Sunday, January 11, 2015

"Gifts of Grace" (1 Peter 4:7-11)

Last week, we talked about being ‘grace-bearers’. Having been given so much of God’s grace, we have been called to encourage and build others up – offering to them words of grace … words that draw them closer to God’s design for them.

There are other ways we can serve others, and particular ways we can share and serve together. This is clearly pointed out in verse 10 of our reading from  1 Peter chapter 4.
Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.

Before we go on, let’s look at the earlier verses that give us some context. 7 The end of all things is near. The first disciples (or apostles) believed that time was limited. Of course two thousand years later things are still rolling along. Clearly the early disciples were heavily impacted by the persecution they were experiencing. Anytime we are under deep stress we might prefer that Jesus would come again. But the deeper point being made here is the seriousness and urgency of the church’s mission. There is never any time to waste. If things in the world are going in a direction that you don’t like, and might be categorised as anti-God, then this is the time, not to run, but rather to engage.

7b … therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. So that our prayers for positive change might be answered, we take on the personal challenges of discipleship (which relates to our attitudes, priorities and lifestyle). This is all a matter of integrity and discipline; bringing our lives into line with all our spiritual hopes.

8 Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Basically, we practice love. We have a heart moved by the plight of others. We are open to building relationship with people. We move beyond our comfort zones with practical expressions of love. And we share what we have been given.

10 Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. 
Ø The “grace of God” is here described as “manifold” … meaning multifaceted. “Grace” not only saves us, but prepares us for sharing that “grace” with others.
Ø A “steward” is a person who has been entrusted to manage another’s property; “good stewards” doing everything they can to ensure that this property is well cared for, maintains its value, without any damage being done to it. A “good steward” in this context manages the “grace” they have received from God well – in a proper way. This ‘proper way’ is described as “serving” others with their (spiritual) gifts!

The New Testament (in various places) talks about gifts being given by the Holy Spirit to the people who have accepted and followed Jesus into the church. If you bring the various areas of gifting together it becomes quite a long list. Each Christian has at least one gift and often more (through which we are to serve one another). It is God who has given the gifts, God certainly knowing best how to bestow such blessings, and how all these gifts will best come together in a mutually effective way.

Some of these gifts are given a higher grading, yet all areas of giftedness are equally needed. It is when all these gifts are brought together into a harmonious expression of God’s grace that great things tend to happen.

And of course, these gifts are never for the elevation or benefit of any single individual. We should never seek praise for ourselves – all we should expect is encouragement from our brothers and sisters in the faith. These gifts are always to be used to point to Jesus and bring glory to God. 11 Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen. These gifts are given by God, to be sensitively used under the guidance of God’s Spirit, toward the goal of people experiencing for themselves the true and living God.

One of the lists of spiritual gifts is given by Paul in the context of his ‘body’ theology. This is where the church resembles and functions like a human body. This discussion can be found in 1 Corinthians chapter 12. [This follows Paul’s teaching about the Lord’s Supper.] This is where every part of the body is essential, and no part is dispensable. If certain parts decide not to work, then this negatively affects the overall functioning of the body. Also, all these parts have to work together in unison (with Jesus at the head) for the right result to happen in terms of good functioning.

The key verse in 1 Corinthians 12 is this: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (verse 7). Although the parts, like human personalities and areas of spiritual giftedness are very diverse, being part of a whole, they can come together in unity (i.e. with unified purpose) to everybody’s benefit. And the “common good” should be seen in its most inclusive and broadest sense!!

Because of all this inspired and complimentary gift-giving, there should never be jealously or competitiveness; but rather supportive, cohesive and joyful interaction. Spiritual gifts are not given for personal enjoyment, nor as any mark of special merit; but rather to address the problems in the world. As they are seen and experienced working together cohesively and lovingly, spiritual gifts can offer new hope toward a better reality.

Bright Church of Christ has a good vision statement, and there are plenty of opportunities and ideas through which to address this vision. “The purpose of this church is to allow Christ to transform us together, so that His character, ministry and mission are expressed through all of us.” So last week we looked at some behaviour patterns, most specially the use of words, and the need to use them in encouraging ways, as part of this need to be transformed. This week we address a bit the idea of Christ’s ministry and mission being expressed through all of us. This happens as we discover, encourage, develop and apply the gifts God’s Spirit has given to each of us.

