The Gift Of ServiceErwin W. Lutzer | November 11, 2012
Selected highlights from this sermon
Every Christian is indwelt with the Holy Spirit. Every believer is part of the Body of Christ: the Church. We’re created to function within the Body, and God, through His Holy Spirit, has given all of us gifts in order to do so.
So when you come to church, don’t ask how the church can bless you, but rather, how you can contribute to the church and to the glory of God.
So what has the Holy Spirit of God done in your life this past week that can’t be explained simply because of your natural ability or luck, but rather because you have seen in your life and your experience the Holy Spirit of God at work, being able to live beyond what you normally live because you see the Holy Spirit of God is there?
We’ve been learning in this series of messages that every Christian is indwelt with the Holy Spirit and we can be very grateful for that. The person of the Holy Spirit (and by the way, He is a person) can work within us according to His will, but He seeks our cooperation. So I hope that you recognize that that person is with you, and you are experiencing the blessing of the Spirit personally. But also I’m interested in the Holy Spirit working at Moody Church, working among us as a body, and that’s the focus of today’s message.
This idea that Jesus and I can have something going on between us and I don’t have to be a part of a church is not taught anywhere in the New Testament. To say that you love Jesus, but you don’t love His people despite all their faults, if you don’t love the people whom He has redeemed, you really don’t love Jesus. How can you love Jesus and not love His body, the body of Jesus Christ, part of which is gathered here today as we have the privilege of ministering God’s word?
Now imagine Christmas comes and somebody gives you a gift and you leave it under the tree. There may be many reasons why you want to leave it there. It’s from somebody you don’t like very much anyway, and if you open the gift you sort of have an obligation to do something nice for him or her. Maybe it’s that. Maybe another reason might be because you in your spirit think you already know what’s in it, and so you leave it there. Month after month the gift stays under the tree.
Now imagine for a moment receiving a gift from God with your name on it. And God says, “This is My gift to you,” and you leave that gift under the tree. I believe very deeply that this message could be transforming for people who don’t even know that God gave them a gift, and that maybe also we can give you some hints as to how you can find out what your gift is, and to get it unwrapped and use it. After all, God put you together in a certain way that you might have a very special gift. And God is so creative. He’s so creative that when he sends a snowstorm every single snowflake is different. And look at how creative He is. Just look around this sanctuary this morning, and look at the person next to you. Don’t turn around and look at the person behind you (They are looking at you.) and see how uniquely God made us all–so different and so unique.
The passage is 1 Corinthians 12 and you need to see in the text for yourself what the gifting is and also to try to find out what yours is. Now the key to this passage is in verse 13. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” In an earlier message in which I spoke about the baptism of the Holy Spirit and used this text, remember the world in which people were converted in Corinth. Keep in mind that it was an exceedingly immoral culture. Every kind of sexuality was available. Every kind of perversion (whatever you wanted) was there and it was encouraged. It was not discouraged-the real (quote) free society.
The people discovered something. In the end it was dissatisfying. In the end it caused problems. In the end there was no fulfillment. There was hollowness and there was emptiness, and so the Gospel came to them, and as Paul says elsewhere, what it did was it translated people from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His beloved Son.
Could I pause here and ask you who are listening if you have experienced that transformation? Has God transferred you from the kingdom of darkness, with all of its false promises, and brought you into the kingdom of His blessed Son? If He’s done that through your faith in Jesus Christ, then you are a member of the body of Christ. Notice the little word “all” there in the text. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized. By one Spirit do we all drink.” Everyone is part of the body.
Now with that background let’s look at how the body functions and the gifting that God gives to us so that we might function properly. We’re in 1 Corinthians 12:1 now. We start at the beginning. “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed.” The Greek word actually is agnostic. He is saying, “I don’t want you to be an agnostic about spiritual gifts. I don’t want you to not know that God has given you one, and furthermore, I don’t want you to know that God has given you one and yet you don’t know what your gift is.” You were created to function within the body, and everyone, as we shall see, has a spiritual gift.
Paul probably talks about the Oracle at Delphi. People would go to Delphi to try to discern what the gods were saying. It would be like somebody today going to a fortuneteller or perhaps to read the horoscopes to try to find out what they should do or whether they have any luck. Paul calls these mute or dumb idols. They will lead you astray. They will deceive you, and so Paul says, “Thank God that’s part of your past life, and that part is gone.” He says, “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ (If you find somebody saying that you know it’s coming from a demonic spirit.) and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.”
