Theme – Spiritual gifts help others grow in Christ likeness, because my gift is our gift.
Outline for this study is:
I. Life’s Purpose – Discipleship
II. Perspective on Spiritual Gifts
III. Purpose and Permanence of Gifts
IV: Practice of Spiritual Gifts
– Introduction –
What challenges does the church as a body and as individuals within that body face today? I came up with issues relating to unemployment, pressure at work, health issues, rebellious children, struggles in marriage, financial problems, loneliness, and the list goes on and on. Some of the resources that are needed to meet these issues could include time, money, labor, counsel, friendship, and the like. Some of the spiritual gifts listed within the New Testament would be:
(1) Romans 12:6-8, Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Encouraging, Giving, Leadership, Mercy;
(2) 1 Peter 4:9-11, Hospitality, Speaking, Serving;
(3) 1 Corinthians 12:7-10, Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith, Healing, Miracles, Prophesy, Discerning Spirits, Tongues;
(4) 1 Corinthians 12:28-30, Apostles, Prophesy, Teachers, Miracles, Healing, Helps, Healing, Tongues, Interpretation, Administration;
It seems quite easy to spot some of the spiritual gifts, such as pastors and teachers who are found at the front of the room expounding God’s Word for church visitors and members alike. Their gift seems so official and easy to count, because when they exercise the gift, they are doing something. However, other gifts don’t seem to be so obviously defined such as a helper or an exhorter? It may seem difficult to know whether you have such a gift and whether you are doing what you are supposed to do with it. The confusion comes when we view gifts from the wrong perspective. Thus, we need to start by examining and asking ourselves some very probing questions so that we can gauge whether or not we are fulfilling a role in the Body of Christ or are just coming to church. Some of these questions would be:
(1) Am I submitting to others’ gifts? Spiritual gifts are designed to bring maturity to the Body. In the local church, the pastor is charged with the responsibility of training God’s people to do the work of the ministry. Are you following your Pastor’s lead in service? Are you willing to be trained to serve where he believes the local body needs service? When others point out areas where you need spiritual growth, do you thoughtfully consider their advice? God’s design for the Body of Christ is a member-to-member ministry under the guidance of the Pastor.
(2) Have I grown in Christ? Some parents measure their children annually against a doorframe or the back of a closet door. The annual markings show the dramatic changes that are not noticeable from day to day. We might wish that spiritual growth could be measured so exactly, but it cannot. However, if we were to look back over the last twelve months, can we notice any growth into the image of the Savior? The increase of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives can be a helpful indicator. Do you notice more love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance? If you have been applying the Word to your specific needs, those changes will occur.
(3) Am I willing to serve? The essence of spiritual gifts is in service. Offering to help others keeps us from self-centered Christianity, even as it assists our growth. Can you list specific things you have done to help others grow in the Lord?
(4) Am I concerned with others’ growth? When members of our church do not become like the Lord Jesus, we cannot sit by idly and hope they figure out what their needs are. We must invest time with them, ministering the Word to them and showing them how to apply the Word to their lives so that they can grow. Great churches don’t grow by accident. Growth requires the care of each member for other members.
I. Life’s Purpose – Discipleship (Matthew 28:19-20)
In Matthew 28:19-20, Christ told His disciples to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen”
All Important Pre-Test would be what do you think God might ask if we were to die and stand before Him today or even 40 years from now? What would He want to talk to us about? Would He want to know about our major and minors? Our grade point average? Would He want to know our annual income or job title? James Webb commented, “When I was first appointed Secretary of the Navy, a reporter mentioned how important he thought this job was, and I agreed, but I also told him that when I die, God’s not going to ask me if I had been Secretary of the Navy”. So what would God ask him—or you or me? We know that God doesn’t really need to ask us anything because He already knows everything. But play along with me a minute. If He were to ask us questions that zeroed in on the key issues of life, those questions would probably be something like these:
(1) Have you met My Son? My brethren, this is a key issue in life, as it addresses the matter of our relationship with Jesus Christ. We won’t even get into heaven if we haven’t recognized Jesus as the One who died to pay the penalty for our sins, and who rose to provide us with eternal life. Forgiveness of sin comes only to those who have personally put their trust in Jesus as their Savior (John 3:16-18).
(2) Have you followed Him? This has to do with our continuing relationship with Jesus. Have we been faithful in living for Him and serving Him with our gift or gifts? On the other hand, have we taken for granted all that He has given to us? Have we taken His call to discipleship seriously? (Luke 14:25-35). How well can we answer these questions today? Consider this a pre-test for your most important final exam.
