Unwrapping Your GiftErwin W. Lutzer | January 7, 1996
Selected highlights from this sermon
We are not alone. The Holy Spirit has equipped believers with gifts to serve God and each other.
God has tailored at least one gift for each of us, and in this message, Pastor Lutzer will describe the gifts and how we can use ours so that we may flourish.
Some of you have possibly heard the story of a man who was filling out an application form for some financial aid because of an accident that happened, and the insurance company needed more information. And he gave the insurance company more information. This is what he said.
I am writing in response to your request for more information concerning block 11 on the insurance form, which asks for cause of injuries, wherein I put trying to do the job alone. You said that you needed more information so I trust the following will be sufficient.
I am a bricklayer by trade and on the date of the injuries I was working alone, laying brick around the top of a four-story building, and I realized I had about 500 pounds of brick left over. Rather than carry the bricks down by hand I decided to put them into a barrel and lower them by a pulley, which was fastened to the top of the building. I secured the end of the rope at ground level and went to the top of the building and loaded the bricks into the barrel and swung the barrel out with the bricks in it. I then went down and untied the rope, holding it securely to insure the slow descent of the barrel.
As you will note on block 6 of the insurance form, I weigh 145 pounds. Due to my shock of being jerked off the ground so swiftly, I lost my presence of mind and forgot to let go of the rope. Between the second and the third floors I met the barrel coming down. This accounts for the bruises and lacerations on my upper body. I continued to hold tightly to the rope and proceeded rapidly up the side of the building, not stopping until my right hand was jammed in the pulley. This accounts for the broken thumb. Despite the pain, I retained my presence of mind and held tightly to the rope. At approximately the same time, however, the barrel of bricks hit the ground and the bottom fell out of the barrel. Devoid of the weight of the bricks the barrel now weighed 50 pounds.
I again refer you to block 6 concerning my own weight. As you would guess, I began a rapid descent. In the vicinity of the second floor I met the barrel coming up. This explains the injuries to my legs and lower body. Slowed only slightly I continued my descent, landing on the pile of bricks. This accounts for my sprained back and internal injuries. I am sorry to report, however, that at this point I lost my presence of mind and let go of the rope, and as you can imagine, the empty barrel crashed down on me. This accounts for my head injuries. I hope that this answers your concern, and please know that I am finished trying to do the job alone.
Well, there’s a lesson somewhere there. God has ordained that not a one of us should do the job alone. And if any one of us is not doing his or her part, the job it not being done the way it could be done. And God has given us gifts, and the purpose of the gifts is so that nobody would ever have to do the job alone, but that we might work together as a Body to do what God has asked us to do on Planet Earth, and as far as Moody Church is concerned, what God has asked us to do right here in the big and wonderful city of Chicago.
I have survived a number of different Christmases, many different Christmases, but I don’t ever remember a Christmas at the Lutzer family where there was a gift under the tree that was left unopened. In fact, our gifts, especially on Christmas Eve, are opened very rapidly. All of them get opened. But it is a tragedy that God has given to us gifts, gifts that sometimes we have not opened, gifts that we have not investigated, that we have not looked into and we have not used.
Now the purpose of this message is very clear. It is first of all, to help all of us find what our spiritual gift might be, and number two, that we might begin to unwrap it and to use it and to find fulfillment, yes, but something even more important. And that is that we become a part of the larger vision of what God is doing among us as a church locally, and the Church scattered throughout the world. That’s the agenda. And the passage of Scripture is 1 Corinthians 12 where the Apostle Paul speaks about spiritual gifts, and asks us to make sure that we are functioning in a way that would please Him.
When he begins in 1 Corinthians 12 he says, “Now concerning spiritual gifts (and it really means spiritual things at this point), I do not want you to be unaware.” Those of us who did a lot of Scripture memory in the King James Version know that it is “that you might not be ignorant.” The Greek word is agnosto – that you might be an agnostic regarding these things.
Now there are many people who are agnostics regarding spiritual gifts. They don’t know. They don’t know what theirs is, they don’t know how they function, and they are basically ignorant. Yeah, that’s a good word. They are basically ignorant regarding these things, and this passage was written to rid us of all excuses and of all ignorance regarding spiritual gifts.
Now Paul reminds the people of their pagan past in verse 2. “You know that 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,” Paul says. He refers to their pagan past because they knew something of giftedness in their past that was satanic. He calls the Oracle at Delphi (though there may have been other oracles) those dumb idols, dumb because the idols themselves do not speak, and yet, behind those idols there were demonic spirits who gave these unintelligible utterances, and so Paul wants them to know upfront that there are some supernatural things that happen in pagan people’s lives that are not of God. And Satan is a great counterfeiter, even of spiritual gifts.
