TEXT: 1 Corinthians 12:4-11

This week and next week, we are going to get down to the nitty gritty of spiritual gifts. This will be more like teaching than preaching as we look very specifically at the different kinds of spiritual gifts and talk about what they mean and what they are for. I've been with you now almost two years, and in that time I hope you've been hearing that I don't believe that this Christianity business is much good at all if it only stays in our heads. Christian faith is about how to live, not how to think. We might have to get our thoughts in order before we can fully live it out, but if what we say we believe never affects our lives, we've wasted a lot of Sunday mornings.

That's why I do things like have teaching sermons on the spiritual gifts. I don't think of this as just an intellectual exercise. I absolutely believe that the spiritual gifts are real gifts that God gives to real people so that we can help each other along in our faith journey. There is a cream-colored sheet of paper in your bulletins that says "Spiritual Gifts" at the top. Take it out. [For website purposes, the name of each gift will appear in bold type, followed by brackets containing the Greek name in italics and the scripture reference. Categories of gifts will be underlined.]

If you have ever made a commitment to love and serve God, you have at least one of the gifts on this list. And if you haven't ever made such a commitment, God is waiting to give you one of these the minute you do. Like I said last week, the gifts you get are not for you...they are for you to use to help others. That means that this is a very selfish sermon. Unless I can get you to realize the gifts you have from God, I'm not going to benefit. And I happen to like to benefit. So, I'm going to talk about the gifts that God gives out to people and hopefully encourage you to figure out which gifts God has given to you. This sermon applies to every person in this room. You either already have one or more of these gifts, or God has packages with your name on it, waiting for you to be willing to receive them.

For the purposes of these two sermons, I have done some grouping of the gifts. The first grouping I did, which is not evident on the sheet is to divide the gifts into NATURAL and SUPERNATURAL GIFTS. We'll do the natural gifts this week and the supernatural ones next week. Now in one sense, all the spiritual gifts are supernatural...they all come from God and are given for spiritual purposes. We have other kinds of gifts from God that we call talents...woodworking, math, music, soccer, cooking. Those sorts of things are God-given gifts, but they are not what we mean when we talk about spiritual gifts.

Spiritual gifts are those things identified in the Bible as gifts that God gives for the purposes of helping each other in our spiritual lives. They are gifts for the church. Some of teaching, for instance...may have a counterpart in a natural talent. But in talking about teaching as a spiritual gift, we are talking about the way teaching is specifically used in a faith context.

In saying that we will talk about the "natural" gifts, I am talking about the gifts that we see as staying within the bounds of human reason and natural law. You'll see next week that God gives gifts that transcend those boundaries as like healing, miracles, and tongues...and that some gifts have both natural and supernatural applications. But you'll see that as we go along. Beyond that, I've divided the gifts into four categories, which are on your sheet -- Leadership gifts, Supporting gifts, Knowing gifts, and Caring gifts.

For those of you who enjoy doing some study on your own, I have also included the Greek word for each gift, as it appears in the Bible, as well as the Bible passage or passages where you can find the gift listed. The Bible passages are not a complete listing of every place a word appears, but rather a list of the places where it is listed specifically as a spiritual gift. We are going to go through them rather quickly. If you want to know more, there are a number of books on the gifts, or you can come to the Spiritual Gifts class during Lent.

Look on your sheet under Leadership Gifts. The first one here is Leadership itself, and the Bible has two different words for gifts of leadership. The first one I have called Nurturing [proistanai Romans 12:8] and it refers to the kind of leadership style that acts like a protector and guardian. This gift leads by being the caretaker for a group and giving aid and help to those under your care. In modern lingo it is the enabling leadership style.

The Bible also lists a second type of leadership gift, which I have called Guiding [kubernesis I Corinthians 12:28]. Sometimes this is called "administration," but it really has little to do with the organization of details. The Greek word here is the word for the pilot of a ship or a statesman. If you have this gift you are able to give good, concrete direction to others. You can steer the ship in the right direction and others willingly follow.

Both of those types of leadership are gifts from God for use in the church...the top down style of guiding leadership and the more subtle nurturing style of leadership. The church, to be complete, needs both kinds of leaders.

The next gift under leadership is Evangelism [euangelistes Ephesians 4:11]. An evangelist is one who proclaims the good news. It's not just proclaiming news...the word implies good news...victorious, joyous news. If you tend to simply bring God's word...which includes the hard word as well as the comforting word, hang on until we get to Prophecy. The evangelist is the one who is always excited about the great things happening...the one who can see the good side and rushes to make others feel better with the good news. Of course the ultimate goal of the evangelist in the church is to bring to others the best news of all...the news that God has a human face in Jesus Christ.

Next is Teaching [didaskalia Romans 12:7, I Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 4:11]. We probably don't need to say too much here, except to note that the spiritual gift of teaching means a special gift for teaching the faith as opposed to the talent of teaching which has to do with imparting other types of information. The Greek word implies passing along information from a higher authority. To have the gift of teaching, you don't need to have the ability to think great thoughts or to have innovative ideas. The gift of teaching is simply the ability to be able to communicate the faith to others in a way that people can understand.

