I do recognise when the Holy Spirit is the subject of sermons that some people in church may feel quite uncomfortable. In many churches, 2 of the 3 persons of the Trinity – God the Father and God the Son – tend to get much air time; but sadly the Holy Spirit is often neglected. I think there may be several reasons for that:
- It can be hard for people to grapple and identify with the Holy Spirit;
- When we use the word “charismatic” it conjures up so many different and unhelpful images. I am sure that you have heard the expression about charismatics “swinging from the chandeliers”, charismatics “waving their hands around in the air a lot” or charismatics “babbling with some kind of gobbledegook”.
In thinking specifically about the gifts of the Spirit, there are other reasons too why people may feel uncomfortable in making use of the God-given gifts they are blessed with. These can include:
- Feeling inferior or inadequate
- Not wanting to come across as being full of pride
- A lack of confidence; feeling shy
- Not being given an opportunity
- Not being invited to share
- Not knowing there is a need
- A lack of understanding and training about the gifts of the Spirit and what it is to “be church”
- Insufficient resources
- Not knowing where our gifts and talents may best be used
- Insecurity and fear of failure
- Feeling intimidated by people around us who ‘seem’ more talented and more gifted than we are
- Not realising that there opportunities to get involved and have a go
- Lack of time due to other pressures
- Bad experiences in the past
If we look at the parable of the sower in Mark 4: 1- 20, we can see how Satan can all too easily prevent a seed that has been sown from growing and yielding fruit. Our prayer should be that we will be as the ‘good soil’ so that when we ‘hear the word and receive it’, we will ‘keep yielding fruit – thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.’ It is so easy to forget that we are all too human, and we make mistakes. It also takes effort on our part to be as the ‘good soil’.
What we don’t understand we tend to be fearful of. And I think that the standard and frequency of teaching in the church on this subject leaves a lot to be desired. I believe we are called to express our faith and our prayers in a Trinitarian way; we shouldn’t neglect the Holy Spirit! At the most simple and perhaps also the most profound level, we pray to God the Father through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, it seems appropriate on Pentecost Sunday in which we commemorate the coming of the promised Holy Spirit to the church that we should begin this sermon series on the Gifts of the Spirit and the Fruit of the Spirit. We are also told in the Bible “Keep on pursuing love, yet be seeking earnestly the spiritual gifts, especially the ability to prophesy.” (1 Corinthians 14: 1) It is astonishing to me that we spend so little time and effort in that seeking!!
My heartfelt desire – and one that fuels my prayers – is that you might be released to be all that you are created to be in Christ, and that you might know the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in your lives – His anointing and his equipping. In sharing my heart with the leadership team and engaging in some process of discernment we believe that this is important and the right time for us as a church to explore this together. There is both a need and an opportunity for us together to be the body of Christ in all its fullness.
So over the course of the next few sermons, I will be taking you through a series on the Gifts of the Spirit and the Fruit of the Spirit. The first two sermons will focus on the Gifts of the Spirit, beginning with us looking at an introduction and gifts for practical service and in the second sermon moving on to look at gifts of utterance. In the third and final sermon in this series, we will explore together the Fruit of the Spirit.
Models of the Church
The Bible tells us about what are often referred to as gifts and graces (charismata and charis). Although the root Greek word ‘charis’ is the same, the meaning of the two words is fundamentally different. Although both gifts and graces are freely given to us from God, grace is given for the salvation of those who have it; gifts are bestowed for the edification and building up of God’s church and salvation of others.
I think that when we begin to consider this material it is important to begin by spending some time outlining some thoughts about ecclesiology – what it is to be church. We all know that church is not the building in which we worship in – beautiful so that may be; church is always the people of God gathered. There are many models of the church in the Bible. The church is the “bride of Christ”, and the church is the body of Christ (Colossians 1:15)
I want to focus today on that latter model – the church as the body of Christ. I wonder how many of you feel like you are part of a greater body? There are implications and consequences of being part of one body, being part of the same body:
- When one of us is hurting, we all feel it
- We all, without exception, have a role to play
- No one role is more important than any other
- We need to work together to keep healthy; we need to be united and work to and for a common vision and purpose in Christ
- Our very lifeblood and spiritual DNA has to be founded in self-sacrificial love
To use that illustration of the body, it is difficult when people are members of a church and may not realise what their giftings are. If that is the case we have failed; if we fellowship together, on Sunday morning, in House Groups and at church social events and church weekend aways, then as we get to know one another we begin to realise particular gifts and talents that individuals may have. I am sure if you consider people you know in church you can quite easily think how “’Fred’ is really good at this or ‘Edna’ is really good at that”, whoever Fred or Edna might be in our context.
With that in mind, it can be helpful when a church begins to look at the gifts of the Spirit together. My hope is that in providing some teaching on the gifts that it might encourage is to prayerfully consider what our own individual giftings are and how we might use them for the glory of God. And if you already have some understanding and insight into your giftings and you already use them hopefully it might refresh and encourage you in your ministry. We also have an opportunity to prayerfully reflect on what other people’s giftings may be who may well need encouragement.
We also need to consider what defines us as people? Do we allow ourselves to be defined by this broken world in which we live in? We are in the world but not of the world. What defines us is our Heavenly Father; we are children of God, we are esteemed by God, we are a royal priesthood, and we are ambassadors of Christ.
