Dr. Richard L. Strauss
June 30, 1991
Purpose: To encourage us to recognize and exercise the spiritual gifts that God has given to us.
Having raised four children, we have some great Christmas memories. I can still see paper flying in every direction as each one of the kids eagerly unwraps his presents. Shrieks of joy often pierce the air: "Oh, neato, just what I wanted." But as fast as it was opened, it was laid aside for the next present...until the scrap paper was piled so high around the room that we had to send out a search party to find the smallest child.
Then we would clean up the mess, and each one would get his newly acquired treasures into his own little pile and begin to play with them. But I noticed something. Some of the gifts didn't get used as much as others. In fact, some hardly got used at all. They just sat there. It was obvious that they were not particularly wanted nor appreciated. And I felt bad about that. Mary and I had invested considerable time to find them, had picked them out specially for each child, had spent our hard-earned money to buy them, and there they sat, unused. It left me feeling a little let down. I felt like saying, "Hey, you guys, use those gifts."
I wonder if God doesn't feel that way. He has given us wonderful gifts, and some of us have ripped the paper off, looked at the gifts, laid them over in the corner, and we haven't touched them since. The Apostle Paul was concerned about that. He's just encouraged us to present ourselves totally to God--every part of our being, and that would include these gifts He has given us. When we yield ourselves to Him, the gifts are to become instruments in His hands to do His will, to serve Him.
After eleven chapters about who we are and what we have in Christ, Paul is going to talk about service, how to love and serve God and one another in the Body of Christ. And he begins with this issue of spiritual gifts.
The Principles of Spiritual Gifts
This is a condensation of a more extensive discourse on spiritual gifts found in 1 Corinthians 12-14. There are three basic principles here, familiar to all who have studied this subject before. The first one is that God gives you spiritual gifts.
God Gives All Believers Spiritual Gifts (Romans 12:3)
Romans 12:3. "For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith."
Don't miss that last clause--"...as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith." That's a strange way to refer to spiritual gifts, but that's exactly what he's talking about. Look at verse 6--"Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us...." The word gifts (charismata) literally means "grace gifts." And in addition to that they are given to us by God's grace. God's grace in the Bible is always received by faith, and that's exactly the way these God-given abilities for service are employed--by faith.
We trust God to make us a blessing to others in the body by using the gifts He has given to us. And God has dealt to each one a measure of faith (refer to 1 Corinthians 12:11; Ephesians 4:7; 1 Peter 4:10). Every one of us as believers has a spiritual gift or gifts, without exception. And they are exactly the gifts which the Spirit of God wants us to have.
When we understand that, it certainly eliminates all pride. Imagine one child saying to another, "I'm better than you are. Daddy gave me a new sweater and you got new shoes." Sometimes children say things like that, but we know it's because they're immature and selfish. Daddy gave one child a sweater and another shoes because one needed a sweater and the other needed shoes. Both are gifts given out of the father's love and are to be used gratefully. To boast about them is childish.
And that's what Paul is saying in this verse. Don't think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but think sensibly, in the light of this great truth that God distributes the gifts according to His own sovereign will. If God is the one who gives us the gifts, then He is the one who gets all the glory for their use--not us. So don't get a big head, even if you have an unusually prominent and impressive gift. God gave it to you out of pure grace. You didn't do anything to earn it or deserve it. And besides that, He gave every other believer spiritual gifts as well. So there's really nothing for us to get all puffed up about.
God Gives Different Spiritual Gifts to Each Believer (Romans 12:4-6)
Wouldn't it be strange if at Christmastime, mom and dad gave each kid a doll house, especially when one of them is a 16-year-old boy. That wouldn't happen. Neither does God give every believer the same gifts.
Romans 12:4-6a. "For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them."
Some Christians claim that every believer can have certain gifts. That's not what God's Word says. Not all the members have the same function. Each of us has different gifts.
That's important. I'm convinced that many Christians burn out because they're trying to be something they're not, trying to do things they're not gifted to do. They may be trying to teach a Sunday School class when God has gifted them to care for the sick, the suffering, and the lonely. They may be trying to administrate the details of a complicated program, when God has gifted them to encourage people one on one. Be who you are. Do what God has gifted you to do.
