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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 9am service, 2008-04-27

Text: 1 Peter 4:10,11

There are 3 lessons we can learn about our stewardship. Firstly, it is Universal in its obligation. Secondly it is Manifold in its manifestation. And thirdly, it is God-honouring in its intention. 

I. Universal in Its Obligation

The passage begins by saying, 'As every man hath received the gift' The word 'gift' here is translated from the word charisma and it refers to spiritual gifts. It is the same word that is used in other passages on spiritual gifts like 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. There is quite a bit of ignorance and confusion today among Christians on the subject of spiritual gifts. There are those who say that the gifts of apostleship, speaking in tongues, prophecy and healing are still meant for the church today (The charismatics and faith-healers claim to have such gifts). As we are not charismatic this is not an issue, since we are already clear where we ought to stand on this. What many non-charismatics are not so clear about concerns the nature of spiritual gifts. There are those who say that spiritual gifts are the same as the natural talents and abilities that we possess from birth. They would even include musical talent, dancing or artistic skill in their list of spiritual gifts (though these are not mentioned at all in the Bible).

Let us understand that spiritual gifts are different from natural talents and abilities. They are special abilities bestowed upon us only at our second birth, when we were born again by the Spirit of God. They may be in some way associated with our natural abilities, but not necessarily. For instance, someone who has the ability to teach in a school setting may also be gifted in Bible teaching at the church, but another excellent school teacher or lecturer may have little or no ability to teach the Bible. 

What we need to know now is, 'Who are the ones who receive these spiritual gifts?' According to our sermon text, every one who belongs to Christ has received a spiritual gift. It plainly tells us 'As every man hath received the gift' (cf. Ephesians 4:7; 1 Corinthians 12:7). The Lord Jesus Christ has given special spiritual gifts to every member in the church. This is what we mean when we say that our stewardship is universal in its obligation. So please do not ever say, 'I don't have any spiritual gift.' If you do not have a spiritual gift, then you are not part of the body of Christ. So please be convinced that you are gifted. According to the Scriptures every child of God is a gifted child! And since you are gifted with at least one spiritual gift, you are obligated to know your spiritual gift and to use it well. 

And the next thing we need to know is, 'What is the gift to be used for?' The answer is found in the words, 'even so minister the same one to another.' The spiritual gift you have received is not to be used for yourself. It is a wonderful gift from God indeed - one that can bring marvelous benefits to a person's life! But these benefits are not to be kept all for yourself. Many of the woes in the world today come from the selfish (or kiasu) attitude of wanting to keep all of one's gains for oneself. This may be one reason for the present soaring cost of rice. Selfish traders in some countries secretly hoard up huge stockpiles of rice to create a shortage that will raise the price so that they can make huge profits. But by doing this, they cause untold suffering to many who cannot afford to pay the high price of rice with their meagre income. We may feel upset when we hear of such things, but are we doing the same thing?

God's gifts to you are not meant to be kept and hoarded up all for your own personal benefit and enjoyment. They are meant to be lovingly shared and dispensed to meet the needs of others. This applies especially to the gifts of the Spirit - they are freely given to every member of the church to benefit the whole church. Now verse 10 tells us that we are to minister our spiritual gifts as good stewards. What exactly is a steward? A steward is actually a dispenser or paymaster. What he dispenses is not his own. It belongs to his master, who entrusts it to his care to dispense according to the master's directions.

According to Luke 12:42 a faithful and wise steward will ensure that every member of his master's household will receive the right portion at the right time. He carefully apportions out the master's resources so that no member of the household will lack what they need, and nothing will go to waste. It is worth noting that the Greek word which is translated 'steward' here in v.10 is the word oikonomos from which we get the word 'economics'. I am sure we all know what it means to economise, especially now, with the global economy slowing down and inflation on the rise. The prudent management of financial resources to meet everyone's needs sufficiently and economically is the same kind of prudent management that we need in order to become good stewards of our spiritual gifts.

God has entrusted you with the responsibility of ministering to others with your spiritual gift. And you are to exercise your gift with care and diligence in order to be a good steward of it. Let the benefits of your gift be shared as widely as possible both within the church and beyond. Maximise its use to the fullest potential, and you will have the satisfaction of seeing how it blesses the lives of many others and how it builds up the church of God. There is hardly any satisfaction that is greater than this.

