Since the beginning of the new year we have been looking at an important issue in the life of the church: spiritual gifts. The Bible affirms that each person has been given “a manifestation of the spirit for the common good”. In other words, the Holy Spirit has given each believer a gift or an ability that is designed to enrich the church.
Over the last couple of weeks we have seen several things,
Gifts are given by God and not earned by men
Gifts are not to be used to “rank” each other
Gifts are outward directed . . . they are designed to enrich the church
The list of gifts in the Bible is not exhaustive.
When the gifts are not used, the church is handicapped and while some are overworked others feel they have no place in the body of Christ.
This morning we conclude our mini-study by looking at the various gifts mentioned in the Bible. To do this I have arbitrarily divided the gifts into three categories: Speaking Gifts, Practical Ministry Gifts, and Miraculous Gifts. I’ll tell you up front that there are many different definitions of these gifts and this morning you will get my definitions. You may agree or disagree.
The speaking gifts would be the gifts that most people think of when they think about spiritual gifts.
Apostleship. This is a difficult gift to describe. In the Bible the apostles were those who had witnessed the resurrection of Christ and were used by God to build the foundation of the church. Their words were considered to be on the level of Scripture. The Apostles did their job and we are grateful today. Obviously, this kind of apostle no longer exists. However, some see this gift as relating to those who can plant new churches, oversee many churches, or those who go to the mission field.
Prophecy. Prophets sometimes gave predictions about the future (and a “true” prophet is never wrong). At other times prophets spoke out against the abuses of the day. They proclaimed God’s standards in a public forum. People like Chuck Colson may be this kind of modern prophet. Others believe that prophets have insight into things that are happening in the life of another. (This may be the equivalent of what some call a “word of knowledge”) These people have an uncommon insight and the courage to express that insight.
The Gift of Discernment I place this in the area of the speaking gifts because these people have the ability to tell true prophets from false prophets. They are able to see the hand of God and distinguish it from the work of the devil. There are many today who have a great ability to “read the times”.
The gift of Pastoring and the gift of Teaching These two gifts are familiar and don’t need much comment. A Pastor has a heart for his people and a desire to lead them to growth. A teacher has the ability to communicate the truth of God clearly and effectively.
The Gift of Wisdom I think of this gift as the gift of a counselor. People with the gift of wisdom have the ability to see clearly in confusing times. They are able to diagnose a problem and see the solution. These people can take knowledge and apply it to daily living.
The gift of knowledge. I believe this gift refers to those who are superior learners. They are able to grasp and understand data quickly. They are able to take complex truth and make it plain. These people are very comfortable with ideas and will always want to talk about issues. Many of the theologians of the day would be people with a gift of knowledge.
Evangelist. These people have the wonderful ability to proclaim the gospel in a way that leads people to a saving knowledge of Christ. They seem to be able to get right to the issue and do it effectively. When they speak people respond.
Many people look at these speaking gifts and become intimated. They say, “I’m not going to ever get up in front of people and speak.” Because they don’t have these gifts they conclude that they are gift-less. But they are wrong. Just because you don’t have a “speaking gift” doesn’t mean that you don’t have a gift.
THE MIRACULOUS GIFTS
The most controversial of the spiritual gifts what I am calling the miraculous gifts. These would be the gift of faith (believing God in an extraordinary way . . . perhaps seen in many of the martyrs who sang while they were burned at the stake), the gifts of miracles, healing, and tongues (and the interpretation of tongues).
There are many who conclude that these gifts were only for the first century. They were signs to show the authority of the apostles. I am not persuaded by these arguments. I think God still works in miraculous ways today.
People are uncomfortable with the miraculous gifts for many reasons. First, they are uncomfortable because of the abuse of these gifts. And there are abuses. There are people who claim to be miracle workers who are really just scamming people. I’ll admit those who are getting rich by their miracles trouble me. The only people in the Bible who were getting rich off of miracles were the false teachers!
The Bible warns us that there will be those we are do counterfeit miracles by the hand of the devil. These things happen. However, just as we do not dismiss all teachers because of the reality of some false teachers, we should not dismiss these gifts because of some abuses.
