This past Sunday morning we kicked off a brand-new teaching series called Being Useful. That’s something we all want, isn’t it? We want to be able to confidently say that we have made a difference in the world. Our heart pulses with that beat. Over the next few weeks, we are going to be examining the character that will guarantee we reach our goal in the areas that matter most. I look forward to going on this journey with you. Thanks for reading.
The Secret to Mattering Most
Let’s start this morning with a quick pop culture survey for you. Shout it out if you know the answer. What do Dude Perfect, PewDiePie, HolaSoyGerman, and elrubiusOMG all have in common? They are all YouTube stars. PewDiePie leads the pack with 96 million subscribers to his YouTube channel. The other three all sit north of 35 million, with Dude Perfect leading the second-tier pack at over 42 million. A lot of subscribers translates into a lot of money because of the way YouTube shares ad revenue with its viral video producers. In 2018, Forbes Magazine reported that the highest grossing YouTube channel was not actually one of the top 10 by subscriber totals, but rather Ryan ToysReview. This seven-year-old whose channel started when he was four and features him playing with toys…really, that’s it…made him (and his proud parents) $22 million. The Dude Perfect channel—which is produced by some friends from Texas A&M whose stated goal is to glorify Christ in all they do—made $20 million. That kind of income allows them to keep making videos like this one as their full-time job.
That’s pretty cool stuff, isn’t it? While those are all indeed single-take tricks, they don’t come without some practice and not a few blooper takes. I confess, contrary to most folks of my age and gender, I watch very little YouTube content, personally, but the platform itself is the largest in the world for people sharing videos about anything you can imagine and a whole lot of stuff you can’t. Let me actually make that a bit more concrete for you. The very first YouTube video was uploaded just over 14 years ago. Since that time, the website has grown to the point that 1.3 billion people are counted regular users—that’s about 20% of the entire world population. The sheer rate at which content is added to the site boggles the mind. Every single minute—that’s minute with an M—300 hours of content is uploaded. If you think that’s a lot, you’re wrong. That goes so far beyond “a lot” that it’s not even funny. If you lived to be 100 and did nothing but watch YouTube videos 24/7, you would need 180 lifetimes to watch the content uploaded in a single year. Five billion videos are watched every day by 30 million people. That math only works out if every one of those 30 million viewers watches 167 videos each. If you only watch occasionally and then only a video or two that tells you how many videos some people are watching to make up for what you’re not. Is your brain hurting yet?
Here’s the thing, though: People may be consuming that much content, but someone is also creating it to be consumed. Lots of someones in fact. But why? Why do so many people spend so much time and energy just to put videos of themselves on the internet for other people to watch? Well, a big part is obviously the luster and allure of becoming the next Dude Perfect. Even if you don’t hit that mark, just bearing the distinction of being a YouTube star is a high mark of cultural achievement these days. After all, household names like Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber, Tori Kelly, and Pentatonix all achieved their contemporary fame from YouTube (and if you don’t know who any of those folks are, find someone under 20 near you and they’ll fill you in after the service).
Even if there wasn’t the prospect of making millions of dollars (again: playing with toys…seriously?) or achieving cultural superstardom, I suspect there would still be a lot of YouTube posters. The reason here gets at something lying deep within our hearts and minds as people. We want to be noticed. We want to have a purpose. We want to know that we’ve had, if not a positive impact, then at least an impact on the world around us. And few things communicate in a language we understand well today that we are having an impact than people tuning in to watch a video we’ve produced—especially when we are the stars of it. When someone watches a YouTube video, or any other kind of video, we’ve uploaded (and for full disclosure: I’ve never uploaded anything to YouTube, although I have put a few on Facebook Live), they are giving us their attention. And when we have someone’s attention, we are able to impact them. In other words, every time that view counter clicks up, we’ve had an impact on someone. The same thing goes with just about other kind of social media or blogging post that we make. We want to have significance. We want to be useful.
