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The Holy Spirit: Gifts of the Spirit

October 11, 2009

Sermon: The Holy Spirit: Gifts of the Spirit
Text: Matthew 25:14-30; I Corinthians 12:7-11, 14-18, 27-31; I Corinthians 13; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-12; I Peter 4:10; I Timothy 4:14

Nathan read for us the parable of the talents, a parable about how we use the Master’s money. A talent, which was a weight of precious metal, usually gold, was worth more than $1000. The word “talent” has a different meaning in our day and time. It is that current meaning – the aptitude, the gift, the ability – that I want us to consider today.

God has equipped us with certain talents, which Scripture often refers to as spiritual gifts. He has given us these spiritual gifts, not for our own good but for the sake of the kingdom. Many passages in the Bible refer to the church having a great diversity of spiritual gifts. I would like to suggest that you keep your Bibles open, as we will look at several different verses.

I want us to focus today on two chapters from the New Testament, I Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. In I Corinthians 12, beginning at Verse 14, the Apostle Paul gives us a way of understanding how the gifts God has bestowed on each of us fit together in the life of the church. Verses 14-18:

Now the body is not made up of one part but many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.

I wonder how many of you know what a Mr. Potato Head is. I am sure the older people in the congregation know because it has been a popular toy for many years. It is still available today. One of our staff members, Holly, brought this Mr. Potato Head for me to use this morning. What a good looking guy he is with his glasses, mustache, and teeth that are parted in the middle! Don’t you agree?

Do you know what you can do with this Mr. Potato Head? You can take an arm and move it down here where a foot should be. You can take an ear and put it where the nose should be. You can dislodge the eyes and I guess put anything you wanted to there. If you rearrange those parts, you have something that resembles the way Holly feels when she has a migraine headache. It is a mess.

Though Paul does not use a Mr. Potato Head toy to describe how we are put together as a church family, it is an appropriate illustration. The truth is that God has bestowed gifts on every single one of us. He has entrusted these gifts to us and put us together as a church family. He wants us to function effectively for His purpose. It is true that sometimes we get a square peg in a round hole. A person serving in one position could serve better in another role. When that happens, corrections need to be made so that we can help the church be more effective. On Sunday nights, we have offered a discipleship training class entitled Discovering Our Spiritual Gifts. It only stands to reason that if we know what our gifts are, we will have a better idea about how we fit into God’s plan for His church.

We are the body of Christ. We are the family of God. We are the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. These gifts of the Holy Spirit enable us to fulfill what God wants us to do. Today’s sermon in this series on the Holy Spirit is one of the more important because it helps all of us know that we have a place and a part in God’s grand scheme.

I suppose that if you needed a key passage for today’s message, it would be I Corinthians 12, Verses 4-6. Listen carefully to this passage: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all people.” You see a Trinitarian formula – Spirit, Lord, and God – right here in these few verses.

Three different Greek words describe the spiritual gifts God has given us. They help us clarify into what category our spiritual gifts fall. First, the word charismata, which comes from charis, means “grace.” These gifts of grace enable us to express God’s creativity within each Christian. We might think of the charismata as the gifts that motivate us. The Greek word diakanion describes the second gifts, the gifts of service. God gives us these gifts through the church. Diakanion is the same word from which we get “deacon” or “servant.” The third word energema, means “strength.” Our word “energy” comes from that. All of us have one or more of these gifts of the Spirit that allow us to minister effectively.

We are going to take a look at each of these groupings in turn. In order to do that, turn to Romans 12, beginning at Verse 6. The charismata, also known as the motivational gifts, inspire and encourage.

We have different gifts, (charismata) according to the grace given to 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.

I want to make two points here. First, this list of gifts is not just for men. This list is also for women. Notice that we are to set people free to use the gifts they have. We are to allow people to use the gifts they have. Seven gifts are named: prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving resources to others, organizing or administering, and showing mercy.

As we mature in Christ, these gifts start to level out a little bit, allowing one to predominate. One motivates us more than any of the others. That is not to say that if we have the gift of encouragement we cannot give. Overlap certainly happens, but we operate primarily out of one of these motivational gifts.

