This is the first in a 3-part sermon series about spiritual gifts. This series will address the special abilities God gives all followers of Jesus Christ at the moment they come to faith in Jesus Christ. Today’s message focuses on how our spiritual giftedness is the very power to continue the work Jesus was doing while on earth. It will begin to answer the WHY? question.
Scriptures: John 14:12-18, 26; John 15:26-27; Luke 12:11-12; Luke 24:46-49
On Thursday and Friday I attended a wonderful leadership conference right here in Adrian called the Global Leadership Summit. It’s out of Willow Creek Church in Chicago, and was started by their Pastor, Billy Hybels, 23 years ago, and today the conference is live-streamed around the world for hundreds of thousands of people to attend in local venues.
In the opening session, Pastor Hybels asked us to try to identify the person who first affirmed in us the possibility of being a leader. So I’ve been wondering who or what first called it out in me? At what point in my life did I start to see myself as a leader?
My earliest recollection of truly feeling affirmed as a leader came during my first appointment. One day, out of the blue, I received a call from someone in the conference camping program telling me that someone had suggested that I might make a good dead of the elementary music camp to be held at Judson Collins, and would I consider taking on that leadership position?
You have to understand, at that point in time I was truly a nobody in our annual conference; no one knew me. So I was utterly blown away! I wouldn’t have felt more affirmed or honored had I been asked to be a bishop! It felt so good that there was someone out there who thought I could dean a camp. Really, for the first time in my life I felt like an adult. And I felt, really for the first time, that I actually might have something to offer that might make a real difference in others’ lives.
Speaking for myself, believing that what I’m doing is helping make a difference in someone else’s life is a huge motivator to keep doing whatever it is I’m doing. And I know I’m not the only person who feels that way; this is true for many of you. In fact, ordering one’s life so that someone else’s life is made a little better is the quickest and surest pathway to having a life of purpose.
If you’re still searching for meaning in life, no truer statement for finding it has been said than what Jesus said: You must die to self and put others before yourself. Similarly, he reminds us that the first shall be last, and the last shall be first, meaning, if I seek to find meaning and purpose by giving myself all the desires of my heart and flesh, I can pretty much count on experiencing a lack of fulfillment, meaning, and purpose. But when I strive to take care of the needs of someone else, I quickly discover that my life is full of meaning. If I put myself first, I end up coming up short of what I’m looking for. But if I put myself last, I end up experiencing an overabundance of blessings, as though I’m at the front of the line.
So, how can you know you’re making a difference? The answer to that is pretty simple: do what Jesus did—serve other people. Give of yourself for others. Jesus specifically said that he did not come to be served, but to serve. Be like him!
You can do this in any number of ways. For starters, how about through a community service organization such as our local Kiwanis, Rotary, or Civitan? Or, you can personally participate in community service projects, such as the Community Day of Action, which is this Friday.
There’s another place to serve—and this shouldn’t come as a surprise—you can serve right here at church. Next week I’m going to talk a bit about the various serving opportunities here at our church.
As Jesus’ earthly ministry was coming to an end, he began to prepare his disciples for the time when they would be called upon to carry on the work he’d started. Jesus was returning to his glory, but he promised the disciples they would not be left alone. The Holy Spirit would come and would teach the disciples all they would need to know in order to continue his ministry.
And then he makes this bold, surprising promise: Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father (John 14:12).
How would in the world would we mere mortals to the same things he’d done…and even do greater things than he’d done? The answer: through his Spirit who he would send to us. Which is what happened during Pentecost celebrations. The Holy Spirit blew through the people, and for the first time since the world was created, God’s Spirit filled the gathered community, the people. Until this point in time, the Spirit would fill individual persons, such as a prophet or a king; but never groups of people or multiple people. On Pentecost, however, the Holy Spirit came and took up residence in Jesus’ followers. The same Spirit who empowered Jesus to heal the sick and broken, to raise the dead, multiply the fishes and loaves, and to walk on water now dwelled within persons.
Today, every day all around the world that same thing happens over and over again. When someone professes faith in Jesus Christ, he sends his Spirit to dwell within him or her. And where the Holy Spirit dwell, so dwell the Spirit’s powers to do the same work that Jesus did. In other words, you and I have been given power from Heaven to do Jesus’ work.
We call that power the “gifts of the Holy Spirit.” Or, spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are the special abilities God gives believers in order to continue doing Jesus’ work.
In the weeks to come, I’m going to talk specifically about what these various gifts are, and how one begins to identify their unique giftedness. In the meantime, please know this: if you love Jesus Christ, then you have a set of spiritual gifts. Even if you can’t say what they are, they’re there.
Let me talk briefly about what spiritual gifts are not. Spiritual gifts are not in and of themselves your natural skills and abilities. Every person is born with a predisposition for excelling in certain ways. These skills and abilities that you are born with and develop over time through practice are your natural skills. The quantity of these skills number in the thousands, if not more. Here’s what I came up with in 30 seconds: playing piano…running fast…writing computer code…interior design…keeping your workspace organized…selling cars… roofing… serving tables… writing… speaking… fishing… teaching… being productive until late at night… composing music. Anything that someone can be good at can be considered a skill or ability of some sort. And every person every born into this world was born with natural skills and abilities.
