"Have a Gift? Use it!"
Oct 16/05 Romans 12:1-8
The Missing Members Handicap
As humans, we are blessed by God with wonderful bodies and minds; yet we may take these for granted, like the song that said, "You don't know what you've got til it's gone." As a hospital chaplain, each week I have the privilege of visiting a number of patients, many of whom are having to adjust to new realities concerning their various members. Recently, for example, one person had 3 toes off; another, their right leg amputated. Diabetics may suffer from poor circulation, which predisposes them to such unpleasant surgery. Then there are the usual hip or knee replacement patients. A few days after the surgery, you'll see them with their walkers shuffling up and down the hall, get their muscles back in shape so they can go home on their own steam. For amputees, the physiotherapists in the rehabilitation department work with them until they learn to walk all over again. Missing a body part can really hinder your functioning!
The apostle Paul compared the church to a body with many members. He didn't use the financial analogies of the time; the church isn't a business or a corporation, but a body - that's organic not organizational. The church isn't a multinational company that can sell off a whole division and carry on its merry way, largely unaffected; when our bodies lose a part, we hurt! That's a big adjustment. If an arm breaks and you lose the use of your main hand for a while, that's a real drawback.
Paul's goal in writing to the church at Rome is to help them understand they are one body in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit to co-operate in putting the Lord's will into action. Each Christian has a part in exercising their individual function as God's tool or instrument. The motivation for our serving in various ministries springs from God's immeasurable grace to us.
Changed by God's Rich Grace
God's power to change lives through commitment to Jesus is a theme that runs through the whole book of Romans. In chapter 1(4, 16) Paul asserts that Jesus "was declared with power to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead..." Paul isn't ashamed of this Good News "because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes..." The next few chapters focus on sin's damaging effect, the shame of judgment we deserve, and the forgiveness Christ's substitutionary death makes possible: freedom from sin, peace and joy through God's gift of the Holy Spirit and rebirth. We are declared "just" or righteous by faith. That's the new position or standing we enjoy before Almighty God - He sees us now with Christ's credentials, not the guilt of our previous sins. But chapters 6 on turn to concentrate on the new power that's available to those who follow Jesus, who are "in Christ" to use Paul's language. Receiving Jesus' Lordship, we are no longer in bondage to sin or our former fallen-fleshly nature. There's been a break with its earlier mastering of our actions. 6:13 says, "Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness." Our new attitude is to 'reckon' or count ourselves dead to evil impulses; now we are instruments or tools of righteousness. Chapter 8(2,9) says we are set free from sin's law or rule by the Spirit of life; we now live according to the Spirit, we are controlled by the Spirit of God that lives in us. Control has to do with power, mastery, bonding.
Paul picks up again this theme of empowerment to serve God in chapter 12. It begins, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices..." It's easy to skip over a couple of key phrases there and miss the whole undergirding of his coming appeal to live totally for God. That first word, "therefore", is extremely important grammatically and logically: what follows grows out of what's just been talked about, what's immediately before the "therefore". That other phrase, "in view of God's mercy," echoes the focus of the therefore. What's he just been talking about that serves as a springboard for what follows?
Chapters 9-11 have been a digression to deal with the Jewish question; why has Jesus not been widely received by His own people? Paul affirms the Jews aren't forgotten, God remembers His covenant promises; but God has allowed a temporary hardening, and extended the Gospel to Gentiles, in hopes of making the Jews envious and sparking a response (11:11,25). The last few verses of chapter 11(30,32) note, "you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience...God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all." The whole book to this point has described how God's taken pity on an erring, rebellious, shame- and destruction-bent humanity, mercifully allowing His own Son to stand in for the punishment due sinners. it's been sheer mercy, one-sided giving: "Who has ever given to God, that God should repay Him? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things..." (11:35f)
God has given us SO MUCH. "Therefore...in view of God's mercy" Paul argues we owe it to God (logically - it's reasonable) to offer ourselves totally, living sacrifices - in contrast to the dead animals presented by the Levitical priests. "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world" (12:2) - don't let it press you into its mould; don't unthinkingly adopt its template, its 'usual' approaches. You are now as you were created to be, God's "original", one-of-a-kind, special and unique to your Heavenly Father. Instead of CONforming, we're to "be TRANSformed by the renewing of your mind," in the direction of finding out and implementing God's good and perfect will. Transformation means change: there's that power at work again, having an effect, altering us to be better and different than we were before.
So, it's God's rich grace and mercy that motivates us to give ourselves back to God totally, in response to His saving us in Jesus from eternal condemnation and bondage to deadly sin.
Rightly Evaluating Oneself
"Transformed by the renewing of your mind..." That sounds like it has to do with attitude, a new outlook, having God's view on things. Remember back in the days of spelling bees, or mental arithmetic competitions? Remember the agony of picking teams for baseball or soccer and not being particularly athletic, so you had to wait to be picked? From our early years as children, right on up through the job application process, we're conscious of either "having it" or "not having it" when it comes to certain skills and abilities. For some reason we're not all born as triathletes or international chess masters! If we're honest with ourselves, we realize we cover the whole spectrum, from mighty to mediocre.
