Spiritual gifts (2)

Sermon: Sunday, 12th May, 2024
Speaker: John Johnstone
Scripture: Romans 12:1-8

Some people who attend church, will come in a few minutes before the service starts, say a few ‘hellos’ and then leave pretty much as soon as the service is over. In they come, and out they go, and there is little meaningful interaction with other Christians in the church. This is not God’s design for the church. This is not what God wants. This is not mature Christian behaviour. Why am I able to say that so confidently? In Romans we’re told something radical about what it means to be a Christian: ‘…each member belongs to all the others…’ (Romans 12:5) That’s a wonderful and yet challenging statement about what the church is. It means that Christianity is not something private between you and Jesus; rather, it’s something between you, Jesus, and the other Christians around you. In a culture of severe individualism, God is reminding us today that I belong to you, and you belong to me, and that we belong to one another. We are a family. We are a body.

We need to think in the opposite way to our individualistic culture. We should not cross the threshold of the church on Sundays focusing on what we get out of church and if our own needs are being met. Instead, of the focus being on what we are getting, it must be on what we are giving. Terry Johnson puts it this way: ‘My experience of the life of the church unavoidably will be unsatisfactory if I am focused on whether I am being served adequately, rather than on whether I am serving adequately.’

‘… whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ (Matthew 10:26-28)

1. Why do we all have to use our gifts in the church?

Here’s the basic theology of belonging to one another – if we are united to Jesus by faith, trusting in his death for us, then God becomes our heavenly Father, and that makes us brothers and sisters in Christ. So, union with Christ through faith transfers us into a new Christian family, with each member belonging to the other. And so, Christians ought to love one another as parts of themselves.

We see something similar in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians . ‘In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church – or we are members of his body.’ (Ephesians 5:28-30)

What is Paul saying? It would be unnatural for husbands not to love their wives sacrificially. Husbands and wives are united as one flesh in bonds of marriage, and so of course with such a strong unity, when a husband is loving his wife, he is really loving a union which he is part of. In the same kind of way, in Romans 12, Paul reminds Christians that they belong to one another, as one body, and so of course they must love each person in that body. It would be unnatural not to love them.

Is this how you think about the people who come to this church? For some of us, it might be a real shock. We become so used to thinking about ourselves and our own needs and wants. But if it ends there, that is not mature Christian thinking. God has designed us as an interdependent body. We need one another. And we actually belong to one another; this is strong language. That’s why the topic of spiritual gifts is not something we can just ignore. The church family has every right to expect that you will use your gifts to serve others in the church because you belong to everyone else.

Is there anything you wouldn’t do for your own children, or your spouse? That’s the kind of attitude we ought to have for our church family too! My friend in Oxford got married and his wife’s family organised the entire wedding, including the food, by themselves. It was incredible to see them working so hard weeks in advance, in order to gather round one family member for her ‘big day’. They all had different gifts, but all their gifts were used for this special day. That’s a fantastic picture of what the church should be like, using gifts for the church’s groom – Jesus Christ.

But there is something else we need to consider. What if several Christians are lazy, and doing little or next to no serving in the church? God has given them a gift to use, but they seldom use it. By doing so, they are robbing other people of blessings which they would otherwise receive.

This is a sobering thought. But we need to understand that if you refuse to help to share the load, that puts far more pressure on everyone else, and actually means you are robbing others of your gift. In his wisdom, God has given you a gift, and not to use this for the good of others is a serious business.

We will never be ‘guilt-tripped’ into using our spiritual gifts more. It must stem from a greater understanding on how much God has done for us. This is the logic of Romans 12:1 ‘Therefore, I urge you, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice…’ It is because of God’s mercy to us, giving his one and only Son to die in our place, that we want to live sacrificially for God. We love him because he first loved us. Isaac Watts captures this so well in the hymn ‘When I survey’: Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.

Here’s the thing – the more you appreciate how much Christ suffered for you, and how undeserving you are of that love, the more you will want to live for King Jesus. And part of living for King Jesus is to use the gift he has given you for the well-being of the church family.

