The Discipline of Service (I Peter 4:10 sermon)

In 1910 Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech in Paris, France, on the kind of people that is needed to make a great society. A paragraph from that speech has become famous:

“It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly…who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at best, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Roosevelt was saying that part of what it takes to make a society great is a people who do not merely sit back and watch what their leaders are doing, but rather who each actively serve and help make the country what it should be. The same thing is true of a church. A healthy, successful church is one where the people do not just sit back and expect the ministers to serve, but where each church member is actively using their gifts to serve God.  

Over the last weeks we have been looking at the theme, “The Disciplines of Disciples”, and examining a number of the disciplines we are to practice as we follow Jesus as His disciples. Last week we saw that following Christ is not merely about practicing the “vertical” disciplines of our relationship with God, like morning prayers, and spontaneous prayers, and Bible reading and memorization, but that there is a “horizontal” aspect to our disciplines as well. We saw from Hebrews 10:25 that we are to practice “The Discipline of Fellowship” with other Christians at church, so that we might be an encouragement to them. But there are other elements to the “horizontal” disciples as well. One of them is found in our passage for today:

“As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” (I Peter 4:10)

We find here that one of “The Disciplines of Disciples” each of us should exercise is “The Discipline of Service.” Let’s look at what this verse teaches us about that Discipline of Service:

I. The Discipline of Service Begins As Each Christian Realizes Their Spiritual Gift
“As each one has received a special gift …”

Here is a fundamental point: EACH Christian has received a gift with which to serve in His church. Now, it is also important to be particular and say that it is each CHRISTIAN who has a spiritual gift. Ephesians says when trust in Jesus as your Savior, you are “sealed” with the Holy Spirit. He comes into your heart, your spirit. (We often call this “asking Jesus into your heart”. Some people do not like that term; I don’t think there is anything wrong with it, as long as you understand what is involved in it: that sin separates us from God — that’s why He’s not in your heart already; that Jesus came to die on the cross and pay for your sins, and when you trust Him as your Lord & Savior, He forgives you of your sins, and sends His Holy Spirit into your heart. “Technically” it is the Holy Spirit of Jesus who comes in, but to me there is nothing wrong with calling it “asking Jesus into your heart” IF you understand what it involved with it.) But when He does come in, the Bible says, He brings with Him a gift – an ability you are to use to serve Him. He does this for EVERY believer. I Corinthians 12:7 says “To EACH ONE is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

Do you notice the common theme: “EACH ONE has received a special gift.” “To EACH ONE is given the manifestation of the Spirit …”. EACH ONE! The Bible clearly teaches that EVERY Christian has a spiritual gift with which to serve the Lord. If you are a believer, you have a spiritual gift! No one is left out.

I remember being at a Christmas gathering one time, where someone had unexpectedly brought a couple of little girls with them to the gathering. Since they were unexpected, no one had brought anything for them. There were no gifts for them to open. It was very uncomfortable for many of the people there, and I can imagine it was not very fun for those little girls. No one likes to be left out when presents are being opened!

Unfortunately, that is what some people think that God has done. They think He has left them out, as far as a spiritual gift goes. In a Barna survey of spiritual gifts several years ago, he noted an increase in the number of Christians who had heard of the concept of spiritual gifts, but believed that THEY themselves did not have one! Listen, God did not “invite you to the party” without giving you a gift! He has given you a spiritual gift, a special ability to serve Him.

If you think God has left you out regarding spiritual gifts, you do not understand what the Bible teaches about gifts. Perhaps you have a preconceived idea about what it means to be gifted – that you don’t have a certain type of gifts, or can’t do certain things, like preach or teach or sing or play the piano. That is a very short-sighted view of what comprises ministry, and is a very limited view of spiritual gifts. There are many different spiritual gifts. This verse speaks about “the MANIFOLD grace of God.” God’s grace is “manifold” – many, different. There are many different spiritual gifts.

