This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Sermon prepared by Rev. Jack Quartel, Kitchener, Ont.
A number of years ago, Pierre Berton wrote a little book, entitled The Comfortable Pew. He severely criticized the members of the church for sitting back to receive without getting up to give. He predicted that this would be the death of the church. And though Pierre Berton is no theologian, he was right about the future of any church where ministry is left to those who are supposed to be experts.
Of course it is tempting to sit back, to take it easy, to let others do the work. The result however is devastating. First of all to the church, because there is more work than a few so-called experts can handle. But also for those who think they can sit back and watch. Non-involvement means dying for both the church and those members, who unlike Jesus, seek to be ministered unto, rather than to minister. The comfortable pew means that the burdens of the ministry are left for the shoulders of a few. And it will result in quick burn-out. It will result in, sometimes, severe criticism on the part of those who do nothing. And that will bring more discouragement to hard workers. And one more result may be that those who stand back will live on the edge of the church, always in danger of falling over the edge and losing it all.
But the Bible has news for us. Being a member of the church means that you, according to your ability take part in the ministry of the church. No one is excepted, not even those who think there is nothing they have to contribute. Every church member has been given at least one gift. So what we need to do is to: DISCOVER YOUR GIFTS. These gifts are: l. Body, 2. Spiritual gifts.
In 1 Corinthians 12:11, Paul, writing about the Spirit giving gifts, says: "He gives them to each man (person)." And that gift is a body gift. By that he means that these gifts are given to the body of Jesus for the work of the church. It is important for us to think about the fact that together all members form the body of Jesus. And of that body, Jesus is the Head. What does that imply'?
When Jesus was with us, here on earth, He finished the work that He came to do. He opened the way to the Father, the way home. He removed the terrible road block formed by our sin. That however did not mean that nothing remained to be done. For instance there are children who need to be informed that the way home is open. They need an invitation to come back to the Father. They need to be guided. Furthermore all God's children need to be prepared for living at home. They need that simply because they know naturally how to live in this God forsaken world, but they have to learn anew how to live in the home with their Father. They need to be integrated into the body, they need to learn about fellowship, and many other aspects of living with and for God. They need to learn how to live in the kingdom, they need to learn how to assist in the coming of that kingdom.
So Jesus, when He had to return to heaven, from there to rule His church, sent us the Holy Spirit in His place. The Spirit came to live in our hearts, to transform us, or sanctify us for living at home. By His very nature, He remains in the background. He works behind the scenes. There He encourages us to do the work of Jesus, to finish what is still left uncompleted: Gathering all the nations in, calling all men to give God the glory, uniting into the body of Jesus.
We need to think about that for a moment. If we are His body, and if He completes what He began, but through us, that means that unless we the church members do the work, it will not get done. It means that if Jesus wants to speak to the world, we are His mouth. We have to do the speaking. We are the voice of Jesus, if we obey and listen to Him. No one can hear Jesus except through us. If Jesus wishes to go into the world, there, where His lost children are, we are His feet. Jesus only goes there through us. And if He wishes to touch anyone in blessing, He will do so only through the touch of our hands. That is what it means to be His body.
The one task the church has is to finish the work of salvation. To prepare the world for His return. To get everyone ready for the great climax when the earth and the heavens will be renewed and united. Everything we do is geared towards that end. The production of food, transportation, working with computers, everything we do, must be to the glory of God, that is, to get His work done. Even recreation is never an end in itself, but a means to gain new energy to continue to serve Him in ALL that we do. Anything else is a waste of time. Or worse, it could even oppose the completion of the work and the return of Jesus.
If we then are the body of Jesus, it must be helpful to think for a moment how God made the human body. Because Jesus' body functions just like it.
What happens when even one small part of our body malfunctions? Let us say that we have a hurting, infected small toe. That is surely not the end of the world. But what will it do? First of all it drains us. It takes time and energy to fight and overcome the infection. We cannot let it go, lest it spreads. We have to go and see the doctor. We probably will have to go to the drug store. We may have to bathe that toe. Such things are really a bit of a nuisance, because they us away from things we would rather do. Things that are more important. Furthermore, an infected little toe can be very painful. It may make walking difficult. It may, if the pain is severe, make concentrating difficult, sleeping impossible. All in all it is a pain to have even an infected little toe, let alone that we struggle with kidney, liver or heart problems.
That is what happens in the church. When one small member does not function, it interferes with the task of the body. When one small member is infected and needs time and attention, it drains the church of energy, and makes it difficult to get on with her calling. If that same member begins to cause pain, when that member becomes critical, when he gets into spiritual trouble, you can just imagine what that will do in a church. Such a member drains energy, siphons it from doing the work of God, to itself. Pew warmers, those who seek only their own comfort, those who contribute little or nothing, those who fail to give according to their ability, are the cause of a church that is often sick, weak and unable to do much for the Lord.
