Reasons for Gifts
Every person can better understand spiritual gifts by looking at the characteristics they possess in this passage.
Kent Hunter tells the story of Mrs. Schneider. She had been teaching a children’s Sunday School class for a long time. Everyone had a really bad attitude about Mrs. Schneider and her class. No one liked to attend her class. For generations people had dreaded Mrs. Schneider’s class. When Dr. Hunter became the pastor he asked Mrs. Schneider about how she came to teach the class. She told a story that 50 years earlier she had been asked to fill in for a teacher who wanted to take Maternity leave. Fifty years later she was still teaching the Sunday School class.
Dr. Hunter asked her to take a spiritual gifts inventory. Too no one’s surprise, Mrs. Schneider did not have the gift of teaching. Her gifting was in the areas of showing mercy and serving. She was then asked to leave her Sunday School class and begin working in a nursing home ministry. This simple moved proved to be something positive for Mrs. Schneider and for the church.
I will be giving you some characteristics of gifts of the spirit. These will help us to identify the importance of these gifts.
Characteristic I. Ability
A. I went through a time in my life when I was really trying to understand spiritual gifts and especially speaking in tongues. So whenever I had the opportunity I would ask someone about their understanding of the gift of speaking in tongues. One of the most fascinating stories came from a missionary. He told me that he was speaking to a group of youth while he was serving in Argentina. He was not very fluent in his Spanish and that was evident in the failure of his audience to pay attention. So while he was speaking he prayed that God would help him to communicate. Immediately he began to speak fluent Spanish and these kids who did not seem to be paying attention were suddenly listening intently to this man. This man was sure that God had given him the ability to speak to these youth in a supernatural way.
B. I am reminded of that story every time I read this passage. In v. 4 we are told that all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues or languages as the spirit enabled them. The reason these two stories connect for me is that they are both confronted with people they cannot communicate with very clearly and God intervenes and gives them the ability to speak something they could not otherwise speak. The disciples were all from a relatively small area and spoke probably one or two different languages. At this time Jerusalem would have been overflowing with people from all over the world. These people would be speaking many different languages. It would not be easy for them to communicate with each other. If someone did stand to address the group it would need to be translated into all of these different languages.
C. This would be a wonderful opportunity for the disciples to speak with other people, but there are so many people from so many different places that it would seem overwhelming to try to communicate with them. God gives them the Holy Spirit and with that the ability to speak with the people who are gathered in Jerusalem. This was not something they did themselves. Even the people who were there said, they had too much to drink. How many times does a drunk start to speak in a language they do not know. It does not seem very likely. Instead, God gave them the ability to communicate with all of the people who were gathered. It was not something manufactured by man. It was something that only God could do.
D. Spiritual gifts are often thought of as abilities, or maybe abilities on steroids. We need to be careful that we don’t get the idea that these are simply human abilities. Spiritual gifts are supernatural abilities that God gives us through his holy spirit. Sometimes they might even be things that we cannot explain. The people could not explain why the disciples were able to speak like this, and the missionary could not humanly explain his ability to communicate with the youth. They are supernatural abilities.
Characteristic II. Purpose
A. I worked for a short period of time for a camp in California. While I was there a group came in to help clean up an area of the camp where a lot of junk had been dumped. Before anyone got started we were all given a stick. If you are like me you might wonder what the stick was for. They explained to us that the rattle snakes liked to hide under some of the junk we would be moving, so rather than flipping it over with our hands we were advised to turn the item over with the stick first and then when we were sure there were no rattle snakes we could pick the stuff up with our hands. Imagine our wonder if they would have never told us why we had the sticks. After we learned their purpose it was obvious the sticks were pretty important.
B. When the disciples are given the Holy Spirit and they are able to speak in different languages it is clear why they were given this ability. The people who had gathered in Jerusalem were people who spoke many different languages. God gave them the ability to communicate with these people. These men had just come through some of the most dramatic events in history. It was something that the world needed to hear. The reason the disciples were able to communicate with the people gathered in Jerusalem is because of the circumstances surrounding this time. For one thing there are so many people from all over the world who are in Jerusalem. They don’t have to go find the people, the people are right there already. The other issue is that they have just come through the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus into heaven. This was a message that needed to be shared. It was not something to keep hidden.
C. There was a reason for God giving these men this ability at this time. They had their audience and they had a message to be delivered. The only barrier they faced was the language barrier. God gives them the ability to speak to the people who are gathered there.
D. God gives each Christian Spiritual Gifts, but he does not give them out randomly just to see if you will be able to find a use for the gift you have received. Instead, he gives us gifts for a reason. The disciples had a message to communicate too many different cultures. When those people left Jerusalem they would hopefully take that message back with them to other people. God still gives out spiritual gifts today, and he anticipates that those gifts will be used. We can be assured that the gifts he gives to us have a reason and a purpose. They are not just because he can’t think of anything better to give us.
Characteristic III. Differences
A. Imagine that we were going to put on a play at the church and we decided that we would do “The Sound of Music”. We held auditions and told people what part they were going to play and they all refused, except those who got to play Maria and Colonel VonTrapp. No one else wanted to do the play because they did not want to have a part in the lesser parts. Everyone wanted to play a lead character. If you are familiar with the play you know that you need nuns and children. You need an uncle and Gestapo agents. Not everyone can play a major role in a play like this. There are other roles that are very important as well.
B. Similarly when God gives out gifts he gives them to each one, but not all of the gifts are the same. In v. 4 it said that “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” Then in v. 17 the book of Joel is quoted and it says, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” In this passage the all refers to all people who would be called Christian. There is a little bit of a qualifier here, but it does not mean that there are people who will be left out. All Christians have spiritual gifts. I think that many do not recognize those gifts and consequently do not use them, but they are there.
C. In I Corinthians 12 Paul talks about different kinds of gifts, but one spirit. He lists several of the gifts. “Apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.” I believe in that passage that he is emphasizing that all of the gifts are not the same, but they are all different. Some of them are much more public, while others don’t stand out as much. An emphasis is on the fact that they are different.
D. As a church we need people who can lead singing and preach, but we also need people who can fold bulletins and make coffee. We need people who are able to do little things as well as the big things. That is why God has gifted different people in different ways. Those differences benefit the entire group.
Spiritual gifts are not something that is reserved for a select few. Spiritual gifts are things that God gives to believers. We have been given gifts for a reason. We need to stay close to God so we can learn how to best use those gifts.