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A Passion For The Church

Unwrap Your Spiritual Gift

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | January 8, 2006

Selected highlights from this sermon

When we receive a gift at Christmas, our first instinct is to unwrap it. Imagine receiving a gift from God and ignoring it rather than unwrapping and enjoying it.

Each person’s unique giftedness comes from God, and the purpose of these gifts is to glorify Him. Similar to an orchestra with many musicians, we each have unique instruments to play so that the church might be a glorious symphony for God.

Today I want to be very clear in what I have to say to you, so I’m going to begin by laying it all out, plunging right in without any chit-chat. Sounds good! Amen, Amen. Sounding good!

I want to smash to smithereens the idea that you can be passionately in love with Jesus Christ, and at the same time not be passionately in love with His church. I want to speak to those who think that it’s possible to be connected to Jesus through faith, and therefore a member of Christ’s Body. But whether or not you are a member of the church and involved and a contributor is tangential and somewhat irrelevant. That’s your choice. I want to speak to you today.

I want to speak to those who think that they can church hop. You know, there is an expression like that—sermon samplers. “Oh, I like this sermon first.” In fact, I read about a guy who, because there were two churches in the neighborhood, attended one for the sermon and the other for the music. And he was able to work it out and stop at MacDonald’s on the way in between his two trips. I’m speaking to you.

Who is this message for? Well, first of all, it’s for those of you who are committed to the church. You are involved. You are making a contribution. You’ve connected with others here in the church. You have friends here and you are contributing in some way with your time, your talents and your treasure. I am preaching this to encourage you and to let you know that you are on the right track, and to light a fire within you that you might be encouraged to continue on in that devotion. (applause) I’m speaking to you. Thank you. A little weaker than I hoped for (laughter), but hey, I’m just beginning.

I’m also speaking to those of you who think that it’s possible to be a good Christian and not be involved with God’s people, to simply come and to be a spectator rather than being involved in ministry. I’m also speaking to those of you who are visiting, and telling you a couple of things. First, thank you for being here. We have visitors every Sunday from all over the world. And we are glad that you are here. If you are from the Chicago area we’d like you to think about making this your home church, but that’s a decision that’s up to you. And I hope that the message that I give you today you will take back home to your home church where you are involved and committed.

I’m also speaking to those who can no longer contribute in the sense in which I mentioned because of physical disability, because you may no longer be able to function in a way that is helpful to the body. I want to tell you something. You also are necessary. You are necessary as we shall find out especially next week.

And then I’m talking to all of you who are not Christians, who are kind of evaluating the Christian faith, and I want you to listen because you must understand that when you receive Christ as Savior you become a part of something that is so much greater and so much grander than you or I are individually. I want you to understand that. This is a wonderful experience, to belong to the body of Jesus Christ.

I’m speaking to the young people. I’m speaking to the old people. Do you get the impression that I’m talking to everybody? That’s the one I want to give. The only requirement for you to know that I’m speaking to you is for you to be alive. Now if you’re dead, I call you to rise (laughter), but I’m talking to everybody today. I’ve got a burden on my heart that has to be delivered.

What is the church? The church is not the building. The building is where a part of the church meets. The church is those that are called out by God. There is such a thing as the universal church. What that means is I can travel to the Ukraine, I can travel to China (as my wife and I did many, many years ago), and we can meet Christians there and we have an instant bond because we’re both connected to Jesus. Therefore, we are connected to one another. That’s the universal church.

But in the New Testament, the emphasis is on the local church. All the letters were sent to the local church. The local church is represented by the people who are sitting beside you, ahead of you and behind you. It is the local church. And God says, “I think so highly of the church, I call it my body. That’s what I think of the church.”

Gentlemen, those of you who are married, do you cherish your bride? Do you love your wife? I love my wife, Rebecca. I want to protect her. I want to connect with her. If you know my wife, Rebecca, you know that she’s a keeper. I plan on keeping her. But you know, my love for my wife is nothing in comparison to the love that God has for the church. Jesus laid His life down for the church. The church is number one on His agenda to take care of things in the universe, the church for which He died. In fact, the church is so important that it teaches in the New Testament that angels attend worship services just to rejoice in what takes place when the people of God gather in the same place to sing His praises. And they are distressed when a church is chaotic and out of control.

