I really like Ben Elton’s satirical book ‘Melt down’ about the impact of the credit crunch on an upwardly mobile couple and their friends living in London. They decided their son was a gifted child and therefore they sent him to a private school across London, because he wouldn’t get the attention he needed at the local state school all their resources would probably go into just controlling all the kids from the local housing estate. They were quit amazed at how all their friends children seemed to be gifted as well and deserved a private school education. There children were gifted, they told themselves, it wasn’t a case of white flight! It didn’t hurt that their son had a nanny who helped him with most of his homework and projects. But when they hit financial difficulties and faced bankruptcy, they decided that just maybe their son was really quite normal and reluctantly sent him to the local state school, where they were surprised that he actually did really well and made a good friend with a child from a refugee African family.
Giftedness is an interesting topic in our society today. We tend to value people who are gifted…gifted athletes, gifted musicians, gifted academics, gifted business people, gifted artists… are sort after, acknowledged, praised, highly paid and placed on a pedestal…yes they still have to put in the hard yards and the practise and produce the goods but we celebrate and value them. We promote them as role models and are often surprised when they let us down with their behaviour outside the field, or their field. We confuse gifted with good, ability with virtue. And we can think that being gifted leads to status and entitlement.
We are working our way through a series looking at the gifts of the Holy Spirit in scripture and the church today. When it comes to thinking about gifts and giftedness in the church we can carry the thinking of the world with us. You just have to look at the idea of celebrity pastors, gifted communicators with access to the internet who have more status and influence than they actually warrant. The gospel actually turns our thinking about having gifts and being gifted on its head, in Kingdom of God thinking, as we will see from our reading this morning, God gives gifts to all his people so they can serve and love one another. The gifts of the spirit are given to empower us to serve.
Romans 12 starts ‘therefore’, it is a changing point in Paul’s letter to the Romans: from theology to ethics, doctrine to duty, belief to behaviour, from exposition, explaining the Gospel, to exhortation, how we live it out in everyday life. Paul had been writing to the church in Rome which was made up of both Jews and gentiles, how we are to be a cross cultural people of God has always been a challenge for the church, he explains that they are one people because both Jew and gentile have been made right with God by grace, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that they are one people because they have been filled by the same Holy Spirit. Now in Romans twelve he starts to explain how they are to live out that reality. The first two verses we had read to us this morning give us the over view of what is to come. That we are to live our lives as a living sacrifice… this morning we sang Third days song offering which sums it well in the lyrics.. “Lord I give you my life… because you gave your life for me… This is spiritual worship that our whole lives are handed over to God: that we are wholeheartedly about God and the purposes of God. It means that our minds are renewed; our thinking needs to change from conforming to the world around us, elsewhere Paul talks of having the mind of Christ, that we are gospel people. Then the rest of the book of Romans applies that to different ways of behaviour, it starts with gifts and serving one another and as we saw in the last section of our reading it moves on to look at how we love and treat each other. Then need for virtues to go alongside giftedness.
Paul starts by exhorting his readings not to think to highly of themselves, but rather to have a sober judgement in accordance with the faith God has distributed to you. In the ancient near east the idea of being a servant or serving others was looked down upon, society was based on things like status, patronage and reciprocity; that’s doing things for others so you will get somewhere in return. But Paul invites his readers not to have that mind set but rather to see that they have been given gifts to be used to serve each other and those gifts should be used lavishly and effectively.
We often think that in accordance with the measure of faith we have been given means that “we’ll my faith isn’t that strong so I don’t think God would have given me any gift’. But a sober judgement calls us to not only to not think too highly of ourselves but also not to think too lowly of ourselves either. That measure of faith is not how much faith we think we have but invites us to look at the measure of what Jesus Christ has done for us. Jesus death and resurrection, Jesus forgiveness and new life is the measure of our faith. You know if you come to God with the feeling, “well who am I God, I’m not up to the task?” you actually stand in a longline of heroes of the faith who felt the same way… Moses and his speech impediment… David a shepherd and the youngest in his family… Jeremiah no one’s going to listen because I’m just a boy…Isaiah…a man of unclean lips from a people of unclean lips… Peter… a fisherman who denied Jesus three times…Paul…who had persecuted the Christians…Paul… who because of that considers himself the chief sinner and least amongst the apostles. It’s not how we feel but what Christ has done for us.
Paul goes onto say that it’s not about us as individuals either but rather that we are the body of Christ, just as the body is made up of many parts and for the body to function each of those parts needs to play its part so it is with us. For the body of Christ to function properly we all need to use the gifts God has given us. For you to grow you need the people around you to minister to you, for me to grow in Christ and do what God has called me to do I need you to do what God has called and empowered you to do.
