Use Your Gifts!

Ephesians 4:7-10

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Gary Inrig tells this story in his book Life in His Body: “Several years ago, two students graduated from the Chicago-Kent College of Law. The highest ranking student in the class was a blind man named Overton and, when he received his honor, he insisted that half the credit should go to his friend, Kaspryzak. They had met one another in school when the armless Mr. Kaspryzak had guided the blind Mr. Overton down a flight of stairs. This acquaintance ripened into friendship and a beautiful example of interdependence. The blind man carried the books which the armless man read aloud in their common study, and thus the individual deficiency of each was compensated for by the other. After their graduation, they planned to practice law together.” What a beautiful illustration of the church of Jesus Christ! None of us have all the gifts necessary for the body of Christ to function. No elder, deacon, or pastor has all the gifts necessary. No one person sitting in the pew has them all. All the people in the congregation have spiritual gifts. And they are all required by God to use them in the church.

The first problem we have to deal with is this question: does everyone have a spiritual gift? To answer that question, let’s look carefully at verse 7: notice that Paul says “to each one of us.” Paul had previously been emphasizing the oneness of the body of Christ. Verses 1-3 gave us practical commands on how to preserve the oneness of the body of Christ. Verses 4-6 told us about how we are one, and therefore we should be one. Now, in verse 7, Paul tells us that grace has been given to each one of us. Many times people think that they have to sit around and wait for God to drop a spectacular gift right in their lap. If it isn’t a flashy gift, then they don’t want it. “The gift of being a prayer warrior? But that requires privacy to be a prayer warrior! It’s not flashy enough! I don’t want that!” Or, on the other hand, someone is given a gift that makes them visible, such as teaching, then they are afraid to use that gift, because they don’t want other people to judge their performance. There are dangers on both sides. But essential is this starting point: we all have spiritual grace, and we all have spiritual gifts. If you are a member of this church, saved by the blood of the Lamb, then you have spiritual gifts. Period. End of discussion. The real question is this: what spiritual gifts do you have, and how can you use them in the church?

Well, we are certainly not to be jealous of other people’s gifts. Harold Hoehner has a penetrating comment on this issue: “Since the gift is measured out by Christ, there should not be any jealousy within the body. The difference of the gift does not determine its value. The difference of value is determined only by the individual’s use of it within the body.” In other words, don’t measure the value of a spiritual gift by its external characteristics. God does not value human beings that way. He looks at the heart. So also, we should look at the heart of our spiritual gift, and see what it’s useful for, and then use it.

Secondly, we should use these gifts triumphantly. The imagery that Paul uses to describe the giving of these gifts has to do with a returning conquering hero. Sinclair Ferguson explains: “In the ancient world a conquering general might be given a ‘triumph’ in honour of his victories. He would ride through the capital city of his country in a stage-managed procession- often followed by vast numbers of prisoners-of-war, with chariots and horses carrying the booty of his victory. There he would be welcomed with public acclaim and lavish displays of gratitude. These were magnificent occasions…Following the triumphal procession celebratory gifts- the spoils from his victories- would be distributed.” What Paul is saying, then, is that Jesus Christ has conquered every last enemy in His death and resurrection. He has ascended to heaven, rules at the right hand of the Father, and thus gives to us the spoils of war. Every spiritual gift you have is in effect a spoil of war. The only reason you can exercise that gift is because of Christ’s victory over our spiritual enemies. This text is somewhat difficult, but I will merely give what I think the passage to mean, rather than listing the different alternatives. Verse 9 tells us that Jesus ascended. But in order to do that, He must first have descended. Notice also that if Jesus descended, then He must have existed before the Incarnation. So, the pre-existent Second Person of the Trinity came down to earth from heaven, was made man, and suffered humiliation His entire life, including the finality of death itself. All of that is Christ’s descending. But starting with His resurrection, He ascended, first from the grave, and then into heaven. In mathematics, a parabola is a function that looks like our letter “u.” It starts at the top, comes to a bottom, and then goes back up. That is the shape of our salvation. That is what is looks like. Jesus had to come down, because that’s where we were. We were lost in sin, and under the wrath of God. But Jesus came to take up that burden. He got rid of it for us at the cross. And it is there that Jesus also defeated the enemy, the spiritual powers of darkness. As Jesus said in the Gospels, He binds the strong man (Satan), and then spoils him of all his possessions. Christ has the victory, ascends up into heaven, and now gives away gifts to all and sundry.

The point now is that we need to use the gifts that we have. The great violinist, Nicolo Paganini, willed his marvelous violin to Genoa — the city of his birth — but only on condition that the instrument never be played upon. It was an unfortunate condition, for it is a peculiarity of wood that as long as it is used and handled, it shows little wear. As soon as it is discarded, it begins to decay. The exquisite, mellow-toned violin has become worm-eaten in its beautiful case, valueless except as a relic. The moldering instrument is a reminder that a life withdrawn from all service to others loses its meaning. And certainly, if the church is to have everything going for it, then each person must use their gifts. But what are the gifts? Well, there’s teaching, praying, cooking, parenting, helping neighbors, music, talking, encouragement, service, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. I’m sure that everyone of us here has at least one of those gifts. How are we to use it? Well, without jealousy, triumphantly, and for the benefit of other people in the congregation. That is what this is all about. The point of the gift is not for yourself. This can be illustrated by remembering that the Dead Sea is dead because, although water comes into it, nothing goes out. If you are a lake, with water coming into you, it needs to be going out. Otherwise you are just a dead lake. It is in service to one another that we serve God most obviously. Serving people outside the community is the best way to get them interested in the church, as well. Evangelism happens most naturally when people are concerned to use their gifts to benefits people in the community. When that happens, people in the community start wondering how these people all get along together so well. Well, it’s like those two students, one without arms, and one without eyes. Put together, they are more than one of them alone could be.

So, remember that none of us is without a spiritual gift. There is not such thing as a non-gifted Christian. Paul says “to each one of us.” Remember that your gift is for others, not just for yourself. And keep striving to develop more spiritual gifts. You don’t have to be content with just one spiritual gift. You can develop others. Indeed, we are to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in every area of life. And so, Jesus will fill all in all.