To talk of service and stewardship, and as we consider the setting of the first letter that bears the name of Peter, the author joins together “Whoever speaks, let it be with God’s words. Whoever serves, do so with the strength that God supplies, so that in everything God will be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11a). This is then punctuated with a declaration of the Lordship of Jesus, as Peter writes “To Him belong the glory and the power forever and ever” (4:11b). While we would certainly agree that there is a burden on the one that speaks, and that service can be tiring, we must not allow ourselves to drift too far from the setting into which these words were delivered and for which they provide a controlling authority. We dare not become too far removed from the meal table, as it is the meal table that keeps us in the proper interpretive context, instead of drifting off into anachronistic ideas about what is implied by speaking and serving.
Modern conceptions should not be thrust on the text in a way that creates an artificial division of labor between preachers that preach and those that go about serving. This is not an attempt to draw a dichotomy between the person that occupies the pulpit on Sunday morning and those that are then charged with visiting hospitals or distributing food to shut-ins. Rather, we understand these words in relation to that which defines the community of Christ-followers, which is their table fellowship. When one speaks, he or she must do so with a heart of love, as well as grace, conscious of the demand for harmony at a table that could rightly have a bit of awkwardness associated with it.
The one that speaks does so with sympathy, compassion, and humility, always mindful of the fact that in Christ’s kingdom, the first shall be last and the last shall be first. So it is with the one who serves. As was said, service can be tiring, and yes, one is able to serve the kingdom of God through the strength that God supplies; but in context, the strength that God supplies for service is the strength that allows the one that would generally be considered more honorable, to humbly, willfully, and lovingly serve the one that would generally be considered as less honorable. It is that type of service, in which the first become last and the last become first because of an active embracing of the message of the cross inside the message of the Gospel, and not because of some type of forceful reversal in which the previously oppressed take it upon themselves to lord it over those that may or may not have had a hand in the oppression, that demonstrates true strength. It is in this that God is glorified, as this self-abnegating service is done in deference to the kingly claim of the one to whom belongs glory and power forever and ever.
At verse twelve, Peter begins the insertion of an interlude related to suffering on behalf of Christ. Much of this suffering, of course, will come about because of what it is that is learned at their meal table. The messianic, kingly declaration of the Christian meal table will practically work itself out in a lifestyle that demonstrates one’s adherence to the Lordship of Jesus and to his claims to power, rather than any over-reaching and illegitimate claims on offer from the Caesar. However, because Christ’s kingdom model is one of self-sacrifice and service, the Christian, recognizing the legitimate extent of human authority, actually seeks to solidify the role of human authorities. By taking up the cause of Christ’s kingdom and properly applying its principles of service and compassion through good works and public benefaction, the care of orphans and widows, the feeding of the hungry and thirsty, and the clothing of the naked, the Christian is able to inform the governing powers that they have a limit imposed upon them by God that they can reach, and upon reaching that limit are to be told that they are to go here and no further, for then they would be intruding on the responsibilities of those that claim to represent the world’s true imperial power.
For Peter, as for Paul, the Christian becomes the model citizen. He does not foment unrest but informs the world and its rulers about a king and a kingdom, doing so through service and sacrifice, thus putting the Gospel on display and allowing the Spirit to do the work of the transformation of hearts and minds. Peter pleads with these denizens of a greater kingdom---one that demonstrates what it truly means to be human, saying “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or thief or criminal or as a troublemaker. But if you suffer as a Christian,” that is, if you suffer because your practice makes it clear that you are not a participant in the worship of Caesar and his power, “do not be ashamed, but glorify God that you bear such a name” (4:15-16).