Well, this morning we are kicking off a brand-new teaching series, about which I am really excited, called Being Useful. For the next few weeks, we are going to be talking about ways we can be useful in the world around us, but especially as it pertains to our faith in Christ. How can we be sure that our faith actually means something? If you would consider yourself a Jesus person, this is going to be a great opportunity to learn a bit more about what it looks like to be someone on whom He can depend. If you would not consider yourself to be a Jesus person, this is still going to be a great series for you to catch. You are going to get an inside look at what the Christian faith should look like when it’s being done right. There are plenty of examples of some things it shouldn’t look like; we’re going to talk about some things it should.
Driving us in this journey is a verse I first reread a couple of years ago. I say “reread” because it’s one I had read before. I’d read at least four or five times before and maybe more than that. But it had never caught my eye quite like it did this time. (And just as a little extras for experts side note, God is always good to do that kind of thing when we regularly, consistently spend time in His word.) I think the reason it caught my attention this time is because it so perfectly taps into this longing for attention and significance and usefulness that lies at the heart of all people. Let me read just the last verse of this passage for you. It comes out of the apostle Peter’s second letter that has been preserved down through the centuries for us in the Scriptures. Listen to this from 2 Peter 1:8: “For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Let that sit on you for just a minute. Let me put it like this: Why do you do the things you do? I mean, on the one hand, there is the imminently practical answer to that question. We do things like go to work so we can eat and sleep indoors. We do some of the things we do because if we don’t, nice people in uniform are going to come and take us off to jail. But, come on, let’s think a little deeper than this. Why do we do the things we do? We choose to do the things we do—and we always have a choice in the things we do; we may not like the consequences of a particular option and so don’t choose it, but we always have a choice—because we think they are going to contribute positively to our lives in some way. They are going to make our lives more significant. They are going to make us more useful. Do you buy that? This drive for purpose lies at the bottom of everything we do. And, once we’ve made the choice to do something, we generally—there are always exceptions—do our best to make sure our usefulness in whatever it happens to be is at the maximum level possible.
Stay with me here: If this is true in our lives generally, shouldn’t it also be true with respect to our faith in Christ? When things are working like they should be working it is. Let me explain: Although this is not as frequent as it used to be given the declining impact of cultural Christianity, some people take the step of publicly giving their lives to Christ mostly because they want the social or relational credits they believe they’ll get for it. For these folks, whether they are growing in their faith and are useful to the kingdom of God may matter in the sense that it will get them more of their perceived cultural credits, but not really other than that. Can we acknowledge together that isn’t how it’s supposed to be?
When we get our heart and mind around just who Jesus is and what He’s done for us, of course we want to be growing in our knowledge of Him. He’s the creator of the world who willingly laid down His life so that we don’t have to face the eternal punishment our sins deserve. Of course we want to be useful and fruitful in the advancement of His cause. If that’s you—and I hope it is—then what Peter says here should be of the utmost of interest to you. I mean, come on: He’s saying, this is how you do it. If you grow in these things, you won’t be useless or unfruitful. That just a negative way of saying, “If you are growing in these things, you will be useful and fruitful.”
So then, what are “these things”? Well, that’s what we’re going to spend the next few weeks talking about in great detail. We are going to spend one week with each of the items on this list in hopes that at the end of this journey, we will be in a much better place to be effective followers of Jesus than we are here at the start. You will not want to miss a single one of these conversations because they are all going to build on one another as we assemble a picture of someone following Jesus well.
As for this morning, I want to spend the rest of our time together getting a bit of an overview of Peter’s words here. If we can understand where He’s coming from, we’ll better be able to get our hearts and minds around where we are trying to go with Him. Come with me back almost to the beginning of the letter. Peter starts with an idea that will become very important here in a couple of weeks as it is the theme verse for Vacation Bible School. Check this out starting in 2 Peter 1:3: “His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. By these he has given us very great and precious promises, so that through them you may share in the divine nature, escaping the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Let’s talk about what Peter is doing here so that we’re ready to dive in deep with these characteristics he says are so critical to our being useful to God. Where Peter lands in v. 8 is with advice on how to be useful in our knowledge of God. Did you notice that word making an appearance in the first verse of this little section as well? God, by His divine power—the very same power that brought all of creation into being—has given us everything we need for life and godliness through what? Our knowledge. But, our knowledge of what? Of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. In other words, our knowledge of Jesus.
