May 19 and 20, 2018 You’ve Got Skills!
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12: 1-14
Today we continue to explore the topic of spiritual gifts, one of the many ways God equips us to continue the holy work started by Jesus. Last week we looked at purpose and were reminded that we’ve been created to reflect the character of God. Today we explore the ways God intends to make that happen. I invite you to read with me…
I don’t know about your early church experience, but growing up in my small church, we did a lot of singing, especially in Sunday school. You can ask any of my Wildfire youth and young adults- that love for singing has carried over into my ministry, and the sillier the song, the more likely we are to sing it! We sang a lot of growing up because my church seemed to subscribe to the idea that theology is better caught than taught. And I learned a lot that way. But I was really taken aback when my former pastor tried this on for size and preached a 4-week sermon series on country music. Now, you have to know something about my family. I know we live in a sort of transplanted Nashville, but country music was a big no-no in our household. It wasn’t even considered music. To speak of Willie Nelson, George Jones or Reba McEntire was akin to uttering the worst of 4-letter words. We just didn’t have a place in our musical hearts for country music, which is why I was so surprised when a song from this genre impacted my faith.
When I was in seminary, Rodney Atkins came out with a song that prepared me for ministry and parenthood. I had yet to lead a church, and I wasn’t even engaged, but this song was a funny reminder that I would soon be leading others, and those watchful eyes would often do and say what I did and said. In the song, Atkins sings about riding in the truck with his 4-year old, who suddenly blurts out a 4-letter word that begins with an “s.” And when asked where he learned that hideous word, the 4-year old simply said, “I’ve been watching you, dad.” And I want to be just like you.”
For three years the disciples watched Jesus, who was preparing them to be just like him. Every word he said, every miracle he performed, every action he took, they watched and took it all in. And at times they would even imitate him, not knowing that Jesus was slowly forming them in those moments to be a part of his plan. They listened intently to his heroic plan to save the world from itself and restore us back to the Father. And they genuinely longed for their broken world to be made new. And then Jesus dropped this little line on them from John 14:12: Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
Whoa! That’s a pretty bold statement, isn’t it? The disciples will do greater things than Jesus? Now that seems pretty impossible! I mean, can you even begin to comprehend that statement? Most of the time we have no idea what to do with that, so we get ourselves off the hook by saying, “Well, you know I’m not Jesus,” or “I’m just a human,” but Jesus doesn’t let us off that easily. He wants to stretch our faith. He wants us to see who we are when we give our lives to him and to see that we are God’s plan A, and there is no plan B. You see God’s plan was to put a part of himself in each of us, through the Holy Spirit, which means the work of Christ is no longer reserved for the single human being named Jesus, but the work of Christ is now multiplied throughout the living organism known as the Church. And friends, this is you. As a single human being, Jesus could only be in one place at one time, but if part of him lives through every heart that believes in his name, his impact would spread like a raging fire! This was the beauty of Pentecost. You might say that when the Holy Spirit was given on Pentecost, some of Jesus’ DNA was poured into the disciples. And when you receive God’s Spirit, that same DNA is poured in to you!
If there’s one thing I really want you to know today, it’s that you are more important than you realize. You carry a significance in your life that has spiritual power, an inner treasure that God has placed upon you, a treasure that needs to be discovered. There’s giftedness to every one of you, not because of who you are, but because of Jesus Christ, who is on a mission to redeem and restore a broken world. And part of that treasure is what we call the spiritual gifts. This is how Jesus invites you to come alongside his work.
Spiritual gifts have been very controversial over the years, and a bit confusing, to boot. But of utmost importance when talking about spiritual gifts is the word gift. These are unique talents and skills that can’t be achieved by human means; they are the work of God’s Spirit. They aren’t learned, worked for, or earned; they’re imparted as the Spirit fills us, for the dual purpose of bringing glory to God and building up the church unto maturity. We’ve read about some of those gifts in the past few weeks, but I thought you might be interested in having some references. There are a couple places where the gifts are listed in Scripture. Now, these aren’t exhaustive, and God certainly has the right to change the lists as He sees fit, but for our purposes today, I’ll point you to these passages: Romans 12: 6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:1- 28, Ephesians 4. I’d invite you to spend some time exploring these gifts. You can also Google them to find out more.
