Serving According to Your Shape

1 Corinthians 12:1-7

September 10, 2006 | Brian Bill

There’s something really big happening today.  That’s right.  The lovable Green Bay Packers are hosting the loser Chicago Bears.  Do I detect some grumbling and groaning?  I want you to know that it’s not easy cheering for God’s team and being persecuted as a Packer fan.  Someone came into my office this week and wiped her feet on my Packer rug, telling me that she had something nasty on her shoes that she needed to get off.  

Stuart Briscoe, who ministers in Wisconsin, makes a great analogy between serving and sitting in a stadium watching football: During a football game there are twenty-two people on the field in desperate need of rest, and sixty thousand people in the stands in desperate need of exercise!  It’s our goal here to get everyone in the game.  We want to move people from being spectators to become sold-out servants who are exercising what God has already enabled them to do, serving faithfully in their field of giftedness.  Using the letters of the word TEAM, it is true that Together Everyone Accomplishes More.

This may be difficult for some of you to believe but there’s something even bigger taking place today.  This sermon will be much shorter than usual!   Some of you just woke up and others of you are ready to applaud.  That reminds me of the answer a student gave to a question asked by a teacher: “What do you call a person who keeps on talking when people are no longer interested?”  A young boy raised his hand in the back of the room and replied, “That would be a preacher.”  Our goal today is that all of us will move from clapping in the stands to a commitment to service so that we’ll hear the applause of Heaven.

Before we jump into our text in 1 Corinthians 12, let’s set the context.  The Corinthian church was filled with people who were given over to competitive sports, it was crippled with division, and there were arguments, lawsuits, and immorality.  On top of that, there was confusion about marriage, food sacrificed to idols, worship, the Lord’s Supper, the Resurrection, giving, and spiritual gifts.  In particular, some people thought they were more important than others because they had some pretty spectacular gifts.  When Paul wrote this letter to the church he specifically addressed these issues in an effort to get everyone on the same team.  Please turn in you Bible to 1 Corinthians 12:1-7.  Our coach has drawn up four plays for us to follow so that we can get in the game and function like a team.

1. Deepen your understanding of spiritual gifts (1). 

Notice verse 1: “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.”  The word “now” indicates that Paul is tackling a new topic because he doesn’t want anyone to be naïve about spiritual matters.  This phrase is super-emphatic in the original.  The word “ignorant” is where we get the word “agnostic” from as he cautions Christians about being too passive or lethargic or unconcerned on the one hand, or being too set on spectacular spiritual gifts on the other.  They not only misunderstood spiritual gifts; they were also misusing their gifts.  

In short, a spiritual gift is the supernatural ability to carry out the work of Christ through His church.  It’s also important to recognize that a spiritual gift is given by the Holy Spirit at conversion, whereas a natural talent is something we’re born with.  While we must yield our talents and abilities to the Lord’s work, we must pay particular attention to unleashing our spiritual gifts for the good of the body of Christ.  

The Barna Research Group has reported that while 88% of evangelical Christians have heard about spiritual gifts, more than half have no idea what particular gift they have been given.  In his book called, “The Ministry Playbook,” Henry Klopp writes: “Without maximum utilization of spiritual gifts, the church will not fulfill its mission.  The church needs to be organized in such a way as to make full use of the spiritual gifts of the congregation.  Ministry should not be viewed as a bunch of jobs to be done or positions to be filled but rather as a bunch of opportunities for spiritual gifts to be unleashed.”

If you were to add up all the distinct spiritual gifts, you’d come up with about 20.  Since each of the lists does not appear to be exhaustive, there may even be more.  Here are some: Teaching, prophecy, helps, knowledge, faith, administration, exhortation, giving, leadership, mercy, evangelism and serving.  These gifts are found in four books of the New Testament: Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 4.  It’s important to keep in mind that we’re commanded to do much of the things that are also listed as spiritual gifts.  For instance, while some people have the gift of giving, all of us are to be givers of our resources to kingdom purposes.  Likewise, we aren’t excused from our responsibility to witness just because we might not have the gift of evangelism.