An introduction to the Gifts of the Spirit
So what are the Gifts of the Spirit? Well to begin with let us consider the following:
- There is no such thing as a ‘complete list’ of the Gifts of the Spirit in the Bible
- Everyone has a gift (1 Peter 4: 10)
- Specific gifts are reserved for individuals, i.e. not everyone will have the same gift (1 Corinthians 12: 30)
- Many people may have more than one gift (1 Corinthians 14: 26)
- Spiritual gifts are apportioned by God (1 Corinthians 12: 6 – 11, 28 – 29)
- We may keep on desiring more gifts (1 Corinthians 12: 31)
- We should ‘devote ourselves’ to using the gifts we are given (Romans 12: 7 – 8)
- People with gifts are themselves gifts from Christ (Ephesians 4: 7 – 13)
- The hallmarks of the Gifts of the Spirit include:
- Bringing glory to God rather than man – the man who had been born lame praised God not Peter (Acts 3: 9);
- Upbuilding or edifying individuals (1 Corinthians 14: 26);
- Upbuilding or edifying the church – the body of Christ (Ephesians 4: 12)
- An escalation into the Fruit of the Spirit – a consequence of the sanctifying work of the Spirit within us (Ephesians 5: 8 – 9)
“If you are led by God’s Spirit, you will say that Jesus is Lord, and you will never curse Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 12:3)
In very general terms, the Gifts of the Spirit can be split into three main categories:
- Gifts of utterance
- Gifts for practical service
- Gifts of administration
This week I want to focus on the last 2, namely gifts for practical service and gifts of administration – recognising that we don’t necessarily have ALL of the gifts ALL of the time – we may be blessed with a specific gift for a specific purpose – for a time and a season. Gifts for practical service can be split further into two categories:
- Gifts of power. These include:
- Great faith
I believe that as Christians we all have some measure of faith. However, I also believe that there are times when God might call a community or an individual into an even greater expression of faith which in itself is a result of a gift of the Spirit. Some years ago I had an encounter with a woman who was very damaged who described herself in our initial discussions as being a ‘child of the devil’. When she realised I was a Christian, she said with great vehemence and malice “I suppose you are going to share your testimony with me.” She was quite astonished by my reply. I said “why should I waste my time sharing my testimony with you? If I ever do share my testimony with you, it will be because I feel prompted to do so by God.” Our discussions continued and I was well aware of a real spiritual struggle going on. One day in the middle of winter I felt prompted to say something really odd which required me to step out in great faith because it was so unusual and totally unexpected – and certainly not what I would typically do! I believe God prompted me to say a simple and short sentence…“That you might believe, in seven days you will see a butterfly.” What an odd thing to say!
- Power to heal the sick
I have had the privilege of witnessing some miraculous healings but I want to be clear here about two specific things. Firstly, we should not limit sickness to physical sickness. Healing of the sick can include healing of people who suffer in mind, body or spirit – and that would include people struggling with mental health issues, people who are physically unwell or people who are suffering spiritually. If you think about the prayer ministry that takes place here, that is an opportunity for people with this kind of gift to make use of it. The second point is that we must never lose sight of the fact that ultimate healing is being with God.
- Power to work mighty miracles
In Western society, we don’t often witness “mighty miracles”. I don’t think that is because God isn’t capable; I think it is tied up with cultural inhibition. There are places in Africa where mighty miracles take place in the church frequently; consider the ministry of that great evangelist Rheinhard Bonnke with Christ for All Nations. If you get chance, look up the organisation and see what miracles are taking place daily.
- Gifts of sympathy. These include:
- Acts of helping / servanthood
Think for a moment about the many acts of helping and servanthood that take place here already. There are people who volunteer for the over 50’s lunch club, PATCH, the Homework Club, Family Café, Kingdom Kids, Refreshments, setting up the church for Messy Church and helping with it…the list goes on!
A classic example of the gift of encouragement can be seen in Barnabas in the Bible. We learn of Barnabas in Acts 4:36-37 “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”
- Contributing to the needs of others
When I first moved in to the Vicarage, a group of people from church were really kind in bringing meals round for me for the first few days. There was a need and it was responded to very generously and very graciously. I know of others in church who at one time or another have had real needs which have often been met by the generosity and love of others in the church.
- Works of mercy
I think showing mercy has at its heart a deep outworking of the grace of God. It is an outworking of Kingdom values like love, forgiveness, compassion – and can include loving people who are on the fringe of society or the church because either society or the individual has distanced them. People who have a gift of works of mercy love people to life – literally!
In a 21st century context this might include things like ministering to the bereaved, those in care homes, people of other faiths, ministering to the elderly, the widow, the orphan, people struggling with the challenges of life. It is a gift that those with a servant heart have. Those in the early church who had such a gift were called deacons of the church.
In addition to these there are also gifts of administration and leadership which include forms of oversight and organisation.
It is clear that in order to have these gifts you don’t need to have some formal position in the church, although you would hope that people who do have a formal position in the church have been recognised as having some of the gifts.
If you find that you see these gifts in your life or the life of others then do prayerfully consider sharing that – in the case of giftings you may have, share with me, the Church Wardens or any member of the team. And in the case of giftings you may recognise in someone else, why not have a word with them and encourage them?
Remember at all times that in Christ you have a calling, a value and a purpose and seek earnestly the gifts of the Spirit. May your prayer be “Come Holy Spirit, Come.”