The need for spiritual gifts grows out of the Great Commission given by the Lord Jesus in the above-mentioned verse. In Matthew 28, our Lord charged His disciples with making other disciples. Whenever God commands His children to do a task, He equips them to carry it out. As the church developed, believers learned that the equipping they needed came from the Holy Spirit who indwelled them. He gives each believer a role in the local church, the Body of Christ. He determines the role we have and directs us in meeting others’ needs. The Holy Spirit uses some of those in the Body to give direction in the discipleship process for the rest of the Body. In the earliest days of the church, apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers ministered “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the Body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). Apostles and prophets have passed off the scene, but evangelists and pastor-teachers remain to guide the church today. They oversee the church guiding the members into ministries where they can speak the truth in love and help each other mature into the image of Christ. By using the below five interrogative pronouns and adverbs, we can summarize our study so far as follows:
(1) Who makes disciples? All the church (Matthew 28:19, 20; 1 Corinthians 12:25; Ephesians 4:16). Everyone who is born again has a disciplining role in the lives of the members of his or her family in Christ in the church.
(2) What is discipleship? Building others up, helping others become like Christ; a disciple is like his or her teacher.
(3) When is discipleship necessary? Until all believers are mature in Christ (Ephesians 4:13). Different gifts have been necessary at different times in the life of the church. Spiritual gifts will always be, because they are God’s method to bring His children to maturity.
(4) Why? Becoming like Jesus is a maturing process (Ephesians 4:15). Believers must grow to be like Him. There are no shortcuts.
(5) How? By ministering the truth in love. The exercise of spiritual gifts is inextricably tied to the ministry of speaking the truth in love. Sanctification, in which we are set apart to fulfill God’s purpose, requires truth (John 17:17; 2 Thessalonians. 2:13). Truth must be delivered in love because that is the way that God gives it (John 3:16).
II. The Perspective on Spiritual Gifts
Our perspective is the way we look at something. In discussing the truth, our perspective is formed by our presuppositions. It’s interesting that we find no Biblical evidence of the oft-asked question, “What is my spiritual gift?” The Biblical teachings on spiritual gifts indicate that the gifts are given for the benefit of the Body of Christ. As directed by the Holy Spirit, believers use spiritual gifts to serve others. This service helps others become mature in Christ, becoming like our Lord. Instead of asking, “What is my spiritual gift?” We should be asking, “How can I serve others in the use of my spiritual gift?” We should expect the answer to that question to direct us to a ministry in our local church under the guidance of our pastor, whom God has gifted to organize the body for maturity. A spiritual gift is the ministry that God assigns to each believer (directed and empowered by the Spirit) to help others become conformed to the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ.
– IT’S A GIFT –
In a hammer-and-nail competition, Mike won, 19-3. No, he didn’t hammer 19 nails in the time it took Charles to pound 3. Actually, they were comparing skills. Charles, a professional carpenter, could drive a nail into a board with 3 whacks. It took Mike 19 swings to accomplish the same result. (Factor in a 5-second break when Mike massaged his wrist, looked at Charles, and said, “How do you do that?” Mike was glad he had Charles and Joey (an assistant pastor at his church with some carpentry experience) on the summer mission’s trip. They could look at a pile of wood and a roofless building; make a few pencil marks, and POW! We had a plan. If our church had sent a group of people like Mike, we would probably still be hammering. A mission’s trip is a great chance to see the body of Christ in action. When a group of Christians with different gifts work together to accomplish a common goal, God is pleased. That’s how things are supposed to work. God gifted Charles and Joey to be skilled carpenters, and Pastor Dan to plan mission trips (and change plans on the run). Moreover, Mike was gifted to pull nails, move boards, hold ladders, and fetch water. Each of us contributed something to putting a roof on the school building at Acres of Love. You may be considering a summer missions trip or service in your local church. You’re asking, “What could I do to help?” I don’t know the specifics, but I predict that you can do something. And that something, under God’s leadership, will have more of an impact than you might think. No, Mike wasn’t much at working with his hands. But somewhere there’s a roof on a school building that Mike helped built.
III. Purpose and Permanence of Gifts
It is such a blessing to have the completed Word of God in our possession that we sometimes forget that the early church did not have the same blessing. The New Testament does not give us a complete listing of all the spiritual gifts in one place. Gifts are given by the Spirit of God to achieve His purpose of maturing the Body. As He works in each local church, He will insure the presence of the necessary gifts to accomplish His work in that locale. The Spirit will ensure that the body has what it needs. The local body must then take on the responsibility of using what he has given. What gifts are present today? Some assert that every gift listed must still be present and active unless the Bible specifically says that it no longer exists. However, the Bible reveals the general purpose for gifts and, in some cases, the specific purposes for gifts. Using these two guidelines, we can determine which gifts are still active. Each of the “gift passages” teaches the general purpose of gifts: they “edify”, or build the Body of Christ. In some way, each gift listed in the New Testament contributed to the maturing of the church. In some cases, the gift might contribute to the building of the body by bringing lost people to trust the Savior. Other gifts might aid the spiritual growth of new believers or meet the physical needs of brothers and sisters in a difficult situation. We have seen the leadership role of the pastoral gift in teaching the church and overseeing the ministries that lead to maturity.
