This morning we begin a new year as a church family. In years past we have watched as our church has grown. We have seen many new faces and seen our ministry extends further than we could have ever imagined. We have been richly blessed by God. This is a good church.
Our goal however, is not just to be a good church. Our desire is to be a great church. Let me be clear what it means and doesn’t mean to be a “great” church. A great church is not a big church or a church that sings certain songs or worships a certain way. A great church is not one that is in the news or involved in media ministry. A great church doesn’t even have to have lots of programs. A great church may have some or more of these things but these things don’t make a church great.
A great church is one that represents God effectively in the world. A great church is made up of people who are involved in ministry and not just worship. A great church is made up of people who love the Lord with a passion that fuels their lives. These are churches that change their world. Some of these churches are unknown to everyone but the Lord. Some are big, some are not.
In the year ahead we are going to pursue this kind of greatness. In the first weeks of this new year we are going to look at the idea of spiritual gifts . . . or the Biblical teaching about a God-given place of personal ministry. Following this brief study we begin a study of the book of Acts to learn the history of the early church. We want to discover how a group of eleven men (Judas killed himself) were used by God to bring the gospel to the world.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. We begin our pursuit with a look at Romans 12:3-8.
“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” (Romans 12:3-8, NIV)
In this brief passage we see several important principles.
GOD DESIGNED US TO WORK TOGETHER
The Bible uses two primary images for the church. The first image is that of a family. He designed the church so that we needed each other and would “belong to each other”. Christians think of each other as a “brother” and “sister” in the Lord. We call God our Father and the Bible likens Christ to a bridegroom and the church the bride. We think of those who come to faith as children. We call conversion new birth. The family image is all around us.
Every family has its share of oddballs, complainers and troublemakers. The church has those kinds of people too. In a family you accept and love these people in spite of their quirks. The same should also be true of the church.
The second image the Bible uses for the church is a body. As the body has different parts that all must work together to survive; so in the church we have different functions, interests and personalities that must work together to be healthy.
In the human body the heart keeps the blood pumping, the lungs keep oxygen coming into the body, the stomach digests food, the nose helps us breath and smell, the ear helps us hear. We know that our kidneys eliminate toxins from our body, the pancreas regulates our insulin, the liver secrets bile which aids in digestion. We can go on and on . . . the point is that every part of the body has a job. And every one of the jobs is important. That’s the image that Paul wants us to understand. In the church, everyone has a role to play.
WE MUST KNOW OURSELVES
The apostle Paul tells us we must not “think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think but should think with sober judgment as God has given each a measure of faith.”
In order to think with sober judgment we have to correct a common misconception. In Ephesians 2:10 we are told, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Do you notice something about this verse? We are not told that we DO the workmanship of God. We are told that we ARE the workmanship of God.
God has designed us and equipped us for a particular purpose. He has fashioned us and given us a role to play in His kingdom that is just as He determined it to be. We are His masterpiece!
With this in mind, go back to the command in Romans 12, “do not think more highly that you ought to think.”
Do not think more highly than you ought to think. His first caution is against arrogance. The human condition being what it is, we all have a tendency to think that we are the center and everything else revolves around us. We have a tendency to think that our perceptions are the correct ones and our thinking is the most enlightened.
First, we must not be arrogant in our salvation. We must constantly remind ourselves that we are sinners who are saved by grace. We are not more “worthy” of salvation than anyone else. A true Christian should never come off as a snob (that doesn’t mean some Christians don’t come off as snobs).
Second, we must not be arrogant about our own contribution to the Kingdom. Every one of us must be reminded that should we die today, we would be replaced in the work of God’s Kingdom. No one is indispensable . . . not even the Pastor. It is not OUR work . . . it is HIS. We must always keep in mind that we are one member of a team.
Some of you have watched a good deal of football this week. One thing that should be apparent: even the most gifted players can’t be successful without their teammates. The running backs need the line, the quarterback needs protection, the receiver needs a good pass, the linebacker needs the line to help him pursue the runner, the cornerback needs the line to put pressure on the passer, and the coach needs the team to execute the plays.
We could use many other examples: you could have a virtuoso violin player but if your French horn player is tone deaf the orchestra will make noise rather than music. You can have an assembly line of people putting together a world class engine but if one person on the line fails in their job of aligning one small gear the engine will be fit for nothing but the junk heap. We need each other!
Let me suggest another side to this idea of arrogance. While many people get an inflated idea of their own importance, there are also many people who think less of themselves than they should. How can this be arrogance?
