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.
Those particular interests and abilities that Christ gives individual believers
for the benefit of the church as a whole.
Paul’s point is that this is what responding to mercies of God looks like,
this is offering your body as a living sacrifice—
making use of your gifts in the body of Christ.
INTRO: Someone once said that human beings are the only creatures
who are verbivores. What’s a verbivore?
You know what a carnivore is—an animal that eats meat.
You know what a herbivore is—an animal that eats plants.
Well, a verbivore is an animal that eats words.
The only creature that eats words is the human being.
I had a friend who would say to his dog:
You are a dumb dog, aren’t you? You dumb, dumb dog.
And that dog would almost come apart wagging its tail with pleasure.
Imagine saying in a soft, kind-sounding voice:
You are a dumb wife, aren’t you? You dumb, dumb wife.
I doubt there would be any displays of affection!
We live and die for words. They nourish us.
Words carry our thoughts into the minds of other people.
When those words go in, they are like food going into the body.
Food goes in and it has an effect.
If it’s good food, it nourishes you and makes you happy and strong.
Good words have the same effect, they can nourish your soul.
If it’s bad food, poisoned food, rotten food—it makes you sick.
And bad words can make you soul sick.
And if you don’t eat food, if you are starved for food, you get weak.
And a similar parallel can be drawn with words, the lack of them, the failure to
hear the right and important things spoken to you, can weaken the soul.
I’m sure you understand exactly what I’m saying—good words can build up.
Especially good words from those whose love and approval we desire—
parents and teachers and those in authority over us.
And bad words can scar people so badly that sometimes they never fully recover
from the damage done to them. Sometimes things said to children, or not said
to them, have an effect that lasts a lifetime.
This is how God has made us. This is what sets us apart from the animals.
The gift of speech makes it possible for the thoughts of God to be transferred to
us. He speaks his mind and through that speech we can know him personally.
When his words enter us, they give us life and change us from the inside out.
Keep this idea of words and speech before you.
Here in Romans 12:6-8 is a list of gifts, sometimes called spiritual gifts.
Also lists in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4.
We are told that we all have gifts and are to use them for the building up of body.
When you are presented with lists, whether in the Bible or anywhere else,
one way you can try to understand them is to categorize the items, divide them.
Lots of Bible scholars and commentators have done that—taken all of these gifts
and divided them into different categories to help us understand, and apply.
(I read a book recently that divided into prophetic, priestly, kingly gifts.)
But perhaps the most helpful and simplest division of the gifts is in 1 Peter 4.
“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering
God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very
words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all
things God may be praise through Jesus Christ.”
Peter says the gifts Christ gives members of the church fall into two broad types:
speaking gifts and serving gifts.
This division between speaking and serving is found other places in Scripture.
In Luke, Jesus Christ is called a prophet “mighty in word and deed.”
In Acts, when there was a need for widows in church to be given a daily distribution
of food, the Apostles said: It is not right for us to neglect the ministry of the
Word to wait on tables. Established the office of deacon.
In the epistles, when the qualifications for elders and deacons are mentioned,
there is absolutely no difference at all in terms of spiritual and moral character.
The only difference is that the elder must be able to teach.
Here is this official distinction—elders minister by speaking, deacons by serving.
So for the purpose of our continued study of Romans 12,
and these verses on the gifts, I’ve adopted this biblical division.
Speaking gifts and serving gifts, we’ll spend one Sunday on each.
Today we’ll consider these gifts that encompass this most important part of
human life—our words and speech.
We’ll be looking at this subject under two headings, two points.
I’ll give them to you as we go.
MP#1 Christ has redeemed your speech so you can use it for love.
Can you tell me, without looking in your Bible, the only words of Adam,
recorded in Genesis, from the time before the Fall, before sin entered world?
It’s in Genesis 2, in the Garden of Eden.
We’re told that among all the creatures God had created,
there was not one found that was suitable partner for Adam.
So God caused him to fall into a deep sleep, took one of his ribs,
and from it formed the woman and brought her to Adam and he said:
“This, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!
She shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man.”
This is the only record of human speech before sin entered the world.
Out of all the things that could have been recorded for posterity that Adam said,
or that Eve said in reply, are only given one statement by a sinless human being.
And what was that statement?
Words of praise and appreciation spoken by a man to his wife and about her.
Genesis is foundational. It lays groundwork for way life ought to be.
So it’s significant that the one piece of human speech uttered before the Fall
that God recorded in the Bible was a husband’s words of praise, compliment, and
romantic possessiveness concerning his wife.
This says mountains about marriage.
What God expects marriage to be. The unique roles of husband and wife.
But this also says mountains about human speech.
Why God created us as speaking beings. How he expects us to use our words.
Here’s the main point: In the Bible, love is mostly speech.
