Tim Keller, on “Serving in the Strength That God Supplies”
To answer that question, we turn to 1 Peter 4:10, 11. Probably no other New Testament book besides James reflects an acquaintance with the teachings of Jesus as clearly as 1 Peter. In 2:12, Peter gives a loose quotation of Matthew 5:16, “Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles so that in case they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” But in chapter 4, verses 10 and 11, Peter shows more explicitly what it is about the good deeds of Christians that makes them a means to God’s glory.
As each has received a gift, employ it for one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks (let him speak) as one who utters oracles of God; whoever renders service (let him render it) as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies, in order that in everything God might be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Here we have one of the clearest answers in the Bible to the question: How do we serve or do good so that God gets the glory? The answer is, in order for God to get the glory we have to do good as one does it who is depending on God’s strength. Not mere good deeds, but good deeds done in a spirit that comes from a joyful dependence on God’s help—this is what glorifies God.
Picture two people this afternoon pondering whether to come help clean the church tomorrow night. One is young and healthy and says, “O, I suppose I’ll go. Be worth a few good points with the leaders. Maybe they’ll have some snacks. Besides, I’m pretty good at that sort of thing, maybe I can give the rest a few pointers.” So he comes and he grumbles about the tools, he criticizes the way things are planned, he talks on and on about his abilities and his experience, and in general exudes a spirit of vanity. But he works. He may even get more done than some others. Some employers may want such a man if they judge him solely by his efficiency or productivity. But God looks on the heart and takes the whole man into account. And His assessment is: I have received no glory from this supposedly good deed of service, for it was not done in reliance on my power. There was not about it the spirit of joy and gratitude and humility that comes from being borne along on the Wings of mercy.
But there is another person this afternoon who is planning his Monday night. He is older and has been quite ill lately—a good deal of pain and stiffness in the knees. There was a time when he worked hard in the church and loved every minute of it and never made a big to-do about inconvenience or sacrifice. “O,” he thought to himself, “how I would love to help out on Monday night. I could encourage some of the downhearted maybe. Or maybe just keep the coffee poured.” So he prayed. And lo and behold, Monday morning there was no pain and no stiffness. So he came. With bells on. He did what he could with a rag and broom and he did it well. But above all he exuded a Joy and a sense of gratitude for life and strength that cheered everyone and pointed them to God. He knew that what strength he had was a precious gift of God, and his whole bearing and demeanor gave God the credit. That’s what it means to let your light shine.
Everyone of us owes every ounce of strength we have to God, just as much as that sick man did. We owe every fiber of intelligence to God, and the slightest resolve to do good is a gift from Him. Apart from Him we are all cripples. We would fly into nothingness without His sustenance, and we would degenerate into devils without His grace. If the totality of our dependence on God would hit us full force, O, how differently we would live and do good. We would “serve as one who renders service by the strength which God supplies.” We would not boast in our achievements, nor criticize the speck in our brother’s eye, nor grumble about inconveniences, nor be presumptuous in any way, as if even existence itself could be taken for granted! No, a person who truly owns up to the fact that he exists by the word of God, that all his strength and moral resolve is a gift of God, that person will have a spirit of joy and gratitude and lowliness. And in serving this way God gets the glory.
O, how I want to make sure that the image in your mind of how to glorify God is not wrong. For many it’s like waking up in the morning, looking up to God and saying, “You are worthy to be glorified today, Lord, and I will do my best.” Then they look over and on their Bible is a big block of lead with shoulder straps. And on the block is inscribed: “The duty to glorify God all day.” They strap it on, muster their strength and resolve, and head off to glorify God.
If that image, or one like it, is the way you feel about glorifying God, please look and see that 1 Peter 4:11 shatters such an image. May I suggest a more biblical image? There is one who wakes up in the morning and looks up into heaven and says, “You are worthy to be glorified today, Lord, but there is in me—that is in my flesh—no good thing. I have no strength, no wisdom, no resolve to do good but what comes undeserved from You, O God. And I love you. It would be to my greatest fulfillment, my highest pleasure, my richest treasure, if at the end of this day I could believe that someone has come to cherish Your power and wisdom and love more intensely because of me. God, let it be.”
And then he looks over and on his Bible there is this strange contraption of straps like a harness. And on the back of this harness there is a rope attached that runs up through the roof and into heaven. And he gets up, straps on the harness, gives a little jerk, leans into it, and God supports him all day. On the broad, brown leather strap across the front you can see the lettering: “My harness is easy and my burden is light.” Remember the words of Jesus?
God gets glory not from our heroic exertion but from our reliance upon His strength—when we serve as one who serves with the strength which God supplies.
God’s will Himself to glorify
Is not a weight
to make us sigh
For it is wings
to make us fly.