Living as an Embassy of Love in a Foreign Land
Topic: Love For One Another Passage: 1 Peter 4:8–11
LIVING AS AN EMBASSY OF LOVE IN A FOREIGN LAND
An Exposition of 1 Peter 4:8-11
By Pastor Brian Wilbur
Date: January 19, 2019
Series: Living in Christ’s Kingdom
Note: Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
As far as I remember, Jonathan Leeman is the first person who got me thinking about the local church as an embassy. An embassy is a delegation of people who represent their home country in a foreign country. So a country like the United States of America has embassies throughout the world. The American embassy in Russia represents the mindset and interests of our government to the government of Russia. The embassy isn’t so much a building as a delegation of people, a delegation that would include an ambassador and other diplomatic officials. The embassy belongs to the home country that sent it, but the embassy is situated in the foreign country to which it was sent.
Now isn’t it true that the church is an embassy of the kingdom of heaven? Our King has established His church and sent it on mission into the world, and so the church is situated in the world. But the church is not of the world, is it? Jesus prayed for the apostles and, by extension, for us:
“They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:16-18)
Here we see that the church is sent on an embassy-like mission: we belong to the kingdom of Jesus and thus we “are not of the world,” and yet we are “sent… into the world.” As such, we are called to deliver the King’s message to the world.
How do we do this? How do we represent and publicize our King’s mindset and interests in a foreign land? First, we represent and publicize our King’s mindset and interests by declaring His message. Jesus said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations...”” (Luke 24:46-47) God’s holy Word, centered on the supreme worth and saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ, must be announced and proclaimed throughout the world. Declaring His message is essential, but it is not the only way that we make known the glory of our King.
The second way that we represent and publicize our King’s mindset and interests is by demonstrating the message in the way that we do life together as a church. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) And Jesus prayed that we would be unified – which is not a superficial unity but a unity of substance, unity in truth, unity in holiness, unity in worship, unity in mission – Jesus prayed that we would be unified “so that the world may believe that [the Father has sent him]” (John 17:21).
The purpose of this third message is to dig a little deeper in terms of how we are supposed to do life together as a church. How shall we live as an embassy of love in a foreign land?
TURNING TO 1 PETER
As it happens, The First Letter of Peter makes it clear that the church exists in foreign territory. The letter begins:
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” (1 Peter 1:1-2)
This is who Christians are: “elect exiles,” chosen by God out of the world, and yet living as exiles in the world. We look forward to our future inheritance that is “kept in heaven for [us]” (1 Peter 1:4), but our present life on earth is a pilgrimage through a strange country: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable…” (1 Peter 2:11-12)
Sojourners and exiles, strangers and foreigners – this is who we are in relation to the world. But who are we in relation to God?
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)
So we are foreigners in relation to the world, but we are family in relation to God. We are citizens of God’s “holy nation”! Together we constitute “a royal [i.e., a kingly] priesthood” that worships God, proclaims His excellence, and seeks to glorify His name in our everyday lives. Thus we are called to live differently than how the world lives – indeed we are called to live holy and obedient lives.
Life in this foreign land is not easy. There is, after all, a great conflict between the home country that we represent (the kingdom of heaven) and the host country in which we are situated. We may “suffer for righteousness’ sake” (1 Peter 3:14). We may be “slandered” and reviled for “[our] good behavior in Christ” (1 Peter 3:16). We may be thought so utterly strange for not joining the world in its drunken stupor: “With respect to this [“living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatries,” from 1 Peter 4:3] they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you.” (1 Peter 4:4) Behind the face of the world’s opposition is the serpent-traitor: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) But the outcome of the conflict is certain: the world will go the way of judgment, but those “who are in Christ” (1 Peter 5:14) will graduate to eternal glory in the eternal dominion of the eternal and gracious God (1 Peter 5:10).
But before graduation, we are called to live as an embassy of love in a foreign land. Satan seeks to devour us, the world slanders us, and individual unbelievers are perplexed by us. Whether at the hands of a world that persecutes us, or simply because we live in a fallen world full of sinful people who act like it, we experience all kinds of sorrow and suffering. But in the midst of this pain-stricken foreign land there is a gospel community, a kingdom-of-God embassy, a delegation of people who belong to the King and are called to take special care in how they treat one another.
