What Gifts?

given on Sunday, July 19, 2009

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The scriptures for the last two Sundays referred to gifts:  gifts of the Holy Spirit.  We have read the list in various forms, but when you go to the UMC website and read about spiritual gifts, you may wonder how that list of gifts can be gleaned from the scriptures.  Just what gifts are we talking about?  How do we know what gifts are ours?  Just what do we do with the gifts?  The questions may outnumber the list of gifts.

In going back and reviewing what I have learned about spiritual gifts, I returned to the pages of the Companions in Christ study book.  This series is considered one of the best small-group studies and is the initial one in the series.  It provides the groundwork for understanding our faith development.  The section on spiritual gifts is 2/3 the way through the book, and it begins with one of the best explanations I have found defining what spiritual gifts are:  “… particular abilities given by Christ through the Holy Spirit for the good of the whole church so it may do Christ’s work in the world.” (p.207)

Interestingly, spiritual gifts do not follow the secular world’s definition of gifts.  I have worked with materials trying to help students identify their gifts, but the terms are usually aptitudes, talents, and skills, even just interests.  Typically the students have a fairly good idea of what they can and cannot do, but they do not always see how to use those skills in a job.  I suppose it should not surprise any of us that we, too, might not have a good idea of what we can do with the skills we do have—especially in doing Christ’s work in this world.

That leads us then to just what gifts are there.  Returning to the Companions study, different sources report that there are as few as 19 spiritual gifts to as many as 31.  Turning to the UMC website, the list is for 19.  Another web source, Ephesians Four Ministries, reports as many as 28, as I recall.  Still, after taking the two different inventories, the results were basically the same.  The questions were subtly different, and the one from Ephesians Four Ministries, was a closer match to the one I took through the discernment process.

Of course this still does not answer the question “What gifts?”  The Companions book states:  “Our gift or gifts cry out for expression and use.  And using our gifts brings a great release of energy coupled with joy.  We feel as if we are doing easily just what we have always wanted to do.” (p.208).  The last line in that quote really puts a perspective into the question about what are our gifts.  Spiritual gifts, when used, “release of energy coupled with joy” and “(makes us) feel as if we are doing easily just what we have always wanted to do.”

The website for Church Growth, which incorporates the Ephesians Four Ministry, states this concerning spiritual gifts:

“Spiritual gifts are tools God gives Christians to do the work of the ministry—to fulfill the Great Commission to reach, baptize, and teach, and to minister to one another.  Every Christian receives at least one gift at the moment of salvation.  Spiritual gifts are not rewards, are not natural talents, are not a place of service, are not an age-group ministry, and are not a specialty ministry.  They express themselves through various ministries which, in turn, accomplish a variety of results.  A spiritual gift is the primary channel by which the Holy Spirit ministers through the believers.  It is a supernatural capacity for service to God—and He gives you a supernatural desire to perform the duties of that gifts.  Spiritual gifts are tools for building the church.  They are a source of joy in your Christian life and influence your motives.  A spiritual gift is a divine calling with a divine responsibility, because what God has gifted you to do, He has called you to do and what He has called you to do, He has gifted you to do.”

Going back to Ephesians 4, we can now hear Paul’s explanation better:

7But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high,

he led captives in his train

and gave gifts to men.”

11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

You know the answer to “What gifts?’ and have known it for a very long time.  Taking the inventories simply confirms or identifies in other people’s words what you have known deep down within yourself, but just did not know how to explain it.  For instance, (pardon me for using my own experience) after taking two inventories, one indicated that my dominant gift was teaching.  No surprise there, but one of the inventories stated that I had a gift for interpreting tongues.  Now that is a surprise, even though it was not a dominant one, it still was in the top five.

What gifts do you have?  You may not need to go through an inventory to discover your gifts.  You may have known them for years and you may well be using them.  Consider some of the gifts the UMC has identified.  First, the list of 19 defined on the church’s website (in alphabetical order) are administration, apostleship, compassion, discernment, evangelism, exhortation, faith, giving, giving aid, healing, help, miracles, prophecy, teaching, tongues, serving, shepherding, work of knowledge, and word of wisdom.