Not just love between a man and woman, but love between parents and children,
between friends, and love between fellow believers in the body is mostly speech.
Now, you would certainly say, love is also actions, it’s sacrifice, it’s giving.
That’s true, and we will focus on that next week.
But actions have little meaning, and are not very useful in conveying love,
if those actions are not accompanied by speech and interpreted by speech.
There are many men who would say they love their families if asked.
They put a roof over heads, food on table, clothes on backs—
they certainly feel inside that they really do love their families.
But ask their wives. They would say that they wonder if he does.
Being a provider doesn’t mean much if the man never tells his wife he loves her.
And it’s the same for children. They want their father’s love expressed in words.
Children are profoundly deprived if their dad never expresses his love in words.
Speech is the primary carrier of human love. Speech cultivates love, protects it.
And the flipside is that speech, and the lack of speaking, can destroy love.
There is the old saying:
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
We all know that saying is nonsense. Anyone who says it is trying to cover hurt.
You can fix bones, but the damage words do and the damage the absence
of certain word can do is sometimes the most harmful damage done to a person.
What happens to little girls whose fathers don’t love them with words?
Who aren’t told that they are lovely and beautiful?
Things are broken that are often never completely fixed.
As a Christian, this connection between speech and love should not surprise you.
God has shown us this in a thousand ways in his relationship with us.
He made us speaking creatures so that he could communicate his mind to us.
It’s the main thing that separates us from animals.
That God can speak to us and change us by his words.
That he communicates not just his love but all of his emotions, his anger,
patience, kindness, gentleness and so on almost entirely with words.
Now it’s not only words, God has acted for our salvation.
He has done great things.
All his mighty acts of salvation culminating in the sending of his Son,
and Jesus Christ dying on the cross for us and rising again.
But all of the great acts of salvation on our behalf would have no impact
on our souls if he had not also spoken to us and explained in the
Bible what those things meant. How they were his acts of love for us.
It is through speech that you become a Christian. The Bible says God calls us.
And after you become a Christian, live in communion with God through speech.
He speaks to you in Scripture and through the Holy Spirit in your heart—
you speak to him in prayer and in songs of worship.
In fact, throughout your Christian life, your relationship with the Lord progresses
through words. You have spiritual ups and downs, your mountain tops and your
dark valleys according to the words you hear and speak.
I was talking to someone recently who was in a life circumstance that anyone
would call a very bad situation but she was walking in the sunshine—
all because someone loved her with words.
The Lord had spoken to her. By his Word and Spirit he had told her—
Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.
I have engraved you on the palm of my hands.
The Lord’s words brought his love home to her and carried her.
You become a Christian through speech.
You live in communion with God through speech.
And through Christ, your speech is redeemed.
The power of sin over your speech is broken
and it is restored to its original purpose—to carry, protect, and nourish love.
There is one other speech of Adam recorded in Genesis.
In that speech, he is talking about his wife again, but it’s very different.
God asked him if he had eaten the forbidden fruit, and he blamed Eve.
“The woman you put her with me, she gave me some of the fruit.”
Instead of carrying love, Adam’s speech carried alienation and conflict.
It’s been that way ever since.
All of us are sinners, and all of us in particular have sinned with our speech.
There is not a person in this room who should not be deeply ashamed of things
you’ve said or things should have said but didn’t . If not, insensitive as a stump.
James says no one can tame the tongue.
That it is a world of evil among the parts of the body, that it is set on fire by hell.
But Jesus Christ not only forgives you of your sinful speech, all the terrible things
you’ve said to people, and still say. He also came to redeem and restore.
So that by his grace, and by responding to his mercies, your words, your speech,
can be once more carry, protect, and nourish love.
Obviously, matter of speech and love has application to every part of life—
marriage, family, friendships, our neighbors, even our enemies.
In some areas of life, like marriage, husbands must take the lead.
But here in Romans 12, the specific application is church life—
life in the body of Christ, the family of God.
Brings to second point:
MP#2 Christ has given speaking gifts so you can love the church.
Paul introduces this subject of gifts and then he says:
Love must be sincere. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.
Speaking gifts are ways that love is expressed so that the body is fed and built
Paul mentions three speaking gifts in particular—
prophesy, teaching, and encouraging. Let’s look at each and apply to church life.
“If a man’s gift is prophesy, let him use in proportion to his faith.”
What is prophesy? In the Bible, a prophet was one who spoke the word of God
under the direct influence of the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament church, there
were many prophets who operated in authority just under the apostles.
They would receive special messages of duty and warning for the church.
Do we still have prophets? Is this still a regular gift in church today?
A number of years ago a young man showed up in our church one Sunday.
When I stood up to preach, he jumped up in front of me and said:
I have a message from God for you.
I asked him to step out and tell the elders his message,
and if they thought it was helpful to the body, would let him speak after service.
They didn’t give him permission and he got so mad he kicked the wall!
