>The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, May 23, 2010. The text for this week’s message is 1 Corinthians 12:1-11.

This morning, we are in the third week on our series on the Holy Spirit. Two weeks ago, we started off by looking at who the Holy Spirit is. We saw that the Holy Spirit is part of the Trinity alongside the Father and the Son. While they are all three distinct individuals, they are eternally bound together as one in the Trinity. We also talked about how the Holy Spirit is not an “it” or “the Force” or anything of the sort. The Holy Spirit is a personal being that cares for and is involved in our lives in very real ways.
Last week, we did a surface-level look at what it is that the Holy Spirit does throughout Scripture, starting with the work of the Spirit in the Old Testament, proceeding through the Spirit’s work in Jesus’ ministry and landing on the Spirit’s post-ascension work in the life of the disciples and the early church.
The Spirit’s work continues in our lives as well. It didn’t end with the New Testament. The grace of God is applied in different ways at different times in our lives by the work of the Spirit. Before we enter into a relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ, the Spirit calls us to repentance. This is sometimes referred to as the prevenient grace of God; it is the grace that goes before salvation. Even when we are not at a point of being in relationship with God, God’s grace is at work in our lives.
When the time comes, and we do turn to Jesus and repent of our sins, the justifying work of grace is applied in such a way that our sins are no longer held against us. The slate has been wiped clean, so to speak. From that point on, the grace of God in our lives takes the form of sanctification, which means that we conform more and more to the image of Christ. We become more holy, not because of what we do with our lives, but because of what God is doing through us.
It is important for us to have a basic grasp of what the Spirit is doing in our lives so that when we come together as the body of Christ, we know that the Spirit is working in each one of us as individuals and as a collective. I mentioned last week that the Spirit guides and leads the Church today, much like how Jesus guided and led his disciples during his earthly ministry.
One important way that the Spirits guides and leads us as a body of Christ in this particular location at this particular point in our lives is through what we call spiritual gifts. A spiritual gift is a God-given ability used to accomplish something for the kingdom of God. We are empowered by God’s grace through the Holy Spirit to accomplish these things.
To begin, let’s talk a little more about what a spiritual gift is, and what it is not. A spiritual gift is not a natural talent. There are some people that truly have a talent for certain things – a gifted athlete, a math wiz, a good mechanic – all of those things are great talents, but they are not spiritual gifts. Again, a spiritual gift is a God-given ability used to accomplish something for the kingdom of God.
How about an example? When I was younger, I was a very good bowler. It wasn’t because God gifted me with an ability to bowl, but because I didn’t have a girlfriend. Seriously, between my two leagues and practice, I was bowling 12 games a week. You get good at bowling when you go that much, but there was nothing about my bowling that benefited the kingdom of God. It was not a spiritual gift, it was a talent that I had worked on. I could still go to a bowling alley today and throw a 150 because I worked on the mechanics of bowling for so long that it’s second nature, even when I haven’t bowled in years. The same cannot be said for a spiritual gift.
A spiritual gift is something that we can develop and exercise, but it is not something that just comes to us through hard work, intense practice or environmental factors. It is something that is given to us by the Holy Spirit. And for a third time, a spiritual gift is a God-given ability used to accomplish something for the kingdom of God.
Spiritual gifts are not individualistic. Said another way, spiritual gifts are given in the midst of community for the sake of community. Individuals are not gifted for their own purposes, but for the larger purposes of the kingdom of God; or, to quote something I read this week, “[spiritual gifts are] not for self-congratulation but for the upbuilding of the body.”
Think about an orchestra for a minute. There are all kinds of instruments, but there is only one conductor. That conductor’s task is to get all the instruments to play one piece of music together. Each individual instrument has the task of adding to the overall piece of music. If the trumpet player decided to make it all about him (which, sometimes, trumpet players do… J), then the overall goal of playing that piece of music would never be accomplished. Spiritual gifts are used for the benefit of the body of Christ so that the body of Christ can accomplish its goal to make disciples.
And keeping in line with the orchestra analogy, you can’t have a successful orchestra if everybody played the violin. Some people have to play the strings, some have to play woodwinds, some have to play brass, and some have to play percussion. Each person has a role, no matter how large and no matter how small that role is important for the overall, big picture success of the orchestra. You can probably see where I am going with this. The same is true in the body of Christ. Everyone has a role to fulfill.
And, if you are thinking, “Oh, that’s nice, but I don’t really have a gift. I don’t have anything to offer,” then you didn’t hear me. Everyone. Not “everyone else.” Not just the special people. Not just the younger people. Not just those with a little more life experience. Not just the spiritual giants in our midst. Everyone. If you are a member of the body of Christ, if you can stand up and say that you believe Jesus Christ is Lord and has been risen from the dead, then you have been given a gift by the Holy Spirit to use in your life in order to glorify God and build up the body of Christ. Repeat after me: “I have a spiritual gift.” Okay, now that we know that people who have confessed Jesus as their Lord and Savior have been gifted in some way, what are some other things that we need to know about spiritual gifts?