Let me illustrate just one of the more difficult to understand, the gift of prophecy. Do you know anyone who has the gift of prophecy? Someone I know, our son Erik, had that gift. People who have the gift of prophecy have a passion for justice, a desire to help the oppressed and downtrodden. They believe that all people should be treated with equality. Let me tell you about something that happened in Erik’s life as a newspaper reporter that illustrates this beautifully.

When Erik’s younger brother Scott was at Wofford College, he wanted to raise the consciousness of the Wofford community, the student body, about the problem of homelessness in Spartanburg. He had a great idea to take a group of students downtown in the month of November to camp out on the lawn at the Episcopal Church of the Advent. He thought that an effective way to raise their awareness about the problem would be to have each student sleep in a refrigerator box, something homeless people sometimes do. He rounded up some boxes for them to sleep in that night.

When Erik heard about his brother’s plan, he wanted to participate and write a story about this student event. He told Scott to get him a refrigerator box, too. It turns out that Erik was too big for one of those boxes. He needed a freezer box.

The students who participated in Scott’s plan ate a small amount of food for supper. As they began to prepare for the night in the refrigerator boxes on the church lawn, three scruffy-looking guys walked up to them and asked, “What are you kids doing out here?”

“We are trying to raise awareness about homelessness in Spartanburg.”

These three men, who were homeless, told the group, “If you’ll give us something to eat, we’ll tell you everything you want to know about homelessness in Spartanburg.”

Erik walked across the street to Hardee’s, which was still located on Kennedy Street at that time, and bought them all a hamburger. Those guys stayed up half the night talking to the college students about homelessness. Erik, with his journal and pen, wrote down everything the three men shared about their life.

The next Monday morning, he pitched a story to the Herald-Journal. He wanted to write a series of articles on homelessness in Spartanburg County. Some of you have read those articles.

One of the most compelling stories involved a family – a mother, father, and two children – living in a station wagon in the Pauline area. Every night, the father would park the automobile in a cane break and turn the headlights on long enough for the children to complete their homework. The family slept in the back of the station wagon. In the morning, the parents dropped the children off at school, where they received a free breakfast and lunch, paid for by the government. The mother and the father picked up something to eat at a fast-food restaurant for themselves and then did temporary work, earning just enough money to buy gasoline for their vehicle and some supper at a drive-thru for their children. This is the way the family lived every day.

Out of Erik’s series of articles on homelessness, a movement started that led to the creation of the Spartanburg Interfaith Hospitality Network, S.P.I.H.N. This organization, housed in our church building, stemmed from one man’s intolerance of injustice in the Spartanburg community where he lived. This man, kin to me, had the gift of prophecy. I know that is not the way we think about prophecy. We generally think it has to do with old men with gray beards in the Old Testament. These spiritual gifts are current. They are active in the life of the church today.

The second category, called the diakanion, is identified as the ministry gifts or the gifts of service. Paul gives a short list in Ephesians 4, Verses 11-12, being very careful to say why people receive these gifts: “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service…”

If we go back to I Corinthians 12, we see a second list of these gifts of service, beginning at Verse 27. The two lists are not identical, but you will see some overlap. This passage names eleven gifts of service.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having the gift of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of languages. Are all apostles: Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?

I used to think a hierarchy existed. I considered pastors to be just fine but thought that missionaries were a notch above them and that medical missionaries were a notch above them in God’s kingdom. Now, a medical missionary working on the Dark Continent was surely at the top of the ladder. You had reached the pinnacle if you returned to the United States and rolled out a python skin or maybe showed a couple of drums. Listen to me. No hierarchy exists. One gift of service is no more important than another. All are equally important.

The pastor of a church where my dad was a member at the time asked him to confront a man who slept every Sunday during the sermon.

My dad said, “I am not going to do that.”

The pastor asked, “Why not? He sleeps every Sunday all the way through my sermon.”

My dad explained, “Do you realize that he comes to this church at 4:00 every Sunday morning, walks down to the basement, puts coal in the furnace, and lights it? By the time the congregation arrives, the buildings are warm so that we can all worship in comfort. I am not going to fuss at that man for nodding off during your sermons.”

Do you think that the man who was stoking the furnace was any less important than the pastor? No. Everybody in God’s kingdom has a part to play. Not one gift is more important than any other. We all have gifts that we bring into the life of the church.

Who are the apostles? They are the missionaries. They are certainly the preachers and pastors. They are all positions appointed by the church. When we adopt the report of the Committee on Committees, we are electing people to serve in various capacities in the life of the church.