Romans 12:6-8 has one of the best lists of spiritual gifts in the New Testament. Let’s look at that for a few minutes this morning:

“Since we have gifts that differ according the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”

This is a list of 7 of the spiritual gifts. As you look at that list, the first is prophecy (not “foretelling”, but “forth-telling” — what we would call preaching or proclaiming the truth); that is one gift that would come to mind for many of us. And perhaps many of us would say, “I don’t have that gift.” But notice the second one: “he who serves in his serving.” There is a gift of “service.” It just means serving, helping in small ways, to see that God’s work goes forward. Unlike the person with the gift of prophecy or teaching, who is seen and heard by a lot of people, the person with the gift of helps will be behind the scenes, helping by setting up tables, or watching the babies in the nursery, or fixing up the building and grounds, or assisting in the office, running the lights or sound. What a lot of people don’t realize is that HELPING is a spiritual gift! Many of you have this, and haven’t realized: this is your spiritual gift! This is what God has called you to do – HELP! And there is a lot of help that is needed in the church! If we don’t have scores of people with the gift of helps using their gift in the church, the work of the church will come to a standstill! Many of you have that gift, but never realized that it IS a gift, and that it is important for you to be using it.

George Elliot, an English author from the 1800’s, wrote of one of her characters:

“… the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

Her point was that much of the good that is done in our world is done not by the “famous”, but by ordinary people who are just faithful to do “unhistoric” things that bless others greatly.

I think we can say the same thing about the church. The good that is done in church is quite dependent upon “unhistoric acts” — the things that usually go unnoticed: the person who just invited someone they knew to come; that there was someone who provided a nursery so that the mom could listen in a service and be changed; the fact that someone spoke a friendly greeting or word of encouragement and they never knew how much it meant; or cooked a meal and ministered to a family and made them feel loved; that someone ran the lights and sound and got the worship center ready so that everyone could come — and on and on. The good that God does through His church here on earth is not primarily through “historic acts”, but by the faithful people of God who just use the gifts God has given each of them.

But it begins when you understand that you have a spiritual gift for serving God in His church.

II. The Discipline of Service Continues As Each Christian Uses Their Gift

“… employ it in serving one another …”

Discovering your spiritual gift is just step one. Once you have discovered your gift, you need to DO SOMETHING specific with it. This verse says “EMPLOY IT in serving one another”! In other words, DO SOMETHING SPECIFIC with the gift God has given you.

Just think about it: when someone gives you a gift, what do they expect you to do with it? USE IT! When we lived in Louisiana, one of my friends there (Chuck Coleman) gave me a gift card for the driving range. I put that card in my wallet, and for a few weeks when I was getting stuff out of my wallet, I would see that card and think, “Boy, that sure was nice of Chuck to give me that!” But after I did that a few times, I thought, you know Shawn, Chuck did not give that to you so you can treasure it in your wallet! He gave it to you to USE it! (Actually he probably saw how bad my golf was, and was trying to do something to help!) So I made sure and went to the driving range and got that card out and used the gift he gave me!

It is the same with any gift that a person may give you. They want you to open it and USE it. If they give you golf clubs, they want you to take them out and use them. If they give you a fishing pole, they want you to take it out and fish. If they give you a grill, they want you to cook on it. If they give you a camera, they want you to take pictures with it. If they give you cologne, or clothes, they want you to wear it! Even a decoration is not meant to just sit in a box; it is meant to be taken out and USED to decorate the room! People don’t give you a gift to sit in a box; they give it to you to USE it.

It is the same way with the gifts God has given you. He has not given you a spiritual gift so that you can take a test and identify it on a chart! Your spiritual gift is to be used in a specific place of service in the church. “Employ it”! USE IT in some specific way in the church.

Now here is one difference in the gifts people give us, and the spiritual gifts God gives us. If someone gives you a gift, and you don’t use it, it just hurts you – you don’t play that golf, or wear those clothes, or whatever. But we see in this chapter that the spiritual gift God has given you is 1) for service for others and 2) for His glory. He says in this verse that we are to “Employ it in serving one another.” It is not for you; it is for others.

If you don’t use the gift God has given you in service, then things do not get done that should be done in the church. I walked into one of our nursing homes the other day, and as I got close to the room of the person I was going to see, I saw that they were sitting outside their room; a thoughtful, engaging person, still in her right mind, just sitting there. I almost burst into tears on the spot. That’s why we need an army of people caring for our folks in these homes. When we aren’t involved in ministry, there are people in nursing homes who are not seen; there are people are not reached, and saved, and ministered to. Children are not being taught; the sick and elderly are not being comforted; and the despondent are not being encouraged, because many of us are “leaving God’s gift card in the wallet” instead of getting it out and using it.