Spiritual gifts are similar to natural abilities in that they are a kind of skill or ability, except for the fact that nobody is born with a spiritual gift; they’re given to persons at some point following their physical birth. In other words, spiritual gifts are not connected to physical birth.
The name “spiritual gift” implies that they somehow have to do with spiritual things. So if they’re not connected to one’s physical birth, that means they’re connected to their spiritual birth. In John 3:3, Jesus says that, “no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” In v. 6 he says that “flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”
According to Jesus there are two possible births. The first we’re all born into, which is the flesh. The second is spiritual And since it has its own birth, that means we’re not born spiritually alive; it has to come at a later date.
In John 1:13-14, John says, “to all who did receive Jesus, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” This second birth, a spiritual birth, happens when we receive Jesus. This spiritual birth, or as it’s commonly called, being born again, is what makes us spiritually alive and for the first time ever connected to God.
So, spiritual gifts are bestowed at the point of spiritual birth, when one comes to saving faith in Jesus Christ. At the moment you say “yes” to Jesus, God the Father, through the Holy Spirit, grants you these special abilities They come from the Holy Spirit, and they are given for spiritual purposes.
Which points us to another difference between spiritual gifts and natural abilities. Whereas natural skills can be used, and are often used, for the fostering of self-interests, spiritual gifts are intended to be used to build up something other than self. And by self-interests I don’t necessarily mean selfish interests. Many of us utilize our natural skills in our employment. For example, a concert pianist who’s making money by playing the concert circuit, is going to be a naturally gifted pianist. Most engineers are going to have a natural aptitude for math and/or science. Beloved teachers are beloved by their students probably in part because being in the classroom comes naturally to them.
Spiritual gifts, on the other hand, are intended to be used primarily for the building up of spiritual things, namely, the Church. That is, God gives spiritual gifts to people so that they will be used to fulfill the part of the Lord’s Prayer that goes, “Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” Spiritual gifts are given for the purpose of building up the Body of Christ, so that the Body can fulfill its God-given purpose of developing new and maturing followers of Jesus Christ.
At this point, it may occur to some of you that it’s quite possible that there could be some cross-over between natural skills and spiritual giftedness. And while I’ll go more into this next week, suffice it to say that some of the gifts mentioned in the Bible are also natural abilities that some people are born with. The difference is that someone who’s NOT born with a particular skill or ability might, in fact, be gifted with that ability by the Holy Spirit. For example, someone who shows no aptitude for teaching before coming to faith in Christ might later realize that God is calling them to teach in some way, and that when they step forward in faith and teach, they discover that they’re able to do so with uncanny results. On the other hand, someone may have the natural ability to teach, and after they come to faith in Christ they continue to use that gift because God reinforced it as a spiritual gift as well. In this case, it might be that that person uses that NATURAL SKILL to earn a living by teaching, but also uses that SPIRITUAL GIFT in the church setting as well.
Let me bring this full circle and come back to the point I was making early on about service. Jesus came to serve. And during the Last Supper he specifically told his disciples to do the same thing, to love one another just as he loved . And when we do this, when we carry on his work utilizing the gifts he’s given us, we can know that we’re making a huge impact in our world. And right here in our community. And when you use your giftedness within the context of the church, you’re helping us to live into our vision of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the Adrian community.
Now, I want to take a moment to highlight an especially important transformational ministry that this church cannot do without the service of many of you here. I’m talking about our children’s ministry, and our youth ministry.
Two weeks ago Chuck shared with you his vision for these vital ministries. I want to affirm his vision, and publically go on record to say that I’m 100% behind it, and that his strategy for living into this vision absolutely aligns with the strategy I’m going to be putting forth with the hiring of our next staff person. If our mission is to develop new and maturing followers of Jesus Christ, the obvious question is How? What’s the strategy for doing this?
Chuck has proposed a strategy of small groups on Sunday morning. And guess what? Small groups have small group leaders. Some of you have been gifted to lead groups of children or youth. Some of you have been gifted to greet people as they arrive for Sunday school.
Some of you have been gifted not to lead a small group but to walk alongside Chuck and help lead and guide these ministries. To that end, we’re looking for 3-5 people who feel especially called to help give guidance to our children’s ministry, and 3-5 people who feel especially called to help give guidance to our youth ministry. Each of these teams would work alongside Chuck so that it doesn’t fall on his shoulders to do all the work. We’ve hired him to oversee these important ministries, and to provide the vision. But the work of doing it falls on your shoulders. Please prayerfully consider if you’ve been gifted in some way to serve in one of these important capacities.
I close with a reminder of one of the most powerful statements in the entire Bible given to God’s people: “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these because I am going to the Father” (Jn. 14:12). You and I have been uniquely gifted to do what Jesus did, and to do even greater things! Put your gift to work, friend, and experience God’s blessing!