THE SCRIPTURAL TEXT
This brings us to our main passage for this sermon – 1 Peter 4:8-11. Holy Scripture says:
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 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 4:8-11)
KEEP LOVING ONE ANOTHER
The first “one another” instruction in this passage is that we “keep loving one another earnestly”.
But verse 8 actually begins with the words “Above all”. This phrase “[above] all” is like a highlighter on the words that follow, telling us that this is really, really important. Everything that Scripture says is important, but certain things are marked out for special importance. And if we know the Bible, then it comes as no surprise that special emphasis would be placed on the call to love one another. Our greatest God-given responsibility toward God is to delight in Him and trust in Him with all our heart. Our greatest God-given responsibility toward the church is to love one another in the same way that Jesus loved us. It is good and right to talk about all the various ways in which we might serve Christ and His church, but let’s start here: love! Take away love, and we might as well close up shop (e.g., 1 Corinthians 13:1-3)!
So with the highlighter on the instruction that we are about to consider, notice the called-for disposition – a disposition that necessarily gets expressed in action. But love is first of all an inward disposition before it gets translated into outward action. To be sure, love must get translated into action, and true love does get translated into action. But it is the disposition of love that precedes and gives rise to the action. And what is this disposition of love? It is an attitude of caring deeply about my brothers and sisters, having brotherly affection for them, desiring to be with them in order to do good to them, identifying with their joys and sorrows, and seeking their joy.
Peter makes it clear that this disposition shouldn’t be like a hit or miss interest in a second-rate hobby that you pick up a couple times a year. Love for each other ought to be a continual reality: “keep loving one another” (italics added). Moreover, it ought to be intense: “keep loving one another earnestly” (italics added). This love for your brothers and sisters is to run deep, and to run hot: “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10) Earnest family members show up when the family is getting together, because they enjoy being together. Earnest family members work through difficulties, because having intact family relationships really matters to the one who is earnest. Earnest family members help each other in very practical ways, because they want each other to flourish. Earnest family members collaborate on family projects, because they are family projects. You can say that you love one another and not show it, because it is easy to claim to be better than we actually are. But you cannot actually and continually and earnestly love one another without showing it all over the place, because God’s “grace and peace” are growing love deep in your heart, and you cannot help but put it into practice.
This passage, like so many others, counsels us against a privatized spirituality in which we keep to our individual self or our own nuclear family. Instead, we must understand that the regenerating and purifying power of the gospel brings us into God’s family of love, and therein it is our privilege to live and serve: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again…” (1 Peter 1:22-23)
Even so, what is remarkable about 1 Peter 4:8 is the particular purpose given for our love. Why be earnest in your love for each other? South Paris Baptist Church, love each other earnestly “since love covers a multitude of sins.”
Here is a word we desperately need to hear. Week to week, month to month, year to year, there is in the congregation of South Paris Baptist Church “a multitude of sins.” Multitude means an impressive and large company, or we might say a lot piled high in every direction. We are not talking about the unbelieving world right now. The unbelieving world also has a multitude of sins and, furthermore, the unbelieving world is under condemnation for its numerous sins and for its refusal to repent of those sins. But the blood-bought bride of the Lord Jesus Christ is not under condemnation, because she has been washed and made clean by the atoning sacrifice of Christ. But she still has “a multitude of sins,” and the question is: what are you doing with it? I am asking you, personally, what you are doing with the “multitude of sins” that are present in the life of true saints who have been saved by God’s grace and are being transformed by God’s Spirit, but who still sin. The added-up sins of any one of us is quite enough, but when you add up the added-up sins of all of us, well, it is a multitude. And when you add up the added-up sins of all true Christians everywhere in the world, well, it is a great multitude. And my question is: what are you doing with it? What are you doing with the sins of your brothers and sisters?
Look carefully at verse 8 and ask yourself which direction things are moving. The right direction is that earnest love shows up in the church family and covers the “multitude of sins” that are present there. Sadly, there are times when we allow things to move in the reverse direction: instead of covering the sins of our brothers and sisters with love, we let the sins of our brothers and sisters cover our love, which means that our love isn’t very earnest. And we justify our small hearts by saying that we would be glad to love other Christians if and when they got their act together. Okay, so I see how it works: the earnestness of your love is supposedly flowing upstream from their behavior: if they behave properly, then my love grows. But this is not how Christian love works: Christian love flows downstream from the cross: “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us” (Ephesians 5:2). Love one another, as Christ has loved you!