Whereas there is no one definitive list, various bible passages mention different giftings (usually in the context of the proper use of such gifts). Here is the list of biblical possibilities (they come from Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, with a bit of Exodus 31 thrown in) – gifts which have also been evident in church life over the centuries:
·        Apostleship (missionary/church planter) – the initiator of new ideas or ministries; the adventurer
·        Shepherding (pastoral) – particularly good caring and support skills, nurturing people in faith, guiding people’s growth toward spiritual maturity
·        Leadership – able to promote vision, guide ministries, motivate activity; able to gain the trust of people
·        Intercession (prayer) – demonstrates a high commitment to prayer and a certainty concerning God’s response
·        Wisdom – provides proven good counsel and guidance, offering helpful solutions through times of conflict or turmoil; applies knowledge effectively in specific situations
·        Knowledge (clarity/special revelation) – clear understanding of God’s ways and means
·        Discernment – provides vital and Godly insight into issues and decision-making; distinguishes well between truth and error
·        Prophecy (speaking into problem areas) – able to communicate strongly (with God-sensitively) into societal evils and perpetual problems
·        Teaching – interpret, explain and apply God’s Word; the capacity to put concerted effort into study, reflection and preparation
·        Encouragement (exhortation/preaching) – speaking words that strengthen, comfort or challenge people toward a deeper relationship with God
·        Evangelism – intentionally building relationships with people through which to share the good news, and facilitating a response
·        Artistic communication (musician/singer/artist/writer/actor) – inspiring and moving people toward a deeper connection with God and an understanding of the Gospel message
·        Administration – efficiently dealing with matters of organisation and finance
·        Faith (radical/out of comfort zone) – an exceptional and unwavering confidence in God (that leads them to places others may fear)
·        Healing – able to touch people’s lives in a way that brings new wholeness, health and well-being
·        Miracles (signs) – special instrument in God’s hands to bring about supernatural interventions, pointing towards the need for a relationship with Jesus
·        Mercy (compassion) – elevated empathy with the broken-hearted and downtrodden, sharing and lightening their burden; addressing systemic suffering and injustice
·        Giving (generosity) – offers resources to others
·        Helping (practical ministries) – contributing to practical projects and maintenance
·        Hospitality (welcoming) – provides fellowship, food, shelter, a sense of safety, a point of relational connection, a feeling of belonging
·        Craftsmanship – especially creative and good with their hands
·        Tongues – brings messages from God in unfamiliar languages.

Four further points:
(i)                Some of these could be seen as natural talents or attributes in people, but also they can be special; e.g. we are all called and equipped to be encouragers, but there are some with a special gift of encouragement, such that this is clearly one of the main things they do. We all need faith, but some are really able to inspire others through the application of their faith.
(ii)              Also, some of these gifts could have their origin in our natural talents and abilities, e.g. the artistic gifts, practical helping or administration, but when these are further touched by the Holy Spirit, they become serious tools for the sharing of the gospel.
(iii)            Some of these gifts may come to us as a total surprise, and the first we may know about them is that someone else recognises such a gift in us.
(iv)            It’s difficult to pull off the proper, sensitive and effective use of these gifts without working together. Why???
Ø Because some of these giftings are incomplete in themselves and need to be combined with others to be fully effective (e.g. leadership & discernment, knowledge & wisdom).
Ø Just like our bones join together, these gifts are interactive with each other.
Ø Also, the growth and development of our gifts require the feedback of others.

So, what is my gift? What can I contribute? Where do I best fit in participating in a ministry to the world? I invite a wide-ranging consideration of these questions.

What are your interests? What are you drawn to? What would you like to have a go at? Also be prepared for the mini-steps of preparation that might be involved. Be prepared also to receive feedback. But having said that, being in a loving, welcoming, encouraging community of people – don’t be shy to put your hand up!!

It’s easy for leaders to keep going back to the same trusted people. We need to challenge that! At the same time, understand that there may be some work you have to do with God first, getting you ready. We will certainly be approaching people as well, to see if certain ideas resonate with you.

I believe in “EM – ME”. That is, everyone in ministry and a ministry for everyone! That is the practical application of the New Testament’s teaching on spiritual giftedness. In the same way as we can “grieve the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30) through using our words badly, we can also “grieve the Holy Spirit” by wasting the gifts that have been given to us.

People grow best when they are involved (especially when they are involved in the biggest cause of all – the sharing of the Gospel and advancement of God’s Kingdom)! People grow (and I mean in all areas of their lives) as they use and share their gifts in cooperative community. People grow:
Ø as experiments succeed (and sometimes fail),
Ø as people receive and give constructive feedback and thereby become more effective,
Ø as ministries and projects take off, and,
Ø as people work hand-in-hand as never before.

Granted … there are other things happening for us in life, and sometimes these are hugely time consuming, however to still have in the front of our mind our contribution to church (and therefore community) – keeps us on the right growth curve.

We should not be deterred by what we might see as personal limitations. God doesn’t make mistakes when gifts are bestowed. We should not be too easily discouraged if using our gift becomes difficult in some way or another. God is with us, blessing others, even with meagre efforts that are done with the right attitude.

Early in his career, jazz player Herbie Hancock was invited to play in the quintet of Miles Davis, already a musical legend. In an interview, Hancock admitted being nervous but described it as a wonderful experience because Davis was so nurturing. During one performance, when Davis was near the high point of his solo, Hancock played the wrong chord. He was mortified, but Davis continued as if nothing had happened. “He played some notes that made my chord right”, Hancock said. (Courtesy of “Our Daily Bread” and Julie Ackerman Link.). 

As we together put our gifts into action (as best we can), it is God who brings about the positive outcomes. As we recognise, utilise and mature each of our spiritual gifts in a unified way, the body of Christ can appear to be very cohesive, beautiful, with lots of vitality!

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