Have you ever done this before [balancing a pole on the palm of your hand]? If you have, then you know there’s a tactic to keeping the pole upright; you must keep your eyes on the pole. Your eyes will see the pole’s movements, your mind will comprehend what adjustments must be made, and your brain will tell your hand where to move. Take your eyes off of the object— maybe fixate on your bulging muscles or beautiful hands or check out how good you look— and the pole falls. Your attention is misplaced. And you know what? It does not matter how good you look, it does not matter how strong you are, it does not matter if you have the most beautiful hands in the world. Take your eyes off of the object and the balancing act fails. We could say it this way: the act of balancing this pole only succeeds when your attention is centered on the object.
For the next three weeks, we will explore the spiritual gifts God gives and how you put those gifts into action in your congregation. Before we explore using those spiritual gifts, we must start by seeing from where those gifts come. We get to set our attention on an Object. Only then do we gain the ability to keep our gifts in proper balance.
So, let’s set our sights on this: One God Gives Various Gifts. Your Christian life starts from him and Your Christian service is for him.
Did you catch the word repeated? For ‘him,’ for ‘God.’ Spiritual things deal with God. So, if we want to explore spiritual gifts, we must set our attentions first on God. That is why our reading starts the way it does; it resets our attention. Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. ‘Ignorant,’— that is, ‘misinformed’ or ‘lacking correct knowledge.’ Maybe you do not quite know what a spiritual gift is. You might be unaware that you do have unique abilities. Perhaps we are misinformed about the purpose of having spiritual gifts. Ignorance can lead to chaos, hurt, division, disunity within a congregation. Yet, the most significant misunderstanding we can have about spiritual gifts is thinking “It is all about me.”
Do you find yourself saying that? “I have a gift!” I am friendly. I am creative. I am caring. I am wise. I am knowledgeable. I am dedicated. Do you see what’s happening? You take credit for your abilities, as though somehow you chose to be gifted in those areas. You want people to praise you for the various abilities that you have. If you want people to praise you for your superiority, then soon you will determine (1) who you will help, (2) when you might help, and (3) in what ways you will help.
Do you realize that spiritual gifts are just that? Gifts! God makes that point pretty clear in verse 2. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. God shows us what we once were. Pagans. Nonbelievers. Not followers of Christ. You (and I) were conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5). You (and I) entered this world spiritually dead, spiritually lifeless (Ephesians 2:1). Without faith in God as Savior. Without the ability to choose God as Savior. Unable to invite God into our hearts. God clearly says: “At one time you wanted nothing to do with spiritual matters.”
But that has all changed. Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed…” To ‘curse Jesus’ is to say, “God, destroy Jesus.” No Christian would ever want to say that. After all, we love Jesus! How could we wish such evil? We would not— because the Holy Spirit puts love for God in our hearts. [N]o one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
The only way you (and I) come to faith is when the Holy Spirit works on our hearts. Remember, Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). What is in that “word of Christ?” Jesus reveals his divine power. He changes water in wine (John 2:1-11). He cheers hearts crushed by guilt (John 4:5-26). He wisely knows God demands complete obedience for eternal life in heaven (Matthew 4:1-11). The Word tells us that (1) Jesus is divine and (2) he uses his abilities to serve us.
Look at Jesus and you see him serve you. The Father abandon Jesus for our ignorance about spiritual gifts. He raises Jesus from death and declares you ‘Forgiven.’ Then, he sets that assurance on you at baptism. You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:26-27). The Holy Spirit has worked in your heart the ability to say: Jesus is Lord. You admit that only Jesus paid the penalty for sin. You confess that only Jesus wiped away your guilt. You believe that only Jesus has saved you. He is the Master, the Chief Leader in whom to trust. He is your Lord.
This is where we start when exploring spiritual gifts. Only God makes it possible for you to receive spiritual gifts. Jesus removes the penalty for sin. The Holy Spirit applies that payment to your spiritual account. The Father declares that payment, “Accepted for you!” Your Christian life starts from God. So, what now? Well, Your Christian service is for him.
