Spiritual Gifts

May 29, 2016 Preacher: Luis A. Cardenas Series: Doctrine

Topic: English Passage: 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 4

There’s a very distinct image Paul gives us to describe salvation in Colossians 1:13. “The Father delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.”

I’m not sure what comes to your mind when you hear the word transfer, but it doesn’t just mean your name ends up on a different list. It’s more than that.

The gospel of Jesus Christ call you to repentance and faith. It makes you aware of Christ’s judgment. It makes you aware of your sin before a holy God. And it tells you how the life, crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus applies to your life.

But the gospel of Jesus Christ is more than just a ticket to change sides and change your eternal destiny. The gospel of Jesus Christ puts you to work. You’re part of the church. And the church has a job to do. What is that job? You know it already. It’s the Great Commission. Make disciples. Evangelize. Baptize. Teach. This is what we’re here to do.

But what is so important about that is that we all play a different role in that purpose. Some people evangelize more than they teach others. Some people teach and encourage believers, more than they evangelize non-believers. And then there are those who spend more time praying for and serving others in tangible ways.

This all connects to our topic for today, which is spiritual gifts. It’s the last topic we’ll address in our series on the church.

What exactly is a spiritual gift? … Let me give you a very basic definition. A spiritual gift is any ability that is empowered by the Holy Spirit and used for the benefit or purpose of the church. An ability that is empowered by the Holy Spirit and used for the benefit or purpose of the church.

Now, because of the way many of us have been conditioned to think about spiritual gifts, that brings us to question what qualifies or doesn’t qualify as a spiritual gift. That’s a question a lot of people try to answer, but frankly, a question like that is a little misguided. In fact, a lot of questions people ask about spiritual gifts are misguided. They don’t really match the approach of the Bible. And keep in mind that just because something is empowered by the Holy Spirit, doesn’t mean it looks supernatural. It just means God gets the credit.

What I want to do today, is approach the topic of spiritual gifts in a broad sense. And it’s different than the way the topic is treated in most theology books. A lot of resources approach spiritual gifts with three main questions. (1) How do we define each gift? (2) How can you tell which gifts you have? And (3) Which gifts from the Bible are still being used today? I’ll tell you upfront that we’re not going to answer any of those today. And that’s because these aren’t questions that are directly answered in the Bible.

I have a different approach this morning. And it’s intended to be not just an introduction to spiritual gifts, but a look at what the real thrust is in the Bible when it talks about spiritual gifts. And I want you point you to the four main passages. These are the passages most people will turn to in a discussion of spiritual gifts.1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12; Ephesians 4; and 1 Peter 4. There’s some overlap in those passages, but rather than have us flip back and forth, I’d like to let you see these passages one at a time. And as we sort of skim through these we’ll pull out some of the principles.

For starters, go with me to 1 Corinthians 12. This is the earliest written section of the four. It was written by Paul. You should know is that this discussion of spiritual gifts is aimed at a church that has been torn apart by divisions. There were rivalries and a spirit of competitiveness. There were even counterfeit believers that led people astray.

And in this context, we get a discussion about spiritual gifts. Look at 1 Corinthians 12, verse 4-7.

What is Paul getting at? What he’s saying is this: Spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit for the common good. For the good of the group. Not just the good of the person with the gift, but for the good of the group. In other words, we’re all on the same team. We have all received what we have from the same source and for the same purpose. And even though he lists some example in verses 8-10, the conclusion is this: Verse 11.

Who chooses what kind of abilities you get? Who chooses what kind of contribution you make? God does. Through the Holy Spirit. That’s why we call them SPIRITUAL gifts. This leaves no room for boasting. No room for competitiveness. No room for rivalries. We’re all on the same team. And the Head Coach is God. He decides where to put us.

And the analogy Paul uses is not a team, but something even more connected. He uses a body. Verses 12-13.

And continuing with the analogy of a body, Paul goes on to say: It doesn’t matter if you’re a foot or a hand or an ear or an eye, you are a vital part of the body. And the other parts are vital too. Every part matters. Every part has a function. No part can work all by itself. Verses 18-20.

No part can say they don’t need the other parts. God set it up like this. And verse 25 gives us the result. God did this…Verses 25-26.

Not everyone has the same gifts. But all the gifts are supposed to be an extension of our love and care for one another. That’s the whole point of chapter 13, we just don’t have time to study it today. Love matters. Without it, spiritual gifts are meaningless.

So at very least, what we gather from 1 Corinthians 12 is that a proper understanding of spiritual gifts will help correct some of the rivalries, competitiveness, or even jealousy in the church. We’ve all been gifted by God for different things. But our gifts have the same purpose, to benefit the group.

What about the next passage? Romans 12. Go ahead and turn there. This was written to a church, not as far gone as Corinth, but right on the edge. Paul isn’t writing so much to correct divisions and rivalries, but maybe more to prevent them. And after 11 chapters of salvation doctrine, he gets to how this gets expressed in a practical way. Romans 12:3-5.