Step back with me for just a minute. What is Peter saying here? Look at this with me carefully, because this is pretty powerful stuff. For folks who have said, “Yes, I’m going to be a follower of Jesus,” the God who created the universe with His limitless power, has leveraged that same power to make sure we are fully equipped for the journey that lies ahead of us. Is that not amazing? I’ve recently started reading The Hobbit with Josiah. If you’ve read it before, we are just a little ways past their trip to the cave of the Goblin King. So far, the journey has been a pattern of them stocking up with all they’ll need for the path ahead of them, and then their losing all of their supplies and wondering how they will make it on to the next place. Even leaving for the first time, though, they could only bring as much as they could carry with the help of their pack animals.
Our quest for the kingdom of God is a far grander affair, and accordingly, we are supplied far more thoroughly than they were. We have everything we could possibly need for the end to which we are called. The trick is gradually gaining a more and more accurate sense of what exactly it is that we need. There are some things we think we’ll need, but they turn out to be not only unnecessary, but active impediments to our forward progress. You’ve experienced that, right? You’ve packed something for a trip that turned out not only to be wildly unnecessary, but then you had to keep up with it. Our faithful God makes sure we have everything we need. Our job is to trust Him.
The particular journey for which we are being supplied Peter describes as life and godliness. Now, that word “godliness” is a tough one. It’s a church word. That means people who haven’t grown up in the church aren’t likely to have much of an idea what it means. The irony is that many of the people who have grown up in the church don’t really know what it means either. We assume it means something vaguely religious and positive, but don’t worry to much about it beyond that. Our English word refers technically to someone who is devoutly religious. Such a person is god-ly. She is like God. The Greek word conveys much the same thing, but has a bit broader a connotation to include a sense of commitment we might define as duty. The idea here is that this journey we are on as followers of Jesus, the journey for which our God has so thoroughly equipped us, is one aimed in the direction of life done faithfully after the pattern of Jesus. In other words, when you set out to be like Jesus as one of His followers, God makes sure you have all you need in order to be like Jesus; in order to experience the life that is truly life. This is no mere, “Good luck!” with a pat on the back. Our God clears the way ahead of us, walks faithfully along with us, and cleans up behind us, so that we can do the life of Christ with expert care and precision; so that we can be fully who He made us to be.
But what is it that is the medium of this gift? How do we come by this vast store of resources? By our “knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” Do you hear that? We are equipped beyond belief to experience the abundant life of Christ, not when we have completed some grand quest; not when we have achieved a certain set of acclaim or fame; not when we have scaled the heights and taken the towers of a hostile world, but simply when we know Him. Knowing Jesus is enough. This is the great leveling effect of God’s kingdom. Knowing Jesus is something anyone can do. No one is more capable of that than anyone else.
Here’s the thing, though: This knowledge doesn’t come from us. It may be all we need, but at the end of the day, the kind of knowledge we need isn’t something we can get our hands on by ourselves. We can know about God and enough about who is He and what He’s like from simple, if thoughtful, observation of the world around us, but this knowledge of Jesus that enables us to experience life and godliness is something different. Fortunately, not only does God want us to know Him in this first kind of general way, He wants us to know Him through His Son in this second way as well. And so, as a reflection of His glory (of which His character of graciousness is a function) and His goodness, He shares it with us. He loves us and so calls us to this knowledge. This same love, this same glory and goodness, are the means by which He has furnished us the incredible promise of eternal life through Jesus. And through these promises, we can overcome the sin, the evil desire, that otherwise keeps us entangled in death. All told, this knowledge is some powerful stuff, isn’t it?