2. Dedicate yourself to Christ (2-3). 

the Holy Spirit empowers and energizes us for ministry

In verses 2-3, Paul challenges us to be fully committed to Christ and to His supremacy before we embark on a path of serving.  In short, we must be influenced by the Holy Spirit before we can serve with any kind of spiritual impact: “You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols.  Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”  Our focus must be on the Giver, not on the gifts themselves.  Unfortunately, the Holy Spirit is often neglected in many churches today.  Paul reminds us that before we were saved we were led astray by our emotions and false doctrines.  Now that we are believers, the Holy Spirit empowers and energizes us for ministry.  Let me ask you a few questions.  Does Jesus have all of you?  Is He number one in your life?  Are you living under the lordship of Christ?  General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, was once asked the secret of his amazing life: “I told the Lord He could have all there is of William Booth.”

One of the lessons we can learn from the church at Corinth is this: having spiritual gifts does not necessarily make you spiritual.  The Corinthian church had all the gifts but they were carnal.  They had spiritual gifts but they were selfish.  Just as no one can confess the Lordship of Christ apart from the Spirit’s leading, so too, it is impossible to live beyond ourselves without being led by the Spirit.  Galatians 5:25: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”  

3. Determine your S.h.a.p.e. (4-6). 

Paul next challenges us to incorporate diversity in our understanding of spiritual gifts so that we can determine how we are uniquely shaped to serve in verses 4-6: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.” Notice that the Trinity is involved with the giving of gifts: the Spirit, the Lord Jesus, and God the Father.  In light of that, shouldn’t we be serious about using what we’ve been given?  In addition, since the Trinity models diversity within unity, shouldn’t we strive for unity within the amazing diversity?  Father, Son and Holy Spirit make up the divine team; when we recognize that we’ve all been gifted differently and have different roles and responsibilities on the team, we reflect the multi-faceted beauty of the Trinity.

We must remember that no one can do everything but everyone can do something

The key word in this passage is the word “different.”  It’s repeated three times.  We have different kinds of gifts, there are different ways to serve, and there are different workings.  There’s not just one gift that fits all believers.  I don’t know if you caught the interview this week with Rex Grossman, the quasi-quarterback for the Chicago Bears.  A reporter asked him if he was ready for the big game today.  He responded by saying, “Yes, we’re very ready!  We’ve never been more united.  In fact, we’re so united that everybody on the team has decided to play quarterback.”  Actually, that might help the Bears because last time I checked they were still looking for a QB.  Just so you know, I made that interview up but it reveals what many of us really think as we try to get others to do what we think they should do.  We must remember that no one can do everything but everyone can do something.  Together everyone accomplishes more, but only if we all play our own positions.

The word “gifts” comes from the Greek, “charismata,” which is the root for the word “grace.”  Grace gifts are those different divine abilities distributed by the Holy Spirit.  There are different kinds of “service.”  This word speaks of opportunities for expressing our spiritual gifts in practical ways.  What I do with my gift may look different from how and where you use your gift.  The word “working” refers to the results or accomplishments that come when we use our gifts in meaningful service.  Whether or not we are able to see the fruit, God does.  He is responsible for the results, not us.  We get the word “energy” from this Greek word.  When we serve according to our giftedness, God gives us energy and we in turn energize the church through our service.

There are so many ways that we are different from each other.  That’s how God designed us.  A fully devoted follower of Christ understands and celebrates this variety in the Body of Christ.  The common acrostic S-H-A-P-E is often used to demonstrate this diversity:

Spiritual Gifts (what you do)

Heart (where you do it)

Abilities (talents).  

Personality (how you do it)

Experiences (our spiritual resume)

I’ve used this acrostic many times because I think it’s helpful.  However, as I studied the topic of spiritual gifts again this week, I would change the emphasis so that it looks like this: S.h.a.p.e.   The Bible teaches that spiritual gifts are the most important part of our shape.  The other aspects are significant, but they are not on an equal footing with spiritual gifts.  

I shared this illustration several years ago, right after we opened the doors to the Family Life Center, but it bears repeating.  Suppose someone dropped a plate full of dessert on the new floor in the Fellowship Hall.  This is how people with different gifts would respond.