Paul is saying the same thing he’s said to the Corinthians. We’re all on the same team. We’re all connected. And verses 6-8 go on to describe some more examples of gifts. But I want you to notice Paul’s emphasis. It comes in the beginning of verse 6. Look what it says. Verse 6a.

Because of the way it’s worded in the Greek, different translation say it a little differently. NAS says “exercise them accordingly.” Holman places the verb at the end of verse 6. But the idea is the same. Use it. Use your gift. Verses 6-8.

The most common response to these verses is for people to ask; (1) How do we define these gifts? And (2) Which gift do I have? But that really misses Paul’s main point. He doesn’t explain the gifts. He doesn’t give a lot of detail. But what He DOES give us are words to describe HOW we should use our gifts. His focus is on the attitude. Generosity, zeal, eagerness, cheerfulness.

A lot of people stop right here and ask: How do I use my gift in the church? And we really don’t have to look very far to get an answer. Because Paul keeps talking. Look at verses 9-13.

These are ways you serve the church. And Paul is saying: Do it from the heart. Love others. Show them preference. Add to someone else’s joy, perseverance, and prayer. Help somebody else monetarily. Open your home up to someone.

Many, many conversations about spiritual gifts are misguided. People start with the question: What is my spiritual gift? That’s really the wrong question to ask. In fact, it can actually be a very self-centered approach. Because it assumes that if something isn’t your gift, then you shouldn’t do it. But if that were the case, then only a few people would ever give money. Or ever exhort somebody else. Or ever open their homes to others. Or only a few of us should pray for other.

The point of spiritual gifts is not: “What is my gift?” The point is: “How can I serve others? How can I benefit the group?” And then serve the church with joy and eagerness. Even if that means doing something you don’t think you’re the best at.

You might not think you’re as effective as someone else, but that isn’t the issue. The issue is: will what I’m doing show love to someone else? Will it build them up? Will it help them? Will it advance the love and cause of Jesus Christ?

More often that we might admit, I think we don’t step in to help somewhere because we tell ourselves “That’s not my gift.” Which usually means: “that sounds too tough, or too inconvenient; I think someone else should take care of that.”

But Paul’s point here is not: figure out that your gift is and then do ONLY that. Paul is saying use what God gave you. Do something. Serve others. Build other people up.

And if you’re honest thought is: “I can’t do anything. I don’t know how to do anything,” there are only a few possibilities. Number one, it could be that you’re not saved. You don’t have the Holy Spirit, so really you don’t have anything worthwhile to contribute to the church.

Another possibility is that you don’t understand what’s needed. You could have too high of an expectation for yourself or for the church. And so you’re using your own idea of service, instead of Christ’s strategy, which includes using weak, imperfect, joyful, eager people.

But if you really think you’re not equipped for serving others, there’s a third possibility. That means that you aren’t maturing. And for the most part, that would mean our church leaders (myself included) are doing something wrong.

Why do I say that? Go with me to Ephesians 4 (this is our third passage). First Corinthians 12 was to help repair division. Romans 12 was more to help prevent divisions. And Ephesians 4 is closer to the prevention side. Things haven’t gotten so bad, but Paul wants to remind them about unity, especially since you’ve got a pretty strong line between Jews and Gentiles. Ephesians 4:1-3.

And then in verses 4-6 he emphasizes unity again. Verses 4-6.

But, here’s the important part. Unity does not mean uniformity. We’re all on the same team, but we don’t all have the same position. That’s what he means in verse 7.

Christ gave gifts to the church. And rather than focus on specific abilities or strengths, Paul now talks about positions in the church. Verse 11.

And why did Christ give these people to the church? Verse 12.

This is why I said that if you don’t feel equipped enough to do something, there is some fault on the leadership, even if it’s just clarifying what’s going on. The leaders and teachers of the church are like the starter on an engine. They get it all moving.

They feed the congregation the word of God and what happens? According to 2 Timothy 3:16-17, the word of God teaches, reproves, corrects, and trains you so that you are equipped for every good work.

That’s Paul’s shorthand for what he says in Ephesians 4:13-16.

Do leaders have a responsibility in the church? Sure. Of course. But that doesn’t mean that we’re the only ones. The church is not a garden where only one person waters and the rest get to sit there and look pretty. The church is a family. Mom and Dad teach the kids, but then the older children help teach the younger ones. And Grandparents help teach the newer parents.

My wife and I have a grapevine in our backyard. We’ve already got a few clusters of grapes. And one of the coolest things about a grape vine is how each branch depends on other branches. It’s so cool to see. They’ve got these little appendages that extend out and grab one another. They hold each other. I’ve pruned branches and then realized that the other branches don’t want to let it go.

That’s what a church is like. Those who have been placed into leadership feed the flock. But then the flock is also equipped to feed one another.

And the rest of Ephesians 4 picks up on that. It says you put off the old self. You renew your mind. And you put on the new self. And the new self is others-oriented. Look at verses 25-32.

This is language about corporate life. Do you realize that the reference to grieving the Spirit comes in a section about personal relationships with others in the church. God cares deeply about how you relate to others in the church. And he’s equipped you minister to others by giving us spiritual gifts.

