Tag Archives: Deacon

Glorifying God through the Exercise of Gifts

 

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 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 4:7-11

In the passage cited above, the Apostle Peter, writing to the elect exiles of the Diaspora, encourages them in the midst of suffering and persecution by making reference to the imminency of the end of all things.  Because of this,  he writes that they should be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of their prayers.   The concepts of sobriety and self-control are central in the writings of Peter.  Here their apparent application relates to the troubling circumstances swirling around these believers, with regard to their suffering, and the arrival of the last days.  In a sense, he’s saying keep your wits about you and be diligent, though he adds an interesting reason, “for the sake of your prayers.”  The opposite approach, i.e. that of panic and anxiety would therefore be a hindrance to prayer, likely in knowing for what and how to pray.

Moving along, next there is a shift to the supremacy of love, a defining characteristic of believer’s relationships, specifically as it is evidence in how they react to one another when sinned against.  Because of their love towards one another, it cover’s a number of offenses within the relationship, wherefore believers should be willing – more so than others – to overlook these for the sake of reconciliation or avoiding fractures in the relationship.  To support this point, Peter cites Proverbs 10:12, adding weight to the idea that because of love, the focus shifts from the sin to the person.  Granted, this is not an instruction to ignore sin.

In the contextual flow of the passage, it seems that the remainder of the section is supportive of this concept of love.  In other words, the upcoming discussion on the exercise of spiritual gifts is seen as an expression of love.  First, we have the exhortation to show hospitality, with a noted exhortation against grumbling.  Simply stated, this is making guests feel welcome, perhaps most evidenced in inviting others into the home.  Interestingly, this word for hospitality, philoxenos, is only used two other times in the New Testament, both in passages that have traditionally been used to uphold the characteristics of those who hold the “church office” of overseer/bishop/elder/shepherd (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8)).  However, here in 1 Peter it has all believers in view.  Perhaps this deserves more of our attention.

From hospitality, indeed flowing out of it, the passage moves towards an emphasis on the exercise of gifts, which we find specifically falling into two categories: speaking gifts and deaconing (service) gifts.  For all of the wrestling and wrangling over spiritual gifts that has taken place throughout Christian history, our passage offers some much needed simplicity, those who have been gifted to speak or teach and those who have been gifted to serve.  Largely, the New Testament list of gifts, found in Romans 12 and 1 Cor. 12 and Ephesians 4 can fall into one or both of these categories, with some distinction and some overlap.

The subject of gifts is introduced by noting that they are given [by God] to believers.  These gifts, which again generally fall into two categories, are to be used, not neglected, not shelved, not wasted, but used.  If you have been given a gift, use it.  If there is nowhere to use your gift, find a place, create a place, and use it.  As in the parable of the talents, we will be held accountable for the gifts we have been given.  Similarly, to those who have been given much, much will be required (Luke 12:48).  The first purpose for these gifts, we are told, is to serve one another.  All gifts are for serving one another, regardless of the category or type.

The literal word used here for serving is the same word translated elsewhere as deacon, diakoneo, most notably Acts 6:22, 1 Timothy 3:10, and 1 Timothy 3:13.  Again we are confronted with the reality that those functions so traditionally assigned to church officers are in this passage expanded to all believers.  A gathering of believers was never meant to be dominated by a few “officers” who did all the work and exercised their individual gifts.  Rather, it was always the expectation that everyone had been gifted in some capacity and should have both the initiative and the opportunity to exercise those gifts.

Further, we see that we are to exercise these gifts as, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.   Two points worth noting here, first, that we are to use our gifts as good stewards, or literally good house managers.  Regarding this, Vine’s dictionary describes this as a, “superior servant responsible for the family house keeping, the direction of other servants, and the care of the children under age.”  If in a house there are servants and superior servants, separated by the exercise of the gifts they have been given, which should we aspire to be?

The next point is that this stewardship is of, “God’s varied grace,” which seems in part to be referencing the various ways God’s grace has been manifested through the giving of gifts to believers.  As we read elsewhere, there is diversity in the body of believers, and as such each should operate according to the gifts they have been given, which are a reflection of the variety in God’s grace.  There, of course, is a general measure in which we have all been given the gifts of speaking and service, yet here in view are those especial manifestations of gifting.  Therefore, it would be inappropriate for anyone to refuse the opportunity for one to exercise their gift, or for anyone to force the exercise of a gift which someone has not been given.  Perhaps a practical example of this, from the early ekklesia and our churches today, would be that if there’s no elder/overseer, then there’s no elder/overseer.  Filling that with a warm body is harmful to the individual and the fellowship of believers.

Turning now to the two categories of gifts, first in view are those gifted to speak, laleo.  A general word for speaking, it is held in combination with the oracles of God, literally the Word of God.  In Peter’s day, this was a clear reference to the Scriptures which we now call the Old Testament.  In our day, not only would it include the Old Testament, but the whole corpus of God’s written revelation.  This provides the guardrails for our speaking, much like the “Great Commission” given in Matthew 28:18-20.  We are limited, by Scripture, in what we are to speak.