Sometimes we may wonder why people in church are not more happy, why there are always financial strains, why it is difficult to get people to teach or lead, in short, why it is such a struggle. It is because part of the body fails to cooperate, to give, to share and instead drains the church of resources and energy.
The body that is totally healthy — the body where all parts function as they should — and are doing what they were made to do — is a healthy body. Only the church where everyone gives as he or she has been given can be productive, a growing and a happy church. For the gifts we have been given are body gifts. Gifts to be fully used for and through the body of Jesus.
The next thing we want to notice is that these gifts are spiritual. That means first of all as Paul, again, says in 1 Corinthians 12:11, that these gifts are given by the Spirit. Each member, no matter who he or she is, has a minimum of one gift. Often people have more than one gift. These gifts therefore, are spiritual, they come from heaven. They are also spiritual as distinct from natural. Only the two are very closely related.
Let us say that there is a young man who is naturally gifted in sports. He is a superb hockey player for instance. That is a natural gift. Not all that different from a spiritual gift, in that this gift is also heavenly, this young man holds this gift via creation. The God who made Him, the Spirit who was involved in creation, gave him that special gift. Not everyone has it.
A spiritual gift differs from a natural one in that it is used through the church for God. Let us say someone has a way with little children, or young people. That sometimes quite naturally leads to becoming a good teacher. That gift may be used in Christian education or church education. It may be used to lead children to the Lord, to strengthen them in the faith, or beyond that in shaping them and their gifts in the service of God. That is a spiritual gift.
So how do you then discover what your gift or gifts, received from the Holy Spirit, really are? There are a number of things that will point the way. First there are things you enjoy doing. You enjoy them, because you are good at them. And you are good at them more than likely because that is a gift, a spiritual gift. Secondly, you may discover that there is something that you can do better than most people. Probably because that is a gift of the Spirit. And a third thing is the confirmation of others. People are generally critical. But when someone does an excellent job there are always people who will tell you that. They will show amazement, surprise, gratitude for what you have done. Probably because that is a gift.
But some spiritual gifts are slumbering. That is to say we are not aware of them. Again we may have the gift of teaching, but we were never in the position of testing ourselves and so we remain unaware of it. In that case there are seminars or workshops that will help you discover these slumbering, still hidden gifts. That is necessary of course. Hidden talents must be discovered, for the church has a dire need of them.
We need to mention also the difference between the more ordinary gifts we have spoken about, and the sensational ones that Paul mentions here. There is the gift of tongues, of healing, of miracles. Especially the last two are much desired, simply because you can make a powerful impression when you miraculously heal other people. It is sensational compared to, for instance, the gift of serving, helping behind the scenes, largely unnoticed.
We need to say first of all that the Bible nowhere tells us that these gifts have ceased. As a matter of fact they never ceased. If they are not very noticeable that may be due to spiritual decline of the church.
But it also needs to be said that these spectacular gifts are not always the most important. In the case of Jesus and the early church they demonstrated that the claim of God's almighty, loving power was not just a matter of words. Miracles and healing demonstrated that God's love and power are real. But a healing is always temporary. People healed through a spiritual gift of healing always get sick again or certainly they die like everyone else.
Paul himself urges the Corinthians to seek the more important gifts, like teaching, serving, giving. As a matter of fact, Paul strongly emphasizes that the most excellent gift is love. To love is not always easy. But the gift to do that is a transforming gift. Agape love is not only the gift to love the unlovable, but often it is the love that transforms those who are not very lovable into loving people.
What all this means is simply this: the discovery and development and use of our gifts is of the greatest importance. Just think of a congregation whe
re everyone is using some gift. Think of a council which does not appoint people to do something merely because it needs to be done and there is no one else to do it. But such a council appoints people to do the things they are gifted to do. That will be one happy church. Little or no burn out. Burn out happens when people are asked to do what they are not gifted to do.
Paying attention to people’s gifts is paying attention to the leading of the Spirit. It means to be open to His blessing and power. A church where every member is giving according to gift and ability is a church that will grow, both spiritually and in numbers.
So let us, if we have not done so already, discover what our gifts are. Let us recognize in these gifts the blessing of the Spirit. Let us encourage one another to develop these gifts. And then let us put them to full use. Blessed is the church that welcomes gifts from God. And then returns them in their use to Him, for His glory.
Proposed Order of Service
Opening hymn #199
Hymn after God's will (or confession of faith) #76
Hymn before sermon #566
Scripture: Romans 12:1-8; 1 Corinthians 12
Text: 1 Corinthians 12:11
Sermon: "Discover Your Gifts"
Hymn of response #523
Closing hymn #418