This week we look at one of the most powerful aspects of learning to live a Christ-centered life. We’ll look at eight more spiritual gifts that are given to us by the Holy Spirit that enable us to do remarkable things for God in the church.
In Ephesians, Paul writes that the reason God has given spiritual gifts to us is so that the Body, or the church, may be built up and strong. That’s a significant purpose for spiritual gifts. There’s another reason we have spiritual gifts that might be just as significant. Using your spiritual gifts allows you to experience and come to know God in ways that few other things in your life will.
This week is part two. We explore what it means to serve according to your spiritual gifts.
- I will connect with a ministry leader about serving.
- I will discover, develop and deploy my spiritual gift.
- I will encourage others in the use of their gifts.
I want to start today by letting you in on a little secret — this is a place where no one is perfect.
It’s a little ironic, but when people are interviewing for a job in the Bay Area, and they’re asked, “What’s your biggest weakness?” they very rarely actually name a weakness.
Rarely does someone say, “I’m incredibly lazy,” or “I’m fundamentally dishonest,” when they’re interviewing for a job.
The number one fault people admit to in a job interview is, “I’m just a perfectionist. My standards are just too high. I just push myself to excel and contribute to humanity more than other people. That’s my biggest problem.”
Often, people say it’s a weakness, but they’re secretly proud of their perfectionism.
But the reality is perfectionism actually is a weakness, and it’s not pushing yourself to excel for a goal; perfectionism is the desire to appear perfect.
It’s a hidden self that’s often trapped in anxiety, trapped in fear of failure, comparing myself to other people, trying to hide my real weaknesses, and trying to protect my image. That’s really what perfectionism is about.
To say, “I’m a perfectionist,” is to say, “I’m a fear-filled, self-obsessed, failure-avoiding, envious, insecure, pathological liar.” That’s what perfectionism really is about.
Ironically, perfectionism actually inhibits or destroys our growth.
I mean, think if a child were a perfectionist.
They would never walk because the only way to learn how to walk well is to start by walking badly.
They would never learn how to talk or ride a bike or draw or play a sport or instrument.
You have to begin by doing it badly and by failing. And your Heavenly Father knows this.
The same is true with learning to develop and use your spiritual gifts. When you start using your spiritual gift, you may do it badly. That’s okay, you’re not perfect — you have to start somewhere if you’re going to learn to develop your gifts and use them to their fullest potential.
You’re not perfect, but you’re not stuck either. You can grow. You can change. You can become. You can devote ourselves to this.
This is a place where no one is perfect, so if you’re imperfect, you’ve found the right place.
And just to honor that, I’m going to teach an imperfect sermon today, okay?
As I go through these gifts today, I’d like to ask you to mark one or two of them that you can start to practice so you can discover if you in fact have that spiritual gift.
You don’t have to be perfect to start using your spiritual gifts at Blue Oaks. You just have to be willing to start.
Alright, let’s dig in.
The first spiritual gift I want to look at today is Hospitality.
The ability to make others, especially strangers, feel warmly welcomed, accepted, and comfortable in the church.
In our day, you might think this is someone whose house always looks perfect, they always serve gourmet meals, they always have freshly cut flowers out, and their dog is perfectly trained.
Actually, this is often the opposite. It’s someone who puts making people feel at home above needing their home to look perfect.
If you have the spiritual gift of hospitality, you love radical inclusion. You love asking, “Who feels left out?” and figuring out ways to delight them or to make them feel a part of the group.
You’re energized by having people over. You look forward to that.
Maybe you know about the story where Mary and Martha have Jesus and a bunch of people over, and Martha is the one who is in the kitchen. She’s busy. She’s getting everything ready. Martha probably had the spiritual gift of hospitality.
In fact, that’s the character in the Bible from whom Martha Stewart got her name.
Okay I just made that up. This is an imperfect sermon, so just bear with me.
