Gifted to Serve

1 Peter 4:10-11
Dr. Steve Orr

Christmas is drawing close so it’s quite appropriate that today’s passage in 1 Peter is about gifts. A big part of traditional Christmas celebrations is the giving of gifts. I don’t know how well you’re getting on with buying the presents you’re going to give but let me ask a slightly different question: are you “gifted”? In everyday speech, if we say that someone is “gifted” we tend to mean that they have outstanding ability in some way or another. We might mean that they are precociously talented. We might think of a Mozart or an Einstein or others of their ilk as being “gifted”. In the realms of football, when I was a boy, Pele would have come to mind as an example. Nowadays it’s probably Messi or Neymar. If we understand being “gifted” in that way then I expect that none of us would consider ourselves to be particularly “gifted”. However, the Word of God makes it clear that every believer in Christ is “gifted”. Sadly, since the rise of the charismatic movement, gifts among believers, rather than being a cause for thankfulness and rejoicing have become a matter for debate or even open hostility.

Regrettably, there have been far too many examples, from both sides of the debate, of ungracious attitudes and behaviour. There is a sad irony in that because in the passage that we’re going to consider today Peter speaks of believers being gifted and he does so in the context of believers loving and serving one another. You’ll remember that last time we were thinking about “oneanothering” because, in verses 9 to 10, Peter exhorted us to “keep loving one another” and to “show hospitality to one another” and to “serve one another”. As Peter continues his letter he makes it clear that we are equipped to “serve one another” because we have been gifted to serve one another. So, in verses 10 and 11, we find that he went on to say: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen”.

The Greek word that has been translated as “gift” there is “charisma”. That is derived from “charis” which is the Greek for “grace”. So, Peter is saying that the gifts that believers have are not merely natural abilities but are specifically the result of God’s grace. They are sometimes referred to as spiritual gifts. That they are the result of God’s grace of course, has important implications and some of those implications are highlighted in what Peter has to say here in this passage. So, in connection with spiritual gifts in these verses we’ll: note some Points about gifts, some Principles for exercising gifts and the Purpose of gifts. Firstly, in verse 10 we’ll note some:

Points about Gifts

Every believer is gifted

We see that because Peter says: “As each has received a gift”. By “each” there he means each believer in Christ. He’s saying that every believer has a gift. The implication is that every believer has a gift from the moment of their new birth and coming to faith in Christ. If gifts were something that you have to wait to acquire as you develop in your Christian life it wouldn’t be true to say that each has received a gift. Peter would have had to have referred to those of you who have received a gift so far. The fact is that even the youngest believer is gifted in some way. That’s not to say that such a gift is fully formed immediately or that it will necessarily be exercised straight away but when someone is born of the Spirit they receive a gift.

You’ll notice that the text in our English translations speak of “a gift”. That could make you think that Peter is saying “one and only one gift”. It could give the impression that each believer is strictly rationed to one gift. However, the Greek expression here is indefinite and really suggests “at least one gift”. Indeed, when Paul speaks about spiritual gifts he certainly envisages individual believers having more than one gift and he encourages us to desire certain gifts and to seek more gifts.

So, the first bullet point is that every believer, no matter how young in the faith they might be, has at least one gift. The next bullet point to note is that:

Every gift has been received

We see that because Peter says: “As each has received a gift”. We read in Romans 12v6 that Paul said: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us”. You see, our gifts have been received because they come by grace that has been given to us. A couple of implications stem from the fact that every gift has been received.

Firstly, that it has been received tells us that it’s not an innate ability. It’s not something you were born with. There was a time when you didn’t have it and now you do. Neither is it something that you work hard to obtain. It’s been received. That’s not to say that you won’t have to work hard in exercising the gift. A gift doesn’t just work as if by magic. Even the most gifted footballer has to work hard in training. No matter how gifted he might be, if he’s flabby and unfit, his effectiveness will be limited. Likewise, although spiritual gifts are received from God, they are to be exercised and that will involve effort.