Besides all that, when you stand before the judgment seat of Christ one day, you will have the great joy of giving a good account of your stewardship, and you will hear the Lord saying to you, 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.' (Matthew 25:21)

Now that we have seen that our stewardship is universal in its obligation, we move on to the part of v.10 which says that we are to be good stewards of 'the manifold grace of God.' Perhaps you may be wondering why the word 'grace' is used here to describe the spiritual gifts that God has given to His church? It is because this word completely obliterates any thought that the gifts are rewards we deserve from God. Living in a meritocracy makes us used to thinking that whenever we receive something good, it must the result of our having done something good and we earned it. But this is not at all applicable to spiritual gifts. God bestows them upon you not because you deserve them, but despite the fact that you do not deserve them. The stewardship of spiritual gifts is yours not by right. It is yours only by His grace alone. 

And the grace of God is obviously greater when the gifts bestowed upon us are greater. That is why the word 'manifold' is added here. It brings out one aspect of the spiritual gifts that powerfully increases our sense of wonder of God's grace to us. The word 'manifold' means rich in colour and variety. There are many different spiritual gifts that God has bestowed on His church - a total of 19, if you were to go through all the passages on spiritual gifts. But what amazes us is how they combine so well together to accomplish His work. We can liken them to a beautiful piece of art where the individual colours and designs blend together so well that they leave the viewer absolutely spellbound! God's grace to us is truly marvellous in giving us a stewardship that is:

II. Manifold in its Manifestation

Every spiritual gift has been specially designed and crafted by the Lord to fulfil a specific role that is needed by the church. And every single one of these gifts is important for the health and development of the church. Two broad categories of spiritual gifts are mentioned in v.11 - speaking and ministering.

The first category of gifts involve speaking 'If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God' This covers all the spiritual gifts that communicate the Word of God - including the gifts of preaching, teaching, pastoring, evangelism, and exhortation. These, by the way, are the spiritual gifts that would be especially useful for pastors and elders in their role of overseeing and feeding the flock. 

And they are also useful to those who teach Sunday school classes, or lead Bible study groups in our fellowships or neighbourhood Bible communities (NBCs), and even those who sing - since this is a form of communicating God's Word (Colossians 3:16). The growth of our church depends heavily on the exercise of all these gifts of speaking. So please pray that God will bless Life Church with more members have these spiritual gifts - members who are divinely gifted in communicating His Word clearly by explaining and applying it. And if any of you are convinced that you do have such a gift, please don't keep its benefits to yourself but seek to develop it and use it well.

The second category of gifts mentioned in v.11 involve serving 'if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth.' This includes spiritual gifts such as the gift of helps, giving, administration, mercy and hospitality. These are the spiritual gifts that deacons will find very useful to fulfill their role in the church most effectively. And interestingly, the word 'minister' in this verse is diakoneo, which is the verb form of the word for deacon. We thank God that the Lord has provided six new candidates for deaconship. And if elected today, they will begin to fulfil their role next Sunday. 

Please pray that the Lord bless Life Church with more members who have gifts of serving, not only to be our future deacons, but also to take care of the many logistic needs of the various ministries of our church. These include musicians, publicity, providing refreshments and organising programmes like VBS and church camps. If anyone of you is convinced that this is your spiritual gift, let it be put to good use so that many will benefit from your service, and the church will be able to advance in the Lord's work without any shortage of help. 

Having seen the great diversity of spiritual gifts and how they all fit so ingeniously together to accomplish God's work through the church, I think we can now understand why the apostle Peter sums them all up with the term, 'the manifold grace of God.' The grace of God in giving us these gifts is truly manifold, meaning rich in the variety of its manifestations. And we have the undeserved privilege of being made stewards of this manifold grace. In response to this, let us be good stewards of these spiritual gifts. This not only means using them to benefit as many others as possible. It also means using them in the correct manner - the manner in which they ought to be used.

Verse 11 of our text mentions that those who speak ought to speak as the oracles of God. The 'oracles of God' here refer to what God has spoken - in other words, the Bible. This means that they must be careful not to communicate their own ideas. What they say should be based purely on the Scriptures. There is always the temptation to state more than what God has said in His Word. But we should very be careful not to do this even with the very best of intentions. May this be solemn reminder to all those of us who are involved in preaching, teaching, or exhorting from God's holy Word - we have a grave responsibility and we must be careful to keep checking that everything we say in ministering God's Word to others has a sound biblical basis that cannot be faulted by anyone.

In Verse 11 Peter goes on to say that those who serve ought to do so with the ability that God gives. The idea is that they ought to make full use of God's supply and not be stingy or grudging in their service. There are some who would do nothing more than the barest essentials when serving others. And when they invite someone to stay in their homes they grumble about all the inconveniences they have to put up with to accommodate their guest. Verse 9 of our text tells us not to do this 'Use hospitality one to another without grudging.'

