July 14, 2013

Seventh Sunday after Trinity Sermon

Christians Answer

Continuing to talk about what Christians do, today’s sermon title is, “Christians Answer.”  Of course that makes us ask, “answer what?”  Christians answer the call of God.  Or, to put it another way, Christians devote themselves to the call of God.  For today let us divide the call of God into three parts.  First there is the call to faith, to believe and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.  Writing of this, the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians 2:14, God “called you by the Gospel.”  Next is the call to holy living and growing in the faith.  Paul wrote about this in many places, but one of the Church’s favourites has always been  Philippians 3:13 and 14; “forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ.”  Next, there are ministries and vocations to which we are called, and God has given us gifts to equip us for these tasks.  The Bible sometimes talks about being equipped by the gifts of the Spirit.  This is the area I want to talk about today.

How can I discover and use my spiritual gifts?  Believe it or not, that is a burning question in the minds of many today.  Bible studies, sermons, churches, even whole denominations have developed around this question.  Of course this question does not stand alone.  It is naturally joined with other questions, such as, what does it mean to have the Holy Spirit?  How can I know I have the Spirit? And, what are the gifts of the Holy Spirit?  I want to offer a few brief remarks about these issues, then I hope to address to subject of discovering and using your spiritual gifts.

First, what does it mean to have the Holy Spirit?  It means you have come to Christ in Biblical faith.  It means He has cleansed you of your sins and restored you to fellowship with God.  Now, rather than living apart from God, you live in and with God, and He lives in and with you.  The Bible uses many phrases and images to express this.  St. Paul, for example, refers to the Church, meaning the people, not the buildings, as the Temple of the Holy Spirit.  He means the Church is the home of the Holy Spirit.  Yes, the Holy Spirit indwells individual believers, but He indwells us as we are a part of the Church.  Christ dwells in us and we dwell in Christ, and the Holy Spirit is the means by which God accomplishes this.

Who has the Holy Spirit?  All real Christians have the Holy Spirit.  We have been brought into the Church through the work of the Spirit.  It is He who called us to believe in Christ, enabled us to understand the Bible message of grace through Jesus Christ, and even enabled us to believe in Christ in Biblical faith.  It is the Holy Spirit in us who enables us to keep believing and following Christ.  If you are a Christian, you have the Spirit.  Remember 2 Thessalonians 2:14, which I quoted just a few moments ago?  It tells us God called us by His Gospel.  The Holy Spirit is the One who does the calling.  It is He who accomplishes our calling through the Gospel.

How do you know you have the Spirit?  Two ways; first, the Bible says you do.  Second, your life shows the fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace.  Note that I did not say you know you have the Spirit because of ecstatic experiences, speaking in tongues, or supernatural abilities, such as healing the sick or telling the future.  You know you have the Holy Spirit when you have Biblical faith in Christ, and when your faith leads you to act and love like Jesus.

Now I want to talk about the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Most “Christians” today are on a quest to find their spiritual gifts and use them to the glory of God.  Such quests are misguided.  I say this for several reasons.  First, they are based on an erroneous understanding of the ministry and gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Second, they are essentially self-centered, rather than God centered.  Third, they are asking the wrong questions.  Instead of asking, what are my gifts and how can I use them? Christians should be asking, “what are my God-given callings in life, and how can I devote myself to them with God’s help?  Christians answer their calling.

We don’t have to go on some great quest to find our callings in life.  We don’t have to go on some great spiritual retreat.  We don’t have to go to conferences held by famous TV and radio preachers or para-church organizations.  We don’t have to read the books about finding our spiritual gifts written by the celebrity preachers and entertainers of pop-christianity.  All we have to do is look into the Bible to see how God wants us to live and what He wants us to do.  Then, trust Him to enable us to do it.  And most of that is right in front of us.

For example, are you a father?  If yes, then being a father is one of your most important callings in life. Are you a mother?  Are you a wife, husband, daughter, son, in-law, Church member?  If yes, these are your callings in life.  Accept these callings, and seek to fulfill them as God teaches in the Bible.

Now, here is the point, and it is so simple most of us don’t even notice it, the gifts of the Spirit are the attitudes and abilities you need to fulfill your calling.  Do you need love, joy, and longsuffering (patience) to fulfill these callings?  Seek these things as gifts from God.  Do you need wisdom, humility, self-giving, and the ability to endure a few hurts and being misunderstood and unappreciated along the way?  Seek these things as gifts from God.  But understand this; God will probably not give these things to you in their mature form.  Rather, He will plant them in you, like seeds in a garden, and develop them in you over the years.  Like a garden, you will experience rains and storms and winds and droughts, as God develops these gifts in you through a long, long process of learning and experience.  Think of it the same way you think about growing in your understanding of the Bible.  God does not just pour it into your brain.  You have to read and study for years.  As I look back over my life, I wish I had known then what I know now.  I know if I could do it over again, I would be a far better husband and father, and son and brother, and minister.  But there aren’t any practice rounds in life, and we learn our most important tasks through On the Job Training, and we make many, many mistakes.  But that is part of the way God develops your gifts.  Expect it.

The same is true of spiritual gifts in the Church.  Yes, being a member of a Biblical Church is part of every Christian’s calling.  Therefore, God obviously wants to help us fulfill this calling well.  So He gives gifts to us to enable us.  Enable us to what?  Build up the body in love.  But these gifts, too, take time to develop, for we mature into them.  We grow into them and they grow in us.  For example, the Bible talks about the gift of encouragement.  I think God expects us all to be encouragers in the Church, and has given that gift to each of us.  But that gift matures in us as we grow in Christ, and as we exercise it.  The more we encourage, the better we become at encouraging.

But I am straying from my point, which is, don’t waste time worrying about spiritual gifts.  Look for your callings in life and apply yourself to them.  Ask and expect God’s help.  Then you will be using your gifts for His glory.