I’m talking about the church, and if you are the kind of person who thinks that you can somehow be a good Christian and be disconnected, just physically present, you are cheating yourself, you are cheating the wider Christian community, you are cheating the world, and you’re hurting Jesus – His body.

Every Christmas we’ve ever had, we’ve opened all the gifts. Have you ever received a gift from somebody and maybe, you know, you’ve been out of sorts with them, and they send you a gift, and you kind of wish they wouldn’t have because it kind of obligates you to send them one too? And you see the thing sitting under the tree there, and you’d rather just not open it? Well, because you’re a respectable person, you open it anyway. Imagine receiving a gift from God and you don’t unwrap it. You just simply ignored it. Imagine that! What an insult to God!

The text is 1 Corinthians 12. Everyone brings their Bibles to church. Everyone brings their Bibles to church. You say, “Oh Pastor, that’s not true.” No, it’s not, but if the person sitting next to you doesn’t have one, would you share yours or use a pew Bible?

I want you to notice that the Apostle Paul begins 1 Corinthians 12: “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed.” The Greek word for uninformed is agnostic. He says, “I don’t want you to be agnostic regarding spiritual gifts.” We have tons of people in our churches today who are agnostic regarding spiritual gifts. “Oh, I don’t know what my gift is. I wouldn’t make any effort to find out. I don’t think that I can serve. I don’t know what’s going on. I’m just here, listening to this sermon, enjoying the music, and going home.”

Paul says, “I’m writing so that you will no longer be an agnostic. And then he refers to their pagan past. He says: “When you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore, I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.”

He’s talking about oracles such as Delphi, not too far from Corinth (north of Corinth of course). People would go there. The idols were dumb. You know, their lips were not moving—idols of stone—but nonetheless the oracle was sending messages and speaking. And what Paul is implying is demonic spirits were doing the speaking. And some of these oracles were cursing Christ, and that’s of the devil. And nobody can say that Jesus is Lord and really mean it and be glad about it unless it’s by the Spirit. Now, even the demons confess that Jesus is Lord, but they do it with hatred in their heart toward Him. So Paul is saying, “Nobody can do it and embrace it and love that truth except by the Holy Spirit.” That’s a whole separate message about confusion regarding revelation, but we have to plunge into the text.

Now notice in verse 4: “Now there are varieties of gifts.” Charismata is the Greek word from which we, of course, know the word charis. It means grace in Greek. So it’s grace gifts. That’s what Paul is talking about. In the proper sense of the word every one of us should be charismatics because we believe in the gifts.

And you’ll notice now three characteristics that Paul gives. Let’s go through them. First of all, he says that each gift has the same source. I am there in verse 4: “Now there are varieties of gifts (If you are in the habit of underlining in your Bible, look at the word same, which occurs three times.) but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God.” What did you notice about that verse? The whole Trinity is involved in gifting. It’s the same Spirit, it’s the same Christ, it’s the same Lord, and it’s the same God the Father. All the Trinity is watching you today, seeing whether or not you are exercising the gift that they determined would be given to you. “They” not in the sense of plural but in the sense of the Trinity—one God, but all of them involved. And what that means is that God knows what we need.

How much does the Trinity know? Everything! Does the Trinity know what Moody Church needs? The Trinity knows what Moody Church needs. What does the Trinity do? If we’re obedient God, by the Spirit, brings us what we need. For example, we know that we need here at the church children’s workers. We need people to help with MOPS (Moms of Pre-Schoolers). We need people to help park on Sunday. We need people who are ushers. We need people in a variety of experiences. You’ll notice in the bulletin today a desire on the part of Donnita for Kids’ Club, and the need for volunteers. Do you think that God raises up this ministry (and part of its impact is because of the volunteers) and then God says, “Well, I’m raising it up but I’m not providing the leadership or the volunteers for it?” I don’t think so. The fact that we’re short in all those categories, first of all, reflects on us as leadership. We have not properly challenged you to be trained and to get involved.