There's an interesting parable that accents that important principle. A group of animals decided to do something significant to improve their world. So they organized a school. The curriculum included swimming, running, climbing and flying. The duck, an excellent swimmer, was deficient in other areas, so he majored in climbing, running and flying, and his swimming began to suffer. The rabbit, a superior runner, was forced to spend so much time in other classes that he soon lost much of his famed speed. The squirrel, who had been rated "A" as a climber, dropped to a "C" because his instructors spent hours trying to teach him to swim and fly. And the eagle got into trouble because he flew to the top of the tree as he was accustomed to doing when he had been told to climb.
And that's what sometimes happens in the church. Our gifts differ. But some of us try to do what we're not gifted to do, or try to do so many things that we lose our effectiveness in what we do best. And the whole body suffers as a result. Or some of us get all bent out of shape because we're not asked to do what somebody else does, when that's not where our gifts lie. If God made you a duck saint, then swim! Don't get upset because you waddle when you run. Running isn't your thing. God gives different gifts to each believer.
God gives all believers spiritual gifts; He gives different gifts to each believer. The third principle we see here is that He gives them so we can serve one another.
God Gives Spiritual Gifts So We Can Serve One Another (Romans 12:5)
Read Romans 12:5 again: "So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another."
Although we have different functions, we are all necessary to each other because we all belong to one spiritual body, the body of Christ. We need each other, just like the members of my body need each other. Even as the purpose of each part of the human body is to serve the body as a whole, so the purpose of each spiritual gift is to enable us to serve the body of Christ as a whole. Not one is given for the purpose of serving ourselves, self-edification.
What does my eye do best? It sees. For what purpose? Just so I can enjoy the light, the color and the shapes that project on to my retina. No! It sees so that I won't run into the wall, or trip up the steps. It sees so I can find the food that I want to put into my mouth, so I can read and gain knowledge, so I can look at my notes and communicate to you more effectively, so I know to whom I'm speaking. Seeing is not an end in itself. It is intended to benefit the whole body.
My eyes perform an extremely important function in daily living, as people who have lost their sight can testify. I have other members of my body that don't seem to be quite that significant, like my eyebrows. But I would look funny without them--or funnier, I should say. And I might get more dust in my eyes. You see, while not quite as prominent as my eyes, they are still important. Every member of my body has a function to perform, and every one is important. And every member of the body of Christ has a function to perform, and every one is important.
A bricklayer whose brother was a famous violinist was talking with the head of the construction company where he was employed. "It must be great to have a brother who is known around the world," the executive said. And then, not thinking that he might have offended his worker's pride, he continued, "Of course, we must accept the fact that talent isn't equally distributed--even in the same family." "That's right," came the reply. "Why, my brother doesn't know the first thing about bricklaying. It's a good thing he can afford to pay somebody else to build his house for him" (Our Daily Bread, February 3, 1986).
That bricklayer had the right idea. Now transfer his thoughts into the spiritual realm. Every spiritual gift is essential to the effective operation of the body. You may think you are not important to the rest of us, but God says you are. We are members of one another and we need each other. If one member is not exercising his spiritual gifts, then the whole body suffers by that much. So, are you using your spiritual gifts? Or are you weakening the effectiveness of the body by neglecting your gifts? God wants you to use them.
Maybe you're thinking, "But I don't even know what gifts I might have." I think Paul anticipated that some would ask that, so after discussing the principles of spiritual gifts, he goes on to talk about the practice of selected spiritual gifts.
The Practice of Selected Gifts
He lists seven gifts in these verses. That's not an exhaustive list. By comparing the other lists in the New Testament we discover that there are nearly 20 different gifts. So this list is selective. But, I tell you, it is a good representation of gifts that we may have. The major point of the passage is an encouragement for us to use the gifts that God has given us. Since we all have different gifts, given by God to serve one another and build up the body, let's use them!
Spiritual Gift of Prophecy
If we have the gift of prophecy, Paul says, let's use it, in proportion to our faith. The gift of prophecy seems to be the ability to share a spontaneous and appropriate word from the Lord. God seems to give to some Christians special insight into people, into needs, into situations and circumstances, and the ability to share a fitting word from the Lord that brings edification, exhortation (or encouragement), or comfort (refer to 1 Corinthians 14:3). If you put all the passages about prophecy from the New Testament--I'm not talking about Old Testament prophets now--if you put all those passages together and study what they say, that seems to be what the gift is. And, of course, there's a difference of opinion among people about that, but that seems to be the point.
