To sum up what we’ve talked about so far —
1) What is the most important thing to keep in mind when seeking after and exercising spiritual gifts?
Answer: love for God and for people. Love is the greater gift, greater than all the other spiritual gifts. Love is the prerequisite before you can start talking about spiritual gifts. The fruit of the Spirit needs to be balanced with a discussion about spiritual gifts.
2) What is a spiritual gift and how can we categorize the gifts?
A spiritual gift is a God-given ability to build up the church. It’s used for the common good. And there are 3 categories of gifts: generic gifts, service/ministry gifts and miraculous gifts.
3) What are 2 things that the gifts reveal about the nature of God?
The first is diversity. And second and more important is unity. So unity in diversity within the church reflects the triune character of God.
So now part 4, what does this all mean for a believer in a local church context?
1 Cor 12 – 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.
God is sovereign. He knows what this church needs and we read that every body part, God has arranged just as he wanted them to be. That means it is no accident that you are here. God wants you to exercise your gift to build up this body of Christ.
So let’s say you satisfy the prerequisites. You love God, you love this church, you belong here, you are known, you have an accurate self-assessment. Now, how do you determine what spiritual gift you have?
I have one suggestion followed by a few other practical considerations. One, pay attention to your passions as well as your criticisms.
I took some online surveys and it shows that one of my gifts is exhortation or encouragement. This means I love leading small groups. I love sharing. I love seeing people grow in honesty and I get excited when trusting friendships start to form.
But here’s the danger. If I’m not careful, I can easily judge those who do not share my passion. How come that person doesn’t like to share and he’s not part of a small group? Shouldn’t we all be discipling others? Because I assume that everybody should think like me, interpret the Scripture like me, be like me. And if you are not like me and you don’t see the value of small groups and discipleship, then I might think it’s because they’re second rate Christians. So if I’m not careful, I can cause a lot of disunity by getting upset at people who don’t share my passion. But I need to remember I have this passion because it’s my gift.
When I visit churches, they might be great at evangelism or works of mercy in the community, but all I see is, “They don’t have small groups. There are no discipleship groups going on.” You want to know why that would be my criticism? Because that’s one of my top spiritual gifts. Now were all of those churches wrong? No. They were doing what God had spiritually gifted them to do, and if they attended this church, they would say I am not doing what they think a church should do.
It’s the same with all the gifts. One of the best ways to know what dominant gift you have is to look at what you think every Christian should be doing – and that is most likely your spiritual gift. If you have the gift of evangelism, you love to share your faith with other people, and you sometimes get frustrated that other’s don’t share your passion. If you have the gift of service, you love to help out here at the church, cleaning and organizing, and maybe, you have sometimes felt frustrated that more people don’t help out. If you have the gift of giving, you love to give generously of your money to the church, but sometimes you might feel like you are carrying most of the financial load of the church, and why don’t more people give?
Do you see what I am trying to get at? We see through the lens of our dominant spiritual gift. Spiritual gifts, which are supposed to be used for the unity of Christ’s body, tend to highlight our differences. And ironically, these differences which should be celebrated and used to build up the body often are the cause for disunity. When we stop focusing on what we are supposed to be doing, and start focusing on what we think everybody else should be doing, we’re probably not effectively using our gift because we are too busy trying to impose our gift on others.
What if you are not passionate about anything? To this person, I would say, focus on the prerequisite of loving God and loving His people, and in time, a passion will develop.
As a general rule, it’s probably a good idea to invest most of your time and energy in the area of your dominant gift. Otherwise, you will get exhausted or bored or lose interest over time because you are not doing what God has gifted you for. If I did nothing but administrative tasks and sermon preparation and did not meet with a single person all week, I’d go crazy. Others would ask, do I really have to meet with people? We are all different.
So first, pay attention to your passions and your criticisms. Second, at the same time we have to be balanced. Not everyone is a teacher, but everyone is supposed to be daily reading and studying the Word of God. Not everyone is an evangelist, but everyone is supposed to be doing what they can to share the Gospel. Not everyone is a giver, but everyone is supposed to be giving back to God a portion of what He has given to them.