And it goes on to say in the next verse that all that we do is for God’s glory: “so that in all things God may be glorified.” Our ultimate motivation is the glory of God. When you have the gift of teaching, and you teach children or adults God’s truth, then they are helped, and they glorify God for what He has done. But if you don’t teach, people go untaught; their lives are not changed, and God is not glorified.

And on top of that, when you do not use your gift, those who ARE using their gifts have to carry even heavier burdens, because YOU are not doing your share! So you are not just hurting yourself when you don’t use your spiritual gift; you are hurting others who are not being ministered to; you are hurting those who are trying to take up for your slack; and you are not giving God the glory that should come to Him from the use of your gift.

So God says, USE the gift I gave you. “Employ it in serving one another.” You do that by finding a specific place of service in the church where you can put your gift to work. You say, “Well, I don’t know where to begin.” We will help you with that. Take the gifts survey card we distributed last week (there are more at the front of the worship center this morning) and fill that out, and let our staff see what you are able to do, and we will use those cards to help us place volunteers where they can best serve. There is also a teachers’ insert in the bulletin this week. (One change from previous years: we need to hear from you if you wish to continue). You may also indicate that you would like to teach in preschool, children, youth or adult classes. We want to raise up an army of God’s people to grow as disciples, and impact Burke County and the world for Christ. But we can’t know that you can teach, or help with computers, or children, or missions, or the kitchen, or whatever — if you don’t let us know. So be sure to fill one of those cards out and turn it in today or next week. It may take some “trial & error”, but don’t give up until you have found the thing that God wants you to be doing in the church.

Some others of you need to take another step. To be involved and have a specific place of service in a church, you need to be a member of that church. If a person is going to be a teacher in a church, he needs to have a commitment and accountability to the church as a member. A lot of people today don’t want to be become members of a church; they just want to “float around” and go wherever the preaching or music is good, or where something special happens to be going that weekend. That is a very selfish outlook. When it comes to church matters, I often like to ask myself: “What if everyone did what I am doing?” If you don’t have an active church membership, would you ask yourself: “What if everyone did what I am doing?” Who would teach classes? Who would keep ministries going? God did not make you to “float around” to whichever church has the best concert this week! He made you to belong to a specific local church where you can be known and loved for who you are, and where you can be accountable to people who know you; where you can be cared for — AND where you use your spiritual gift in a specific place of service. Some of you need to take the step today of joining the church so that you can use your gift here. Don’t waste your spiritual gift. Join a church – if God is not leading you to join this one, then please join somewhere. You need to be a member of a local church where you can use your spiritual gifts regularly in a specific place of service.

III. The Discipline of Service Ends With Accountability To God For Our Gifts

“… as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”

You are accountable to God for what you do with the gift that He has given you. This is the meaning of the phrase in this verse: “as good stewards”. A “steward” is someone who takes what someone has given him, and uses it in a way the giver intended. What he has is not his; it belongs to the person who has given it to him, and he is responsible to that person for what he does with what has been entrusted to him. It is like a steward (also called a “flight attendant”) on an airliner; they are given food and drinks and snacks to give out. But that food is not “theirs”; it has been given to them as a “stewardship” to give to the passengers. This is what it means to be a steward: a person who has been given something, with the responsibility to use it in the way it was intended. We often think of the word “steward” and “stewardship” in regard to our money — and money is one “stewardship.” But we are “stewards” of everything God has given to us, and that includes our gifts and abilities.

In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus tells the parable of the talents: of a master who gave to his slaves each a “talent” or sum of money. To one he gave 5 talents, to one 2, and to one, 1. They were each to take that talent and use it until he came back, and they gave an account to their master of what they did with what he gave them. The ones who had 5, and 2, doubled their money, and were rewarded. But the one who was only given one, buried his, and did nothing with it. That slave was punished by his master because he didn’t do anything with what had been given to him.

