This fall and winter we’re looking in detail at one chapter in the Bible—
Romans 12. It’s a chapter about the practical side of the Christian life.
In these particular verses, Paul introduces a subject of utmost importance—
the subject of gifts, spiritual gifts.
This is a subject that is a source of great blessing, both for individual Christians,
and for the church body as a whole.
It’s also been the source of division in churches—
not only in our time, but even in New Testament times.
So it’s a subject for us to approach carefully and prayerfully.
INTRO: Dr. Gary Chapman wrote a book about marriage that was a bestseller,
it when through several editions—The Five Love Languages.
I know that a number of you have read it and benefited from it.
Dr. Chapman’s thesis is that we are all different when it comes to love.
Each one of us enjoys being loved in particular ways.
There are any number of factors that cause this difference—
the way you were parented, family dynamics, early experiences.
But those factors aren’t as important as the result—
that you enjoy being loved in particular ways. It’s part of who you are.
And as a result, you tend to express love in the way that you want to be loved.
Dr. Chapman says that there are five primary ways that love is expressed
in marriage, five love languages, as he calls them.
1. Affirming words. You are the sunshine of my life. I couldn’t live without you.
You are the most beautiful woman west of Holly Pond.
You are such a good provider, such a good husband, so smart, so strong.
2. Acts of service. A cup of coffee in bed every morning.
Folded clothes, a clean house, home-cooked meals with favorite dishes.
Picking up your clothes, the honey-do list on Saturday instead of football.
3. Physical affection. Holding hands, hugging, kissing, tickling, etc.
4. Quality time. Attentiveness, focused attention. Tell me about your day.
I want to hear every detail. Let’s get away so we can talk.
Tell me what’s on your mind.
5. Receiving gifts. Some spouses feel love the most when given gifts—
not just on the expected dates and holidays, but special surprises.
Dr. Chapman’s point about marriage is that you tend to express your love for your
spouse in the way that you most want to be loved.
But that might not be the way your spouse wants to be loved.
She might want to be loved with quality time, he with acts of service.
She says: How was your day? She’s saying: I love you, I’m focused on you.
Because that’s how she wants to be loved by him.
But he’s disappointed that the oven cold and no good smells coming from kitchen.
He pops up Saturday and spends hours on home projects.
He’s saying: I love you. I’m serving you. That’s the way he wants to be loved.
But she’s disappointed because she wanted to spend day doing something
together so they could talk.
I know that’s a stereotypical dynamic, but Dr. Chapman’s point is a good one—
You need to figure out how your spouse wants to be loved and do it.
Well, this concept of love languages in marriage is very helpful for understanding
the Bible’s teaching on this subject of gifts. Spiritual gifts, sometimes called.
Every Christian, as a member of the body, has different gifts.
Paul says these gifts differ according to the grace given each of us.
These gifts are, in a sense, different love languages for the body of Christ.
Jesus loves the church through each of the individual members of the church.
He loves in a particular way through you.
That’s the way it is in a family—and the church is not just a body, also a family.
It’s called the family of God.
Allison had a great aunt who lived in Decatur, Aunt
She passed away a few years ago. Every time we went to see her, she had
carefully saved the weekly Religion section of the Decatur Daily.
She would give them to me in a big stack. That was her way of loving me.
There is no one else in my life who has ever saved the Religion section of the
Decatur Daily and given them to me on a regular basis.
All of you could name relatives who have loved you in own, particular ways.
Probably one of these love languages expressed in particular way.
It may be that they always gave you a certain gift, maybe peculiar gift.
Maybe they loved you by particular things they said, pet names for you.
Maybe it was particular places you would go together, or things would do.
Maybe there were special hugs or rituals.
I knew a family who would squeeze each others’ hands, 1,2,3—I love you.
I knew a family that would never say goodbye—can’t remember why! Love.
One very helpful way of conceiving of gifts is that they are the particular
ways that you are to love the church of Jesus Christ.