The other part of the equation might be some of you, God bless you, who simply are so self-absorbed in your little world that you are not willing to step out in the very areas in which God may have gifted you to say, “I’m willing to sign on the dotted line. I’m willing to be committed. I’m willing to stop the spectatorship and begin to get into the game.” It could well be that God, by His Spirit, today will drag you – will drag you – into involvement for His glory. And when He does it, there’s always unity, because it’s the same Spirit. It’s the same Lord. It’s the same God. Obviously there’s unity, and there’s such variety in the unity.

If you are painting a picture (and God paints pictures with His church), the river doesn’t say to the mountain, “Why can’t you be like me?” The mountain doesn’t say to the tree, “Why can’t you be like me?” But all of them contribute to the picture, and how different we are, and the more different we are, but unified, the more beautiful the picture that God is painting. So the first thing is that we have the same source of the gifts.

Secondly, these gifts have the same purpose. You’ll notice it says: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit (I’m in verse 7) for the common good.” The Greek word for the “common good” is sympherō—different forms of it, but sympherō. What does that sound like to you? Sympherō is the word from which we get symphony. I looked it up last night in the Greek text. I checked the Lexicon and it said it is related to music—the making of music. This may be as close as the New Testament gets to saying that music is a gift. But whether we are musical or not in the traditional sense, the intention of the gifts is that we might be a symphony for God—to make music.

Have you ever heard a symphony warm up? Isn’t it the lead violinist that begins and gives the note? I mean, I can tell you that for the first few moments they sound as if they are a bunch of cats in a barrel. Everybody is screeching around, making all this noise, but they get unified and it’s beautiful and it’s harmonious and you say, “What precision and what beauty.”

Now every once in a while I meet somebody in the church who says, “You know, I’m not committed to the church. I’m just out there. Me and Jesus, we’ve got this thing going.” Watch the people who say “Me and Jesus, we’ve got this thing going. I don’t have to be committed to the church. I don’t have to love the local church. I come when I want. I leave early when I want to. I come late. I’m just here whenever I’m here. I give when I happen to have some money. I don’t give when I don’t happen to have any money, and you know, I’m just not committed.”

Now, can you imagine a symphony in which a violinist says, “Well, you know, I’m into this kind of music and I want to play this.” And the cellist says, “I want to play this.” And the bass says, “I’m going to play that.” You’ve been to some churches like that, haven’t you? Doesn’t that describe some churches? Half the board is in favor of this. The other half is this. These people don’t like what’s going on here. These other people think that we should do this. And do you know what happens? People come in and they leave. And they say, “You know what? We just can’t take the noise.”

I’m appealing to you today to realize that the real purpose of your giftedness is not for you. It’s for the common good. It’s for the purpose of the symphony. (applause) That’s why we gather together.

You may come to church sometime and not (quote) get anything out of it. Vance Havner says that he’s not yet heard a sermon where he didn’t get anything, but he says he’s had some mighty close calls. (laughter) Maybe you’ve left here sometime with a mighty close call. But did you know that that’s not the biggest issue? When you leave here today rather than saying, “Was I blessed? Did he say what I wanted him to say? Did this edify me?” why don’t you ask this question: “Was God glorified by my being here? Was the symphony that I contributed to one that gave Him praise?” Rather than asking whether or not I’m blessed, ask whether or not the Lord was blessed. Bless the Lord, oh my soul, through my confession, through my devotion, through my singlemindedness, through my worship. That’s the question that we need to answer. Is the Lord pleased? (applause) First, same source. Same purpose for the symphony.

And then we have gifts with different functions. I just need to read this to you and make comments as we go through. “To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom.” Some people have real ability to apply God’s Word to situations where the Bible might not even speak directly because they understand the principles. “To another, knowledge.” They know a lot. They are oftentimes resource people. This, by the way, is not a complete list of gifts. Seven or eight (depending on how you count them) are listed. For example, my primary gift does not even occur in this list.