Perhaps your gift is Apostleship [apostolos I Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 4:11], which is next on the list. The apostle is someone on a mission. It literally means one who is sent out. When you have the gift of apostleship, you are able to be sent out on God's mission while remembering Who it is that has sent you. The focus is on the sender and the sender's message, not on the apostle. When you look at the Bible, you discover that the disciples of Jesus eventually became apostles. They learned from Jesus as disciples, and then they were ready to be sent out. I think that the gift of apostleship is sort of the graduation gift of every disciple.

When we graduate from grade school, or high school, or college, we don't know everything there is to know by a long shot. But we are ready to be sent out to the next level. It's the same with discipleship. We never finish learning and growing as Disciples. But there comes a point where we have learned enough that we are ready to be apostles...ready to be sent out to work for God in the world. If you are serious about being a disciple, or a learner, of Jesus you will eventually receive the gift of apostleship. You will be sent out on God's mission.

The next one we'll talk about next week with the supernatural gifts, and I'll explain then why it is in the leadership category.

Next are the Supporting Gifts, and the first one is Helping [antilempsis I Corinthians 12:28]. The gift of helping is simply loving action, especially during times of crisis. If you are the one who runs to the rescue in a time of need, this is probably your gift. It is the emphasis on crisis times that separates the gift of helping from the next one...the gift of Service [diakonia Romans 12:7, I Corinthians 12:5]. The Greek word for service is more directly tied to helping with basic tasks...waiting on tables, very literally. If you are the one who easily and cheerfully does all the little background things that need to be done, this is your gift.

Helping and service are both forms of giving, but the spiritual gift of Giving [metadidomai Romans 12:8] is talking more about the cheerful giving of money and possessions. Helping and service may include that, but those are more ways of giving of yourself. The gift of giving is giving primarily of your stuff. If you are always surprised at tax time by how much you gave away the previous year, you may well have this gift. Others may give a lot, but they know exactly what they have given and to whom and why. That's not wrong, it's just not an indicator of the gift. Those with the gift of giving simply give stuff away without thinking, and when the gift is in true swing, your tax forms never reflect all you have given because you didn't keep a record of half of it and couldn't remember if you tried. A person with the gift of giving never asks whether the tithe is supposed to be of the gross or the net. You just give because it's your nature. It's your gift.

Tongues and Interpretation we'll hit next week. Next week we will also talk about the Knowing Gifts. This set of gifts really fits in both the natural and supernatural categories, because they can have both types of manifestations. You're going to have this list in the bulletin next week, too, but for now put the knowing gifts on hold until next week, along with the last of the Caring Gifts...healing.

As with the supporting gifts, the Caring Gifts are closely related. The first one has most commonly been called Exhortation [parakalein Romans 12:8], but that English word doesn't really give us the whole picture. This gift might be called the Christian coach. It implies encouraging someone toward a goal, winning someone over, inviting, beseeching, admonishing and comforting. It is the faith version of the physical therapist who you sometimes hate in the midst of things but are thankful for afterwards. If you are always writing letters or making visits to encourage and support others, if you are always on your knees praying for this concern and that one, there's a good chance that this is your gift.

Related to this, and also to the nurturing leadership gift is the gift of Shepherding [poimen Ephesians 4:11], and it probably could as well have gone under the Leadership Gifts as here under Caring. The shepherd protects and nurtures like the nurturing leader, but adds the emphasis of seeking out the lost and protecting the flock at risk to your own life if necessary. Because the shepherd often takes time with an individual sheep as well as the whole flock, it also is a gift that fits here with the caring gifts. The shepherd knows each sheep.

If this is your gift, you tend to have a flock...either gathered in a group, which would put it as a leadership gift, or scattered in various places, which would put it here with caring gifts. You demonstrate concern for the struggles and difficulties of your flock, protect them from trouble and harm, and encourage them toward green pastures.

And lastly we come to the great gift of Mercy [eleein Romans 12:8]. The Greek word for mercy implies the kindness that is owed in mutual relationships. What Jesus did for the Greek concept of mercy was to teach, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, that by virtue of our common humanity, every single human being is in mutual relationship with us. What the Greeks reserved for friends, Jesus commanded us to extend to everyone...even sworn enemies. If you have the gift of mercy, your heart goes out to everyone in need...even those who have hurt you and wronged you. And with this gift, more than your heart goes go out and act in kindness toward them.

I hope these descriptions have been a help. As I said at the all have at least one of these gifts...or at least a package from God waiting with one of these gifts in it. Many of you will have more than one. But God purposely does not give all of them to the same person because one of God's ultimate goals is to get us together in community where we each share our particular gifts for the good of the whole.

And by the way, since God doesn't give all of the gifts to any one person, don't expect that your pastor is going to have all of them either. I have some of these gifts, and I am standing up here because I have some in the leadership area. But I am just one tiny piece of what is needed for us to do the work of God here in Dover. Without the gifts that each of you bring, we are not complete and our work will be lopsided and much harder than necessary. And we don't just need one person with each gift. The work is large...there's a whole world out there that needs some good news to brighten up their day. There is a world filled with hungry people who need bread, homeless people who need a place to lay their heads, sad and lonely people who need the love and care we have, poor who need our gifts. We need a bunch of leaders, evangelists, givers, servers, teachers, shepherds, and people filled with God's mercy.

What gifts have you been given? What packages are waiting for you to open? What is the spiritual task to which you've been called? If every one of us would take the time to figure it out, Dover could not contain the explosion.


(c) 2001, Anne Robertson

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