The Barrel

by The Rev. John H. Pavelko
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Year A - 2001-2002 | Year B - 2002-2003  | Year C - 2003-2004

Congratulations, You're Gifted!
The sermon is will be completed and posted by Sat morning.
Year C - 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time  I Corinthians 12:1-11

In a few hours, many of us will be glued to the TV watching the NFL Playoffs. Each team is loaded with incredible gifted players who can perform spectacular athletic feats. The deft passing of Peyton Manning has baffled most defensive coordinators all year. The dazzling running of kick return specialist Bethel Johnson has left many defense opponents grasping for air. And Donovan McNabb has proven that his physical prowess is more than a creation of the sports media. 

During commercial breaks when we are not rushing to the bathroom or the refrigerator, the true sports enthusiastic will channel surf to the PGA Tour and watch 14-year-old golfing sensation, Michelle Wie, compete against the big boys in the Sony Open.

The talent of these athletes is amazing. Their skills are not just the product of hours of dedicated and intense training. They possess physical gifts unavailable to the average person. We may attempt to emulate them and we may even enjoy that 'one moment in time' when we are that we ever wanted to be but our efforts can never duplicate their results.

The same could be said about people who display superior intellectual skills and abilities. They enjoy solving problems that baffle and frustrate others. They remember information that you and I forget and draw comparisons that we fail to understand.

In the presence of such gifted and talented people, we can easily feel inferior. Our skills and abilities seem so insignificant to their achievements but if we take Paul's words to heart, we need not be crippled by a false sense of humility. The apostle believed that everyone is gifted and blessed by God with spiritual abilities. 

The church in Corinth is a story about a church suffering from conflict and confusion. A community of believers formed after they heard Paul teach in the synagogue. Feeling the pressure from the Jewish leaders Paul took a small band of converts met for prayer and study in the home of ruler of the synagogue. From other letters we learn that the church had several wealthy members and a high ranking city official creating the possibility for some power struggles among these social elite but also between members of various social economic levels.

The conflict also included spiritual matters. Certain members believed that certain gifts were more important or designated a superior form of spirituality. They paraded these gifts before the gathered body and expected others to defer to them authority and power in the decision-making.

Paul wrote his letters in hopes of ended the conflict and establishing peace. He believed that the first step in resolving conflict is through open communication. He did not want any of the believers to be ignorant about spiritual gifts. He wanted an open and frank discussion of the subject. 

Conflict thrives in secrecy and ignorance. Those in power retain their control by withholding information or by communicating only that which is favorable to their position. The rational for decisions can easily become distorted. Messages become twisted and misrepresented. Suspicion is created and tension escalates. This has often occurred whenever a church explores the use of spiritual gifts. Someone receives the gift of tongues at a conference or prayer meeting. He will quietly use it during worship. Another person will overhear the person uttering nonsensical syllables and become upset. Rumors begin to circulate. Someone will call up the pastor and accuse him of trying to turn the church into a bastion of Pentecostalism. Others will try to settle the conflict by suppress any discussion of the subject. But ignorance is not bliss. A church cannot grow without a proper understanding of the role and purpose of spiritual gifts.

My prayer for this church is very much like Paul's, I would not want you to be ignorant of the matter so I shall consider this morning a few questions that are asked whenever the subject is raised.

While Paul presents several specific gifts and indicates their usefulness in the life and ministry of the church, he never offers a definition of the term. However, that has never inhibited Biblical scholars from fashioning their own. In one of the early books on spiritual gifts, C. Peter Wagner offered this definition "A spiritual gift is a special attribute given by the Holy Spirit to every member of the body of Christ according to God's grace for use within the context of the Body."1 

Notice that Wagner calls spiritual gifts a "special attribute." I have heard some people refer to them as "supernatural abilities." The word supernatural conveys a power beyond my ability that is why I prefer Wagner's term. By using the words special attribute, he is drawing a distinction between a spiritual gift and a talent.

