Date: 09 Oct 2016
Text: Romans 12:1-8
Today is our now annual Gift Day when we ask you to dig even deeper into your pockets to help the Church financially. It is a burden that we all must share if we are to maintain the presence of this Church in the community. Just as God has helped us by giving generously of His love and the new life that we have in His Son; so it seems reasonable to ask us all to be equally generous in supporting His work.
Last week when we thought about Harvest and its meaning we gave some consideration to the fruits of the Spirit that Paul spoke of in Galatians 5. This week as we bring our own financial gifts, I want to spend a few minutes thinking about the gifts of the Spirit that we receive when we come to faith in Jesus Christ and which Paul talks of in Romans 12. Just as our money can help further the work of the Church, so the gifts of the Spirit are also intended to be used in God’s service.
Although I read 12:1-8 I actually want to concentrate this morning on 12:3-8 which talk of a few of the gifts of the Spirit. Before we get to the gifts though we read a bit of a warning issued by Paul when he says, “do not think of yourself more highly than you ought” (12:3). I suspect that we could read that one of two ways. Firstly, it could mean that we are not to adopt an arrogant attitude for any reason or secondly, that we are not to think that the spiritual gifts that we have been given are any better or superior to anyone else’s. Whilst to our human way of thinking some gifts may appear to be superior, they are not; all gifts given by the Holy Spirit are equal in value and are to be used to the glory of God. So instead of looking at ourselves in a superior or arrogant way Paul urges us to “think of yourself with sober judgment” (12:3). The NLT puts that phrase this way, “Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves”. In other words we are to be honest when we look at ourselves and consider our own behaviour. This is very similar to the thought that Paul has in 1 Corinthians 11:28 when talking of our conduct at Communion. He tells us there, “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.”
There is rather a difficult phrase at the end of 12:3 which takes a bit of thinking about. Paul says that we should think of ourselves in sober judgement and then adds “in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you”. At this point we need to consider faith in a way that is slightly different to our normal way of thinking. In this context it denotes the spiritual power given to each believer in Jesus Christ for him or her to carry out the special responsibility given to them by the Holy Spirit. We have to remember that it is the Holy Spirit Who decides who gets what gift and He will only give people the gift that He feels they are capable of handling. Having said that, it is true to say that God will always give us the skills and power that we need to use the gifts that we are given. He does however take note of our normal abilities and may use them as a base to build on.
Types of Gift
Everyone who comes to faith in Jesus Christ receives a gift from the Holy Spirit; and we can discern from Scripture that there are many different gifts that He gives to us. When we do come to faith in Jesus Christ we become part of His body, the church. Now, just as the human body has many parts each with their own function and purpose, so the body of Christ has many parts and needs many different gifts to function and bring glory to Christ. Paul goes further in using the human body as an example when, in 1 Corinthians 12:14-26, he describes the different gifts of the Spirit that we have been given. In that passage he reminds us of how each part of the body works and how those parts all need each other to work fully. So it is with the church and the gifts of the Spirit; they are all different but are all needed to enable the church to serve Christ fully. An important point that comes from Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 12 is that, just as no one part of the body is any more important than any other, so the gifts of the Spirit are all equally important.
Having said that, Paul tells the church in Corinth, “Since you are eager for gifts of the spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:12). The numerous spiritual gifts that Paul describes have been given to all believers for the building up of the church; they are not intended for our own benefit nor should we view them in that way.
Nature of the Gifts
Now, when people think of the gifts given by the Holy Spirit, many think of the more spiritually based gifts, the ability to preach and teach, to lead a church, to prophesy, to possibly speak in tongues and so on. Whilst they are undoubtedly important and much needed gifts, the Spirit also gives other gifts, some of which may seem to be less glamorous but which are still nonetheless important to the building of God’s church here on earth. Whilst Paul talks of gifts of the Spirit in a number of places, nowhere does he provide a definitive list of gifts and that is certainly the case in these few verses since Paul mentions only seven of them in 12:6b-8. That doesn’t mean that those that he does talk about here are any more or less important than any other gifts that he mentions elsewhere.
In 12:6b-8 Paul mentions seven gifts; namely: prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading and showing mercy and I want to take a brief look at each of these so that we get a feel of what Paul is telling us. The important thing we need to remember as we consider these gifts, and the many others that Paul talks about in his other letters, is that they are given by God according to His grace. He is the One Who decides and we cannot turn round and complain about the gift that we have received nor ask for or demand a different gift. I don’t believe that this means that God dispenses different levels of grace to different believers although I do believe that His grace will abound just when we need it. We aren’t all capable of dealing with some of the gifts and may not be able to use them adequately or successfully. That is why it is God Who decrees what gifts we will receive and when.
