Using God’s Gifts For God’s Purposes
Last Sunday we began a study of Spiritual Gifts . . . the Biblical teaching that God has equipped us to perform various ministries in the church and for the Kingdom of God. Last week I introduced the topic with three observations,
God Designed us to Work Together
In Order to do that We Must Know Ourselves
The Church is Handicapped Unless We Use What We Have Been Given
This morning we continue along the same vein by turning our attention to 1 Corinthians 12. In this passage the Apostle Paul addresses the issue of spiritual gifts and gives us some very valuable information. This morning we will look at the general principles and next week we will look at the specific kinds of spiritual gifts.
Let me give you a little background on this particular text. It appears that the issue of spiritual gifts was a “hot button” issue. In other words it was a point of contention in the church in Corinth. It appears that wanted the flashy gifts, especially the gift of speaking in tongues. The church was dividing. In fact, it seems that some of those who claimed to be “gifted” were really not honoring the Lord at all. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12 help us to understand several points.
SPIRITUAL GIFTS ARE GIVEN BY GOD NOT EARNED BY MEN
The people of Corinth seemed to be using spiritual gifts as a way of measuring a person’s spirituality. Having certain gifts (in this case tongues) seemed to be a “badge of honor”. Paul scolds the people by reminding them that these gifts are not earned . . . they are gifts from God.
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6, NIV)
“All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.” (1 Corinthians 12:11, NIV)
God is the author of our spiritual gifts. Before we can really understand what spiritual gifts are, we have to understand what they are not.
Gifts are not the same thing as talents. Spiritual gifts are not the same thing as having a talent. Everyone has talents. Even atheists have talents. Consequently, spiritual gifts are different from talents. Our talents are often genetic. Our spiritual gifts come to believers only from the Lord.
We need to understand that
A person can be a good speaker and not have the gift of Pastoring or Teaching (speaking in ways that communicate with the soul of another)
A person may be a teacher by profession and not have the spiritual gift of teaching (being able to communicate spiritual truth in clear and powerful ways)
A person may be an optimist and still not have the gift of faith (believing God in extraordinary ways)
A person may be a talented musician but still not touch the soul of a person, encourage a person, evangelize a person with their music.
A person may be compassionate and caring and still not have the gift of mercy (extending God’s mercy and grace to another).
A gift is something that impacts people for the Kingdom of God. It may be a new ability since you became a believer or it may be a transformation of an existing talent.
In my case I can look back on the days before I became a Christian and remember that I was terrified to stand in front of a group of people. Now, I was only 13 when I became a Christian, but the transformation was dramatic. In most circumstances I still don’t like to get up in front of people. However, when I am speaking for the Lord I know freedom from that fear.
I’m not saying that God does not sometimes take our talents and use them for His purpose. There is no such thing as the gift of athletics. However, God will sometimes use our talent in the area of athletics as a vessel for a gift of evangelism, teaching, or encouragement.
A person who is talented musically may find their talent used by God to teach, encourage, comfort and help people. A person with talents in the area of craftsmanship may find that God uses their talent as the vessel to help others (Like Jimmy Carter with Habitat for Humanity) or to serve the body of Christ in some other way.
Talents are natural. Gifts are supernatural.
Gifts are not the same as Roles. We must also make another distinction when we talk about spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are not the same things as a role we are given.
Unfortunately, there are many who are Pastor’s by profession but who don’t seem to have the gift of Pastor and Teacher. There are many people who are in positions of Leadership who don’t seem to have a gift of Leadership. There are many who teach who don’t seem to have a gift in that area. Just because you have a title doesn’t mean you have that gift.
By the same token, not having a particular gift does not excuse us from doing what we are commanded to do. There are certain things that every believer is supposed to do.
Evangelize (or share your faith) with the lost
Encourage one another
Live by faith
Give to the Lord
These are all things every believer is supposed to do. A person who has a gift in one of these areas has an augmented and sometimes extraordinary ability in these areas. They seem to be able to communicate the gospel in an extraordinarily effective manner (like Billy Graham); they seem to have a sense of when and what kind of help a person needs; they seem to always have “just the right word”; they may have a deep passion for intercession and God may have touched their heart in a way that leads them to give well beyond what most of us would ever dream.
They are given as God determines. The third thing we must notice is that the gifts of the Spirit are given to us “as God determines”. We do not campaign for or earn any spiritual gifts. God chooses the gift that we are to have and He does so by His wisdom and for His purpose. There is no reason for pride when it comes to our spiritual gifts . . . they are given by grace and should be received with humility.
EVERY BELIEVER HAS A SPIRITUAL GIFT OR GIFTS
In verse seven we are told that “to each one” a manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. Every believer is given at least one of these spiritual gifts as their contribution to the body of Christ. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you have been gifted for some ministry in God’s Kingdom.
There are various gifts (the lists are different). There are several places in the Bible where there are lists of various spiritual gifts. The main locations are Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 and Ephesians 4. As you combine these lists you notice something immediately, the lists are different!
I don’t think Paul ever intended to give us an exhaustive list. We should examine these lists and not be overly concerned if we do not find some label for our particular gift. Our job is to find that special something that God has called us to do for the body of Christ and do it.
No gift is universal. By very definition, no gift is possessed (or intended to be possessed by all believers). The body is designed so that it has to be interdependent. Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians is that not everyone is a “eye” or an “ear” or a “foot” or a “hand”. At the end of the chapter (v. 29-30) Paul asks a series of rhetorical questions, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” The answer the questions is “no” . . . none of these gifts are given to everyone.