Paul introduces this subject of gifts and then he says:
Love must be sincere. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.
In 1 Corinthians 12, extended teaching on gifts then starts that famous chap 13.
And now I will show you a more excellent way: If I speak with the tongues of
men and of angels, and have not love, I am become a sounding gong, cymbal.
So let’s look at these verses and ask the question:
How do you find your gifts, our love languages for the body of Christ? Two points:
1. Focus on other people. 2.
Follow your pleasure.
MP#1 Focus on other people.
Everything Paul tells us to do in this chapter flows from the opening line—
Therefore, brothers, in view of God’s mercies, present your bodies as living sacrifices.
As said in our very first study, how interesting it is that Paul chooses God’s mercies
as the motivation for the Christian life.
He could have said: In view of the coming judgment, in view of Second Coming,
even in view of the grace of God. Now, all of those are mercies in own way.
But he focused on God’s mercies by name as the ultimate motive.
What is the essential quality of mercy? It’s actually twofold.
Mercy is first of all, not giving someone the punishment he deserves.
Officer, please have mercy on me.
Means: Don’t give me the ticket I deserve to get.
Mercy is not treating us as our sins deserve.
It’s overlooking our behavior as rebels and enemies of God.
We’ve all experienced that from God, not just in the big sense of our salvation,
but even in our everyday lives, he has not treated us as our sins deserve.
He mercifully mitigates the consequences of our foolish behavior.
But there is another quality of mercy that is positive.
It’s pity for a person’s condition. When a beggar says: Have mercy.
He’s saying: Look at me. Look at my rags. Look at my hungry face.
Don’t judge me for it, pity me—and in that pity, act on my behalf, give to me.
And the God has looked on us this way.
He has looked on us with pity in our condition and given us Jesus Christ.
Paul knows that appeal to God’s mercy will lead us down a certain path.
A Christian responding to the mercy of God must be other-focused.
Jesus made this point very dramatically in the parable of the unmerciful servant.
Let me read it to you: Matthew 18.
Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. “Be patient with me,” he begged, “and I will pay back everything.” The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. “Pay back what you owe me!” he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, “Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.” But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. “You wicked servant,” he said, “I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.
Christ draws a direct line from your appreciation of God’s mercy to you,
you your mercy toward other people—in this case forgiveness.
This is precisely the direction Paul takes us. He says: The motive is mercy.
Then: Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought—not about you.
You are a member of a body, you are united with others to serve them.
This is important. Much more likely to discover your gifts if your awareness
of God’s mercy to you in Jesus is causing you to focus on other people.
Because that’s what the gifts are for—for service, for expressing love.
I titled this sermon is “charismata.” That is the Greek word for gifts.
Verse 6: We all have different gifts, different charismata.
That is where the modern word charismatic comes from.
We use that word in a general sense to mean a strong, attractive personality.
But in Christianity for the past 40 years, it’s been used to refer to a movement—
the charismatic movement.
I assume that most of you have at least heard that term, the charismatic movement.
You might know something about it—
at least that it has something to do with speaking in tongues.
You don’t hear nearly as much about the charismatic movement as you did in
the 70s and 80s, because as a movement it is over, but effects still present.
The charismatic movement was basically the introduction of a distinctive doctrine
that Pentecostal churches believe into the conversation of the church at large.
That doctrine, is that at some point after you become a Christian,
at some point after you have been saved, it is possible and desirable to have
a second encounter with the Holy Spirit, a kind of second conversion.
Your first encounter with the Holy Spirit resulted in you being born again,
but your second encounter with the Holy Spirit results in you receiving gifts.
The Pentecostals said that the particular gifts that come with this second
encounter with the Holy Spirit are speaking in tongues, that’s the big one,
as well as other miraculous or prophetic abilities.
And those gifts are often accompanied with strong emotions and physical
manifestations—weeping, laughing, falling down—feelings of euphoria.
There were many good effects from the charismatic movement, people saved,
churches revitalized, experiential emphasis brought to church in general.
