1 Peter 4:10-11
Two weeks ago we talked about finding yourself in the church, and how the body of Christ can only grow and be healthy when we are all doing our part. The main point I wanted to make in that context is that we need each other and that every one of us is indispensible to the body.
I want to spend some more time this morning talking again about our place in the body as we discover and use the gifts which have been given to us by the Holy Spirit.
Some of us tend to shy away from talking about gifts of the Holy Spirit because we’re not sure what we’re getting into when we talk about that kind of thing. We listen to our religious neighbors who talk about speaking in tongues and healing and how their worship is Spirit-filled. And we come to church and we don’t do things the way they do things. And so we assume they have something we don’t, but should; or that the Holy Spirit is at work there, but not here. And let me assure you, nothing is further from the truth.
I’m not going to spend our time this morning refuting what’s happening somewhere else to someone else. I believe that there was a time and a place for those miraculous gifts, but that that time and purpose has passed. But that does not mean that the Holy Spirit is no longer active. I believe that he is working and active here and now and in your life.
When Peter was asked by those people in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost about what they must do because of their sin, Peter replied: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)
This promise was not a single occasion, but for all time and for all people. Our response to sin and to God’s offer of mercy is to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Two things happen at that time: Your sins are forgiven and you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit living within you. And we’ve talked many times about the power of the Holy Spirit and the redemptive, transforming, empowering work of the Holy Spirit living within each one of us. Right now the Holy Spirit is living and at work in everyone of you who has been baptized into Jesus Christ. That is God’s ironclad promise.
And one of the things that the Holy Spirit does is to give you gifts, or what we might call talents and abilities, that are uniquely you. And part of finding yourself is to discover and develop those gifts, and also to discover how you can use those gifts to bless others and to glorify God.
Last time we looked at Paul’s descriptions of spiritual gifts in his first Corinthian letter.
This morning, let’s begin by looking at Paul’s letter to Rome and how he describes our spiritual giftedness. And let me remind you that the context for this description is in Romans 12 where he has just told us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, which are our spiritual worship to God. And then he says: 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. (Rom. 12:6-8)
What did you notice about these gifts? For the most part, there’s nothing flashy or sensational about these gifts. They seem like common, garden variety gifts: serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, showing mercy. They are gifts that any of us might have. But make no mistake, these aren’t ordinary, they are given by the Holy Spirit. And while anyone might encourage others (and we all should), there are some who are especially gifted to do that, and we have several in this church family whose ability to encourage others is at a whole different level. It is true that we all should be generous givers, but there are some for whom it is a gift: they not only have money, but are gifted in the way they use it to bless others and to glorify God.
These gifts are especially important to the functioning of the body – they are the life blood that keeps us healthy and growing strong.
In Corinth they were arguing over who was the most gifted and who had the most sensational gifts, and it had become a contest to see who was the most important. And so Paul says, those gifts that are showy and impressive don’t mean a thing. And then he says, “If you want to excel in a gift, excel in loving others.”
One of the things I notice as I read what the NT says about the gifts of the Spirit are that none of the lists are identical; none of them really overlap very much. What that tells me is that the lists are exemplary, not exhaustive, that Paul isn’t trying to give us a complete list of all the gifts the Spirit gives to people, but examples of the way the Spirit works in different people.
So, if you listened to those lists and thought, “I don’t have any of those gifts, so I must not have any gifts,” I’m here to tell you, you do. In fact, I’m certain that most of you have several gifts, but haven’t discovered them, or haven’t really thought how you can use them for God.
And as I said a couple of weeks ago, unless everyone is using their gifts – as Paul phrases it: “doing their work in the body” – the church will suffer. You might be the hands or the feet, or the capillaries or the lungs, and if you’re not functioning within the body, we’re struggling to get by without you.
The question is not if you have a gift, but what is your gift? Have you given it much thought? Here are some questions to ask as yourself as you explore:
What is your personality?
Some people are introverts, others are extroverts – and you know who you are. If you are an extrovert, being around other people, working in a group, collaborating on a project are things that energize you. You look forward to being with others and talking about experiences. If you are an introvert, being around other people drains your energy. Meeting new people exhausts you. It’s not that you don’t like people, but you function better with a task you can do on your own or a project you can contribute to by adding your part in its place.
Your gifts will probably fall into line with your personality. If God wired you as an introvert, he’s probably not calling you to be a greeter. But if you love being around people, you might be the perfect person to be the enthusiastic, welcoming first face that people encounter when they come to visit our church.
