The ‘What’, ‘How’, & ‘Why’ of Christian Faithfulness

From Genesis to Revelation, God’s people are exhorted to faithfulness. There are places where we are exhorted generally (i.e. ‘Love the Lord your God’) and other places where we find detailed prescriptions for our behaviour (see the Book of Leviticus). While no single passage of Scripture provides an exhaustive description of Christian faithfulness, there is a passage which provides a brief, yet thorough, summary of how the Christian ought to live. That passage is 1Peter 4:7-11.

Here, Peter describes ‘What’ we ought to be doing, and he does so in a particular, and helpful, order. Peter then explains ‘How’ we ought to follow/serve Christ.  And finally, Peter explains ‘Why’ (to what end) we should engage in such activities in such a manner. 

On Jan. 18 at St. Giles Kingsway and The Well, and again on Jan. 25 at St. Andrew’s-Bermuda, I spoke from this passage under the heading, ‘Faithfulness Explained’.

First, to the ‘What’:

  1. FOCUS – before we can render service, before we can effectively pray, we need our minds to be under control—we need to focus. Accordingly, Peter implores us, “Be clear-minded and self-controlled” (v.7).
  2. PRAY – this is our vital connection with the One whom we desire to honour with our service. In order to please Him with our actions, we must first seek and discern His will. The reason Peter gives for bringing our minds under control is “so that (we) can pray” (v.7).
  3. LOVE – this is a note often sounded by Jesus Himself. It is a theme picked up by Paul, John, and here, Peter. The NIV rendering is “Above all, love one another deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins” (v.8). The rendering “deeply” is a bit misleading. The Greek implies strain, effort, and toil. It is a word used to describe the exertion of an athlete. Peter is exhorting us to stretch our love beyond normal boundaries and to widen the circle of those we seek to love. 
  4. SERVE – genuine love is always marked by action and so we are not surprised to hear Peter’s call “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (v.9). I love the two qualifiers here. First, hospitality is multi-directional. That is, we give hospitality and we receive hospitality–it is offered to “one another”. Secondly, it appears that the temptation to begrudge serving another is a timeless temptation. I hear Peter saying that grumbling ruins service. Service, as the overflow of Christian love, should always be marked by joy.
  5. SPEAK – we’re likely familiar with the saying, ‘If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say it.’ Peter ups the ante on that when he says, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God” (v.11). In other words, if you don’t have something to say that would please God, or be said by God, don’t say it.

If you’re slightly intimidated by the list of ‘What’ we ought to be doing, you are not alone. By our own efforts we will fail to be faithful. Thankfully, my faithfulness does not come from my power, but from God’s power. Peter explains ‘How’ to be faithful when he exhorts us, “If anyone serves, he should do with with the strength God supplies” (v.11). Yes, God offers Divine power as we seek to conform to His will. This matches the experience of the apostle Paul who wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). 

And lest anyone think that the call to FOCUS, PRAY, LOVE, SERVE, and SPEAK has its aim at making us spiritual superheroes, Peter also clarifies the ‘Why’ in this passage. We are reminded by Peter that this isn’t about us. Our pursuit of faithfulness is for Christ’s sake, “If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God supplies so that in all things God is glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen” (v.11). 

While the primary aim of Christian faithfulness is God’s glory, I wouldn’t want anyone to think this aim is at odds with our joy. But the order is important. We aim first at God’s glory; we serve God and one another by God’s power and the overflow of that service will be our deep, abiding, joy.   

John Piper says it well, ‘God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him.’ 

Have a listen to the message below, and be encouraged in your pursuit of faithfulness. 

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Be A Follower!

We want our life to count for something. We want to know that the effort we invest is going to make a difference. In short, we want our life to have purpose.

I have asserted elsewhere that progress comes from purpose. Advances come when we take specific aim at something. In other words, we don’t drift forward. Forward progress, gains, come from focussed effort.

