Following Jesus: Our resources
The previous post was about “Following Jesus: Our purposes”. We found that God wants us to become more like Jesus. He wants us to have purposes that reflect His general purposes for believers (above) and our individual strengths (below). We serve others when we apply our purposes to people’s needs. Then like Esther, we will have a meaningful and significant life that brings fulfilment.
We introduced the diagram to show the relationship between these aspects of our life. In this post we are looking at our resources, which are comprised of our abilities, experience and spiritual gifts. These are the tools that God has given to enable us to do the tasks to achieve our purposes in serving others.
At a job interview you might be asked, “What makes you unique?”. We are all different in some way, such as: our personality and temperament; our abilities, skills and talents; our experience and knowledge; our interests, values, desires and passions; and our spiritual gifts.
God has resourced us in different ways. We all have different strengths and different weaknesses.
In a poem on God’s greatness, David described the growth of a baby as an example of God’s power and skill.
“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.” (Ps. 139:13-14NIV)
David is saying that God has made us in an amazing way. We know something about this; that it begins when a human egg and sperm combine to produce a zygote cell. At the moment of fertilization, the baby’s genetic makeup is complete, including whether it’s a boy or a girl. That’s when our DNA is determined. It’s amazing.
No two humans are genetically identical. Each of us has a unique genetic blueprint. That’s why DNA profiling is used in forensic science.
Our biological makeup can influence areas of life like our personality and temperament, and our abilities, skills and talents. We are born with potential which may be realized to varying degrees. It might depend on whether certain genes are switched on or off.
So, our genetic makeup influences who we are. But how these aspects of our character develop also depends on the environment we are exposed to.
Paul told Timothy, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Tim. 1:5). Timothy was shown the Christian faith in word and deed as he grew up. It was one of the reasons he became a believer. This shows that we can influence others, particularly our children. Our words and deeds have an impact. What kind of impact are we having on our family? Our spouse? Our children? Our friends? Our colleagues?
When we look at ourselves, we have been influenced by our life experiences. And these can vary from person to person. These experiences can affect:
– How our abilities, skills and talents are developed. The degrees of opportunity for development vary. For example, the strength of a muscle in the body depends on how it has been trained.
– Our knowledge. What have we learned?
– Our interests, values, desires and passions.
Although all of these may be influenced by our personality and temperament, they develop through what we have learned and experienced.
So, our life experience also influences who we are.
Warner Wallace was a homicide detective who now uses his investigation skills to look at the evidence and eyewitnesses behind Christian beliefs. His knowledge and life experience are now being used to defend the Bible and the Christian faith. He calls his ministry “Cold-case Christianity” because he used to investigate cold-case homicides.
Spiritual gifts are special, God-given abilities for service in the church. Some of the gifts are natural abilities that are heightened and directed by the Holy Spirit. And some are things all Christians should be doing (like evangelism, giving, and serving).
After 11 chapters of doctrine, in Romans 12 Paul describes how to follow Jesus. He begins by saying that if Jesus died for us, then surely we should live for Him (Rom. 12:1-2). And we should be transformed by thinking the way God thinks. Then Paul describes the use of our spiritual gifts for the benefit of other believers in the church as an example of living for God (12:3-8).
Paul writes, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function (like in a sports team or an orchestra), so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Rom. 12:3-5).
First he says to be humble and not proud (v.3). This is because everyone is unique and has an important function to perform.
Next we need to think right about the church (v.4-5). The human body is made up of many components that perform different functions (that’s diversity). But these all work together harmoniously. All are needed for the health of the body – there is unity and diversity. Likewise, all believers have different spiritual gifts. But these work together harmoniously in a church like the components in a body. And all are needed for the health of the church– there is unity and diversity. The issue here is where the individual fits into the corporate family of God. Each individual has their own gifts to contribute to the church.
Paul continues, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.
If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith;
if it is serving, then serve;
if it is teaching, then teach;
if it is to encourage, then give encouragement;
if it is giving, then give generously;
if it is to lead, do it diligently;
if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully” (Rom. 12:6-8).
Here and elsewhere the Bible lists some examples of spiritual gifts, but it is not exhaustive. For example, singing, musical ability and artistic ability are not mentioned anywhere in the New Testament as spiritual gifts. Romans 12 says that everyone has at least one spiritual gift, and that we need to use the gifts we have.
Joshua left school early to be a motor mechanic. He hung around with non-Christians who were interested in cars, drinking and girls. Now he has a passion for preaching (which requires Bible study) and leads a church with other elders. They look like spiritual gifts (of preaching, teaching and leadership) to me. If you saw Joshua as an 18 year old you wouldn’t think he had the qualifications or experience for these roles.
The purposes of spiritual gifts
The Bible describes the purposes of spiritual gifts.
When he described the way of Christian living, Peter said, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Pt. 4:10-11). Spiritual gifts are to be used to serve others (v.10). They are for the benefit of others. And they should lead to praise and glory to God (v.11).