So Paul says, “No one who is speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit would ever curse Christ,” as possibly those pagan oracles did, “and no one would ever say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” A demonic spirit would admit Christ was Lord if he had to, but he would never do it voluntarily on his own.
But now the Apostle Paul begins to talk about spiritual gifts. Verse 4: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.” What does he mean by “gifts”? Well, it’s the Greek word charismata or charismatic, which comes from the word caris, which is grace. It is a gracious gift that God gives to us that we might be able to function well and productively within the Body of Jesus Christ. It may be related to a natural talent, but it may be something quite separate from a natural talent. It may be some way in which we are wired by God to function so that we will meet a need in some way that no one else will. That is a spiritual gift.
I might say that Paul uses that word gift in other ways, too. For example, he talks about the gift of marriage and the gift of celibacy. Now this is proof that one cannot have all spiritual gifts. It would be very difficult to see how one could have both the gift of celibacy as well as be gifted by the blessing of marriage. But the Apostle Paul here is using it in a more specific sense. Those gifts and abilities that God gives us to serve are gifts that help us work within the Body of Jesus Christ. So all Christians should be charismatics. They should all be interested in the gifts.
Let’s notice some of the characteristics here of the way in which the Apostle Paul lays this out now in the verses before us. First of all he says that all gifts have the same source. They originate in the purpose and plans of a sovereign God. Verse 4: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit (A word to underline might be that word same.); and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.”
Do you notice that the entire Trinity is involved in gifting? The Spirit is involved. The Lord is involved. That is, Christ is involved. And God is involved. God is intensely interested in the gifting of His people to do His work on earth, but I want you to notice that they all have the same source, and that is God. That’s comforting. That not only means the same source for all Christians, but also, when you think of a local congregation like Moody Church, the source of the giftedness of the people whom God brings to us is God. If we don’t have enough Sunday school teachers, that means that we are doing a poor job of developing spiritual gifts, because God is committed to providing leadership for His people. And if there are not enough small group leaders, and if there are not enough elders, and if there are not enough deacons, it is that we lack in the training of people, because God gifts His Church. And God knows what our need is, but what this also means is that whatever God gives us, if it functions properly, there’s going to be a basic unity. Oh not a sameness, not a monotonous sameness! By no chance in the world will that happen because God loves variety. When He makes snowflakes, He makes every single one of them different. When He makes fingerprints, they are all different because God is a God of variety. And He’s painting a picture, and the mountain doesn’t criticize the stream because it is different, and the stream doesn’t criticize the trees, and the trees don’t criticize the lakes, because they are all part of the picture. The Church is not a melting pot as much as it is a tossed salad where everybody has something to contribute and we are all different and we maintain our individuality and our differences. And yet there is the unity of the Spirit that is brought about by God.
Notice in verse 7 Paul says all gifts have the same purpose. He says, “To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” See, we are not just gifted that we might edify ourselves and that we might feel good, though that happens too. There’s nothing more fulfilling than serving God in the area of your giftedness. But that’s not even the primary purpose. The primary purpose is that we might serve the larger Body of Jesus Christ. That expression common good in Greek is symphony - that there might be a symphony. A symphony is all these diverse gifts. You have violinists, and you have those who play the flute, and you have these instruments that come together in one harmonious crescendo of praise to God, all different, all unified, all led by the same conductor. Now Paul is saying that that’s the purpose of the giftedness of the Church. It’s for the common good.
And we play this symphony, first of all, for God. That’s why we come to church. If you leave here sometime and you say, “You know, we didn’t get a blessing today,” remember it is for God. It is not for us. I remember Vance Havner used to say, “I’ve never been in a meeting yet where I didn’t get a blessing,” but he said, “I’m have some mighty close calls.”
Maybe today you’ll say, “You know, I had a close call.” I want you to know today that that even is not as important as the question of whether or not God is blessed. God should be blessed. Now, we do it for God. We do it for the strengthening of the Body, but we do it also because of our witness to the world. The reason that we teach is that we might reach. The reason that we come on Sunday is that we might go on Monday. The reason that we are edified is that we might evangelize. Our picture must always be beyond our walls, and that’s where many of the gifts are exercised. Not just within here but out there are our gifts exercised.