There's a good deal of subtle comparing goes on even in church circles when it comes to this area of "spiritual gifts". Even as a pastor, when I hear about how wonderful a Reuben Morgan concert was, I have to check the rising tendency to become envious! Those in the church with more obvious or prominent gifts, such as teaching or leadership, may get big-headed and become proud of your particular ability. Paul hadn't visited the church at Rome before he wrote, but he HAD been to Corinth and rebuked them in a letter for their boasting about their gifts. He said (1Cor 4:7), "For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?"
The Corinthians were so bursting forth with expressions of spiritual gifts that their worship services must have been quite loud and boisterous, a cacophony as individuals tried to share what they felt God had given them. Their worship was so busy they almost needed a stop light! Paul describes it: "When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.[then he cautions] All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church." (1Co 14:26)
Paul hadn't met the Roman believers, but counsels them to guard against the same tendency of being puffed-up over spiritual gifts. He says with quite a serious tone in v3, "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you." Not think of yourself too highly - over-proud, inflated with self-conceit. Instead, have "sober judgment": being right-minded, 'sane' rather than the out-of-one's-mind 'over-thinking' of the spiritually proud. Our estimation of ourselves is to be proportionate to the measure of faith God's given us - the faith that enables one to exercise spiritual gifts.
There are tools widely available today that have been developed to help us discover our own spiritual gifts, so we can have a right estimation of what God's equipped us individually to do. Our church leadership has adopted the goal that every member will have completed a spiritual gifts inventory and know how God's equipped them. That's why we have a real "push" on this week, asking you to either take a paper survey home and bring it back next week, or do the online survey and bring your results. Next Sunday we'll look again at the various gifts in more detail; today my intent is just to re-emphasize the importance of knowing them and putting them into practice, generally. As you find out your results through the week, please email or call me to let me know what your top 3 gifts are, so we can focus on the more predominant ones next Sunday.
In vv4-5 Paul uses the body analogy: in Christ we are many but form one body, with many members, which do not all have the same function. The body needs its legs and toes and ears and mouth, all working together for the benefit of the whole. Paul adds, "each member belongs to all the others"; we're interdependent, members of one another. Spirituality is not like solitaire: it's carried out in harmony with others in your church family, a team effort.
Stuart Briscoe once watched the National Soccer Championship Final in Brazil. He describes the only goal that was scored. "As the ball was centred high by the right winger...the centre forward...seeing his opportunity, slipped between two defenders.Leaping high in the air, he trapped the ball on his chest, dropped it on his left foot, flipped it onto his right, glanced at the goal, and with tremendous power shot into the far left corner out of the goalie's reach." He adds, "It would be interesting to know how many members of [the forward's] body were utilized in scoring the winning goal in such superb fashion..."
That's the vision the Holy Spirit through Paul proposes for the church: all body members working together to accomplish God's goal. We truly are interdependent: we can't do it alone, we need one another and each one's gifts exercised in a co-ordinated and orderly fashion.
"Just Do It!"
Speaking of sports, the Nike slogan summarizes well Paul's coaching in vv6-9: "Just Do It!" The grammar is terse, matter-of-fact: "If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it...If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage..." You get the idea. "If you have a gift - use it!" Let it out - don't be bashful. God will be glorified by your obedient use of the skill He's granted you. Just don't hide it under a bushel, or others won't see your good deeds and be able to praise Him.
V8 starts adding some adverbs, implying how we do it is important in addition to just doing it. "...Let him give generously...let him govern diligently...let him [show mercy] cheerfully." It's not supposed to be something we do as if it's a burden, a 'have to', gritting our teeth. The Lord is delighted and receives honour when our attitude complements or accents our actions - cheerfully at the task, not grudgingly. You're going to do it anyway, so why not do it with excellence and joy?
Paul says(6), "We have different gifts [charismata], according to the grace [charis] given us." Your gift is a 'gracing', an expression of Jesus' goodness that is flowing into and through your life. The lexicon defines 'charisma' as "grace or gifts denoting extraordinary power, distinguishing certain Christians and enabling them to serve the body of Christ, the reception of which is due to the power of divine grace operating on their souls by the Holy Spirit." Human surgeons operate on our bodies with varying results as mentioned earlier: sometimes the hospital seems sort of a human "chop shop" - a part off here, a part replaced there. The Holy Spirit operates on our soul to add divine ability to our lives, SO THAT we can carry out God's intention in the world by actions that express Jesus' new nature inside us.
We need to remain ever aware of the 'big picture': it's not about me or 'my gift' but God's overall project. Spiritual gifts are to be used "for the common good", "so the church may be edified" (or 'built up'; 1Co 12:7, 14:5). I'm just one interdependent member among others, passing the ball from the left foot to the right. The chief thing is scoring the goal, not my small part, vital as it may be.
Our world is full of hurting people with many needs that warrant our attention. International disasters leave millions homeless; in our own community, we're aware of tensions and pressures in the lives of people we know. We're at war with an enemy who has determined to cause as much stealing, killing, and destroying as he can before Jesus returns. There are opportunities all around for the church, and us as non-amputee members, to apply God's grace and make a difference.
During the Second World War, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill sent a telegram to American President Theodore Roosevelt saying, "Give us the tools and we'll finish the job." That may echo the cry of the church at times when we feel inadequate for the demanding task of being Christ's body on earth. But in Scripture we read the cabled response from the heavenly throne: it's as if God's saying, "I gave you the tools [the gifts]; now finish the job."