Birthday Gifts for the Church – A Sermon for Pentecost

 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  I Corinthians 12:7

Today is the birthday of the church.  One of the ways we celebrate birthdays is to give presents to the birthday boy or girl.  Today is our birthday and in celebration God wants to give each us a gift.  It is a gift he has hand-picked for you, a gift that is unique to you, and a gift that you can use to bless others.

Our scripture lesson this morning describes the birthday gifts God gives us through his Holy Spirit.  To understand these birthday gifts we are going to focus on verse 7 which says, “To each has been given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

1.  Everybody has a gift.

The first thing I want you to see is that every Christian has a gift. 

Verse 7 begins with these words, “To each has been given.”  Notice Paul does not say, “To some has been given.”  Nor does he say, “To the extraordinarily talented has been given.”  Nor does he say, “To the spiritually mature has been given.”  He says, “To each has been given.”

Brian Peterson, Professor of New Testament at Lutheran Theological Seminary, says,

To be gifted by the Spirit is not something that happens to some believers but not to others. Paul never gives us the impression that he expects some people in the church to be the ones who are ministering, and that there are others who are simply ministered to because they haven’t been given any of the Spirit’s gifts.

There are two ways that people give gifts.  Some people will give you an Amazon gift card and let you pick your own present.  But others will carefully think about your interests and personality and surprise you with something that you would never have gotten for yourself but that is so special you wouldn’t exchange for anything. That is the kind of gift that God gives each of us.

Now you may say to yourself, “I am not anything special.  I don’t have any special gifts of ability.”  But God begs to differ.  There are no neglected step-children in God’s family.  When God gives gifts he does not give hand-me-downs and cast-offs.  The scripture says, “To each has been given.”  He has chosen just the right gift for you that will not only bless you but also empower you to serve God and others. 

2.  The purpose of your gift is to make God’s light shine in this dark world.

Verse 7 continues with these words, “To each has been given the manifestation of the Spirit.”

Now the Greek word for “manifestation” comes from a root that means “to shine.”  So we could paraphrase this verse to read “Each one of us has been a gift that allows the Spirit’s light to shine in our dark world.”

When Jesus was on earth he manifested God’s light to the world.  He demonstrated God’s love and power through healing the sick, feeding the hunger, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and, above all, by dying on the cross for our sins.

Now that Jesus has ascended to heaven we are privileged to carry on his work.  Jesus promised in John 14:12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father.” Jesus is saying that from now on he will be doing the Father’s works through the Holy Spirit and through the church.  The Spirit gives us gifts so that Jesus’ work continues through us.  When we use our gifts to do Jesus’ work then the Spirit is manifested through us. The Spirit’s gifts empower us to let the light of Christ shine. 

3.  Gifts are discovered in the doing not in the contemplating. 

Verse 7 says “To each has been given.” So what is your spiritual gift? 

At one point in my ministry it was all the rage to identify people’s spiritual gifts. Many Bible teachers devised inventories that purported to help you identify your spiritual gift.  In my experience these inventories were about as helpful and accurate as the short quizzes you can take on Facebook to find out if you are a genius. The either told you the obvious or they left you feeling a bit uncertain.

The problem is that the Bible never gives a complete list of spiritual gifts.  There are three other lists of spiritual gifts in the New Testament (Romans 12: 6-8, Ephesians 4:11-12 and I Peter 4:10-11), and although they overlap, they are not identical.  So I think we are meant to take these lists as suggestive and not prescriptive.  I also don’t think that you need to take an inventory to figure out what your gift is. 

I much prefer John Piper’s approach:

Spiritual gifts are not a limited and defined group of activities spelled out in the New Testament. Rather spiritual gifts are any ability the Spirit gives you to espress your faith in order to strengthen another person.

I think it would be fair to say that you shouldn’t bend your mind too much trying to label your spiritual gift before you use it. Don’t worry about whether you can point to prophesy, or teaching, or wisdom, or knowledge or healing, or miracles, or mercy , or administration, etc., and say “That’s mine.”

The way to think is this: the reason we have spiritual gifts is so that we can strengthen other people’s faith; here is someone whose faith is in jeopardy; how can I help? Then do or say what seems most helpful, and if the person is helped the you have discovered one of your gifts. The thing to get hung up on is, “Are we doing what we can do to strengthen the faith of the people around us.

John Piper, On Spiritual Gifts,

Spiritual gifts are found in the doing not in the contemplating.  To quote Piper again,

So the basic problem is becoming the kind of person who wakes up in the morning, thanks God for our great salvation, and then says, “Lord, O how I want to strengthen people’s faith today. Grant that at the end of this day somebody will be more confident of your promise and more joyful in your grace because I cross their path.” … When you become this kind of person, the Holy Spirit will not let your longings go to waste. He will help you find ways to strengthen the faith of others, and the will be the discovery or your gifts.

John Piper, ibid.

Don’t waste your time trying to develop a taxonomy of spiritual gifts.  Categorizing is distracting from the task at hand and can be a way to pride yourself on being so gifted.  Best to not worry about it.  Instead, ask God how you can help someone and then go do it.

4.  Gifts are given to be given.

And now we come to the final phrase of verse 7: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  Calvin has this to say: “Paul orders everyone to bring what they have to the common heap, and not keep back the gifts of God for their own personal enjoyment apart from others, but to aim unitedly at the edification of all in common.”  Or as John Piper puts it “Gifts are given to be given.”

My daughter Elisabeth loves to cook.  Recently we gave her a pasta maker.  This is a hand-cranked, stainless-steel, kitchen utensil that allows you to roll out the dough and then cut it into noodles.  The other day she sent us a picture of her daughter, Layla, and the noodles they had made together.

Can you imagine my daughter making noodles by herself and then sitting down alone to a spaghetti dinner to eat a meal all by herself?  Part of the joy of the gift was doing something with her daughter and then using it to feed and bless her family.  Our gift allowed our daughter to give something wonderful to her family.

Suppose God gave you a million dollars and said, “I am giving you this on one condition: you can’t spend any of it on yourself. You can only spend it on other people and you must use it to bless them.”? How would you react?  

I think I’d be disappointed initially.  I can imagine having a conversation with God that would go something like this. 

“I can’t spend any of it on myself? Not even to buy that new car I want or to put a down payment on a retirement home.” 

And God would answer, “Mike, I have already promised that I am going to take care of your needs.  Seek first my kingdom and I’ll take care of the rest. (Matthew 6:33) This gift isn’t for you.  This gift is so that you can bless someone else.”

“I want you to know the joy of giving.  It is more blessed to give than it is to receive.  And here is your chance to experience that blessing.”

Can you imagine the joy you could bring to other people by using your gift for others?  Well that’s what spiritual gift are for—to bless others. In blessing them you will also find yourself blessed.

Today is the birthday of the church. “So Happy Birthday!” says the Holy Spirit.  “Here’s your gift.  Now get busy using it to bless other people.”

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