You love to open your home, and you love to have people come in, take their shoes off and put their feet up. You love to provide them with food.
You love to connect people together. You love to meet new people and have them feel welcome, and you create an atmosphere in which people can relax.
You’re able to set people at ease in unfamiliar surroundings. You’re friendly, inviting, gracious and caring, and you always like to have meetings at your house.
You allow other people to serve each other and just enjoy each other’s company.
That’s the spiritual gift of hospitality.
When you’re with someone with the gift of hospitality it’s a good reminder that God is the God of hospitality. He wants to pull us away from what keeps us busy and let us rest.
Some of you have it. Some of you are using it well. Others of you need to step up and use it to build this church.
Now, let me just make a note here.
It’s easy to take spiritual gifts that have more up-front status and say they’re more important.
It’s also very easy to get gifts like hospitality, maybe mercy, and say, “It would be nice if someone did that, but it’s not really that important.”
Listen to me very carefully. This is God’s honest truth about spiritual gifts — every single spiritual gift is a reflection of who God is. So if you’re comfortable telling God that hospitality or mercy isn’t as important as some of the other gifts, be my guest. I’m not so comfortable doing that.
Every single spiritual gift is a way in which you see a different angle, aspect, or facet of who God is.
So not only when you use your gifts do you know and experience God more, but when someone else uses their gifts, I experience God in a new and fresh way.
And every time I leave someone with the gift of hospitality, I try to remind myself to do two things to remember that every spiritual gift is a reflection of God. I try to remember to thank them for using their gift, because I was cared for and ministered to, and I got to watch that gift serve other people.
And then, on the way home, I try to spend a moment or two reflecting on how their use of their spiritual gift of hospitality is a reminder to me that God is a God of hospitality. And I try to learn a little bit more about the nature of God because someone has used their spiritual gift.
Alright, the next gift I want to look at is Encouragement.
The ability to see the potential in those who are wavering in the faith, and then provide the motivation, strength, comfort, or challenge needed to reach that potential.
If this is you, you’re constantly painting a picture of God’s goodness and direction. You hurt with people who hurt. You’re positive, reassuring and like to motivate other people to grow when they’re going through a difficult time.
If you have this gift, God has given you the ability to bring encouragement to us.
And while I believe intercession provides the power to our gifts, I really believe it’s the gift of encouragement that fuels each individual gift to keep going — to reach their full potential for Christ.
Because every one of us, no matter what our gifts are, hit periods of discouragement. We get tired. We really wonder, “Because I’m in a period where I’m not seeing results, is this worth it?”
And you’re the one to write an email or text, pick up the phone, or meet someone for coffee just to encourage them.
You notice when we need that.
When we have a conversation with you, you say out loud in front of other people: “What you do matters.” You’re the ones that keep us going.
A church that has people who are using their gift of encouragement is a church that is very, very strong. And we need you to do more and more encouraging, to be really honest with it.
In the New Testament, there was a follower of Jesus named Joseph, and he had this gift so strongly that he was given a new name, Barnabas, which means son of encouragement. It just flowed out of him.
When Saul, who became known as Paul, became part of the church, everyone else was terrified of him because he had been persecuting the church, but Barnabas said, “Paul, you come be with me. I believe in you. I’ll breathe life into you.”
Then, there was another young man named John Mark who had some failures along the way, and everyone else gave up on him.
In fact, interestingly, Paul, who Barnabas believed in, gave up on John Mark, and Barnabas actually separated from Paul, because he said, “I want to encourage John Mark.”
It’s very interesting. Barnabas did not write a single word of Scripture, but Paul and John Mark wrote about half of the New Testament books. We might not have those books if it weren’t for Barnabas. He didn’t get credit for writing them, but they may not be there if it wasn’t for his gift of encouragement.
If you have the gift of encouragement, it just flows out of you naturally. You can tell because right now you’re wanting to say out loud, “Keep going! You can make this sermon great!”
