The other day, out of the blue, I received a brief note of encouragement from someone who used to attend our church, but moved away. I appreciated it and I made sure to tell her that. I also told her that in my opinion, she seems to be one of those unique people that has a gift for encouraging others. In fact, after mentioning that, she confirmed that encouraging others is something she takes great delight in doing.
Isn't it nice to have a few people like that in your life? Why do their actions tend to stand out as special to us? I think one of the reasons they stand out to us is because they're so different from what we experience in many other areas of life. In many contexts, we're forced to deal with people who care more about themselves than they care about others.
Driving can be one area where this becomes apparent. We're in the process of helping my daughter, a new driver, practice the skill of driving. Recently, I told her that the way people drive tends to be an extension of their personality. Gracious drivers tend to be gracious people. Aggressive and dangerous drivers tend to be selfish people that can't even be bothered to think about the safety of others when they're on the road.
Jesus isn't selfish, and His desire for the body of Christ is that we reflect His heart in the ways in which we interact with and treat each other. He invites us to look after each others' needs. He invites us to make sacrifices for the benefit of those we care about. His word teaches us what it looks like to live an others-centered life in the midst of a self-centered world.
Take a look at some of the principles the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Peter to share about this subject with the church.
1. Allow the Holy Spirit to control your temperament
Becoming a follower of Christ not only impacts how you will spend your eternity, it also impacts the way you live in the present. The moment you trusted in Jesus, the Holy Spirit indwelled you. He lives within you. The Holy Spirit gives us counsel, grants us understanding of the will of God, clarifies the Scriptures for us, and bears out the fruit of righteousness in our lives. His presence helps us not to rely on a sinful way of reacting to our problems or the stresses that can be caused by other people.
Because of His empowering presence, we can exhibit self-control and a sober-mind. We don't need to be out of control, spiteful, or erratic, because the Holy Spirit is now guiding our temperament. Even when people and circumstances are stressing us out, we don't need to fly off the handle because we have the help we need living within us.
In this passage, Peter encourages the church to remember that the end of all things is at hand. What he means by this is that Jesus could return at any moment. We don't know how much time we have, but compared to the span of eternity, it isn't much. That being the case, we're called to live under the control of the Spirit so that our prayer life will be sincere, regular, and disciplined.
Practically speaking, I take this to mean that we'll be praying for the Lord's help and intervention in our lives, the lives of those we love, and the lives of those who have the capacity to test our faith and patience. If our manner of thinking is being led and controlled by the Holy Spirit, these are priorities that He will bring to our minds and bear out in our actions.
2. Show Christlike love to your Christian family
Sometimes, when I think about the earliest Christians, I find myself picturing a group of people that were amazingly pious. I envision people that got along perfectly, didn't fight over trivial things, and had the habit of placing each others' needs above their own. But when we look at the various letters addressed to local congregations throughout the New Testament, we're shown that they were people just like we are. They struggled with the same things we struggle with. They faced stress and personality differences just like we do.
For that reason, Peter encouraged them to love one another earnestly. In saying this, he wasn't just telling believers to be affectionate toward one another, he was stressing the importance of loving one another in a Christlike manner. What does Christlike love look like? Christlike love involves actively seeking what is best for someone else, even at great personal cost to yourself. It's a love that isn't dependent on whether or not someone loves you back. It's also a love that isn't dependent on whether or not someone has sinned against you.
In fact, Christlike love isn't accusatory in nature. It isn't focused on bringing up another person's shortcomings or mistakes. It's the kind of love that's effective in overlooking offenses and not making a habit of thinking about them. That's the kind of love we've been shown in Jesus. He loved us and took our sins upon Himself so they wouldn't be held against us any longer. He covers us with His righteousness and removes the stain of our sin.
As recipients of this kind of love, we're called to interact with one another in such a way that the love we show toward each other actively testifies to the kind of love we're grateful that we've received from Jesus.
3. Consider service a privilege, not an inconvenience
Hospitality is wonderful to receive, and sometimes difficult to share. This weekend, we enjoyed a nice dinner together with my extended family. It was organized by my sisters and hosted at my father's church. We enjoyed it and we'll be doing something similar in a few days as my family hosts my wife's extended family for Thanksgiving.
Several years ago, you may remember a bad ice storm that hit this area. Friends of ours lost power and were without heat, but thankfully, our heat was still working fine. So we invited them to stay with us for a couple days until power was restored.
And that all sounds wonderful and great, but let's be honest. Hospitality is easier to show in short spurts than it is for an extended period of time. That's why we're encouraged to show hospitality without grumbling and complaining about it because if you show hospitality to people, you can expect them to do "people things." Your house will get dirty quicker. Things might get broken or used up. Your ability to experience privacy or quiet will be interrupted. And somehow, we've got to learn to be ok with that.
I'll be honest with you. I have come to consider the dining room or kitchen table in the home of a believer to be one of the most impactful locations for ministry. When you open your home to others and break bread together, you'll be given opportunities to engage in meaningful conversation, mutual encouragement, and sincere prayer. I have regularly been amazed and blessed to see the work the Lord has accomplished around our very own dining table when we've chosen to obey His directive to show hospitality to others.
And as an extension of a spirit of hospitality, we're likewise invited to use the strength and the gifts the Lord has blessed us with to serve one another. We can serve one another with an encouraging word or with wise counsel. We can serve one other in physical ways as well by helping out with various needs that arise in day-to-day life. The point is that since we have been graciously served by Jesus, we should consider it a privilege, not an inconvenience, to serve one another.
4. Remember that the goal of your life is to give God glory
Motives are important. As this paragraph of 1 Peter 4 concludes, Peter reminds us of the motive that should govern the way in which we live our lives on this earth. We're taught in this passage that the goal of our life shouldn't be self-glorification, but that God would be given glory through the work He accomplishes through those who have been redeemed through Jesus Christ. The testimony of your life and my life might be the very thing the Lord uses to help someone else grasp the depth and the reality of the life-changing power of Christ.
Have you ever taken the time to analyze what your primary motivation in life happens to be? What drives you to do what you do? What fires you up more than anything else? For some people, I imagine that their greatest motivation is fear. Maybe they're motivated by a fear of the consequences of not getting something done or they're fearful of their reputation being damaged in some way. For others, I imagine that their greatest motivation is the well-being of their family. That's a good form of motivation, but there's an even higher form of motivation that includes the care of one's family as a by-product.
If our greatest motivation is to glorify God, we'll honor Him with faith that becomes expressed in obedience. We won't live a self-centered life because that doesn't glory Him. We won't neglect our families because that doesn't glorify Him. We won't continually fly off the handle because that doesn't glorify Him.
We will however serve one another, show Christlike love, and offer hospitality because that does glorify Him. And if we begin to drift back toward selfishness, we'll repent because our repentance glorifies Him. It's safe to confess our sins to Him and turn from them. It's a relief to cast our cares on Jesus because He cares for us. The Lord seeks to be glorified in our lives as He inspires us to adopt His others-centered perspective and approach.
© John Stange, 2017