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We meet for worship at 214 Spencer Street NE. Directions.
Service begins Sundays at 10:00AM.

but you ARE gifted

On Sunday Jim challenged us to walk. We’ve been working our way through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. For the first three chapters he issues no commands. He proclaims truth after truth of who God is and what he has done in Christ. We’ve been seeing how Paul intends for us to sit, or to rest in this truth. But as we rest we must also walk. There is a right response to this truth. The final three chapters of the letter explore what this walking looks like. One practical way we walk is by exercising our spiritual gifts.

Back in New City’s earliest days we had a young man who showed up to Palmer Elementary early, when the worship team began to set up. He wasn’t part of the worship team but he loved to grab a broom and sweep the gymnasium floor—just in case. Sometimes he’d find a mop for that bit of juice or milk that had been spilled at lunchtime on Friday that had gotten missed by the custodial team of the school.

One morning I saw him sweeping and said, “Thanks for using your spiritual gift to serve the church.” The look on his face was one of utter shock. He almost appeared offended as he declared, “I don’t have a spiritual gift!” Suddenly I was the one with a look of shock. I explained to him that he was, in fact, serving according to his giftedness but he protested this, insisting he could never teach or preach or do anything that required him to stand in front of people and speak.

The church he had grown up in valued one and only one spiritual gift: teaching. If you were not a gifted teacher, your role was to sit quietly and take notes while those gifted by the Spirit served the church. Of course, afterward there would be many menial tasks, like sweeping the floor and mopping up spilled juice.

I am not sure what would lead to such a distorted understanding of spiritual gifts, given how many times a wide variety of gifts are mentioned in Scripture. Surely those with the gift of teaching would read and comprehend the truth that Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 12:4: “Now there are varieties of gifts”! Even a cursory glance at the relevant texts would reveal that there are far more spiritual gifts than just teaching.

In my own particular giftedness I took the moment with this young man to teach him something significant about spiritual gifts, and I pointed him to Peter’s words.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 4:10–11 ESV

Here Peter lumps all spiritual gifts into two broad categories: speaking gifts and serving gifts. Speaking gifts are things like teaching and prophecy and encouragement and evangelism. If words are a necessary component of exercising the gift, it’s a speaking gift. Gifts of service, while they may require words, don’t require words to exercise the gift. The gift of faith is often expressed in praying for others, and not out loud. Those with this gift often pray privately and faithfully. (Yes, this uses words, but words to God, not others.) The gift of giving involves sharing resources. The specific gift of service entails serving others in practical ways—including sweeping a gymnasium floor before a church plant’s worship service.

What is remarkable about Peter’s words is God’s involvement in these categories of gifts. Those who speak, he says, speak “oracles of God”. They are God’s spokesmen. This doesn’t make them infallible, for there are false teachers out there. Rather, it gives weight to their service. When a gifted teacher speaks up in a City Group the rest ought to listen up. When a gifted encourager offers words of encouragement you ought to listen for the voice of God through that person as God seeks to speak directly into your discouragement. This is how spiritual gifts work! God himself speaks through a person to communicate directly with his people.

Peter also says those with gifts of service serve “by the strength that God supplies”. That is, when this young man was sweeping the floor of that gymnasium, it was as if God himself had come down and grabbed hold of a broom. The reason many do not think of this activity as a spiritual gift is it seems to be something one can do on his or her own. How many of us sweep the dining room in our homes without giving it a second thought? Sadly, many also teach and preach in this manner! The reality is God empowers his people to serve according to the gifts he has determined they will have and as they exercise those gifts God himself is at work.

Being merely human our perspective is distorted. In many churches the up-front gifts, particularly the gift of teaching, are elevated above all other gifts because we tend to look for flash and power and influence. Many preach or teach with a look-at-me attitude when all should be looking at Christ. The truth is that sweeping floors in one’s own power is just like preaching a sermon in one’s own power: God isn’t in it. But when one serves with a speaking gift and speaks oracles of God or when one serves with a serving gift by the strength that God supplies, God is doing something extraordinary. We may never be able to measure God’s work through our service—at least not in this lifetime.

In God’s household economics are turned upside down. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. I promise you the reward for this young man who swept the floors will end up being far greater than that of preachers who preach out of their own strength. How many lives were changed in those early days of New City because the floor was so clean it was not a distraction to those who showed up to worship? How many would have been distracted by a sticky spot of dried juice and would not have heard someone’s testimony or would have failed to participate in praise to God for it? Only God knows this, but one day it will be revealed and I suspect many will be utterly surprised.

I recall a story told by a man who attended a conference at an extremely large church. During one particular session on a Saturday morning he walked out and decided to explore the building. He turned down a hallway and saw a man on his hands and knees with a bottle of polish and a rag. He would wipe down the vinyl baseboard as he slowly made his way down the hallway. After watching for a few minutes he approached the man and asked what he had done to deserve such a task. The man simply replied, “My spiritual gift is serving others.”

At this he thought he understood and told the man he must really enjoy people coming in on a Sunday and remarking how clean and polished the baseboards were. He must really gain a great sense of satisfaction at knowing this. The man quietly responded by saying it was quite the opposite. People notice scuffed and dirty baseboards. By cleaning them he was ensuring the baseboards wouldn’t be noticed, which would help them remember why they were in that building in the first place. He was there every Saturday morning, working his way down the various hallways in this massive building.

Feeling a bit of the sting of gentle correction he asked the man what he did for a living. The man did not want to continue the conversation so he simply said he works in construction. He asked him if he cleaned up job sites or was a custodian in the office or somesuch. Again, the man didn’t really want to answer but after a lot of pressure he finally acknowledged he was the owner of a multi-million dollar construction company with a great many employees.

At this he was even more incredulous. “Why aren’t you an elder, or at least a deacon!?”, he asked the man. The man, still somewhat confused at the line of questioning, told him he was a successful businessman, but that doesn’t mean he has the spiritual gift of leadership. His spiritual gift is service and so he serves his church, quietly and behind the scenes.

In God’s economy, this man’s reward will be far greater than the lead pastor of that church who subsequently disqualified himself from being an elder. In God’s economy this multimillionaire who served his church on his hands and knees with a rag and a bottle of polish is having a far greater impact on the kingdom of God than his “pastor” who had begun treating others as his personal stepping stools. This man who labored in utter obscurity serves the church with the strength that God provides while someone else was recognized internationally as a man of influence and merely served himself.

Some spiritual gifts are exercised in a public way. There is no way for me to exercise my gift of teaching without being seen. Some spiritual gifts are exercised behind the scenes with an audience of just one. In God’s economy, whether one serves by speaking the oracles of God or one serves by the strength that God provides, God works to bring about his purposes in this world, and those who serve him in faith will be rewarded richly for their faith.

God is masterful at accomplishing many things at one time, and this is why spiritual gifts are so varied. God gifts and calls his people to serve him according to their giftedness, both the kind of gift and the degree to which they are gifted. Not all receive the same gift and not all receive gifts to the same degree. As the great African theologian put it,

For not everyone has all of them, but some have these and others those, although each has the Gift himself by whom the things proper to each one are divided, namely, the Holy Spirit.

Augustine, “On The Trinity”, 15

In God’s wisdom this results in our need for one another. We need one another to serve according to the gift we each have received, whether that entails sweeping a gym floor, preaching a sermon, praying for others, giving, encouraging, exhorting, or simply lifting heavy things. In God’s economy all these things are building his kingdom.

(If you don’t know your spiritual gift, check out this article from a couple years ago.)