When you look at those passages, you’ll find over 20 gifts listed in Scripture, and each one offers a unique contribution to the work of Jesus Christ in the world. One of the leaders who preached extensively on the work of the Spirit was the Apostle Paul, Paul has some pretty important things to say about spiritual gifts. In fact, when he writes, he says this, “I do not want you to uninformed.” Because these gifts are part of the way God has uniquely wired YOU to build up God’s Kingdom. And so I wanted to share Paul’s advice with you today. Here are for things we each need to know about spiritual gifts:
First, every spiritual gift stems from the same source- the Spirit of God. It is the Holy Spirit who determines which gifts are imparted to whom. As we read last week, some are called to be pastors, others teachers. Some are gifted to serve in an administrative function, while others are fitted to lead out in front. There are many gifts, but the same Spirit. And this is important, because some gifts don’t seem as “spiritual” as others, but if each is handed out by God’s Spirit, then they each carry a holy significance. Your gift might best be used out in the public eye in a very clear leadership role…or your gift might best be used behind the scenes or behind the desk. It really doesn’t matter. If it’s a spiritual gift, it’s from the Holy Spirit.
Secondly, there are a variety of gifts. As I said earlier, there are over 20 gifts and no person is meant or expected, to have all of them. That would kind of defeat the purpose of God’s “multiply and conquer” technique, wouldn’t it? Some of the gifts look a little more supernatural than others (like tongues and miracles); some of them take on a behind the scenes nature (like helps), but their diversity is meant to be reflective of a God who loves and functions in diversity. When we talk about God, we are talking about Creator (or Father), a Redeemer (or Son) and Sustainer (or Holy Spirit). Different emphases, diverse ways of talking about. Yet they each help us understand more fully the power and identity of God. As a follower of Jesus, it is my belief that you’ve been given at least one spiritual gift, and when you operate out of that gift, you help each of us better understand the work of Jesus Christ.
Thirdly, spiritual gifts have been given for the common good. Bruce Bugbee, in his book, Network, says the two primary functions of spiritual gifts are the glory of God and the edifying of others. These gifts are not meant to be hoarded or protected, but shared with others. And let me tell you, when you share your gifts with me, especially gifts that I don’t have, I feel the closeness of Jesus Christ. I had the privilege of attending the Happy Time preschool graduation ceremony on Friday. In her opening address, Mrs. Stuchal took a few moments to thank all the people who helped this year. Some stopped in to read, some planned events, some offered support, some offered their decorating skills and so on. Mrs. Stuchal knew that without their help, Happy Time would’ve struggled this year. When we contribute our unique gifts, we become the blessing we were created to be.
And finally, spiritual gifts are meant to help the church live into the identity of the “Body of Christ.” You see, the church is meant to be a “unit,” which implies an intentional working together. Quite simply, this means that we need each other. And that can be hard to admit. We may not always like each other or agree with each other or even want to be in the same room as each other, but in order for our church to be everything God dreams for us to be, you and I need to operate out of our unique giftedness. Because that’s God’s design. We were created for each other, to help each other, and there’s no other way around it. I can’t be fully who I was meant to be without you, and you can’t be fully who you were meant to be without me. Together, and only together, are we the body of Christ.
Friends, when you are filled with the Spirit of God, you are given a Kingdom-building gift of the Spirit. This is how you were wired to serve Jesus. And in this church, nobody else can employ that gift in your manner and style. It is uniquely yours. You are called to imitate Christ. But you are also called to do the great things Jesus did, and when you use your gift in tandem with the Body of Christ, the light of Jesus Christ shines brightly in the midst of our world’s darkness! So what do you say we do some great things in the name of Jesus? What do you say we all put our pieces together and complete the puzzle? Because that’s the only way it’s going to happen. Jesus doesn’t want to do this without you, which means you are more important than you know. Amen.