Closing the Gap – Week 40
Heart Attitudes: Participate in the Ministry – 1 Peter 4:10-11, 1 Cor 12:4-7
My name’s Aaron Lewis and I’m a member of River and I’ve been attending since I was about this tall. Now I’m not that tall… and now I’m working on finishing my seminary degree from Midwestern.
In January, I am going to be starting a new ministry of River, and I’m calling it Commons. This is a ministry for young married couples and singles— 22-35 year olds. If you’ve recently bought a book about “adulting,” you know who you are—I’m talking to you. This is for you. And really, this ministry is about cultivating a shared space for relationships to flourish.
So it’ll be a mix of both formal content and structure and also outreach/activities. It’s both formational (discipleship training) and missional (evangelistic/invitational). This starts in January, and until then this fall, I’m going to be organizing some events. If you want to know more about this, I’d be happy to talk to you and let you know how to get involved.
Commons, Challenge, Youth Group, NEXT, Children’s ministry, small group, Battle Staff, Women’s gathering— all of these things support the overall health of the body of Christ—the people of God— you.
And to be more specific, all of these ministries not only support the overall health of the body, but this body. When we talk about the capital C Church, we’re talking about believers in God from all times, all places. And when we talk about the lowercase c church, we’re talking about local congregations, local bodies.
This morning, we’re beginning a new sub-series on Closing the Gap. This year, that has been our theme—closing the gap on where we we’re at and where we can and should be in our life with God. This Fall we’ve been looking at the theme of Reaching Out and Reaching In.
The sub-series is focusing on what we call The Seven Essential Heart Attitudes. So for the next seven weeks, that’s where we’ll be. The first of which is Participate in the Ministry of River.
So, why Heart Attitudes? What does that even mean? Is that insider language? What is that?
And the short answer is no, it’s not insider language. The Heart Attitudes are simply values, derived from Scripture, that we as a church body believe. And these values shape and guide us individually, but also corporately—they shape and guide the kinds of things we do as a body—as a church.
All cultures have values. And those values, explicitly taught or not, are going to shape a culture. The Air Force, for example, has “core values” — Integrity. Service. Excellence. Koch Industries has values. But it’s important for us to remember that values are not something you can “tack” on, externally. It’s not like pin the tail on the donkey.
Companies, Institutions have values, and they want these to be “core” values—coming from within. They want people of character. They want people who “are” a certain way, not merely people who “do” certain things. Being is more important than doing.
The Christian has an advantage that companies and institutions don’t. We have the Holy Spirit. He comes not to tack on Christian values, but he comes to indwell us, transform us…so that these values/new desires can come from within. So, the Holy Spirit is not some coach, coaching from the sideline. He’s inside us, coaching us, developing us from within.
River has Heart Attitudes, which is another way of saying Biblical principles, that shape the culture of this body, this church—this family, or household. This morning as I talk about the church, and as I talk about participating in the ministry, I am being very specific—and I’m talking about this, church, this body.
It’s not as if I’m up here preaching River in an exclusive sense— I’m not up here cheerleading or lobbying for River—thinking we’re the best, we’re “right” and the other local churches are wrong… I’m not up here demanding tribal loyalty to the way we do things around here. I’m not interested in that.
I know there are other churches, other bodies in Wichita that are flourishing gospel communities. Nobody’s twisting my arm to get me to say that. Other churches in town thrills me. It’s a good thing for our city. This isn’t a competition.
So while I’m not up here preaching River, I am preaching the local church, which is specific to this body. This family. And family really is the appropriate way to think about church. It’s the model we find in the New Testament. Often we hear the phrase, “household of God.”
And the modern house church movement looks at references like that in a literal sense to support their organizational structure. And it’s true churches in the New Testament often met in houses, but the way writers use that phrase “household” of God, extends beyond the literal meaning. It’s a larger metaphor talking about the familial structure of relationships within the church body.
For example, Psalm 23 paints a picture of the abundant life with God that’s available for us. It’s a feast, a family gathering, and we’re invited to the table. He prepares a table before me… We have more than enough. Our cup overflows. And it ends with David saying, “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” That’s a present and future reality to experience.
