By Pastor Glenn Pease
Doctor A. J. Cronin, the famous physician and author, had a very critical professor when he was in medical school. He told Cronin that he might make a general practitioner, but he was hopeless as a surgeon, and Cronin believed him. Completing his medical training, he went to a remote village in the Scottish Highlands to practice. One winter day a tree fell on the son of the local pastor. It crushed his spine and left him paralyzed. Cronin knew a delicate neurological operation was necessary to prevent permanent paralysis, but he also remembered his professor's evaluation of his skills. He was afraid to take the risk and refused to operate. But the constant begging and pleading of the pastor finally got through to him, and for the first time he began to question the validity of his professor's verdict.
"Who was he to tell me what I can or cannot do?" His self-image was released from the bondage to another's opinion, and with his new found freedom he went on to successfully operate. Here was a man who had been thinking of himself lower than he ought to have, and this hindered him from being what he was capable of being. This is just as much a violation of God's perfect will for your life as it is to think of yourself more highly than you ought. It is just as wrong to bury your talent as it is to be sinfully proud of it.
Paul makes it clear to the Romans that they are to avoid both extremes of self-exaltation and self-devaluation. They are to think with sober judgment and just be honest about themselves. And in being honest he knows they will be able to see that some of them are better at certain things than others. The Christian who is being honest about himself will be able to say, "I have been blest of God to be able to do this better than most other Christians." In other words, they will recognize they are gifted in certain areas of Christian service. This is not pride but just an honest evaluation, and it is necessary for Christians to do this in order to function as God wants.
In verse 6 Paul begins to list 7 examples of the specialized gifts that exist in the body of Christ, and he urges those who have these, and all other gifts, to get busy and use them. In other words, he is saying not to worry about what you don't have, but just use what you do have, and that is all that is necessary to be in the perfect will of God. The eye that weeps because it cannot hear like the ear only blurs its vision and fails to be the best of what it can be for the body. Too many Christians are so concerned about the gifts they do not have that they neglect the ones they do have. They think of themselves more lowly than they ought.
When the Indian chief Crowfoot gave the Canadian Pacific Railway the right to cross his land he was given a lifetime pass. He could ride the train anytime to any place at no cost. He carried that pass in a leather case around his neck for the rest of his life, but he never once used it. He had a gift of great value but he never took advantage of it. This is the tragic reality you see when people never use the gifts God gives them. Paul says that having gifts that differ according to the grace given us, "Let us use them." Of course, we should use them. What else can you do with a gift? You either use them or you neglect them and leave them unused. You can say in pride, "I do not like the gift God has given me. I like the other gifts that I don't have, and so I will strive to be something I am not." This determination to neglect obvious gifts and strive to be something you are not is one of the greatest causes for problems in the church.
The Hebrew Christians are scolded in Heb. 5:12: "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of God's Word. You need milk, not solid food." Every Christian has an obligation to learn the basics well enough to teach them to another. If he needs them taught to him self over and over, he is a baby that just won't grow up. Every Christian must grow up and be a teacher so that he can communicate the basic truths of Christ's death, resurrection, and how by faith in him a person can be saved.
Beyond these basics there is a vast body of wisdom and knowledge, and that where the gift of teaching comes in. Only those gifted by God can enter the depths of the knowledge of God and His wisdom, and then share it with the rest of the body in a way they can understand. Gifted teachers have played a major role in the history of the church. Origen was the greatest Christian teacher in the first 3 centuries after the Apostles. He was born to Christian parents in 185 A. D., and he attended the first Christian school in Alexandria. Violent persecution led to his father being beheaded. He had to care for his widowed mother and 6 younger brothers by teaching at the age of 16.
Persecution forced the closing of the school, but he gathered a group of young Christians and taught them free of charge. He was so successful that people flocked to him and the bishop Demetrius officially assigned him to the position of teacher. He lived in poverty but hardly even noticed it, for he spent day and night in study. He became so famous that the bishops wanted to sit under his teaching. This made Demetrius made angry, for no layman was to teach ordained bishops. He tried to put a man made system above the gifts of the spirit, but it didn't work. Origen was such a marvelous teacher that wealthy Christians began to support him so he could give full time to exposition of the Bible, and other bishops ordained him. He spent 20 years in Palestine doing research and writing. Another persecution broke out and he was imprisoned in Tyre where he died at age 69.
Origen's gift of teaching changed all of Christian history, and we are affected by his gift even today. Before Origen, sermons were a collection of thoughts unrelated to a biblical text. He was the first to take a Bible text and explain it, and then apply it to life. He was the one who started the verse by verse Bible study where he sought to get at the historical and grammatical significance of the text, and then apply it to the present life. What we take for granted as a part of the body life of the church came to us through this man who had the gift of teaching. The gift of teaching is more than the ability to teach. The gift of teaching enables the teacher to communicate biblical truth more effectively. Usually it is because, like Jesus, they have the ability to tell stories or use illustrations that make profound truths simple enough to be grasped by the average person.