Now the devil may be able to mouth those words but he cannot do it embracing it for himself, and so Paul indicates that one way to tell between the spurious (the wrong and the evil)and the good is what a person says about Jesus. Well, all of that by way of background.
Now we’re going to look at the gifts. Notice Paul says now, there are varieties of gifts. The Greek word is charismata. Strictly speaking, all of us, properly interpreted, are charismatic(s) because we believe in spiritual gifts. They are grace gifts. God has graced you.
You know, maybe you’ve had a hard week. Maybe things have really gone wrong for you this week, but will you remember that God has graced you in giving you a gift? And if you cannot serve–I’ll say a word about that at the end also–for whatever reason, God understands that, but I’m speaking to you today and saying that God has uniquely gifted you.
And then he says, “Now there are varieties of gifts,” but notice that they have the same source. He says, “They have the same Lord, and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.” Now just think about this. Let’s not hurry over the text. Did you see the whole Trinity? It says, “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, the same Lord, Jesus Christ, and the same God.”
Now all throughout here Paul is going to attribute your special gift to the Holy Spirit, but have you ever thought of the fact that the Trinity put you together, and the Trinity (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit) determined what your gifting would be? What a beautiful statement. Today in the midst of our world that is so busy with all of the distractions and all of the cell phones (I think I’m going to preach about that in a couple of months-cell phones) the average person looks at his cell phone 34 times a day. But in the midst of this, would you just bask in the fact that the Trinity knows about you? The Trinity gifted you and our gifts come from the same source. But notice also that these gifts have the same purpose. You’ll notice it says in verse 7, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit.” I went to bed last night meditating on that. I thought, “How beautiful can you get?” The manifestation of the Spirit! You and I are to show forth the manifestation of the Spirit. And then it says it is given for the common good. That’s why you are gifted. It is for the common good. The Greek word is sympherō from which we get the word symphony.
Now you know we had an orchestra here this morning and before I came on the platform I asked some of them, “What are some of the instruments that are played?” And of course we know about the violins, and we know about the trombones and the cello and the bass, and all of those, and they gave me some others whose names escape me at the moment. But this morning I was here early enough before many of you were, and I heard them warming up. It sounded awful. (laughter) I mean, I think it sounded something like cats in a barrel. That’s the way we are, but once they were in tune, what a beautiful symphony they were. In fact let’s give them a hand for the way in which they blessed us this morning. (applause)
Now what Paul says is this: He says that we as a church are to be a beautiful symphony, and I want to extend it a little bit and say that we are to make music that God enjoys and takes delight in, despite the fact that the functions of the gifts are very different. Do you know what this means? The real issue when you come to church isn’t if you were blessed–though I hope you are. The real issue isn’t that you enjoy every piece of music, though I hope that you are like me and you did. But that isn’t really the issue. The issue is, how did I personally contribute to the Church and to the glory of God, because that’s what really is at stake.
You know that Vance Havner was a southern preacher. He used to roll off one-liners and all of us as preachers quote him from time to time. And he said, “I’ve never yet heard a sermon in which I didn’t get anything, but,” he said, “I’ve had some mighty close calls.” (laughter) We’ve all had our mighty close calls. That isn’t really the issue. You are here for the common good. You are here to create the symphony.
And could I just digress for a moment and talk about Moody Church? At prayer meeting last Wednesday I went around with a microphone and we heard some testimonies. The diversity just absolutely blessed us. We had a wonderful testimony from a woman who came to us from Nigeria, who had been raised Muslim and is a believer today. We heard a testimony from somebody who recently came here from the Philippines. We heard a testimony from someone from Romania. And I listened to all these, and I told the people at prayer meeting that of all the churches in the world that I would rather be, there is none quite like The Moody Church with its diversity, and the fact that we together make a symphony. And I hope that the music that we make in our unity is honoring to the Lord. There are 72 different countries of origin represented right here in this congregation (applause), all coming together to bless God. The gifts are from the same source–God. They have the very same purpose. The singular purpose is for the common good. God created you in the way in which He did so that you could bless others and bless us. And we need every one of you, but they have, however, different functions.