Apparently, we don’t have anyone with that gift in this service.
Alright, the next spiritual gift is Knowledge.
The ability to discover, collect, analyze and organize information that will build up a group of people or the entire church.
Those of you who have the gift of knowledge are always asking questions, at least in your mind, if not out loud. “Why? How do you know? I want to know more about this.”
And you love to dig deeper.
Those of you who have the gift of knowledge love to do research. You enjoy having your references and your commentaries around you.
You love having all kinds of passages of the Bible in different translations, either all over your screen or spread out around you.
And you need quiet time so that you can dig deep.
If this is you, like the apostle Paul, you love to learn. You’re the individuals who have always wondered if, maybe, you might like to take a class in Greek so you can find out more about the meaning of Scripture.
You think. You analyze. You ponder. You have an incredible capacity to retain things.
And you’re constantly bringing truth to bear on a situation.
You will have an unusual insight or an understanding that will serve your team, your small group or serve the people whom you work with. You point us to God’s truth all the time.
You’re an incredible gift to the Body of Christ because you have knowledge that the rest of us need to help us learn and grow spiritually.
a word of caution though, and that is you need to know when to turn off the faucet. You may be in a group setting and have all this stuff built up that you’ve been wanting to share.
They just wanted to sip from a cup, and you turned on the fire hydrant. So, you may need to hold back in order to have the most impact.
The next spiritual gift is Faith.
The ability to trust God for what cannot be seen, and then act on God’s promise regardless of what the circumstances indicate.
This is quite remarkable to watch. It’s a special ability to have a vision of and to have confidence in God’s plans and direction for the future.
You might know the story of the three young men in the fiery furnace (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) where they said to the king, “Our God is able to deliver us even in there. Our faith is in him no matter what.”
If you have this gift, you have a capacity to continue to trust God when ordinary people would just quit.
When God gives you an idea or a dream about a future ministry, it’s like you can already see it.
When obstacles come, instead of defeating you like they would ordinary people, they actually energize you.
If you have the gift of faith, when you see a mountain and you tell it to move in Jesus’ name, you really do expect it to move.
The average person says, “I have to see it to believe it,” but the person with this gift says, “If I believe it, I know I’m going to see it.” That’s the gift of faith.
We’re all called to have faith. Some of you have a special gift for it. You feel it right now.
Because the Holy Spirit has uniquely gifted you, you are the kind of person who is able to act on God’s promises with confidence and an unwavering belief that God will do what he said he will do. For you, it is as simple as, “This is what God said, so this is what God will do.”
You will ask God for what you need. Then you’ll simply relax and trust that it’s going to happen.
Some of you have the gift of faith. You need to be developing it rather than neglecting it.
The next spiritual gift is Teaching.
The ability to explain the truths of Scripture clearly so that those listening both understand and learn, with the intent that they grow toward Christ-centered living.
People who have this gift love God’s Word. If you have this, you deeply believe the Scripture has the power to change lives, and you’ll often find yourself thinking, “How would I teach this message? How could I tell other people about it in a way that God might use to change their lives?”
If you have the gift of teaching, you may be sitting here thinking, “Matt’s doing an okay job of teaching this, but I would probably communicate things a little differently.”
When you’re listening to teaching or you’re going through life experiences or you’re reading things, you’re always thinking, “How would I communicate this? What spiritual truth can I draw out of this that would be of benefit to the people around me? What example or illustration would I use to make this situation or this teaching or this learning clearer? How can this best be taught in a way that will help people grow?”
In the book of Acts, there is a wife-and-husband team, Priscilla and Aquila, and apparently, they both have this gift, and they explain the way of God in a way that changes the lives of others.
The gift of teaching is, obviously, one of the more public and visible spiritual gifts.
And it’s a gift that needs to be taken very, very seriously. Not just because it’s my gift, but for the simple reason that if someone misuses the gift of teaching — teaches false doctrine or something that leads people down the wrong path, or they fail to teach something that needs to be included, then incredible harm can be done within the church.