It is possible to be a teacher who communicates all kinds of truth and fact, but in such a way that it is boring and hard to listen to. The gifts teacher takes the same information and makes it fascinating so that your interest is held as easily as if you were watching the monkeys at the zoo. The common people heard Jesus gladly because He was interesting and understandable.
In 1973 Miss Becky Alexander became the Washington Wheat Queen. What an embarrassment when she had to put down the sheaf of wheat she was carrying and confess to the State Senate that she was allergic to wheat. She really did not fit the role, but she had won it. By hard work, deception and help you can arrive at many places where you do not belong. Paul would say that this is thinking of yourself more highly than you ought, for you are not accepting yourself as God made you. You are not presenting your body as a living sacrifice, but are taking it off the altar to shape it according to your will rather than God's. Your mind is not being renewed but you are conforming to the world mind, which says you can be whatever you want to be. Paul says we need to be what God made us to be. We are determined how God has gifted us and then we are free to do our own thing.
If prophecy is your gift, then let your service to the body conform to that gift and minister to others by that gift. If service is your bag, then be a servant and serve the body. If teaching is your specialty, then make sure you are teaching. And so it is with all the gifts. When each member of the body does his own thing he is in the perfect will of God, and the body is a healthy and harmonious organism fulfilling the purpose of God. We want to look at each of the 7 particular gifts Paul lists here as examples of specialized areas of Christian service.
Prophecy is the first one, and it is somewhat controversial. When you think of prophecy you think of the Old Testament prophets who received the Word of God direct from God and pass it on to the people. Charismatic Christians say this is the just what Paul is getting at here. He is referring to members of the body who receive direct inspiration from God. It is a supernatural gift, and the one who has it does not study for his message, but gets it from God directly. The majority of non Charismatic believers follow the view expressed by Calvin who wrote, "I prefer the opinion of those commentators who take the word in a more extended sense, and apply it to the peculiar gift of explaining revelation." In other words, some have a gift for explaining the Word of God. They can do so with authority, for they know what God wants people to hear and know.
The reasons the majority follow this view are very convincing.
1. First of all, none of the other gifts in this list of 7 are supernatural in the sense that they are miraculous gifts direct from God that do not involve the human personality.
2. Secondly, the gift of prophecy is one that Paul urges all Christians to strive for in some measure in I Cor. 14. It is not likely that God would make all members of the body prophets in the Old Testament sense. It is likely, however, that He would let all of them enter into this gift of being able to read the Word and know Him well enough to communicate it to others.
3. The 3rd and final reason is Paul's limitation on the gift when he says it is in proportion to our faith. In other words, we are dealing with a gift that has a variety of degrees. I cannot imagine this in relation to a supernatural direct gift from God. How can it have any relationship to our faith if God gives the message directly? I cannot imagine some of the Old Testament prophets being less inspired than others. They all spoke equally from God.
The gift Paul is dealing with here is one that has a variety of degrees depending upon the faith of those who have it. The New Testament prophets of the Word could be more or less inspired than others with the same gift, and so they would be more or less inspiring as preachers. This view fits the facts of life in the body as we know it. There are many differences between those who expound the Word of God. If prophecy was a direct message from God it would be equally valuable regardless of who gave it. It would also be more likely to lead the person who had such a gift to think of himself more highly than he ought. If this was a direct message from God, it would seem logical to collect all such messages and publish them in a book as a supplement to the Bible. This would lead to the Bible not being the complete revelation of God to man. All of this leads to the conclusion that the gift of prophecy is the gift of proclaiming the Word of God with authority. Those with this gift study the Bible until they hear what God is saying to man, and then they proclaim it to man.
The preacher is to exercise this gift in proportion to his faith. In other words, the preacher does not automatically understand everything in the Bible. Some can proclaim the book of Revelation or Daniel, but others do not have the conviction they understand it well enough. A preacher should only expound that portion of God's Word that he understands, and which he can expound to others with confidence. I remember when I began to study Rom. 13. After long and hard study I was in a state of uncertainty as what to proclaim about God's will form that chapter. I wanted to preach on that chapter, but I could not feel free to do so because I could not say, thus says the Lord. I did not have the faith to say that I knew what God wants people to hear from this passage. The result was that I never preached on that chapter. It is good for people to know that not every preacher has the authority to speak on every subject. It is possible for a good preacher to be ignorant on many subjects.
Before we leave this gift we want to say that the charismatic view goes to far, but it does have some truth to it in that preachers all through history have sensed the direct power and inspiration of God to enable them to use their gift. I have experienced this and history is full of accounts of it. One of the greatest is that of George Whitefield who started revivals all through the colonies of early America. Form 1736 to 1770 he preached 18,000 sermons in the open fields. Benjamin Franklin checked him out and wrote that Whitefield could be heard clearly by 30,000 people in a field, and that in a day before there were any loud speakers. Whitefield was not weary of the Lord's work, but he did become weary in it, and he had to stop his strenuous preaching.
