Pastorate Weekend Away 20030906
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. Ye know that when ye were Gentiles ye were led away unto those dumb idols, howsoever ye might led. Wherefore I make known unto you, that no man speaking in the Spirit of God saith, Jesus is anathema; and no man can say, Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit. Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are diversities of ministrations, and the same Lord. And there are diversities of workings, but the same God, who worketh all things in all. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit to profit withal. For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom; and to another the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit: to another faith, in the same Spirit; and to another gifts of healings, in the one Spirit; and to another workings of miracles; and to another prophecy; and to another discernings of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; and to another the interblockquotetation of tongues: but all these worketh the one and the same Spirit, dividing to each one severally even as he will. For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ.
This week, as many of you know, I’ve been looking for a house. For me, this has been a real test of faith. I honestly believe that God has called me from where I’m living at the moment to go share a house with some other Christians. I have faith that that’s the right thing for me to do.
But faith means nothing until it’s exercised, and when I told my landlord that I’d be moving out, and they arranged for someone else to come in, I was really stepping out in faith. As of when I write this talk, I have nowhere to go yet. I get kicked out of my place next week. Even though I have the faith that I’m doing the right thing, I’m still called to exercise that faith. And every time we look at a house and someone decides it’s not right, or someone drops out of our group and someone else comes along, and we feel like we’re back to square one, I have to exercise a little bit of faith. Having faith is one thing, but that means nothing unless it’s used, unless it’s stretched and unless it’s exercised.
But wait. Why am I talking about the exercise of faith? You’re probably thinking “Hang on a minute, we paid for gifts and fruits of the Spirit and Simon’s off about faith and househunting.” There is a link here, and let me develop it.
I had a really hard time preparing what I was going to say in this talk. You’re all reasonably mature Christians, you’ve probably heard sermons on the gifts of the Spirit until you’re bored stiff of them, and I thought “what can I possibly tell these people about gifts of the Spirit that will change their lives?” Because really unless a sermon changes you there’s absolutely no point giving it, it’s just an academic exercise.
And then I realised something about the way we treat spiritual gifts. I’ll just demonstrate with a quick straw poll. Who here regularly - or even occasionally - raises people from the dead? No, OK, maybe that’s a bit of an extreme one. How about healing - who regularly exercises the gift of healing? Who regularly receives words of knowledge? OK, let’s take an easy one. Who regularly speaks in tongues? Quite a few, I’m guessing.
Here’s the interesting bit. Who regularly exercises the interpretation of tongues?
Now I’m not suggesting for a moment that there’s some hierarchy of gifts and that speaking in tongues is the spiritual starter pack and then when you’ve mastered that you can start moving up until you’re regularly raising the dead. That’s not what I’m getting at. And Paul refutes that straight away towards the end of the chapter, saying that all these gifts are complementary and none should feel superior to the others. And maybe that’s part of the problem, because we naturally end up feeling that only the really holy people can do the big impressive gifts and the rest of us have to make do with the boring ones at the bottom of the pile. That is not how gifts work! Spiritual gifts are not earned, they’re not given in some order of merit. You don’t try and collect the whole set, because the Spirit gives to each as he will.
But Paul also spends a lot of time explaining that the gifts of the Spirit are expressly for the encouragement and support of the church, the body of believers - in verse 7.
Now to each man has been given his manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
On the other hand, we tend to focus on those things which edify ourselves: faith, tongues and so on. It’s easy to see that having a private prayer language for talking directly to God is great for building up our own spiritual life, but this isn’t meant just for us to have a great time babbling away in worship - if it’s going to be used positively for the edification of the church, we’ve got to start thinking about it primarily in terms of intercession. We have to turn the focus away from ourselves and onto the body and the wider community - that’s what spiritual gifts are about.
So I hope this evening to show how we can develop our spiritual gifts and exercise them for the benefit of the body of believers, both at a pastorate level and in the church body. Paul says in 1 Co 14 that we should eagerly desire spiritual gifts, so let’s just spend a couple of moments in prayer that God would give us an expectant attitude tonight and make it clear what gifts He wants to give us today. Let’s all stand up, and I’ll pray first and maybe one or two people could also pray.
[ Brief prayer time ]
I think it’s important to draw a distinction between the fruits of the Spirit and the gifts. As we heard this morning, fruit is what is naturally produced when you live a life in communion with the Spirit of God. Spiritual gifts, on the hand, are specific properties and abilities imparted by God to believers to build up the church. They’re the way that the power of the Spirit is outworked in the church and in the world. Matthew Henry says that fruits are for the salvation of those who have them, whereas gifts are for the salvation of others.
