Week of May 19: Hope through stewardship integrity
By Dr. Hal Brady
Week of May 19
Scripture: I Peter 4: 1-11
Peter states, “The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers” (4:7). Obviously, Peter expects the return of Christ in the near future. Unlike Paul, however, Peter’s expectancy of the return of Christ is not urgent. Peter simply declares that all of us should live in the present world in such a way that we will be ready whenever he comes to us. Therefore, Peter urges us to be serious and disciplined in our faith as we face our responsibilities in the present world.
In the midst of all kinds of worldly temptations, how can we keep our integrity and yet find hope for a better life?
We can understand that suffering and faithfulness are not opposites!
Before we proceed further, we need to note that the community Peter is addressing is well acquainted with suffering. This suffering may be present persecution or threats of persecution, but either way there is a bonding connection here to Christ’s suffering (4:1). Peter challenges his hearers not to think of their suffering as a result of their faithfulness, but to associate their current sufferings with the suffering of Christ. Underline this! Peter’s hearers were to associate their sufferings with the suffering of Christ. For what that means is that the path of discipleship and covenant community follow One who knew and knows all about sorrows and grief.
Now, this can become a harsh reality for numbers of present-day individuals and churches. It indicates that the “prosperity Gospel” (the preaching of material welfare) and the “Gospel of military triumphalism” (ultimate earthly victory over one’s rival or enemy) in exchange for following Jesus is not the Christian faith. These messages are not the Gospel message that Peter proclaims. As one scholar observed, “Rather, the new life to which we are called, individually and in community, is associated with sharing in the sufferings of Christ, rather than gorging on the “me-first” desires of self-gratification alluded to in verse three.”
We can be sure that competing theologies of Peter’s understanding of faith will not fade away quietly in this present day. The results of this continuing struggle will be confusion about the meaning of discipleship and dwindling church rolls. But our calling is not to seek ways to avoid suffering, but to be faithful in our suffering as Christ was in His.
We can be stewards of God’s grace!
We are told and we know that several options exist when folks believe that the end of anything is near. In Peter 1:4, the specific concern is the end of the world. So, while we wait, how will we respond to that coming reality? Among others, two options clearly present themselves: do nothing (it won’t matter anyway) or do whatever one pleases (live it up before it’s over).
But Peter offers a drastically different response! In verse 10, which is the key verse of our scripture lesson, Peter states, “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.”
Here Peter is urging the faith community to own its covenantal responsibility toward one another, a responsibility he believes that is grounded in active stewardship. The basic idea is that God in his grace has given to us various gifts in our ministry to each other as good stewards. To be sure, we do not all have the same gifts, but we are to use the gifts we have to build up the community and serve others.
I want to call your attention to two of the specific gifts that Peter mentions. First, Peter calls our attention to the importance of loving one another. Peter says, “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins” (4:8). Love is not something we pass through on our way to some higher spiritual knowledge. Love is the constant sure sign of discipleship.
Peter goes on to add that “love covers a multitude of sins.” As one scholar points out, “Peter certainly doesn’t mean that love for people is to be taken as a substitute for the response to the preaching of the Gospel of repentance, faith, love, and obedience.” But it is true that love can enable us and others to overlook many of the failures that mark all our conduct.
If we are honest, most of us know that our lives have been richly blessed by the fellowship of the saints. We know we have become surer of God and God’s grace because of this loving, accepting fellowship. I know I have.
Second, Peter stresses the significance of serving one another. Peter says, “Serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received” (4:10). Peter focuses on the rendering of service. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus stated that “the Son of man came not to be served but to serve…” and, along with Peter, Jesus calls the Christian to minister to others in need wherever and in whatever ways possible. This requirement entails all our various gifts as we look to God for strength.
It’s impossible to mention stewardship gifts and leave out financial resources. Paul mentions in Romans 12:8 “the giver, in generosity.” Perhaps Christian author Elisabeth Elliott summarizes what needs to be said. Elisabeth Elliott believes that “the whole purpose of life is to learn to know God. Now, if finances are a part of life, then the purpose of finances must also be to know God, too—to love God and to love humankind and to share with them.”
In conclusion, Peter says that God has given us various gifts and called us to be good stewards so that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. If we follow Peter’s direction, whenever the end comes, we will be ready.
What actions does Peter urge this congregation to take in order to show themselves well-disciplined followers of Jesus? (I Peter 4:7-11)
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues his ministry through Hal Brady Ministries (www.halbradyministries.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.