Now let’s look at what the Apostle Paul says, and I’m going to read through this list of gifts, letting you know in advance that there are three basic categories of gifts. Now not all the gifts are listed here; this is not a complete list. In fact, Romans 12 actually has my gift. My primary gift is not listed here in this chapter, and even here where the Apostle Paul lists the various gifts, he adds some in verse 27 and following. He talks about helps and administration. So there are maybe 19 or 20 if you take all the lists of the New Testament and combine them. There are about 19 or 20 different gifts, and they fall into basically three categories. There are speaking gifts: teachers and exhorters and so forth. And then there are what we call sign gifts. Those are the miracle gifts that we’ll get to in a moment. And then there are also service gifts: administration, helps, etc. And so those are three basic categories of gifting.
Let’s look at this brief list that he has here. He says, “To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom (God knows that we need that.), and to another the utterance of knowledge.” There are some people who know an awful lot and they can contribute with their knowledge. It’s according to the same Spirit. “To another faith by the same Spirit.” We all have faith but some people can believe God not only for themselves but also for others. They have implicit faith in God and they benefit the congregation.
And then it speaks about gifts of healing. Actually it’s plural–gifts of healings. Evidently in the church one person was especially adept in praying for people who had a certain disease, and someone else could pray for people who had a different kind of disease or whatever it was that they were going through. And some were especially gifted to be able to do that.
And then it talks about the working of miracles, a little broader category. Maybe it includes exorcism. It includes the gifts that would function within the body of Jesus Christ. And now we continue. There are gifts of healing, and gifts of working miracles; to another prophecy, which can refer to receiving a revelation from God, or preaching the Word of God and telling forth God’s Word like I am doing right now. Paul continues and says, “To another the ability to distinguish between spirits.” Oh, I think we need that today.
There’s no doubt what Paul has in mind is the ability to be able to distinguish between the work of the devil and the work of the Holy Spirit, and you think that’s easy? Uh-uh, that’s not easy at all. There are people today, Jesus said, who will, in the name of Jesus, cast out demons and do many wonderful works and they’ll be disqualified in the Day of Judgment. It’s one of the most sobering passages in Scripture in Matthew 7.
Now sometimes I watch television and I can just tell this person is doing his (quote) “miracles” under the power of the devil even though he uses the name of Jesus, by the way. And Paul talks about that in another passage. Years ago I preached on that other passage, but the point is that sometimes they run concurrently, that is to say it is difficult to distinguish because Satan’s workers appear as angels of light doing miracles, and they’ll do it in the name of Jesus. We need people today who have the gift of discernment, who can distinguish the false from the true. That’s a big topic.
And then we go on to tongues, and so forth. Now, I’m going to take a bit of a detour here and talk about tongues. I remember seeing a sign saying, “That Frenchman detoured. He really made some bad roads.” Well, I’m going to have to repeat that for some of you. (laughter)
Let’s take a bit of a detour regarding tongues because it is the most controversial. I’m only looking at the gift of tongues here through a real sliver really fast. I mentioned in previous messages that I believe that it was God’s special gift to prove and to indicate that from now on the Gospel was going to Gentiles in all the different languages of the world. He was reversing the Tower of Babel, which divided the world because of languages. God says, “Now I’m bringing them together, and the Gospel is going to go worldwide, not just in the beautiful Hebrew language but in the guttural sounds of Gentile languages. But there are friends in another movement who today tell us that when you speak in tongues you don’t have to speak an actual language as they did in the book of Acts, and furthermore, even more dangerously, you don’t have to know what it is you are saying. I think that is very dangerous.
Now there are two verses that are used to try to teach that some people who speak in tongues have no clue what they are saying, and yet they are speaking by the Spirit. It’s very dangerous in my opinion but the two verses are in 1 Corinthians 14. It says in verse 2, “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.” Paul is not saying the guy doesn’t know what he’s saying. What he’s saying is that without an interpreter you are speaking mysteries. Later on if I have time I could prove to you that later on in the passage when he talks about speaking in the Spirit, he’s not talking about some unknown language but he’s talking about people who are receiving revelations from God in another language. He’s not saying that they don’t know what it is that they are saying. It’s that there is no interpreter present, so they are speaking mysteries. If I were to stand up here and speak Swahili, for example, I would know what I was saying, but for most of you it would be a great mystery, but God would show me what it is that I am saying. Never give your mind to some kind of a spirit and you don’t know what it is that you are saying.
