As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (1 Peter 4:10)
Peter encourages those in the church to use their God-given gifts to serve one another as stewards of the “manifold grace of God.” The word translated “manifold” here literally means, “multi-colored” in the original language. This is the same word used to describe Joseph’s special coat of many colors in the Greek version of the Old Testament. Peter is reminding first century believers that God’s grace comes to them in many forms – just like the vast array of colored threads woven into a tapestry. Although Peter’s focus here is that we each USE our gifts wisely and faithfully, it is also true that it is incumbent upon us to recognize and praise God for the gifts that He gives to others.
One of the surprising things about God is the fact that He not only equips and uses His people in the service of the church but that He also uses unbelievers to bless the church as well. When Paul writes in Ephesians 1:22 that God “put all things under [Jesus’] feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church,” he is reminding us that as the Mediatorial King, the Lord Jesus is always at work – even through those who do not willingly serve Him – to bless His people.
As I look back on my own life, I marvel at the fact that some of the people who have had the most profound impact on my development have been unbelievers. I became a successful college ice hockey coach due largely to the time I spent as an assistant under one of the greatest prep school coaches in American history. I learned how to teach in a classroom from a man, who was the outstanding high school science teacher in my state. I learned how to do cutting-edge research and give academic lectures from a woman, who is a brilliant scholar and senior professor at a major research university. None of these folks (to my knowledge) has ever made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. But God, in His wise providence, put me in mentoring relationships with them at pivotal points in my life. They may not have been actively pursuing God’s glory in their work, but they were what every Christian should strive to be – highly competent at what they did. They were all people of integrity. They worked hard, pursued excellence, and cared about the people they were mentoring. There is absolutely no way I would be doing what I am doing today or would have done the things I’ve done if it were not for these folks.
Of course, I am also deeply grateful for the many Christians whom God has used in my life. Without them I’d be totally lost! But I think most believers are more naturally grateful for the explicitly Christian influences on their lives. I think we often minimize the contributions of unbelievers – to our shame. John Calvin famously wrote about this in the Institutes (Book II), saying
…let us not forget that there are most excellent blessings which the Divine Spirit dispenses to whom he will for the common benefit of mankind… if the Lord has been pleased to assist us by the work and ministry of the ungodly in physics, dialectics, mathematics, and other similar sciences, let us avail ourselves of it, lest, by neglecting the gifts of God spontaneously offered to us, we be justly punished for our sloth.
Calvin says our failure to praise God for and make use of His work through non-Christians is evidence of ingratitude and laziness. God’s grace to you is manifold – it comes to you in many, many forms. Often it arrives through the work or influence of unbelievers. We need to recognize that fact and praise God for His power, which is so great that even those not intending to do so serve Him and serve His church.
In addition to giving thanks to God, we need to sincerely pray for and love those unbelievers whom God uses in our lives. They may not be consciously serving Him now, but how we should long for God to consecrate them to His willing service. We should pray fervently that they would know the peace and joy of salvation through Jesus Christ.