Discipleship, Servant Leadership

You Have Been Called Up For Active Duty

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When the topic of using our spiritual gifts comes up, this illustration comes to mind.

The great violinist, Nicolo Paganini, willed his marvelous violin to Genoa — the city of his birth — but only on condition that the instrument never is played upon. It was an unfortunate situation, for it is a peculiarity of wood that as long as it is used and handled, it shows little wear. As soon as it is discarded, it begins to decay.  The beautiful, mellow-toned violin has become worm-eaten in its beautiful case, valueless except as a relic. The moldering instrument is a reminder that a life withdrawn from all service to others loses its meaning. -Bits & Pieces, June 25, 1992.

But far too often those people resources go under-utilized and sit in our buildings rotting like an unused violin. The apostle Paul wanted the church not to be ignorant about the use and importance of spiritual gifts.  God gave the church these gifts to be used and often used for the advancement of the gospel.

The Common Good

 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

 1 Corinthians 12: 7.

The Holy Spirit gives gifts to the church to unite it around a common good of announcing to the world the reign of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  Spiritual gifts are intended never to divide the body or cause in-fighting, or jealousy.  The concept Paul introduces of “the common good”, is a powerful and inspiring phrase, one worth holding on and lifting up often in our congregations. The old Adam has a strong desire to live a selfish, self-centered existence, seeking to use his or her gifts solely for personal gain or boasting. However, the new man recreated in Christ through the washing of regeneration understands that our spiritual gifts are for the enjoyment and advancement of the whole body of Christ and the kingdom. This revelation begs the question then, “How can I use my God-given gifts in, with and among the body of believers?” And not “Do I want to exercise my spiritual gift?”

Paul accentuates the authority of the Spirit in the distribution of the gifts (v. 11).

All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

Next week we will look at the gifts listed in I Corinthians 12 in more detail, but understand this: the Holy Spirit does not give all Christians the same gift or gifts. Rather he gives them “…just as he determines…” (v. 11). I know when I started out in ministry I wanted certain gifts that I thought would make ministry easier and benefit the body of Christ.  Like the gift of evangelism.  But the Spirit did not grant me that wish.  So, while we may pray for particular spiritual gifts, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.” 1 Corinthians 14:1.  The Holy Spirit has the authority to give gifts as he determines.  Gifts that the Holy Spirit feels will benefit the body and meet the needs of the body of Christ.  Whatever gifts you have been given, use them to the glory of God and the common good of the body of Christ.  The body needs you. The mission of God needs you.  Go and be a blessing.

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Discipleship, Servant Leadership

Rugged Individualism vs the Common Good

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Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (ESV) 1 Corinthians 12:4–7

 Having served with and on many different teams on this perfectly created biosphere during the course of my fifty plus years of my existence, I have come to the realization that doing ministry is challenging. Team ministry is uniquely challenging because sin has an ugly way of rearing its head and messing with us. Our natural inclination is to elevate and even overestimate our importance to the team, to God and His kingdom. It is so easy to believe that the very life and fruitfulness of the ministry rises and falls on our spiritual gifts alone. The truth of the matter is that a fruitful God-pleasing ministry does not contain one dominate gift nor gift-recipient, like a good salad the perfect team and ministry has more than one recognizable ingredient. A good salad is not all lettuce or dominated by onions or garlic unless you are trying to keep people or vampires away. An effective ministry team like a good salad encompassing a wide variety of flavors and gifts. Each spiritual gift is unique and retains its distinctness but when mixed into a well-oiled team packs and incredible kingdom punch that can meet human hurts and needs in a holistic way, that one single gift could never do.
As a background text for this post, we will dig into the issues the apostle Paul was facing the church in Corinth. The believers in that church were fighting over spiritual gifts. You may have been in a situation where there are people on your team who believe their gifts are far superior to anyone else’s gifts on the team and they have no problem reminding the team how gifted they are. People tend to get enamored with the gifts that are more public. The gifted orator, the dynamic teacher, shrewd administrator and overlook the people whose gifts are behind the scene, but are critical to the success of the ministry. Gifts like hospitality, the ability to welcome the stranger and make them feel like a part of the family.  The organizer, who has the ability to take the leaders vision and work out the details of what it’s takes to make this dream a reality.  The volunteer coordinators, who can get people to give up their free time to come and join you on a greater mission for the kingdom.  In the next two weeks join me on an adventure and learn six lessons about spiritual gifts.

Paul establishes the foundations of his answer in six ways. We will cover three in this post and three in the following post.

  1. It is important not to be ignorant about spiritual gifts (v. 1).

The Greek word Paul uses in verse 1 means ‘spiritual matters’ but verse 4 and Paul uses the Greek word charisma to distinguish the shifting of the discussion to spiritual gifts.

The Corinthian pagans should serve as a caution to the church. Their pagan background shows how easy it is to become carried away in jubilant worship and lead astray by a flashy, charismatic orator, even one who is articulating falsehoods in the name of a false god. Thus, Paul is warning the people not to be blindly inspired by the gifts and ignore who it is that is the giver of the gifts, namely God. Our message must be inspired by the Spirit of God.  Our gifts must only be used to share with the world the saving message of the Christ and Him crucified. The truth of God’s word is our test for whether the gifts we possess are being used to the glory of God and the advancement of His kingdom.

  1. We share one common Faith (1 Corinthians 12:1–3).

A nationwide poll was taken in the United States on religious questions. When asked whether they believed in God, 95 percent of those polled answered “yes.” When asked whether religion in any way affected their politics and their business, 54 percent said “no.” They had a belief, but they did not have a directing faith. Faith is action. Faith encompasses the entire spectrum of life’s encounters and experiences.
No true Christian could call anyone but Christ “Lord,” so this was a definite test of whether or not a person was saved. It is only by the Spirit that we can confess Christ as Lord.[1]

  1. We serve the same God (1 Corinthians 12:4–6).

The church is not a gallery where we exhibit the finest of Christians. No, it is a school where we educate and encourage imperfect Christians.[2]
The church has been blessed with diversity and bounded together in unity by our God. While our personalities and our gifts all differ, yet they work together for the health of the body of believers, the Church. We have been gifted at our baptism with gifts from the Holy Spirit (v. 4).  Each of us has been called into service by the same Lord Jesus Christ (v. 5).  Each of us shares in the workings of the same Father (v. 6).

As we serve with these band of brothers and sister in God’s kingdom it is helpful to keep us grounded to remember why we serve.  We don’t serve to puff ourselves up.  We serve because we hold to one common faith.  We have one common baptism.  We serve the one and only one unique Savior, Jesus Christ.  This common good is what unites us and binds us together into the perfect team.

[1]  Green, M. P. (Ed.). (1989). Illustrations for Biblical Preaching: Over 1500 sermon illustrations arranged by topic and indexed exhaustively (Revised edition of: The expositor’s illustration file). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[2]  Green, M. P. (Ed.). (1989). Illustrations for Biblical Preaching: Over 1500 sermon illustrations arranged by topic and indexed exhaustively (Revised edition of: The expositor’s illustration file). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.