Secondly, that it has been received tells us that it’s something that you should be thankful for. If you receive a gift from someone you thank them for it. Even if it’s not something you particularly want you thank them if only out of politeness. How thankful should we be for any gift from God because His gifts are good and perfect.

Every gift is to be used

We see that because Peter says: “As each has received a gift, use it”. We saw exactly the same thing in Romans 12v6 where Paul said: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them”. When you receive gifts for Christmas or for your birthday they can broadly fall into one of two categories. Some are such that they are of sentimental value. You cherish them. You might carefully put them on display or you might even hide them away for safe keeping. Others are of a more practical nature and, if you appreciate such a gift, you’ll make use of it. That’s what God’s gifts are like. They’re not to be boastfully paraded. Neither are they to be hidden away and protected. Rather, they are to be put to good use.

Every gift is for service

We see that because Peter says: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another”. That any such gift is to be used for service tells us that we are to be servants. So, we haven’t received gifts for our own self-glorification. They’re not given so that we can congratulate ourselves on our abilities. They’re not even given for our personal development. They’re given to equip us to serve and we see that the service that Peter has in mind is serving “one another”. That is serving our brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s for their benefit. It’s for their good so that the body of Christ as a whole is built up.

In what ways are we to serve one another? When you talk in terms of building up the body of Christ your mind probably immediately turns to things like teaching or exhorting one another or perhaps to encouraging one another. They most definitely are ways in which we can serve one another but when you look at the New Testament for examples of service you’ll also find things like providing meals, visiting those in prison, caring for the sick and providing financial support. In short, service involves using our gifts to supply any needs that our brothers and sisters might have.

Every gift brings responsibility

Christmas or birthday presents are gifts that have been given to you. They belong to you and it’s up to you what you do with them. Spiritual gifts aren’t like that. We see that to be the case because Peter says: “use it to serve one another, as good stewards”. In Peter’s day a steward was the person in a household who was responsible for managing the master’s affairs and for providing what was needed for the family members. So, you mustn’t think of such gifts as being your own. You are a steward of any gifts that God has given you. They don’t “belong” to you so they are not yours to do with as you please. They have been entrusted to you. Having a gift from God is not fundamentally a privilege so much as a responsibility.

Jesus told parables about “good stewards” and “bad stewards” didn’t He? Good stewards were ones who used what was entrusted to them wisely and properly and responsibly. If we are to be “good stewards” we will not only use the gifts that have been entrusted to us. We’ll also be sure to use them for their intended purpose. It’s not just that we’ve been given gifts so that we can serve one another so that the body of Christ is built up if we want to. No, if we’ve received a gift we have a responsibility or obligation to use it to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Every gift is undeserved

We see that because Peter says: “use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace”. We’ve already noted that every gift has been received. There are lots of things that we receive because they are due to us. They are owed to us. For instance, you receive your salary or pension. But, God’s gifts are not earned. They’re not a reward. Rather, they are sovereignly bestowed according to God’s grace. Therefore, there is no place for pride or boasting. Instead there should be a humble acknowledgement that such gifts are not deserved. Neither is there to be envy of the gifts that others have received. Rather, there should be thankfulness to God for the provision He’s made for the good of the body.

Every gift is to be exercised graciously

We see that because Peter says: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another”. You see, in serving one another we are to use our gifts in the same way as we received them. How did we receive them? Well, we’ve seen that gifts are freely and undeservedly given by God’s grace. Therefore, we are to graciously and freely exercise our gifts to serve others. We’re not require them to be worthy or deserving of our service before we exercise our gifts for their benefit. We’re not to expect any payment or reward. Our use of our gifts in serving others is to be an expression of God’s grace. It should reflect the gracious way in which He gave them to us. As we have freely received, we are to freely give.