The other verse, of course, is in the same chapter in verse 13: “Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful.” What Paul means is that my being understood is unfruitful. What is in my mind is unfruitful. That’s what he’s talking about here, and I felt I needed to clarify that. Now, as I mentioned earlier the gift of tongues was exercised in the first century. After that it kind of died away, and then it reappeared as something quite different in the early 1900s, but that’s a longer story.
Now you say, “What about these miraculous gifts?” There’s no doubt that in the Early Church there were some miraculous gifts. I referred to them earlier as sign gifts. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:12 that he was able to do the miracles or the signs of an Apostle, so it appears as if the Apostles had very special gifts and very special abilities. And within the congregations there were those. I’m not saying that any of these gifts like the gift of miracles could not happen in a church today. I think that we have to be open to that, but today it seems as if God has decided to give people the Word of God rather than special gifts of prophecy that seem to see the future. All of these things, of course, we could discuss in more detail.
The point I want to make today, however, is this: The Apostle Paul makes it clear that everybody who is in the body of Jesus Christ has some special gift. Some special gifting is given, and of course, we can’t say, “Well, I don’t have to help clean up after a luncheon because I don’t have the gift of helps.” (laughter) And we can’t say, “Well, you know, I don’t have to give because I don’t have the gift of giving.” Uh-uh! These gifts must be understood as the primary hard wiring that God gives us, but all of us exercise different gifts at different times, and so we can’t excuse ourselves.
The other thing that I do as I look at this passage is to say that it’s interesting that Paul doesn’t distinguish women from men. It appears to me that women can have all of these gifts. Now their function in the Church is different in terms of their roles. For example, when it comes to the role of the elders, the church leadership, clearly the Bible indicates that these are men that are leading. But there are many different ministries within the restrictions and the guidance of the New Testament that women are able to exercise. So the Apostle Paul here is speaking about the fact that we have gifts. And then he talks about all the diversity.
I need to just make a comment before I nail this down for all of us. He says in verse 14, “For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that wouldn’t make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye (Wouldn’t that be interesting? Prop the eye up on a couch so it can watch T.V. I guess.), where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear (And you turn off the T.V. and turn on the radio, I guess.), where would be the sense of smell?”
What Paul is saying is that there is diversity of gifts. Some people’s gifts may be more public than others. Some people may be more gifted in one area than another, but a spiritual gift is a divine ability for service. It is a divine ability to serve, and God has given you that ability whether you’ve found it or not. It is there as a member of the body to function together with the sense of unity that we enjoy.
Let us nail this down as we look at a couple of bottom lines as to what this should mean to us individually and where we go from here. First of all, it is clear that everyone has a gift. Now I’ve emphasized it, but just look at what it says there in verse 7: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit.” The last part of verse 11 says, “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as He wills.” And then if this isn’t beautiful enough, notice that the Apostle Paul says it again in verse 18 as he goes on. He speaks about the fact that it is God who determines where we fit in the body. He says, “But as it is, God arranged the members in the body each one of them, as he chose.” Imagine! God chose that you would have the gifting that you have.
If I may be permitted a personal word, I was just thinking about this, this past week. I was born on a farm in an old farmhouse about five miles from a town of 75 people. I think of the fact that God already then had shaped me in such a way, knowing that I’d come to saving faith in Christ, that He would say, “I am giving him this gift.” Now I believe personally that my gift (my number one gift) is the gift of exhortation. It differs a little bit from the gift of teaching, though of course, I can teach as well, and when I exhort I teach, but at any rate, that’s my hard wiring. But just like I happen to know what my gift is, you also should know that there are ways to find out what your gift is. We have a class here at The Moody Church called Serving with Purpose, and you can always check the bulletin to see when it begins, and its intention, among other things, is to help people to know their spiritual gift and where they can plug in.
Now I don’t believe that God raises up ministries unless He also supplies the gifting to sustain those ministries. As we learned a few weeks ago in our children’s ministry we are really ministering to three times the number of children than we did say five years ago, and constantly we are looking for people to serve. Well, I believe that they are among us, but there are some of you, perhaps, who have never even investigated or made the effort to know what your role can be in a ministry like this.
