Just Do It! Back to all sermons

Date: November 2, 2012

Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen

Series: Romans

Category: Romans

Scripture: Romans 12:3–12:8

Tags: spiritual gifts

We are working our way through the final major section of the Book of Romans. In connecting this final section with what has gone before, I would say it this way: In light of our justification by faith (as elaborated in the first 11 chapters of Romans), how shall we then live? This is the subject of the final 5 chapters of Romans. Romans 12:1-2 is the key hinge between the two sections. I preached on Romans 12:1 last April and on Romans 12:2 last Friday. If you missed either one of those messages, I would encourage you to go back and read or listen to them on the church website. In a very brief summary, Paul exhorts us, in the light of God’s mercies as revealed in our justification, to now present our bodies to God as living sacrifices to live lives of obedience and service. We must stop being conformed to the world and allow God to transform us from the inside out as we learn to live according to the will of God. This is the process of sanctification which grows out of and flows from the reality of our justification by faith.

I mentioned last week that the Greek word for transformed is metamorpheo, from which we get the word metamorphosis, in which the caterpillar enters its cocoon or chrysalis and emerges as a butterfly. I was reading in my devotions this week from a devotional book by Neil Anderson, and the title for October 30 caught my eye. It read, We Are Butterflies. In the short, one page reading for the day, he also gave another metaphor to expand on the relationship between our justification and our sanctification. I want to share a couple paragraphs with you:

“Suppose that you are a criminal. One day you hear that the king has decreed that all criminals in your cell block have been forgiven. That’s great news! But would it necessarily change your behavior or your self-perception? Probably not. You may dance in the streets for awhile, but chances are you would continue in your same vocation. You see yourself as nothing more than a forgiven criminal. Now suppose the king not only forgave you, but adopted you as his child as well. You’re a prince (or a princess). Would that change your behavior? Of course. Why would you want to live as a criminal if you were a member of the royal family? The church is the bride of Christ, comprised of the sons and daughters of God…We are not redeemed caterpillars; we are butterflies…”
(from Daily in Christ; A Devotional by Neil Anderson with Joanne Anderson (October 30 reading)

The rest of Romans will now be given over to specific instructions on what living according to the will of God looks like. What does it mean to live as the sons and daughters of God? What does it look like to live as a butterfly? Within this broad subject, then, it is intriguing to see where Paul starts. He starts by talking about the importance of Christian service or ministry within the church. We have been called to serve. And we have not only been called to serve. We have also each been uniquely equipped to serve. Paul here introduces us to the subject of spiritual gifts. Romans 12:3-8 is one of four key passages in the New Testament which are devoted to this subject (the others being found in 1 Corinthians 12-14, Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 4.)

At this point, I am going to digress a little bit to trace my own journey in regard to this topic. I attended seminary in the 1970’s. It was an era in the life of many churches in North America when churches were discovering the doctrine of spiritual gifts. It was the hot new topic. Everyone was talking about it. Everyone was teaching and preaching about it. There were seminars on it and workshops on it to help us discover our spiritual gifts. There were spiritual gift inventories and questionnaires and page after page of notebooks filled with definitions of the different spiritual gifts.

There was always a happy buzz at these seminars. We all like gifts. It was like Christmas, as we opened our packages and compared our gifts. “What did you get?”

But I will confess. Over time, as I diligently attended the seminars and took notes and filled my own notebooks, I found myself getting more and more confused. Because the definitions and the descriptions never quite seemed to line up. I filled in the questionnaires and added up my scores. From one seminar, I came away with the conclusion that I had the gift of prophecy. Another seminar told me that I had the gift of a pastor/teacher. Still another led me to the conclusion that I had the gift of teaching and still another added up to tell me that I had the gift of exhortation. Now it would be one thing if I concluded that I was so multi-gifted. But that wasn’t what was happening. They were just hanging different labels on the same basic gifts or skills set.

I was troubled by several things I saw happening. One was a preoccupation with the game “Name that gift.” Many of the seminars took the position that there was only a limited number of spiritual gifts. Take the different passages, make a list of the gifts given and you come up with a list of 17 or 18 or 21 or so based on your interpretation. The conclusion was that every believer had one or more of those particular gifts. And it was very important to decide which one we had. All the energy went into the labeling and the defining – and the definitions frequently varied.

