A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on June 13, 2010.
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Our Father, we confess there are times when our lives seem thwarted at every corner. Our ambitions have broken down and our aspirations go unfilled and unfulfilled. Show us the path we should take today, not for the sake of repairing our failed attempts but for the sake of what we see now, that nothing matters unless you are in it. Open our eyes to see how much more you have prepared for us than the trivial things we have given our lives to in vain. To put us on this path, reveal to us our true nature. Where our motives have been wrong, correct them. Where we have drunken from broken wells, set before us the fountain of the water of life so that we might be truly refreshed. If we have confused our sinful desires with your righteousness, then cleanse us. If we have only hoped for your blessings upon our plans, then show us plans that could be worthy of your blessing. O God, we are so far from you. We may not yet hold you fast nor feel you near, but we know that you hold us. You hold us and you draw our gaze toward what is light, what is truth, and what is eternal. Our spirits are lifted and our hearts are strengthened because of this, and we find that it is enough. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
My faith has called me to develop my given strengths. Only 44% of Americans strongly agree with this statement. What sets the spiritually committed apart is their understanding that they have been uniquely created by God. They believe they have been given unique talents and gifts, and that they have a responsibility to make the most of these talents and gifts in service to God and others. They realize that their greatest talents and the strengths they have developed truly are gifts from God, not something they have created on their own.
—Albert L. Winseman in Growing An Engaged Church
There are times when we use words and expressions around the church and in worship that we think everyone understands, but if you have a conversation, you find out there are some things that we just take for granted. Occasionally when asking a group of people about terms or expressions that they might not understand, it is amazing to me how basic their understanding is. They understand but they would like a fuller explanation.
In the past year, there has been one subject that has come to me several different times. People have talked to me about the idea of spiritual gifts. People have asked what that means. People have asked me, How do I know if I have a spiritual gift? How can I find out what my spiritual gift is?
The first several months of this year I have been preaching from central texts that are the foundational passages of scripture of our faith. The sermon today is on spiritual gifts. As a pastor, I often think there are times I fail in trying to lay the foundation for these basic things. This will be a different sermon. If you are confident in your spiritual gifts, you can plan lunch. If you are not confident, then I hope this will be helpful to you.
I rarely preach points in a sermon. My old adage is that a sermon should have at least one point. I know that when you start saying first, second, and third in a sermon, people start timing you. The first point was three minutes and they start calculating how long a pastor is going to preach. I promise you this sermon will be no longer than 45 minutes no matter what happens.
Point No. 1. The first word is spiritual. On Pentecost, we talked about the Holy Spirit and how the Holy Spirit works. People are sometimes afraid of the Holy Spirit. In Corinth where Paul is writing his first letter to the Corinthians, there were some people who thought of themselves as super Christians. They thought they had the spirit more than anyone else. They thought they were more blessed with it than anyone else.
I know no one would ever do this to you, but there are times where, as Christians, we encounter other Christians who make us feel inadequate. Sometimes we feel as if we are not worthy enough to attend a Bible study or knowledgeable enough to participate in the things other Christians do. Sometimes it is just an inadequacy on our part, but this same thing is going on in Corinth and the vast majority of the members of the church at Corinth are feeling as if they do not have the spirit. The big gift of the spirit during that time was speaking in tongues. If a person did not have that gift, the person thought they did not have any spiritual gifts.
Paul is very clear. He said, “No one says Jesus Christ is Lord unless the spirit leads them.” If you have this question about whether or not you could have a spiritual gift or whether or not the Holy Spirit was active in your life, according to Paul, if you are a Christian and have said that Jesus Christ is Lord, then the Holy Spirit is available to your life and you don’t have to worry about how inadequate you feel. The spirit of God is available to you. That’s the spiritual part.
Point No. 2. The second part is the gifts. I think that many of us are aware that there is something that has come to us that we did not earn. We may have cultivated it and we may have worked on it through our lives, but there is some ability, confidence or skill that we have in such a way that we know we didn’t make it.
I remember as a teenager that there was a commercial for Wheaties Cereal. It started with home movies of Yankee great, Bobby Richardson, Hall of Fame outfielder. At two years of age, this home video consistently showed him dropping a baseball, taking a bat with one hand, and hitting the ball. A two-year-old can’t do that. A two-year-old finds it difficult enough to drop the ball in the right place, let alone drop the ball and then swing the bat. Usually the ball will be on the floor before they swing the bat let alone do it time after time after time. That’s a gift. That is something that you are born with. That is something that is hardwired in there someplace. As a Christian, we believe that God is behind things and that is from God and, therefore, a gift from God.