James says those who teach will be judged more strictly; which is the only spiritual gift with an accompanying warning of judgment that goes along with it, along with the use or the misuse of that gift.
If you have this gift, you’ve probably had people express to you, “You know, I’ve never thought of it that way.” Or, “What you just said, that really changed my life.”
Now, the Apostle Paul urged Timothy, “Do not neglect your gift.” And I want to say just a word to everyone about this.
For about the first decade of ministry for me, I neglected this gift of teaching.
I didn’t build into it. I didn’t develop the gift. I didn’t hone it and sharpen it, but I neglected it.
So when you know your gift, develop it in any way you can.
Let me give you some ideas:
First, be around other people who have your spiritual gift. If it’s the gift of mercy, go visit people in the hospital with someone who has the gift of mercy and learn from them.
Watch and listen to people you admire with your same gift so you can learn from them.
Another idea is, read a book that specifically studies your spiritual gift so you can learn more about how to express it.
Another thing is, ask people you trust who know you well this question: “Do you believe I have this gift?” Then listen carefully to the response and consider their input.
Now, I want to give a warning here:
Something that can happen with spiritual gifts is we bring celebrity culture into the church, where it has no business.
I think we can do this with any spiritual gift, but it happens a lot with teaching.
In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul addresses this exact situation that was going on in the church. He named people, by name, that were getting put up on pedestals.
This is what Paul said:
”There’s jealousy and quarreling among you. One of you says, ‘I follow Paul;’ and then the next one says, ‘I follow Apollos;’ and then the other one, ‘I follow Cephas.'”
It’s like people in the church were saying, “My favorite teacher is Paul. Well, my favorite is Apollos. Well, Cephas is my favorite.”
And even back then, the celebrity culture was an incredible draw to people — to put a particular gift up on a pedestal or a particular person up on a pedestal.
But every time you do that, it diminishes the church and spiritual gifts.
And so as you’re working on your spiritual gift, if you tend to do that to other people or if you find that you want that for yourself, you need to stop and say, “In the use of my spiritual gift, one thing I will not do is to create a culture of celebrity here at this church.”
And I think when we work together with our spiritual gifts, we can keep that from happening and cross out the celebrity culture that can sometimes creep into the church.
The next spiritual gift is Giving.
The ability to creatively, cheerfully and generously contribute material resources and/or money beyond the tithe so that the church may grow and be strengthened.
Now, all followers of Jesus are called to give. We’re all called to be generous. We’re all called to tithe.
People with the spiritual gift of giving find they do generosity recreationally. They find themselves dreaming up more ways to be able to give.
I’ve known some people who have a lot of wealth, and they actually practice what’s sometimes called reverse tithing. They keep 10 percent of what comes to them and give 90 percent away.
Sometimes people think the only folks who have the spiritual gift of giving are people with a lot of wealth, and that’s not true. Many people, maybe you, have an ordinary income but an extraordinary gift of giving.
This is in the Bible the widow who gave her last coins to God. Jesus said she gave more than everyone. It’s maybe that little boy who gave his whole lunch of a couple of fish and five loaves over to Jesus, and Jesus used it in amazing ways. You just love to find ways to give.
If this if you, the Holy Spirit has given you a special ability to take what money and resources you have, turn them around and contribute them joyfully back to the work of God.
Those of you who have the gift of giving don’t ask questions like the rest of us — “How much money can I spend on this?” You ask, “What is the least amount of money that I need to get by on, pay my bills and make sure that I don’t go bankrupt myself?”
Then you ask, “How can I free up more and more of my money in order to turn it around and give it away?”
These people experience great joy in giving.
If you’ve ever have been the recipient of a gift by someone with the gift of giving, you know they are having as much fun giving the gift to you as you are being overwhelmed by getting it.