Every gift comes from a diverse range of gifts

We see that because Peter says: “use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace”. Again, looking back to Romans 12v6 we see that Paul said: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us”. There is a very wide variety of gifts. We find five different lists of gifts presented in the New Testament. What’s noticeable is that no two lists are the same. Some gifts appear on a few of the lists. Other gifts appear on only one of the lists. In total, 22 different gifts are mentioned. The fact that the lists are all different shows that they are illustrative. So, even when all taken together they are not exhaustive. Rather, they highlight the diversity of God’s gracious gifts. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12v4-6: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone”.

So, that’s 8 important general points about gifts. Having seen that every believer is gifted and that every believer has a responsibility to use their gifts to serve one another and that there is a vast and diverse range of gifts it’s helpful to move on to the first part of verse 11 and find some:

Principles for exercising Gifts

Notice that, having spoken of each believer using the gifts they have received to “serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace”, Peter then goes on in verse 11 to say: “whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies”. So, he considers that “God’s varied grace” can be divided between “speaking” and “serving” gifts. There are two categories of gifts. Now, we mustn’t take that to suggest that “serving gifts” are for serving one another but “speaking gifts” are for another purpose. We’ve already seen that all gifts are to enable us to “serve one another” so “speaking gifts” are for serving just as much as what he refers to here as “serving gifts” are for serving. The distinction that Peter is making here isn’t to do with the aim of the gifts – they’re all for serving one another. Rather, the distinction is on the basis of the functionality of the gifts. Some gifts function by means of speech. Other gifts function by means of actions. So, he’s distinguishing between gifts of speaking and all the other gifts that do not primarily involve speaking. When you look through the lists of gifts that Paul gives you can very easily see that they all either fall into the speaking category or the practical serving category. Looking at Romans 12 again for instance we read in verses 6 to 8: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness”. So, the speaking gifts there are prophecy, teaching and exhortation. The serving gifts are contributing, leading and showing acts of mercy.

Although Peter makes that distinction between speaking gifts and serving gifts, notice that he doesn’t do so in order to suggest that one is more important than the other. George Bernard Shaw once said: “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”. I’m sure that’s a quotation that is universally loathed by the teaching profession but it perhaps reflects a suspicion that some people have. As Evangelical Christians we can have a tendency to go to the other extreme. We often put teachers within the church up on pedestals and view them as being especially gifted and exalted. The fact is that every gift is important and of great value to the body of Christ.

Now, Peter goes on to give a principle for exercising gifts in each of those categories. In the case of speaking gifts, we find that he says: “whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God”. The NIV translates that as: “as one who speaks the very words of God”. The Greek word that has been translated as “oracles” or “the very words” is “logia” and it really means utterance or saying. So, Peter is referring to the words that God has spoken to men. In the first instance this tells us that having a speaking gift doesn’t mean that you serve others by dispensing your own wisdom. What you say is subject to what God has said.

Saying that those who have a speaking gift are to speak “as one who speaks oracles of God” or “the very words of God” could give the impression that Peter is saying that those who have a speaking gift speak new revelation from God. It sounds as though he’s saying that they’re speaking words directly from Him. Clearly that can’t be the case because Scripture is God’s complete revelation. Does it then perhaps mean that they are to simply quote scripture? That would make no sense because you don’t need to be gifted to simply quote scripture!

I think his meaning becomes more apparent when we realise that the text hasn’t been very well translated. The words “one who speaks” aren’t in the Greek text. The translators have added those words. A literal translation of the Greek would simply be: “if anyone speaks – as oracles of God” or “as the very words of God”. So, the idea is of saying what is in keeping with what God has said. It’s to be consistent with His utterances. It’s to be according to His word.

The principle that arises from this is that a speaking gift isn’t autonomous. The logic isn’t that if you have a speaking gift it follows that whenever you speak to your brothers and sisters in Christ you are inevitably serving them by building them up. The gift can only achieve that purpose insofar as it’s line with the Word of God. So, someone might have a speaking gift but that doesn’t mean that if they speak their own ideas or according to their own wisdom their hearers are being served and built up. If they are gifted they are to seek to speak in a way that reflects God’s Word. You can’t say whatever you please and claim to be exercising a speaking gift. The gift is under God’s Word so, if you have a speaking gift it will drive you to God’s Word.

