Let’s read Romans 12:3-8.
First off, let me say, congratulations to the Caltech basketball team, which beat conference rival, Oxy, this past week, breaking a 310 string of consecutive conference losses dating back to 1985. Brother Daniel has been a fan all season and he has been getting some of us excited about the team. Some of the brothers even went to Oxy to watch Caltech play against them. But sadly, Daniel could not be there for this historic win due to the Veritas event. And I want to quote him in an email that he sent to me — “it was a nail-biter. final game of the season, at home, against cross-town rival oxy… couldn’t have been more storybook.” I think you can hear the elation over the win mingled with anguish that he could not be there to share in this celebration. So let’s remember to pray for Daniel for God to build up his spirits and remind him that we all have to make sacrifices for the advancement of the gospel.
Today, we will be continuing our study of the spiritual gifts. Last time I spoke, in Part 1, we introduced the topic since it is a new area for many of us. I talked about the misconceptions we have, how the spiritual gifts are given with a knowledge that Christ is the Victor on the cross. We talked about the local church and the sense of belonging that we ought to share. We talked about the universal church and how together with every church in every denomination, all Christians worldwide, together, we display the fullness of Christ because any one individual, or one church or even one denomination falls short.
Part 2 is divided into 4 parts:
1) What is the most important thing to keep in mind when seeking after the spiritual gifts?
2) What is a spiritual gift and how can we categorize the gifts?
3) What are 2 things that the gifts reveal about the nature of God?
4) What does this all mean for a believer in a local church context?
What is the most important thing to keep in mind when seeking after the spiritual gifts?
Answer: love for God and His people. And in our context, when I say God’s people, I mean, specifically, the people gathered in this room. To see why this may be relevant, let me pose a scenario. Suppose a guy came off the street and said on the first Sunday he attended, God has gifted me to preach so how can I join the preaching rotation? What would I say to him?
I would point him to 1 Cor 12, the chapter where Paul breaks down the spiritual gifts but at the end of the chapter, in v31, Paul says, But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And chapter 13 is all about the greater gift — love. Let me just read you a quick excerpt, 1 Cor 13:8 —
1 Cor 13 – 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
Some scholars say the perfection is Scripture so when the New Testament was written down and completed in the first century, the perfection of God’s word was completed and from that point on, all spiritual gifts ceased. That’s the argument. This doesn’t make sense to me because spiritual gifts, even the supernatural ones, are still present among some denominations.
So what is the perfection? I believe the perfection refers to Jesus Christ. When the perfection of Jesus Christ comes, in other words, when Jesus returns, all the spiritual gifts will cease. We need the spiritual gifts right now for empowerment because Christ has not yet returned, which means we can’t see Christ so clearly and we are quite powerless on our own strength to do anything without divine assistance. We need all the help we can get. But when Christ returns, you won’t need the spiritual gifts anymore. Because you can see Christ in all His fullness with your own eyes.
It is interesting to note that while all spiritual gifts will cease upon Christ’s return, love will continue. Love is the only gift among all the gifts mentioned that will continue from this age into the age to come. That is why it’s premature to talk about the spiritual gifts until you have love for Christ and His body. In 1 Peter 4:7, we read —
1 Peter 4 – 7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
Then, Peter goes on to list various gifts such as speaking and serving. But before mentioning the gifts, he says, above all, love each other deeply. Love is the prerequisite.
You see the same thing in 1 Cor 12:7 —
1 Cor 12:7 – Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
Common good, not your good so that you can show how great and spiritual you are. But the common good. And this begs the question — how can you know what the common good is until you get to know the believers around you? A person who insists on teaching without getting to know the needs of the congregation obviously is not asking to teach out of a sincere love for the people, or the common good.
Love is the prerequisite to all the spiritual gifts. And this makes total sense when you look at the flow of Paul’s argument in Romans 12.
Rom 12 – 3 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.
Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought. This kind of accurate self-assessment is only possible if you are known in relationships with actual people over time. When I was a single guy, I thought I was very sacrificial. I would stay up late and counsel students even though I had a midterm or homework due the next day. Even while I was dating Jackie, I thought I was a knight in shining armor ready to hurl my body in front of a flaming blast from a fire-breathing dragon. Now, I have been married for 11 years and I can’t even wake up in the middle of the night to change Elijah’s diaper so that Jackie can sleep. Because when I am sleeping, I’m out like a light. There could be an 8.0 magnitude earthquake and a fire raging downstairs, but I’m like a bear in hibernation. And Jackie is a light sleeper. Where’s that knight in shining armor at 3am when the kids are crying? Single life and even dating did not give me much of an accurate self-assessment. But 11 years of marriage and working out your Christian commitments in the context of an intimate relationship definitely has helped to burst any bubbles of self-delusion.
Think of yourself with sober judgment. Paul is saying, be connected to others, belong to a body of believers, allow them to have a stake in your life, get an accurate self-assessment as you relate with a community of believers over a long period of time. The problem is we have so many shallow commitments these days that nobody really knows us. We know our coworkers, our small group members, our barber, our dorm friends, the parents on our kid’s soccer team at about the same level. They know our name, we know their name. We know enough to be polite to them, we might be able to ask questions about their kids, but that’s about as far as we go. We don’t invest time for any one group of people to get to know us because we like to be connected to a large community of acquaintances.
And conventional wisdom tells us that we ought to keep our options open. Because committing to anyone or any single group is so limiting. Why marry? Marriage is so final. I can just co-habitate with my girlfriend and keep her around until someone better comes along. And people float through life with loose commitments, always waiting for the potentially best opportunity or ideal person or group that could be right around the corner.
And one tragic consequence of living like this is that we lose the ability to assess who we really are at the core. And second, we can’t really say that we love anyone deeply because we don’t spend enough time with anyone to get to know them or for them to get to know us. So before we can talk about gifts, we have to ask ourselves, are we committed to any group of people who can say of me, we belong together, we love each other deeply?
Then and only then is a discussion of spiritual gifts appropriate. That is why the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Gal 5 is grammatically a singular word. Fruit of the Spirit, not fruits. And then specific traits are listed —
Gal 5 – 22 But the fruit of the Spirit IS (singular, not ARE) love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.
It’s because the fruit of the Spirit is a package deal. You can’t be patient and yet have zero self-control. Or you can’t be kind without exhibiting a certain amount of gentleness. All these traits grow simultaneously as you bear the fruit of the Spirit. It’s a package deal. And what is number one in this list? Love. The fruit of the Spirit, and in particular, love is the key. Love is a prerequisite before we can talk about spiritual gifts.
If you have taken the time to love a group of believers deeply and through those interactions, you have gained an accurate self-assessment, then spiritual gifts is a topic we need to wrestle with together. Each one of us who is interested in the common good of this particular body of Christ, how might we individually exercise our God-given gifts to build up this body of Christ?
Back to the question, to the guy who just started attending our church and asks how he can begin exercising his gift of teaching, I would say, first, spend some time with us, get to know us, love us and allow us to love you and then we’ll go from there.