Several of these are clearly gifts we are familiar with and can also identify those we know are gifted with that particular quality.  Yet in that list of spiritual gifts, there are ones which do not seem familiar or even practical in today’s culture.  Just what is exhortation?  The definition provided by the UMC website states that:

“Exhortation is the ability to call forth the best within others through the ministry of understanding, encouragement, and counsel.  This gift equips one to lift up and strengthen others by helping them to move from their problem to a resolution of that problem.”

We each can identify that quality in the members sitting here right now in this very sanctuary.  Do they know they have that gift?  If they experience the “great release of energy coupled with joy” as they encourage others or provide counsel, then they do know that exhortation is one of their gifts.

Another interesting gift, or at least interesting to me, is tongues.  For years I was skeptical of the ability of anyone to speak in tongues.  My mom always said it was a real gift, but I had an experience during my summer work in Bonne Terre that frightened me.

As a 19-year-old, I visited an ecumenical meeting of young people.  Quickly it turned into a room full of unfamiliar sounds—clicking, guttural sounds, nonsense syllables, and so on.  Someone said something about talking in tongues, and I soon felt cornered and wanted to leave.  I finally did; but as I crawled into bed, I heard the doorbell and the lady in charge let in a small group.  They came into my bedroom and asked me why I had left.  Needless to say, at 10:30 at night, I felt frightened by these peers, and wanted nothing to do with them any more.

Still, my spiritual journey was very new and a few years ago, I was confronted by another experience in tongues.  This time I felt no fear, but fascination.  I found myself in tears as I listened and placed my hand on his shoulder.  I knew then, somehow, some way, that speaking in tongues is a spiritual gift and that I had no reason to fear it any more.  According to the UMC definition, tongues:

“…enable some Christians to praise God in either another language not yet learned or in ecstatic utterance that is not an earthly language.  In either case one’s prayer is addressed to God, not to other people.”

When I went through the survey, the question that stumped me and caused me to review this gift and my experiences with it read that you can understand different languages, cultures or experiences.  The choices were usually, occasionally, not very often.  Well, learning a foreign language is difficult for me, but understanding different cultures and/or experiences is not a problem.  The inventory lists interpreting tongues as one of my secondary gifts.  That was a surprise, yet now I think I do understand it.

What gifts do you have?  The question is for you to answer.  On the bulletin, I have listed the two websites I visited and took the inventories.  I know that not each of you has web access, but I have not found a paper format to provide you.  Still I recommend that you read the definitions of the 19 spiritual gifts identified on the insert in your bulletin.  Take a few moments to reflect on them and your life experiences, then write down what you believe are your talents.  If you want to take a survey, let me know.  We will work out a way for you to take a survey on line and then print out your results.

Once you identify your spiritual gifts, you will discover that it matches the different ministries that are available to you or that you have been involved doing for years.  Knowing what gifts God has graced you with also will help you to find ways of serving others.  God loves us and has worked to see that we are gifted in ways to work with other Christians to do His work.  The variety of gifts within any congregation makes it possible for to follow the Great Commission:  Go make Disciples of Christ.  It also allows us as Christians to make Disciples of Christ in order to transform the world.  The ultimate goal of a Christian world will lead to world peace.  It will lead to a world that is truly a Garden of Eden.  It will be a world where LOVE is the operating system, not a Windows platform nor an OS platform.  Love will be how decisions are made.  Love will be how we care for each other.  Love will make it easy to serve.

This week, spend some time thinking about what spiritual gifts you have.  Think about that sense of energy and joy that you experience when you know you have been able to use that gift for the glory of God.  Think about the next question:  What now?

As we look at the wide range of spiritual gifts, we need to think how best to use these gifts.  Are we, as part of God’s church, using our spiritual gifts to follow the Great Commission?  Are we using our spiritual gifts to transform the world?  Are we using our spiritual gifts to love one another?  Are we using our gifts to our fullest?  I know the answers are not always easy to admit, but I also know that some of the answers indicate we are using our spiritual gifts at least to some extent.

Dear God,

We are trying to understand all the spiritual gifts you have given us.  We may not completely understand these gifts, but we want to know more.  We want to learn how to use our gifts so that we can more fully serve you.  Guide us in our pursuit of understanding.  Guide us in our use of these gifts for your glory.  Thank you for your gifts and for a community of believers who strive to fulfill the Great Commission.  Thank you for your patience as we learn and practice being a Christian.             –Amen

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