Gifts That Build

Romans 12:3-8

In Charles Schultz’s comic strip, Peanuts, Linus is sitting watching TV when Lucy walks in and demands, “Change the channel.” Linus asks, “What make you think you can just walk in and take over?” “These five fingers,” says Lucy. “Individually they’re nothing, but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.” To this Linus replies, “What channel do you want to watch?”

Of the 40 parables of Jesus recorded in the Gospels, 13 of those are parables of judgment. Surprisingly, Jesus never condemned someone for a sin like adultery or stealing or murder (he didn’t condone those sins) – but the ones he condemned were those who did nothing. His harshest condemnations were for the sin of uselessness.

Every Sunday the pews in churches across America are filled with Christians who are expected to do nothing more with their faith than “keep it.” The phrase “active member” in most churches means those who attend regularly and financially support the church. Not much more is expected. And every Monday morning, those same Christians head back to the office, or the warehouse, or school – where they get back to real work – important work – where they are productive, they contribute, they make a difference, they are needed.

But church is different. The church doesn’t demand much and doesn’t expect much. We invite people to come and be members of the church without a job to do and without responsibilities in the body. What we invite them into is a meaningless membership.

Let me share two qualities of meaningless membership: Benefits without responsibility, and attendance without service. In fact let’s give those a name:
• Benefits without responsibility is the hitchhiker – he stands along the highway with his thumb out asking for a ride. You provide the car, the gas, the insurance, the maintenance – and he rides for free – no responsibility, no cost.
• Attendance without service is the spectator – he sits in the stands watching the show. He comes to sit, to listen, to leave. He doesn’t participate in any ministries, doesn’t give, doesn’t serve, doesn’t support. And if the show is better somewhere else, he’ll just move his seat over there.

The tragedy is that we settle for that kind of lukewarm, do-nothing kind of Christianity. We don’t expect more of ourselves (or others) than a minimal involvement in the kingdom of God, or the work of the Lord. But God has far greater expectations. He expects us to use everything we have and everything we are to accomplish his purposes on earth. He calls us to become ministers. If we can ever awaken and unleash the massive talent, resources, creativity and energy lying dormant in this congregation, the Glenwood church will explode with growth.

The Gallup organization found in a recent survey that only 10% of all Christians are currently involved in ministry of any kind. Unfortunately, they found that 50% of Christians have no interest at all in being involved in any type of ministry. Does that surprise you? Half of all Christians intend to remain spectators and hitchhikers. Sounds kind of defeating doesn’t it? But you see, that also brings us to one very encouraging statistic: those other 40% of all Christians who expressed an interest in being involved in ministry, but they have never been asked or don’t know how to get started.

The truth is that this church will never be any stronger than the core of ministers we have in this congregation. And I’m not talking at all about paid staff – I’m speaking of the core of members who are actively involved in ministry for God. Ministry is no more and no less than using whatever gifts and talents God has given you to serve him and tell the good news of Jesus.

Our passage here in Romans 12 is really the “what does it look like” / “rubber meeting the road” explanation of what Paul was talking about in vs. 1 when he said we should offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God. What does that look like?

Paul says it looks like a body functioning at the peak of its performance –
• Every member of the body healthy and working – doing what it was created to do.
• Every member of the body functioning in harmony with every other member.
• No one thinking he’s too good, or more valuable than the rest of the body.
• No one thinking he has nothing to offer and that he is unimportant to the body.

Let’s listen again to what Paul writes – Romans 12:3-6a “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: 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. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.”

When Paul uses this language that compares the church with the body, he is, in one way talking by analogy – but in another, very real way he is talking quite literally – the church is more like an organism than it is an organization.

Its functioning exhibits health and sickness, just as a body does. It’s health depends on each part of the body functioning correctly – let me share a passage that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently – Ephesians 4:12-13, 15-16 “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ…. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
• There is nothing random or arbitrary about God’s plan for the proper working of the church.
• God intends for every member of the church to be interdependent. No one can function on his own or independently of one another.
• The church is not a human manifestation – it is God’s creation, and it functions only as it is gifted and empowered by his Holy Spirit.

A number of New Testament passages talk about the gifts of the Spirit: 1 Cor. 12, Eph. 4, Gal. 5, 1 Peter 4, and here in Romans 12. There is no complete or exhaustive list of those gifts. Each list is different, each seems to be typical or by example of what those different gifts are and how they function in the church. Some are miraculous and mysterious, others are very common and ordinary. I think this list in Romans 12 is one of the most fascinating because of the commonness of some of the gifts and yet how important they are to the church – Romans 12:6-8 “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.”

