Thinking MORE and BETTER About Spiritual Gifts
Evidently, we should be thinking more and better about spiritual gifts. Churches strategize about all sorts of things like: programs, fundraising, worship, assimilation, facilities, small groups, missionaries, preaching series' themes, etc. All worthy topics. But how often do we think about spiritual gifts? Paul was concerned about believers being uninformed about spiritual gifts. (I Corinthians 12:1) In Romans 12:3, the Apostle uses the verb form for "think" (phronein) four times, in one verse, to emphasize how we are to assess our spiritual gifts.
"Are we uninformed about spiritual gifts as well? Do we also improperly assess our spiritual gifts? For sure."
Many Christians today are confused about spiritual gifts. Common questions regarding spiritual gifts are: What is a spiritual gift? How can I know what my spiritual gifts are? Is there a difference between spiritual gifts and natural talents or abilities? How can I know what my spiritual gifts are? Can spiritual gifts be lost if you don't use them? How can I know what my spiritual gifts are? Are all the spiritual gifts still present? How can I know what my spiritual gifts are? Are there more spiritual gifts than the 19 mentioned in the New Testament? How can I know what my spiritual gifts are? Can I use my spiritual gifts outside the church, or are they only active within the church? And more.
(Any idea what the most often asked question is? :-)
Let's begin with some broad, quick facts:
A spiritual gift is a God-given ability to graciously serve others in the church.
Every believer gets at least one spiritual gift.
Christians received their spiritual gifts at the moment of their salvation.
We are responsible to use our spiritual gifts to graciously serve others in the church.
THINKING ABOUT SPIRITUAL GIFTS
We must avoid two pitfalls when thinking about our spiritual gifts: thinking too highly or too lowly about them.
"For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God assigned." (Romans 12:3)
Think humbly. We hear a lot today about low self-esteem, but we actually struggle with self-centeredness more. This warning is specifically that we should not hyper-think about our spiritual gifts. "Stop thinking of yourself more highly than you ought to think." We hyper-think about spiritual gifts by insinuating that certain ministries are the ultimate surrendered life (Romans 12:1) like missions, pastoring, singleness, full-time Christian work, and even martyrdom. We hyper think about spiritual gifts when we view the public, and prominent spiritual gifts as more significant than "behind the scenes" service gifts. We hyper think our spiritual gifts when we seethe with anger, because we feel underutilized and unappreciated. Overall, we hyper-think our spiritual gifts when we think to ourselves that we are some sort of spiritual legend, or that we are more competent, more wise and more gifted than we actually are.
"..we hyper-think our spiritual gifts when we think to ourselves that we are some sort of spiritual legend..."
Think accurately. The other extreme is not as explicit, but it is implied. It arises from our pride as well. "Think with sober judgment." Rather than intoxicated thinking or hyper-thinking we are also to avoid woe-is-me thinking or I'm-too-busy thinking. Rather, we are to think soberly, or accurately. God has given us at least one spiritual gift intended for us to use in gracious ministry to the body. Some Christians, however, effectively deny that they have any spiritual gifts at all. This inaccurate thinking manifests itself by either thinking that you don't have the time to use spiritual gifts or by being habitually uncurious about what your spiritual gifts are.
The most confusing phrase in this text is the end of verse three: "...each according to the measure of faith that God assigned." What in the world is the "the measure of faith that God has assigned"? There are basically two different interpretations of phrase.
The first view is that the word metron ("measure") refers to a quantity of faith that God sovereignly assigns to each believer, like he sovereignly assigns spiritual gifts. Essentially this view is that God not only graciously and providentially issues spiritual gifts by His own good pleasure to members of the Body, but He also graciously and providentially issues the quantities of faith or trust needed to use those spiritual gifts. This view could be illustrated by thinking of an electronic device that you purchase. Don't we all look on the box for either "batteries included" or "batteries not included"? Most Bible scholars see this as the best interpretation. It goes along with other statements in Scripture in which we learn that God energizes us to do His will. (Philippians 2:12)
"God not only graciously and providentially issues spiritual gifts by His own good pleasure to members of the Body, but He also graciously and providentially issues the quantities of faith or trust needed to use those spiritual gifts."
The second view is that the word metron ("measure") refers to a standard for measuring or accurately assessing our gifts. That standard is our faith. That standard could also be the gospel. Or, perhaps that standard is Christ, Himself. This view sees the faith behind the practice of the gifts as the only accurate yardstick. Spiritual gifts, then, should not be assessed by how public, popular, or spectacular they are, but rather by the standard of the faith that is employing them. Are they being used like Christ used His gifts? Are they being used in faith in the gospel? This view also makes a lot of sense. How easy it is to use spiritual gifts without any real faith in God that He will use them for His glory and the good of the Body.
Illustrating Spiritual Gifts
Paul uses a variety of metaphors for the church: Bride, Building, Temple. His favorite was clearly the human body. "For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another." (Romans 12:4-5) Each of us has approximately 206 bones, 650 muscles, and 9 major organ systems, which are perfectly coordinated and packaged smoothly in about 10 pounds of skin called, "the human body." The body serves as a perfect illustration of the church that displays the same diversity and unity as the human body. The illustration reminds us of the interdependency of the church. We need one another. We are dependent on one another. We should view one another as unique expressions of God's grace. Just as every cell in our bodies has a claim on the lungs to provide adequate oxygen, so we too, have a claim on one another to use our spiritual gifts in a way that serves one another in the body. You need me to use my spiritual gifts. And I need you to use your spiritual gifts too.
"Each of us has approximately 206 bones, 650 muscles, and 9 major organ systems, which are perfectly coordinated and packaged smoothly in about 10 pounds of skin, called "the human body." The body serves as a perfect illustration of the church that displays the same diversity and unity as the human body."
Employing Spiritual Gifts
We are commanded to use our spiritual gifts. "Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them." (Romans 12:6a) This command includes the implication that we will have knowledge of what our spiritual gifts are. How could we be commanded to use them if we don't know what they are? Not knowing what our spiritual gifts are, but being commanded to use them, would be like receiving news that we "got the job" and are to report to work on Monday, but the only snag is we don't know what the job is or even where the company is located. So, how do we employ our gifts, without first knowing what they are? Great point. The first step in beginning to identify and employ spiritual gifts (more to follow) is by studying the various gift lists in the New Testament.(II Timothy 2:15) There are five.
These gifts are divided into two major categories, according to I Peter 4:10-11. Spiritual gifts of service and spiritual gifts of speaking.
A spiritual gift is a God-given ability to graciously serve others in the church.
Lord, show us what gifts that you have endowed us with so that we might employ them for your glory and the church's good.