A healthy family gathers round the table for major holidays. In 2015, I was deployed and Skyped in with my family as they were gathered round the table at Thanksgiving. I saw my family, and the food at the table, and I was in the desert. I wanted in on that fellowship. And leave it to the Lewis’ we all just started crying. So that longing, though I didn’t know it at the time, was an expression of my longing for that future heavenly wedding feast at God’s table, as the family, the people of God gather round.
So, the question before me is “who are the people of God that I am called to invest in?” And, for me, it’s clear—it’s you. River. You’re my family. As we look at the Heart Attitudes, really, we’re saying, as a family, what are the things we value, what are the things we believe, and how can I, as a mature member of this family contribute to its overall health? That’s what it means to participate in the ministry.
Let me read our passage: 1 Peter 4:10-11:
“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 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.”
This passage begins with “each one.” Everyone. Even as everyone has received a gift, use it to serve the common good. Everyone has a role to play in contributing to this.
That’s very different from the two dominant views of how culture (and even Christians) perceive what church is all about.
The first view says that church has always been about those in authority twisting people’s arms to do stuff. Stuff that they’d really rather not do. … Begrudgingly, I guess I’ll read my Bible…I guess I’ll turn out my pockets and give money (God loves a begrudging giver)…
The other view says that church is about me paying pastors to do the churchy stuff, the religious stuff. There’s a perceived hierarchy. There’s an elevated status between pastors and the rest of us.
Maybe you think, “well, Terry, Sherri, Jim have a ministry—but that’s their job. But I have a marketplace job, or I’m a student…and participating in ministry is a luxury of extra time.”
Here’s the bottom line. Both of those are wrong. The biblical reality, the fact, is that everyone, all people in Christ, are called to a life ministry (a life of faith and love in action). Now, it’s true that some are called vocationally (Terry, Rodney, Jim), but others are called to what we call “lay ministry.” Lay just means people. Ordinary people. All people in Christ are “sent,” commissioned.
There’s a fancy phrase that theologians call “the universal priesthood of the saints.” And basically this means that there’s no distinction between priests…pastors… and anybody else. Leadership within the church is functional. There needs to be some structure. Just as there is structure in the family.
But, the office of pastor holds no special intrinsic status. There’s not some quality in itself that makes it special. All of us, in Christ, are to be ministers of the gospel. It’s been said that this is a belief that originated in the Protestant Reformation, in the 1500s… but really, this originates from the Bible. In 1st Peter actually, where our passage is from this morning.
1 Peter 2:4-5, 9
“As you come to him, the living Stone– rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him —you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. … But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
In old stone architecture, the cornerstone was the first stone that was laid. And once that stone is set, all the other stones are set in reference to it. Jesus is the cornerstone. And the structure is his church, his people. We are living stones, modeling our lives after the choice and precious stone, model our lives after Jesus’ life—our lives ordered and arranged in respect to him, in alignment with him. And we’re dependent on each other to know that our lives are in alignment with the cornerstone.
Peter does not say that Jesus is the cornerstone, and there are only a select few that are involved in building the structure—no, he says you are the structure. You are the house. All of you are involved in this.
This is a picture of participating in the ministry. It’s about life together in the kingdom of God. This means active involvement with what God is doing in the world, specifically through his church, through his people.
So with that in mind, let’s walk through our passage.
Vs 10“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”
The word for gift there is “charisma.” This is bestowed or given by God. In English, charisma doesn’t mean gift, but it means a person’s charm or personality, a certain liveliness. So we’re to use the unique charm God has given us, the unique gifting of our personalities to serve others.
We’re to do this as faithful stewards of God’s manifold grace. “Faithfully administering” is also translated as “as faithful stewards.” The word actually means faithful steward or household manager.
In the Roman world, it would be common for a rich ruler of a farm to live in the city, and he would send letters to his household steward managing his estate, managing the farm. So Peter is doing wordplay here—the church is God’s household, and as we await his return, we are to be faithful stewards of his grace.