What about healers? The nurses and medical doctors are healers. We have many healers in this church.

What about miracle workers? We call those who believe in miracles prayer warriors. These intercessors pray diligently that God will continue to be in the business of doing miracles. They invoke God to help. To be sure, a miracle is something out of the ordinary. Not everyone receives a miracle.

What about interpreters? That seems to be a strange concept, but it really is not mystical. Think of teachers in our ESOL ministry, English for Speakers of Other Languages. Think about people who work to teach others how to understand the English language. If I walked over to the piano and held up a piece of music, most of us could not make heads or tails out of those lines and squiggles, those little black dots. Some of you, like those in the choir and orchestra, could read the marks. What about those who know the language of computer science? A woman I talked with this week has spiritual gift is signing for the deaf. That, too, is a gift of interpretation. The church asks people to serve in many different capacities, using their particular gifts of service.

Now look at the third type of gift, the energema. Paul uses the term “manifestation” to classify these gifts. I Corinthians 12:7-11 provides a list:

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits (discernment), to another speaking in different kinds of tongues (languages), and to another the interpretation of tongues (languages). All of these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

We may have more than one of these particular spiritual gifts. This list is not exhaustive; some spiritual gifts of energy or strength are not listed in the New Testament. Think of the gift of hospitality, a gift my mother had. Think of the gift of humor and the gift of creativity. All of these gifts are valuable. They are given for one reason – God’s glory. Peter writes in his first letter, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others” (I Peter 4:10). There is no reason for pride. There is no room for gift despising. We must affirm each other. We must be grateful for the diversity within God’s kingdom.

Because today is World Hunger Sunday, I want to tell you about a man I met in the 1970’s. He was a short man but a giant. Arthur Simon was born in Eugene, Oregon, and educated at Concordia Seminary. He worked as a Lutheran pastor for eleven years at a church on the lower eastside of New York. He understood the problem of hunger and asked the Lutheran church if he could take a year off in an attempt to lead the Lutherans in the United States to address the problem of world hunger. For one year, he traveled throughout the country and raised $9,000,000 to help combat this problem. He presented that money to those in the Lutheran church who would take responsibility for dispersing it to hungry people in the world.

The day after Arthur Simon turned the money in, the Congress of United States of America voted to decrease non-military aid, economic aid, to the third-world countries by $27,000,000. In one fell swoop, Congress wiped out Simon’s year of work times three. Simon realized that the problem of world hunger is not just a matter of charity. It is a problem that must be addressed at the political level. Through Simon’s efforts, the organization known as Bread for the World has accomplished wonders to help combat this serious problem.

Consider this illustration. Imagine that we woke up tomorrow morning and discovered that the entire population of Greenwood, South Carolina, had died overnight. Then on Tuesday morning, we read that the entire population of Anderson, South Carolina, had died overnight. On Wednesday morning, the entire population of Cherokee County had died overnight. Do you think we might be worried? The number of people who die every day of world hunger is roughly equivalent to the population of a medium-sized city. We cannot attack this enormous problem by throwing loose change at it. We must deal with it through prayer and political action.

Can anybody do everything? No, but we are to eagerly desire a greater gift. Look at I Corinthians 12:31: “Eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.” After all of his discussion about spiritual gifts, Paul says one gift is more important than all the others. He launches into I Corinthians 13, which we ordinarily call the Love Chapter. We read this passage at weddings and funerals, but it also belongs right here in the context of today’s message.

The one gift that is greater than all the others is the gift of love. “Now abide faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love” (I Corinthians 13:13). We all have that spiritual gift. It is one we can all cultivate. Why? We, as Christians, are the recipients of the love of Christ, fully revealed in Jesus. Every person in this world – red, yellow, black, and white, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and atheist – longs to be loved. That love is available from the perfect source of love, the love God has revealed to us in Christ Jesus. That gift of love is one that we are most compelled to share with this world. Paul writes to young Timothy, “Do not neglect your gift” (I Timothy 4:14). Ladies and gentlemen, we dare not neglect the gift of love.

Do you have that love in your heart? Have you received that love that comes through Christ Jesus? If you have never accepted him, could I invite you to recognize him as the source of love? Invite him to come into your heart. Acknowledge him as your Savior.

Kirk H. Neely
© October 2009

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