I recently saw a comment online that gave me pause. The claim was that unless a preacher loves to spend hours and hours studying Scripture, he’s not really preaching, but is putting on a show. There is certainly some measure of truth to this claim. There are those for whom preaching is self-centered. Some desire to be perceived as funny or articulate or profound or engaging or even simply entertaining when they preach. This is a great danger to the individual and for the church. Proclaiming God’s word is too important, too weighty for such self-interest. But is the statement actually true? The answer affects each one of us, regardless of our individual spiritual gifts.
My spiritual gift is teaching. I love to study. I love researching the background historical context and analyzing the grammatical structure of a text and I love thinking through how a particular passage fits in not only with the broader book it is found in, but in the broader scope of Scripture. As a regular part of my responsibilities I get to pour over Scripture and see the rich tapestry of how it all fits together. This is part of having the gift of teaching. Loving to study and teaching go hand in hand.
This raises a question: is preaching merely an exercise in teaching? If it is, then the online claim I mentioned above must be true. But is it? I don’t think so. A clear case in point is last Sunday’s sermon by Jim. Jim’s primary spiritual gift is exhortation. The sermon was rooted in Psalm 32, yet Jim did not spend hours studying historical context and grammatical structures, etc. Instead, Jim spent hours sitting in the text itself, allowing God to drive it into his heart, so that he could speak on God’s behalf to the church. When Jim preached this sermon, he was exhorting us, not teaching us—and man, were we exhorted! In a couple weeks Dan will preach. His primary spiritual gift is wisdom. Since Jesus is the wisdom of God (see 1 Corinthians 1:24), the gift of wisdom is more than simply knowing the right thing to do in a situation. It is the ability to speak the good news of Jesus into a situation. For example, one may be struggling with a particular sin. The gift of wisdom is often able to help that individual see the way(s) in which he or she is not believing the gospel and how the gospel addresses the issue. If the person is struggling with pride, the real issue may be a failure to believe that the righteousness of God given in Christ is sufficient and therefore he or she does not need to try to stand out on his or her own. If Christ’s righteousness is sufficient for me, then I don’t need to be sufficient.
Whether the originator of the aforementioned comment intended to do this or not, he was elevating the gift of teaching above all other gifts, at least in the act of preaching. While one of the qualifications for elders is the ability to teach, being able to teach and having the gift of teaching are not the same. An elder must be able to articulate and defend sound doctrine, as this is one of the primary roles of a church’s council of elders. The apostle Paul has some encouraging words about spiritual gifts in his first letter to the Corinthians.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 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. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.1 Corinthians 12:4–11 ESV
Notice Paul’s emphasis on God in Trinity throughout this paragraph. There are various spiritual gifts and various capacities in which to serve with these gifts, yet every single gift is given and empowered by God in Trinity. When we serve according to our giftedness, we are demonstrating what it is that the Lord would be doing if he were physically present. We are serving by the power of the Triune God.
Also notice that while spiritual gifts are entrusted to individuals, they’re really given to the church. Paul says: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” He wrote this to the local church in Corinth. The common good is the good of the whole church—the local church.
This means two things for us today. First, we must be very careful to avoid elevating any particular gift of the Spirit of God above any other gift. You have a gift and I have a gift and even if the gifts we were given are similar, they may not be given in the same measure. God is the one who gives them and he gives them as he sees fit. He is wise and he knows how best to enable us to serve him. That’s the first thing. The second thing is that since the Sovereign God has determined which gift(s) you have, and he therefore determines the services and activities in which you (and I) must use them. Spiritual gifts are given for a purpose, so we must use them in the local church.
Many do not know what their spiritual gifts are. The good thing is that our giftedness is best determined in community. Ask others in the church. Ask those in your City Group. Ask those with whom you pray regularly, for we tend to pray according to our giftedness. Do your prayers for others focus on encouragement or on their physical, emotional, or spiritual well-being? Do your prayers for others tend to focus on holy living or on knowing God better or that others may come to faith and repentance? This may point you in the right direction. Don’t rely on your own understanding, however. Be in community in the church and ask those who know you how God uses you in their lives.