Fourth in the “Marks of a Disciple” Series,
Delivered January 30, 2005 by Rev. John Schmidt.

Sermon Text:
Romans 12:3-8

Sermon Notes are at the end.

We are talking about what it means to be a disciple, and we have been trying to use descriptions of what it means to be a follower of Jesus that would challenge those who know Jesus Christ, but also would be intelligible to people who haven’t yet picked up specialized Christian language. And so each week we focused in on a definition of what it means to be a follower that we hope kind of challenges you and explains a little bit about what a balance picture of what it means to be a disciple. And this week we are talking about gifts and to begin I would like to read an adaptation from a story from the book “What You Do Best In The Body of Christ” by a man named Bruce Bugbee.

“It wasn’t too long after creation that the animals got together to form a school. They wanted the best school possible; one that offered each student a well-rounded curriculum of swimming, running, climbing and flying. In order to graduate the animals agreed that they would each have to take all the courses. The duck was excellent at swimming. In fact, he was better than his instructor, but he was only making passing grades at climbing and was getting a very poor grade in running. The duck was so slow in running that he had to stay after school every day to practice. Even with that, there was little improvement. His webbed feet got badly worn from running and with such worn feet he would then only be able to get half his grade in swimming. Now average was quite acceptable to everyone else, so no one worried much about it except the duck. Now the rabbit was at the top of her class in running, but after a while she developed a twitch in her leg from all the time she spent in the water trying to improve her swimming. Now the squirrel was a peak performer in climbing, but was constantly frustrated in flying class. His body became so bruised from all the hard landings that he didn’t do too well in climbing and ended up being pretty poor in running. The eagle was a continual problem student. She was severely disciplined for being nonconformist. For example, in climbing class she would always beat everyone else to the top of the tree, but insisted on using her own way to get there. Each of the animals had a particular area of expertise. When they did what they were designed to do they excelled. When they tried to operate outside their area of expertise, they were not nearly as effective. Can ducks run? Of course they can. Is that what they do best? Definitely not”

Just as every animal has been gifted for survival, every person in the body of Christ has been gifted for the growth and ministry of the body, and we have been gifted differently. And so knowing what those gifts are enable us to excel and to not know those gifts means that we might find ourselves doing things, but doing things that increasingly lead us to burn out. A lot of the burn out in the body is because we are doing something that isn’t necessarily what we are good at. And so 30 years ago in the life of the church they might not have even talked much about people having different strengths, they allowed that, but basically they were looking for a particular sort of pattern in the lives of almost every individual. But yet Paul here is telling us something very different. In Romans, Chapter 12 and I am going to begin at the 3rd verse. So let’s listen now to the Word of God, Romans, Chapter 12, verses 3 to 8.

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 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 who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully”.

Let’s pray. God we thank you for this your Word and we pray that we might hear whatever we need to hear, to walk with Jesus Christ, to become his disciple. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

So Paul here talks about us all being gifted differently, and he begins that discussion by saying that we should be humble in our approach to this, that this issue of our gifting is something we have to come at with a certain amount of humility and there is a number of reasons for that. There are seven different gifts listed here, but all of these gifts and any other gifts we talk about are all given by God., So one of the reasons we have to be humble about this is because it is something that God gave us, and it’s also something that even if we are gifted in something, that gift has limits. We don’t have limitless potential in the use of our gift. And also whatever gifts we have been given, we are also responsible to use that gift before God. So we are responsible to God and all of those things should give us some sense of humility about our gifts. Also, we need other people. The fact that we are gifted and good at something means that other people are going to be good at other things and we need that ministry in our lives. So we are not God’s gift to the church. We are one of God’s gifts to the church. And so that’s another reason why we have to approach this whole issue of spiritual gifting with humility.

Now Paul lists seven kinds of spiritual gifts. This is not in my mind a total list. Spiritual gifts come up at least in three places in the New Testament. We have it in Ephesians 4, 1st Corinthians 12 and here in Romans 12. Each list overlaps the others, but is not entirely the same. Paul uses seven gifts here and I think that is symbolic about its completeness. So it’s not that it is an exhausted list, but it’s a complete list. It represents to us the completeness of what the Holy Spirit is gifting us to do as a body. And each list of gifts is also a little bit different. In 1st Corinthians it is more the manifestation, the actual outpouring invisible part of the gifting of the church. In Ephesians 4 it’s more the roles that people play if they have certain gifts. And in this passage it talks to me a little bit more about the motivations that are behind all kinds of roles and services in the church.

Now, there is also a big discussion about whether spiritual gifts are things that miraculously come when we become a Christian or whether they are natural talents that God uses, and it seems to me that it’s really both. We experience both in our lives. It’s not like the good at speaking and you’re outward-going and everything and you become a Christian and all of a sudden you can’t speak well and before you were good at doing math and now you are terrible at doing math. Those sorts of things don’t happen much. There is a certain continuity. So, as we become a new creation there is a certain continuity with the past and so some of the strengths we have are natural talents. God then baptizes them. God then uses them and sanctifies them and they become part of the spiritual gift that God uses in the church.

