Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Vows of Membership- Gifts

1st Corinthians 12:1-11, 2nd Corinthians 8:1-12 and 9:6-10

We are continuing our five week long series of sermons on the five vows of membership in the United Methodist Church. We are on week three: Gifts.

I was initially frustrated by this membership vow because I find the word “gifts” to be a little ambiguous. It could refer to our Spirit gifts, the talents and abilities that God has given to us. Or it could refer to our financial gifts, our treasures, which is another way that we support the Church and offer our gifts to God.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that we are talking here about two sides of the same coin. The financial resources we have are ours because of the talents and abilities that God has given us. Both are gifts from God, and both should be used to give glory to God and support the ministries of the Church. And we’ll talk about both today.

First we’ll deal with gifts of the Spirit or Spirit gifts, which is the primary focus of 1st Corinthians. You’ll notice I try to use the phrase gifts of the Spirit or Spirit gifts instead of “spiritual gifts.” There’s a reason that we’ll get to shortly.

1st Corinthians 12 tells us some very basic information about Spirit gifts: There is a diversity of gifts, but they all come from the unity of the Holy Spirit and are given for a unity of purpose, which is to build up the Body of Christ.

What I want to focus on this morning are what I consider to be five fallacies, five misunderstandings about Spirit gifts that can hinder us from using them fully.

The first is to say, “I have no gifts. I don’t have anything to offer for building up the Body of Christ.” Scripture makes it clear that everyone has gifts of the Spirit given by God for the building up of the Body. If you are not using your gifts to build up the Body, it’s not because you lack them.

The second fallacy is to say, “Well, okay, I have talents and abilities. I’m good at __________, but that’s not a spiritual gift.” As I said, I try to avoid the phrase spiritual gifts because it implies that unless something seems obviously spiritual, then it’s not useful for building up the Body of Christ. Just because your gift is not prayer or preaching or healing or another obviously “spiritual” gift doesn’t mean you don’t have a gift of the Spirit.

There are four places in the New Testament where there are lists of Spirit gifts. If you add them together, you come up with a list of about 25-30 Spirit gifts. And often Spirit gift tests or inventories only include those 25-30. But that is certainly not all that there are. We can’t put limits on the Spirit of God and say, “You can only do this.” Those lists should be seen as representative of the kinds of gifts that God can give, not as exhaustive of all there are. And even some of the gifts listed in the New Testament, like administration or leadership, are not things that are obviously “spiritual” in nature.

We may be tempted to think our other abilities and talents do not come from the Spirit. Maybe you are talented at computers or carpentry or knitting, but you think, well, that’s not a “spiritual gift.” But all those talents are given to us by God, and all can be used for the glory of God. What church can’t benefit from the skills of a tech-savvy person? A talent in carpentry can be used not just to keep the church up but also as an outreach to people in the community, especially the elderly or disabled who may struggle to do those things on their own. Many churches have ministries making prayer shawls or baby gowns. Every gift we have can be used for the glory of God and the building up of the Church.

A third pitfall is to think, “Because I don’t have such and such a gift, my gifts are insignificant.” Obviously, there are some gifts that attract more attention than others, like preaching or leadership or any kind of miraculous gift. But the “behind the scenes” gifts like prayer or encouragement or wise counsel are often the most appreciated by those who receive the benefit of them.

A fourth pitfall is to think, “I’m more important because of my gifts.” That was the situation in Corinth where believers with certain gifts, most especially speaking in tongues, were being elevated above other believers. I think it’s also the pitfall of the modern Pentecostal movement which often elevates believers with certain extraordinary gifts above others.

A final fallacy is to think that “my gifts are a great benefit to me.” Spirit gifts are given to be used for the benefit of others and the building up of the Body of Christ. Whatever our gifts, they should be used for the glory of God and the benefit of the community of Christ, not personal gain.

Spirit gifts are one of the resources we have to support the ministries of the Church. Our financial resources are another way that we can give glory to God and building up the Church. For a discussion of that, we turn to 2nd Corinthians.

2nd Corinthians was written by Paul while he was on his Third Missionary Journey through Macedonia, Greece, and Asia Minor, on his way to Jerusalem. One of his purposes was to collect an offering from the mostly Gentile churches of those regions to benefit the mostly Jewish Church in Judea. Judea was hard hit by drought and famine in the mid-first century, and Christians, being a religious minority, were particularly hard hit. This was also a way to build unity in the oft-divided early Church.

It was the Corinthians who had first proposed this collection, but then they had failed to follow through. Meanwhile, the Macedonians, who were poor compared to the Corinthians, had come through in a big way. So Paul lifts them up as an example of generosity. We’re probably uncomfortable with that, but the fact of the matter is that we learn good behavior from good examples. So unless we see examples of faithfulness and generosity in giving, we’re unlikely to learn the behavior for ourselves.

Let’s answer two questions about giving. First, why do we give?

We give because we serve a generous Savior who is the supreme example of generosity. Christ laid aside the “wealth” of heaven to become a poor servant so that through his suffering, we might become rich in grace.

We also give to express our love for God. If we have received love from God, it should prompt us to express love in return, and giving is a way to do that. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there is your heart.” In other words, our use of treasure reveals what is most valuable to us.

Giving is also an act of faith. It’s an act of trust in God to be able to say, “I know I’m not on my own. I can give something away without fear because I trust God to care for me.”

Second question: How do we give? I find here five principles of God-honoring giving.

First, we give for the glory of God, not self. Jesus told us that if we give for the sake of our own reputation, that is all the reward we will ever receive. And there are certainly ways we can do that. I think an obvious example is the super-wealthy in our

society who set up charitable foundations in their own name and then give large gifts to them. We can do similar things with our giving to draw attention to ourselves, though probably on a smaller scale.

Second, we should give freely. If we give under any compulsion but the impulse of the Holy Spirit, then we aren’t really giving, are we? High-pressure sales pitches have no place in the Church, though unfortunately, they do sometimes happen.

Third, we should give proportionately. God measures our giving by our ability to give, not in terms of absolute dollars and cents. It’s the reason Jesus praised the poor widow who gave two small coins and not the wealthy who put in large amounts that would never affect their own standard of living.

And that brings up the fourth point: We should give sacrificially. God is especially honored by our giving when we give more than just out of our excess. If we only give out of our excess, we’ll never give much because we are too conditioned to think we never have enough.

I do believe in tithing, the giving of the first 10 percent of our earnings back to God. That’s an example of proportional giving. But I also believe that we should see tithing as the first word on giving, not the last. We should try to go beyond it. I’ve been tithing since I started working, but the challenge I’ve felt from God in recent years is to work to go beyond a tithe.

And finally, we should give cheerfully. Giving should be a joy, not a chore. It should be a joyful way to express our gratitude to God for all of his gifts to us. We have received more from God than we could ever give back.

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