24th Sunday After Trinity November 9, 1997
1 Peter 4:7-11
But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
In the name of the triune God, through whom we have received all that we have, dear fellow believers in Christ, dear fellow redeemed.
The Bible contains many words that we do not use in regular conversation. Words like grace, redeem, sanctify, righteousness, or gospel have to be defined and understood properly. They are excellent words that God Himself has put into the language of His Word. We should not discard the terminology that God has given. The medical world has terminology that doctors and nurses use to describe the human body. Scientists learn a certain terminology to describe their field of expertise. Christians likewise will employ the terminology of God’s Word to describe and identify the doctrines of spiritual truth.
Today we shall focus on one specific word which describes our daily life as Christians. This word is found in our text. It is also used as part of our theme. Believers, Peter tells us, are the stewards of God’s gifts. Do we understand what a steward is and what a steward does? We should, because each one of us has a God-given role as Christian stewards. As we examine the concept of stewardship, let’s realize four important truths.
So what is this business of stewardship? Peter tells us to be “good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” What does that mean? Simply put, a steward is someone who handles and manages the property of somebody else. A trustee would fit the description of a steward. People in the military act as stewards when they handle the weapons and equipment that is owned by the US government. Your pastor is a steward of certain property that you own as a congregation. You give me a house to live in. I call the parsonage my home, only because I live there. But the property is yours. I am merely the steward, the one who uses the property. Well, the Bible makes it clear that we all are stewards of God’s property. Everything we have is loaned to us by Him. Your possessions at home, your money, your car, your house—these material things are really not your own. Likewise your children, your time on this earth, your life, your body and soul—these don’t belong to you either. You are not the owner; you and I are merely the stewards, even of ourselves. Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “You are not your own, for you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
If we keep the stewardship principle in mind, it changes our entire outlook. Everything that we have is a gift that we use for a certain period of time until the Lord takes stock of how we managed and used His gifts. Think of it this way. He loaned you life, so that your life could be used to His glory. He loans you children, so that these young souls can be led into His kingdom. He loans you money and things to be used as tools that carry out His will. Even the time that we have is a loan; we must use that time wisely, for someday the time of our life and our time on this earth will be over. As stewards of God’s gifts, we have a God-given deadline to accomplish His purposes.
Peter says, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers.” Our stewardship must begin with the right attitude. God wants us to think in terms of time and purpose. He has given us a certain amount of time to accomplish a very specific purpose. God wants us to be life-savers, soul-savers. We start with ourselves by focusing attention on our own spiritual needs. Then we branch out to our children, making sure that they know the way of salvation through Jesus Christ. We also look out for our fellow believers, so that none of God’s children are caught by the snares of Satan. The soul-saving mission that God has given would also cover anyone who does not know the Savior. We are on this earth to be distributors of God’s grace and mercy. God is sending you out to share the message of Christ with any friend or neighbor who is still in the darkness of unbelief.
Can we put this mission on hold and do it at a later time? Peter tells us not to; “the end of all things is at hand,” he says. God has set a limited time to carry out the work of saving souls. Let’s always remember that the end of our life, the end of our neighbor’s life, and the end of time itself could be at any moment. So we need to teach the Gospel to our children right now. We need to share Jesus with our friend right now. We need to help the foreign missionary now. Tomorrow might be too late. Now is the time to address the spiritual needs of our families and church members. Now is the time to address the opportunities we have to do mission work.
The Lord has set a specific deadline to carry out His mission of saving souls. Though we do not know the exact date and time when our work is due, we do know this: we are not alone in the task that we face. As stewards of God’s gifts, you do not act independently. God joins us together as co-workers.
We are joined together by the common faith that we have in Christ. We confess to believe the same doctrine. That common confession is the basis of our church, which is really like a team. A team that has received a very special assignment. The task of mission work, the task of Christian education, the task of spiritual care for all the members—all these tasks are the responsibility of the whole congregation. If we’re going to be successful in this work, we need to have unity among the members. There is simply no room for dissension. There is no room for grudges or unresolved conflict. Our relationship to each other will affect the team effort one way or the other. So the Bible tells us to support one another and work together to carry out the duties God has given.