But there are gifts that are clearly additional and miraculous. The gift of evangelism can’t exist in someone who is not a Christian. And so, there are all kinds of ways that we experience this. So rather than trying to exhaustively say, well if I had the strength before I was a Christian, that it can’t be a spiritual gift. I don’t think that is a fruitful line of inquiry. I think we have to look at who we are as a total person. Strengths we had before we were a Christian, new strengths that seems to have come out as God has worked in our lives, our personality type, our Meyer’s Briggs works into this too. You know if you are naturally an extrovert, it’s a little easier to be an evangelist than if you are an introvert. And so I think God uses even our personality types as part of this gifting to the church.

I pointed out that there are seven gifts listed here. Let me just briefly go through each one of them. The first one is prophecy. One way of defining that is that it is God’s Word to God’s people in God’s timing. The gift of prophecy is not entirely under the control of the prophets. At a very awkward time the prophet might feel called on God to say a specific thing to God’s people no matter what the consequences. The prophet can see something out there that God is going to do. The prophet knows what the consequence will be of disobedience and has to speak that word to God’s people. And so we see a number of people exercising this gift in the Old Testament and we see some of this operating in the New as well. There is an element of foretelling in prophecy, because you can see the future, but the primary emphasis is on forth telling. In other words, the prophet tells is as it is. Tells it like it is. So spiritually you can see what needs to happen.

Now the second gift that is here is the person who has the gift of serving. And this is a person who gives attention to concrete needs in the body. There is a willingness to get your hands dirty. The people who have the gift of serving are the ones that you find in the kitchen or the ones who are painting things or setting up a classroom. The person with the gift of serving makes things happen by doing it. So the prophets see what needs to happen. The one with the gift of service makes it happen by personally doing it themselves.

The third gift listed here is the gift of teaching. Now, here are the people gifted by God to the body to help us understand, to interpret and apply God’s truth. The teacher is the one who has the zeal for what God has revealed about himself in the word and wants to interpret it and apply that to our lives, and so the one with the gift of teaching shows us clearly what God says should happen.

Then there is the gift of encouraging or exhortation. Now here are the people who have the gift that the word is similar to a word that is used of the Holy Spirit, they are called alongside to help, they comfort, they convict, they do whatever is necessary to get God’s people to take the next step of faith and obedience. That is what these encouragers want to do. They want to build up the body that way. And so encouragers make things happen by motivating God’s people.

The gift of giving. These are the people who contribute to the needs of the body by sharing resources. And their giving often catalyzing the giving of others. And so the people with the gift of giving make things happen by supplying resources.

The gift of leadership. These are the people who step to the front in order to move God’s people forward and these people make things happen by delegating, deciding, and organizing to get the body to do what it needs to do.

Then the gift of mercy. These are the people who want to be there with those who are in need and with those who hurt and they want to be there to do things for them to help deal with their affliction. And these are the people that make sure that the body does the right things for the right people, for the orphan, the lost, the poor, the broken, the widowed, the aging, the unborn. These are the people that carry that burden, that sympathy and empathy and compassion and bring that into the life of the church.

Now these sorts of gifts motivate us to service, but don’t lock us into any particular kind of role in the body. That’s why one of the terms that commentators use is that these are motivational gifts because you can do a variety of different kinds of service with these same gifts. For example, you can be on the worship team for different motivations. One person might have a gift of teaching and they see that this music informs people about truth and then they also know that the worship and the music is part of the whole uplifting of the congregation that sets a stage for the word of God to be proclaimed with power and so that might be their motivation in being here. Maybe they have the gift of encouragement that they know that inspiring worship helps people take steps of obedience and faith. It could even be a gift of mercy because we know that music and worship can lift up the broken-hearted, can strengthen the weak and so that might be part of their motivation to use musical gifts in the life of the church.

Children’s Sunday school leaders might be doing it because they are teachers, but they also might be serving because they have the gift of service and so even though they don’t teach that well, they don’t think that’s much a strength, so much of the job is just arranging things and getting the room right and getting the curriculum right and they can do that part and they will be part of the team, even though their leading gift isn’t teaching.

Pastors are pastors for a lot of different motivations. Some of them are teachers and they are just thrilled by what the word of God says and they want you to understand it, because they know that as you understand it and apply it to your life amazing things will happen in your life and in the world because this is God speaking. Other people though are in these roles because they have the gift of encouragement. For example, my leading gift I think is the gift of encouragement. I am in this world because I want to do whatever is necessary. I will teach. I will have somebody else teach. We will plan events. We will paint rooms. We will heat the building. We will do whatever we need to do in order to help people take the next step of what it means to walk with Jesus Christ. That’s what motivates me to take this particular role as a pastor.

So we carry these different motivations in to all different kinds of services to the body. And so if we are gifted differently that means that we are going to respond to the same challenges differently even if we are in similar roles. When a challenge comes you are going to operate out of your gift and so sometimes that looks different in a particular challenge. So let me give you an example that actually comes, it’s an adaptation of an example that Bill Gotherd gave maybe 30 years ago in his teaching.

