Gifts of the Spirit
Sermon: Sunday, 16th May, 2021 1 Corinthians 12
Almost all of us like receiving gifts on our birthday or at Christmas time. When we are choosing a gift for someone else, we might think about their interests and hobbies. If we know someone really well, we might even buy things that they need. I know of one guy who bought his brother a board game, not because he thought his brother wanted to play it, but because he did! So, we can even have selfish motives when buying presents. When the Bible speaks about spiritual gifts, we are thinking of gifts which God gives to us, not for our own enjoyment or pleasure, but so that we can serve others in our church. For example, God might make you a generous person, because other people in the church need your financial help. God might make you an encouraging person, because others in the church family are going through hard times.
What are spiritual gifts and what are they for? Do all Christians have a spiritual gift? Can I choose what kind of gift I want? These are important questions.
Definition: ‘Spiritual gifts are an ability given by God, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, in order to build up the people of God, for the glory of God.’
Let’s consider 4 core Biblical principles about spiritual gifts, focusing on 1 Corinthians chapter 12.
1. All Christians have a spiritual gift.
If you love and follow Jesus, you have a spiritual gift. In fact, you might have more than one. Remember the truth that all true Christians have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit himself, indwelling them and helping them in their Christian walk. (Romans 8:9-10) Connected to this fact, it’s crystal clear that all believers have a spiritual gift: ‘Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.’ (1 Corinthians 12:7)
There aren’t certain Christians on a higher plane with spiritual gifts, and other Christians with no gifts. Each Christian is gifted. ‘Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.’ (1 Peter 4:10)
Let’s get practical and honest here. If we all have a spiritual gift, and all Christians do, then we all have a responsibility to find out what that gift is, to nurture it, and to use it in serving others in the church. That involves time and effort. For example, if you have a gift of teaching, whether preaching, teaching at Sunday School, or teaching a younger Christians 1:1, there is a lot of preparation required in order to do that properly. If you have a musical gift, there’s a lot of practice that goes on behind the scenes.
Perhaps you have a gift and it is dormant. You are not really using it much. You’ve a passive attitude to church, coming to receive only, but not to give to others. If that’s the case then we really need to change the whole way you think about the church family.
‘Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.’ (1 Timothy 4:14)
This verse plainly states that it is possible to neglect your gift. How many of us are actively using our spiritual gifts, and how many are not? It is a serious problem if we are not exercising a spiritual gift in the church family. Why so? Because God have given you a gift for a specific purpose, so not to use it is an affront to him. Imagine getting a birthday present from someone, and not even bothering to unwrap it. Are we really going to treat God like that? He gives us a gift and we leave it unwrapped and unused. God commands us to be faithful stewards of his gifts. In other words, we must use them.
2. There is great variety of gifts.
Lists which illustrate some of the gifts are found in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4. Between them, we can identify around 20 gifts, such as: apostles, prophets, teachers, working miracles, helping, administration, tongues, utterances of wisdom and knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, service, exhortation, contributing to the needs of others, leading, and acts of mercy. I don’t think these lists are meant to be exhaustive, but are given as key examples for us. Some of the gifts are speaking gifts including teaching, evangelism and exhortation. Some of them are serving gifts including helping, giving, administration and acts of mercy. I love the rich variety of these gifts. Some are more public, for example preaching or leading. However, many are behind-the-scenes, but just as necessary, like administration and certain kinds of helping.
3. Spiritual gifts differ from natural gifts in their purpose – they are given to bless the church.
‘Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.’ (1 Corinthians 12:7)
Some people are naturally good musicians and they might use that gift to make money, or for their own pleasure. But if it is a spiritual gift, then it must be used to edify the church family. And so, musicians aren’t in church to perform and draw attention to themselves, but rather to aid the worship of God, and thus bless the church. Many teachers who are not Christians are nonetheless great teachers. But this is a natural gift, not a Holy-Spirit given one, as spiritual gifts would bless the body of Christ, the Christian community.
This purpose of what we do is crucial. Spiritual gifts are tools given by God to make his church healthy and strong. Paul underlines this in his letter to the Ephesians: ‘So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…’ (Ephesians 4:11-12)
We should be excited by this whole area. We are part of a Spirit-filled community whose members have all been equipped in one way or another to make a unique contribution. This is the opposite of a selfish life. This is the opposite of being individualistic: this is service. Imagine a church where 95% of people are actively using the gifts Christ has appointed them with. What would that look like? It would look beautiful.
- God might give you a gift of teaching and understanding because someone in the church family is confused about life after death, and they need you to teach them.
- Someone with health problems needs help to redecorate a room and you are good with your hands, and you go and do it
- A mother is exhausted relentlessly looking after her children, and you go and babysit.
- The treasurer needs help, and you are gifted in accountancy, and take a load off his shoulders.
- Someone is lonely and you go and visit them.
- Someone feels disconnected and a bit down and you open your home and provide simple hospitality and they feel welcome and loved.
You are not doing these things to be showy or for your own self-esteem, but for the good of others.
4. God decides which gift or gifts you will receive.
‘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)
‘But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. (1 Corinthians 12:18)
God does all things well, so whatever gift you have been assigned, you should be happy with and get on and use it, rather than being jealous of the gifts of others. And if we have strong gifts then there is no room for pride. Why not? Because these are gifts of the Spirit. You only have them because of God, and not because you deserve them.
‘What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?’ (1 Corinthians 4:7)
This church family has a mixture of all kinds of different gifts. Let’s be thankful to the Lord for them all. Let’s use them, not as we please, but in the way in which God intends, for building up others. It is this which will bring glory to God and which will help extend the Kingdom of God.
We mustn’t use spiritual gifts as an excuse to omit doing things which we’ve been commanded to do. What do I mean by that? All Christians are called to give to the church financially. But some are particularly gifted in this regard. All Christians are called to share and be hospitable; ‘Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.’ (Romans 12:13)
Practice hospitality. But some people are just natural hosts, and this is their ‘thing’. We all need to do it, but they are so gifted in this area. We’re all told to share our faith with others as we have opportunity, and to always be ready to give a reason for the hope that we have. But some people are outstanding evangelists, and are able to do this particularly well; it is their gift.
Some of us are great at being devoted to our families; we’d do anything for them. Some of us are devoted to our jobs or businesses. But don’t use up all your energy on these things alone, because we are also called to be devoted to one another.
‘For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.’ (Romans 12:4-6)
In short, you have a God-given gift and are called to use it; you must use this gift to build up others in the church. This can be done on the Lord’s Day, but also as we meet up through the week in person, and even on the phone and through texting. Jesus came not to be served but to serve: come to church with this same disposition. Pray for this kind of heart. Of course, Satan does not want you to do this. He wants you to think ‘why should I do this’? He’ll use either laziness or pride to achieve his ends. It’s all the same to him, as long as you don’t serve!
Finally, remember that Christian behaviour ought not to be motivated by guilt. The best form of motivation is to daily consider all that Jesus has done for you, and then to go and serve him and serve his body, the church. It’s the gospel which should propel us forward and change us.
What gifts has God given you? What steps will you prayerfully take in order to put these gifts to greater use? As you do so, you will be a great blessing to others and bring glory to God.