One of the most painful memories from my childhood was the daily ritual of "choosing up sides" for a sporting event to take place during school recess. I was a late bloomer, and my growth spurt didn't kick in until I was in junior high. The two team captains would take turns selecting either their best friend or the best athlete.
As the process continued, the pace slowed and the whispers grew louder and the anxiety mounted. No one wanted to be the last person chosen.
Do you ever feel like you have been left out when it comes to the ability to serve God's Kingdom? I have great news! Every believer is gifted and chosen by the King Himself to serve alongside Him for the advancement of the Kingdom. This article is too brief to answer all the questions you might have concerning spiritual gifts, but it may provide the encouragement you need to discover your gift and become involved in Kingdom service through your church. Our spiritual gifts are God's provision enabling us to serve Him effectively as a community of priests (see last month's article). I will base the principles in this article on Paul's teaching in Romans 12:1-8. You might want to look at the passage before you proceed.
All are Gifted
Paul declares: Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us (v. 6, NASB). The sentence begins with a participial phrase that states Paul's basic assumption — namely, all Christians are gifted for service. Whenever Paul wrote about spiritual gifts, he hammered away at the false notion that only a few "spiritually elite" were gifted for service. In the Corinthian community there were individuals who wanted to boast about their spirituality based on their gifts. While Paul acknowledges that different gifts exist, he asserts there are different activities but the same God is active in everyone and everything (1 Corinthians 12:6). In verse 7, Paul repeated this truth with even greater strength: A manifestation of the Spirit is given to each person to produce what is beneficial.
This first principle contains two obvious implications. First, there are no spectators in the Body of Christ. You were saved and gifted by God to serve for the advancement of the Kingdom. Second, all members of the body must work cooperatively for the church to operate with full effectiveness. You are important to the work of your church!
You may be wondering what sort of ability is covered by the term "spiritual gift." To answer this question, most people turn to the four gift passages found in the Pauline letters (1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28-29; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11). After reading the lists prayerfully, some come away discouraged to find they don't fit on any list. Don't be discouraged! Some believe, and I agree, that the lists were never intended to be exhaustive. They were only intended to be illustrative of the sort of abilities and activities one might use in the life of the church to edify the body and advance the Kingdom. Others believe that the list is exhaustive and a person's gift will become evident as he/she grows in Him. Either way, God is infinitely creative and He is still supplying the needs of the church today as it faces new challenges and tasks.
By our failure to address the matter of spiritual gifts in our churches, we have often left the matter of gifts enveloped in a cloud of mystery which has led to confusion and inactivity. I believe that any ability that enables one to serve the King in and through the church should be used accordingly when it meets the following criteria.
1. It must be recognized and acknowledged as a gracious gift of the sovereign God. When you receive Christ as Savior, you receive the Spirit of God, enabling you to understand spiritual truths (1 Corinthians 2:6-16). Rather than receiving new abilities not previously possessed, new believers will often see all of life as what has been freely given to us by God (1 Corinthians 2:12). You were created for the purposes of God and His Kingdom. Now that you have the Spirit, you can understand that everything possessed, including talents and abilities, is a gift from God. I do not mean to imply that God cannot and does not give new abilities. God does what He desires to enable the church to fulfill its purpose.
2. Our gifts must be surrendered to the Lordship of Christ. It is at the point of surrender that our gifts are fully empowered by God's Spirit. Most of us have learned this principle in the broader Christian life but have seldom applied it to our understanding of giftedness. We should not be surprised to discover that the first admonition in Romans 12:1 is the exhortation to present our bodies as living sacrifices.
3. Our gifts must be used for the King in and through His body, the church. The gifts are given by God to enable His church to accomplish its God-given task of taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Many gifts serve within the body to edify the membership. Other gifted members serve through the church to reach the community and the world, and to enable the church to permeate the world and its culture. All gifts are given by the King and are thus indispensable to the mission of His church.
Spiritual gifts seem to create two distinct problems. The first is that of "over-evaluation," which results in spiritual pride, arrogance, and disunity. Over-evaluation is the result of someone seeing their gift as a sign of spiritual value. When Paul addressed the matter of gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:1-4, he substituted the word charismata for the Corinthian term pneumatika. Pneumatika comes from the Greek word pneuma, meaning "spirit." The Corinthians preferred this term because they believed that the gifts "proved" that they were spiritual persons (pneumatikon). Paul prefers the term charismata from the root charis, meaning "grace." Here's the primary point: gifts tell us nothing about the possessor but everything about the giver! Since all gifts are the expression of God's grace, why would anyone become arrogant?
The second problem is under-evaluation. This is seen when a person concludes that they have no gift and thus they sit on the sidelines, never getting involved in the Kingdom activity of the church. Some studies indicate that less than 25 percent of the members of the average evangelical church are involved in any meaningful way in the ministry of their church. Under-evaluation is sinful because it denies the clear teaching of God's Word and it deprives the church of the services of gifted members.
Paul's antidote to both problems is the same — Think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one (Romans 12:3). Any Christian who fails to discover and utilize his or her gift in service to or through the church sins against the King and weakens His body, the church.
Unity in Diversity
Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function (Romans 12:4). Our diversity enables us to experience unity. We can see this clearly when we look at the human body. Each of our body parts play a different role, but they must work in cooperation if the body is to function as a unified whole.
This was precisely the point Paul intended to make when he compared the gifted church to the human body in 1 Corinthians 12:12-21. Some of his illustrations border on the ludicrous, as body parts debate with one another concerning their relative value. When you read the passage, be careful not to laugh aloud since it sounds too much like the discussions we have in our churches.
This principle has two important corollary truths. First, no one individual, no matter how gifted, can do it all. And second, every member must do his/her assigned task if the body is to be unified and effective.
We who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another (Romans 12:5). Spiritual gifts make us dependent upon one another. I often hear people declare, "I don't need the church or other believers to live the Christian life!"
Nothing could be farther from the truth. The fact that no one has all the gifts makes us dependent upon on another. As members of one body we are so interrelated that when one part rejoices, we all rejoice, and when one suffers, all alike suffer (1 Corinthians 12:26). Any body member separated from the life of the body has neither purpose nor vitality.
The Common Good
Spiritual gifts are distributed by God with a singular goal — the building up of the body of Christ. Gifts are not given for our amusement or the amazement of our friends; they are given to enable the church to accomplish its Kingdom purpose. Knowing this principle should lead every believer to earnestly desire those gifts which are most likely to build up our church. Listen to Paul's advice: So also you — since you are zealous in matters of the spirit, seek to excel in building up the church (1 Corinthians 14:12).
• We are gifted to serve as co-laborers with God, enabled to do whatever He asks us to do.
• No task accomplished for the King is mundane or insignificant.
• No person is unimportant.
• No task is too great for the church.
Many individuals and many churches suffer from a spiritual inferiority complex. We think, plan, and budget as if it all depends upon us. We serve a sovereign God who has infinite resources and desires to make them accessible to us as we join Him in advancing His Kingdom to the ends of the earth.
Kenneth S. Hemphill is the SBC national EKG strategist.