I Corinthians 12:4-11
We have been talking about what it means to be a healthy church. (show overhead) A few weeks ago, 30 of you filled out a survey to try to identify how we are doing in these eight quality characteristics. Next weekend, the ministers and deacons will be going on a retreat to look at the results of this survey and will be recommending a course of action to help us increase the health of the church. We will be sharing our thoughts with you next Sunday as we complete this series.
Today, we will cover one more of the quality characteristics, namely, “gift-oriented ministry.”
Once upon a time all the animals got together and decided that they should start a school. They wanted it to be a good school, so they made sure that they had all the important courses like swimming, running, climbing and flying and all the animals were required to take all the courses.
The duck was a great swimmer, in fact, he was better than the instructor, but he barely passed climbing and was a very poor runner. He was slow and often had to stay after school to practice. This caused his feet to become so badly worn that he became only average in swimming.
The rabbit was tops at running, but after a while, she developed a twitch in her leg from all the time she spent in the water trying to improve her swimming.
The squirrel was a top performer when it came to climbing, but his body became so beat up from the landings when he tried to fly that it hurt for him even to climb.
The eagle was a continual problem student. In climbing class, she would insist on getting to the top in her own way - flying - and so had to be continually disciplined.
Each of the animals had a particular design. When they did what they were designed to do, they excelled. When they tried to operate outside their area of expertise, they were not nearly as effective.
This is kind of ridiculous isn’t it? And yet how often we do just that in the ministry of the church. What a thrill it is when I hear someone describe the joy they have in the ministry they are involved in because it fits with the way God has made them. Sadly, we often hear about the burden people have in the task they have reluctantly consented to do. What would happen if we were all involved in ministry and all involved in a ministry that we were well suited for?
I. Called To Serve
The topic before us today is based on an assumption, but one that I do not want to pass by without mentioning. The assumption is that we understand all Christians are servants of God.
We come to this understanding from the Bible and this morning, I would simply like to point to two passages which talk about this. I Peter 2:16 instructs us to, “live as servants of God” and Galatians 5:13 tells us, “serve one another in love.”
We have not only been rescued from sin and death, we are not only followers of Jesus, but also servants of Jesus. This is not something that comes to us as we mature, but is a simple understanding of what it means to be a Christian. A Christian is a person who follows and serves Jesus. I recognize that this is not an automatic assumption, and it would be appropriate to preach on the importance of having a servant attitude, but today, I am assuming that we understand and agree that all believers are called to serve God and others.
II. How does God want us to become involved in serving?
Assuming then that we all accept that we have been called into a life of service for God, the question before us today is, “how does God want us to become involved in service?” To answer that question, we will examine what the Bible says about spiritual gifts. There are four main passages that speak about spiritual gifts. This morning, we will examine one of these passages, I Corinthians 12:4-11. Read the text.
A. Spirit Directed 4 -6, 11.
As the planets revolve around the sun, they are well organized having a mathematical precision in their orbits and their relationship to each other. It is not their relationship to each other that provides the organization, however, but their relationship to the sun.
It ought to be the same way in our ministry in the church. We sometimes want to control all the ministry in the church so that we have complete control over everything that happens. That would be like asking the planets to organize themselves according to each other. The organizing and directing center of the ministry of the church is the Holy Spirit.
Notice how powerfully this is taught in the text. In verses 4-6, we learn that there is one Spirit, one Lord and one God. In verse 11, we learn that all the different gifts are “the work of the one and the same Spirit, and he gives to each one, just as he determines.”
It is the Spirit of God who directs the work of God and as we ask the question of how we are to do the work of God, we must ask the question, “Are we relying on God’s Spirit in the ministry of the church?” As we answer that question, we need to think about several things.
When we as a church try to organize the work because certain things have been done in the past, or certain rules have been established in the constitution we are in danger of failing to listen to God’s direction for the work. There is nothing wrong with organizational structure or a constitution, but the question we must ask is, “Who is the Lord of the church, our past, our constitution, our pastors or the Spirit of God? What evidence is there that we are under the control and guidance of the Holy Spirit?”
Another thing to think about is what are the qualifications of those who are asked to serve? When the fledgling church was established on the day of Pentecost, it was led by the apostles of Jesus. But the work was large and changing rapidly and it wasn’t very long before the need to expand the base of workers became obvious. One of the first instances of choosing people for service is found in Acts 6. Please keep your finger in I Corinthians 12, but turn to and let us read Acts 6:1-7.
From earlier chapters we know that the early church had everything in common and distributed food to those who needed it. The text tells us that a dispute arose in which a cultural barrier caused some people to be missed out in the distribution of food.
The solution which the apostles proposed was that the people should choose 7 men who would look after this. They were like a food committee or a trustee committee. Their ministry was one of service.
What has often struck me about the way in which they were chosen was that they were not instructed to look for men who were good business managers, or men who were willing to do it. The instruction says that they were to look for men who were “known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.” What strikes me most is that they were to be “full of the Spirit.” They were to choose people who gave evidence in their life that they were directed not by self, not by duty, but by the Spirit of God.