People also uncomfortable with these gifts because they are outside of the experience of most of us. Most of us have never witnessed a dramatic miracle. We have never seen a dead person come to life, or a crippled person jump out of their chair and walk. Because of that fact when we read about such happenings we feel puny spiritually. We wonder why we aren’t able to do these miracles. However, if the miraculous was common, it would no longer be a miracle.
Personally, if I am sick I am going to call on people to pray for me who believe God still heals. Why waste your time praying if you don’t believe God can do the extraordinary? I want these folks to pray, to anoint me with oil, and to believe.
Speaking in Tongues is the most controversial gift. It created controversy in Corinth and it is still doing so today. There appear to be two kinds of tongues: the public and the private. The private experience of tongues seems to be an unknown “language” that people can pray in. It gives people a new freedom when they don’t know what to say. It gives them a heightened sense of fellowship with God. I don’t have this gift but I am not prepared to say that it doesn’t exist simply because it is not given to me. I encourage these people to pray for me!
The public gift of tongues is seen on the day of Pentecost. On that day the disciples spoke in languages that they had never learned. People from many different lands heard the gospel in their own language. I am told that this occasionally still happens on a mission field.
Speaking in tongues in Corinth was a problem for the same reasons it is a problem today. The people in Corinth were doing several things . . .
1. They made tongues a test of spirituality. There are some today who teach that speaking in tongues is the evidence that a person has been filled with the Holy Spirit. Fortunately, these numbers are dwindling but this kind of thing is still taught. Paul condemns that kind of thinking in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14.
2. They allowed tongues to create chaos in worship. When these people came to worship apparently the tongues speakers were going on and on in tongues. The apostle Paul spoke to this issue in 1 Corinthians 14. He told the people that only two or at the most three people should speak in tongues and then ONLY when there is an interpreter. (see verse 27). Paul says if there is no interpreter the person should be quiet! Paul’s reasoning is simple: uncontrolled speaking in tongues divides the body of Christ into the “haves” and the “have nots”; speaking in tongues in worship puts the focus on the individual rather than the body. And speaking in tongues in worship alienates the unbeliever who cannot understand anything that is going on. He calls for worship to be orderly.
3. They made tongues the preeminent gift. The Corinthians elevated this gift above the others. Paul told the people in Corinth that he had spoken in tongues and found it to be a wonderfully enriching experience . . . however, the other speaking gifts were more important because they are more beneficial to the body of Christ. Paul told us to seek and desire the “greater gifts” (those that are more beneficial to the body) rather than tongues.
I had a Professor in college who seemed to have a great summary for what Paul was saying about the gift of tongues: Don’t seek it (seek the greater gifts) and don’t forbid it (it is a valid gift of the spirit).
GIFTS FOR PRACTICAL MINISTRY
I’ve deliberately saved the gifts that most people are going to identify with for last because I don’t want you leaving here today focusing on the controversies regarding spiritual gifts, I want you focused on finding the role that God wants you to play.
The gifts for practical ministry are gifts that are essential for any church to grow and faithfully serve the Kingdom of God. Think of it like the military. When there is a war the guys in Washington are the ones in front of the cameras. They plan the strategy. They get the accolades . . . but it is the men and women in the field who get the job done. They may not be as visible but that doesn’t mean they aren’t vital to the mission.
It’s the same in the church. Many people with ministry gifts spend their time in the shadows. They do a lot of work one on one. They are behind the scenes . . . but if they weren’t there, the church would stagnate and die.
Paul lists several of these gifts: serving, and helps. People can serve in a number of ways. They can serve in the kitchen, in the Nursery, in preparing the sanctuary for worship, in visiting others, in transporting people. They can serve as ushers, greeters, and sound technicians. These people can serve and help by preparing mailings, doing decorations, making repairs, welcoming people into their homes. The list can go as far as one’s imagination. People who serve and help are people who demonstrate the attitude of Christ. They give of themselves in whatever way is needed.
