January 13, 2013 message by Pastor Rich Doebler

Last week we looked at eight “vital signs” of a healthy church…

Over the next few weeks we particularly want to focus on #2: Gift-based ministries. More specifically, we’re going to look at several aspects of spiritual gifts and try to answer some common questions:

  • What are spiritual gifts?
  • Where do they come from? How do we get them?
  • How do spiritual gifts work in ministry?
  • What’s the difference between natural talents and spiritual gifts?
  • What are the challenges of putting gifts into place within the church body?

We will be teaching on spiritual gifts in weekend services, of course. But we’ll also talk about them in the “DOORWAYS” class this coming Saturday — and even more importantly, in a “Gifts and Callings” seminar scheduled in February.

Before we look at how spiritual gifts work in the church body, however, I want to look at the environment that is necessary for gifts and ministries to thrive.

Last week we considered how a healthy church is like a plant. If it is planted in the right soil with the proper nutrients and minerals, the right amount of sun and water, the right temperature and climate, a healthy plant will grow all on its own. You don’t have to force it to grow. You don’t have to talk nice to it. You don’t have to physically stretch it. It will grow on its own. In the same way, a ministry based on spiritual gifts will happen when it’s in the right environment.
You’ve heard the phrase, “a fish out of water.” It’s a picture of someone who can’t function properly because he doesn’t fit in; the atmosphere isn’t right. A fish — to function normally — must live in the water. Some fish need salt water; others need fresh water. But fish need water to do what fish do.
It’s the same way with gifts. Spiritual gifts function best when they’re in the right atmosphere. Put them in the wrong atmosphere, and gifts will start flopping and thrashing around like a fish out of water. Gifts in the wrong atmosphere will cause more problems than they will provide ministry.

So what is the wrong environment or atmosphere for spiritual gifts? Anywhere that human nature is in charge. If a church body is filled with jealousy, strife, envy, competition, pride, or selfishness, spiritual gifts will not function properly. That’s when gifts will cause problems.

When we talk about a healthy environment, we’re talking about finding and cultivating the right attitude. For the church body to be healthy and function properly — for spiritual gifts to work as they should — we must live and operate with the right attitude.

What is the right environment? A godly nature! Why is this so important?

1. If we don’t have the right attitude, our gifting will be useless for the body. Some use gifts for selfish purposes, to serve themselves instead of serving others in the body. It doesn’t matter how gifted we are (how talented we are or how much ability we have), if we use those gifts for the wrong reason.

The attitude we need is the attitude that Jesus had! He gave us an example when he stooped down to wash the feet of the disciples. But he also gave us an example when he stooped down from heaven to live on earth.

Phil 2:4-8
4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!

  • Jesus made himself nothing.
  • He took on the nature of a servant.
  • He let go of his divine rights so he could become human.
  • He humbled himself — so much that he was willing to die on a cross.

If you’re using your abilities to promote yourself and build your own kingdom, then you’re not building God’s kingdom. God gives gifts and potential so you can bless others — not to bless yourself.

When you have your attitude right and your priorities straight then you’re willing to do anything for God’s purpose. Then you’re ready to answer God’s call. That’s the second reason why this is important:

2. If you’re not willing to do anything, then you’re not ready to do the thing. If you’re not willing to stoop in humility to do whatever God asks (no matter how low or how menial), then you don’t have the attitude needed to do the one thing you’re gifted to do.

You see, Jesus turned everything on its head. He took the values and attitudes of this world and turned them upside down.

Downton Abbey is an example of the world’s ways. It’s a story of the privileged class and the servant class in early 20th century England. They lived in two separate worlds, never to be mixed. In that world, everyone was expected to know their place. Even among the servants, there was a heirarchy. The butler was in charge of them all, followed by the house keeper. Then there’s the head cook, the kitchen maids, the personal valets, the doorman, the stable boy, and so on.
I think one reason the PBS show has become so popular is that everyone can relate to the frustrations of fitting in. Most want to climb to the top — to be successful, to achieve authority and power, to be in charge (maybe even own the company) so they don’t have to take orders. Today in middle class America there can be a lot of stress while everyone jockeys for position, trying to climb the ladder of success.

When the disciples argued about who was the greatest among them, Jesus got on their case and called a little child out of the crowd — powerless and on the bottom rung of first-century society (even servants had authority over little children). — and stood the child before them.

Mark 9:33-37
33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. 35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” 36 He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Matt 18:3-4
3 And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

3. If you’re not willing to be nobody, then you can’t be somebody. Being great in God’s kingdom requires a servant’s attitude.

When John and James jockeyed for position and even recruited their mother to lobby on their behalf so they could get the prime appointments when (as they thought) Jesus would come into power…

Matt 20:24-28
24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Several years ago I had the unique opportunity to work with Dinesh Chand in north India. I would say he is an apostle. He has led dozens and dozens of people to Christ, training many to be ministers. They, in turn, have started dozens of churches, so Dinesh is the overseer of perhaps 60 or more churches and pastors in that area. I was privileged to meet many of those pastors while speaking at a conference hosted by Dinesh.
But he didn’t start that way. When he came to Christ as a young Hindu college student, he gave up his education and an excellent career opportunity in hotel management to follow Christ. He joined a church in Delhi and asked the pastor what he could do to help the ministry. And the thing they gave him as a ministry was to clean the toilets in the church. And he did it, willingly and gladly, because he had experienced God’s saving grace. Jesus gave himself for Dinesh, so Dinesh gave himself for Jesus.

Matt 25:21
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things…’”

If we humble ourselves and are willing to be nobody or to do anything whatsoever, that’s when we have the attitude necessary for God to use us in accomplishing some very specific things.

Unfortunately, many hold out and do not serve at all because they feel the task or opportunity is somehow beneath them. They’re looking for reward, recognition, and honor. They want the applause. But they don’t want to humble themselves.

Jesus taught humility and service over and over in the gospels — in lessons and in his stories. The word humility or humble(s/d) appears 16 times in the NIV NT. The words serve(s/d/ing) or servant(s) appear 227 times.

Matt 23:11-12
11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Jesus turned everything on its head. He said that when you push yourself to the front of the line or when you climb over other people on your way to the top, you’re missing it. Jesus said you become great when you learn to humble yourself.

When we learn to see things from God’s point of view, that’s when we begin to grasp these foundational principles — the very things necessary for an atmosphere in which spiritual gifts can thrive. And we discover (ironically) that when we humble ourselves, we are exalted.

  • Your highest calling starts by stooping low. It’s by humbling and denying yourself that you will have what it takes to follow Jesus.
  • Your greatest fulfillment can only be found in something bigger than yourself! A hand is nothing without a body. A foot needs to be attached to a body in order to reach its greatest potential. If it’s cut off, it’s not worth anything.
  • Your highest achievements are linked to eternity. Your significance is measured by eternal causes, not by life-time accomplishments. In eternity, “the last shall be first.”
  • Your greatest satisfaction will come in giving yourself away for others rather than using others for your own selfish needs.

And this will prepare the environment for spiritual gifts to thrive and become the building blocks for ministry (which is just another word for serving).

1 Peter 4:10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others [NASB: employ it in serving one another], faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. “Use…to serve/employ…in serving” in the original Greek language meant “be a servant…serve or wait upon” someone.

Spiritual gifts can’t function unless you’re willing to be a servant.

Stooping to a Higher Call