Since Peter speaks of “a multitude of sins,” I don’t think that he is referring to a special class of especially grievous sins that pop up every now and then, like someone embezzling the church’s funds or running off with the neighbor’s wife. Such things do happen, but they are not multitudinous, and when they do happen we still need to practice earnest love, even if tough love is required. But in verse 8 Peter isn’t addressing exceptional circumstances but ordinary and everyday circumstances. He is referring to the ordinary sins, the ordinary failings, the ordinary shortcomings, the ordinary slights, the ordinary neglects that pop up continually, which is why they are numerous. Think of the insensitive comment or the cold shoulder or the refusal to serve or the disagreeable spirit or the failure to keep one’s word or the uncharitable analysis or the absence of courage or the snide remark or the inadequate preparation or the overbearing suggestion or the answer that avoids the real issue or the job poorly done or the lost temper or the…, and you can fill in the blank. The question is: what are you doing with these sins?
FIVE WRONG WAYS TO DEAL WITH SIN IN THE CHURCH FAMILY
If you are not covering these sins with love, then you are necessarily doing something else with them. But what? Here are some possibilities – some wrongheaded approaches to dealing with sin in the church family:
1) Do you like to compare yourself favorably with the pile of sin around you? Some people always manage to bring things back around to the remarkably self-exalting idea that they are so much better than the others. Thus the “multitude of sins” around them becomes a boost to their own ego. And self-righteous self-exalters have a strong incentive not to cover the sins of others, because who wants to cover that which is fodder for my own proud feelings about myself?
2) Do you like to condemn your brothers and sisters for their sin? Some people are like ambitious prosecutors who are eager and ready to bring a case against the latest violator. They want to lay low their fellow churchgoers by means of a strict application of law, and do not think to lift up their fellow churchgoers by a generous application of grace.
3) Do you like to criticize, gossip about, and slander your brothers and sisters for their sin? These people aren’t so much prosecutors as media specialists who get a rush out of sharing other people’s business. What does it say about you if you get your kicks on spreading bad news about other people? Next time someone says to you, ‘Can you believe that so-and-so did such-and-such?’, say: ‘Yes, I can. Each one of us is prone to sin, and so it comes as little surprise when someone stumbles this way or that. But remember, as I learned from an old friend, we are not to be like the devil who accuses the brethren, but rather like the Savior who intercedes for them.’
4) Do you like to distance yourself from your brothers and sisters on account of their sin? Some people are so ungracious in the way they relate to others: ‘Since that person crossed me (or my friend), I won’t be having much to do with him or her anymore.’ Wow! What would your prospects be if that’s how Jesus treated you? Jesus died for the sins of His unlovely people, and He continues to love us earnestly and wash our dirty feet, and yet you are not willing to suffer a little discomfort to be reconciled to your brother or sister?
5) There is at least one other way to fail to cover sins, and that is to excuse those sins or explain them away. After all, you cannot cover a thing if you don’t think the thing exists. You cannot pour ointment on a wound if you don’t think the wound exists. You cannot remedy a problem if you don’t think there is a problem to remedy. Denying that there is “a multitude of sins” or calling those “sins” by another name, leaves the pile of sins uncovered. If you do that, others might think you are nice, but you have not done the holy work of earnest love.
So finally we come to the central question:
Do you delight to cover the sins of your brothers and sisters in accordance with the grace of the gospel? Not denying that the sins are there, not distancing yourself from those who are not yet perfect, not gossiping about the other person’s failure, not condemning, and not comparing, but covering. Which raises a question: how does love cover “a multitude of sins”? Remember, we are talking about how love “covers a multitude of sins” within the church family; we are not talking about how we relate to the world at large. How does our embassy of love operate internally and relationally with each other in view of each other’s sins?
FOUR WAYS THAT LOVE COVERS SIN IN THE CHURCH FAMILY
The earnest love of 1 Peter 4:8 requires of us four things that specifically relate to covering sin. In doing these four things, our love will wonderfully cover “a multitude of sins” within the church family.