This parable applies to your spiritual gift. It is a stewardship from God. You will be judged by Him for what you do with it. God has given you this “talent” – this ability to serve Him. Are you out using it for His kingdom in some way? Or have you basically “buried it”, doing nothing with it?

This is what the “Judgment Seat” of Christ will be about (II Cor. 5:10). For Christians the judgment will not be about whether you are going to heaven or hell; “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Rather it will be about how you have handled the responsibilities that God has given you – among them, your spiritual gift. How have you used what God has given you, to serve Him? Your reward in heaven will be based to a great extent on the answer to that question.

You may say, but I don’t have great gifts. I can’t preach, or teach a class; I can’t get up there like some people can. No way I can go overseas. You may NOT have those abilities. But you will not be judged by God for what you cannot do; but for what you can.

Let me give you this example: Not long ago I read a book review on a new biography of evangelist George Whitfield, who preached back in the 1700’s. Few of us know him today, but Whitfield had an incredible impact in his day. When he preached in New York & Philadelphia, the crowds he preached to were greater in size than the population of those cities! People came from everywhere to hear him. Why did this happen? Well, of course, we have to attribute that to the working of the Spirit of God. But also, God had gifted Whitfield in an unusual way. The historian tells us that he had unusual gifts of oratory, vocal projection, and charisma perhaps greater than any other in history.

Now we don’t know, but let’s say just for the sake of example that Whitfield was given what we might call a “5-talent gift” — that might not be much of a stretch. Neither you nor I have that magnitude of a gift. Perhaps you might say, compared to George Whitfield, you only got a “1 talent gift” of some small ability, perhaps the gift of helps. What we have to remember is that the distribution of gifts is GOD’S choice, not ours, and you are not responsible for that. What YOU are responsible for is what you DO with the gifts He has given you. If God has given you a “1-talent gift”, the question is not “why aren’t you more gifted”, but “What are you doing with the gift God gave you?”

If you have a “1-talent gift”, you are not responsible for not being a charismatic preacher like George Whitfield, but you ARE responsible for what God DID give you the ability to do! Can you be a greeter one of our entryways and make people feel welcome the moment they come to church? Can you be a prayer partner for one of our missionaries? Can you watch some babies in the nursery or go help make friends for God in your neighborhood or workplace and invite them to church? Can you run the sound system or work in the kitchen, or set up or clean the fellowship hall? These are some important jobs, that don’t take a “5-talent gift”, but if they don’t get done, the church as a whole does not function well.

God showed us in Jesus’ Parable of the Talents that He is not looking so much at what gift He gave you — He determined that — but at what you are DOING with the gift He has given you. That last slave in Matthew 25 was not punished because he wasn’t given 5 talents; he was punished because he didn’t do anything with the ONE he was given! In the same way, you will not be held accountable by God for not being a preacher or missionary or evangelist if He has not gifted you to do those things – but you WILL be held accountable for not loving people, helping in the nursery, or serving on a committee when you were able to do that. You will be judged by how faithful you were with whatever God gave you the ability to do.

See, the question for most of us today is not “Are you the next George Whitfield?” The next George Whitfield may be here today in one of our students, but that is rare. The real question for most of us here today is: who will be the next Kerri Phipps, who will serve behind the scenes as a servant, making the worship ministry go? Who will be the next Eric Davis or Sam Scott or Brad Kirkley or Rick Lindsay and make sure that our A/V services run smoothly each week? Who will be the next Peggy Self, who will cheer the hearts of hundreds of God’s saints with notes of encouragement? Who will be the next Jerel Dean Carroll or Norine Miller who will give of their time during the week to prepare crafts for VBS kids? You won’t be judged because you’re not George Whitfield, or Billy Graham. God just wants you to be YOU, the you He has made you and put into practice whatever gift He has given you for His church, in “The Discipline of Service.”


— Every Christian needs to ask yourself today: ‘What am I doing for the Kingdom of God through my church?” What’s God given you the ability to do, and where should you be using it?

— Some of you don’t have a gift from God because you have never come to Jesus to be saved, and the Holy Spirit is not in your life. The most important thing you need today is not to find some place to serve, but to trust Jesus and be saved!

— Others of you need a church home in which to serve; and you should join this church today …

About Shawn Thomas

My blog,, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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