Adam Blyckert, Whitworth Summer Fellow
I recently heard a news story from this past May: a woman in the Silicon Valley, California cleaned out her garage after her husband died. She brought a bunch of electronics to a donation center and left them there without taking any sort of receipt or even giving them a name. A few weeks later, when volunteers were going through the box, they found a first generation Apple computer that is now collectible and valued around $200,00! (That’s no bad-apple) She had literally discarded this valuable possession. If she had known, it could have been a huge benefit to her, and probably to those closest to her with whom she could shared the proceeds.
Today, we are going to talk about something far more valuable than forgotten electronics. In our series on grace, I would like to focus this morning on gifts from the spirit. We’ll talk a little about the nature of their differences, discovering our gifts, and finally using our gifts. If you brought your Bible, I invite you to open up to Romans 12; if you left your Bible at home today, feel free to open up a red bible in pew in front of you and follow along on page 803. I would also encourage you to keep it open so you can refer back to the text this morning.
Hear now Romans 12 beginning in verse 3: [Rom 12:3-13]. Please pray with me: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer, that our faith may not rest on wise or persuasive words, but on the power of Your Spirit. Amen.
Before we dive into our text for today, I want to set the scene for the chapter that we are in. Paul is writing a letter to the church in Rome that he did not plant, and had not yet visited. He is expressing that he would like to visit the church there, and go from there on to Spain. In order to build some rapport with them, he writes this long letter where he outlines and teaches his Christian faith. Rather than addressing a specific situation like most of his letters, he is writing generally for all Christians. Among other concepts, Paul addresses the universal problem of sin, moves to salvation in Christ, and explains the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in the Christian faith. Now, here in Chapter 12, Paul transitions from theological exposition to practical moral teaching. Much like my sermon a month ago, Paul urges his audience to give their lives as a living sacrifice to God and allow God to renew their minds—the whole way that they think and interact with the world.
He then moves to this portion on diverse gifts from the spirit and how they should interact in the church body. His main point is that God has a different ministry role for each person, thus we receive His grace in different ways. Using these various gifts is God’s design for a healthy Church.
I have known generally of this idea for some time, but it became clear to me in a new way in the past few weeks. As many of you know, I am engaged to Kristin, my lovely fiancée. One of the many things we are doing to prepare for marriage is to continue to talk about our spiritual lives, and the ways we are encountering God. One thing has become clear, that we hear from God in different ways. As for me, the closest I come to hearing from God is when I have really solid conversations with people of faith, or when I’m studying scripture and learn something new. I feel that I discover a new aspect of my Lord. Kristin, though she reads scripture and talks to people seems to perceive things directly from God. She has had instances where she has learned something from God in the form of vision or some other specific message. Recently, when I heard one of these instances, I became jealous. “Why doesn’t God talk to me that way?” “I feel so frustrated that I can’t hear from God, yet he speaks clearly to her. That’s not fair!” Then I remembered today’s text, and understood it in a different way.
In verse 4, Paul says we should think about our differences like we think of a body. We have many members with different functions, but are united in our common faith in Christ. In addition, Paul adds that we are also members of one another! In fact, this unity is only made possible by the fact that we are each united to Christ in His death and resurrection. By uniting to him, we also receive one another. Though the image of the body of Christ is old-hat for many of you, stick with me, and maybe you will learn something new.
If an eye sees something alarming, it communicates to the feet and they stop to avoid danger. Individually, the eyes and the feet are members of one another because they are a part of the whole. This is the same with us. In my case with Kristin, although God may be communicating something to Kristin in a tangible way, He is also communicating it to me through Kristin! Likewise, if I learn something new in scripture and tell it to Kristin, or to Mark, or to you, God may be using me to speak. How silly would it be if we were all ears? Or if we were all feet? Or if we were all mouths? Here’s what really struck me anew though: to go with our different roles, we receive grace in different ways.