Point No. 3. The Christians at Corinth had come to believe that the only gift that really mattered was speaking in tongues. Paul’s point here is that there are a variety of gifts. That is his whole reason for writing this. As a Christian, we should never look down on someone else because their gift is different. Also, we should never discredit our own gifts. From my observations as a pastor, one of the reasons that people have the hardest time believing they have a spiritual gift is because they discredit their gift. For some reason, their gift never looks as good as someone else’s gift. Someone else’s gift looks more appealing and we think, If I really had a gift, I would look more like him and I would be able to do that. Rarely, do we see what we have as something that is truly valuable that has come from the spirit of God.
Paul lists these things. “To each is given the manifestation of the spirit for the common good. To one is given the spiritual utterance of wisdom. To another, an utterance of knowledge. To another, faith. To another, gifts of healing. To another, working of miracles.” On and on he goes. I have never believed that this was the exhaustive list of the gifts of the spirit. In fact, I think that is the exact opposite of what Paul is trying to say. Paul says that the spirit of God is able to give us a wide variety of things that we can do and things that we can excel in and use for God’s glory. How could we contain it in one list? Of all the things that God loves, I do believe that high up on the list is variety. To understand that God loves variety, all you have to do is be a bird watcher or try to name wildflowers out in a meadow someplace.
I believe that is also true in the gifts of the spirit. They are given wide and far. Don’t discredit what God may have given you because you don’t think it could be one of those things.
Point No. 4. It is really not a spiritual gift until you use it to glorify God or in some way to build up the church. A lot of times when we are young and immature, we pray for a gift. What we really want is a good gift that will give us lots of attention. We think about things that other people do that gets them up in front of others, and we think, “That would be a great gift if I could sing in front of thousands of people. That would get me lots of attention.” The thing that Paul says is that it is really a spiritual gift when we use it to glorify God and build up the church. How you use it is critically important.
I am sure she would be embarrassed if I preached this when she was here but Jamie Barton, I think, is a wonderful example of this. Jamie went to Shorter. She sang in our choir for four years and now sings with some of the leading opera companies in the United States, but when Jamie is home, she sings in the church choir and uses an amazing gift as a spiritual gift for God. She has never forgotten that, as much as it does give her opportunity to be in front of people, her real purpose for that gift is to build up the kingdom and to glorify God.
Having said these things, people often wonder, How do I know what my gift is? This is not in scripture. This is my experience from looking at people’s lives. If you have ever wanted to figure out what your gift is, here are four more things:
l. Watch the yearnings in your life that will not go away. There are interests that come and go out of a person’s life. When I was in the third grade, John Glenn orbited the earth three times. Like every other kid in my class, I wanted to be an astronaut, but that is not a yearning that has stuck with me for a lifetime.
On the other hand, you can look back to Christmas or third grade for my oldest daughter and see where she got a sweatshirt for a medical school. From third grade to this day, all she has ever really wanted to do is be involved in medical care. It is a yearning that would not go away, and I think she is gifted at it.
If there is something inside of you that is somewhere between I want and I must, it becomes a compulsion. Then you can be assured there is something that might be related to a spiritual gift. It does not have to be a vocation. It could be something else, but when there is something that keeps coming up in your heart, pay attention to that. God may be leading you to a gift.
2. Does it give you satisfaction? There are some things that many people are good at, but when they are done with them, it is simply having checked something off a list. You may be great at balancing a checkbook, but when you are done, it is just part of your “to do” list that you have checked off for the day. But there are other things that we do that when we have come to some mile marker in it, it gives us a sense of satisfaction that is deeper and richer.
I go back to an illustration that I have used a couple of times but it is one that has been very powerful for me. In the movie Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddell is a devout Scottish Christian runner. His sister, Jenny, thinks he should be a missionary to China and not do anything as vain as run in an Olympic race where he might win a medal and, therefore, take his attention away from God. In the movie, Eric is talking to his sister and he says, “All I know is this: When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” There are things we do in life where we know that is true. We have done something and there is a satisfaction and a blessing that comes that is deeper than having checked something off a “to do” list.
If you are looking for what your gift might be, remember what your yearnings are and look for those places in life where you have the greatest satisfaction.
3. Rapid learning. If you pick it up really easy and you think, “I have always known how to do this,” chances are that is a gift. This is why we often discount our own gifts because we think it should be something harder. But a gift is one of those things that is in us and wants to come out. We find that when we work on it or practice it, it comes easy and we get better at it.
4. Glimpses of excellence. Having a gift does not mean that you can do it better than everybody else. Somebody has to be the best, and some of us have the gift but it doesn’t necessarily mean we are going to be Olympic athletes or win the Grammy. There is some place in that gift where we have a glimpse of beyond the average, even a glimpse of excellence. We realize this is one of the very best things that we do and we want to do it for God.
Look for those things and you can begin to narrow down the focus and understand what your gift might be.
Here is one of the oldest things that I have heard about spiritual gifts but I think it is really true. What you can do, and how you are blessed in the way that God has put you together, is God’s gift to you. How you use it, and whether or not you use it for the kingdom, is your gift to God.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.