Examination of the different gifts
We’ve looked today at a questionnaire which can help us identify the attributes that God has given us perhaps as an extension of our natural personalities, and there are also the more charismatic gifts like prophecy which are generally given to a believer at a particular moment, through prayer. No matter how your personality is shaped, you’re not going to be able to heal the sick or speak in tongues without the miraculous intervention of the Spirit. But Paul doesn’t make a division like that; for him, these are all spiritual gifts, they are all distributed by God to the church for the development of the church and the strengthening of the believers, and they all need to be exercised.
In 1 Timothy 4, Paul tells Timothy not to neglect the gift that he had, but to excerise it so that people could see that he had developed in it, and he reminds Timothy again in 2 Timothy 1. There’s a strong parallel between this and the parable of the talents in Matthew 25: if we neglect or hide away the gifts God has given us, they won’t increase, but if we invest them in others, then God will know that we are trustworthy with our gifts and increase them.
How can we develop our gifts and be trustworthy in the small things? How do we use our gifts effectively? Obviously we need to know the right time and the right opportunity to use our giftings, what to do and when. But let me let you into a little secret about the Christian life.
The Christian life is great for lazy people like me, because we’re not actually expected to do anything. The secret, as Paul says, is Christ in me, the hope of glory. I can’t be pure before God; that’s OK, Christ in me does it. I can’t be holy on my own; but it’s OK - I have Christ in me. I don’t how the best way to use my spiritual gifts, but that’s OK, because I have Christ in me and He does. We’re thinking about spiritual gifts tonight but really the whole thing, from start to finish, is a gift from God. We just turn up, be available, and put ourselves in obedience to God.
The only snag is that being obedience to God means we have to listen to God and find out exactly what He wants us to do. The apostles in Acts can step out in faith and do mighty things because they’re hearing from God and absolutely sure that they’re doing His will. Even right at the start of 1 Corinthians, Paul is very confident that he’s called to be an apostle and that’s the will of God.
Now it’s worth remembering at this point that we will make mistakes. When we use our gifts we will have to step out in faith. It’s part of this business of exercising our faith that I was talking about at the beginning. Someone here told me that one day he was sure he had a word of knowledge for someone and when he found the faith to go over and talk to them, it was completely wrong. That’s perfectly natural, a natural part of learning how to exercise faith, how to use our gifts, how to discern what is God’s word and what isn’t. It’s also important to know that if you do muck up, you feel embarrassed for a few hours, but really no major damage is done, and I bet next time he has a word of knowledge for someone that he’ll find it much easier to go over and share with them.
How can we be more effective in our use of spiritual gifts? When I was in Japan, I read two things which gave me a couple of clues.
The first was in the proceedings of the international conference of my mission agency. I wasn’t expecting it to be inspiring reading, but they’d given it to me so that I could read more about how the mission worked and what the culture was like. And I was absolutely blown away by the presentation by the international director. He was giving the annual report, talking about the successes and the new growth they’d seen and so on, but also talking about the weaknesses of the mission.
What do you think the first thing that the ID said was a big weakness of his mission? It was prayerlessness - “we don’t pray enough, for each other and for the fields we work in.” Now hang on, this is the annual report of a major missionary organisation. They, maybe more than anyone else, should be aware of the need to pray and they should be out there praying. Of course, they are, but his point is that because they know how important it is, they know that they don’t do it enough. You simply can’t spend too much time in prayer. It just isn’t possible. John Wesley said that if you have 24 hours in the day, you can spend 8 hours asleep, 8 hours at work and still have 8 hours for prayer.
The second thing I read was in a wonderful book called the “Harvester’s Handbook”. This was a collection of articles about how to plant churches and develop congregations in Japan. The first article in the book was about why pastors are ineffective in Japan, and it was very clear about the reason: again, because they don’t pray enough. If pioneering pastors and heads of missionary organisations are saying they have a problem with prayerlessness, it might just be something that applies to us as well.
So if we want to be effective in the use of our giftings, we have to develop a prayerful lifestyle that keeps us in obedience to God, minute by minute. You’ve got to be ready at any point to step out when God says “go”. So I suggest we get up on our feet again, and spend a minute or two confessing our prayerlessness and praying for that close relationship with God again.
[ Time of prayer / worship / prayer ministry ]