There are two lines in our scripture today that express this, the second instance is verse 6 that says, “having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us…” Paul is suggesting that not only our gifts differ, but the grace given to us differs. I do not receive or understand God’s grace the same way the Loreen does, or that Linda does, or that CJ does, and that’s God’s design— to have diversity within His body.
The first line that expresses this idea is a little more challenging, but I think it is valuable to unpack it. Look in verse 3 at the phrase “each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” Measure of faith? What is he talking about? Does he mean that I have a quarter cup of faith, and Ken has a half cup? That wouldn’t make sense to me; Jesus says faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains. This can’t be about a quantity of faith, so what does it mean?
I’m going to present the interpretation that makes the most sense of this passage to me. I just want to be upfront and clear that it is not the majority interpretation among scholars, and I’d be happy to talk about it later with you… I think this phrase is better translated “each according to the measure God assigned, namely a trusteeship.” ‘Measure’ in this case refers to a portion, an amount doled out, like the parable from the children’s sermon, it would is 10 talents, or 5 talents or 1 talent. Then the word, normally used for ‘faith,’ here means a trusteeship. In secular usage of the time, this same Greek word, or its derivative, was used to refer to an official office that was given or appointed to someone. You might think ‘given in faith’ if you want to connect the words. With this sense, we are called not to think too highly of ourselves, but to think soberly aware that God has given different trusteeships. We should not think highly of some gifts, or lowly of others, but recognize that we all have been entrusted with something for God’s purpose, and every something is valuable. Notice I said all. That’s what Paul says in v. 3 he emphasizes both ‘every one of you’ at the beginning and again ‘each’ at the end.
From this we can conclude that God has purpose and gifting for all of us. So what about you? Do you feel that you have a spiritual gift? If so do you know what it is? What if you don’t know? Does that mean you don’t have any gifts? Personally, I’ve had a hard time discerning my spiritual gifts, and am just recently becoming aware and embracing some of them. So, if you don’t know your gift, don’t fret, maybe you have an Apple 1 computer gathering dust in your garage. Maybe it’s time to do some soul-searching. While I cannot tell you what your gifts are, I’d love to give you a starting place for your own self-discerning process.
Let’s start with how you get a spiritual gift. It is a prerequisite that you believe that Jesus is the Christ who was crucified and died for the sake of our sins. If you haven’t given your life to Jesus as your savior, you won’t receive a spiritual gift. Other than that, there is no way to earn a spiritual gift, it is, as the name implies, given. In fact it’s given freely; the Greek word for ‘spiritual gifts’ as it’s used both here and in 1 Cor. 12, is χαρισματα, which has the same root as χαρις the word for ‘grace.’ This indicates that they are gifts that are a freely given outpouring of God’s grace; they are not earned. So, if you think that you can achieve a certain level marked by gifts, or that you are extra righteous because you have gifts, then think again. God gives out His gifts to serve His purpose, and not because we unlock a new level.
“Great Adam, the gifts are freely given but that’s not particularly helpful in understanding what they are.”
You’re right, that’s still pretty vague, so let’s look at the examples that Paul gives in our text. He specifies prophecy, teaching, exhorting, serving, giving and acts of mercy. Notice that Paul puts teaching on par with generous giving and lowly serving. This is not just Mark’s ministry, but our ministry, and it’s all important. This list is not exhaustive. Elsewhere, Paul uses this term, χαρισματα, to describe utterances of wisdom, working miracles, distinguishing spirits and speaking in tongues.
Do you feel like you need to teach someone the things you learn? You might have the gift of teaching. Do you feel like God speaks to you in an unmediated way, even through visions? You might have the gift of prophecy. Do you feel that you are capable of selflessly serving beyond expectations without recognition? You might have the gift of lowly serving. Can you speak wisdom beyond your experience? You may have the gift of wisdom. The list goes on and on! These lists are merely a starting place, so rather than think of gifting as ‘it must be one of these,’ think of these rather as examples of spiritual gifts. If you don’t think you have any, then I encourage you to pray, and to pray hard. In 1 Cor. 14, Paul instructs the Corinthians to earnestly desire spiritual gifts. We can pray for them, and God may give them to us, but I encourage you to desire it not for your glory but for God’s.