That doesn’t mean we can’t cross borders and do things outside of our comfort zone. I am by nature an introvert, but I’ve learned to function in the world of extroverts. But please don’t invite me to a function where I’m in a room full of strangers – I’ll be miserable. Put me one on one with someone and I’m in my element.
The second question I would ask is: What is your passion?
And by that, I mean what do you love to do or what have you always dreamed of doing?
Sometimes we limit ourselves by thinking we have to fill a spot on a roster. What are the jobs that need doing? Pick one. But, like Paul’s lists of gifts, those jobs are not exhaustive of the ways you might serve the Lord. Just because we don’t have a blank line next to a job description doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for you to use your gifts.
I knew a man who loved to fish and hunt. Now you might not think there’s a place for that in church, but he saw those loves as an opportunity to encourage and train other men. Every weekend, he’d invite another man to go hunting or fishing with him. He’d get him out on a boat or in a tree stand and he’d talk about his faith and he would get that other man involved in church and encourage him to be a better husband and father, and he had a men’s ministry that was more effective than anything I’ve ever seen.
I knew some women who loved to quilt. And every Tuesday morning, they’d gather around a quilting frame down at the church building and stitch away. And they’d give those quilts as gifts to young couples and show their love in a way that was unforgettable.
There was an elder’s wife in one congregation that loved to bake cookies, and several mornings a week she would get up and bake cookies and go visit shut-ins and folks in nursing homes and take cookies and visit with those people.
At the church I was at in Memphis, a young man who was a gifted artist would listen to my sermon and draw some person or scene out of the sermon and then share those drawings with me. And he had a ministry to me, but I always thought how neat that would be to incorporate those drawings into my sermons to bless others.
That passion leads to the next question: What is your ability?
You might be gifted with your hands to build and create. You might be good with words and be able to write. You may have a gift for music. It might be something you do as your job: construction or accounting or teaching. It might be something you’re just good at: cooking or childcare or counseling or photography. You might be good at working on cars or building furniture or sewing clothes.
A gift also incorporates a skill or an aptitude at doing something. I might have a passion for something, but no ability that would indicate that’s something I should be doing. I love art, and would love to be a painter, but I don’t have any ability that would indicate that’s a leading of the Spirit. I knew an elder who thought he was a great people person and counselor, but he was a man who should never have been allowed to visit people in the hospital. He stayed too long and he talked too much.
That doesn’t mean you can’t develop skills to follow your passion. In Ephesians 4, Paul talks about the pastors and teachers equipping the saints for the work of ministry. I believe the Spirit grows us up into our gifts, and you should never rule anything out before you have pursued it enough to know that’s not for you.
But I know that everyone of you has something you do well, some skill you have honed, some ability that goes into making you, you. The question is, are you using it for the Lord to bless his people? Are you asking those kinds of questions; are you exploring those kinds of opportunities?
A final question I would ask is: What is your calling?
Usually we talk about a calling as something a person experiences that draws them into ministry. And that’s exactly what I’m talking about – only not ministry in the clergy sense, but in the serving sense. A calling is something you experience that encourages you to use your gifts to glorify God and serve others. It doesn’t necessarily mean you preach a sermon or lead singing or say a public prayer. Ministry is serving others for the sake of God. Period. Ministry is using whatever passion and ability you have in serving God and blessing the kingdom of God.
A couple of months ago, Wade Higgins talked to me about getting involved with a Jail ministry because he feels a calling to touch the lives of others who are going through difficult times. If you talk to him about it, you’ll find out quickly that he is passionate about it and wants to use his experiences and gifts to do that and involve others with him.
If you talk with Marilyn Landrum, you’ll find out she has a passion for helping others, especially the homeless. I’m not sure she would call it a calling, but that’s exactly what a calling looks like.
A calling is basically taking something that you have within you and making it available to God. And then the Holy Spirit starts pushing you in that direction. This morning you might be inspired to start thinking about what you already enjoy doing and how you might use that in serving God and blessing the body of Christ. That might be the beginning of your calling. That’s where you need to start praying for the Spirit to open doors and give you opportunities – to put it on your heart that he is leading you in this direction.
My favorite passage of scripture concerning our spiritual gifts is in 1 Peter 4, where Peter tells us that the bottom line is simply to start using our gifts, whatever they are – and that we should use them to the best of our ability so that people might be served and God might be glorified. Listen carefully to Peter’s words concerning gifts: Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10-11)
Did you hear what else Peter said there? When we use our gifts in serving others, we are administering God’s grace. You become, not only a recipient of God’s grace, but you now experience the privilege and joy of sharing that grace.
And if you’re trying to find yourself, wouldn’t you like to find yourself in the center of God’s will, using your gifts to administer God’s grace?