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You've Already Won!
August 20, 1995


Do you receive large envelopes in the mail with the banner headline in large print, You've Already Won? If not you personally, perhaps it is addressed to someone who lives in your house with the name Occupant. The most common American name probably used to be Smith; now it is Occupant! Just think of all the mail you would receive if you changed your name to Occupant; think of all the things you might have already won!

Let me tell you this morning about gifts you have already won. No, you don't have to listen to a presentation on time-shares. No, you don't have to fill out a coupon and mail it in. No, you don't have to send in money. No, the gift or gifts you have already won are free with one stipulation: Use them or lose them. Discover, nurture, develop, and use them to do God's work.

I'm talking about spiritual gifts. Not only are we invited to become members of the body of Christ, the Holy Spirit gives each of us special energies and tools for ministry called gifts. Our Sunday bulletin reminds us each week that the ministers of this church are all the members of the church. The work of the church is done by the members of this church, and to do God's work, to do God's ministry, God gives you special energies and tools.

I have become increasingly intrigued with the concept of spiritual gifts, and discovered a book this summer written by a United Methodist pastor, Charles V. Bryant, called Rediscovering Our Spiritual Gifts. It is his belief that our denomination has not really taken spiritual gifts seriously. Taking spiritual gifts seriously would cause a revolution in our churches. Taking spiritual gifts seriously means that God decides who of us will do what aspects of ministry. Centuries ago the church made a terrible mistake, and decreed that God only gave certain people gifts of ministry. These people were then ordained and given power and authority. Taking spiritual gifts seriously means that all Christians are given gifts by God to do God's work.

Taking spiritual gifts seriously will also cause us to change the way we select, nominate and elect our teachers and leaders. Too often the Nominating Committee and the Sunday School Superintendent have looked for warm bodies to fill positions, rather than relying on God to call people and give them the spiritual gifts to do the work. Now, we are recruiting Sunday School teachers for the fall term. Do we just ask anybody? Do we make people feel guilty, and recruit teachers who teach because we tell them it is their duty? Taking spiritual gifts seriously means that we believe God decides who in our congregation shall be given the spiritual gift of teaching, and we wait on God to give the gift, and then we patiently wait for the recipients of the gift of teaching to claim their gift, thank God for the calling, and step forward to teach!

One September in one of my rural Minnesota churches, I announced that Rally Day would be next Sunday, and the Sunday School classes would be in full force, except for the third and fourth grades. I asked parents to please keep their third and fourth grade children home, because there was no one to teach the class. The Holy Spirit had been moving, the Holy Spirit had been calling, but it took that drastic announcement to break through the resistance. Two women came forward that week and offered to teach. That team of two women became one of our strongest teams. The third and fourth grade Sunday School class took off, because the teachers were enjoying it. When you use the gifts God gives you, you have fun. You actually enjoy doing what God gives you to do, because you are doing what you are supposed to be doing.

Churches are happy churches when people are working not out of duty, not out of responsibility, not because "someone's got to do it", and not out of guilt. When people are using their spiritual gifts, they enjoy what they are doing. A man once testified,

All my life I knew I've always had a tinge of guilt, thinking that I was doing my thing for self-gratification. This morning, while I was shaving and praying about the gifts, God revealed to me that what I had been doing and enjoying all along was coming out of my gift. I got so excited about it that I could hardly finish shaving without cutting myself. I've been singing all day long. And to think that I have felt guilty over the joy of doing what God wanted me to do!

I am excited about us taking spiritual gifts seriously. I am preaching a series of four sermons on spiritual gifts. There are four passages of Scripture, all written by Paul, that discuss spiritual gifts in depth. We will look at one of the passages each of the four Sundays, beginning today.

Follow along, please, as we look at today's passage, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11. Actually, the passage covers three chapters, 12-14, which you might like to read by yourself at home. Beginning with 12:4, Paul is emphasizing the varieties of God's gifts, but the same Lord. Evidently, there were those in the Corinthian church who felt their gift was more important than the others. There were some who felt their gift was given them directly from God. Paul emphatically says the spiritual gifts are varied, given to many people, but all are given by God, and no one gift is any more important or essential than the others. All are important in the body of Christ.