Imagine that I am carrying a box of cookies and I walk across this rat’s nest of wires here. Okay? And then I get my foot caught in one of these wires and there goes the cookies all over. Cookies everywhere. On the piano, underneath, on the floor. Now, imagine that people having all seven kinds of gifts witnessed this event. They are going to respond to it differently. So, I would like to begin at the bottom of the list and work up in terms of their responses.

First of all, the people with the gift of mercy. They are going to come up to me as I am lying face down on the ground and they are going to come to me and say, “Are you okay John? Are you alright? You know this could happen to anybody. That’s crazy. You aren’t that clumsy and stupid”. They are trying to build me up a little bit here. Buffer this trauma. Now the leader is seeing the same thing are standing up and saying, “Okay Mike, would you go get the broom and start cleaning this up, and Robert why don’t you go out and go to Giant and get another box of cookies”. You know, the leader is just trying to spread out the work and get things to happen so it will happen quickly and efficiently. The person with the gift of giving kind of pipes up, “Well, I will pay for the cookies and while we are at it this is such a crazy nest of wires and all and maybe if we invest a little bit of money we can redesign this so that all of these wires are not out”. Now, the people with the gift of exhortation see the same thing happen and they stand up and say, “Please be careful. Folks if you see a problem like this point it out in advance because we will do something about it.” Now the people with the gift of teaching, I sense that we have a twofold problem here. One, why is that hazardous? Two, cookies that weren’t properly sealed. Eliminate either of these and you have a basic solution to this problem. Now, people with the gift of service say, “I will clean it up” and people with the gift of prophecy, don’t you see the parable in this? You know, sin can trip us up and then when sin trips us up even good things in life go spilling out and get ruined in our lives.

Now, do you see yourself in any of these responses? We each have an inclination and that’s God’s gift to us and that’s God’s gift to the body. And so, we need to give each other elbowroom to respond differently.

Obviously not every gift is going to be equally effective in every situation, but when you consider all the challenges that are in front of us as a body, this mixture of gifts is something God will use effectively in this world. So we have different people with different gifts with one purpose, one body, called to unity and so the question we need to have as we gather these gifts together and use them for the Lord is what is our personal responsibility in developing my gift and using my gift for Christ? How do I make the most of who I am?

The first thing we need to do is to discover our gifts. Paul says in Verse 3 here, “I say this to every one of you”. No one escapes this. We are all gifted. There is something valuable that God has gifted you for in this body, in the body of Christ and we need to discover it. One of the ways we can discover it is in the saddle, to actually try using it. And so you get involved in something and you see how it works. You have some passion for it. You like the people who are involved and you get in involved and maybe it works out just right, but if it doesn’t work out right we want to be the sort of place where you can admit it and say “look this is not working out. I want a course correction and move to something that might fit me better.” You know, there are some people who have been working on sound probably since they have been teenagers, okay? And they will have grandchildren and they will still be working on sound in this church and you know if that fits and you want to do it until you have great grandchildren, that’s wonderful. But, if it isn’t working out we want to be the sort of place where gracefully you can get out of that role and get into a new one because we want you to serve with your best gifts. And so, you need to discover it by trying out your gifts in service.

But the other part is the spiritual design class. Here is an opportunity for you to take your life’s experiences up to now and be able to reflect on that along with your passions and life experiences and everything all in one pile and look at it and kind of sense where God might be gifting you and leading you. So we need to discover our gifts.

The next thing we need to do is to develop our gifts. Training and education is part of that. Now, if you have certain gifts you should be going to conferences that help people with those gifts. You ought to be looking for books to help you build on that, going to things that we do as a church that help you develop those gifts, but also you get better in using your gifts by practice. So anybody’s first sermon, anybody called to be a pastor is going to giving a sermon and the first sermon is never quite as good, hopefully, if they are really called to be a pastor as their 100th sermon, because you have learned things as you do it.

Okay, the third thing is you need to deploy your gifts. You need to use your gifts. And that’s in the church, but it’s also in the world. The gift of evangelism is best not used in the pew, but maybe in a soccer club or somewhere out there or in the alpha course. So we need to use our gifts in the church, but also wherever God calls us in the world. The point here is, you have been gifted to do something of eternal value. It might seem small, but it’s eternal and some of the things that we are doing in life don’t satisfy us, because we know its not going to last. We know that deep down inside. And God wants to lift you out of that and give you something to do that matters. You have got to discover what it is. The way we define this part, this gifting part of what it means to be a disciple is like this:

Christ followers seek to discover, develop and deploy their God given gifts in order to build up the body and to participate in the mission of the church.

You have something unique to contribute. We need you and at the same time deep down inside, you need to serve. So let’s continue to discover and use our spiritual gifts.

Let’s pray. God we hold who we are before you. We thank you for what we know about ourselves for the gifts that you already use, that you have clarified in our lives, but Lord as we seek to discover more or if we haven’t ever had confidence about how you have gifted us, please help us take those first steps and we pray that all that we do is to the glory of Jesus Christ in this world and to his glory eternally, for we ask this in Jesus name. Amen.