By definition a gift is something given to your uniquely. It would be foolish for me to stand up here and tell you that “God wants everyone to preach and if you don’t get up in front of people and preach, you are not a victorious Christian”. God never intended for everyone to preach. Obviously, if everyone was a preacher, there would be no one to preach to!
By the same token, when we say God wants every Christian to speak in tongues, or to heal, or to give 25% of their income to the Lord, or to lead, we are being just as foolish. The Bible is clear: no one has all the gifts and no one gift is for all the people.
THE GOAL OF THE GIFTS IS THE COMMON GOOD
There is one final thing for us to see in this overview of 1 Corinthians 12; the purpose of spiritual gifts is for the enrichment of the body. In verse 7 we are told that the gifts are given, “for the common good”; In verse 25 we are told, “there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.” This couple of statements provokes a few conclusions,
Gifts are Not primarily for personal enrichment. I wouldn’t want you to think that I do not enjoy preaching . . . I do. There is a certain “rush” that comes from the exercise of my gift that I find intoxicating. HOWEVER, my gift, and yours was never given to us so we could “feel a rush”. Our gifts are given us for us to contribute something to the body of Christ. In fact, Paul rebukes the people of Corinth for clamoring after the gift of tongues because it was useless to building up others. He tells them if they don’t have an interpreter they should not speak in tongues in church because there is no corporate benefit.
The key indicator of the validity of a gift is how it impacts others. In fact, let me take this a step further. It seems to me that the Bible would indicate that one of the ways to tell whether your “ability” is a gift from God is by how it impacts others.
If you think you have a gift in a certain area ask yourself some questions,
“Are people being encouraged in the faith because of the exercise of my gift?”
“Are people being drawn to Christ?”
“Is ministry being made possible because of the exercise of my gift?”
“Are people’s needs being met because of the exercise of my gift?”
“Are lives being changed because of my contribution to the Kingdom?”
A true spiritual gift opens doors, changes lives, and builds up the body of Christ.
Gifts should lead to unity not division. In verse 25 we are told “But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body . . . “ If the issue of spiritual gifts is dividing a church, something is wrong. God’s gifts are supposed to unite us, not divide us.
The issue of spiritual gifts was dividing the church in Corinth because they chose to rank gifts and use them as a way of labeling each other. That really should not surprise us because we do that very same thing in many areas of life. All around us people try to tell us,
the best car to drive
what constitutes beauty and what doesn’t
who is more intelligent than whom
which political ideas are “enlightened” and which are not
which careers are noble and which are not
It should not surprise us then when we try to set up ways to rank each other in the church,
who was baptized correctly
who’s conversion was genuine
who’s life is victorious
what vices are most sinful
which gifts are more spiritual
We are not surprised but we must realize that this was not God’s intention. God intended for us to be people who received His grace with humility and gratitude. He wanted us to be people who share a common blessing and who work together to help each other grow and honor the One whom we could never repay.
Spiritual gifts were never meant to divide churches. Rather than rank each other we are to love and appreciate each other (it is not coincidence that the “Love Chapter” is in the middle of this discussion of spiritual gifts). Rather than envy each other we are to give thanks for each other.
Let me draw four simple conclusions from our study this morning. First, you will not find your spiritual gift until you have given your life to Jesus Christ. Spiritual gifts; abilities that serve the Kingdom of God, are given only to those who have trusted Christ alone for their salvation.
Consequently, before you spend a lot of time trying to find your spiritual gift, make sure you are truly one of His followers. A true believer is one, who has,
Admitted his/her own sinfulness and need for a Savior
Believed that Jesus is the one who fulfills our need for a Savior. He is the Son of God. He is the one who paid for our sin by His death. He is the one who makes new life possible through His resurrection.
Received Christ as Savior. This is the often forgotten step. People believe the truth about Jesus but often never get around to receiving or surrendering to that truth. We must not only decide that Jesus is the Savior . . . we must actually put our trust in Him. I like to say that a true believer not only believes in Jesus but is willing to bet their life on Him. A true believer believes in Christ enough to build their life on Him.
Having said this, the question I must ask is this: Does this describe you? Have you made that kind of commitment to Christ? Have you stopped short of really making Him the Savior and Lord of your life? You will not be filled with His Spirit, you will never be given a gift of the Spirit, and you will never know eternal life, until you take that step of trust Christ ALONE for your salvation.
Second, any measurement of a person’s spirituality by their gifts (you are more/less spiritual if you speak in tongues, teach, are an effective evangelist) is wrong. You may be able to discern a person’s obedience and growth in the Lord by whether or not they are using their spiritual gifts to His glory, but you cannot tell a person’s level of spiritual maturity by WHAT gift they have. These gifts are given at God’s discretion and according to God’s purpose. The text is plain, every gift if valuable and important in the work of God’s kingdom.
Third, our job is not to campaign for certain spiritual gifts, our job is to receive the gifts and to use them in a way that glorifies the Lord. Ultimately, who gets what gift(s) is not a result of our desire but God’s. You may long to preach, teach, speak in tongues, or perform miracles. But God may have chosen for you to be a person who has a gift of helps . . . a supporting ministry that is more behind the scenes. Our job is not to question; it is to obey. God has a plan. He knows how we can best be of service to Him and to the Kingdom. If we love Him, we will be glad to serve in whatever way he sees fit.
Finally, a diligent effort to find your spiritual gift/gifts is time well spent. When you find and accept (two different things) your place in the Kingdom of God it is one of the most fulfilling, satisfying and enjoyable experiences of life. When you discover what God wants you to do there is a new sense of purpose and mission in your life. You will be able to stop envying (or resenting) others and begin serving with joy and enthusiasm. And when God’s church begins to serve with joy and enthusiasm . . . the world will take notice.