If it is the Spirit of God who directs the work of God in the church, then surely this is an important factor in considering how we choose people for ministry. How much attention do we pay to this qualification? If we look at church work as our work then human qualifications are certainly enough. If we look at church work as human work for God, then human qualifications might be enough, but if we look at church work as the work of God, then it seems obvious that the primary qualification ought to be that those who do the work of God need to be people who know God and are in a close walk with Him.
After they were chosen, the apostles commissioned them by praying and laying hands on them and they began to do their work. The result, which is given in verse 7 is that “the word of God spread.”
The Spirit of God is the director of the work of God. Are we in tune with Him as we do God’s work and as we choose people to serve?
B. Spiritual Gifts 4-10
The second thing we learn from this passage is that people are called to serve in the area in which God’s Spirit gifts them to serve.
In verse 4 - 6 we read that there are “different kinds of gifts,” “different kinds of service,” “different kinds of working.” In verse 7 we read, “to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” Then in verses 8-10 we have a list of examples of the different gifts. This teaches us some important things about how God’s work is to be done.
First of all we notice that there are many different gifts. The church in Corinth was really excited about the gift of speaking in tongues. Paul is making the point to them that they will miss out on all that God wants to do if they only emphasize this one gift, because God’s Spirit has given many different gifts.
A healthy physical body is not one which is all arms or all noses. A healthy body has many different parts and we need all the parts of the body. It means that we should be humble enough to know that we need each other’s gifts for the church to be healthy. What I lack is being provided for by others in the church and I am so thankful for that. We need to be open to allow for the expression of the great variety of gifts the Spirit gives. Sometimes we have emphasized some gifts and stifled others. If the Spirit gives gifts, should we not allow them to be used?
Secondly, if there are all these different kinds of gifts and if it is the Spirit of God who directs the distribution of the gifts, we should focus our ministry on doing what we have been gifted to do. Spiritual gifts are more than abilities, they are Spirit empowered works of service which have more than the stamp of human power on them. If that is the case and we want to be most effective in our ministry, we need to be doing those things that the Spirit of God empowers. This also allows us to free each other to do what God wants us to do according to our gifts. For example, if someone has the gift of evangelism, should we saddle them with all kinds of roles in the church structure? Should we not free them to serve in the world, ministering to unbelievers?
Have you ever borrowed someone else’s pair of shoes? They may be the nicest shoes and be close to the right size, but if they are not your shoes, they will not be comfortable. The indentations will be in the wrong place and the heal will be worn in the wrong direction. They just don’t fit you. If we are doing work that we are not gifted for, we are wearing someone else’s shoes. When people are serving God in their area of giftedness, the work which is done is much more effective.
The final thing we learn from this passage is that the purpose of these gifts is for “the common good.” In other words to serve. Gifts are not a reason to become proud of what we have, they are given as an endowment by the Spirit so that God is glorified and that people are edified. They are not for our own personal pride or fulfillment, they are for service. Therefore, we can’t compare ourselves with one another, we must simply serve God with the gift he has given us.
From Scripture we have learned that God’s way of directing the ministry of the church is to take Spirit led people who have been gifted by Him to do a task and direct them into ministries as He leads.
If we take this seriously, what are the implications? In most churches, we have emphasized duty, responsibility, willingness, what we have always done, democratic election and sometimes coercion? Although we have not always consciously directed people to serve in their area of giftedness, God has worked to put people in places of ministry according to the guidance of his Spirit anyway. If we were to make a conscious choice to follow God’s pattern as set out in His word, can you imagine what would happen in the ministry of the church? How can we be more deliberate about serving God’s way?
A. Finding Our Place
In I Corinthians 12:7 we read that, “to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given.” The implication of that is that we need to help each person in church find the place God has given them to serve. I believe that the place where we should serve is found at the intersection of our passion, gifts and personal style.
When I say the name, James Dobson, what one word comes to mind? Is it not the word family? He has a passion for the family and has become known throughout North America because of this passion.
A while ago, I read "Just As I Am," the autobiography of Billy Graham and it is interesting to see just how early his passion to preach the gospel to the lost made itself known. For over 50 years, he has been doing just that.
"Passion is the God-given desire that compels us to make a difference in a particular ministry." Other words we could use are dream, burden, vision or call.
When I thought about what the Bible has to say about passion, I realized that it was not hard to find Paul's passion because he tells us. In I Corinthians 9:16, he writes, "Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!" But it was not only a passion to preach the gospel, but to preach the gospel particularly to the Gentiles. In Galatians 1:15,16 he says, "But ... God, ...set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, ...to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles..."
The important thing to remember is that passions are God given. Passion is not what other people, or preconceived notions or pressure from our past, forces us to do. Passion is the concern or burden that God puts in our heart. To me this is both an exciting thing and a freeing thing. If we think that we have to do all kinds of things that we aren't interested in or don't care about, it makes service a drudgery. If we realize that God has put the desire in our heart to do what he wants us to do, it frees us to do what we want most of all. What a difference it will make when we are serving God in an area that we care deeply about.