To be a faithful steward is to be someone who serves others well, because he recognizes the gift is not for him alone. It’s not to be a hoarder. Sadly, I think many of us can slip into “sit and get” mode when we’re at church.
There’s a word for those kind of people—they’re called “spongers.” It’s what it sounds like. What does a sponge do? It just absorbs all it can. A sponger is somebody who basically mooches off of others for living. And that’s not the picture of life in the church Peter is talking about here.
Peter doesn’t say church is like Netflix binge watching… bumming off of somebody’s account that you’re not even paying for… We need to be faithfully considering how to use our charisma, our gifting, to faithfully serve those around us. A good question for us to ask is… “if everyone contributed to the ministry at my level of participation, would the ministry be sustainable?”
If that’s a no…then you should ask, “who’s carrying this burden?” Am I bumming someone else’s Netflix account and enjoying the benefits of binge watching my favorite shows while contributing nothing?
When a child gets a gift, whose gift is it? Mine! They don’t want to share it. They think the gift is for them alone. But as we grow, we learn that I can share my gift for the greater enjoyment of everyone. God’s grace is given in various ways to different people. And as we share our gifts, we see a fuller expression of God’s manifold grace in community.
This is how God designed us. We’re designed to live lives with his grace flowing through us. As we are connected to him in fellowship, his power flows through us and into others. What happens to a sponge if it’s only concerned about absorbing? It gets filthy…mildew….grime. And you toss it out.
We’re not reservoirs hoarding God’s grace for ourselves; we’re pipelines, directing God’s grace through the unique ways he’s gifted us in order to bless others.
If you want happiness, selfishness is not the way to get it. So you need to ask, are you a parasite or a pipeline? And I don’t mean parasite in a derogatory sense… We can become conditioned to “get” and absorb all I can out of this… If someone is a parasite…there are deeper issues/ insecurities…reasons for that need.
And initially, dependence on others may be necessary. Think of a newborn baby. That’s they way God’s designed it. But we’re not designed to stay perpetual infants. The author of Hebrews says as much when he says you ought to be eating solid food, moved on to maturity, but you’re still longing for milk.
Part of growing up, part of maturity— is learning to be independent. This doesn’t mean we’ll ever graduate from dependence on others. Right? we’re a spiritual house—all those stones share the weight. We need each other.
But it means, we grow up and learn that I can’t go to this particular person or this ministry for my spiritual nourishment… I have to learn to go to the source. And I have to learn to give.
I want to say a brief word on God’s gifting and his “various forms” manifold grace.
In 1 Cor 12, Paul says that the church is a body. There’s sameness and differences. It’s one body with different parts. Some of us are hands, eyes, feet, etc. And he points out the absurdity of a cluster of eyeballs walking around, or a conglomeration of hands…
This doesn’t mean certain parts of the body are more honorable than others… I think it means that certain gifts will take a more prominent role, and other gifts will be more “behind the scenes.” There’s difference but not in value … it’s just we’ve been equipped differently.
Here’s what Paul says in 1 Cor 12:4-7
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.
There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.
There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
Paul is talking about a certain sameness in the body. A unity. What binds us together, what makes us unified, is not some arrival at a form of human agreement, what binds us together is the Spirit. And the unity of the Spirit of God is expressed in a multi-faceted way in order to serve the common good.
So what does that mean practically? It means don’t play this comparison game with people’s gifting. My arms don’t live in jealousy of my legs. James says “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exits, there is disorder and every evil thing.” Proverbs says jealousy “rots the bones.”
And in our context, we’re not talking about your individual body, though it includes that…we’re talking about the wider body. Jealousy is a disease in the body, and rots the overall health of the body. jealousy is an absurdity and an evil.
I’m glad I’m not my dad. Sure I want to emulate him… his charisma…. But I don’t live in jealousy of his gifting. If I want to emulate someone, I want to emulate or imitate their gift because I see it as contributing to the common good. So emulation can be good. Envy, is destructive.
Jealousy is not about the other person as it is about our own insecurities.