David Watson, an English pastor who helped usher in spiritual revival in his church community, wrote a book on the Church back in the 80’s. In that book, he suggests that all spiritual gifts need to meet two criteria: First, they must glorify Christ. If your gift only glorifies you, it is not a spiritual gift. In fact, if you think of your gift as truly yours that belongs to you, you may need to readjust your thinking. This is a gift purely from God that we are entrusted with. It is the measure of grace given to us to invest.
The second descriptor is that it must edify (or serve) the body of Christ. If your gift only serves you and your own purposes, it’s either not a spiritual gift, or you aren’t using it for its intended purpose. Remember, God gives out these gifts achieve His kingdom work in the world. Look at the example of Christ. He had all of the gifts, and everything he did pointed built up or taught those around him.
Finally, we get to the same point that Paul is expressing: we must use our gifts to their full purpose to serve the body of Christ, and beyond. (pause) was anyone just reminded of Buzz Lightyear’s mission in Toy Story? He wanted to go ‘to infinity and beyond.’ Maybe we should think of that being the mission of our own ministries roles and gifts “To the body of Christ, and beyond!” They should have mission and purpose and be put to use.
Think back to the children’s sermon: the servants that did well were those who used the talents entrusted to them. They invested, and took risks. They had to be courageous to use their master’s money, but it paid off. And what of the one who didn’t use his talent? He was afraid and hid it away. Using your gift may be out of your comfort zone. Maybe you feel gifting in teaching, but are afraid to say anything about it. Now is your chance! Mark is looking for people to lead the Sunday Bible study this coming fall. That takes courage, and you risk that you may fail…but maybe God will use your gift to edify the body.
When we each use our gifts, it helps others to use their gifts, and we function better as a whole. We are members of one another, and need everyone to be doing something. Not only that, but we are dependent on others to communicate God’s grace or teaching to us in a new way. This all reminds me of bees. Yes, the kind that buzz. I was recently watching a documentary on bees, and became fascinated with these creatures! These insects all function together in the dark of their hive to produce honey, and raise up new bees. One of the incredible things about bees is that they communicate to each other about new food sources. When a bee comes to the hive with a new source, it starts doing a wiggling dance that spins in circles. Scientists call it the Waggle Dance. In this way, bees share their food sources. This little jive helps the whole hive thrive. We need to be like bees and share our gifts, share the outpouring of God’s grace on us, so that God can use us to spread his grace.
One challenging note to this idea of using our gifts: it is my understanding that using our spiritual gifts is more than checking something off the list for the week. It is a way of living. It is not fully using my gift to show up once a week to a bible study, or to do one thing here at the church building. Using our spiritual gifts should flow out of our everyday life. This is hard, and I know that I often don’t use my gifting in all, or even most, areas of my life, but I strive to, and hope that as I grow in the knowledge of Christ that it may become more natural.
I want to leave you encouragement from David Watson (the English pastor/author). He says that each church community is not The Church, but does represent it, fully. Christ is here fully among this congregation. Then he specifically addresses smaller churches saying,
“The temptation will always be to look enviously, and maybe despairingly at larger and seemingly thriving churches in the area. Why don’t they send some of their many gifted workers to help these smaller churches? Sometimes, perhaps, that is right and necessary; but each local church needs to realise the immense potential that exists within the body of Christ in that place. If those Christians can be genuinely open to God, deeply committed to Christ, and filled with His Spirit, all that is necessary for building up that body into Spiritual maturity is there already.”
God’s Spirit is powerful, and if we are open and willing to receive His gifts, I honestly believe He will do far more than we ask or imagine. Amen.
May the Lord renew your mind that you may discern His perfect will