I happened to walk through the nursery this morning to see how things were going in there, and it was very much in control. I was not needed, I can assure you, in the nursery, but in meeting one of the ladies she was talking about someone across the street, a homeless one to whom she had given some material (some books, some tapes and some financial help). You see there’s an exercise of gifts well beyond these walls in that illustration as well as in many, many others.
Now, back to the text. Paul says that these gifts have the same source. They originate in the triune God. They have the same purpose. “To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit,” and by the way, those acts of kindness are manifestations of the Spirit for the common good, for the sake of the symphony.
Now I want you to notice what those gifts actually are, how different they are in function. The source and the purpose are the same but the functions are different. Pick it up in verse 8, and here we’re going to list some of the gifts, and I will make only brief comments about them.
“To some,” he says, “are given the gift of wisdom.” Now that’s the ability to take knowledge and to apply it. A wise person is someone who can give advice. Even if there’s no special verse of Scripture for it, they understand the principles and they can apply those principles. If you want to have a counselor and you need to have somebody give you advice, they hopefully (he or she) would have the gift of wisdom, and how we need that in the Church.
He says the gift of knowledge. These are the people who know everything. They may be the people who win every time at Trivial Pursuit because they remember the name of Freud’s dog, and other very, very interesting things. But they sometimes become our professors in our universities and in our colleges because they have a lot of knowledge. I don’t think that this means necessarily that they have the ability to prognosticate – to predict the future – or to be able to look into someone’s eyes and say, “Your disease is this or that,” but they do have a penchant, a bent toward the accumulation of knowledge, and they are needed within the Church.
And then he says faith. This is not saving faith, which every Christian has. This is a special kind of faith that trusts God in difficult circumstances, and trusts God for special answers and miracles that some of us may not have the ability to trust God for. The gift of faith!
Gifts of healing! You’ll notice that he puts it in the plural. Perhaps the reason is because one person wasn’t healing everyone. Maybe there were those who had a gift of healing for a particular kind of ailment, but not for another. Maybe there were those who could heal at a certain time and be used of God, and not at another time. This is a variety of gifts.
Effecting of miracles! There is a lot of overlap here in the gifts. Just like wisdom and knowledge have overlaps, so gifts of healing and the effecting of miracles.
Prophecy! In the early Church there were those who would foretell the future. Prophecy is also preaching and sharing the Word of God, and I don’t mean standing behind a pulpit and preaching. It may be being able to give that word of exhortation. Prophets are always very hard on sin. They have a great hatred for hypocrisy and therefore prophets are often not well liked.
Distinguishing of spirits! Jesus said that someday there might be those who would come before Him and say, “Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, and in Your name we have done many wonderful works?” And Jesus will say to them, “I never knew you. You are workers of iniquity.” The distinguishing of spirits! How desperately that is needed today, because within the Church today you have those who think that everything that is supernatural is of God as long as it is done in the name of Jesus. Not so! The miracles in the seventh chapter of Matthew are done in the name of Christ! Christ will say, “I never knew you,” so that is a gift.
And then tongues and the interpretation of tongues! There are also two other gifts that are listed a little later in the chapter and we can pick those up in verse 28. Near the end of the verse it says, “helps and administration” – two other gifts. Now if you take Romans 12 (which you should do sometime) and also Ephesians 4, you find that there may be 19 or 20 different gifts, and because the list does not seem to be exhaustive in any particular passage, it may be that Paul says, “These are the kinds of ways that God gifts people for the Body.” For example, music is not listed, and yet we know that there are those who have special musical gifts. The Apostle Paul would not be opposed to that. He would encourage that. It is that these are the ways by which gifting takes place that the Church might be edified.
Now we are all very different, and we like to be the same. The teachers would like to have everybody teach. The administrators would like to have everybody administrate. Those with the gift of helps would like to have everybody have that eye for need as those with the gift of helps have. Exhorters would like everybody to be exhorters. The fact is that the Body is more diverse than that.
There is a story, which one of our pastors gave me, which he used once, and I asked him for a copy.
Once upon a time, long ago, all the animals decided to form a school. I’m sure it was probably home schooling. But anyway, they established a well-rounded curriculum of swimming, running, climbing and flying. Now to make it easier to monitor the program, all the animals took all the courses.
The duck was excellent in swimming. In fact, he was better than his instructor, but he only made passing grades in climbing and was very poor in running. In fact, he was so slow he had to stay after school to practice his running. Now this caused his webbed feet to become so badly worn that he became only average in swimming, but average was quite acceptable so no one worried about it, except the duck.
