Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 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. (1 Peter 4:8-11, ESV)
This week we look at the final lesson from the book I am a Church Member. For those who are utilizing the book this lesson is based upon chapter three, "I will not let the church be about me." As we broach this subject and look at what the Bible says, we need to keep in mind two things about being a church member. First, as members of a larger body our preferences are not most important. In other words, its not about you. Second, what it is about is service, serving, and being a servant.
At the beginning of the book Rainer pointed out that there is a difference between a church and a social club. In a social club, because of the dues that are paid (among other things), personal preferences can be sought out, argued for, and accomplished. However, in the church, the body of Christ, we are not to exist for our own desires, but solely for the desire of the one who bought us and brought us out of darkness into glorious light. Though we know this truth at times we allow our individual preferences to eclipse our work for Christ. We all fall prey to this in one form or another and it is just selfish. In the realm of the church a selfish church is labeled an inwardly focused church. Rainer provides a list of areas that kept churches inwardly focused:
Survey of Inwardly Focused Churches
- Worship Wars
- Prolonged minutia meetings
- Facility Focus
- Program driven
- Inwardly focused budget
- Inordinate demands for pastoral care
- Attitudes of entitlement
- Greater concern about change than the gospel
- Anger and hostility
- Evangelistic apathy
In reading this list we may find the areas that we have been more inward focused than outward focused, falling short of the will of God in the great Commission. The way to ensure that we are not being inwardly focused is to make sure we are serving, as a church body and individually members of it. The topic of service is an integral element in the life of the church.
Service Helps us Love One Another
When we looked at unity we saw as God was adding people to the church as it pleased Him, he was also supplying two kinds of supernatural glue to bind us together. One mentioned in Ephesians 4:1-3 is peace (endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace). The second one highlighted here is love.
The beginning of the passage takes us directly to the way in which we are able to live together and serve each other: keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. We have discussed the interplay between the varieties of gifts found within the body, but they do not work well together without love. Paul exhorts us here to love one another because without love we are nothing (1 Cor 13).
Not only must we love one another, but we must do so earnestly. Found in this word is the concept of loving unfailingly. It is further highlighted by the next clause: love covers a multitude of sins. All of the problems of the inward focused church (made up of fallible people like us) go away when love abounds unfailingly. When we consider love first we begin to see each other as Christ sees us: forgiven. We find empathy with others when we love them first (we saw this last week as an effect of praying for others). Most of all we find that it becomes easier to serve with others in the church when we eagerly desire to love them.
The Bible elsewhere speaks of the need for the body to serve one another. In Mark 9:35 it says, And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all." We are not to seek to be first, but lovingly we consider others greater than ourselves. The greatest example of this is in the life of Jesus as presented in Philippians 2
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
Jesus considered our humble estate and loved us by coming, but he also served us in coming as well. He came in the form of a servant in the greatest act of love ever presented in the history of mankind. We, as the church and church members, are to follow suit and be like Jesus. We are to be servants who love those we serve.
This means that we are to have an outward view of our church membership. Every other person we come across in our church needs to be an object of our love. This is not always easy, but it is necessary for the church to function properly and be healthy. It also is the only way we are going to be able to serve, and, consequently when we serve and love find it becomes easier and easier to serve and to love others.
Service Helps us Strengthen One Another
As just mentioned, the result of service in our lives and in our church brings great benefits to us. In a world that is always out for number one, the benefits of charitable acts are lost. Why would we spend time at a food pantry? Why would we give up a Saturday to fix someone's car? Why would we give away hundreds of dollars to people we do not even know? These are the questions of the world and often we believe them. However, those who know how to serve know the intangible benefits of serving.
Service is an attitude that is prevalent in the New Testament. We find servant 57 times and the word serve 58 times. So over 100 times in the New Testament we have the concept of service presented. Sure it seems necessary that we practice serving one another. Jesus did when he washed the disciples feet (John 13). We see it throughout the early church in the book of Acts. Christians are caring for one another and are being exhorted to care for one another. This is what our text in 1 Peter says as well. It is the common activity of the church.
We are to be those who serve each other because we cannot do everything. When we read: As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another (v 10), 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 (v 11), we are coming across the idea of the Body of Christ again. We each have different abilities and are to utilize them not only for the kingdom of God but also for the embitterment of each other. God has gifted us to take care of one another.
When we chose to be selfish with our spiritual gifts we are not only withholding needs from others we are also withholding the blessings that come along with serving. It is pure selfishness to keep these services to ourselves. We must remember that we are better together as a church body than we are as each individual members. When we practice our gifts in service to one another we all find strength from it. When we do not we only find weakness. We must strive to strengthen each other through service.
Service Helps us be the Body
Finally, we need to see that service helps is be the body. We have already mentioned this is in brief in the points above. When we are serving one another in love and finding strength from one another we are being the Body of Christ. When we are the Body of Christ we are able to fulfill the final part of our verse: in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. When we lovingly serve and act as God intended His churches to act, then we give Him glory.
With that being said, we must state a few things. First, by being inwardly focused, by seeking our preferences most of all, by withholding our gifts, we are limiting the glory God receives from the church in that the church is more our reflection than His. We are limiting the ability of God's church to worship Him. We are limiting the ability of the church to do what it needs to do. A service-centered attitude in the church is a Christ-centered attitude. We are no better in the Body of Christ than we are doing Christ's work as the Body.
Second, we must make sure that we are doing the work and not expecting others (or hiring out) to do our work. In many churches the answer to more ministry and service is a new staff member. Hire a new pastor and then we can do many more things. Sure there will be a productivity increase, but not to what it needs to be. In Acts 6 we have a passage that I believe introduces the role of the deacon. The apostles could not give proper attention to leading the church in the ministry of the word because they were waiting tables. They chose out men to help with this so they could teach. It is true to this day. Pastors are to function in the church as the leading and training agents for the rest of the church to do what God has called them to do. In Ephesians 4 Paul presents this:
he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 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, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Ephesians 4:11-14, ESV)
Notice that the job of these offices is to equip the saints. It is not their job to do everything. They are just one part of the body—a visible part—but just one part that relies upon the remaining members to do their part. Members are to share in the work of the church with their leadership, not leaving the work to church staff.
Find ways to serve others in the church. Encourage others to serve more. It will make our church more loving, stronger, and able to glorify our Lord and Savior greater.