1) First, we must remember that the Lord Jesus Christ has already and decisively forgiven the sins of His people through His work on the cross. Peter wrote, “… for you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Peter 1:18-19) Then in chapter 2: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24) Then in chapter 3: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Earnest Christian love operates within this glorious gospel framework: we look at our not-yet-perfect-and-still-prone-to-sin brothers and sisters and we see them ransomed, forgiven, healed, and reconciled to God through the cross of Christ. We remember that Christ has carried their sins and has already covered and put away their sins. Through Christ’s sacrifice of atonement, they have become recipients of mercy (1 Peter 2:10) and now God’s “grace and peace” are being multiplied to them. Thus we see our imperfect brothers and sisters through the lens of the gospel: they may have really sinned, but we see that sin in its proper place: nailed to the tree. We delight to know that Christ has carried the sins of our fellow Christians, and therefore we don’t try to reload those sins onto their backs. Thus we see our brothers and sisters defined by the love of Christ, and not by their latest sin. We love them and are gracious toward them, and are eager to remind them of the riches of God’s grace.
O Christian, weighed down by the memory of last week’s sin or last year’s sin or that shameful thing you did or said three years ago or thirty years ago – you who have acknowledged your sin and trusted in Christ, your sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake (1 John 2:12). See others through the lens of blood-bought grace, and help others see through the same lens.
The next three practical things that love does will be effective only insofar as they are flowing from this stream of gospel grace.
2) Second, we must graciously forbear or put up with one another. “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other” (Colossians 3:12-13). Right now I am focusing on the “bearing with one another” part. We are not duty bound to speak with every Christian about every occurrence of sin in his or her life. Can you imagine what kind of community we would have if we did? It would become nit-picky and overbearing! And yet, we are not stupidly unaware: we see faults, we see imperfections, we see things that are sinful or at least seem sinful. What are we to do? It takes wisdom, of course, to know whether or not to engage, but the important thing is that we must always be relating to the other person in love. And one way to do that is to compassionately and kindly forbear or bear with or put up with one another’s weaknesses. Do you want South Paris Baptist Church to be a grace-saturated church community? Then we need healthy doses of good sense. As one biblical proverb says: “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” (Proverbs 19:11) Remember the gospel, trust the “God of all grace” (1 Peter 5:10) to work graciously in his weak people, be “slow to anger” and ready to “overlook” minor faults, and walk in love. If you can graciously and happily forbear, then do so.
There are times, however, when things boil up and cannot be overlooked. They may boil up because the offense is so hurtful to you personally or because the offense is so hurtful to others or because the offense is so hurtful to the brother or sister who is sinning. At such times it would be profoundly unloving to merely overlook the matter.
3) So third, we must gently pursue restoration and reconciliation when things have boiled up and when people or relationships have broken down. Consider these instructions:
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” (Galatians 6:1, italics added)
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24, italics added)
“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women” (Philippians 4:2, italics added).
Remembering the gospel and trusting the Lord doesn’t mean that we don’t get involved. Earnest love gets involved, not with a heroic god-complex, but as a humble servant who wants to bring the balm of the gospel on the wounds of sin. Love restores, love reconciles, love helps others be reconciled – love covers sin.
4) Fourth, we must forgive one another with tender hearts: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) “God in Christ” tenderheartedly has forgiven His people, and it is the privilege and responsibility of forgiven people to echo God’s forgiveness by forgiving one another. As our brothers and sisters recognize and turn away from their actual sins, it is our obligation – an obligation of joy! – to cover those actual sins by forgiving them on the basis of the gospel. If God has so generously forgiven me, then who in the world am I to hold your sin against you? If my heavenly Father sees you, even on your worst days, clothed in the righteousness of Christ, then with His help so will I!
Friends, we will either be an embassy of love that deals graciously with the “multitude of sins” among us, or an uncovered “multitude of sins” will upend our congregational life and we will cease to be an embassy of love. An unforgiving people are an unforgiven people, as our Lord taught us (e.g., Matthew 6:14-15), and an unforgiven people cut themselves off from the “grace and peace” that would otherwise be multiplied to them. And who wants to be in a church community where the river of “grace and peace” has run dry? So then: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly…”
SHOW HOSPITALITY TO ONE ANOTHER
In verse 8, earnest love covers sin. In verse 9, earnest love shows hospitality. This is the second “one another” instruction in our passage: “Show hospitality to one another”.