Whitefield was asked to preach one more time in Exter, New Hampshire. A great crowd gathered on a Saturday afternoon. Whitefield was so feeble he could hardly be heard, and he could not focus his mind. He stopped and stood in silence, and then he said, "I will wait for the gracious assistance of God, for He will, I am certain, assist me once more to speak in His name." It was as if he was rekindled by an inner fire, for his voice broke loose and he was heard by all for an hour. He shouted in conclusion, "How willingly I would ever live to preach Christ! But I die to be with Him." The next day Whitefield was in heaven with God. God had given him direct special power to use his gift of prophecy that one more time.
We do not want to pretend that we can limit God by our not following the charismatic view of this gift. God can and does do many marvelous things directly, but the evidence concerning this gift of prophecy is that it refers to all in the body who are preachers of the Word. Paul says if you can do it, then do it. There are laymen who also have this gift.
The second gift Paul refers to is service. There are many who cannot stand up in front of people and expound the truth of Christ, but they can make that truth come alive in deeds of service. Maybe they can't explain what loving their neighbor even means, but they can live out the meaning of it in loving service to their neighbor. The Christian with this gift may not be very intellectual at all. They may not even like to read or study. They are activist. They would rather do right than think right. They are the practical part of the body. The hands are not into the more intellectual pursuits like the eyes and the ears. The hands would rather be doing than seeing and hearing. Paul does not say shame on them for not loving to study and wrestle with profound truths. He says that if your gift is service, then serve. If that is what you love to do for God, then do it and don't worry about the fact that you are different from other members of the body. We are not to conform to the world, and we are not to conform to other members of the body who have gifts we do not have. We are to do our own thing according to the gifts that we possess.
Every church has those who do an enormous number of things. They are not always the most recognized because much of what they do is unseen. They are not up front where the one with the gift of prophecy is. Their gift is experienced often when no one is around to see the service performed. Is it a lesser gift on that account? Not so, for Jesus said even a cup of cold water given in His name would not go un-rewarded. Jesus knows what all parts of the body are doing, and those who do what He designs for them to do are great Christians, even if no one else knows it.
Christians with this gift has escaped the me-mania of life where all energy is consumed on the self. They have the ability to burn up some of their fuel for the good of others. You will notice that every one of these gifts are characteristics of Christ. Jesus had all of the gifts of the Spirit. The goal of the Christian life is to be like Christ, and so it follows that all of these gifts represent goals every Christian is to strive for. Every Christian is to be a servant. The point of the gifts is that some members of the body are uniquely enabled to be Christ-like examples for the rest of the body.
All Christians are to aim for all of these values, but many of them will not be achieved until we are resurrected and made like Christ. But all through history there will be members of the body who give visible and practical evidence that Christ is alive in the body by their unique gifts. All are servants, but some are gifted servants who excel in serving the body and the world. They thrive on serving others. Others are not very good at serving, but they are not to feel guilty just as those with the gift of service are not to feel guilty because they do not have the gift of prophecy. Paul says clearly in verse 4 that all members do not have the same function. This means many are just not cut out to be Good Samaritans. This does not mean they pass by on the other side, for they must stop to meet the need the best they can, but they may not enjoy it like the one who has the gift.
The Christian who feels guilty because they do not love what other members of the body love tends to make their Christian life a burden rather than a blessing. Many can give testimony of how they became excited about Christian service. They got involved in many things, but it soon became a burden. They felt obligated to continue even though it was distasteful to them. They felt trapped, and their Christian life was a treadmill of slavery to despised duty. Such folly is obviously not the perfect will of God. Honest self-evaluation would allow them to recognize that they were trying to do a job for which they are not gifted. They are like a little finger trying to play the role of the thumb. It can do some things, but it soon tires and feels totally inadequate. Seeing this, they should cease trying to be what they are not, and yield themselves to be what they are best designed to be.
The whole point of Paul's body analogy is that every member has a specific function, and that only when all members are in their proper place can the body be at its best. When the church fails to function as it should it is because members are either thinking too highly of themselves, or too lowly. Success for the individual and for the body is in doing your own thing. It is in being who you really are and doing what you do best.
Madam Yojima was an 80-year old woman in Japan shortly after World War II. She heard of the World Disarmament Conference to be held in the U. S., and so she persuaded hundreds of thousands of Japanese women to sign their names to a petition for peace. She put them in a heavy suitcase and traveled across the Pacific to present them in person to Mr. Kellogg. Why would a frail old woman go to such trouble and enormous expense? Her own words give us the answer: "I live in a very small room, but when I kneel to pray there is plenty of room for Jesus Christ and the whole world to come in." She had a love for the whole world, and so she had a unique gift for service. She did what she did because she loved it and enjoyed it. She was just being herself and doing her own thing as a member of the body of Christ.
There is much we are obligated to do as Christians. We do not always enjoy everything, but we must do it out of a sense of duty. But every Christian should have a major part of their life doing something they just love to do, and which they would choose to do even if nobody expected it. When you discover that enjoyable function, then you are experiencing the good, acceptable and perfect will of God. May God help us each one to, in this sense, be doing our own thing.