But passion is only one aspect. Can you imagine a person who had a passion to communicate the gospel and was asked to do so in song. What kind of ministry would occur if that person couldn't carry a tune in a bucket? Our passion tells us where we should serve but we also need to examine the area of spiritual gifts to discern what specific thing we should do to serve God. The place God wants us to serve is the place where we have a passion and where God has given us a spiritual gift to empower us to serve in that area.
But what are spiritual gifts? As we read the many things the Bible has to say about spiritual gifts, we learn first of all that they are abilities that God has given us by the Holy Spirit to make our unique contribution to his kingdom. We need to realize that they are not talents. Your talents may indicate a spiritual gift, but they are not necessarily your spiritual gifts. A person who is a good teacher in school, may or not have the spiritual gift of teaching God’s truth. Spiritual gifts are also not the fruit of the Spirit, they are not spiritual disciplines and certainly not positions. It is important to recognize that they are God given abilities which allow us to make an impact in the kingdom of God. There are several passages in the Bible which list some of the spiritual gifts. I Corinthians 12 is one, but if you would like to examine this further, you might also want to look at I Peter 4:10,11, Romans 12:4-8 and Ephesians 4:7-13.
Just as passion answers the question of where we should serve, spiritual gifts answer the question what we should do.
3. Personal Style
But there is another aspect. Some people are not detail people. They have a loose view about details and organize their minds and their lives in a different fashion than those who are concerned about details. Now putting someone who is not a detail person in charge of organizing a meeting can result in disaster. They might begin to think about the meeting on the day it is to take place. They may arrive at the meeting and ask others what they think the agenda should be. Now when that happens, does that mean they don't care or are bad servants? Not at all, what it means is that we have failed to recognize the third factor in helping people find their place of ministry and that is personal style.
God has made each of us differently. Psalm 139:13-16 says, "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made..." God has made each of us in a unique way and we should primarily serve God in a way that recognizes that uniqueness. If I asked you to sign your name, you would easily do it. If I then asked you to put your pen in your other hand and sign your name, you could do it, but it would be awkward, slow, inefficient and wouldn't look like your signature. "Serving in ways inconsistent with our personal style just like writing with the wrong hand, leads to inefficiency, decreased motivation and burnout."
Our personal style helps us understand how God wants us to serve.
As we pay attention to passion, giftedness and personal style, we need to help each other find the area of ministry most suited to us according to the way God has made us.
B. Placing Our Servants
The other aspect is perhaps more difficult. If we really want to get serious about this, we will need to provide structures which permit these things to happen.
1. Structures In Which We Seek Spirit Guidance
If the Spirit of God is the one who directs our ministry, then we need to develop structures in the church which allow us to listen to the Spirit.
In Acts 13:1-3 we read.
The church in Antioch was the first major center of Christian response outside of Jerusalem. This church had grown and there was effective ministry there. The church had a number of prophets and teachers who had done their ministry well in the church. In this chapter we read about how Barnabas and the apostle Paul, having been effective in ministry at home, were sent out from this church onto what we now know as the first of Paul’s missionary journeys.
What strikes me about the way in which the decision was made to send them out was that they did not decide they needed to do this project and then chose these men, nor did these men promote this project because they wanted to do some world traveling. They were a church which spent time in prayer before God. They were, in the course of their normal church life, spending time worshiping the Lord and fasting. It seems, from the text, that they were seeking God’s guidance. They spent time in the presence of the Lord to try to find out what God wanted them to do and as they did, the Holy Spirit guided their decision making.
The question we need to ask is, “How seriously do we seek the Lord in making decisions about the ministry of the church?” In many churches, it is often the case that we inherit programs and procedures and after that, we don’t have to ask God any more because we simply follow the procedure. What if God has a new idea for us? Are we in a position to hear Him?
When asking the question about how we are to serve God, we need to take time to ask God and to seek Spirit led decisions.
2. Structures Which Help People Serve According To Giftedness
We talked earlier about helping people find their spiritual gift. This is only half of the solution. If we all know our gifts, but continue to elect people on the basis of willingness or popularity, we will not complete the project. The other side of it is that we need to create structures in the church which help people find the place where they can exercise their God given ministry.
If we understand that serving according to spiritual gifts is God’s way of directing the ministry of the church, then I think we must consider these things seriously.
What will the result be? I wish I could get a few people up here to share with you what happened to them when they began to serve God in their area of giftedness. Instead of grudging service or ineffective service, we find that they desire to serve and do so with great joy. We find that ministry is effective and that stuff happens because they are not operating in their own strength or merely with their own abilities. We find a healthier, happier church more in tune with God and doing His work.
This is a new way of thinking and I would like to invite us to prayerfully consider it as we think about how we can become a healthier church. May God help us to be His servants in the way He directs!