A Stewardship of Grace
I still remember that summer evening in Georgia when, as a new Christian, I heard the Bible taught for the first time. I sat there stunned, as Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12 were explained. I had had no idea that Bible teaching could be so alive and feed my heart’s hunger for truth. I listened and learned that not only was I now God’s child, but I was also interconnected with every other person who believed in Jesus. To use the phrase from the 60s, all of us were now part of God’s Forever Family.
A family that was God’s, and a family that was forever. Those friendships were close, and I felt as if I truly did have new sisters and brothers. I can recall the songs, tears, hugs and laughter. I remember times of fun and times of help as we shared in each others’ lives.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:7, that God has given to each Christian the means to help each other; these gifts of God are different, but every single one visibly manifests, or, as D. A. Carson says, shows, God’s Spirit for the help of all. In 1 Peter 4:10, Peter writes:
“As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”
Look at what this brief verse teaches about spiritual gifts. Each believer has received a special gift with a responsibility of service towards other believers and an accountability of stewardship towards God. A special gift—for serving others—as good stewards.
Notice the gifts are received. Spiritual gifts are given by God—they are not of ourselves— we are stewards. We have been entrusted with spiritual gifts for the specific purpose of service. Notice also the further explanation Peter gives regarding our stewardship: we are stewards of the manifold grace of God. Each of these gifts are part of God’s manifold grace to His children. One of my pastors, Mike Braun, used to define grace as God’s provision for what you need. Well, the different gifts are part of God’s provision for what we need!
So what does this have to do with a cat holding a ball of yarn? The Greek word that is translated as manifold, ποικίλος, means many-colored. God has given to each believer in Jesus different gifts. We need to hear the Bible taught—He gives the gift of teaching; we need a listening ear—He gives the gift of encouragement; we need help to care for a sick child—He gives the gift of service; each gift of grace is given by God and manifests His care for us. We are not one member, but many members in one body, the body of Christ, and we cannot say we have no need of each other.
“…we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
If we can grasp the connection between spiritual gifts and being stewards of God’s grace, it will help us shift our focus of understanding of spiritual gifts to God and to each other, rather than ourselves. We are stewards in service, not stars of a show. What we give to each other enables each other to grow as Christians. What we give to each other enables each other to walk faithfully with God.
Whether you’re helping someone who is suffering or mentoring someone who is a new Christian, you must realize you meet on level ground. Even as you help, you can be helped; if not now, then sometime in the future. There are always things to learn from others, including those who have only been Christians for a week.
One of the most important things my friend Lisa did for me was to never patronize me or treat me as if I were deficient because I was suffering. No one wants to be seen as a project, but known as a person. Lisa did that. She shared herself with me, and was a friend on level ground. As I was able later to share with her some things I had written, her appreciation for my work as a ministry to her meant a great deal to me. You can see this principle in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians about giving funds to help others:
“For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality–at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality;”
2 Corinthians 6:13-14
John MacArthur gives insight into this verse:
“…Now as soon as I say the word “equality” all kinds of red flags go up. That word is so loaded in our culture that I’m not sure I can unload it sufficiently for you to understand it.
“So if I might be given some license in the translation here, I would prefer to substitute the word “balance…balance,” that’s really what he’s asking here, or even equilibrium, if you like because that is the word that he uses. That is the word. It’s the word for balance, isotes. You know the science of isostasy, that’s the study of the balance of the earth. Paul says, you know, there are highs and lows in life….The issue here is to sort of find some balance on the highs and the low sides….”
A patronizing attitude is debilitating on both sides. Ministry done with humility and with an attitude of knowing that you, yourself, cannot supply all your needs, and realizing that this person or someone else can give to you, keeps you from becoming puffed up with yourself. And—to be able to offer something in return actually helps those who are suffering have courage to persevere, because they realize they are not perceived as someone who cannot give or do anything of worth for someone else. This is part of living out 1 Corinthians 12:18-21:
“But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ ”
In reviewing research on those who have shown resilience in the face and aftermath of trauma, Dr. Stuart Schneiderman reflected on differentiating factors:
Most of the answers are unsurprising. Supportive families and communities head the list.
If trauma tends to make people feel isolated and alone, if it causes psychological damage for making a person feel different, as though he had become someone else, then support from family and community, constant reinforcement of the fact that he has not changed will matter.
This differs from therapies that encourages [sic] people to join a group of fellow victims. Groups of victims tend to offer people a new identity at a time when the important thing is to recover their old identity.
Dr. Schneiderman is not speaking in terms of the New Testament teaching of the old man and the new man, but of what countermands trauma’s damaging effects. If I understand him correctly, he is stating that researchers have observed that what is truly helpful for trauma recovery is to remind a person of who he is.
God’s beneficial use of affliction in our lives is to transform us into the likeness of Christ and bring positive tempering and proving of our faith; God wants us to know who He is and who we are in Christ. One of my best church experiences was one in which I was helped in my difficulties, while at the same time I was also thanked for what I gave to others. Conversely, I was later in a church situation in which the things I could give were not wanted, and I was also criticized for my inability in areas of struggle. The love and acceptance in the first church enabled me to keep my balance in a hard situation, while the condemnation in the other church was debilitating. In the first situation the actions and words of other Christians reminded me of the grace and help of God—affliction did not damage and distort, but provided strengthening.
Affliction challenges our understanding of life, self and God. We help each other by reflecting and reinforcing God’s truth in the midst of suffering. That’s done in many ways, and it takes a deft hand and heart of love to know what to give and how to receive. It means taking time to know the other person in order not only to recognize what they need, but to recognize and value what they, in turn, have to give. When our world is reeling, we help each other stand on level ground.
A Stewardship of Grace
Spielendes Kätzchen: Loliloli, Public Domain
Spools of Thread: USDA, Public Domain
D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit, Baker Books, 1987.
Original content: Copyright ©2010 Iwana Carpenter