The second thing that troubled me is that I was finding more and more people who didn’t feel like they fit in any of the categories. They did not resonate with any of the gift definitions on offer. Too many people felt like they were being left out. They were actually demotivated  by the whole subject – some even concluding that somehow God had left them out when he distributed the gifts.

The third troubling outcome of these seminars was the emergence of what we might call the “ungiftedness doctrine.” It was the tendency for people to use their gifts as an excuse for not serving. Ask for people to serve in various capacities and, too often the response was, “Oh, that’s not my gift.”

So I began to dig a little deeper. Where were all these definitions and paragraph after paragraph of descriptions coming from? Where were the dogmatic assertions originating? I concluded that, at the end of the day, many of them were essentially man-made. The Scriptural data is actually very sparse. In many cases, it comes down to a single word or phrase in a list. The spiritual gift gurus were then taking those single words or phrases and extrapolating to come up with long paragraphs of definitions and distinctions which simply cannot be supported by the Biblical evidence. What we were ending up with had closer resemblance to many secular personality and temperament profiles than anything we find in the original Scriptural texts. Now, I don’t deny that such profiles can be useful. But the gurus seemed to be claiming Biblical authority for what was simply, at the end of the day, applied common sense, and sometimes it almost seemed that even the common sense was lacking.

As I continued to study, I concluded that we were taking something that was fundamentally very simple and making it far too complicated. To make a long story short, I became something of a minimalist in my approach to the subject of spiritual gifts.

By now, I may have upset you. But bear with me. Let me apply this approach to the passage in front of us this morning. I think it is a good example of the Bible’s simple message on this subject. In this passage, Paul lays out two essential and fundamental realities of life in the church and then applies them.
Fact #1: We are one.

Fact #2: We are different.

This is fundamental to what Paul and the Bible teach on this subject of spiritual gifts. It is at the heart of this text. Let me pick up the reading in verse 4:

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ…

Do you see it? We are one and we are different. To drive these two realities home, Paul uses the analogy of the human body. One body with many members, and the members do not all have the same function. We are one and yet we are different. We all belong to the same body. We belong to one another. Yet we have different gifts and different functions within the body. This is the essential truth we need to keep in mind. Keep this analogy firmly fixed in your mind and you will not go far wrong in this matter.

The first thing this fundamental truth will safeguard us against is the sin of pride. This is actually how Paul opens this paragraph in verse 3:  For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

Proper thinking about spiritual gifts will not lead to pride. We will not have an exalted opinion of ourselves. Instead we will have a realistic assessment of ourselves and our gifts. We will recognize first that any abilities or strengths we have to contribute to the body of Christ are ultimately gifts of God’s grace, and even the measure of faith we have to exercise these gifts is given to us by God. A gift is just that; a gift. Something we have been given, not something we have earned or deserve. God is the distributor of the gifts. There is no pride involved in receiving a gift.

On top of that, we will recognize the interdependence of the members of the body. No one has all the gifts. We all need one another. We have different gifts and different functions, but all are necessary. We are one and we are different and each one needs the other members of the body. In the parallel passage in 1 Corinthians, Paul even engages in some humor as he depicts a human body, in which different members are described in a dialogue in which the eye says to the hand, “I don’t need you!” and the head says to the feet, “You’re not necessary!” We can see the nonsense of that reasoning in the human body. Now apply the same reasoning to the church. We are one and yet we are different, and each function is important to the health of the whole. So there is no call for pride or any sense of superiority. There should be no competition or comparing in this matter of spiritual gifts or abilities. So a proper understanding of spiritual gifts and the functioning of the church will not lead to pride or competition. Think and think clearly. Have sober, realistic judgment in these matters.

But Paul does not simply tell us how to think about the matter. He also exhorts us to action. Let’s pick up the reading again in verse 6:

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation;

This is where the spiritual gifts seminars tend to spring into action with their definitions and descriptions; what is prophecy? What does serving refer to? What is teaching and how is it different from exhortation? When we do that, I think we’re trying to become far too specific. Paul is actually using rather general, non-specific categories and words here. He is not concerned with detailed distinctions and definitions. This is a call to action. Paul is simply telling us, “Whatever your gift is, get on with it.”  Whatever special grace God has given us for ministry, “let us use them.” “Exercise them.” It is a call to action; a call to service. This is what I like to call the Nike philosophy of spiritual gifts. Just do it! Get in the game. Start serving. The church needs you. The Body of Christ needs you. Don’t worry about labels or titles or positions. Find a place to serve and start serving. Just do it!