Neither does having a speaking gift give any special authority to the speaker or demand obedience from those who hear. Authority resides in the Word of God and so any exercising of a teaching gift is only authoritative insofar as it is consistent with what God has said in His Word.

Moving on to the case of serving gifts, we find that Peter says: “whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies”. Once again, the translators have added the words “one who serves”. A literal translation of the Greek would simply be: “if anyone serves – as of strength that God supplies”. So, as with speaking gifts, we see that serving gifts aren’t autonomous either. The logic isn’t that if you have a serving gift it follows that you will automatically serve your brothers and sisters in Christ in a way that builds up the Body of Christ. No, it’s according to the strength that God supplies. Just as having a speaking gift doesn’t give the speaker’s words authority neither does having a serving gift make acts of service effective. If you have a serving gift you won’t serve in your own strength. The gift doesn’t give you the ability so much as give you the disposition to serve in God’s strength.

So, the principle for exercising gifts, whether speaking or serving, is that they are to be exercised under God. Being gifted isn’t to be endowed with special abilities or powers that work as if by magic. Rather, being gifted is to be disposed to speak or serve in accord with God’s revealed will and in dependence on the strength that He supplies.

Finally, moving into the second half of verse 11 we see the:

Purpose of Gifts

Peter goes on to say: “in order that” so he’s going to tell us the purpose that lies behind God giving us gifts and us exercising them as He intends. We’ve already seen that the immediate purpose of the gifts we’ve received is to serve one another so that the body of Christ is built up. However, that is not an end in itself. Beyond that, Peter goes on to tell us the ultimate purpose of the gifts we’ve received by saying: “in order that in everything God may be glorified”. That follows quite clearly from what we’ve just been seeing doesn’t it? Since the proper exercising of gifts isn’t a display of human goodness or ability but of God’s will and power it is all to His glory. For some reason the NIV has “praised” which suggests a vocal or verbal expression but “glorified” is the correct translation. When believers in Christ serve one another, it is to God’s glory. He gets the credit, He gets the honour, because He gave the gifts with which we serve and He provides the directions and power for exercising those gifts.

Notice that Peter doesn’t say that God is glorified by us or by our exercising any gifts that we’ve been given. He actually says that God is glorified “through Jesus Christ”. Paul says exactly the same thing in Romans 16v37 where we read: “to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen”. You see, when believers properly exercise their gifts in loving and serving one another they are exercising gifts that Christ gave to His church when He ascended following his death and resurrection. We read in Ephesians 4v8: “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men”. His purpose in giving those gifts, according to Ephesians 4v12-13, was: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”. God is glorified by that work that is going on in the church and that all stems from Christ’s atoning death on the cross, His triumph over sin as shown by His resurrection, His giving of the Holy Spirit as promised and His giving of gifts to believers. Therefore, God is glorified “through Jesus Christ”.

Everything in the Christian life revolves around Jesus Christ. He died to save us, He sent the Holy Spirit to change us from one degree of glory to another, He’s given us gifts so that we can serve one another and He is most surely bringing us to glory. All of that brings glory to God because He so loved the world that He gave His Son so that all of that could be accomplished. It’s through Jesus that we are brought to glory and it’s through Jesus that God is glorified.

No wonder that Peter went on to close this section of his letter by saying of Jesus: “To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen”. I hope we can all join in saying “Amen” to that.

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About Steve Orr

Dr Steve Orr has served the Body of Christ in the United Kingdom for many years in various capacities (preaching, teaching, etc.,). He is a regular contributor to the pages of Christ My Covenant. As a thorough expositor, his insights into the Word of God will serve you in your study of God’s Word.