Notice verse 8, To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. First, each is given the manifestation of the Spirit. Each Christian, each member of the church is given gifts. No one, especially the ordained clergy, has a monopoly on God's gifts. Everyone in this room is given gifts. Don't feel superior, however, because your gifts are not more important than anyone else's. Don't stifle the gifts, either, or we will all suffer. Because, secondly, notice the purpose of spiritual gifts. Why does God give you spiritual gifts? Not for your own enjoyment, not so you can feel superior, not for your own pleasure, not so you can feel blessed. Why? For the common good. God gives you spiritual gifts so that we may all be blessed, so that God's church will be the stronger for it, so that God's work will be done, so that the body of Christ will not be crippled, but whole and complete.

Then, Paul gives examples of spiritual gifts. This list is not exhaustive. As we look at the other three passages, other spiritual gifts will be added to the list. Charles Bryant counts 32 spiritual gifts in the four passages. When we talk about spiritual gifts we are talking about 32 specific gifts. We are not talking about talents, like a musical talent, or skills, like mechanical or cooking skills. They are also gifts of God, but we are talking about 32 specifically named spiritual gifts that God gives to his people so that God's work can be done. As we go through the list, try to understand what each gift is, pray and ask God if the gift is for you Realize also each of you have been given more than one gift.

The spiritual gift of wisdom is the extraordinary (for we all are wise to a degree) ability to apply God's eternal truths to daily living. They with the spiritual gift of wisdom have the uncanny ability to solve problems, see God at work all around us, and see the hidden truth that the rest of us miss. When they point it out, we all say, "Oh, isn't that obvious, but I didn't see it." These persons see God's glory in mundane and ordinary things. How the church desperately needs the gift of wisdom. Who among us has the gift of wisdom?

The spiritual gift of knowledge is the extraordinary (for we all have knowledge to a degree) power to understand the universal and timeless truths of God as they apply to the church's mission. Persons with this gift think and speak theologically, and are able to relate the Bible to life today. Sometimes people with this gift, and they have to watch themselves, appear to be dogmatic and highly opinionated, but they usually do know! How the church desperately needs the gift of knowledge. Who among us has the gift of knowledge?

Faith. Of course, all of us have faith, and faith is basic to our relationship with God; but the spiritual gift of faith is the extraordinary ability to be channels of faith. They who have the gift of faith encourage the rest of us to hang in there, to persist, to believe. They with strong faith in God inspire the rest of us. The gift of faith never judges others for their lack of faith, but helps us see that God is at work, and that God will make things happen. The church desperately needs the gift of faith. Who among us has the gift of faith?

The spiritual gift of healing is the extraordinary ability to channel God's healing energy to people and to groups. Sometimes we think healing is only needed by individuals. I know some sick churches! I have even pastored some, and wish I knew then that what they needed was to be healed! Not everyone is to be healed of physical or emotional illness. Some people are called to suffer which is another gift to be discussed later. Notice also that Paul says the gift of healing, as the other gifts, are given for the common good. For the sake of the church, for the sake of God's work, for the sake of ministry, people and situations are healed. Persons with the gift of healing bring healing to people and to situations. Sometimes people come forward for a blessing, and ask for prayers for healing for themselves or for someone else. I would really appreciate you who have the gift of healing joining me in the laying on of hands. Who among us has the gift of healing?

The spiritual gift of working of miracles is the extraordinary ability to do powerful works. Actually the word miracle is an English translation of two Greek words which mean energy and power. Usually this spiritual gift is given to someone while they are using another gift. This gift is not planned, it happens. A teacher knows when he/she is teaching, a preacher knows when he/she is preaching, but a miracle happens without foreknowledge. Sometimes a teacher performs a miracle; a powerful work happens in the class or in the life of a student that day, unexplained, uninvited. God uses the teacher in a unusually powerful way. Who among us has experienced the gift of miracles?

There are three more spiritual gifts mentioned in this passage. Hold your finger there, and we will continue next week. Please realize and remember that God gives each of us, including you, spiritual gifts to do God's work for the common good.

© 1995 Douglas I. Norris