(Woman with spiritual life shaped by charismatic renewal in Presbyterian church)
The charismatic movement forced evangelical churches outside of Pentecostalism
to study the work of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts more carefully.
In my study this week I read John Stott’s commentary on Romans—Anglican.
His comments shaped by his response to the charismatic movement.
I read some sermons by John Piper, Baptist, also responded to it.
And I read James Montgomery Boice’s commentary, Presbyterian, he did as well.
That’s a good thing. This conversation has been good.
The charismatic movement lead to an affirmation that the gifts are not dependent on
a second encounter with the Holy Spirit, but that they are given to every believer
at conversion for use in the church.
It led to a reaffirmation of the value of all gifts—don’t have to speak in tongues.
Very interesting that some churches in Pentecostal denominations are
downplaying the importance of tongues and emphasizing all the gifts.
But if there is a cautionary tale from the charismatic movement it is that
spiritual gifts can become a way of focusing on yourself.
In some of the more dramatic cases, the charismatic movement became the pursuit
of personal highs through experiencing the gift of tongues—
and all the emotional trappings that came with it.
I’m not affirming the validity of the modern gift of tongues—
that’s another topic for another day.
But when gifts are about making you feel good, giving you a buzz,
hopping churches all over town or all over the country where the Holy Spirit is
supposedly working, then you’ve completely missed the point of the gifts.
Because they are no longer about other people, but about you.
And believe me, it’s not just Charismatics who fall into this trap.
You can do with the gift of teaching—teaching can be about you, praise.
You can do it with the gift of giving, serving—to feel good about self.
If that is the case, more often than not, will not discover true gifts—
because focus will be on self, not others.
The corrective is what? It’s the cross. Jesus Christ dying for you.
The mercies of God. Let that soften you, humble you.
Move you toward the body—Focus on others—
in that place you will find your love language for the church.
MP#2 Follow your pleasures
When you look at Paul’s list of gifts in Romans 12, one of the things that strikes
you is that all of these are required of all Christians all the time.
Paul calls them gifts, but we could just as well call them duties.
Prophecy—well, that’s a hard one to figure out.
A strong case can be made that prophecy was a gift limited to Apostolic times.
But even so, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14—“Be eager to prophesy.”
That’s a command that applied to every Christian, at least at that time.
Serving. This word service is simply the general word for ministry.
It applies to ministry of every kind that Christians are duty-bound to perform.
Paul says in Ephesians 4 that the saints are to be equipped for works of service.
Tells them that they must give and take care of certain people honor them—
and calls all that serving. It’s not an option, it’s a Christian duty to serve.
Teaching. At various times and situations, teaching is a duty of all Christians.
You can see that in Paul’s general instruction in Colossians 3:16.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another
with all wisdom.”
Clearly, there is an expectation that as you grow in your knowledge of the Word,
you are to speak that truth into the lives of other believers. And even if you aren’t
in a classroom, that is a form of teaching expected to do.
Encouraging, or exhorting as some versions translate it.
This also is a duty of all Christians. Paul says it many times in his letters:
Encourage one another, brothers, encourage the timid.
Twice book of Hebrews commands Christians to “Encourage one another.”
Not to be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness, not to give up meeting together.
It’s a duty for us to be telling each other to hang in there, walk by faith, be strong.
Contributing, giving. Clearly a duty of all Christians.
So many positive examples—the widow in the temple giving her two pennies,
Zacchaeus giving half of what he owned, early church giving to one another.
2 Corinthians 9 tells us that we should all be free, generous, cheerful givers.
Leadership. This verb can mean to care for or give aid.
That makes sense coming between giving and mercy.
Caring and giving aid certain a Christian duty—think of Good Samaritan.
But even if this means leadership, which it does most likely—that too is a duty.
Parents commanded in Ephesians to bring up children in nurture and
admonition of the Lord—that is an aspect of leadership that affects church.
All Christian find themselves in situations where it is their duty to lead.