In Ephesians 4, Paul says that after Christ ascended back to heaven He gave special gifts (or abilities) to believers for their service in the church. The purpose of these gifts was “ to equip His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until 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” (12-13). The gifts are tools for service, as shown in the diagram. When we use our gifts to serve others, the church is built up to maturity.
This maturity is described as, “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (v.14-16). The gifts are tools to develop maturity in the church. They are to “build up the church (1 Cor. 14:12). They are “given for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7).
The use of spiritual gifts
People are born with natural abilities. But they only become apparent as they are used and developed. In the same way, those who are spiritually reborn have spiritual gifts the moment they are reborn. But these gifts only become apparent when the believer uses them. And they are strengthened and matured through use.
We all have a role to play. Don’t neglect the gift that God gives you. After Paul says that Timothy had “sincere faith”, he urges Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God, which in is you …” (2 Tim. 1:6). Other people need us. No gift is of any value if we do not use it. Each of us is responsible for the gifts that God has given to us. And we all must give an account to God at the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). In this passage Paul says that he “was appointed as a herald [preacher] and an apostle and a teacher” (2 Tim. 1:11). These were his spiritual gifts. And he is urging Timothy to develop his spiritual gifts.
And in Corinthians, Paul stresses that spiritual gifts need to be used in love (1 Cor. 13:1-2).
Examples of spiritual gifts
The Holy Spirit enabled the apostles to do miracles in Jesus’ name (2 Cor. 12:12; Heb. 2:3-4). It was one of the signs of an apostle. These confirmed the truth of their message and that they were messengers from God (2:43; 4:30; 5:12; 6:8; 14:3; 15:12). Because there are no apostles, the gift of miracles isn’t operative today. For example, if someone at church had the gift of healing, we wouldn’t need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 because we could be healed if we had the disease.
The only others who are said to do miracles in the book of Acts are Stephen and Philip in the first year of the church (Acts 6:8; 8:6) and Barnabas, when he was with Paul (Acts 14:3; 15:12).
It’s instructive to look at what Paul says about his coworkers and infer their spiritual gifts. What resources did they have in their tool kit?
Timothy was a preacher, a debater, a missionary and church planter who knew the Old Testament well. He also had the gift of pastoral care.
Titus was a problem-solver when there were problems in the churches in Corinth and Crete. He was diplomatic and had the gift of pastoral care.
Epaphroditus was reliable (he carried Paul’s letters) and had the gift of pastoral care.
Mark was a missionary, a church worker, and a writer.
Luke was a missionary, and a writer.
Clement was an evangelist.
Philemon was a church leader and had the gift of hospitality.
Urbanus was Paul’s “co-worker in Christ”.
Justus was a Christian in Rome.
Aristarchus was a missionary.
Demas was in Rome while Paul was in prison (Col. 4:14; Phile. 1:24). But in about AD 66 he deserted Paul “because he loved he world” (2 Tim. 4:10).
Epaphras was a missionary and church planter who was also a prayer warrior.
Tychicus was reliable (he carried Paul’s letters), and was a missionary.
Archippus was told to “complete the ministry you have received in the Lord” (Col .4:17).
Erastus was a missionary.
And the women Euodia and Syntyche were evangelists.
So the gifts used by Paul’s co-workers included: evangelist, preacher, missionary, church planter, church leader, church worker, pastoral care, prayer-warrior, problem-solver, hospitality, and writer.
That’s a sample of spiritual gifts used in the early church.
What do you have in your tool kit?
How to discover your spiritual gifts
How can we discover our spiritual gifts? We can pray for God-given desires, start exercising our gifts, and get feedback/verification from others – is it building up the church?
It’s best to look for opportunities to serve. As we become involved in service, our particular contribution to the church will eventually become apparent. The best way to discover our gifts is by serving and seeing what has the stamp of God on it.
We have seen that our resources include our genetic makeup, our experience and our spiritual gifts. Of course, these overlap.
These all come from God. God’s providence determines our genetic makeup, we have no say in this. And God’s providence influences our life experience. We do have some say in it, as it can also be influenced by our choices. And spiritual gifts are abilities given by the Holy Spirit. Because they all come from God, these resources are God-given.
What resources (or abilities and opportunities) do you have? How has God equipped you? What’s in your toolbox? What are you doing with what God has given you? Are you exercising and developing your resources or are you stuck like the Ever Given, which was stuck in the Suez Canal recently? As a ship can only be steered if it is moving, you can only clarify your resources and purposes and direction in life by using your resources.
God wants us to be more like Jesus. Every day, let’s choose to follow Jesus.
He has given us our genetic makeup, our life experiences and spiritual gifts as tools to serve others when we apply our purposes to people’s needs. Let’s develop these tools as we work together with the team of believers in our church.
Then like Esther, we will have a meaningful and significant life that brings fulfilment.
Written, April 2021