By Michael Tucker, Senior Pastor, Arlington Adventist Church, Arlington, Texas
Summary: Gifts are not mature at the time of discovery; they are developed through practice. When God gives you a gift, use and develop that gift to His glory.
Great violins are not like works of art, writes music critic John von Rhein. They were never meant to be hung on a wall or locked up under glass. Any instrument will lose its tone if it isn’t played regularly; conversely, an instrument gains in value the more it is used. As a result, the world’s greatest violins are looking for first-rate violinists. The Stradivari Society brings them together—artist and work of art. It entrusts expensive violins to world-class violinists who could never afford to purchase them. The owner requires one more thing—the musician must give the patron at least two command performances a year.
God entrusts exquisite instruments to His people. He gives us these in the form of spiritual gifts. The instrument is God’s gift to us, and our wise use of the instrument is our gift to God.
One body—many members
In Romans, Paul speaks of many gifts. He tells us that salvation in its entirety is a gift. First, we are freely justified by faith—forgiven and declared clean before God. Faith, too is a gift from God. Lastly, God gives the gift of sanctification—our behavior, thoughts and attitudes are changed through the indwelling Spirit. But God is still not finished giving His gifts. All who receive Christ as Lord and Savior are given even more gifts! Let’s read about them in Romans 12. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given 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 (Ro 12:4-8).
Paul describes the church as one body, comprised of different but important members. I met a man who had his great toe amputated as a result of diabetes. He now has a problem with balance. This toe seems insignificant when compared to a leg or arm. However, if you lose a great toe, you realize just how significant it is. In the body of Christ, if one member fails to function, the entire body suffers. Everyone receives special gifts from the Spirit. These gifts are for our enjoyment and the benefit of the church and world. Some people have one gift while others have more. The tragedy in life is not in being limited to one talent, but in failing to use it. Use your gift in every way possible. Don’t hoard it. Don’t dole it out like a miser. Spend it lavishly like a millionaire intent on going broke.
Making the most of it
Can we develop spiritual gifts? A reporter once said to George Bernard Shaw: You have a marvelous gift for oratory. How did you develop it? Shaw retorted, I learned to speak as men learn to skate or cycle, by doggedly making a fool of myself until I got used to it. Gifts are not mature at the time of discovery; they are developed through practice. When God gives you a gift, use and develop that gift to His glory. Our gifts vary. Someone can be a good third baseman but not a good pitcher. It is liberating to realize that we don’t need to be skilled in everything.
A thirty-eight-year-old scrubwoman would go to the movies and sigh, If only I had her looks. She would listen to a singer and moan, If only I had her voice. Then one day someone gave her the book, The Magic of Believing. She stopped comparing herself to others and crying about what she didn’t have. She concentrated on what she did have. She took inventory and noted that in school she had a reputation for being the funniest girl around. She began to turn her liabilities into assets. As a result, Phyllis Diller emerged as a highly successful American comedian. God has given you gifts. You may not see them as exciting and may even wish you had someone else’s ability. But God did not give you someone else’s gifts—He gave you yours. Accept them and use them to His glory.
Aesop tells of an old crow in the wilderness that was terribly thirsty. He came to a jug with some water in the bottom of it. The crow put his beak into the jug, but he couldn’t reach the liquid. What did he do? He began picking up pebbles one at a time and dropped them into the jug. As the pebbles accumulated in the bottom, the water rose until the crow was able to drink. In the gifts we bring, each of us is dropping in our own little pebble. Using our gifts to serve may not seem important, but as the pebbles accumulate in the jug and the water rises, God builds His kingdom and brings His plan to fruition.
Giving what we have
In the fall of 1994 a couple boarded a flight bound for Orlando’s Disney World. Theresa, the wife, was nearly seven months pregnant. Thirty minutes en route, she doubled over in pain. Flight attendants asked for a doctor and a Long Island internist volunteered his help. Theresa gave birth to a baby boy, but he was in trouble. The umbilical cord was wrapped tightly around his neck and he wasn’t breathing. Two paramedics rushed forward to help. One of the men asked for a straw to suction fluid from the baby’s lungs. The plane did not stock straws, but a flight attendant remembered having a straw left over from a juice box she brought on board. The paramedic inserted the straw into the baby’s lungs as the internist administered CPR. Next the doctor asked for something to tie off the umbilical cord. A passenger offered a shoelace. Four minutes of terror passed and the baby whimpered. The crew joyfully announced the birth and everyone cheered. The baby boy was named Matthew, which means Godsend. Those people on the plane were all godsends, the baby’s father said. God used them to meet the needs of that family. What better picture of the Church could there be? We are God sent—each with a gift—each willing to give what we have and do what we can to help others.
According to grace
We have different gifts, according to the grace given us (Ro 12:6). The Greek word translated as gifts is charismata. In the New Testament charisma is a Special gift God bestows. I could practice a lifetime and never play the violin like Itzhak Perlman. He has, the charisma that is a gift from God. Paul says everyone has his own charisma. It may be for preaching, building houses or singing. Your charisma may be for teaching children or making people feel at home. But everyone has his own.
The spiritual gifts listed in Romans 12 are prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing to the needs of others and leading. Prophesying does not just refer to predicting the future. The word means forth telling. The prophet is one who announces the Christian message with the authority of one who knows. Verse 7 speaks of the gift of ministry, which implies practical service. This gift of ministry or service includes such simple things as cooking a meal for a grieving family or mowing the lawn of a shut-in. Nothing demonstrates love so well as does practical service.
Verse 7 also lists the gift of teaching. Christ’s message is not only proclaimed, it must also be explained. We have Sabbath School teachers at every level who are gifted by God for this work. Verse 8 lists exhortation or encouragement as a gift. The British navy has a regulation that says, no officer shall speak discouragingly to any other officer about any undertaking in which he may be engaged. Do you know someone who is discouraged? You may use the gift of exhortation to cheer him with words of encouragement.
Giving is another spiritual gift. Every Christian has a measure of this gift, but some are especially endowed with the gift of generosity. If you are motivated to joyfully relieve the burdens of others, it may be that God has given you this gift. Verse 8 also addresses the gift of leadership. It is challenging today to find capable leaders in the Church. God is calling leaders with a sense of service and responsibility.
The final gift is the gift of mercy. With this gift we may extend grace and forgiveness to others. How wonderful to be able to give such a gift!
You are God’s gift
It was Christmas time and three-year-old Macy observed a number of presents accumulating under the tree. Caught up in the excitement of gifts and giving, one morning Macy picked up, shook and guessed what was inside every package. Then in a burst of inspiration she grasped a big red bow that had fallen off a present and held it to her head. Look at me, Daddy, she smiled brightly. I’m a present!
Yes! You are God’s gift. He wants to use you to love others in a world that is dying from a lack of love. God has equipped you to bless others. If you choose you may speak His Word with confidence. You can minister to those in need.