If we’re not comfortable with our own identity in Christ, we’ll just play comparison or we’ll try to conform to some shape that doesn’t really fit us. I’m not called to lead my group as my dad would lead it. I’m called to lead my life in the way Jesus would lead it if he were me.
Verse 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.
Some might say, okay that’s either extremely presumptuous or you’re crazy.
Only crazy people say “God made me do this… or God told me to say this…” It’s true wicked people have done and said evil things under the pretense of “speaking for God.”
But, of course, they aren’t speaking for God. It’s demonic. If what they say and do is completely inconsistent with the character and nature of God as revealed in the Bible, then it’s not from God.
And it’s not presumptuous to say that we think we should speak and act with God working through us. Ironically, the kind of person who would say that this is presumptuous is likely the kind of person who would charge Christians with hypocrisy for failing to live up to what we say we profess to believe.
This isn’t presumptuous. This is what obedience looks like. Obedience is faith in action. If I actually believe that what God has spoken actually matters, then it ought to shape the way I speak and act. This is faithfulness. This is obedience.
And of course, this verse implies that if we are to speak the very words of God to someone, then we need to have a working knowledge of what he has actually said. If our words are going to be life-giving to others, we need to be steeped in his word.
If our life is a kettle of hot water, and God’s word is like a teabag sitting on the shelf…and never the Twain shall meet. why would we be amazed to discover that the water we’re pouring out doesn’t taste like tea?
If we want to speak words of life, we have to abide in him. That’s what Jesus means when he says to “remain in my word.”
And how are we to act and serve? In the very strength that God provides. In his power.
In Ephesians 6, Paul says “be strong in the Lord, in the strength of His might.”
This is crucial to understand. Our work, by itself, is completely insufficient, but our work nonetheless matters. God is at work, and we join him, and it is his power working in us to accomplish what he is doing in the world.
This is all grace. It’s all grace. And the fact that it’s grace makes me echo back praise to God. I’m serving, and God gets the glory, because none of this originates with me. It’s the grace of God to include me in his work. It originates with God and it circles back to him.
To serve in his strength also means that God’s power is revealed in our weaknesses. When we’re too tired, when we’re too lazy, when we’re in a bad mood… we choose to serve anyway, in his strength. Don’t take this to the extreme. There are limitations of our work…we need rest. God has designed us to be dependent on rest.
But, the point is, often we quit when we can go further. When you’re working out on a long run and you want to quit… there is a mental component to that. Our mind gets tired faster than our bodies when our minds haven’t been conditioned to know the capabilities of our body.
And I know this is an imperfect analogy. I’m not saying, when you’re on a long run and you want to quit, that the Holy Spirit will empower you to put in the last mile. You just grit your teeth and say “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!”
Okay, that’s a very bad misuse of that text. If that verse motivates you..then fine, but that’s not what it means.
We’re talking about strength that God supplies that you do not have within yourself.
Here’s an example from my life. I hate doing dishes. I hate it. But I love, and this is the charisma that God has given me… I love inviting people into my home and cooking a meal. Hospitality is a gifting. I love it.
And when I am doing dishes after having a house full of people suddenly I realize, that I don’t hate doing dishes. And that’s because in that moment, when I’m operating out of my spiritual gift that God has given me, I am empowered by the Spirit to do something in his strength…something I normally would find irritating.
God has gifted each of us in this body, in this family, with different variations of his grace. And we’re to use them for the common good and mutual benefit. We’re not to be jealous of other gifts, and we’re not playing this game of comparison. Participation in the ministry is a vision of life in the kingdom of God…using our unique gifts for faith and love in action… for active involvement with what God is doing in the world.
So again, I’m not up here preaching River, or that we’re a perfect church, but I am extending an invitation—saying, God is up to something, and we’re engaged with him in that process. You can join us. Join the work of what God is doing in the world.
The local church is the heart of God’s mission for the world. Local bodies. This body. It’s at the heart of God’s mission because it’s where discipleship happens… it’s where formation, life-on-life, flourishing relationships grow.
Let’s pray. Ask God to help you assess where you’re at w/ participation— how you can better serve those around you.