If God says we are valuable (which He does); if God tells us that we have a significant place to play in the ministry of His church (which He does); then think about how arrogant it is to override God’s evaluation of our lives! What arrogance to think that our judgment is superior to God’s!
The solution to these problems is to have an accurate understanding of our role in the body of Christ. We must recognize our strengths and our weaknesses. Humility is being able to see your situation accurately. The truly humble person is able to say, “God has given me the ability to do __________ if I can use this for His glory, I am willing.
So how do you get an accurate picture of your talents and abilities? We’ll talk more about this in the next couple of weeks but let me give you some general principles;
1. What are you good at? (I’m good with my hands; I am comfortable talking to people; I am good with details; I am good at developing a plan of action; I seem to have a knack with technology; I’m good at keeping records; people seem to enjoy my music; I seem to be able to make complex truth clear and comprehensible.)
2. What things do you have a passion for? (I think we ought to give more to missions; I think we need to do more visitation; I think we need to give more attention to music; I think we need to develop programs for children; I believe the house of God should be well cared for; I believe we need to be active politically; I believe we need to use technology to reach others). What is it you really care about? What subjects do you love to discuss?
3. What abilities do others think you have? What passions do they recognize in you?
If you put these three things together you may begin to see your unique ministry personality. Finding your area of ministry is basically finding a way to use your abilities to minister in the areas you are passionate about.
THE CHURCH IS HANDICAPPED UNLESS WE USE WHAT WE HAVE BEEN GIVEN
The third principle obviously, is that the church cannot be what God has created it to be unless we do what He has equipped us to do. Paul says,
If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
There are two commands here. First, we are to use the gifts and abilities that God has given us. It is not much use for a person to have a gift of service if they aren’t going to serve. It doesn’t matter if God has given you a generous heart, if you are not going to share with others. When we discover what God has equipped and called us to do . . we must look for a way to use what we have been given.
There are two common objections people have when you talk about spiritual gifts. The first is, “No one ever asked me to help.” Come on, folks, most of us have enough trouble finding the place we are supposed to fit in . . . we aren’t looking to figure out how others fit in! If you see that you have certain abilities – volunteer! Make people aware of your willingness to serve in a certain area.
A second objection is, “I feel I have abilities in a certain area but the church doesn’t have any ministries that fit my gifts.” It could be that God is calling you to begin a ministry in this area.
Let me give you one example. A number of years ago we had a very talented musician in our church (Christina Tait) who wondered if the church had ever thought about a bell choir. I admitted that it had not. I asked the woman if this kind of group was something she thought she would enjoy directing. She said it was. We had a leader. All we needed now were the bells and some ringers. We found both. Our bell choirs are here today because one person saw a ministry they could do and was willing to begin that ministry.
Notice also that we are told to serve enthusiastically. Notice the words? “If it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.”
Truthfully, once you find the place where God wants you to be, you will have enthusiasm. You will enjoy your job. Truth is, it won’t seem like a job. Sure there will be distasteful parts of the job (every job has those things) but you will be doing what God has called you to do and you will know a sense of fulfillment and completeness that will energize your soul.
Let me conclude this morning with some simple suggestions:
First, take your role as a part of this church seriously. Refuse to be a mere spectator in the ministry of our church. Refuse to be content with the Union Church being a good church . . . strive to help it become a great church. Dare to believe that God can do greater things than we can even imagine through our church family.
Second, make an effort to discover your ministry in the Union Church of La Harpe. In a few weeks we will begin offering a class that will help you to discover your gifts. But you don’t have to wait! Make finding your place of ministry a matter of prayer. Ask God to show you what He has called you to do in our church. Read books on the spiritual gifts. Talk to others. Ask yourself the questions that I suggested,
What am I good at?
Where is my passion?
What do others say?
Third, be attentive for ways you can do what God has equipped you to do. Dare to think “outside the box”. Be creative. Dare to see what hasn’t been done before. Refuse to let the perceived obstacles stop you from developing a new ministry.
It may be that you will never able to “put a name” to your particular gift. So what? Find the place where you can serve God enthusiastically and joyfully and don’t look back. Be a part of the adventure!
Finally, take God at His word. Believe Him when He tells you that every child of God has a ministry . . . believe Him when He tells you that you have a significant place in the work of His church. Believe Him when He tells you that He loves you . . . and believe Him when He tells you that He believes in you to help make His church not just good . . . but great!