What was your worst life experience ever? Do you ever reflect back on the trauma and with the passage of time, now see the hand of God at work, even in your darkest moment? A while back I spent an eventful night visiting various local emergency health centres after three different antibiotics had failed to deal with an infection. A subsequent enforced stay in hospital left me physically drained but curiously refreshed and deeply aware about what matters most to me in life. I can’t say I found spending a wakeful night in pain lying on a 2.6 wide trolley in Accident & Emergency exactly heaven. Or indeed the next few days in a ward at St Peters.
I did however meet many angels from a wide range of countries serving in the NHS. In the space of 72 hours, as I observed the world going by my temporary home on wheels, in my enforced child-like dependence, I realised that a hospital is far more than just a loose collection of doctors and nurses. It is a highly disciplined, multi-dimensional 24 x 7 operation including paramedics and ambulance crews, receptionists and porters, nursing staff, auxiliary’s, ward sisters, surgeons, anaesthetists, junior doctors, consultants, pharmacists, technicians, lab assistants, cleaners, chefs and a hospital chaplaincy team. These highly qualified and deeply motivated guardian angels, used their skills and talents with one objective in mind – to help me get well again. Each has been trained, equipped and recruited for a specific role within that organisation. Each knows their job description, what is expected of them and to whom they are accountable. Despite their different uniforms, positions and titles, most have one thing in common – the desire to serve, to heal the sick, listen to the troubled, counsel the confused and comfort the dying, with patience, grace and humour.
Doesn’t that remind you of another institution? These Sunday mornings we are asking the question – ‘Does God have a purpose for my life?’ The answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’. God says,
“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)
God’s intention is that we appreciate the person God has uniquely made each one of us to be, and discover or reconfirm how you can be fruitful and fulfilled in His place of service. There are three dimensions to discovering our place in the Body of Christ. It is a combination of our passion, spiritual gifts and our personal style – our preferred way of working.
Last week we discovered that our passion is the God given desire that compels us to make a difference in a particular ministry. I shared my passion. I hope you are energised by yours. Today and next week we want to consider the second strand – spiritual gifts. First let me make three general observations about spiritual gifts
We must know about spiritual gifts
“Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed (1 Corinthians 12:1).
This is a biblical command. Ignorance about Spiritual Gifts is no excuse. Paul is saying, “Listen up! Take note! The emphasis on gifts is dramatic and critical because they are indispensable to the growth of the church. That is why we are addressing them today and next week. We must know about spiritual gifts.
We are expected to use our spiritual gifts
Like a father, Paul writes to Timothy,
“Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.” (1 Timothy 4:14).
Would Paul have made such a statement unless neglect were a possibility? Unfortunately neglect happens every day. Either through ignorance or disobedience.
If you needed convincing why this subject is so important, Jesus gives us a third reason.
We will be held accountable for our spiritual gifts
Jesus uses the parable of the Master and Servants in Matthew 25 to illustrate that we are responsible for the gifts and talents God has entrusted to us.
“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey… “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ (Matthew 25:14-30)
We will one day be held accountable for how we have invested the talents, gifts and resources, God has entrusted to us. Please turn with me to 1 Corinthians 12. We are going to keep this really simple so please stay with me. There will be a test at the end….
1. What is a spiritual gift?
“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:7)
Spiritual gifts are a manifestation of the Spirit – a God-given ability, a supernatural ability or grace, – a God-given gift that enables us to serve meaningfully and faithfully.
2. Who has spiritual gifts?
“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:7)
Each one – meaning ‘everyone’. If you are a child of God, if you have received Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, God indwells you by His Spirit and has given you at least one spiritual gift.
3. Who decides on my spiritual gift?
A few verses later we find an answer.
All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines” (1 Corinthians 12:11).
Spiritual Gifts are therefore given to every believer according to God’s Sovereign design and purposes. So we don’t get to choose which ones we want. God knows best. Nor do we get the chance to opt out from service. We have all been called and all been gifted. So we are given a definition and told of their availability and source.
4. What is the purpose of spiritual gifts?
We are also reminded of their purpose in Peter’s letter.
“Each one should use what ever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10)
So, Spiritual Gifts are for the common good, to glorify God and edify others, not primarily ourselves. Lets take a closer look at 1 Corinthians 12 to discover what it means to use spiritual gifts for the common good of the Body of Christ. Let’s read together verses 20-24.
Diversity in Ministry
“As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment.” (1 Corinthians 12:20-24)
These verses speak of the diversity within the Body of Christ. Paul then goes on to stress the unity.
“But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:24-27)
Unity in diversity
We each have a unique contribution to make – there is great diversity in the body because our differences are God’s design but his purpose is growth in unity.
How is this achieved? When we were young we were dependent on our parents. They provided nurture, care and protection. We did not know what we would grow up to be – we were just dependent. As we got older, we began to understand that we were not like everyone else, that in some way we were unique. With that awareness, we began moving toward independence and started to assert ourselves.
To be independent seemed to be the goal. Culturally we have equated maturity with independence. But achieving uniqueness and diversity is not necessarily the same thing as maturity. How does a body function? What is the relationship of all its parts?
My time in hospital was a week long biology lesson – some of the theoretical drawings, and technical terms I remember from my boring biology class at school, all those years ago, suddenly took on rather more graphic and painful significance and I became an avid learner.
I had a vested self interest in asking, how does each one do its part and remain healthy? By interdependent relationships.
Just as pain at one end was felt at the other, so drugs administered at one end brought relief to the other.
I leave it to your imagination to work out which.
God’s design for the Church is the same as for our bodies.
“there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.”
Healthy interdependence is shown by equal concern for each other. In the hospital every person had an important role to play. The doctors and nurses were just as dependent on the porter who pushed me from A&E to Kestral Ward via the Ultra Scan Dept. as much as on the consultant who examined me or the pharmacist who prescribed my drugs. Each person was interdependent on the others. As with our bodies, says Paul, so it is to be in the Church. We shall pick up on this unity in diversity next week when we explore in more detail the various kinds of spiritual gifts. For now lets simply reflect on the wonder of God’s design.
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all.” (1 Cor. 12:4-6).
We were put on this earth to make a contribution of eternal significance. At the end of your life on earth you will stand before God, and he is going to evaluate how well you served others with your life. As we saw from the parable of the stewards, “each one of us will have to give a personal account to God” (Romans 14:12).
Let me close with a challenge from Rick Warren’s brilliant new book, The Purpose Driven Life. (read pages 232-233). This morning we have discovered that every Christian has
- At least one God-given Spiritual Gift
- A unique and meaningful place of service in the Church
- A God-ordained ministry to glorify God & edify others
Next week we will examine in more detail the different kinds of gifts God has given us and how we can indeed be faithful stewards of his grace.
Lets pray. Lord, Thank you for so generously giving spiritual gifts to everyone who belongs to you through Christ Jesus. Help me to better understand what those gifts mean to me and how I can use my gifts the way you want me to. Help me please you by being a good steward. Help me be an active participant in your church. Enlighten me, Lord, and reveal the gifts you have given me so that I can use them to bless others and glorify you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.