Over the years I have walked with Jesus I have heard a variety of teachings regarding the use of spiritual gifts, different teachings on how they function, and various opinions on whether or not they even exist today. Let me outline a few thoughts and the option of a different paradigm regarding parts of 1 Corinthians chapters 12 and 14 (this will come in a future post). Prior to looking at 1 Corinthians there is a key passages I would like to address, Romans 12:3-8. Here I believe Paul is referring to motivational gifts, manifestations of who we are.
3 For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. 4 For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. 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 12:3-8 (NKJV)
What do I mean by ‘manifestations of who we are?’ I believe the types of gifts in this list are illustrative not exhaustive. They are given by grace and are specific to us as individuals. The grace is that the Holy Spirit builds motivational gifts into who we are, our personality. The development of them is an art. We have a part and He has a part, and as has been said, “God won’t do our part and we can’t do His part.” The gift or ability is given but it must be developed. We need to work to develop it and pray for His help in the process. For years an ongoing part of my prayer life has been asking for wisdom as to what to give and when and where to minister.
To illustrate how a motivational gift can work itself out in our lives let me us my own life as an example and also address the blessing and challenges that can come with a gift. A dominant gift in my life is teaching. Even though it is a double negative, I would say I cannot not teach. For example, recently my wife asked me what I thought of the sermon. My response was to lay out my view of the passage the pastor had preached from and my view of it. This later led to a further conversation and a further explanation on my part which she said clarified the passage for her. What led to this is I was thinking as a teacher while listening to the message.
Where my gift is both a blessing and curse is that I find it difficult to listen to a sermon or teaching session and simply receive. I automatically start weighing things against what I know and understand about scripture, the historical context etc. It is something like what I heard John Wimber once describe. John had been a professional musician prior to his conversion and, among other things, a gifted worship leader and song writer after. He said that while he loved worship he found it hard to listen to it at home because he heard everything in the music; how the instruments functioned, the focus etc. He found himself analyzing the worship rather than engaging in it.
So, let me use my own life further. When I was younger one way my teaching gift manifested is that I would see other or different ways of doing things. I remember trying karate at age 19 and as I learned suggesting to the teacher another way of doing a technique. He actually took my suggestion and applied it and jokingly named the new technique after me. Over time I have continued to see other ways of doing things and a negative manifestation, that it took me awhile to become aware of, was that I thought there was the way I did things and a number of wrong ways! That is, I thought my way was best. I am, for the most part, over this and I see and accept that there are many ways to do many things. Getting to this place has strengthened my teaching gift as it helps me to help others see options in how to get from point A to B. This obviously does not apply to everything; there are some core truths such as what Jesus said in John 14 that make it clear there is only one way to do something.
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. John 14:6 (NKJV)
My tendency to teach comes out whether at work, home or in other areas of my life. I usually use it to support and help others but when I work out at the local recreation centre I frequently have to resist offering ‘help’ to others. I have learned that when someone is not ready to receive it is not a good time to offer a different way of doing things! It has also ‘occurred’ to me that what they are doing may be working well for them.
A good way my gift manifests is that when I see someone doing something different I often ask why and learn new ways of doing things. For example, I have a well-trained dog and have had a number of them over the years. The way I got here was that when I got my first dog about 30 years ago I talked to a friend with an extremely well trained dog and sought his advice. He recommended a book and shared some aspects of how he trained his dog. I read the book, applied the theory in it along my friends teaching, and it has worked very well over the years.
Bring strongly motivated by teaching I am always internally driven to see, analyze and teach and needed to develop understanding and maturity in my gift and wisdom around how and when to apply it and I still need to develop much greater understanding and maturity. In our lives wisdom and understanding are not automatic; they are acquired, or may be acquired. As the expression goes, “Age is inevitable, maturity is optional.”
There is an expression, ‘Teachers make complicated things simple. Theologians make simple things complicated.’ (A host of professions could be inserted here). The real gift lies in the simplicity. I recently read in a marketing book that referenced research that while university students think they will appear more intelligent using large words the professors actually believe the people who can communicate clearly in simple language are more intelligent.
I am aware that at times I complicate things for people and I am also aware that I also have a tendency to try and take people to far too fast and need to be pay attention to this and know when to pull back. In my life this manifests as trying to do too many things at once. I know the concept of doing a few things well compared to many poorly, and have shared it with others. Yet I still have to fight the urge to do many things poorly!
The reason this post is later than usual is a good friend told me to take more time and sit on what I had written before sending it out. Given he is a gifted English teacher (he would say correctly, ‘A teacher of English’) I have tried to heed his advice.
Another thing I see operating in my life is that I regularly see gifts, callings and abilities in the lives of others and it took me some time to realize that I need to relate more to who they are than who they are called to be, while at the same time encouraging and supporting them to get there. I still have a lot to learn regarding how to do this.
So, how do we apply this to our lives? We look at Paul’s list in Romans 12 and reflect on what drives us. We then need to look around to find others who can help us develop and walk out our gifts so we can be a blessing to others. It is also important to recognize that properly walking in a gift will cost us something. The gift is free; the development of it tends to be costly. I recently heard Bobby Connor say something very crucial in an online teaching. He talked about our tendency to want to be able to do what the saints of old did but then asked, “Are we willing to do what they did to get what they got?” Are we?