I remember the wonderful hospitality that I enjoyed in the home of a pastor and his wife in Australia. When they invited me to stay at their home, they gladly asked me to sleep in their bedroom on their most comfortable queen-size bed, while the pastor slept on the sofa in the living room and his wife slept on a spare bed in her daughter's bedroom. And even when I humbly declined the generous offer they insisted that they would not have it any other way. This is truly ungrudging hospitality, and it really made me feel so welcome in their home. 

This is what it means to serve with the ability which God gives. It is God who supplies you with all the resources that you can use for your service to others. But are you serving according to the supply you receive from God? Or are you grudgingly using only 10% or 20% of it in your service? If God has blessed you abundantly, then bless others with the same abundance in your service to them. Be willing to go the extra mile in using your spiritual gifts.

And there is one more thing implied by serving with the ability which God gives. It means relying on God's supply for the spiritual empowerment that we need for all our service. This power comes from being filled with the Holy Spirit who indwells us. It is impossible for any Christian to be effective in service without the Holy Spirit's power. I say this to all of you who are serving in any way in any ministry of the church (Sunday school, VBS, church camp, Kids Club, children's ministry, fellowships, NBCs and in the Session). Please don't try to use your spiritual gifts with your own ability and power. It won't work. In fact you may end up making a real mess of things because the deeds of the flesh will soon be manifested when the Holy Spirit is not in control. 

Avail yourself of the Spirit's empowerment. Be filled with the Spirit! Keep on appropriating His power for living and for serving. This is the only way to use your spiritual gifts effectively. Begin each new day by acknowledging to God that without Him you can do nothing. Then pray for the Holy Spirit to fill you, and consciously submit yourself to His leading throughout the day. And just before you do anything that requires spiritual empowerment - e.g. teaching a Bible class, sharing the Gospel with a friend, chairing a worship service, singing in the choir - ask God to fill you once again with His Spirit. This filling must always be renewed.

You will be amazed at the difference it makes. You will be amazed at how God will use you when you are filled with the Spirit. Stephen, who was one of the first 7 deacons in the early church, was filled with the Holy Spirit when he made his powerful defence of the faith before a hostile council of Jews. And as they looked at his face it was just like the face of an angel! (Acts 6:15)

Thus far we have seen how good stewardship should be our response to receiving the spiritual gifts from God. We have also seen that good stewardship means using our gifts for the benefit of others, using them correctly, and using them with the Spirit's power. This message will not be complete until we deal with the ultimate aim of doing all this. This is stated in the latter part of v.11 'that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ' The third and final lesson we learn this morning about our stewardship is that it should be

III. God-honouring in its Intention

There should be no room at all for self-glory in our stewardship of spiritual gifts. All glory for this stewardship belongs to God. This must be always be emphasized over and over again. Do you want to know why? It is because of the sinful tendency in every one of us to glory in the things that we have as though we did not receive them from anyone, and to glory in the things that we do, as though we are able to accomplish them all by ourselves. When we have tasted some measure of success, it is all too easy to fall into the sin of glorying in our successes and saying to posterity - Look at what I have done for God! Look at all the painful sacrifices I have made to serve Him! Look at all the people I have helped, and who owe their present blessedness to me! All that you see would not be here today without me. 

When you have such thoughts, dismiss them from your mind by reminding yourself that it is God who had bestowed the stewardship of God's manifold grace upon you. You had done nothing to deserve it. All glory for the origin of gift rightly belongs to God. Remind yourself that your gift cannot function without the rest of the spiritual gifts that God has bestowed upon others. You are just one of the many members of the church that God had chosen to have a part in His glorious work. You are therefore no better than all the rest. Therefore all glory for the operation of the gift rightly belongs to God. Remind yourself that no matter how well you have done your part, it is God alone who gives the increase and brings the final results. It is He who makes every thing beautiful in His time (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Therefore, all glory for the outcome of the gift rightly belongs to God. 

But someone may say, 'I fully agree with what you have said - that God deserves the glory for all that He has done, but shouldn't I be given a little credit at least for being willing to be used by Him?' Dear friends, even the glory for that rightly belongs to God alone. Philippians 2:13 states it very plainly, 'For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.'

Actually any true child of God would not worry about receiving no credit. Any true child of God would never want to claim anything for himself, but he will most gladly say, 'Amen. He must increase and I must decrease. Let His name be remembered, and my name forgotten.' If you are a true child of God I assure you that it will be your greatest joy and delight when God, and no one else but God, is glorified through your stewardship.

Deny yourself any right to glory in your spiritual gifts or your service for the Lord. Giving all glory to God should be your sole intention for your stewardship. Refuse to attract any attention to yourself. Ensure that nothing ever distracts anyone's focus away from the Lord. Whatever you do as a Christian and as a member of Life Church, in whatever area of service or ministry you are in at present or in time to come, always do it for no other reason than to glorify God 'through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever, Amen.'

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11