Let’s spend a few moments looking at each of those individually:
Prophesying – This gift was never primarily predicting the future, but proclaiming and applying the will of God to the lives of people in their immediate context. Prophecy is second in the list in Eph.4 which describes those gifts of leadership in the church. It is not miraculous but instructive.
• And Paul’s descriptive note helps – “prophesy in proportion to your faith.” This isn’t guided by personal opinion or subjective feelings, but by one’s complete dependence upon the Spirit of God.

Serving – No other gift is so central to the nature of Jesus himself. It is obviously a very general gift – serving can be very broad in its range of activity. The word is used to describe deacons – often used of caring for physical needs of people, of distributing benevolence, a foot-washing kind of ministry. It is always hands-on, always involved in the real needs of people. And while we might be tempted to dismiss it as a gift, I’ve known people who have demonstrated in their lives just how much a gift it is. We all know people who serve – they volunteer, they do a job, they go home, that’s it. And then there are those for whom their service is more than a job to accomplish, it is a way of life. They pour themselves into helping people – you see them serve and you are reminded of Jesus himself. That’s what I mean by a gift.
(Let me put in a plug for a Wednesday night class we’re about the start this week – on serving. It will be that “equipping the saints for ministry” kind of class.)

Teaching – Teaching is also one of those gifts of leadership in Eph. 4 that is so necessary to the equipping of Christians for ministry. It is imparting knowledge and communicating truth, but it is also inspiring and motivating others to invest themselves in God’s kingdom.

Encouraging – What a wonderful gift. It’s a lot like service – it is so common that everybody does it occasionally – but then there are those for whom it is a gift. We have some great encouragers in this church – people who purposely and intentionally go around building others up. The Gk word is “parakaleo” – to call alongside – it is the word used of the Holy Spirit himself – one who comes alongside and comforts and strengthens. If I could pick one gift that we need more of – it would be this.

Contributing – Can you believe this is specifically named as a spiritual gift? I thought giving was something that everyone had to do because they were commanded and obligated. It points out that we all have opportunity to practice all of these activities – serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing as a normal part of our Christian lives. But there is also a measure of each of these that goes beyond the normal functioning – that is truly a gift from the Spirit. And contributing is one of those.

There are some people who have been given the ability to make and to use money in a way that will benefit the church above and beyond what other folks are able. I’ve known some people who have this gift, and the blessings they produce and the lives they touch are remarkable. And it’s not always rich people – I’ve known some people who have modest finances, but who have a real sense of that stewardship that let’s them use their money in powerful ways for God.

Leadership – Again, a very broad word, but one that is so vital to the functioning of the church and to the equipping of the saints. We need men (and women) who are not just figureheads or powerbrokers, but who have a gift of leading God’s people. And understand, leadership doesn’t go hand in hand with a title. It’s not just Elders and Deacons and Ministers who are leaders. Leaders are those who use their example and influence in people’s lives to guide them and motivate them to lead more godly and productive lives in the kingdom. I know some folks in this congregation who have no title, but by their words and example they truly lead God’s people

Showing Mercy – Paul isn’t speaking in this instance of extending forgiveness or sparing judgment, but of ministering to those who are hurting, or sick, or in need. We need people of compassion and sensitivity – who not only have feelings of pity, but whom the Spirit gifts to respond to needs in an effective way.

Let me get to the point of this list – it is not so much the specific gifts which are significant, but what follows each of them:
• if it is serving - serve;
• if it is teaching - teach;
• if it is encouraging - encourage;
• if it is contributing - give generously;
• if it is leadership - govern diligently;
• if it is showing mercy - do it cheerfully.

Whatever God has given you to do, do it. Do it with excellence, do it with humility, do it with dependence upon God – but do it. For when you do not use your gifts that God has given you, then the body remains impoverished and anemic. Only as each person functions in his or her place within the body does it grow and glorify God.

God doesn’t need more church members – he needs ministers. He needs men and women who have committed themselves to be servants of God and to use their gifts and their lives to build up the body and glorify God.

Remember our theologian, Lucy – by themselves they are merely fingers, but together they are a “weapon terrible to behold.”