Now, that word--that fitting word from the Lord--does not take the place of Scripture. And even though it is a word from the Lord, it is inspired of God and not authoritative as the word of the Old Testament prophets was (refer to Acts 21:4; 1 Corinthians 14:29-30, 37). But it can be the source of great spiritual blessing to the church of Jesus Christ. If you have the gift of prophecy, use it in proportion to your faith--that is, to the fullest extent that God has given it. We talked about that gift in more detail when we did the series on the Holy Spirit but we need to be reminded of these things with regularity. Certainly, the apostle Paul thought we did; he brings them up again.
Spiritual Gift of Ministering (or Serving)
This is the same gift called "helps" in 1 Corinthians 12:28. It is the gift used by the Seven who became deacons in Acts 6. They took care of physical needs in the early church so that the apostles would be free for prayer and the ministry of the Word. It isn't just the ability to do a job that needs to be done so others can exercise their gifts, but the right attitude in doing it. People with this gift love to do whatever they can to enhance the ministry. They see what needs to be done, and they do it joyfully, for the glory of the Lord and the strengthening of His work. Paul says, "Do you have the gift of ministry? Then don't neglect it. Use it in ministering!" There are probably a whole lot more people who have the gift of ministering than are using it. There's a whole lot that needs to be done; use it.
Spiritual Gift of Teaching
Teaching is the ability to explain and apply the truths of Scripture, to communicate the truth of God's Word that we have learned from our study. Do people seem to understand God's Word better when you explain it to them? Do you sense that the light goes on, and it begins to make sense to them? Do they want to get into it because they've been so encouraged by what you've said? Are they motivated to change their lives so that others can see the changes? If so, then God has given you the gift of teaching. The challenge to you today is, "Get busy and start teaching." Don't just sit there; teach something! Block out some time to study God's Word so that God's Spirit can speak to you through it. Then think through the clearest way to explain it to others, then begin to share your insights, whether it be one on one, or in small groups or large groups--it makes no difference. Use that gift that God has given you.
Spiritual Gift of Exhortation
Exhortation or encouragement. The word can be translated either way and is translated both ways in various passages of Scripture. It's a motivational gift with two sides to it. On one hand, the people with this gift can challenge believers. That's the exhortation side. They challenge believers to live as God wants them to live, to press on to higher ground in their Christian walk, to become more like the Savior. That's the challenge side.
On the other hand, they can comfort those who are discouraged and depressed so that their burden is lifted and new hope springs up in their hearts. They are motivated to keep on in the Christian struggle when before that they may have been ready to throw in the towel and drop out. If you are a Christian motivator, then be alert for opportunities to challenge others, and look for people who need to be encouraged. Use that gift that God has given you. He gave it to you to use.
Spiritual Gift of Giving
"Oh, he likes to slip in one that makes us uncomfortable, doesn't he?!" I'm of the opinion a lot more people could have this spiritual gift if they wanted it. God gives to some individuals either an unusual ability to earn and give money to God's work, or an unusual level of pleasure in giving what they do have, however little or much that may be. They love to give. They give generously and they trust God to meet their own needs. Paul says here, "let him who gives do it with liberality." With liberality more accurately means "with simplicity," or "single-mindedly." The person with the gift of giving has no ulterior motive for giving. He isn't trying to get praise from anybody; he's not trying to impress people, or buy influence. He just sees the need and wants to help meet it.
I have a dear friend in another city with this gift. He lives in a modest home, drives a modest car, and has none of the expensive toys that many of us think we need. Nobody would know that God is prospering him in an unusual way financially in his business. Nobody would ever know, except probably the treasurer of his church. Where does he put his money? He gives it back to the Lord and his work--to his church, and to missionaries. He is consciously investing in eternity. Maybe you have that gift or could have it. God says, "Put it to use!" God's work would not be in need if we exercised the gift of giving.
