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Mar 12, 2017

True North | Spiritual Gifts

True North | Spiritual Gifts

Passage: Romans 12:3-8

Series: True North

Category: Weekend Message

Since it’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve been up here, let me reframe once again what we are talking about in this part of our sermon series. In the first part of True North we talked about what we believe and now we are talking about what difference that makes in how we live. Again, we first understand that we are a people who have received God’s amazing love and grace and then we respond to this grace and love by what we do. And so we’ve talked about how we worship and give generously and totally surrender and read scripture and pray. We do these things, not in order to gain God’s love, but as an act of gratitude for having received this love. As Ben Witherington says, “If all theology is grace, then all ethics is a matter of gratitude.” And as we dive into Romans 12 we should note that the first 11 chapters are about God’s grace for us and then we begin looking at who God calls us to be and what God calls us to do.

And so today, we are looking at the topic of spiritual gifts and at how God equips us spiritually. Now we should begin by saying that the spiritual gifts listed in Romans 12 are not all of the spiritual gifts, but rather a sample of them. So, in our passage we see that the spiritual gifts include things like prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, generosity, leadership, compassion. But in 1 Corinthians 12 we also see that Paul says that wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing and speaking in tongues are also gifts of the Spirit. Then in Ephesians Paul adds apostleship and evangelism to the list of gifts. The point is that God has given many different and unique gifts to those who follow him.

The reason why God gives us these gifts is so that we can further the mission of God in this world, or to put it another way, so that (as we pray each and every week) we can help bring God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. And the most effective way for us to do that is as a community of faith that is unified and working together, which is what these gifts allow us to do. As the Lesslie Newbigin quote, that I love to repeat, so aptly puts it, “The only hermeneutic of the gospel (the only way for the good news of Jesus to be translated) is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it.” And the spiritual gifts are given to us in order to help us to spread that good news as a community or, as Paul says, as a body.

In Romans and in 1st Corinthians Paul uses the imagery of a body when it comes to spiritual gifts, so that we will see that no one person has all of these gifts which means, of course, that we all need one another if we are going to function well as a church. Sometimes we are oblivious to just how much our body it takes for us to complete a simple action. For me to survive I need food, but in order for that to happen I need a stomach that tells me I’m hungry and, of course, a brain that processes that information. I need eyes to tell me where to find food, then legs to get me there and arms to make the food and teeth to help chew the food and an esophagus to get the food down and intestines to help digest the food. All of these things (and many, many more) just to eat. And likewise each of us have particular spiritual gifts that are necessary to complete the action of being a community that helps to further the mission of God. If someone isn’t using their gift then it is as if we are trying to eat without a stomach or brain or teeth. It just doesn’t work well.

So, each of us have important spiritual gifts that we are to use. Around the staff we kind of have a joke that Scott is the good cop and I am the bad cop. If you want encouragement, compassion and mercy then folks walk right past my door and into Scott’s office. Scott is really good at giving those things and I, myself, have oftentimes been the recipient of that encouragement, compassion and mercy. Now, I would suggest that if you want some prophecy, and what I mean by that is not being able to tell the future, but being able to say a hard word you may not want to hear, then you might want to stop by my office and then go to Scott’s office in order to be consoled! Now that’s not always true, of course, and I can give compassion at times and Scott can certainly exhort and be prophetic, but well, our giftings are different and that’s a good, healthy thing. As they say, to have “two left feet” is not good when one is dancing and for a church to have two left feet or left arms or all brain and no heart or all heart and no brain is never a good thing. We are created differently and given different gifts in order to work better as the robust body of Christ.

And, of course, if we are going to use our spiritual gifts in order to function together as the body of Christ we need to know both what they actually are and how we can use them. As I’ve mentioned before, when I was in high school and college and graduate school and even seminary I struggled with what I wanted to do for a living. When I was a junior in high school I told my mother that I knew I wanted to do public speaking, but for years I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to talk about. So, my contemplations went from broadcasting to being an attorney, to becoming a politician to being a professor until finally I landed on the fact that God was calling me to be a pastor. It was a long, circuitous route, but finally I discovered a place where the gifts that God had given me could be used.

Many of us may already know what our gifts are and how they can be used, but if not there are many different tools that help us to discern what our gifts may be as well as how we might use those gifts in the church and in our neighborhoods. No one tool is perfect and we at ZPC have used different tools in the past, but recently we came upon a tool that can be used online and we have linked that to our ZPC homepage. [show slide] What I would like for us to do this week is to go on there and to do the survey which takes 10-15 minutes. If you’re in a home group I’d love for you to do that before you meet because we’re going to spend some of our time talking about what we’ve discovered with one another and to ask what that means for us. Not only will this survey tell you where your gifts may be, but we will also send you an email that says how those gifts can oftentimes be used.

Again, this tool isn’t perfect. Not all the gifts are examined and we’ve listed a few additional ones like hospitality that may resonate with you. This survey, however, is a great place to start. I’d also like to suggest that if you haven’t done one of these in a while it’s good to do it again because, as we found out at our elder’s retreat, there are times when certain gifts may come to the forefront and other times when others will be more evident. 