  • Gift of prophecy “That’s what happens when you’re not careful.”
  • Gift of service “Oh, let me help you clean it up.”
  • Gift of teaching “The reason that it fell was because it was too heavy on             one side.”
  • Gift of exhortation “Next time, maybe you should let someone else carry it.”
  • Gift of giving “Here, you can have my dessert.”
  • Gift of mercy “Don’t feel too bad.  It could have happened to anyone.”
  • Gift of administration “Jim, would you get the mop?  Sue, please help pick this up.  Mary, could you get him another dessert?”

We’ve all been gifted differently and so we act differently and we serve differently.  Friends, this church has every gift that is needed in order to function as a biblical community.  1 Corinthians 1:7: “Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.”  This verse is written to the entire church at Corinth.  Even with all its problems, this community of faith did not lack any spiritual gift.  Likewise, this church has just the right amount of spiritual gifts sprinkled among us!  But if you stay in the stands, we will all lose.  Together everyone accomplishes more.

4. Deploy yourself for others (7). 

Look at verse 7: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”  The word “manifest” means to make plain.  Spiritual gifts are given to show the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives because He is the Giver of gifts.  When you hear someone say something like, “This is my private gift,” than something is not quite right.  Gifts are personal, but they are not intended to be private.  If more attention is drawn to you when you serve than to Him, then something is wrong.  If your gift is not for the Holy Spirit, it is not from the Holy Spirit. 

This verse teaches us two things.  First, every born again believer has been given the manifestation of the Spirit.  Notice the phrase, “each one.”  Every Christian has been given at least one spiritual gift.  1 Corinthians 7:7: “…each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.” 

Second, we’ve been given at least one spiritual gift for the “common good,” or benefit of the body.  This term literally means “to gather together,” referring to the idea of togetherness.  If you feel isolated this morning, it may be because you are not actively deploying your gift.   Ephesians 4:16: “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”  Gifts are given so that they can be given in service to others so that the church will be fortified.  I’m concerned that too many of us are more interested in studying than in serving.  We’d rather learn it than live it.  Remember that gifts are received, not achieved.  1 Corinthians 12:11 tells us that the Spirit “gives to each one, just as He determines.”  The gifts of grace are given to you so that as each part does its work, the church can be built up.  

I came across an article recently in a Christian magazine written by a well-known pastor.  I’m not going to use his name because I respect this man a great deal and I don’t want to disparage him publicly, but I was struck by how much focus he put on “self” in his article.  In his effort to mobilize Christians to serve according to their SHAPE, he focused on how serving helps us reduce stress, it increases our success, it deepens our satisfaction, and it builds our self-esteem.  While I’m sure some of this happens, I respectfully disagree with this approach.  We are to serve because we’re called to be servants and we’re to deploy our gifts for the good of the team, not for own self-esteem.  Gifts are given for the glory of God and the good of His church.

Paul’s concern for young Timothy was that he not only be able to identify his gift, but that he would deploy it by doing something with it: “Do not neglect your gift…I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God” (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6).  Do you need to allow the Spirit to fan your gift into full flame?  Are you burning bright for Him, or are you just flickering or smoldering?  You’re needed in this church!  God has gifted you and now He wants to use you.  Don’t allow yourself to think you don’t matter.  Nobody is a nobody in the body of Christ.  No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.

I heard a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.  There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.  Anybody could’ve done it, but Nobody did it.  Somebody got angry about this, because it was Everybody’s job.  Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.  It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

A man approached a minister and told him he wanted to join the church but he didn’t think he had a lot of time to devote to serving: “I have a very busy schedule and can’t be called upon to do any cleaning or teaching or serving in any way.  I can’t help with special projects or with the students as all my evenings are tied up.”  The minister thought for a moment and then said, “I believe you’re at the wrong church.  The church you’re looking for is three blocks down the street, on the right.”  The man left and followed the preacher’s directions.  He soon came to an abandoned and boarded-up church building.  The pastor had made his point.

In order for our team to win, we must play together.  There is no gift that PBC needs that God has not already given to one of you.  That’s what mutual ministry is all about.  I encourage you to:

  • Deepen your understanding of spiritual gifts
  • Dedicate yourself to Christ
  • Determine your S.h.a.p.e.
  • Deploy yourself for others

We must move from being spectators to using our spiritual gifts as sold-out servants of the Savior!  Your strengths make everyone else stronger.  Your gifts are grace to me.  Together everyone accomplishes more.  Don’t run alone.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?