If a brother says to me, I don’t wash dishes because service is not one of my spiritual gifts. Then, I would say, I feel sorry for your future wife. And I would gently advise him, I think you need to go back to the prerequisites — do you love God and do you love this body of Christ? If so, I think you would be okay with doing whatever is needed, including washing dishes, even if service is not your dominant gift.
Third, put your spiritual gift regularly into practice.
1 Tim 4 – 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. 14 Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.
Paul is giving pastoral advice to Timothy, a young pastor. And he says, remember that teaching gift that you have, well, don’t neglect it. This means, our spiritual gift is like a muscle. From a lack of use, our spiritual gifts actually atrophy. So if you have a teaching gift, it makes sense, the more you put it into practice, the better you will become at it. So once you know your spiritual gift, put it into practice regularly.
This is what Paul is saying in Romans 12. If you enjoy serving, then serve. If you are gifted in teaching, then teach. If you like seeing people grow and you are sufficiently mature, maybe God wants you to lead a small group. If God has blessed you with the financial means and you are generous, then give. If you have a desire to serve the poor, find ways that you can meet the needs in your community.
Fourth, look at the pattern of your life for clues. Some people look at a video of an orphan in Africa starving and they cry and they say, see, I must have a gift of mercy. I would say, while it might be true that those tears are from God, emotions can be deceiving. When you see a homeless person, have you ever given them money? Have you ever shared a meal with someone on the streets? Did you ever volunteer your time to visit an elderly home? I submit to you that these concrete actions are a better gauge of your spiritual gift than having an emotional response.
Lastly, how does this teaching on spiritual gifts impact the overall direction of this church? I think this passage teaches us that we ought to be flexible. God is not into uniformity. This means there is no cookie cutter program for how to run a church. A church is a group of people so what works somewhere else may not exactly pan out the same way given who we are and where we live.
From what I have seen, many churches have buckets. You have the children’s ministry bucket. You have the youth ministry bucket. You have the college ministry bucket. And you have the adult ministry bucket. And based on your age and your stage in life, you are placed in these buckets. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with being grouped together with people with a similar profile. But what if someone in that church has a gift of mercy and he reads the Bible and all the verses about taking care of the poor and the widows, those really bother him. And he begins to ask, how can I serve in that area? But there is no bucket for mercy in that church? What is that person going to do? Well, 2 things will happen. One, he will neglect that gift and suppress it and serve in an area that doesn’t match his gift. Or, he will move on and find another church. What if God wants to build up that area in this church through that person’s gift? We have to be flexible.
Or what if you have a rich businessman in your congregation? He is always traveling. But he loves Jesus and he loves this church. And he has the gift of giving and he is generous with his finances. One strategy is to tell that person, I think you need to find a new vocation because it’s important to attend all of our weekly meetings. Can we be so sure that God did not bring that person into our congregation to meet our corporate financial needs? We have to be careful not to impose our gifts on others. There is not just one mold for what a mature Christian looks like. We all have different gifts. Therefore, we have to be flexible and leave room for those gifts to develop.
To sum up, we talked about love for God and His people as being the most important thing to keep in mind when seeking after the spiritual gifts. It’s the common good and building up of the body rather than an individual pursuit of the gifts for one’s sake.
We also talked about the 3 categories of spiritual gifts and how each category seems to be given by a different person in the Trinity. Therefore, the passages containing the spiritual gifts show this unity in diversity, which makes sense because many diverse parts coming together to form one body points to the trinitarian character of God. Three in One.
And we discussed 5 practical implications of this study:
1) Pay attention to your passions and criticisms because that’s one way to locate your dominant spiritual gift.
2) Be balanced. Don’t use your dominant gift as an excuse not to serve the body in other ways.
3) Put your spiritual gift to regular use so as not to neglect and thereby weaken it.
4) Look at the pattern of your life for clues, rather than looking only at our emotional response.
5) As a church, we need to be flexible and give room for the gifts in our church to flourish.
And while living out the truth of these passages, may the fullness of Christ be displayed in our midst in increasing measure, for His glory.