Finally, mercy. All Christians are supposed to be merciful.
“Blessed are the merciful,” said Jesus in the sermon on the mount.
I’ve already mentioned the parable of the unmerciful servant.
Should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant as I had mercy on you?
This is interesting, isn’t it? That Paul stresses that we are different.
That we have different gifts, different measures of grace.
This is an extension of the church as a body with many parts.
Clearly, for the body to function well, we must recognize and celebrate differences.
We don’t all try to do everything. Don’t demand people do what not gifted to do.
We should use our particular gifts.
And yet, having said that, we can go down this list of gifts and find ample
biblical evidence that every one of these is a duty we must all fulfill.
So what are we to conclude from this observation that spiritual gifts are things
that God expects in some measure from all believers?
I think it’s this:
Some duties come more joyfully to some Christians than they do for others.
As Christians do all the duties that God commands, they find that some duties
make them happier, and seem to bear more fruit in the lives of other people.
And it is that joy and fruitfulness that marks a spiritual gift.
In other words, if you take particular pleasure in serving, giving, doing mercy,
teaching, leading, or exhorting, then those pleasures are your spiritual gifts.
The Holy Spirit shapes the hearts of Christians so that they are drawn
to particular duties and do them well and freely.
So in order to find your gifts you have to be active in the life of the body.
You have to serve and give and do mercy and teach—and it’s only that way
that you will find what you do joyfully and fruitfully and what you don’t.
When I was a senior in high school, I had to take a career placement test.
That test told me that I should be a veterinarian.
Lo and behold, the summer after my sophomore year of college, I got a job
working for a vet. I didn’t go looking for it, but the job just fell in my lap.
And I thought, ok, let’s see if the career placement test was on to something.
It was a good job. There were some things that were interesting, even fun.
He let me help him with surgery—mostly spaying and neutering dogs and cats.
He would show me what to snip and sew. That was interesting.
Some of the animals were entertaining.
There was a large, mean cat that was being boarded at his office all summer.
The first time I tried to move it, I reached in the cage and it attacked me.
I asked the vet what to do and he said: Watch, only show you this once.
Opened the cage, threw a towel on the cat, then bundled it up very quickly.
I got to be so good, that I would leave the head sticking out.
It would be hiss and spit but couldn’t claw me—that was fun.
But the job didn’t give me much joy, and I knew I wouldn’t be a good vet.
On the other hand, I had been doing some student teaching and that did give
me joy and I thought, perhaps that I could be a good teacher.
You can go on-line and find a spiritual gifts surveys.
They ask all sorts of questions and analyze the gifts that you likely have.
Those are somewhat helpful. I’ve taken them.
But more helpful is to be fully engaged in the life of the body, doing your duties.
When there are things that need to be done, people who need you,
ministries that need to be fulfilled—do them.
You might say—that was interesting, even fun, but not my gift.
But how do you know if you don’t try?
How do you know if you have the gift of teaching or not if never taught?
You could teach a children’s Sunday school class and see. Might fill with joy.
How do you know if you have the gift of giving if don’t give regularly,
and at times gave above and beyond your regular tithe?
How do you know if you have the gift of mercy or not if you don’t give your
time and energy to a lowly person who needs help?
Don’t use gift cop-out. If asked to do something, don’t automatically say—
That’s not my gift. Maybe in doing your duty, filling a gap, discover it is.
Jesus going to the cross for you—was it his duty or his gift?
Was he following a command or following his calling?
It was beautifully both.
He came to do the will of his Father, he set his face like flint toward Jerusalem
and the cross, he prayed, let this cup pass, yet not my will but yours be done.
He didn’t say: I don’t think being a Messiah is my gift.
If that isn’t the highest fulfillment of duty I don’t know what is.
And yet at the same time, it was his joy and fruitfulness.
“Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the
cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
There is no better Savior, Shepherd, and Friend than our Lord Jesus.
He was filled with the Holy Spirit beyond measure and as Paul says—
he gives gifts to men.