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When we meet each week, we take time to share any prayer requests we might have. If you have any to share, please add them as a comment to this post. When you are ready, use the prayer below (source) to get started.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Help us to learn and grow in our spiritual gifts that you uniquely give each of us. We ask that you help us to use our spiritual gifts for your glory. We pray that we may be bold in sharing the gospel, and that we would be faithful in serving you. We ask that you would help us to grow in our knowledge of you and that we would be obedient to your will. We praise you for your goodness and your faithfulness, and we ask that you continue to work in our lives. In Jesus name. Amen
This week's lesson is on Romans 12:3-8.
The book of Romans was written by Paul in about AD 58, Probably toward the end of his third missionary journey. At that point, Paul had not yet been to Rome, but greatly wished to visit. He would do so, but in chains as a prisoner.
He made it to Rome by about AD 61 but remained under house arrest, unable to move about the city as he might have wished. Paul wrote his letter to the church to introduce himself and his teaching prior to a personal visit there. The church was likely established not long after the day of Pentecost, some 30 years earlier. Some of the Jews who heard Peter's sermon that day were from Rome, and it's easy to imagine that they were the ones who started the church after returning home to Rome. There is little doubt that the Roman church had heard of Paul and looked forward to meeting him.
The book of Romans falls into two major sections. The first part, Romans 1-11, features some of the most doctrinal heavy thoughts in all of Scripture. A shift comes with Romans 12-16, which addresses how Christians then live in light of the truth of those doctrines.
The ability to discern the “what God's will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will” begins with the correct thought of ourselves. For a person to think soberly is to think rationally and appropriately. Paul introduced the common standard of measurement by which to evaluate oneself: it is the measure of faith.
For just as each of us has one body with many members and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. It should be obvious that not all parts of the body perform the same function. A hand does not function as an ear and vice versa. Paul desired his readers to think in terms of one as a collective singular of many. As Christians cannot serve effectively apart from other Christians, so also one body cannot operate independently of the head, who is Christ.
Gifts- How to serve
Paul begins a list of seven different gifts. The gift of prophecy involves proclaiming information divinely revealed for the church's edification. We pause here for caution: as Paul begins his listing of such gifts according to this text and others. But to do so runs the risk of missing the bigger picture which is spiritual gifts serve as an example of a church that is united in it diversity Spiritual gifts are not given merely to bless the person receiving the gift but to build up the church as a whole. Most of all, these gifts are intended to be displays of love between believers.
We move to the second gift in Paul's grouping of four: service. Service was the usual way to describe the work that Christians did on behalf of others.
Christian ministry in general (Romans 15:25; Philemon 13)
The ministry of Christ (Romans 15:8; Galatians 2:17)
Specific Christian ministries (Romans 11:13; 2 Corinthians 9:12-13)
Ministry of the office of deacon (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3: 8-13)
Ministry of a secular authority (Romans 13:4)
Paul then focuses on the person who teaches rather than the gift of teaching. Teaching is distinct from prophesying. Prophesy is based on revealing the information that God has placed in the prophet's mouth; teaching involves communicating the truth of the gospel. Teaching was critical for the first-century church, where many people were not formally educated. They learned from auditory instructions instead of reading. Therefore, it was and is a primary task of the eldership.
Fourth gift is encouragement. Primary ways Paul used this was to comfort, urge, or encourage. Paul is challenging those with this gift to use it in terms of being a bit stronger than merely “requesting” something of someone else but a bit less strong than “commanding” that person.
If it is giving, then give generously. To give is to share with another or the church what one has. This is an expectation of all believers. There are no ulterior motives for our giving.
If it is to lead, do it diligently. This includes church leadership, family leadership or household management and self-management. To be such a person is to be in control in a godly sense.
If you show mercy, do it cheerfully. To show mercy requires both action and proper attitude. Showing mercy involves more than merely offering lip service sympathy or forgiveness. In the Beatitudes Jesus states, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” The mercy we ourselves have received from God is the basis for our own action of mercy, as Jesus' parable of the unmerciful servant makes clear. (Matthew 18:21-35) We see the cheerfulness aspect of showing mercy also reflected in giving (2 Corinthians 9:7), such giving being a specific kind of merciful act.
At this point, this list of spiritual gifts ends. But the very next verse (Romans 12:9) relates love to spiritual gifts in much the same way as 1 Corinthians 12:14 does. Love is the touchstone for how any spiritual gift is used.
Conclusion: All gifts matter
We understand that all spiritual gifts are important. But at the same time, we know that not all such gifts are equal and that not all believers are equally gifted (Matthew 25:14-15)
As a result, our natural tendency is to pay more attention to the gifts that are more visible, more “out front” to the public. The highly visible preacher of the church usually gets paid more that the less visible custodian who cleans the church. But here's where Paul's illustration of body members working together (unity in diversity) comes in per Romans 12: 4-5: I don't think you would want to go to a dirty and smelly church any more than you would want to go to church with a horrible preacher! The functions of one's hands are much more varied, useful and visible then are the functions of one's elbow. But a nonfunctioning elbow will severely limit how the hand can function.
Pride is a danger to those having the more visible gifts. Also a danger is that those who have the less visible gifts won't use them, perhaps figuratively “burying” them. (Matthew 25:25) But just as no human body functions to its highest potential unless all of its parts are working together, so also the church- the body of Christ – does not function at full potential until all of its members use their spiritual gifts. The cure or preventative for both pride of gifts and nonuse of gifts is Luke 17:10. “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, we are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.”
A popular tool that churches and ministries have turned to since at least the 1980's is a spiritual gifts assessment inventory (or tests) during my time as a student in Bible college and seminary. You can take these tests online and get your results. Most of the time, they told me what I suspected already: that teaching was one of my spiritual gifts.
Occasionally, an inventory would indicate that I had a secondary gift that I didn't realize. One such result was that I had the gift of administration. I found that to be exceptionally funny, given the reality of the piles of books, articles and papers piled on my desk, floor and couch.
This goes to show that these inventories aren't perfect – they can be misleading.
An assumption behind those inventories is that helping people identify what their giftings are will mean that those who have been enlightened will automatically start using those gifts. But that is not always so. People will need encouragement to use and otherwise develop their spiritual gifts. Sometimes, people need the wisdom and insight of others to help discern which giftings are present.
Another assumption is that such inventories are even needed for people to be able to identify their areas of spiritual giftedness. A more accurate indicator may be personal experience. What types of Christians service do your personal experiences tell you that you have been best at? Where have you fallen flat.
Father, you have called all of your servants to serve. Help us to realize our gifts and give us the courage to develop and use them for your glory. Help us to remember that no matter what our gifts are all members of one body and that no one is unimportant to your church and to you. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Thought to remember: Know your spiritual gifts and use them with humility
This week's benediction is from the King James Version.
Next week's lesson will be on Isaiah 40:12-13, 25-31.
We are a small, rural Presbyterian church in southwestern Pennsylvania.