Gifts and Calling

In my last post I wrote about being faithful with our gifts and callings and the need to discern what they are and exercise them. Here I will look at the relationship between gifts and callings. A verse that highlights this is in Romans.

29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Romans 11:29 (NKJV)

Contextually this is about the calling of Israel as a nation and people group and the gift Yahweh gave of them being His representative nation in the earth. While the verse is about a national calling Paul’s point illustrates the fact that there is a link between gifts and callings. Let’s explore it.

Gifts in scriptural language are something given that enable us to do something. The word used in the Romans 11 verse above is charisma. Charisma is also used in Romans 12:6-8 to refer to different gifts or abilities and it is used in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 in referring to spiritual gifts. Charisma is also used in Hebrews 5 to refer to gifts offered on the altar by the priest in the Old Testament.

While a gift is something given not earned, it is also an ability to do something. It is related to charis, which is translated as grace in the New Testament. John Wimber used to describe spiritual gifts as ‘gracelets.’ Grace, beyond being unmerited favour, is God’s enablement to carry out His calling. In essence He gives us gifts to do something, an ability to function in His kingdom and respond to His calling.

While a gift is the ability to do something a calling is a summons. In our calling the Lord is summoning us to a task that He has gifted us for. Israel was summoned to be a light to the nations and had the ability to do so if they walked in obedience to Yahweh’s commands. The prophetic voices in the Old Testament are littered with examples of their rebellion and refusal to walk in their calling. Though as a nation they failed, because the gifts and calling are irrevocable the light did come through them. The light was Jesus.

2 The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined. Isaiah 9:2 (NKJV)

16The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.” Matthew 4:16 (NKJV)

Seeing this we can be confident that He will accomplish His purpose in the future as He has in the past.

Now to apply this to our lives. Each of us have both a gift or gifts and a calling. A good example is my friend Lynn. She teaches school and is also a worship leader. It doesn’t require much discernment to see that Lynn is both gifted and called to teach. Not all who attempt to teach have a teaching gift, some have a job. True teachers have a gift and are responding to a calling. Lynn is one, yet her greatest gift and calling is to lead others into His presence through worship. It is important to note there is a distinction between musical ability and worship. Many gifted musicians who are Christians are not anointed to lead worship.  

I had the privilege of helping Lynn to lead a small group for a number of years where we focused on worship and prayer ministry. What makes Lynn so effective is that in the realm of worship she has developed and deepened her gift in response to her calling. Her heart is drawn to worship and through her responsiveness to Jesus has been trained by Him to draw others into His presence as she worships. Her gift has been cultivated.

While we may be familiar with the term cultivated, we need to look at the origin. There is the idea of cultivation in terms of refinement and culture. However, when a farmer is cultivating his field, he is not becoming a refined gentleman, he is preparing and working the land. Hard and gritty activities. The soil needs to be prepared, sown, tended and harvested. Out gifts need to be developed through preparing our hearts, sowing into them through prayer and practice and harvesting a functioning calling.  

            We are each called to follow Jesus and we are each gifted to demonstrate our following Him through a responsive heart. Here is how Paul put it in a representative list.

6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; 7 or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; 8 he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Romans 12:6–8 (NKJV)

Paul’s primary exhortation here is to develop our gifts by using them, having a responsive heart. We all have inner tugs and urgings from the Spirit. When we follow them, we walk in our gifts and calling. Let’s cultivate the habit of following them to further His kingdom purposes.  

A Wise Heart

                        There are two verses in Proverbs that appear contradictory. In fact, some use them to try and prove that scripture is flawed or not inspired.

4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Lest you also be like him.

5 Answer a fool according to his folly, Lest he be wise in his own eyes. Proverbs 26:4–5 (NKJV)

            On the surface these two verses are contradictory as they give opposing exhortations. We cannot simultaneously answer and not answer at the same time. To understand we dig a little bit. The point of verse 4 is that we are not be like a fool and the point of verse 5 is that we are not to let a fool be deceived into thinking he is wise. Here an explanatory note is needed. In the book of Proverbs, the term ‘fool’ refers not to a lack of intelligence but to one who rejects the knowledge of God. 

            We now come back to understanding these verses. The warning in verse 4 is ‘Lest you also be like him’ while in verse 5 the warning is ‘Lest he be wise in his own eyes.’ It is the endings in each statement that enable us to make sense of the seeming contradictions.

In verse 4 heeding the warning is similar to the idea of ‘getting in the mud with someone.’ Think of politics. People speak of maintaining the ‘moral high ground.’ That is what this Proverb is referring to. We can argue and debate with someone and become quite vociferous in our exchanges. However, that approach generally alienates people and builds walls rather than bridges. When someone is engaged in folly it is folly to try and point out their folly if they don’t have a teachable spirit. I am in some online theological debate groups and try to avoid this approach. I am not 100% successful but I am working at it. In an exchange with one fellow, we disagreed on a theological point. One of the many doctrines he dismissed while claiming to be a Christian was that Jesus was God or part of the Trinity. When we disagreed he challenged me by asking what my credentials were. In response I went over my decades of bible study and teaching scripture along with my academic credentials, none of which he possessed. He quickly conceded my point and acknowledge that I was correct – just kidding! His response was, “I don’t care.” While his response was in direct opposition to what he had asked it was clear that I had fallen into the verse 4 trap of answering a fool according to folly! I should have simply said that I did not agree and left the matter there as this fellow was not open to examining his position.

In other instances, I have simply asked questions to get others to reflect on their position then highlighted what the scriptures actually say. This works better at creating accountability and fits with answering them according to their folly. Truth is highlighted for them to consider. This fits with what I used to say when doing a lot of adult education. I would tell participants that my teaching philosophy was to open doors and offer them opportunities and they needed to decide whether to walk through the door.

Another example, I recently had a debate with an articulate Mormon who identifies himself as a Mormon apologist. We obviously didn’t agree on what scripture said so I suggested we each share what we believed and why from a dialogue rather than a debate perspective. Trying to learn from one another first. While I am convinced his belief system falls under the broader category of ‘fool’ as stated in Proverbs, I sought to answer him according to his folly. There was no response from him once I made the offer and essentially asked him to ‘put his cards on the table.’

The conclusion, we need to discern how to respond in different situations. We don’t want to leave people in the wrong place with the wrong conclusions if we can help them extricate themselves. At the same time, we can’t help those who refuse help. It is like a dream a friend of mine had years ago. In the dream someone he knew was in the water drowning and needed help to get out. He offered his hand and the person refused. They wanted help, just not his help! Let’s try to help where we can and recognize when we can’t.