You’ll notice it says, “To another faith by the same Spirit.” We all need faith to be saved, but there are some people who can really believe God in the midst of circumstances. And this leads me to say that those of you who are listening to this by radio or through the Internet, and you perhaps no longer can serve in these capacities, you can exercise the gift of faith through your praying. You can pray for us. For example, I know that I make frequent references to my parents, but my father is 103 and my mother is 97. They don’t go to church anymore but they pray a lot. They almost pray all day, and they’re exercising their gifts for the good of the Body, especially praying for their youngest son whom they know needs it. (laughter) I’ll not mention their oldest. That’s a whole different story.

“The gift of faith by the same Spirit, gifts of healing.” There may be those who have the ability to heal certain diseases but not others. Or there may be groups of people who work together in this. The idea of there being one man who has the gift of healing, traipsing throughout the country healing people – that’s a later development. You don’t find that in the New Testament. These gifts existed within the congregations. “To another prophecy. To another the ability to distinguish spirits.” God knows we need that today – discernment! “To another various kinds of tongues. To another the interpretation of tongues. All of these are empowered by one and the same Spirit who apportions to each individually as He wills.”

Please notice very quickly that there are three groups of gifts, and this would include the other lists in the New Testament. In total there are about 19 or 20, and that might not even be all that there are. Paul is just saying that this is the way the Spirit works. But there are speaking gifts, there are sign gifts. They are the ones that cause the controversies. Some of them are listed here, like miracles and so forth. And I say controversy because they seemed to disappear very early on in the Christian church after the first century. Maybe one reason is because Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:12, “I was able to do the signs of the Apostles.” So it’s maybe that the Apostles had certain giftedness and certain signs, but obviously this is not the place to discuss all of the sign gifts, which may still be an exercise today, but what you see on T.V. usually is not this. That’s something else.

And then you’ll notice service gifts. At the end of the chapter Paul talks about those who have the gifts of helps and the gifts of administrating. That doesn’t mean that your gift can’t be developed. Some of you may have the gift of teaching and you don’t even know it because you’ve never been put in a situation where you need to teach. You’ve not been trained to teach and gifts can be developed, but it has to do with your hard wiring. My hard wiring is not administration. It’s not administration and other things that burn in my soul. It’s the way God put us together.

And now what I’d like to do is to ask this question: Why should we be changed forever because we heard this message? Why should some people here today look back on this day and say, “I shall never be the same again”? By the way, some of you are not fulfilled in your Christian life because you are not exercising your gift. You are not a part of the Body. You are distantly related. You’re an observer only.

First of all, because number one, everybody has a gift. You’ll notice that the text is open there. Keep your finger on the verse. It says in verse 7: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit.” To each is given! Notice in verse 11: “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit who apportions to each one individually as He wills.” Wow!

When God formed you in your mother’s womb, the Father, the Son and the Spirit were determining your particular bent, your primary giftedness. That doesn’t mean that we can’t exercise other gifts. You can’t say after a banquet, “Well, you know, I can’t help clean up downstairs because I don’t have the gift of helps.” (laughter) You can’t say, “Well, I don’t have to give because I don’t have the gift of giving. Sorry!” But it does mean that there is a primary function for which you were created in the body of Christ, and you will never experience a sense of fullness and completeness until you find that, you become integrated, and you begin to be able to make some sacrifice on the part of the Body in accordance with your giftedness.

It’s interesting to me that Paul makes no distinction between men and women when he lists these gifts. I believe that women have all the same gifts that men do. And that would be a place for some of you women to clap I would think, but (applause) it’s up to you. Now when it comes to various offices such as elder, that in the Scripture is always indicated as a male leadership role. But in terms of service, and giftedness, what would Moody Church or any other church do without its women, their devotion and their sensitivity to the Spirit? In Romans 16 Paul lists many women, and thanks them for their role in helping him with ministry. So everyone has a gift. Don’t be agnostic regarding gifts.

Secondly, if you are dissatisfied with your gift, you are dissatisfied with God. To be dissatisfied with your gift is to be dissatisfied with God because you’ll notice it says all these are empowered by one and the same Spirit who apportions to each one individually (I love this.) as He wills.

