You’ve just pumped some gas into your car. You didn’t speak to anyone; you weren’t helped by anyone; you paid by shoving a piece of plastic into a panel of the gas pump. It is called “self-service”; it is EXcarnational.
i.e., expand on DISENGAGEMENT vs. ENGAGEMENT.
As you hang up the nozzle, a clean-shaven, casually dressed man comes up to you. You saw him turned away by other customers, one after the other.
He asks you for a few dollars of gas to get him closer to his destination. He’s flat broke and needs some help. His story rings true, and somehow you feel compelled to help.
You follow him to his pickup truck, put your credit card in the slot, and he begins to pump some gas. He stops at $5, although he needs more. You say, “take it to $40.” He smiles and says quietly, “thank you so much.”
As he hangs up the nozzle, he looks at you and says “thank you” again. Again, you respond with “you’re welcome,” but again, you feel compelled to add, “I give you this on behalf of Jesus.” The man hesitates, smiles, and nods his head.
It is called “other-service”; it is INcarnational.
As a follower of Jesus, you have your own stories in which you encounter another human and meet a need – whether it’s some resources (like gas or food), some words, or some love -- whatever form that takes. Maybe you haven’t said, “I give you this on behalf of Jesus” – but, in fact, you did what you did or said what you said on behalf of Jesus.
Peter puts these kinds of experiences in these words (1 Peter 4:10-11 ESV):
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.
Here are a few points I draw from Peter’s statement.
1. Each follower of Jesus has received a gift (a charisma) that we are to use to serve and benefit others. The charisma is received by you and me, not owned by you and me. It is to be used, not neglected or hoarded. It is to serve others, not for personal gain or aggrandizement.
2. The position of a steward illustrates this. In Peter’s context, larger households had a person – a steward – who was entrusted with the master’s resources. These resources did not belong to the steward. The steward was responsible to distribute and use the resources on behalf of the master for the benefit of those within the household and beyond.
3. The resources entrusted to us as followers of Jesus are God’s varied grace (charis). It is God’s grace with which we are entrusted to dispense into the lives of others. His grace is “many faceted, having many different aspects or differing kind.”
4. In this context, two broad categories or expressions of the gift (charisma) of God’s (charis) are identified: (a) whoever speaks, and (b) whoever serves. I understand these gifts to be those that are speaking-type gifts and those that are action-type gifts.
5. Such is the relationship between the follower of Jesus as a “good steward,” and the Lord as an extravagant giver, that when grace is dispensed into the life of another by words it is as if Jesus himself is speaking into that person’s life (“speaks oracles of God). In the same way, when grace is dispensed into the life of another by action it is as if Jesus himself is touching that person’s life (“the strength that God supplies”).
6. The faithful use of the charisma of charis will result in God being glorified (being seen and being given ‘weight’ through Jesus Christ).
What Peter is expressing is linked to the concept of INcarnation – Jesus being enfleshed in and through you and me. Paul confirms this concept in texts such as Galatians 2:20 –
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
As such, followers of Jesus bring Jesus with them. Jesus is present by his Spirit who lives in and through us. This calls us to encounter people where they are – in the same way that Jesus encountered them in the Gospel accounts.
Many of our cultures are moving us away from this type of life toward a life of EXcarnation. Consider what Michael Frost says on this point in a recent interview: “Christians, Engaged and Incarnate.”
Reflection: Take a few moments to ponder what Peter has written about this gift. Am I moving toward a life that is more fully INcarnational (see the Frost interview)? How can I move more fully toward a life that is INcarnational?
“Father, I thank you for entrusting me with your gift. Show me how I am to be using this gift and distributing your grace into the lives of others more fully.”
I propose that your gifting by God is the primary way in which you are being called to live in that place of wholesome tension between faithfulness to our God and relevance to our Culture.
Next week, I want to continue this subject of gifting by getting back into Romans 12.
 Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter, TNTC (Leicester, UK: Inter-Varsity, 1988), 175.
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