manage’ it faithfully. So, your spiritual gift is not something for you to boast about or take pride in, but use as a trust in order to make God’s love real to someone else.
    Now let’s pop back to v9 for Peter’s first gift-example: “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Literally, being ‘friendly to strangers’. How many of us have experienced God’s love through hospitality at some point when our own plans did not materialize? Once our family was travelling through Manitoba in the way back from California and BC, camping; it poured, drenching all our tents, clothes, and sleeping bags. The next day we attended a local church and were invited to stay overnight (and get dried out!) at the home of some primarily French-speaking Manitoban Christians. Love in action! We definitely thanked God that they ‘stretched’ themselves to show His love to complete strangers.
    V11a, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.” High- and low-profile ‘speaking gifts’ could be included here: apostleship; prophecy; evangelism; teaching-pastoring; missionary; and encouragement or exhortation. You may be called to the pulpit, or to lead a Bible study or Youth Group, or to the mission field, or to encourage other people in a special way. Whatever you say, Peter urges, speak it “as one speaking the very words of God.” You are being God’s proxy in encouraging that person, or leading that class, or presenting that sermon. Speak carefully, graciously. Even believers’ general conversation should be noticeably different from much that is heard in the world: Col 4:6, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” And Eph 4:29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, [INSERT HERE: OR OUT OF YOUR FINGERTIPS ON FACEBOOK!] but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
    V11b continues, “If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” NLT calls this the gift of ‘helping others’; Paul in 1Cor 12:28 also says God has appointed in the church ‘those able to help others.’ A spiritual gift does not have to be sensational to be supernatural. God wires certain people so that they get a charge out of simply helping out, and they do it with His energy - ‘the strength God provides’ - in such a way that He is glorified. Their helping makes Jesus look good.
    The book LifeKeys tells of a women’s luncheon speaker who arrived at a church basement to find it beautifully decorated for the event. Ellen, one of the people putting finishing touches on the decorations, said: “You know, I love helping with the costuming for our annual children’s programs, but don’t ask me to lead the rehearsals. And I love helping with fundraising for our mission teams; I believe so strongly in what they are doing, but I don’t think I’d make a very good missionary. It feels right, though, to be a part of their work in a different way. Helping others is my way of passing along some of the love that God has given to me.”
    Tom, another decorator, added: “To me, it doesn’t matter what I do. I can celebrate the ways that God operates through whatever team I’m on, whatever role I play.”
    To Him be the glory, as we creatively share His love and manifold grace! Let’s pray.