When we think about spiritual gifts there are a few things that are critical for us to keep in mind. First of all, discovering one’s spiritual gifts does not mean that you are off the hook as far as other gifts are concerned. David King preached last week and did a remarkable job (if you weren’t hear you should listen to it online). One of the things he said is that sometimes folks will take a spiritual gifts survey and when they don’t score high on something like generosity they will think, “Phew, now I don’t have to be generous!” Well, that’s not really how it’s supposed to be used. It’s more like these are things that may come more easily for certain folks, but rather than letting us off the hook, we are to look at those who are gifted in that area and let them be an example to us of something to strive for. As I said earlier, I don’t necessarily score really high on compassion, but that doesn’t mean that I know have permission to be a class A jerk. I can’t run people off the road or be rude in meetings and then show them my spiritual gifts inventory and just say, “Hey, compassion’s not on the list. What can I do?!” No, instead I’m called to look at people like Scott and see how well he does in that department and strive for that, even if it doesn’t come naturally.

It’s also critical to see that no one gift is better than the other. In our passage verse 3 serves as a sort of preface to the spiritual gifts. And in that verse Paul implores those in the church to not think of themselves more highly than they ought. Furthermore, calling them spiritual gifts is a way of remembering that all of these are gifts from God, not things that we earned, so we have no right to gloat about what particular gifts we have. In the tradition I was raised, and then at the Christian college I attended, it often seemed that those who were gifted to be missionaries or pastors were always looked at a bit higher than everyone else and it used to annoy me to no end. In fact, I think a part of why it took me so long to answer the call to become a pastor is because I couldn’t stand the way that these particular giftings and callings were so held up. It seemed to me that missionaries and pastors really were just for people who couldn’t get real jobs! (Which is why I’m here!)

Truth be told, I still think that we wrestle with thinking some of these gifts or these calls aren’t a bit better than others. When it comes to the church and the work of the church I still see us struggling with not thinking that gifts like exhortation or proclamation, gifts that pastors and preachers often have, aren’t lifted up a bit too high. As a pastor I have found myself somewhat regularly saying that what I’m doing here is no more important than what anyone else does as a part of the church. That’s not to say that pastoring or preaching isn’t significant, but it does mean it is no more significant than anyone else’s job in helping the church to be the church. Many years ago I stumbled on some research that says that most visitors to a church decide in the first 10 minutes or so whether or not they will come back and be a part of a particular body of faith. And as I point out that is well before the sermon is ever preached.

A couple of weeks ago a few of our staff went to hear a professor from Fuller Seminary talk about churches who are doing a great job of growing young, in other words, they are cultivating a church where young people feel welcomed and are growing in that demographic. One thing that was brought up was that their research shows that when they asked people in those churches where the young demographic is growing what keeps them involved preaching was 6th on the list, garnering only 12% of the tally. Instead, it was things like personal relationships, a sense of community or activities like small groups that really drew them into the congregation. These things use gifts like hospitality or giving or serving, not the gift of exhortation or prophecy! As the professor pointed out, you can download amazing sermons, but you can’t download a vibrant community. If we are going to be a thriving church that is really helping to bring God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, we can’t expect the pastors or staff of the church to do the work for us because our gifts simply are not enough. No, it takes all of us who are gifted in our own unique ways to help us be the body that God calls us to be. 

The last thing I want us to understand, and a misconception of which we need to be disavailed, is that these gifts are restricted to the “official” things that happen at church. Oftentimes the church will talk about spiritual gifts solely as a way to get more people to volunteer at church and while we as a church certainly go further when people know their gifts and how they can be used in the congregation, we fall short when we don’t see that these things can and should be used at all times in one’s life. One of the things that we hit on repeatedly is that our call as followers of Jesus goes well beyond Sunday mornings. We are generous, not just to ZPC, but the waiters who wait on us. We are hospitable, not just in our Gathering Space, but also in our neighborhoods. We show mercy and compassion, not just to ZPCers or our own family members, but to people that we work with.

Robert Bryant, in looking at this passage, talks about how these gifts that God has given us strengthens the church and helps us to bring God’s kingdom, both now and forevermore. And then he says, “Once the symphony of this good news penetrates our hearts and minds, bringing forth new life in Christ, faithfulness becomes nothing less than the thankful presentation of our bodies-our total beings-to God’s service for the benefit of others.” A body that works like this is like a symphony and in order for that symphony to be heard by all it needs to be used not just in here, but out in your neighborhoods, in your workplaces and on the ball fields where we watch and play, the restaurants where we eat and the grocery stores where we shop. What might it look like if we were to display these gifts everywhere? Maybe something like this. [show video.]

Each of us has been equipped with a spiritual gift that is like an instrument or a singing voice and when we use them together it is the beautiful sound of the gospel that catches people by surprise, that brings joy to those we meet and that gives witness to the beauty of God’s coming kingdom. We have all been gifted, brothers and sisters, and may we know and use these gifts that all may know the great giver of gifts, the savior Christ the Lord. Until his kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven. Hallelujah. Amen