KFC vision statement: 5. That we should all prayerfully seek to identify the spiritual gifts we have and use them in the church for the benefit of the church family.

Remember our definition of a spiritual gifts: Thomas R Schreiner: ‘Gifts of grace granted by the Holy Spirit which are designed for the edification of the church’.

For the rest of our time this morning, I want us to home-in on 2 of the 7 gifts listed in Romans 12: serving and encouraging.

2. The gift of serving

All Christians are called to serve one another. ‘Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’ (Mark 9:35) However, some have a particular gifting in this area. God has given them a strong ability to see things which need to be done and then to get on and do them behind-the-scenes. People with this gift are invaluable in any church. Because they have this gift, it makes sense for them to concentrate in this area. That’s what it means in Romans 12:7 when it says: ‘…if it is serving, then serve.’

I can see people with this gift in our church. They intuitively notice things which need to be done, and they are happy to take the initiative and just get on with it. The don’t shout about it or brag about it. They just do it. They are happy to do it. They do it for Christ!

Is this an important gift in the church? The gift of service? Hugely! If you have been helped by such people then you will know this to be true.

Perhaps you have this gift. Do you notice things which need done in the church and try to sort them? But it is much wider than the church building. Do you see other people needing help in certain areas, and you know you can help them. You help them, and you help them cheerfully! You might well have the spiritual gift of service. You see someone is lonely and you go and visit them. You see someone is exhausted and so you go to lend them a hand.

Of course, Jesus is our ultimate example of service. He was willing to do the dirty job no one else was willing to do, and he washes the feet of his disciples. After this memorable illustration of Christian service, he says: ‘Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.’ (John 13:14-15)

Jerry Bridges: It was not in spite of His greatness but because of His greatness that Jesus served His disciples on that evening. Through His own attitude toward servanthood He taught us that true greatness in the Kingdom of God consists not in position or authority but in serving one another.

Jerry Bridges: The reason most of us do not see the opportunities to serve is that we are continually thinking about ourselves instead of others. Whether or not you have a special gift of serving others, may each one of us pray that God would open our eyes to the needs of others.

3. The gift of encouraging

Yes, some people have a special gift of encouragement. However, it is something which we are all commanded to do: ‘Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.’ (1 Thessalonians 5:11). This is one of the ‘one another’ commands, again reminding us that we belong to one another. Encouragement is one of the gifts listed in Romans chapter 12: ‘… if it is to encourage, then give encouragement.’ (Romans 12:8) Some of you here today are especially good at encouraging others.

Like serving, encouraging is something which God himself does. We see this at Jesus’ baptism. As he commences his public ministry, which will end with humiliating suffering and death, God the Father can be seen encouraging his Son. He says: ‘And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ (Mark 1:11)

‘May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.’ (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)

John Stott: ‘This word has a wide spectrum of meanings, ranging from encouraging and exhorting to comforting, conciliating or consoling. This gift may be exercised from a pulpit, or through writing, but more often it is used behind-the-scenes as the gift of counselling, or in offering friendship to the lonely and giving fresh courage to those who have lost heart.’

Barnabas is probably the most famous encourager in the Bible. While others might have been extremely doubtful of Saul’s conversion, Barnabas draws alongside him, and encourages him to remain true to the Lord.

In my early years of ministry here, there were some very tough and isolating times. One of the minsters in Presbytery was an enormous encouragement to me, taking time to talk and pray on a regular basis. This was invaluable to me. He had the gift of encouragement. God used him to encourage me, and it meant so much.

Perhaps you have this gift! Perhaps you have a strong love for people and notice when they are struggling in the faith. You know they aren’t doing so well, even though they say ‘I’m fine.’ They don’t look down on you when you feel like giving up. They understand! But most importantly, they come alongside you, on a regular basis, sometimes just to sit with you, sometimes to share Scripture, or to pray, and they encourage you that God has not given up on you and is still in control.

Why do we serve one another in Kirkcaldy Free Church? Why do we encourage one another? It’s because we belong to one another!