Pay attention to how that service appears. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. You will see different kinds of abilities, you will see different areas to apply those abilities, you will see different results from those abilities. And regardless of what gifts you have, what areas you might serve, what results might appear, there is still one God. One God Gives Various Gifts.
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. God will reveal himself through you. That means, sometimes God makes you the answer to someone’s prayer. A grieving widow receives God’s encouragement from you. A frightened child receives God’s protection through you. A stressed-out son receives God’s financial providing through you. God blesses the world by the abilities he has handed you. Sometimes it means serving even when you receive no direct benefits. Your healthy body shovels out the driveway of the elderly lady, even though your driveway is still covered in snow. Yet, you have health to serve! You lend advice to an undisciplined daughter, even though she ignores half of it. Yet, you have the ability to advise. Our attention is not set on ourselves; our attention is set on our heavenly Father who has so freely, so lovingly made us his children that we want to serve him with what he has given us!
Look at all the gifts listed, and maybe you realize that you have one (or two). Yes, even if you are 4, 24, 44, 64, or 84-years old. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom… Real wisdom understands the reality of sin and sees its solution in God. So, wisdom takes in the teachings of God and applies them to every aspect of life.
[T]o another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit… Knowledge is what you have learned in the Bible. It includes even teaching Bible stories about Jesus or sharing your faith.
[T]o another faith by the same Spirit… That ‘faith’ does not mean coming to faith. No, it describes a strong faith that clings to the promises of God. The wife remains courageous in the face of cancer. The college student prays when finances grow tight. You pick up the phone, get bad news, but you still remember God works all things for our good. Maybe you know someone with rock-solid faith. Or, maybe you are that person with rock-solid faith. That benefits your fellow Christians. Strong faith encourages us to grow stronger in our faith. When we see strong faith, we are reminded to trust in God too.
[T]o another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers… We might remember how the apostles drove out demons and healed cripples. This demonstrated that their Christian teaching dealt with the one true God (and not the devil).
[T]o another prophecy… We think about Pastors who preach and explain God’s Word so that it makes a little more sense to us.
[T]o another distinguishing between spirits… that is, applying Bible teachings to certain Christian questions. You can identify if a preacher on television is telling the truth or if he is over-exaggerating portions of the Bible. [T]o another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. Again, we think about Pentecost. The twelve disciples could speak in different languages. More important than that was that others could understand what Jesus had done in their own language.
All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. The reason we have a particular gift is because God graciously handed us such a gift. Notice, these spiritual gifts are never uses to bring praise to you. You never find God saying, “Yes! You are the greatest!” Nor does he pressure you: “You better figure out what you’re good at.” No! God lists gifts. You can look them over. You might say, “Hey, I have the gift of remembering Bible stories. I will tell my children these stories.” Maybe, “Oh! My faith does not shake under pressure. I will keep feeding it and encourage others to do the same.” Perhaps: “I understand Bible teachings. I will warn my family to stay away from false teachers who …deny infants baptism ...think all people enter heaven …that God wants us to earn his love.” One God Gives Various Gifts. Various, because we all have different needs. You use your unique abilities to serve the unique abilities of each other. This pleases God, you serve one God.
Next week we will focus on individual gifts and how each of us work together in a Christian congregation—but first, let’s end with this topic: Where do we get our gifts from? God, as he always does, puts our attention on him.
Kind of like balancing this pole. If I take my eyes off of the pole and focus on me—how beautiful I am, how great I am—then the pole falls. The power to keep pole upright comes from setting my attention on what the pole’s doing.
When I set my attention on God, I am able to carry out my spiritual gifts for the good of others. I am able to use those spiritual gifts so that others might benefit. Set your attentions on God. Your Christian life comes from him. Your Christian life is for him. One God Gives Various Gifts.