As I’ve been reading for my current sermon series on spiritual gifts a pattern emerged that I didn’t initially see. In each context, two additional themes accompany the discussion of spiritual gifts: The image of the church as a body; and Love. (Well, actually, 1 Peter 4 doesn’t use the metaphor ‘body” but it does say “use whatever gift you have received to serve others“. It’s understanding of spiritual gifts is very “other-centric” rather than “self-centred”.)
|Rom 11-12||Doxology||True worship (Transformation)||Church as Body||Spiritual Gifts||Love in Action|
|1 Cor 11-13||Spiritual Gifts||Church as Body||Love||Spiritual Gifts/Worship|
|Eph 3-4||Doxology||Godly traits & oneness (love)||Spiritual Gifts/roles||Church as Body/Love||Transformation|
|1 Pet 3-4||Transformation||Love||Spiritual Gifts||Doxology||Christian suffering|
I don’t want to over analyse this grouping, although I do find it significant. Paul and Peter both see gifts as resources given to Christians for the benefit of the church as a whole, or people in general. Gifts are not for the glory of the individual who possesses them. Peter even concludes his little section on the topic with the doxology, “To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
God gives gifts to empower service. How’s that for sucking the air out of the balloon?
Second, Romans 12 and 1 Cor. 12 both follow their extended discussion of gifts with an extended discussion of love. Love provides the motivation for using out gifts in service. Using our gifts without love will makes them hollow service. Gifts are worthless if love doesn’t motivate our lives. The Holy Spirit blesses us with spiritual gifts as a means for us to demonstrate and share God’s love with others. They are a tool, not the goal. The goal in each of these passages is unity. The body of Christ only reaches its fullest potential when it is unified and working as designed.
We have a responsibility not just to wield the tool lovingly, but to wield it competently. This requires knowing our gifts, and exercising our gifts. Paul told Timothy in 1 Tim 4:14 “Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.” I believe many people today neglect their gifts. We often serve for all sorts of motives apart from recognising “this is the ministry God has gifted me for”. We spend far too long trying to strengthen our struggles or serve in areas of weakness rather than using our gifts in God’s service. We need to consider Paul’s injunction to the Thessalonian church (1 Thess. 5:18) not to put out the Spirit’s fire.
In closing, I highly recommend the website YourSpiritualGifts.com. Many helpful spiritual gift inventories exist online and on Amazon. I gave my computer illiterate church members a paper inventory, but the results just gave them one word answers. What I really appreciate about this website is that James Nored provides a full page description for each gift including examples of Bible characters exercising the gift and examples from the lives of people he’s met. The feedback bridges the distance between seeing a word on a printout and glimpsing how I can make that gift part of my lifestyle, not just a Sunday special.