I don’t want to spend much time on this question of whether prophets today.
Prophecy is by definition revelation. Direct messages from God for the church.
Prophecy was needed in the foundational years of the church.
But with the completion of the New Testament, no further revelation is needed.
The Lord has spoken through the Apostles, so it is the Bible that guides us.
The Holy Spirit still speaks, might have impressions, intuitions, even dreams
that he uses to guide you in some way. (I feel need to pray.) But not prophecy.
Even so, I do think there is still something here for us.
The prophet was one who confronted sin in Israel.
Someone has said the role of the prophet was to disturb the comfortable.
Could it be that there is at least some analogy between the gift of prophecy
and that loving speech in the body that takes the form of confrontation?
Paul Tripp wrote a book called Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands.
It’s about life in the church, and how we help each other in sanctification.
He has a couple chapters on confrontation—it’s very convicting.
One point he makes is that the only way good will ever come from confronting
one another is if we confront with the Gospel.
If the confrontation is about making the person deal with us,
or even if it primarily about making the person deal with his or her sin—
it will fail and end up tearing down instead of building up.
He says you have to confront fellow believers with the comfort of the Gospel
Tell them that they are loved and forgiven in Christ.
There is nothing they can do that will separate them from God’s love.
They are accepted by God in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
You also have to confront them with the call of the Gospel.
God’s grace obligates us to deal rigorously with sin.
God is so serious about sin that he sacrificed his own Son to deal with it in us.
Tripp says: “In the push and pull (of church life) it’s easy to emphasize one side of the Gospel or the other. For example, if you were talking to a husband who had verbally abused his wife, it would be tempting to emphasize the call of the gospel over the comfort. However, it is the comfort of the gospel that gives this man the courage to step out from behind his denials and rationalizations to confess his sin. On the other hand, if you were talking to his wife, you might be tempted to emphasize the comfort of the gospel to the exclusion of the call. Yet it is the call of the gospel that exposes the bitterness, self-righteousness, and vengeance that are powerful temptations for those who have been sinned against. Everyone needs both sides of the gospel all the time.”
In the body there are people you know who you might need to love this way.
We are all obligated to confront one another at times.
Here’s the pattern, it must be according to the Gospel.
In accordance with the measure of his faith. The only way it will be in love.
“If teaching, let him teach.”
There are all kinds of teaching needed in the body.
We need seminary professors to teach the next generation of ministers.
I thank God every week for my seminary professors, all they taught me.
We need pastors, we need teachers of adults, teachers who focus on special
topics and needs, and we always need teachers of our precious covenant children.
I think I told this story a couple years ago—Back when Adrienne was still here,
she and Eliza taught the Kindergarten Sunday school class.
At lunch on Sunday we all laugh at the stories they tell about these little souls.
One week, their Bible verse was:
“And the Lord spoke: I will strengthen you and help you.”
When they read it, one of the children said: What? The Lord smokes?
Another child said: My grandpa smokes.
Adrienne and Eliza said, No, no, no—
“And the Lord spoke: I will strengthen you and help you.”
Ok, who thinks they can say that Bible verse? One child raised her hand.
“God smokes.” So that was the great theological lesson of the day.
I mention that humorous example, because I think that when you teach children,
it’s easiest to see how it is an expression of love for the body. Pouring self into
these little lives who will be the future of the kingdom.
Maybe you don’t think you have the gift of teaching, but if you have never tried,
then you don’t know. Maybe you ought to teach a children’s class.
“If encouraging, let him encourage.”
Encouragement has become a weak word for us. Usually means little more than
a slap on the back and saying: Good job!
But when you examine this word more closely, find that there is much more to it.
It’s used 107 times in New Testament and is translated with powerful verbs like—
beseech, comfort, desire, pray, entreat and console.
Same word used of the work of the Holy Spirit. Paraclete. Counselor. Advocate.
Idea is this: If you have the gift of getting alongside another person to help him
or her—then do it. Stand alongside that person and really help him.
Probably not a more tangible expression of love with words, than encouraging.
This week I got an email from somebody in church.
I want you to know that I am on your side and I am for you. If you need to share a burden, I
am willing to help carry it, and if it’s a burden that only you can carry, I will try to bring you
fresh waters of encouragement anytime you need it. “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the
day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him.” Nahum1:7
Love just pours out of that.
Paul calls encouragement a gift, but he also commands it many times for all.
Encourage each other in times of grief with the hope of Christ’s coming.
Encourage the timid. Encourage one another to self control.
Encourage each other as a way of overcoming sin’s deceitfulness.
Encourage each other to keep on meeting together.
Who can you encourage in the body this week? May not be your gift.
Might not think it is your gift. Might not think you are particularly good at it.
But certainly there is an email or text you can send, a phone call you can make,
or even a face to face visit with someone.