Now the rabbit started out at the top of her class in running, but after a while she developed this twitch in her leg from all of the time spent in the water trying to improve her swimming. At the end of the semester she received a D+ in running.
The squirrel was a peak performer when climbing but experienced constant frustration when trying to fly. His body became so badly worn from all the landings that he could only get a C in climbing and a D in running.
Now the eagle was a problem student. He was severely disciplined for being a non-conformist. In climbing class he would always beat everyone else to the top of the tree, but insisted rather in using his way to get there. So he got an incomplete. The eagle was a problem child.
Well, you get the point. Each creature has been created with a specific area of expertise. We have been given spiritual gifts or areas in which we will excel unless, of course, we are spending all of our time doing things that God never created us to do.
Let’s help focus on what this text has to say by three concluding but very, very important statements.
Number one, each person has a gift. Notice in verse 7 it says, “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit.” Now he or she may have more than one gift, but one for sure. That is your hard wiring. That doesn’t mean that you can’t do other gifts. You can’t say, “Well, you know, I can’t clean up after a dinner here at the church because I don’t have the gift of helps.” No, that’s not the way it works. It doesn’t mean that we can’t function in other areas.
You can’t say to yourself, “Well, I can’t endure this trial because I don’t have the gift of faith.” No, you find that the gifts overlap. You find that there is growth in gifts. There is such a thing as exercising those gifts that aren’t really your best form of ministry, but everyone has one kind of a gift where they excel, and where they are fulfilled, and if properly trained, they can serve effectively. To each one is given the gift of the Spirit.
I feel sorry for people who don’t know what their gifts are, people who have never unwrapped their gift. They have never taken the time to figure out who they really are, and which of the gifts suits them the best. And next week we’re going to give you the opportunity to find some help in doing that. But I want you to notice that everyone has a gift.
In all of the listings of gifts in the New Testament, whether in Romans, or in Ephesians or in this passage, nowhere is there a distinction made between the gifts that men have and the gifts that women have. I take it from the New Testament that women can exercise all of the gifts that are listed - as many different gifts as men themselves are able to exercise. God makes no distinction within the Body.
Now we do believe that when it comes to the offices of the Church, and when it comes to the responsibility, for example, of elders, that in the Bible there is therefore male leadership in those categories. But so far as gifting is concerned, so far as service is concerned, God makes no such distinction.
Now I want you to notice that there are three different kinds of gifts. There are speaking gifts, which sometimes are exalted – the gift of teaching, the gift of being an apostle, or the gift of sharing as an exhorter. There are sign gifts, and they are the ones that cause the controversy today because even in the Early Church and after the Early Church as you look at history, many of these miraculous gifts somehow died away. And even during the periods of revival they never took place because the Apostles were able to do some very special gifts they received. In 2 Corinthians 12:12, the Apostle Paul says, “I was able to do the signs of an apostle.” But you have speaking gifts. You then have sign gifts, and you have the service gifts – administration, helps, etc.
Now what the Apostle Paul is trying to help us to see today is that we matter, and we fit somewhere. And the Body of Jesus Christ is made weaker if we are not serving, and it is made stronger if we serve, but someplace, somewhere we fit. God created us to be a part of the Body. To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit. It’s interesting that the Apostle Paul considers the more ordinary gifts, such as administering, or helping or words of wisdom and knowledge, to be the manifestation of the Spirit just as much as the miraculous gifts that are listed in the passage. So everyone has a gift.
Secondly, if you are dissatisfied with your gift, you are dissatisfied with your God. Notice what it says very clearly in verse 11. “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually.” I love that. This is not just a coat off the rack. This is tailor-made. This is a gift that suits you exactly, because God knows exactly how you are put together. He was there when you were formed in your mother’s womb, and He gave you all of your hard wiring as it were. Now we can change the software, but there’s nothing that we can do with the basic raw way that God made us. Now notice, this was not happenstance. It says, “distributing to each one individually just as He wills.”
Do you realize that God was there when you were created? Some of us look in the mirror and we wonder where He was when we were put together. I want you to know today that you can be satisfied with the way you look. Now there are things that you can do to improve it. There are New Year’s resolutions that you can make that will bear fruit if you are consistent for 365 days, but fundamentally, we’ve been created by God. Our appearance and our giftedness is a part of who we are, and if we are dissatisfied, we argue with God.
In next week’s message I’m going to emphasize the great need in the Church of the lifting up of the encouragement of the unseen gifts, because there are some gifts that get all of the attention, but it’s the unseen ones, the ones that we don’t think are important that Paul is going to say later on are very important to the Body. Are you happy with the way God created you? Are you happy with the way in which you fit within the Body?
