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Living for Others in a Selfish World

You were meant to be a river, not a reservoir.

by Natalie Abbott

EACH OF YOU SHOULD USE WHATEVER GIFT YOU HAVE RECEIVED TO SERVE OTHERS, AS FAITHFUL STEWARDS OF GOD'S GRACE IN ITS VARIOUS FORMS. —1 PETER 4:10

To help us understand our verse this month, I want to share a story with you. 

Once there were some Christians who lived in a society that didn’t understand or accept them. In fact, the people around them thought the Christians were backwards and totally weird. Because the people the Christians lived among believed that the self was the highest order, they followed their passions and desires and encouraged others to do the same, they loved to party and saw no reason not to indulge in every type of sensuality and excess. But the Christians didn’t live like that. Why were they so weird? Why couldn’t those Christians just be like everyone else? So, the people mocked and maligned the Christians, even accusing them of all sorts of wrongdoing. Perhaps the Christians’ behavior made them feel secretly judged? Either way, they hated them for their strange lifestyle. 

It wasn’t easy for the Christians. They always felt like outsiders looking in. They were constantly swimming against the stream, and it was tiresome. They started feeling like maybe they were missing out, maybe the different way they were living wasn’t worth it. Besides, the people they lived among really did seem to have fun with all their partying and indulging in all the things. Maybe the people around them weren't totally wrong, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to live a little, to follow their own passions (just a little), maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to have one foot in the world and one foot in the church?

Does this feel familiar at all? 

Does it feel like I’m talking about us, right now in 2023, struggling to swim against the current of our selfish, self-indulgent society? Can you relate!? Do you feel this way too? Do you wish that you could “be like the cool kids”? Do you feel the strong pull to do whatever you want, whatever everyone else is doing, to live for yourself, to just “do you,” to look out for number one? Man, I do. The world is calling my name, saying, “You can do what you want, why keep on picking up that cross everyday?” But, I’m not just telling our story. 

I am telling an ancient story, one that we still live out today.

It’s the same story every Christian has been living out since Christ came. It’s the story of fighting the good fight, of swimming against the stream of society, of living for Christ and serving others in the midst of a world that is pulling hard at us to serve only ourselves. I bring up this story because it is the context of this month’s verse from 1 Peter. In it, Paul is writing a letter to Christians just like us, Christians who are struggling to stay the course, to live for Christ, and to love and serve others in spite of the constant pressure to live like the world around them. 

And it’s in the middle of this story that we find our verse.

Peter says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). Peter is specifically encouraging these scattered believers living in a hostile and selfish world to persist in living for Christ. He instructs them not to “live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:2). Peter says these two ways of life are in opposition with each other. Either you live for your own desires or you live for the will of God. There is no third option. And the same is true for us. Let’s find out more about the characteristics and outcomes of these two ways of living—for ourselves or for God. 

The characteristics of living for our desires.

The bottom line of living for our own selves is that we are selfish. We are self-focused, self-absorbed, self-indulgent. We don’t naturally consider others, but instead live to gratify our own desires and passions. Peter said people in the first century were living  for “sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry” (1 Peter 4:3, ESV), and the reality is that this is still happening today. We can be tempted to live for our next “high,” our next hit of whatever we’re passionate about—the next great meal, next hit from whatever drink or drug, next big purchase, next affirming post on our socials. In this way of living, satisfying our cravings is king. It’s all about us. This kind of self-focused living produces bitter fruit. It forms us into the very kinds of self-absorbed people we don’t want to be around, the kinds of people we don’t want to be. 

But maybe the end justifies the means?

We might be tempted to think, “If I’m looking out for number one, at least I’ll get ahead. Maybe I won’t be the most likable person, but at least I’ll get the benefit of having everything I want.” Peter says this kind of thinking is a facade. When we live for ourselves, our lives are not orderly and abundant, but reckless and wild (1 Peter 4:4). The right-now result of selfish living is an out-of-control life. We are not wise or measured, but foolish and blown about by the whims of our passions. And what is worse than the passion-seeking chaos of our current reality is its final result. Peter gives this stark warning, “But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5). There is a day coming when all of our actions will be laid bare before the judge. This should sober and convict us. Not only is the right-now fruit of such living bitter, but the end result is ruinous. 

The characteristics of living for God and others.

There is another way! Instead of living with the self as the center and the goal, Peter says those who live for God and others live lives filled with abundant grace. Our verse tells us that God gives each of his followers gifts. Those gifts are a grace to us! And our verse tells us they are a varied grace to us. And those various gifts are not just for ourselves, but for sharing with others. If God has given us the gift of teaching his Word, is it not for the people we are teaching? Or if he has given us a gentle spirit, is so we can be gentle with those around us? This is what living for God looks like. It looks like sharing the grace we have received with the people in our lives. Moreover, it is God who gives us the words to speak and the strength to serve (1 Peter 4:11). When we live for God, he is the one who not only gives us the gifts we have but he also empowers us to share them with others. And this is the way to lasting joy.

The result of living for our God. 

Unlike the chaotic, passion-propelled lifestyle of the self, when we live for God, we are self-controlled and sober-minded (1 Peter 4:7). We aren’t blown about by our desires and cravings. Instead, our lives right now are those of a grace-saturated people. We are the kind of people we want to be around. Peter tells us that we are God’s “chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession”(1 Peter 2:9). We are God’s special people, and as such, we should live like “priests,” sharing God’s Word and ways with others. 

We are not meant to be reservoirs of grace, but rivers.

We aren’t meant to keep all this goodness to ourselves, but to overflow with life-giving abundance for everyone around us. This is a beautiful right-now way of living, but our future reality is even more glorious. Peter says God is keeping an inheritance for us in heaven that  will “never perish, spoil, or fade” (1 Peter 1:4). We are destined to fully experience God’s grace for us in Jesus when he returns and makes all things right. We too will stand before the Judge, but God will not judge us in accordance with our misdeeds. Rather he will count Jesus’s righteousness as our own. This is grace—grace right-now, future-grace—a grace that is simply too marvelous to keep to ourselves. Amen?

How are you more like a reservoir of grace than a river? 

What is one simple way you could serve someone today?

Dwell Blog/Podcast Featured Content

Natalie Abbott

Natalie Abbott is the Co-founder and Chief Content Officer of Dwell Differently. She lives in Missouri with her husband and 5 kids.

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