Beware of a temptation of spiritual gifts

In the 1920s, Harvey Penick purchased a red spiral notebook and began keeping a diary of his observations about golf.  He only shared the book with his son until he mentioned it to Austin reporter Bud Shrake in an interview in 1991.  He asked Shrake if he thought anyone would be interested in publishing the book.  Shrake read the book, told Penick that there was a market for such a book and a little while later he left a message with Penick’s wife that Simon & Schuster had agreed to publish it with a $90,000 advance.

When Shrake later saw Penick, he was surprised that Penick seemed discouraged at the prospect.  Then he learned the reason:  “With all my medical bills and everything, I’m not sure I can afford to pay ninety thousand dollars.” The writer then eased his mind by informing him that the publisher would be the one writing the check, not Penick! 

Sometimes we misunderstand the nature of gifts and we misunderstand even that we have been given a gift.

That is true of believers in Christ as well. We have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit to indwell us and empower us for living the life of Christ. He seals us permanently in Christ, uniting us to Him and His body permanently. The Spirit then produces His fruit in us (Gal. 5:22-23), making us to look like our Savior. And the Spirit gives us gifts. Those gifts are divine empowerment to serve Christ and the church in a way that uniquely demonstrates we are being empowered by God and not working by our own power and abilities.

This gifting is a magnanimous kindness from God.

But there is a danger with the gifts we receive. This is not the only danger, but it is a subtle temptation that is often overlooked. The danger is that we can assume, “I don’t have the gift of _______, so I don’t have to worry about doing it.” We can be tempted to use our lack of gifting as an excuse not to serve Christ’s church.

Yet the gifts that are given in the New Testament are also all duties of every believer to fulfill. Just consider the list of gifts given in Romans 12, for instance (apart from the gift of prophecy, which we will talk about this Sunday). All those gifts are commanded of all believers in other passages:

  • Service — “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Gal. 5:13)
  • Teaching — “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Tim. 2:2)
  • Exhortation — “…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.” (Heb. 10:24-25)
  • Giving — “For I testify that according to their ability [the churches of Macedonia], and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints…” (2 Cor. 8:3-4; consider all of 2 Cor. 8-9)
  • Leading — “This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God may be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men.…And let our people also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, that they may not be unfruitful.” (Titus 3:8, 14)
  • Showing mercy — “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Mt. 5:7)

These passages teach us that while there are particular gifts, not having some gift is no excuse not to serve in the body of Christ in that way and apart from our gifting. We have been given gifts and should use those gifts; we should also serve in “ordinary” ways of service.

Remember that spiritual gifts are a unique provision for you to serve God in ways and with effect that you are not naturally equipped to do. Gifts are not given to compel us to serve only in one way in the church. No matter what our gifts, as we have opportunity we should be fulfilling all the other callings of the believer in the life of the church.

So consider your gifting and develop that gift and use it for the glory of God in the church. And beware of one temptation about gifts and serve Christ in all the areas in which you are not uniquely gifted, and in so doing you will contribute to building God’s church and bring Him glory.

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