I can’t name names on this one, because the people I know would never speak to me again if I said their names out loud up here. I am not going to do that, but one guy in particular gets excited every time he gets a raise at work and then figures out how he can limit his lifestyle to give away more.
These people love to provide resources whether it’s time, money or energy. They are charitable and stewardship-oriented people who experience God’s joy in giving.
Like all the other gifts, this gift reminds us what a giving God we serve.
When we see someone with the gift of giving, part of our response is to step back for a moment and say, “Wow, God! That’s an example of what a giving God you are. As this person uses their gifts in my life, I not only express gratitude to them for the gift but I’m reminded that this gift comes from you and is a reflection of who you are.”
The next spiritual gift is Wisdom.
The ability to understand God’s perspective on problems or life situations and share those insights in a simple, understandable way.
The priority here is to bring clarity to a situation.
If you have this gift, people tend to come to you with their problems and ask you for help and direction in key moments of their lives, and you’re able to give it.
Often it seems really simple to you, and you don’t understand why other people are amazed by this.
Most of the rest of us make stupid decisions on a regular basis. People with the spiritual gift of wisdom have a God-given ability to help people around them make better decisions, and that’s often how you know you have this gift.
If you think you might have the spiritual gift of wisdom but people around you say you don’t have it, you don’t have it.
Wisdom is similar to the gift of knowledge, except you love to apply truth effectively in a specific situation. You love bringing God’s truth to a specific life situation, conflict or confusion.
Solomon was famous for asking, “God, would you give me the gift of wisdom so I can reign with it?”
I believe this is one of our executive pastor, Joe Hartley’s gifts. I have sat in situations and watched him listen to people’s life situations and then speak brilliant words of wisdom back to them.
I can describe this only as a gift from God.
Some of you have the gift of wisdom, and our church needs you to use it.
Alright, the last spiritual gift we’ll look at is Serving.
The ability to identify unmet needs and marshal people and resources to make sure those needs get met.
Of course, we’re all called to serve. It’s what makes a church great. It’s why God thought up this brilliant idea of arranging the church around spiritual gifts, but people with the spiritual gift of serving have a special ability to identify what the unmet needs are.
Where is the church lacking? Where is there a hole?
You like to figure out how to marshal people and resources to get involved in a task or situation and then ask, “How can we make sure these needs get met?”
In the book of Acts, there was a woman like this with the gift of serving named Dorcas.
A really little but beautiful character sketch of this woman — the writer of scripture says, “She was always doing good and helping the poor.”
What a great line to have on your tombstone when you die! Always doing good and helping the poor. That seems rather entry level and not really flashy living in the part of the world where we do in our day, but it’s a very interesting story.
Peter arrived in her town for a preaching engagement, and just before he got there, this woman, Dorcas, grew sick and died, and the people wept for her.
Widows who lived there showed Peter the robes and other clothes Dorcas had used her sewing ability to make for them so they could be clothed.
Peter was so moved by this and by their grief that he prayed, and Dorcas was raised from the dead.
Now, Peter had gifts, too, of leading and preaching (and resurrecting), so you would maybe think surely Peter’s gifts were way more important than Dorcas’ little serving gift, but when Peter died, no one raised Peter from the dead.
In other words, apparently the church decided they could get along without Peter better than they could get along without Dorcas and her gift to serve.
God loves this gift. And maybe you have it.
Peter wrote these great words from 1 Peter 4:10
God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.
I want to end with a couple of questions.
How do I know for sure what my gifts are?
I would say the best way is to get involved in actual serving. It’s good to listen to a message like this, but the best method is trial and error.
If you start serving somewhere and your gift mix is not a good match, you’ll fail and that’s okay. Someone might tell you, “You know, you’re not good at this.”
If you have a prophetic gift and you go to work in the nursery, babies don’t receive prophetic challenge really well. You’ll fail with them, and you can move on to something else. That’s great.
Another question — what if I didn’t get the gift I want to get?
