06-23-2013 message by Pastor Rich Doebler
GROW: Gifts • Revitalize • Our • Work
1 Cor 12:4-7 (NIV) 4 There are different kinds of gifts [charisma: “a gift of grace”], but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service [diakonia: “service, ministry”], but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working [energema: “an effect, operation”], but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. 7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
Around here, you often hear us talk about “taking the next step on our spiritual journey.” What that step might be for you, I cannot say. We’re all at different places in our spiritual growth and maturity. We all have different steps we need to take.
One thing I can say, however, is that God wants us to grow in the use of spiritual gifts. In fact, we’ve made that a theme for this year: we want every person who is part of this church to discover and use his or her spiritual gifts.
Why? For a lot of reasons, but let me mention just two:
(1) The church will be more effective and healthy — it will do a better job of accomplishing God’s purposes when all of its individual parts are functioning in the right way, using their gifts.
(2) When we use the gifts God gives us, we each will reach our potential and find our purpose in life — and nothing is more fulfilling than to discover the reason why God made us.
Someone has said the two most important days of your life are first, the day you are born, and second, the day you discover why you were born.
God’s promise: God has a plan for your life — and he gives you the resources and the abilities you will need to do the job. That’s pretty heady stuff! The Holy Spirit gives you gifts you need to fulfill the purpose for which you were born.
It’s not because you’re unique (even though you are). God makes the same promise to every believer. He gives spiritual gifts to each and every one! Whenever you use your gift, the presence and power of the Spirit is shown.
● (v 7) TEV: The Spirit’s presence is shown in some way in each person for the good of all.
● VOICE: Each believer has received a gift that manifests the Spirit’s power and presence…
When ordinary people display the Spirit’s extraordinary qualities, others have a chance to catch a glimpse of God.
Some might say, I can do good things on my own — I can use my own efforts and natural talents. And that’s true — and we should use our natural talents. But while it’s good to use natural abilities to serve, it’s not the same as when we allow God to work through us. Spiritual gifts take service to a whole new level.
It’s like the difference between tossing a paper plane into the air and launching a rocket from Cape Canaveral. Years ago in 1981, just a week before the launch of the first space shuttle, I visited Cape Canaveral with my brother-in-law, Bill, an aeronautical engineer from Connecticut. We took a bus tour around the Kennedy Space Center and gazed up in awe at the sight of that massive rocket, 184 feet tall — about the size of a 15-story building. Looking at that amazing engineering marvel, I can assure you — I was not reminded of a paper plane. They both fly…but there is no comparison.
Compared to spiritual gifts, natural ability is like a paper airplane. Spiritual gifts launch us into the supernatural — far above and way beyond our natural abilities. There really is no comparison. Spiritual gifts bring spiritual life and vitality, supernatural energy and power into our ministry. Spiritual gifts affect how effectively we can serve others. There is no comparison.
I should point out, however, that merely having spiritual gifts do not guarantee the church will function as it should. There’s a lot that can go wrong — whether you’re launching a rocket or using spiritual gifts.
That’s part of the reason Paul wrote the letter to the church at Corinth. They had lots of gifts — there was no shortage of spiritual gifts. But they didn’t have the maturity or the wisdom to use those gifts correctly.
“You do not lack any spiritual gift,” Paul wrote to them (1:7). But at the same time, he said, “I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ.” (3:1)
So here’s a dilemma. People who possess wonderful spiritual resources can still be so underdeveloped in their character or immature in their wisdom so that they cannot use those gifts properly or effectively.
Suppose it’s your 2-year-old’s birthday and you want to give him a gift. Would you give a chain saw to a 2-year-old? “Here you go. Go out and cut some wood. Have fun. Happy birthday!” Just because the kid has a chain saw doesn’t mean he knows how to use it. No, you give him an age-appropriate gift — one he can handle.
Paul said some believers are like babies and need to grow up. Peter (1 Pet 2:2) said that new believers should crave for spiritual milk so that they can grow up. The writer of Hebrews (5:11) said that they had much more to say, but it was hard to explain because (as he put it) “you are slow to learn.”
Some believers are immature when it comes to spiritual gifts. They may have gifts they haven’t yet learned how to use. Or they may want other gifts God hasn’t given them. They may be frustrated with their own gifts and jealous about others’.
When spiritual gifts are distorted — either by being under utilized or over emphasized — you will find arguments and strife. Spiritual gifts can cause damage if they are mishandled or misunderstood.
The wrong use of spiritual gifts can make ministry lop-sided or dysfunctional. People can be hurt. Feelings can be bruised. Spiritual health can be compromised. If certain spiritual gifts are neglected or other gifts become exaggerated, a church can get out of balance.
One of the challenges to using spiritual gifts appropriately occurs when different types of personalities use their spiritual gifts in very different ways. We presume a gift will be enacted in a similar way, no matter who is using it.
But we would wrong to presume that! Why? Because gifts are filtered through our personalities. Gifts are affected by the type of person they are in.
For instance, an outgoing extrovert and a shy introvert will use the same gift (say, compassion or mercy) in vastly different ways. Same gift — different expressions, different applications. Both show compassion and care to the hurting person, but because their personalities are so different, the compassion comes out in different ways.
You get different kinds of results in different kinds of situations with different believers — even though you may be dealing with the same spiritual gift!