Some of you don’t like the way you look. You look into the mirror and you wonder where God was when you were put together. You look exactly the way in which God wanted you to look. Are you content with who you are? Are you content with your gift? Or are you going to take God’s gift and keep it under the tree, and keep it unwrapped because you say, “If I can’t have somebody else’s gift, and if I can’t do A, B, C, D like somebody else does, I’m just going to take God’s gift and I’m going to bury it.” Jesus told a parable about people like that, and He wasn’t very pleased about people who took their gift and said, “I don’t like it and I’m going to bury it.” No, don’t be angry with God. Accept it and use it.

Number three, giftedness is (I’m inventing a word here but why not?) givingness. It’s givingness. Now, Moody Church is a large church and we often have people who come from other churches or transfer, and they want to look us over for six months or a year. Sometimes I’ve had people say, “I can’t get involved in anything. I just need to heal because of a toxic situation out of which I came in some other ministry.” And we understand that. Some of you are checking us out. You know, you’ve been checking us out for a couple of months. And now I’m talking to some of you who have been checking us out for the last ten years. And I’m not talking about those who are elderly and incapacitated, or unable to serve anymore for some reason, but I’m talking about everyone involved in some way connecting through Adult Bible Fellowships, connecting through small groups, in some way a part of what God is doing - developing, learning and growing together.

Well, if you think that I’ve been strong so far, put on your seat belt. Keep it going. Thank God! Thank God! I don’t believe that it’s just a bad idea. I don’t believe it’s just wrong. I believe that it is a sin for people to say, “Preach to me. Sing to me. Keep the church warm in winter for me. Keep it cool in summer for me. Build the Christian Life Center for me. When I am sick, visit me. When I’m dead, bury me. But I will sign on nothing. I won’t become a part of anything. I will not sacrifice. I’m not going to become a part of what God is doing in His Body.” I think that’s a sin. Now why didn’t you clap there? (applause)

I don’t believe Jesus is ever going to say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, for thou hast listened to 2,421 messages, and nearly twice the number of choir anthems. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” I don’t think so.

In many churches in the lobby they have a list of the people who died in World War I and died in World War II – soldiers from the church that went out. There’s a story of a little boy who looked up and said, “Mommy, who are those?” “Oh,” she said, “Sweetheart, those are a list of names of people who died in the service.” (laughter) Am I going too fast for some of you? (laughter) He said, “Morning service or evening service?” (laughter) Have some of you died in the service? That’s the question.

God, here at The Moody Church, has given us a huge challenge. We’re on the cusp of some very, very wonderful times – the building of The Christian Life Center, the advance of the Gospel through the outreaches of the church, the mission work. I read the bulletin every week and I am amazed at all the opportunities.

So I have to leave you with this. If you have a passion for Jesus, you’ll have a passion for His church. (applause) That’s where this all leads. In a few moments we’re going to be having communion together. And we’re going to say, “This is My body which was broken for you. This do in remembrance of Me.” How precious do you think the body of Christ is? Well, it’s so precious that the Bible says that when you do it, do it in a respectful manner. Do it having examined yourself for sin. That’s how important it is. But God comes along then and says, “And you are in My body too. You’re a part of what I am doing in the world.”

And if you are here today and you have never embraced Christ as Savior, before you talk about these kinds of gifts, you have to receive a different kind of gift – the gift of eternal life which is given freely. But here’s the deal. When you receive the gift of eternal life, you immediately become a part of what we’ve talked about today – the larger body of Christ, and the Head from which we get our orders.

Would you join me as we pray?

Father, I pray by the Holy Spirit, help us to give up our cheap and shallow views of the church. Help us to understand that You have gifted us to function within a body. You have blessed this church with so many fine and committed Christians, but we long for others to join us in the great task that You have given to us. Help us, oh God, we pray. Make us a people that burn with passion for Your people, and for what You are doing among them. Give us a love for one another as we shall be discovering in future messages so that we be all that You want us to be. We long for that, Father.

And now before I close this prayer, what do you need to say to God? Whatever He has talked to you about, you tell Him.

Father, You’ve shut us up to utter helplessness. We’ve never changed anybody’s mind about anything. We’ve never changed a human heart. We’ve never taken uncommitted people and made them committed. All that is Your work, so we throw ourselves helplessly in Your presence, trusting You to do what only You can do. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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