This is interesting. Gift envy was a big problem in the church at Corinth. Gift envy is part of why Paul wrote that God has distributed the gifts of the Spirit to each one just as he (God) determined.
Now, the question is — which gift would you rather have, the gift you want for you or the gift God wants for you?
The correct answer would be, “The gift God wants for me because God made me.”
Learning to embrace, be grateful for, and exercise the gift God has given me and then let go of my ego-driven need for a gift I didn’t receive is a major part of the spiritual growth process.
And my own conviction from my own experience and watching people is, very often, there’s a freedom on the other side of coming to grips with what your spiritual gift is even though it may not be what you want it to be.
Another question — isn’t this serving thing optional?
There is a wonderful quote that I was given as a gift this week from Lois Labar who was a professor at Wheaton College for thirty years. She said:
“Every believer has been given a gift of the Holy Spirit for the building of the body of Christ. Our talent or ability is God’s gift to us. The skillful use of that ability is our gift to him.”
I love this next sentence —
“We’ll never know the thrill of fulfilling the purpose for which we were born until we have developed our gift. We will never know the fullness of life until we are in the center of God’s will making our unique contributions to the church of the living God.”
I hope your heart aches when you hear words like “never know the fullness of life.” If you’re not experiencing that, I hope that your thinking, “I want in on that.”
One of the ways to get in on it is to find out what your spiritual gift is and use it.
Starting today I want to encourage you to say to God, “Alright God, I’m going to offer myself to you, and ask if you will help me over time — because it’s a process — to find out what my gift is and use it.”
God will not say no to that prayer.
As you say that to God, you will find that he is generous and he will lead you to find out that giftedness and the right place to use it.
After the service today, we’ll have all of our ministries in the courtyard available to connect with you about opportunities to serve.
If you want to take the next step of getting signed up for a ministry opportunity, you’ll have a chance to do that.
I want to read one statement from Paul when he wrote to the church at Corinth and have you kind of fill in the blank mentally.
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12)
“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with…”
We might think he would say, “…so it is with the church,” but he doesn’t. He says, “…so it is with Christ.”
In other words, somehow the church (you and me) we are the body of Christ, the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. In other words, the church is not a human organization. It has not been given a human mission. It is God’s idea. It is God’s project. It is God’s presence, and it matters.
That a church operates according to spiritual gifts — that it be shepherded by people with the gift of shepherding and led by people with the gift of leadership and encouraged by people with the gift of encouragement and organized by people with the gift of administration and so on is the greatest plan for any human community that has ever existed and powered by God!
I want to say a word to everyone who serves. If you lead a small group or shepherd a little group of children or love some students or help lead worship or welcome new guests to a service, in a hundred different ways you are the church. You are love in human form. And I’m so grateful for you.
I know there are a thousand reasons not to do this where we live. You’ll hear, “You’re too busy. You have bills. You have a job. You have pressure.”
You might find yourself wondering, “Am I crazy to do this on top of everything else?” I just want to say to you, “You are not crazy.”
When you serve the body of Christ, you are part of a movement across time and space on every continent in every culture for the last 2,000 years.
Not a moment of time, not an act of service will be lost. You will be used by God. You will delight the heart of God. You will be swept up in the power and the work of Jesus. You will make a difference in time that will last though eternity. You are part of how the kingdom of God gets built. You are not crazy! You are part of the body of Christ, and I’m so grateful.
Alright, let me pray for you as Michaela and the team come to lead us in a closing prayer.
God, thank you for this amazing idea of spiritual gifts. I thank you for them here at our church. I pray, God, that every woman, every man, every young person, and every old person who sits under this teaching would be touched and moved and changed by it. I pray there would not be a single follower of Jesus who doesn’t find their place in this body so that we could be used to grow one another up in love and joy and to help everyone in the Bay Area find and follow Jesus. God, make us great in your eyes by making us servants. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Blue Oaks Church