God doesn’t raise up churches and ministries unless He gifts the church to function. And constantly, of course, we need parkers, and we need ushers, and we need those who become involved in the music ministry and all the way down the line that is found week by week in our bulletin. And I am saying to you today, “Be willing to do anything; try to do some things, and listen to others as they affirm you in what you are doing.” It is a way in which you can say, “This is where I fit in the body,” and that’s why we have a kiosk in the back where you can go–the Connection Corner–to help you find out where you belong.
Isn’t it sobering to think (Is it okay if we’re just blessed for a moment?) that the same Holy Spirit that converted Paul on the way to Damascus is the same Holy Spirit who now 2000 years later converts people, saves them, transforms them and then gifts them in the body? It’s our gift from God, and everyone has a gift.
Secondly, let me say that if you are dissatisfied with your gift, you’re really dissatisfied with God because He’s the one who gave it to you. And I’d like to extend this a little bit because there are some teenagers here (and others that fit in that category) who struggle with the way in which they look. There’s all the competition as to how you look in today’s world. And of course there are things that we can do to improve our appearance and so forth, but the raw material was given to you by God. Be content with who you are. Be content with the way in which God created you and formed you in your mother’s womb. Please be content with who you are. And when you look into the mirror and wonder where God was when you were put together, remember this: He made you the way He did for a very specific purpose, and you have a role to play in the body.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, what about those who can’t serve, maybe because of disabilities–mental disabilities or physical disabilities? I believe that they have a role in the body, and the role that they have in the body is that they give the rest of us an opportunity to serve, to learn what it is to be selfless and all the lessons that folks like that teach us. They may not have upfront gifts, but that’s not Paul’s point at all. In fact he says those gifts that are more necessary sometimes are given away. So together we function as a body, if you are a part of that body.
And of course, you must recognize also that giftedness means givingness. Now I don’t know if there’s a word like that, but let’s just say that there is. Let’s make it up. Givingness! Tony Evans, that great wonderful African American preacher, who says things much better than all the rest of us, was preaching one time, and he said, “It is not just a bad idea.” He said, “It is a sin to say, ‘Preach to me, sing to me, keep the church warm for me, visit me when I am sick, bury me when I am dead, but I won’t sign up for anything, I won’t commit to anything, I won’t do anything. I’ll just be here.”
I can’t imagine Jesus saying to one of His people, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, for thou has listened to 2,641 messages and almost twice the number of choir anthems. Enter thou into the joy of my Lord.” I don’t think so.
God expects us to be involved, and when you read the bulletin and when you hear about meetings, God has already raised up people. If only we’d all listen, and we’d all be sensitive and say, “Yes, this demands sacrifice but this is where I fit in the function of the body.” We’re here to help you find that out.
You know, in many churches there is a plaque that usually appears in a hallway or in a lobby, and it lists those who died in the war. Sometimes I’ve seen them with names of people from the church who died in World War I and in World War II. There is a story about a mother who was looking at the list of names and her little boy said, “Mommy, what is that?” And she said, “Well, this is a list of people who died in the service.” (laughter) He said, “The morning service or the evening service?” (more laughter)
Folks, we’re here to change this community. We’re here to make a difference in the city of Chicago. We are here to be able to help the needy and to share the Word of God in so many different ways, but we need all of you. We need people to teach. We need people to give. We need people to exhort. We need administrators. We need those with the gift of helps, and together we make the difference–not individually–because we function as the body for which Christ died, and you have a part in it.
Now if you are here today and you are investigating Christianity and you’ve never trusted Christ as Savior, could I encourage you? If you receive Christ as Savior, as I mentioned in the beginning of this message, you too are translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son, and you become a part of the body. And then you, as you begin to learn about the giftedness, discover your gift, which may be related to a natural talent, but it may also be distinct from a natural talent. It is God’s ability to help you to be able to serve. Together we can make a huge difference.
Let us pray.
Father, please help us to realize that this is not about us. This is all about You, and we desire from the depths of our soul that You be glorified. No man, no servant but You, oh Lord God, be glorified in this church by a functioning body that cares, that loves, that’s involved, and that is making a difference for Your glory. We love You. Amen.