Here are some of the gifts God has given to individuals:
Administration – the gift that enables a believer to formulate, direct, and carry out plans necessary to fulfill a purpose; Artistry – the gift that gives the believer the skill of creating artistic expressions that produce a spiritual response of strength and inspiration. Discernment – the gift that motivates a believer to seek God’s will and purpose and apply that understanding to individual and congregational situations; Evangelism – the gift that moves believers to reach nonbelievers in such a way that they are baptized and become active members of the local church.
Exhortation – the gift that moves the believer to reach out with Christian love and presence to people in personal conflict of facing a spiritual void; Faith – the gift that gives a believer the eyes to see the Spirit at work and the ability to trust the Spirit’s leading without indication of where it all might lead; Giving – the gift that enables a believer to recognize God’s blessings and to respond to those blessings by generously and sacrificially giving of one’s resources (time, talent, and treasure); Hospitality – the gift that causes a believer to joyfully welcome and receive guests and those in need of food and lodging.
Intercession – the gift that enables a believer to pray with the certainty that prayer is heard and when requests are made, answers will come; Knowledge – the gift that drives a person to learn, analyze and uncover new insights with regard to the Bible and faith; Leadership – the gift that gives a believer the confidence to step forward, give direction and provide motivation to fulfill a dream or complete a task; Mercy – the gift that motivates a believer to feel deeply for those in physical, spiritual, or emotional need and then act to meet that need.
Music (Vocal) – the gift that gives a believer the capability and opportunity to present personal witness and inspiration to others through singing; Music (Instrumental) – the gift that inspires a believer to express personal faith and provide inspiration and comfort through the playing of a musical instrument; Pastoring (Shepherding) – the gift that gives a believer the confidence, capability and compassion to provide spiritual leadership and direction for individuals or groups of believers.
Service (Helps) – the gift that enables a believer to work gladly behind the scenes in order that God’s work is fulfilled; Skilled Craft – the gift that enables a believer to create, build, maintain or repair items used within the church; Teaching – the gift that enables a believer to communicate a personal understanding of the Bible and faith in such a way that it becomes clear and understood by others; Wisdom – the gift that allows the believer to sort through opinions, facts and thoughts in order to determine what solution would be best for the individual believer or the community of believers; Writing – the gift that gives a believer the ability to express truth in a written form; a form that can edify, instruct and strength the community of believers.
As we study the Bible, it becomes clear that some gifts are not functioning today. “Apostle and prophet”, for instance, had a clearly defined function, but that ministry was completed. Apostles and prophets built the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20) as directed by the Lord. Based on the general purpose of spiritual gifts and on what Paul revealed as the function of apostles and prophets, we would not expect to find those gifts active today. A foundation is required to begin the building. It is underneath the building, supporting it and determining its shape. After that ministry is accomplished, this gift is not needed. The church retains its understanding of the foundation that the apostles and prophets laid because we have the Word of God. According to 2 Timothy 3:16, 17, the inspired Word of God completely equips the church for every good work that it is supposed to do. We look to the Word to find the apostolic foundation for the church.
In similar fashion, we could analyze the purpose of other gifts listed in the New Testament. Paul gave a detailed Biblical basis for the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14. After following his line of argument, we understand their purpose. Since that purpose has been fulfilled, the Spirit is not giving the Biblical gift of tongues today. The Spirit gave the gift of tongues on Pentecost wherein the 120 disciples began to translate Peter’s message into their own language. Some groups claim to practice tongues today, but they do not practice Biblical speaking in tongues. They have redefined the term “tongues”. Instead of the Biblical usage (a known language of a known people), they define it as a private prayer language known only to the believer and God and used for personal edification.
To justify this practice, they change the definition of “tongue” to mean something that the Scripture never taught and that the Apostle Paul did not have in mind. Secondly, Paul was rebuking the church for using the Biblical gift for selfish purposes. We aren’t supposed to use our gifts to edify ourselves, but to edify others. As we examine the Biblically revealed purposes for the gifts, we will be able to determine which ones the Holy Spirit might still use from those listed in His Word. We may be certain that He is still equipping believers to edify other believers. The purpose of a gift will help us determine its permanence.
IV. Practice of Spiritual Gifts
We have seen that the Word of God is very specific about the source, purpose, setting, and spirit of spiritual gifts. The Holy Spirit is the only source of spiritual gifts, and they exist for His purposes, not ours. Their purpose is to bring maturity in the church. Their method is an others-oriented service that will help brothers and sisters grow more like the Savior. The setting for spiritual gifts is the local church. The church provides the fellow disciples to whom we minister. The church also provides direction for our gifts. The pastor is responsible to train God’s people for works of ministry. Therefore, he gives oversight to the use of gifts in the church. As young believers are discipled by older believers, the pastor ensures that they have opportunity to minister to others. In this setting, their gifts become evident. Humbly, they learn to ask the Lord, “Please use me for Your purposes”, while they learn to ask others, “How can I help you become more like the Savior.” This others-orientation creates a thriving Body of Christ. God works powerfully with us when we take our responsibility to help each other mature in Christ.