We already know that spiritual gifts are not talents, nor do they stand alone for our own benefit. A spiritual gift is just that – a gift. It is a special grace given to us by the Holy Spirit in order to accomplish something for the kingdom of God. Our gifts work alongside the gifts of other members in our particular setting. Now, a couple more things.
First, gifts are not offices. Perhaps you’ll find out that you have the gift of shepherding, which is also known as pastoring. If that is your particular gift, it doesn’t mean that you have to become a pastor. It means that you have the gift to nurture and care for others and guide them towards spiritual maturity. You don’t have to be an ordained minister to do that. Another example. Let’s say you find out that you have the gift of teaching. That doesn’t mean that you have to give up whatever it is that you are doing right now and become a Bible teacher.
Spiritual gifts are given to us so that we might build up the body of Christ where we are. We don’t have to leave our current place in life in order to exercise our gifts of teaching or pastoring. We need to look for ways to incorporate our gifts into where we are. Our gifts play a significant role in our call. It is not enough to know that we are gifted; we have to look for ways to use our gifts for the kingdom of God right where we are.
Next, gifts are not ministries. Ministries are outlets for us to exercise our gifts, but our gifts are not ministries. Your particular gift or gifts will probably stay the same through the years, though you may develop more understanding of what your gifts are; however, the ministries through which your gifts are used may change. Ministries are temporary; gifts are not.
Spiritual gifts are not the same as spiritual fruit. Having a spiritual gift does not necessarily mean that you are living a godly life. We are told in 1 Corinthians 1:7 that the Christians in Corinth were not lacking in spiritual gifts, but we also learn from reading the letter that there were all sorts of immoral things taking place. Giftedness does not equal godliness.
Along those same lines, spiritual gifts are not intended to be a source of pride either. Remember, the gifts that you have are given to you by God. No single gift is better than another. Do not envy the gifts that other people have, and do not gloat about the gifts that you have. Again, giftedness does not equal godliness. Use your gifts with humility, giving glory to God every step along the way.
Now that you know about spiritual gifts, let’s talk about something that might be a little uncomfortable. What happens when you don’t use the gift that God has given you? To get your head into this question, here’s a little story: “A long time ago, in a land far, far away, there was a church filled with people gifted by the Holy Spirit, but they didn’t do anything with their gifts, and the church died. The end.” I wrote that story. It’s riveting, isn’t it? I’m a master of the English language.
Seriously though, I’m attempting to use a little bit of humor here, but the point I’m trying to make is not funny in the least. Thousands of churches that have closed their doors throughout history already wrote this story; churches that were once thriving and became insulated; churches that became more concerned about what other churches in town were doing than about what God was calling them to do; churches that lost sight of their ultimate purpose. It is definitely a harsh reality to face, and it may be easier not to face it. But not facing it doesn’t make it go away. If we fail to use our gifts for the benefit of the kingdom of God right where we are, we may not have another opportunity to do so. We will have a life filled with regrets about what we could have done, and we will have a calling that goes unanswered. That’s a harsh reality, but it’s true.
Okay, on to the practical application. We’ve already established that everyone here has a spiritual gift, and that leaves us with a couple of questions. First, do you know what your gift is? Second, are you using it for the benefit of the kingdom of God? If your answer to either or both is “no,” then you are in the right place this morning.
What I have for you this morning is a spiritual gifts inventory, or test. The directions are pretty self-explanatory, but I want to go over them with you for a couple minutes. There are several pages with statements and another page, which is called the “analysis sheet.” Fold over the part of the analysis sheet that has the name of the spiritual gifts on the right hand side so that all you can see are the columns. Then, go through the statements and answer them 1-10 (1 if the statement doesn’t describe you at all, or 10 if it describes you exactly, or somewhere in between). In each box on the analysis sheet, there is a number that corresponds with the statement number on the test. Make sure you get the right statement lined up with the right box.
When you go through all the statements, add up your totals, and you will have an idea of what your spiritual gifts are. What I would like is for everybody to write down your top three, and then turn in your sheets to me in the next couple of weeks. I will then put all of them onto one spreadsheet, and we’ll start having a pretty good idea of what gifts we have spread throughout the congregation. This will be very valuable information for us as we move forward in discerning God’s call for us as a congregation. God is not going to call us to do something that He has not prepared us for.
And let me just say that I know it is going to take some time to go over this inventory. But I really want to encourage you to do it. This is information that is going to help us move forward as a congregation, and we can’t do that unless people are interested in hearing God’s call and are willing to do something to respond to it. Take half an hour at some point this week, maybe even this afternoon, and fill this out.
Remember, a spiritual gift is a God-given ability used to accomplish something for the kingdom of God. Everyone has a spiritual gift, and, yes, that means you. Let’s learn about our gifts, develop them and put them to use so that the people in our community, in our county, around the state and around the world, will come to know and glorify God.