Peter says in our text, “Have fervent love for one another, for love will cover a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” The Bible is filled with “one another” passages, like the one just read. In these passages the Lord directs believers to love one another, forgive one another, be patient with one another, and comfort one another. If we take these passages to heart, each member of the team will be much better off. And the team as a whole will have the unity it needs to carry out its mission as faithful stewards of God.
Let’s go back to our original definition of stewardship. We manage and use what God has given to serve His purpose. As stewards of God’s gifts, we are blessed in so many ways. In particular, God has supplied us with abilities and talents that we now use to serve each other.
When stewardship is discussed, we often think of money and offerings. But the concept is much broader. Remember—you don’t really own anything that you have. Your time, your talents, your treasures—it all comes by way of loan from God. As we heard in our Scripture reading (Matthew 25:14-30), God wants it back some day with interest. He wants us to use our talents in such a way that they produce blessings for other people.
However, we should note an important point in this discussion. In some ways God treats us the same. He loves us all with the same unconditional love. He redeemed us all with the same sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross. He has granted us the same forgiveness of our sins and the same hope of eternal life. In each believer’s heart He has created the same trust in Jesus Christ. But in the makeup of our personalities and the skills that we have and the amount of material things that we acquire, God has treated us differently. He has mixed up the gifts and the blessings. Some have the ability to teach; others don’t. Some have the ability to build and repair; others don’t. Some can handle money; others are good with words; others are good with people. We all have different kinds of ability and different levels of ability. And that’s good. God has mixed it up for a reason. He wants all of us to be involved in the common goal of teaching the Gospel and helping each other to follow God’s Word in our lives.
We can never have the attitude that somebody else will do the work. God calls upon each of us to examine our own capabilities and volunteer whatever talent we might have for the work of His kingdom. That goes especially for the young people in this church. During the early years of your life, you benefited directly from the work of others: your former Sunday School teachers, the members of the Church Council, and all the other adults who helped the church to operate. Someday you need to step up to the plate and take over these same duties. This church will need you to become the Sunday School teachers, the organists, the choir members, the church cleaners, the voters, and the council members. Please think about that. Plan on helping out. Volunteer your time and effort as soon as you can. I know you’ve got the talent, because God has given every one of you the ability to offer something in His behalf.
Not only that, He also gives you motivation. He doesn’t command you into action, like slaves who grudgingly follow the orders of their master. He leads you by His grace. He draws your heart to volunteer. He does it through the cross. God made the greatest sacrifice for you, when He offered up His Son. Jesus showed the greatest love and kindness toward you when He paid the price of all your sin. You’re not going to dismiss the cross as no big deal. It’s a very big deal! It’s the greatest thing that anyone ever did for you. Jesus did for us and gave to us what we did not deserve. He took the punishment of our sins so that we could escape the judgment of hell and enter the glory of heaven. Don’t you want to say thank you every single day of your life? When you stand at the cross and look at the sacrifice of our Lord, you will find the drive, the inner compulsion to be His steward and use all your talents for His service.
That’s the way God wants it. As grateful believers, we’re glad to let the Lord have His way. We know it’s the right way. It’s what the Lord deserves. As stewards of God, we are promoters of God’s name. The Lord gets all the glory when we act as His faithful stewards.
The very fact that we think of ourselves as stewards is an honor to God. We acknowledge Him as the source of all our blessings. We thank Him for all that He has given. We especially thank the Lord Jesus for becoming our Savior and giving us eternal life. Your involvement in this worship service is a good way to honor and glorify the Lord. You honor God by giving your offerings. You honor God by doing His will in other areas of your life: being a good parent, being a faithful spouse, being steadfast in your prayers, helping in the work of the church. We don’t do these things for self-promotion. After all, the good works that we do would never happen unless God made them happen. So He gets the credit. Our Christian lifestyle and our Christian stewardship can be summed up the words of Paul: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
Stewardship is never easy, because it goes against the grain of our human nature. We like to be in charge. But as the stewards of God, we give up control of our life to the One who gave us life. We look to Him to help us renew our commitment as His faithful stewards. In the process we’ll discover that Christian stewardship is the real key to lasting happiness and contentment. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.