One of the most concrete expressions of love is the practice of hospitality. Christians should be in the habit of opening up their heart, life, and home to other Christians. It is also good to practice hospitality toward unbelievers, but that is not the point of this instruction. The point of this instruction is how we as an embassy of God’s kingdom should relate among ourselves, within our own church family and within the wider Christian community. And the rule is clear: the Christian embassy is to be radically non-cliquish. Each one of us is to practice a widening of our relational scope. A healthy church is a church whose members are letting themselves be stretched to know more members better, especially those they hardly know at all. Let the old show hospitality to the young, and the young to the old. Let the wealthier show hospitality to the poorer, and the poorer to the wealthier. Let the empty nesters show hospitality to the family with kids, and the family of kids to those who are single. The word that is translated “[show] hospitality” literally means to love strangers. So we ought to work hard at not being strangers to one another. Get to know one another better by deliberately inviting one another into your lives. At the same time, a healthy church is a church whose members are also letting themselves be stretched to know other Christians in other churches. A local congregation shouldn’t be internally cliquish, but it also shouldn’t be a clique unto itself. We have Christian brothers and sisters who congregate in other places, as well as missionaries who return home from time to time. Love them! Value them! Show hospitality to them! And in your hospitality to your fellow Christians, have a special eye for suffering Christians, or discouraged Christians, or unsettled Christians, or overwhelmed Christians, or vulnerable Christians – and bring them into your home and use your resources to serve them and let your hospitality help them to find rest in the grace of the sovereign King.
Of course, we are the sort of people who are sometimes slow to get with the program, and some will be tempted to grumble as they serve grilled chicken, mashed potatoes, and warm rolls to the Christians that they just invited into their home. Peter is ahead of you on the issue: “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (italics added). In the absence of earnest love, you will find any of thousand reasons to grumble or complain: ‘I am tired’, ‘We could have had the evening to ourselves’, ‘I really don’t like them’, ‘This is costly, you know!’, ‘It would be so much more fun to have that other family over’, ‘I’m going to miss the big game because of this!’, and so on. Sharing your life, your energy and time, your space and stuff, with more and more of your fellow churchgoers, is just the sort of thing that will make your grumble if you aren’t operating in the grace and peace that flow so generously from the Spirit of the Father and the Son.
But if you would just slow down and take time to build relationships with one another, then we will be increasingly knit together in love, we will have more reasons to give thanks as we celebrate God’s work in other people’s lives, we will have more insights into the needs of our brothers and sisters, and we will have more opportunities to do good to one another and with each other. The same earnest love that “covers a multitude of sins” is also effective at killing a multitude of excuses that prevent us from showing hospitality.
SERVE ONE ANOTHER
Finally, moving to verses 10, earnest love serves our brothers and sisters. This is the third “one another” instruction in our passage: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace”.
The Holy Spirit gives every true Christian a ministry tool kit. The tool kit contains tools of grace. Whatever your particular gifting may be, the purpose of your gifting is not to make you look good. The ministry tool kit is given to you to make you useful to others. A spiritual gift is, fundamentally, a tool of love. And what does love do? It edifies and builds up the church and the church’s people.
Now is not the time to get into the ins and outs of the variety of gifts that a believer might have. In fact, verse 11 is quite helpful because it basically puts all gifts under two categories: speaking and serving. Of course, speaking itself is a form of serving, as the context makes clear: speaking (v. 11) is one way “to serve one another” (v. 10). But the point of verse 11 is that “serving one another” will either involve speaking with one’s mouth or serving with one’s hands. Speak encouraging and upbuilding words of biblical truth to one another, and meet the practical needs of the church family. Doctrinal instruction and deeds of love, gospel words and good works, theology proclaimed and theology practiced. What God hath put together, let no one separate!
Of course, there is a sense in which all of us are called to do both: to speak and to serve. But the point of verses 10-11, however, is that we don’t all have the same tool kit. Some of us have a tool kit that is more oriented toward speaking and teaching and preaching, and others of us have a tool kit that is more oriented toward serving and helping and showing mercy. That is all well and good! We are, after all, a body with many variously gifted members, and therein we find relational beauty.