Some of you are familiar with Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages. Each type expreses love, but they do it in different ways: affirming words, quality time, giving gifts, acts of service, physical touch. All express love, but their personalities flavor how that love is expressed.
Consider how an emotional, passionate person who responds with her heart to a situation. Now compare that to the response of a cautious, thoughtful type of person. They might both have the same spiritual gift — a word of prophecy, for instance, or the gift of leadership — but the gift will be expressed in very different ways. Why? Because their personalities are so different.
So over the next few weeks, we’re going to look at a few examples from God’s Word — individuals who are heroes of the faith, but people who also needed to learn and GROW in the use of their gifts.
June 22/23 Thomas: Don’t check your mind at the door.
June 29/30 Martha: Don’t just sit there—do something!
July 6/7 Mary: Don’t just do something—sit there!
July 13/14 Moses: Don’t ask me! I can’t handle it.
July 20/21 Peter: Don’t hold back. Take a leap of faith!
July 27/28 Jonah: Don’t push. Fanatics get in over their heads.
Thomas was a faithful disciple. He was committed to the Lord. Devoted.
When Jesus announced that he was going to go into a volatile situation (where some had wanted to stone him but also where his friend Lazarus had just died), Thomas assessed the situation and concluded: “Let us also go, so that we may die with him.” (John 11:16)
He figured that they were probably going to die for their stand, but he was determined to stay the course and pay the price, no matter what happened.
But while Thomas was committed, he was also a realist. His faith was not what you might call “blind” faith — faith that flew in the face of all reason. He wasn’t going to surge recklessly ahead without knowing what he was dealing with. His faith was more of an “informed” faith. He counted the cost before he took the leap of faith. He was careful and calculating.
Some would say his personality leaned toward the skeptical side. Others, who are less kind, call him “Doubting Thomas.” (John 20:24-28)
Christian Schwarz (in his book, Three Colors of Ministry) uses Thomas as an example of many in the church today who could be called “skeptical believers” (p 22). Schwarz says:
“We need people like Thomas in our churches, people who are simply not willing to take things for granted. They want to know reasons. They want to see proofs. None of us should criticize them for this, even if it might disturb the peace of the majority at times. Rather, all of us would be well-advised to learn from their perspective.” (p 22)
These are the strengths of the so-called “skeptical” believer. There are, of course, also weaknesses — areas of vulnerability that could impact the overall effectiveness of our church’s ministry.
The Upside of Doubt
1. There is a time to be skeptical…careful…cautious. There is a time to check the facts and make certain. Faith does not mean that we must be gullible.
How many Christians have been misled and deceived by false prophets simply because they didn’t have a Thomas among them to ask the hard questions?
● Jim Jones and Peoples Temple — drank the Kool-Aid.
● Hale Bopp comet — believed a UFO was coming to take them away.
● Thousands of cults and false teachings with destructive results…people chasing after thrills or sensational doctrines. Deceived by strong personalities who love the power (and often money).
The disciples needed Thomas — and we need people like Thomas who will hold us accountable and help us to be careful. Thomas’s personality compelled him to check the facts and ask the questions.
The Bible tells us: “19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.” (1 Thess 5:19-22)
The Bible says that spiritual maturity means being “…trained…to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb 5:14)
2. Doubts have purpose: they lead us to truth. Just as “necessity is the mother of invention,” doubt is the father of the search for truth.
You have to ask questions if you’re going to find answers. Doubt leads to questions. And questions cause us to seek for answers.
Faith does not mean that we check our brains at the door. Faith does not mean that we turn off our God-given minds.
3. Skepticism is often the first step toward [stronger] faith.
Faith is not faith if it’s never been tested and proven. Faith is not faith if there were a logical explanation.
If there were no room for wonder — wonder how…wonder why — then we there would be no faith.
Skepticism or doubt — because they cause us to rethink things — can actually strengthen our faith.
● John the Baptism in prison asked, “Are you the One? Or should we look for someone else?” and Jesus restored his faith with a new perspective (Matt 11:2-6).
● Abraham fell on his face laughing (Gen 17:17) when God told him he and Sarah would have a son in their old age, but Abraham worked through his doubts to a stronger faith. “…he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” (Rom 4:19-21)
Of course, there are dangers that come with doubt…
1. Getting stuck in doubt — stewing in the confusion instead of swimming through the questions.
The goal is to get across the wondering — to not sink in the questions or become stuck in the doubt.
2. Allowing legitimate questions to lead to a lifestyle of illegitimate doubt.
We can ask questions without crossing over to a doubting way of life.
In the end, doubt does not need to change our minds or poison our minds. Instead, it can sharpen our minds. Doubt does not need to undermine our faith. Instead, it can strengthen our faith.
Obviously, Thomas didn’t stay in his questioning mode. He needed to move beyond his doubts and put his faith in the risen Lord. The disciples needed him, but he also needed them to balance him off so he wouldn’t spend all his energy questioning.
We also need Thomases — we need that unique type of personality and spiritual gifting. At the same time, we need others who will balance the Thomases, helping us to move beyond skepticism to a stronger faith.
Thomas’s personality — often seen in a negative light — helped to balance the actions of others. But it was together using all their gifts and personality types that they were able to move forward.