Spiritual Gift of Leading
This word means literally "to stand before." The person who stands before a group is normally the leader of the group, the one who presides over it, administers and manages it. But in the spiritual realm he doesn't do it with a club. The Lord Jesus taught us the essence of leadership when he said, "...whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant" (Mark 10:43). The leader in God's economy is a servant! He gives of himself tirelessly in service to others. Do you have the ability to lead by humble example and faithful service? Then do it with diligence; do it with eagerness; do it with excitement. Don't wing it. Put yourself into it whole-heartedly. Use that gift that God has given to you!
Spiritual Gift of Showing Mercy
The gift of showing mercy is the ability to put yourself in the place of those in need, to feel what they are feeling, and then to do whatever is necessary to help relieve their misery. They just have a knack of knowing what to do to relieve suffering. Maybe you're like that. Others are not. They would rather avoid hurting people--the sick, the poor, the aged, the disabled. But you feel a deep hurt inside you and you are drawn to them. You want to get personally involved in meeting their need. And you do it with cheerfulness. There isn't any other way to exercise this gift. Nobody will be truly helped by an old grouch who ministers to them only out of a sense of duty. So, do you feel a joyful and satisfying fulfillment when you get involved in helping people with needs? Then reach out and extend mercy. Use that gift!
That's God's message today through the inspired pen of the apostle Paul: Use that gift. God has given you a gift or gifts, dear Christian friend. That's what he says. Do you know what your gifts are? What have you done with them? Are they sitting in the corner, or stored in a closet somewhere?
Now I'm well aware that some of you come to Emmanuel Faith Community Church just because it's a large church and you can get lost in the crowd. Maybe you were in a small church and you overcommitted and overworked and you burned out. You said, "Man, I gotta get some rest." And so you came here and you're kind of anonymous. You know what? That's OK.
You didn't think I was going to say that, did you? That's OK...for a while!! But you see, as you begin to heal and rejuvenate and get your spiritual batteries recharged through the Word, it's time to get back to work, folks. There are needs here, and if you've chosen this as your church home, and this is where you're going to worship the Lord and learn from His Word, then unwrap that gift and get it into operation. Use it for the glory of God because there are lots of needs around here that aren't being met.
Use that gift. It's the least we can do for Him in view of what God has done for us. It's part of that exhortation of verse 1, "I beseech you, therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a sacrifice, alive, holy, well-pleasing to God, which is your reasonable service. Let's use those gifts that God would be praised.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
As we're well aware, God's greatest gift to us is the gift of eternal life, that He gives to us in the Person of His Son. Back in Romans 6, the apostle Paul wrote, "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord." He said to the Corinthians, "Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift." That the gift: eternal life in Jesus Christ. "He who has the Son has life."
Have you acknowledged your sin and believed that Jesus died in your place and rose again triumphant over sin, and Satan, and death, and offers you eternal life by faith in Him? If you've not yet made the decision to trust Him as your own personal Savior and received His gift of eternal life, we urge you to do it right now.
Let's bow together prayerfully in His presence. I want to ask that question again. Do you know that you've put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior from sin, and that you have God's gift of eternal life? If you're not sure, would you settle it here today, right now? You can do that, you know. Certainly you know whether at some point in time--you don't have to be able to identify the date or the time--but at some point in time, you recognized the truth that you were a sinner, separated from God, undeserving of His heaven, but that Jesus died to secure it for you, and you put your faith in Him alone--not any church, or good deed, or religious ritual, but in Jesus Christ alone for your eternal salvation. And if there never has been a point in time when you did that, we're asking you to do it right now.
Settle this issue of eternal life. Just in the quiet of your own heart, commune with God.
"Lord, I'm a sinner. I believe Jesus paid for my sin at Calvary and rose again to give me eternal life. Lord Jesus, come into my heart, save me from sin. Please give me that gift of eternal life."
He will do it if you come to Him humbly. Cast yourself upon Him alone--and His mercy and grace--for your salvation.
And those of you who have made that decision: Are you using those gifts that God has given to you? My prayer is that you will make yourself available to be used of God as He has gifted you. And this body will be stronger and lives will be blessed, you'll become more like Jesus, as we exercise those gifts that God has given us.
Lord, I pray that we will respond now to this, Your Word, and become functioning members of the body, exercising those gifts that you have graciously extended to us. In Jesus' name, amen.
Continue to ROM 25: True Love