There is one more point that Paul makes in this text. Whatever we do, it is important to do it well. This is service for God. This is the will of God we are doing. This is the Body of Christ we are serving. Do it well. This point is made in the second part of verse 8: the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

I think what Paul is doing is taking each of these three gifts or areas of service and defining what excellence looks like in the exercise of that gift. The one whose special gift is giving, should give generously. The one who exercises leadership should do so, not haphazardly, but with genuine effort and zeal. The one who does acts of mercy should do so, not reluctantly or begrudgingly but with genuine cheerfulness. If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well. It is worth doing with excellence. I believe that is true not only in these three domains, but in all the domains of service for Christ and for his church.

So that’s it. That’s my minimalist approach to the subject of spiritual gifts of service within the church. It is built on two fundamental realities. We are one and we are different. From those two realities come these three applications.

There is no place for pride or competition. There should be no ranking of the gifts or areas of service. There should be no superiority or inferiority feelings. We are one. God made us one. We are different. God made us different and gave us different gifts. It is all a result of his grace and there is no pride attached to grace.

The second application is very simple: Just do it! Get on with it. Start serving.

The third application is also simple. Do it well. Serve with excellence.

At this point, you might be waving your hand at me and saying, “But I still don’t know what I should do. I don’t know where to start. I don’t know what my gift or area of service is.”

That’s fair. Let me depart from the text here and leave you with some common sense advice. First of all, start by praying and asking God to show you how and where he wants you to serve. Put yourself on the altar again in this specific arena. “God, here I am, reporting for duty. Show me what you want me to do.”

Then, if you don’t get a specific answer or leading from the Lord, start experimenting. That may not sound very spiritual, but I think it’s good advice. You can’t steer a parked car. Start moving. Do something. As you do, keep praying. God will show you. He will confirm your abilities and strengths in different areas of service. Just keep emphasizing those areas and God will lead you into the different ministries he wants you to be involved in. But you’ve got to get off the sidelines and get into the game.

How will you know when you’ve found your area or areas of service? Again, this is common sense reasoning, not Biblical doctrine, but I think it works. First, you will find that when you serve in your area of giftedness, you will gain a sense of joy and fulfillment. You will enjoy it. Second, you will quite quickly gain a sense of confidence and competence. Thirdly, others will affirm you and confirm your ability and competence as your skills develop. And when that happens, remember to give the glory to the Giver of the gifts.

At the end of the day, you may or may not agree with my approach to spiritual gifts. And that’s OK. But one fact remains crystal clear. On this, I believe, we can all agree. The life of a follower of Christ is a life of service. We have been called to serve Christ and to do his will. And we have been called and equipped to serve one another in the Body of Christ. It’s time to stop thinking about it and talking about it and theorizing about it. It’s time to just do it!

QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION

1. In this very first paragraph of instructions on Christian living, Paul introduces the subject of Christian service and spiritual gifts. Why is that significant?

2. In the message, Pastor Cam traces his experiences with the subject of spiritual gifts and various seminars and workshops on the subject. What has your experience been with teaching, books or seminars on spiritual gifts? What has been helpful? What has not been helpful?

3. Pastor Cam calls himself a minimalist on this subject. What does he mean by that? Do you find his approach disappointing/refreshing/a relief/ insightful/other? Explain your answer.

4. This message boils the central truth of this paragraph into two basic facts: We are one. We are different. What are the implications of these two basic facts? How does the analogy of the human body help us understand what he is saying? How does this safeguard us against pride and competition?

5. What is the “Nike philosophy of spiritual gifts”? Do you agree with it?

6. As a group, share together your journeys in discovering your gifts and areas of ministry/service in the church. (You may be just beginning the journey, on the way, or have a fully developed sense of your gifts and ministry – share honestly where you are and how you got there, what you found helpful, etc.)

7. Pray together as you consider making new commitments to service in the kingdom of God.