Giving Away My Gift
The Scriptures remind us that whatever we obtain from the Lord is granted on the condition of our using it for the common good of the church. There cannot be a surer rule, or a stronger exhortation to the observance of it, than when we are taught that all the gifts which we possess are divine deposits entrusted to us for the very purpose of being distributed for the good of the Church and brethren. Are you being a good steward of the gift God has given for? But Scripture proceeds still further when it likens these endowments or gifts to the different members of the body (1 Corinthians 12:12, “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.). No member has its function for itself, or applies it for its own private use, but transfers it to its fellow-members; nor does it derive any other advantage from it than that which it receives in common with the whole body. Thus, whatever the [godly] man and woman can do, he or she is bound to do for their brethren, not consulting their own interest in any other way than by striving earnestly for the common edification [building up] of the church. Let this . . . be our method of showing goodwill and kindness: . . . in regard to everything which God has bestowed upon us, and by which we can aid our local Church and brethren, wherein we are His stewards, and are bound to give account of our stewardship.
First and foremost, we are accountable to our Lord for the use of our spiritual gifts! He, alone, has the ultimate authority over our lives. There is only one Lord! What awesome principles Paul shared with the Christians in the ancient city of Philippi. In Philippians 1:6, he said, “… being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.” The sobering fact is that God began a good work within each of us when we were saved by His Son. And, His continuing desire is to finish the work that He started.
Each of us is under construction, and God has a purpose that He wants to accomplish through us! Our responsibility is to fully cooperate and allow that process to continue. In Philippians 2:12-13, Paul continues, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.” The idea is that each believer is to remain submissive and sensitive to God’s will for his/her life so that God can accomplish His purpose for each life. Do we clearly understand the direct connection between our spiritual gifts and the purpose that God has for our lives?
To fail to exercise our gifts puts us in the precarious position of hindering the very purpose for which God has called us to be Christian ministers! Is it any wonder that Paul says, “… work out (bring to completion) your salvation with fear and trembling.” All of this spells out the fact of our ultimate accountability to our Lord. While primary accountability must always be to our one Lord, there is also a secondary sense in which we can and should be accountable to each other. While never attempting to lord it over fellow believers, we can and should encourage, exhort, and even rebuke one another when spiritual gifts are being neglected or misused. The specific means by which members of the Body of Christ hold one another accountable will vary from church congregation to church congregation, but the goal is a family where members feel a genuine love, concern, and responsibility for each other.
I will conclude with an appropriate illustration entitled “It’s Everybody’s Job” – A Pastor attended a Talkfest at a college in Grand Rapids a number of years ago. The featured speaker that day was Dr. C. Everett Koop, U. S. Surgeon General in the Reagan administration. He drew such a big crowd that they had to use the large gymnasium rather than the auditorium as announced. Dr. Koop spoke for more than an hour about the future of America’s health care. As he neared the end of his talk, a commotion occurred up in the bleachers. A mumbling of voices, people standing, and a scurry of activity ensued. Suddenly one man called out, “I think he’s having a heart attack! Is there a doctor in the house?” For a moment the irony struck everyone funny. Ah, yeah. . . . Only the most famous doctor in the United States was in the room! Tittering giggles grew louder. Then Dr. Koop repeated the question into the microphone: “Can someone help? Is there a doctor in the house?” Immediately, many men and women stood up all around the room and several rushed to the aid of the man. The gymnasium was full of physicians who had come to hear the Surgeon General speak. Although qualified and competent, all of them were seemingly waiting for permission to do what they knew how to do. Dr. Koop could have helped the person who was stricken. But he knew that other equally qualified individuals were closer to the situation. In fact, there were probably several heart specialists in the crowd. It’s a lot like what we see in the church. Often we expect the person up on the platform, the one who is out in front, the prominent one–to do everything. Our pastor. He went to seminary. Our Bible study leader. She knows so much. Our Sunday school teacher. He has taught for years. The apostle Paul wrote extensively about the way the body of Christ should function as a church (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4). When a person accepts Christ as Savior, he becomes a member of Christ’s body. He is given spiritual gifts “for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:12). My brethren, we possess different gifts that compliment each other. All of us are needed, and none is more important than another. 1 Timothy 4:14 tell us not to neglect the gift that is in you! So, the question then remains:
(1) Are you using your gift to edify the Body of Christ?
God’s call to a task includes His strength to complete it