Then Paul lists seven gifts that are representative of what he is talking about. All the lists of Gifts of the Holy Spirit we will be looking at are different because none of them are exhaustive and they are all designed to convey different things in their context. Here you kind of get the feeling that the things Paul is talking about are our natural abilities rather than the supernatural things we will see in 1 Corinthians 12. Although as Paul starts with prophecy we need to acknowledge that they are gifts that come from the presence and empowering of the Holy Spirit. We shouldn’t be surprised if there seems to be a mix of what we might call natural ability and spiritual ability. God made each one us, he made each one of us unique each one of us with different gifts talents and abilities, and shouldn’t we expect that God would want us to use those things for his glory for his body to function. In Romans 8 Paul had talked of the whole of the Christian life being lived in the Spirit: we are God’s new creation and we should expect the Holy Spirit to take some of those things and infuse and grow them or recreate within us abilities and talents as Gifts for his body.
Let’s have a look at these gifts. If you have a pen you might want to follow along…
First prophesy… prophesy is mentioned first because in both the Old and New Testament it is seen as the sign that the Spirit of God is present and at work. People often mistake prophecy as being foretelling the word of God. But it is more the telling forth of God’s word, by special revelation applying God’s word to situations here and now. The Old Testament prophets spoke to Israel’s life and situations through the lens of the covenant. Likewise in the New Testament it is through the lens of the gospel. It is bringing God’s timeless word and making it timely. It should be done in the measure of faith we are given, both calls the prophet to exercise their gift in the measure of faith they have for some it will mean the occasional word for others it will mean an abiding ministry. But also this measure of faith also calls the prophet to make sure they are speaking the gospel not their own words. Elsewhere as we will see Paul says it is for the community to discern what God is saying.
Serving is next and people usually jump up and down and say yes I can do that I can make the cups of tea or sweep the floor. But I think we are called to do that sort of thing, the word for serving used here is the same word we get the word deacon from. In older translations it was the word administration, which means the ability to make a vision a reality, like you would administer medicine to cure a disease. It speck of both a ministry of word and of practical tasks to see things done. In acts 6 seven people are set aside as deacons to ensure that the money gathered for the widows was distributed equally amongst the Jerusalem Jews and the Hellenistic Jews, Jews with a more Greek background. If this is your gift says Paul don’t step back get in and do it.
If it’s Teaching then teach. Teaching differs from prophecy in as much that teaching is explaining the Gospel to people so they know it and can live it. Expository preaching is open up God’s word so we can understand it and apply it, in the midst of that I hope that God reveals himself to people and it becomes prophetic as well. But teaching is a gift for speaking, for leading children’s ministry adult education and small groups, one on one passing on the gospel.
Encouraging, is the ability to exhort people to grow in their faith. To inspire people, while in Hebrews 10 it says we are to spur one another on. There are some people who are gifted at this. There a few people in my life when I spend time with them I come away built up and encouraged because they have used this gift. We all need these kinds of people around us. Linda harper has often shared in our service and it is usually an encouragement from her own life to grow in our faith, I think it’s a good example of this…
If it giving then do so generously, we are all called o give and to contribute but here Paul is talking of people who simply have this as part of their lives. It may man that they are responsible for the church funds or personal resources but they have a passion to meet the needs of others financially. Paul encourages them to do it with generosity; Zacchaeus is a great example of this once he is welcomed back into God’s people by Jesus his first instinct is to give half his money to the poor. Not out of obligation but from what he has generously received from Christ.
If its leadership then lead. There are tens of thousands of books that have been written about leadership, it is not a status thing but a service thing, being able to see a vision and see it come to fruition. People are often reluctant to take it up because of the time commitments and other things. But this is not just a gifting for people who take on offices in the church. Recently experts have started to talk about 360 degrees leadership. That wherever we are in an organisation we offer leadership in how we relate to those around us, how we respond to and encourage those in leadership positions how we inspire and relate and encourage those around us. It’s a gift to use where ever we are.
Lastly show mercy. The ability to show God’s love and care to someone. WE do it cheerfully because there is nothing worse than someone being made to feel as if they are a burden to people. But also we do it cheerfully because we know we are serving God by showing his mercy.
Now don’t forget the list in Romans 12 is not exhaustive its simple examples… as I’ve been speaking maybe the spirit has been stirring up some thoughts in you as to what God has given you.
One of the ways in our western world we have come to think too highly of ourselves is to see ourselves as consumers, we are here to consume, it’s our role in the economy, but we are finding out that rampant consumerism is counterproductive and destructive to our environment, and its unsustainable. It’s the same in the church. People often come to a church for what they can get out of it. In today’s world you can even go shopping in person or over the internet for the flavour, size, style, fashion and extras you want in a church just like you would any other consumer item. But our churches Logo speaks of the spirit ‘burning and not being consumed’… the call of God on us, is to be empowered to serve each other in love. We are constantly reminded that for a body to remain healthy and function it’s not only what they eat consume but how they exercise as well. God has made us new by his crucifixion and resurrection, God is renewing us by his Holy Spirit’s presence in us the call is not to be self-absorbed and self-centred, it has been said that someone who is wrapped up in themselves makes a small package, but rather to allow our gifts and ourselves to be unwrapped and unpacked to serve Christ through serving one another, to love Christ by loving one another through practical service.