There are those who have the gift of mercy. These are the people who have a heart for the hurting. When they hear of a need they go right to the home of that person and lend a hand. They don’t need an invitation or an excuse. They go because they know that’s where they need to be. These are the people who stay the night with a friend in the hospital, who will come out to help in the middle of the night, who will weep with you in your sorrow and rejoice with you in your triumphs. These are the people who get on their knees on your behalf.
There are those who have the gift of leadership and administration. These people see issues clearly and are able to address them appropriately. They have the ability to mobilize people and to equip others for ministry. They lead by their example, they lead by their wisdom, and they are able to lead because people trust them.
Where would we be without the people who have the organizational skills to keep us on track? Where would we be without those who get behind a project and make it happen? We would be standing still.
Ministry gifts also include those who have the gift of generosity. These are people who get behind projects and outreach with their checkbook. These people are always looking for ways to give more to support the work of the Lord. They not only tithe, they go beyond the tithe. They donate stock, they sell items and give the proceeds to the church. These people remember ministries in their will and some of these folks even take out insurance policies on their life and make the church their beneficiary. These folks are creative in their giving. Every ministry and every church needs these people. They don’t make a big deal about their gifts . . . they aren’t looking for credit . . . they are looking to invest in something eternal.
The last gift in this area is the gift of encouragement. The best example of an encourager in the Bible is Barnabus. Barnabus was the man who befriended Paul right after he became a Christian. Paul had been a persecutor of the church and was persona non grata among believers. Barnabus became Paul’s friend. He introduced him to the church and took Paul with him on the first missionary journey. Barnabus saw the potential in people rather than their failures.
An encourager is a great person to be around. They lift your spirit and breathe new life into your soul. These are the people who are the most likely to see and point out your spiritual gifts to you. They build people up not with idle flattery but with perceptive words.
The people with practical ministry gifts all have something in common: they don’t think anything of what they are doing. When someone says, “I don’t see how you can spend so much time at the nursing home” or “What a great thing that you were willing to help this family out.” They stare at you and don’t understand what the big deal is all about. These people don’t see their ministry as work . . . it is a delight. It’s what they do. That’s all. They may not even recognize their work as a spiritual gift from God . . . but the recipients of their ministry see those gifts clearly.
We’ve proceeded at a sprint this morning and I apologize if you feel a little overwhelmed with all this information. Let me slow down and draw a few final conclusions.
First, be determined to find your place of service. You will never find your spiritual gift until you are ready to use whatever gift you have. If you want to find your gift there are several things you can do,
1. Make sure of your relationship with the Savior. Gifts are for followers of Christ and not just church attendees. Be sure of your own relationship with the Father.
2. Study and Pray. Read the Bible and read books about spiritual gifts. Learn all you can.
3. Take advantage of service opportunities. When there is a need, step up to meet that need. Be willing to experiment with various ministries. Be open to any service opportunity in the desire to find God’s place for your life.
4. Examine your Feelings. How do you feel about your service to the Lord. Are you bored, worn out or frustrated? It could be that you have not found your area of giftedness. When you find the place where you should be serving, you will find a great satisfaction and joy in what you do.
5. Evaluate your Service. Look at your effectiveness. Are people being helped? Are you reaching others? Do people affirm your giftedness?
Second, don’t compare yourself to others. It’s good to learn from those who are gifted. It is good to appreciate what others can do. However, we must not rank ourselves or allow others to rank us according to our gifts. Each of us has a unique ministry. Our job is to serve God wherever He sees fit to use us. God is not going to judge us by our popularity . . . He will judge us by our faithfulness.
Finally, we need to help each other. Perhaps instead of spending all our time examining ourselves, maybe we should try to see the unique gifts in the lives of those around us. When you spot someone who seems to be gifted in a particular area . . . tell them. Let’s help each other to discover what God has called us to do. Who knows? Maybe someone will help you see what you did not see in yourself.
If we as a church can begin to serve in our areas of giftedness several things will happen,
1. Drudgery will be replaced with joy; exhaustion will be replaced with energy
2. We will appreciate each other
3. We will expand our ministry
4. Our church will grow numerically
5. We will reach beyond our church in ways that only God could have imagined.