But where do we learn purpose? Where do we learn what to aim at? As a Christian, my instinctive response is to say that we learn our purpose from the Scriptures. But, more specifically, I would suggest that we learn purpose from tracking with particular individuals who are revealed to us in the Bible. We learn purpose by following in the footsteps of others

In 1Samuel 25, we are introduced to a man named Nabal. Nabal, quite simply, lived for himself. Nabal’s purpose in life was to please Nabal. I suspect we all know individuals who fit that description. King David lived in Nabal’s day (even though he wasn’t King at that point) and even interacted with some of Nabal’s servants. Further on in the Scriptures, in Acts 13:36, the apostle Paul tells us about David’s aim in life: “when David had served God’s purposes in his generation he died.”

Nabal lived for himself. David lived for something bigger than himself. David lived to fulfill God’s purposes and, in doing so, found satisfaction for his soul.

I don’t want to make it sound cut and dried as if it is one or the other. I see a bit of Nabal in Bryn MacPhail. I sometimes catch myself wanting to serve my own purposes. I wish I could tell you that is a rare thing……in my heart of hearts, however, I long for the description given to David’s life. I want the primary orientation of my life to be God’s purposes. My spirit resonates with the words of Jesus—that we actually gain our life by losing it (Luke 9:24).

If you have tracked David’s life, you already know that he was far from perfect. He was a highly flawed individual. He had serious moral failings. Nevertheless, the general trajectory of David’s life is commendable to us. This is how God describes this trajectory: “I have found David son of Jesse a man after My own heart; he will do everything I want him to.” (Acts 13:22).

It appears then that living for God involves something more than outward conformity. It seems to be the case that following Jesus involves a connecting of hearts. It’s not simply the case that David did what God required, but that David longed to do that which pleased God. Following was not a matter merely of duty for David. No, David was inclined to follow.

How do we get there? How do we better orient our affections toward God?  If you’re even asking these questions, that’s a great sign(!), and it is my privilege to declare to you that becoming a person ‘after God’s own heart’ is within your grasp. In a message I delivered last Sunday at St. Giles Kingsway and The Well, I asserted that proximity is the key to altering the inclinations of our heart. 

As parents, we sometimes worry about who our children choose as friends. We worry because we recognize that proximity influences. When we spend a lot of time with someone, it has an impact on our behaviour. It can even affect our core values. If you are one who seeks to follow Jesus, this principle translates well for us: Becoming like Christ comes from being with Christ. 

Have a listen to the message and be encouraged to serve God’s purposes in your generation! 

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The Way of Progress

Do you make New Year’s resolutions? 

I do.

I seem to make fewer each year as I note the difficulty I have in following through with them. For example, I want to write here that I resolve to post on this blog with greater frequency, but I’m afraid that might not happen. I do want to post more often, but ‘wanting’ and ‘resolving’ are very different things in my mind.

It is reported that in a celebrity golf tournament a number of years ago, the celebrity partner of Jack Nicklaus was in awe of Jack’s performance. After a particularly outstanding putt, the celebrity turned to Jack and exclaimed, “I wish I could putt like that!” To which Nicklaus promptly replied, “I didn’t get to putt like this by wishing.”

If you did make some resolutions for 2009, were any of them of a spiritual nature? In other words, when you consider spiritual growth, is this something you “wish” for, or is something you’re committed to working towards?

I once heard it said, “If you aim at nothing you’ll hit it every time.” The idea here is that PROGRESS follows PURPOSE. The gains we make, the advances, the progress—these things come from focused effort. And so when it comes to spiritual growth, I think it is important to recognize that we won’t achieve this by drifting.

If we desire to follow Christ more closely in 2009, we will need to take specific aim.

For some of us, we will need to aim for things we currently lack. For others, the emphasis of our aim will be to remove some things in our life that have become barriers to growth. I’m not going to pretend that I know specifically all of the things you’ll need to aim at. But, what I do know, is that you will not grow spiritually by drifting. You will not make spiritual advances without aiming, and resolving, to make such advances.

If you are like me, and are tired of the status quo, may I encourage you to have a listen to a message I delivered on December 28, 2008. This along with the message I’m delivering this Sunday at St. Giles Kingsway and The Well, are meant to set-up a new message series, “What Are We Aiming At?”, which begins February 1. 

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Reading your comments is always great, but if you’re feeling really brave I’d love to hear about your spiritual aims for 2009.