God has given to every person certain natural talents. All of us can make lines and circles on a sheet of paper but only a few of us have the talent to actually draw a picture. A few of you have told me that you can play simple tunes on the piano but only one amongst us can make the clavinova sing. While these talents are God-given they are not spiritual gifts. The difference lies in their purpose. A spiritual gift has a dedicated purpose. The apostle tells us that the purpose of spiritual gifts is for the common good. In the book of Ephesians, he expands this idea by stating that their purpose is to build the body of Christ. God may give anyone a natural talent to do any number of things but God gives spiritual gifts for ministry. 

Many people cook and many people have volunteered to cook at church functions but few people can cook a meal like a couple I met at a church in Cincinnati. The church sponsored several workshops a year and the participants came from churches all over the country. This couple cooked at every one of them. They had never attended a school for the culinary arts. The menus were rather basic but there was something special about each of their meals. Why, because that couple had the gift of service. God used their natural talents and blessed them with a special ability to strengthen and support the teaching ministry of the church. Because of their willingness to serve, that church had an incredible ministry.

What are spiritual gifts? They are special abilities given by God for the common good.

The apostle Paul tells us; "now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good." (I Corinthians 12:7)

Notice the apostle's description, "Now to each one" You are not exempt. God has given each and everyone of us a spiritual gift. Paul outlines nine of them in this particular chapter. He includes other lists in Ephesians 4 and Romans 12 and a few references to other special abilities that are beyond our natural talents and learned skills. Spiritual gifts are examples of the many blessings bestowed upon us at conversion. No one is exempt, God has dispensed his gifts to each of you through the ministry of the Holy Spirit whether you know it or not. Denying that God has given you a spiritual gift is a form of false humility.

When Sylvia joined the church she was very shy and lacked confidence. She had been born with a cleft lip. Surgery helped but the birth defect caused a noticeable lips. She told the session that she had few talents to contribute to the ministry of the church and unfortunately, we believed her. For the next two years, we never asked her to do anything. One day, I was complaining to a member of the CE committee about the chaotic mess of the resources files. Catalogues were stacked in pile waiting to be filed. The ones that were filed were not organized in any workable system. Doris was a hyper-extrovert with the gift of teaching, leadership and administration. She talked to Sylvia about helping me. Within a few weeks, Sylvia not only organized system the resource centers files but had willing taken over my filing. Twice a week I would leave the office with stacks of folders and piles of paper and return to an uncluttered desk. A few years later, this shy, hesitant woman became the secretary of the church. 

"Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given."

There is no one method to discovering our spiritual gifts but there are a few common steps to discovering God's will and blessing. Any venture into the spiritual life should always begin with prayer. Communicating with God is should never become a perfunctory ritual but a central part of our existence. We need to ask that God would guide us in our exploration of the spiritual life and help us discover our gifts. The second step is to study the Scriptures. Just as a surgeon learns the names and uses of her surgical instruments before operating, and a mechanic learns the names of his tools before working on a car, a believe must know the names and definitions of the spiritual gifts. Through the teaching of Paul, the gifts are presented and through the lives of the faithful believers, we learn how these gifts are used. 

The third step in discovering our spiritual gifts is the most difficult-experiment. We will never know if we have the gift of evangelism unless we share our faith with someone. We will never know if we have the gift of mercy unless we visit someone who is sad and need a loving hug and a kind word. We will never know if we have the gift of teaching without getting into the classroom. Unless we are willing to experiment, to step out on faith we may never allow God to work through us and manifest the gifts that the Spirit has given.

Finally, we should seek confirmation both from others and ourselves. 

Discovering our spiritual gifts is both an obligation and blessing. God has given us gifts for building others in faith. By not using our gifts, we are squandering God's resources. We have an obligation as faithful disciples to use every available resources that God offers.

Secondly, we receive a tremendous blessing when we use our gifts. 

1 C. Peter Wagner, Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow, (Ventura, CA: Regal Press, 1984), 42.
Congratulations You Are Gifted.Doc Page 5:5

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Crossroads Presbyterian Church
1445 Welch Rd
Walled Lake MI 48390