The first gift Paul mentions is prophesying and he urges those with that gift to prophesy in accordance with their faith. Many people see prophesying as meaning predicting the future. However, that is only part of its meaning since on many more occasions it can mean proclaiming God’s message. Paul told those Corinthians who had such a gift “the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort” (1 Corinthians 14:3) and then added “the one who prophesies edifies the church” (1 Corinthians 14:4). The important point comes in that last quote where we clearly see Paul confirming that the gift is to be used to build up the church.
The next gift is that of serving, something we may tend to overlook or belittle. If we do that then we are wrong! Serving means to help the church in practical ways and there are many practical things that need to be attended to in the life of the church. Just think of the cleaning of the church; laying tables for Wednesday Alternative and Tea Shop; keeping the garden and hedges tidy; producing the Church Magazine; arranging and distributing flowers; working on the sound desk. All of these are needed for the church to function in a way that brings glory to Christ.
The third gift is fairly self-explanatory since it is teaching. There is the old cliché that those who can do, whilst those who can’t teach! I certainly don’t believe that that applies to teaching about Jesus since it is a different type of teaching that needs the input and gifting provided by the Holy Spirit. This teaching involves the vital task of passing on an understanding of Christian doctrine a role that Paul charged Timothy with when he told him in 2 Timothy 2:2, “the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others”. This is God’s word that we are handling and it needs to be taught correctly and honestly.
We next come to encouraging, something which really is a much needed gift in churches up and down the land. Everyone needs encouragement from time to time, especially when we get a bit down or things aren’t going well and that encouraging arm around the shoulder can work wonders. The greatest encourager we can read about in the Bible is Barnabas. His name means son of encouragement and he certainly lived up to it. Quite simply without his encouragement and support Paul’s ministry may well have faltered before it even truly began. It was undoubtedly the Holy Spirit sending Barnabas into Paul’s life to encourage him that worked wonders and helped Paul to become the great Apostle that he was.
The next gift is that of giving, the very theme of this morning’s service! It is always difficult asking people to dig even deeper into their already almost empty pockets and/or purses but in 12:8 Paul encourages those with the gift of giving to “give generously”. We often think of giving as being associated with money and that is definitely a most important part of it. However, we can also give generously of our time especially if we aren’t too well off ourselves. I have visited the BCM Resource Centre and the BCM Care Centre in recent days and many of the people who are helping are volunteers giving freely of their time.
We then come to leading. Not everyone has this gift otherwise the church would be top heavy with leaders! However, there are those who do have an ability to lead others and direct them into what to do, when and how. Leadership is vital in the church today so much so that Paul says that those with this gift should “do it diligently” (12:8).
Finally Paul talks of showing mercy. We often think of showing mercy as being connected with deliberations in a court of law. However, it can cover far more than that. God is merciful God; just think of the mercy that He has shown towards each one of us if you don’t believe that statement. In turn we are to show mercy to those with whom we deal, especially those who are in need or in distress; those who are handicapped in any way; those are ill or especially those who are dying. It is important that we show mercy in these situations willingly and not reluctantly. As Paul says, we are to “do it cheerfully” (12:8).
In many ways some of the gifts in that list may appear mundane, dull even. However, they are all gifts that are given by the Holy Spirit and they are all needed to help build up the church, the body of Christ.
Gifts and Us
It seems clear to me that we can’t ask God to give us a specific gift just because we fancy working in a particular area of church life. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 12:11; “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He distributes them to each one as He determines”. The Spirit decides and the Spirit distributes! Once we have determined what gift we have been given we are to use it to our full ability even if, or especially if, that means receiving extra training to help us to develop the gift.
As we gather together this morning to bring our extra financial gifts to God and His church, let us never forget that God has been extremely generous to each and every one of us. He gave us the greatest gift anyone could ever receive; eternal life in and through His Son, Who He sent to die in our place on the cross of Calvary. No gifts of ours can ever beat that! Once we come to faith God, through His Holy Spirit, gives us another gift that is to be used to serve Him. Each and every believer in Christ has been given such a gift. It is incumbent on us to determine what that gift is and then to use it fully in the service of God.
I thank you for your gifts this morning just as I thank the Holy Spirit for the gifts that He has given to each and every one of us.