That said, we must “serve one another” with a mindset that is focused on the Lord. God is sovereign, and we are called to be “good stewards of God’s varied grace.” Stewards are managers in a household, and the household in view here is God’s household, the church. And here’s the remarkable thing: God’s design is for others in the church to get grace through you, and for you to get grace through them. Do you see this? I have “received a gift” and that gift is full of God’s grace – for the church and her growth. You have “received a gift” and that gift is full of divine grace – for the church and her progress. God wants others to get grace through you!
So, “whoever speaks” must do so “as one who speaks oracles of God.” Anyone who gives a word of instruction and exhortation to the church family, whether in the worship service or in a small group setting or even in a private conversation, must do so with profound reverence. We are not brokering in human wisdom! We are not giving our two cents! We are not giving you our thoughts! Instead we are called to speak forth the word of God, to say what He has said, to show others what the Bible teaches, because the Bible is God’s Word. Speak and teach and proclaim and counsel as a humble conduit of Scriptural truth. The grace is found in the wisdom of God’s words and not in the wit of the human communicator.
Likewise, “whoever serves” must do so “as one who serves by the strength that God supplies.” Not: I’ve got this! Not: I’ve got what it takes! Not: I can crank out another act of service! Not: I’ve done this before and so I’m sure I can do it again! Not: I can play the part and put on a good show, even though my heart isn’t in it. On the contrary we say: I am weak, but He is strong! I am not up for the task, but my God is with me and will help me! I am running on empty, but He will fill me up! My love quotient is not what it ought to be, but the Holy Spirit will produce the fruit of love as I trust in Christ and walk in obedience to His commands.
The aim of faithful speaking and faithful serving within the church is to release “God’s varied grace” to the church so that the church can grow into maturity and bear much fruit. That is the aim, but not the ultimate aim – and it is the ultimate aim that must capture our hearts.
THE ULTIMATE AIM
What is the ultimate aim of our service to one another? To glorify God! Speak God’s words and serve in God’s strength, why? “[In] order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
As John Piper has so helpfully stated, the basic principle here is that “the giver gets the glory.” If you are dishing out self-sourced wisdom and self-empowered deeds, then the glory goes to you. That glory is of not ultimate value, of course, but for a brief moment of your vain life the spotlight will be shining on your wit and your action. And remember what Jesus said: “Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matthew 6:2, 5, 16)
The world’s approach to helping people is man-centered wisdom and man-centered action, for the glory of man! But it is not so in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are humble receivers of God’s Word, and this is the Word that we share with others. We are humble receivers of God’s Spirit who strengthens us, and in His power we serve others. And because we are sharing God-sourced wisdom and God-empowered deeds, all the glory goes to God – and it goes to God through Jesus Christ, because it is only through Christ that the riches of God’s grace actually get to us.
So, this embassy of love is full of earnest love, but not man-centered love. We cover sins in accordance with the grace and truth of the gospel.
This embassy of love is full of eager hospitality, but not man-centered hospitality. We welcome one another because the Lord has welcomed us into His forever family. (Romans 15:7)
This embassy of love is full of mutual service, but not man-centered service. We are building up God’s people and meeting one another’s needs with the tools of grace that God has given, and we deploy these tools in the wisdom and strength that come from the Word and the Spirit of God.
In other words, this embassy of love is first and foremost a place that resounds with worship to the one, true and living God: to the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. May it always be so! Because to our great God “belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Let us pray.
 See Jonathan Leeman, Church Membership: How The World Knows Who Represents Jesus (9Marks Building Healthy Churches). Wheaton: Crossway: 2012: p. 27-30.
 Some time ago, in preparing for a Sunday School lesson, I was helpfully informed to think clearly about what an embassy is, by the Wikipedia article entitled “Diplomatic mission.” This article is available online: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diplomatic_mission.
 As far as I remember, I got this lesson (“we are not to be like the devil who accuses the brethren, but rather like the Savior who intercedes for them”) from a friend named Carlos Dimas.
 I learned this principle from John Piper’s teaching ministry many years ago. As an example of his teaching – including the quote – see his short devotional article entitled “The Giver Gets the Glory,” published by Desiring God on January 26, 2012 and available online: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-giver-gets-the-glory. Further, it is worth pointing out that in an October 25, 2009 tweet, Piper specifically connected the statement “The Giver gets the glory” with 1 Peter 4:11.