Minister the truth of God to one another. Pursue peace in your personal relationships. Work hard so that you can share with others who are in need. Build one another up with your words. This is what God calls you to do as a member of His kingdom. As a member of the church.

We’ve got one final passage to look at, and it’s the shortest. Turn with me to 1 Peter 4. It’s possible that someone might say: Oh, well Paul likes to harp on corporate life, but that’s just because he was a loner. Corporate life was Paul’s hobby horse, his THING.

But when we read Peter, we realize that it’s not just Paul’s thing. It’s Peter’s too. Which means that it was Christ’s thing.

Peter was writing to a group of suffering people. Christianity was being persecuted severely. And he wanted them to be comforted and encouraged with the truth. And he writes telling them that suffering for righteousness will make them more holy. It will help them fight sin. He tells them: “Don’t join in what the rest of the world is doing. Stay devoted to Christ. He is coming back.”

But there’s more. Peter doesn’t just point believers to Christ and to spiritual truth. He points them to one another. You need each other.

Look with me at verse 7. 1 Peter 4:7-11.

Serve one another. Love one another. Show hospitality to one another. Peter breaks our contributions into two big categories. You can serve others in your speech. Or you can serve others in your service.

And again, I don’t think he’s saying: pick one and don’t do the other. He’s saying, whatever you’re doing at the moment, recognize that you are a representative of God. He gave you what you have. You’re a steward of it. And the way you use it is a reflection of God’s grace.

If you’re talking with someone, talk for God. If you’re serving someone, use the strength God gives you. Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God. The summary message of all the passages we’ve looked at is: Serve with joy. Serve from your heart.

But what about the application? What does this all mean for you? Where is this all heading? Frankly, you can answer that question better than I can. How might God use you to serve others? Let me give you a quick summary of what we’ve seen today, and then I’ll close with some things to think about and talk about with others.

What did we learn today? We learned that spiritual gifts are meant to honor Jesus Christ. We saw that spiritual gifts are distributed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. They come in a variety. They are diverse expressions of God’s grace. And yet, they are an expression of our unity.

Spiritual gifts are for the common good of the church. They edify and build others up. And they are meaningless if done without love. The result of our gifts is supposed to be humility in our own hearts, not pride.

But most of all, I hope this is the message we get from today. God’s message is this: Gifts are meant to be used. Use your gifts to serve others.

In my own opinion, I don’t think it’s fair to say that each person has only one primary spiritual gift. I think every person is unique. Each of you has your own way of being able to serve the church, whether that’s in a structured, formal way, or whether that’s more informal.

You might prefer larger groups. You might prefer smaller groups. You might prefer a specific age group. But the big question is not: What do I prefer? The big question is: What will help the church?

How can you pray? How can you serve? How can you give money? How can you open your home? How can you open your mouth for the benefit of others?

And in all this, we’re called to do it with joy and eagerness. Ecclesiastes 9:10 — Whatever you do, do it with all your might. For the glory of God.

If you already know you’re serving others in some kind of way, find out how you can do it better. Keep improving and stay faithful. If you’re not serving in a regular way, maybe God will have you commit to a ministry? To serve in the nursery, or with the kids, or with the Youth, or with Love Thy Neighbor, or the Music Team. Talk to one of us to get plugged in.

Maybe you’ll start your own ministry or teaching. Maybe you’ll give extra money to something. Maybe you’ll starting hosting an FLG. Maybe you’ll lead an FLG. Maybe you’ll just have a small group over your house to talk about a topic. Maybe you’ll just commit to pray for a specific person or group. Whatever you do, you’ll be contributing.

God didn’t intend church to be a bunch of activities you show up to. He intended you to contribute. To commit. Ministry is not intended to be something you do just when you feel like it. When the mood strikes. It’s something you do with eagerness and zeal. Can you imagine, if we only had a sermon whenever someone called us and said they wanted to preach?

And yet, that’s what happens at times with other ministries. People don’t want to commit themselves. They want ministry on their own time.

Like I said, this is not talking about formal ministry only. This includes things like prayer and hospitality, which could be informal, but they could also be more standardized. More consistent.

Also, you need to think about the people who are already serving. Just because a position is filled, doesn’t mean nobody else can do it. You can get trained. You can help those who serve in that area get some time off. Whether that’s in the Nursery or with the kids or in the Sound Room. These are all practical ways to serve here. And there are a lot more.

Our series for the past few weeks has focused on the church. And really it’s been various aspects of a healthy church. A healthy church will understand and value the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. A healthy church will practice church membership and church discipline, for the sake of purity and unity. A healthy church will be shepherded by a group of qualified elders.

And above all that, above all the formal stuff that goes on in a church, a healthy church will have members who serve one another in a variety of ways. People who edify and encourage and open their homes and serve others and give money and demonstrate leadership, all for the good of the group. All for the glory of Jesus Christ.

How can you serve others? How can you be used by God for the common good of our group? How can you express the grace of God in someone else’s life, either in your words or in your actions? How can you help this church and advance the cause of Jesus Christ? How can you demonstrate that you are a part of the body of Christ?

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