And then finally and most importantly, it seems to me that giftedness involves givingness. That is to say that when you read this passage, you find out that the reason that the Spirit of God has poured out gifts upon the Church is that we might do service for the common good. And that means that we extend ourselves, commit ourselves, and become involved and sacrifice for the Body. That’s the whole point of giftedness.
Now Moody Church is a big church, and sometimes we have people come to us who are hurting and they have maybe had a bad experience in another church. Recently I heard about some folks like that. They come and they may sit in the back, and they may leave at the time of the benediction, and they are here to heal, and they are here to rethink and to regroup. And that’s perfectly fine. We welcome you. We welcome all who come to the church, for whatever reason obviously. But there does come a time, even in the lives of people like that over a period of perhaps six months or a year when they decide that this is going to be their congregation. This is where God has led them and it is time at that point to commit, and to say, “If this is where God led us, this is now where we serve and we pray, and we work, and where we exercise our gifts within this Body.”
And I want to speak to some of you who have been around awhile and have never committed to this church. I want to speak to you for a moment. I don’t believe that it’s just a mistake. I don’t believe that it’s just an oversight. I don’t believe that it’s just a bad idea, but I believe that it is an actual sin, a sin before God to have people who benefit from the Body but who refuse to contribute to the Body. It is a sin for some people to say, “Preach to me. Sing to me. Keep the church warm for me. When I am sick, visit me, and when I am distressed, counsel me, and publish your bulletin for me, but just see if I’ll give my time, my talents, my energies, and my money to the church.” That is a sin. And that accounts for the weakness of many a local church and the Body of Jesus Christ.
Read verse 11 again. “To one and the same Spirit He works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.” Why? Verse 7: “For the common good.” God has gifted you that you might serve the Body and strengthen it that we might have a better witness to the world. Do you realize that the Lord Jesus is never going to say to you, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, for thou has listened to 2,647 messages, and twice that number of choir numbers. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” It’s not going to happen that way. If you read the context of those words, it is where God says, “I am gifting you, and I am giving you the talents, and I am giving you money, and I am giving you the ability to serve, and I am giving you the Body, and you had better serve within it or else you will miss out.”
If you go into our own lobby area there, you can see a list of those who served in World War II, I believe it is. And most churches have a list of people like that. And there is the story, which some of you perhaps have heard of a little boy, who looked up and saw this list. And he said, “Mommy, who are these people?” and she said, “Well, Son, those are the ones who died in the service.” And he said, “Oh really! Which one? The morning or the evening?”
Today I am talking to some of you who, for all practical purposes, have died in the service. But I am also asking you before God to ask Him a question, and the question is, “Lord, what will Thou have me to do? Where do I fit?” to help us accomplish the goal of us being known in the city of Chicago as a caring, culturally diverse community that seeks to see lives changed by the Gospel message. And we need every single one of you to be on board and to say, “Here are my gifts; here are my talents.” And there are times when we are laid aside and God gives us a different gift. Do you remember what the Apostle Paul said? “Ye helping together by prayer.” There is always something you can do until you are dead, and then we make no more requirements and we add no more burdens upon you, but until then, we contribute toward the Body.
And now a footnote! There are some of you for whom this message is far too far along in your own spiritual development. You have to go back a step, and you go back a step and realize that you have not received the supreme gift yet, and that is the gift of salvation, which is a free gift. It is given to those who believe in Christ, and when you receive that free gift you become a member of the Body of Jesus Christ. God will work in your life to help you see what your gift is and then you’ll begin to contribute, but to receive Christ and the gift of salvation is the first thing that you must do. And if you do not know that you have done that, you probably haven’t, and even today you can believe in Him.
Let us pray.
Our Father, we want to thank you today that Jesus Christ has gifted His people. We read this, and Lord, we are astounded at Your Word that says so clearly that individually You have gifted us according to the way You will. Make us satisfied, but Father, we think of those who because of fear have never unwrapped their gift, those, who because of misunderstanding and bitterness in their lives that they have never confessed, have alienated themselves from the Body. They have cut themselves off from the very Source of strength that could help them. Oh Father, bring them to repentance today, that there may be no schism in the body, but that there might be the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. May no one in these weeks before us leave Moody Church without knowing where he or she fits, both within the walls and outside the walls of this church! And grant to those who have never believed the wonderful gift of eternal life. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.