Next are our second category, the gifts of service.  These we read are to be exercised not through self-effort or self-strength, but through the strength that God supplies.  In Western Society where “church” is a near equivalent with Christendom and where the institutional nature of the church, i.e., business, budgets, and buildings reign supreme, burnout is a very real possibility in ministry.  This is due to a number of factors, not the least of which is the pursuit of enlarged influence, even when properly motivated, through self-strength.  Contrary to this is the exercise of gifts of service in the context of one-anothering through the endless supply of strength that the Lord supplies allowing us to operate under the banner of love for the glorification of His name.

Which brings us to the final point.  All of these things, writes Peter, are so that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.  The gifts that God supplies through the variations of His grace are meant to be exercised for serving one another such that God is glorified, bringing it full circle back to the Originator.  Surely then we may sing with the Apostle who writes, it is from Whom, through Whom, and to Whom are all things (Rom. 11:36)!  Consider the gifts that God has given you and exercise them for the service of your brothers and sisters in Christ for the glorification of God.

Soli Deo Gloria!

 

Kingdom Leaders – Part 1

 

In this Series

Recently we asked the question, “Who are your leaders?” a post in which two critical passages on Kingdom leadership were introduced,  Matthew 20:20-28 and Matthew 23:1-12.  After that post, we looked at how Jesus established a Kingdom Paradigm through which the believer is supposed to view this world and function within a Christian Community.  In this post, we’ll drill down a little more into the first of the two passage cited above and move from its introduction, in the previous posts, to its exposition in order to help us understand the nature of leadership that our Lord Jesus Christ came to establish in His kingdom.

Matthew 20:20-28 – Gentile Leadership

In our previous introduction of Matthew 20, we noted that the context is the prophetic announcement of our Lord’s pending death (Matt. 20:17-20).  It is out of this declaration of Christ’s suffering that the stench of desire for positional authority arises with the request from the mother of James and John that her sons may sit one each at Jesus’ right and left hand  in His kingdom.

The background for this request comes from Matthew 19:28,

“Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

However, despite their mother’s belief in the fulfillment of this promise, the request reveals some improper motivations and aspirations or at best a failure to understand the timing of the fulfillment.

Jesus’ reply, directed to the brothers, is to test the sincerity of the request (Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?), but then to deny it on the basis that it’s not a position for Him to give, to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”  It’s likely that the cup of the Lord here is the cup of suffering that He would soon drink.  What our Lord would endure by drinking the cup of God’s wrath and enduring suffering on the cross, would, with regard to suffering, be expected of those who would follow Him (Matt. 20:23; 16:24-26).

With this principle firmly established, Jesus turns His response towards a rebuke of their desire for positional authority by appealing to the leadership of gentile nations

“But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.” Matt. 20:25

In the midst of this rebuke, Jesus looks towards the worldly leadership structure of the Gentiles (pagans), emphasizing that they “lord it over” and in doing so He provides a negative example for authority.  This particular phrase, lord it over, is also used in 1 Peter 5:3, specifically in the context of shepherding the flock of God, “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.”   We must ask, does this refer to the character of the authority or to the authority itself?

The word, translated as lord it over (katakurieuo), used in both passages, means “to bring under ones power; to subject to oneself; subdue; be master of”.  It appears to speak less to the character of the authority and more to the authority itself.  This becomes particularly evident in the context with the second statement, “their great ones exercise authority over them.”  Here there’s little confusion as to whether the character of authority is in view or whether authority itself is in view.   Clearly, the latter is the focus.  With this in mind, the establishment and dissemination of power in the Gentile world is held up as a an example, one not to be followed by Christ’s disciples, “It shall not be so among you.”

This passage, as I’ve been guilty of, is usually interpreted to mean that when in positions of church authority or leadership you are not to lord it over people or be domineering over people, much like a taskmaster.  However, that is not the main point, if it’s even a point at all, as we alluded to above.  Clarity is added by the kingdom paradigm that Jesus provides as an alternative to Gentile authority

But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave”  Matthew 20:26b-27

In opposition to the negative example, this statement sets forth a positive example of servant and slave that speaks not so much about the character of the authority, but to the position of authority itself.  The contrast is between master and servant, not between a domineering attitude and a servant-heart attitude.  Additionally, we must note that the word servant used here is the same word that is sometimes translated as deacon.  Literally it says, “whoever desires authority among you, [eimi – must be] your deacon.”  (I’m retaining deacon here for a point we’ll discuss in another post) The contrast could not be more striking.  Instead of being masters, believers are to be servants and slaves.

However, the passage does not end here.  Our Lord is not content to hold up an errant model of leadership and authority nor to simply give a commandment for His disciples to follow.  No, He provides the pattern and example of leadership through His own life as the Suffering Servant, “even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Literally this says, “even as the Son of Man came not to be deaconed but to deacon, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus provides a negative example, a command, and the positive example for how He has structured authority and leadership in His kingdom and it is precisely the opposite of the world’s pattern.  Genuine leadership always leads by example.

Kingdom leadership as defined by our Lord is not one of ascension to a position of authority, as with the Gentile nations, but one of descension existing among those who are functioning as servants and slaves.