What we need to do then, Peter says, is to make sure we are as thoroughly equipped as possible for fully unleashing the power of this knowledge. The old cliché tells us that knowledge is power. That’s not technically true. Having knowledge by itself is all but meaningless unless you play a lot of those trivia games at local bars. Having knowledge in your head and heart is like having tools in your workshop. Having a bunch makes you look good and feel confident, but if you aren’t doing anything with them, what’s the point? You’ve spent a whole bunch of money for nothing. Where the power really lies is in applied knowledge. Knowing a lot of things and then putting those things into practice to accomplish positive things with them is what will make all the difference. The question, then, becomes: What will keep us from letting our knowledge of Jesus become for us like a shed of unused tools?
Now, if our culture was going to answer that question, what might it say? It would point to things like achievement and power and wealth and status. Those are the primary cultural indicators that we have done something positive with what we know. Translated to the Christian faith, it would be pastoring huge churches or writing best selling books or going on extensive, lucrative speaking tours, or having a social media following of millions. These are the marks of significance. They are the indicators that we are being useful.
And yet, these are not the things Peter rattles off. What does he say again? He says we need faith and goodness and knowledge (this is a little different kind of knowledge than we’re talking about this morning, but we’ll talk about that a couple of weeks) and self-control and endurance and godliness and familial affection (or what we might just call kindness) and love. None of these are things we achieve, are they? No, they are character traits we develop over time. They take focused intentionality to see planted, nurtured, and grown into the fruit-bearing trees Paul imagined them to be when he called some of them the fruit of the Spirit. These are all evidences of the Spirit’s presence and activity in our lives. And, if we not only have them, but have them in increasing measure, then our knowledge of Jesus Christ, our understanding of His character and identity, will not be useless. It will not be a waste of time. We won’t just win trivia games; we’ll change the world.
Where all of this lands is here: With Jesus, significance comes from character, not achievement. With the world, the opposite is true. With the world, achievement of some fashion is all there is. You have to do things. You have to have things. You have to post videos online that everyone is watching. And think of how many young people—and not-as-young people—struggle because of it. We check our social media feeds regularly throughout the day just to see if there’s another notification, another indication that we have had an impact on someone, that we have been useful. We all know the feeling of just being deflated when it’s just a birthday notification. Even if you don’t use social media at all, though, you’re constantly on the lookout for an “attaboy” from someone who has noticed something you’ve done or said. We want to be significant. We want to be useful. But it’s exhausting trying to keep up with all of this. It’s exhausting trying to clear the hurdles and slip through the hoops. It’s exhausting managing expectations—both ours and those of the people around us. Too many simply give in to the exhaustion and just settle for a life we are led to believe is inconsequential. Usually, our attempts to dull the pain of that decision are not positive.
But with Jesus, significance comes from character, not achievement. He completely rewrites the rules of the world so that anyone, everyone can matter. Everyone can have significance. Everyone can be useful. Significance in the kingdom of God comes from knowing Jesus, and that significance is demonstrated not by what we do, but by who we are becoming. With Jesus, significance comes from character, not achievement. Character is what makes our knowledge of Him useful and fruitful.
Just imagine what the world would look like if we really got our hearts and minds around that. Imagine a world with no more striving. Imagine a world with no more insecurity over an apparent lack of achievement. Imagine a world where social media didn’t suck up one life after another and spit it back out emptier than it was before. Imagine a world in which we were all secure in our identities as children of God Imagine a world where character was celebrated in ways that only achievement is now. I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of world I want to live in. Well, that’s what life looks like in the kingdom of God. With Jesus, significance comes from character, not achievement. And if we’ll embrace the character marked by what Peter says here, we’ll together take some first steps toward seeing that world brought beautifully into reality. Over the next few weeks, that character is something we are going to unpack together. With Jesus, significance comes from character, not achievement. I hope you will be with us for the journey.