Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Discovering and Using Your Gift - Should we Seek Specific Gifts? (Part 4)

by Ray Stedman

Many Christians wonder, "Is it proper to pray for a certain specific gift to be given me?" Bible teachers differ on the answer to this one. Some feel that the pattern of gifts you possess are all determined by the Spirit at the moment He takes up residence within you. It may take you years to discover your gifts, but they are all there from the beginning, from the moment of your salvation, and no new ones are ever added.

Others point to the verse which says, "But earnestly desire the higher gifts" (1 Corinthians. 12:31), and feel that the Bible encourages prayer for specific gifts. It should be noted that this exhortation is in the plural and is closer to a Southern "y'all" than to a singular "you." It would then mean that the apostle wanted these Corinthian believers to pray that God would manifest the best gifts in their midst by sending among them individuals equipped with these gifts—but it was not meant for individual encouragement to seek specific gifts.

However, in 1 Corinthians 14:13, Paul does say, "He who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret." Whatever else is meant by these verses, it is clear that certain gifts are more useful and profitable than others, and every church is to be concerned that the best ones are in evidence in their midst. Certainly the final choice is left to the Spirit, for Paul says that the Spirit "apportions to each one individually as he wills" (1 Corinthians. 12:11). Hebrews 2:4 also speaks of "gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his own will."

Infinite Variety

In the preceding chapter we mentioned the fact that the gifts, though only about seventeen or eighteen in number, are given in clusters or combinations which make possible an almost infinite number of varying ministries. Someone once computed the number of potential combinations or permutations that this number of gifts makes possible, and the number has so many digits it is impossible for me to comprehend!

Every human face is made up of the same basic components—a pair of eyes, a nose, a mouth, two cheeks, a chin, a forehead, all held in by a pair of ears. Yet no two faces in the world are exactly alike. In the same way, no two Christians have exactly the same pattern of spiritual gifts. God gave you your face because it is exactly right for the expression of His life where you are. Likewise He gives you the precise combination of gifts you possess because that combination is exactly what is needed for the Lord's ministry. Be open to His leading, and He will show you where and how He wants you to use your gifts.

Do you see what this means? It completely eliminates all competition within the body of Christ! No Christian needs to be the rival of any other; there is a place for all in the body, and no one can take another Christian's place.

In fact, Paul goes on to say as much in the latter half of 1 Corinthians 12. There are two attitudes, he says, which are completely eliminated by the existence of spiritual gifts. One is self-depreciation:
"If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body" (1 Corinthians. 12:15-16).

This completely destroys the argument of the Christian who says, "There's nothing I can do; others have gifts and abilities but since I can't do what they do I must not be of much use in the church." Paul's conclusion to this line of argument is: "But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose" (v. 18). On the other hand, there is no room for arrogance or self-sufficiency either:

"The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you.' Nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you.' On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require" (verses 21-24).

No member of the body has the right to look down on the ministry of another Christian. We desperately need each other in the body of Christ. No Christian, or group of Christians, can do the task alone. No denomination constitutes the whole body, and no Christian organization possesses all the gifts in the variety of combinations necessary to do the work God wants done today. We are members one of another and it is time we took these words seriously and began to act like one harmonious body again.

The gifts of the Spirit are not only for use within the church. They are for the world as well. Some who have the gift of teaching ought to be exercising it in their homes. Some who have the gift of helping ought to be using it in the office, the shop, or wherever they are. Some who have the gift of wisdom should be putting it to work wherever they touch people. These gifts are intended for all of life.

Remember that the ministry of the body is the ministry of Jesus Christ, His continuing ministry in human society. Christ loves this world and the men and women in it. He loves the homeless, the street derelicts, the drug addicts, the alcoholics, the sexaholics, the prostitutes, the gang members and graffiti taggers, the down-and-outers on Crack Street, the up-and-outers on Park Avenue, the businesspeople enslaved by the god of Success, the Generation Xers who have given up on the future, the Baby Boomers who have achieved their career goals and status goals and still feel hollow inside. Jesus loves them all, and He wants to reach them and enfold them into His body.

Our job is to go to them, tell them about the Savior who has given His life for them, the Father who gave His only Son for them, and the Spirit who wants to empower them and indwell them. Our job is to exercise our gifts in order to urge, draw, and love people into the kingdom of God and the body of Christ. That is why God has equipped us with gifts, and filled us with His life. As we discover and use the gifts He has given us, we become His hands, His mouth, His feet, going out into the world, telling His story, doing His work, sharing His love, completing His eternal plan for the redemption of this broken world!

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