I Corinthians 12:14-31
This is graduation time of year, which means a lot of soul-searching about what to do with one’s life. What a huge question to consider! Can you remember wondering what to do with your life? Some of you are asking that question right now (and some of you who graduated years back may be still asking it). It’s a tough question, isn’t it?
When we think about what to do vocationally in life we are actually asking a much deeper question, I think. When we consider what to do with our lives we are actually searching for a way to make our lives count, to know that our lives matter, to know our lives make a difference in this world.
I think most people would like to earn a large salary, but I also believe most people would trade money for a vocation that allows them to make a difference in the lives of other people and a difference in the world. How many of you would prefer to have meaning in life than money?
This morning we begin a sermon series on spiritual gifts, one of the most overlooked – and one of the most important – topics in who we are as people.
I believe God created every person with two things – one, a gift to use to make a difference in the world, and two, a desire to make a difference. As you look around society today you will see ample evidence of that second truth. Businesses sponsor days of service to encourage their employees to be involved in making a difference in their community. Schools encourage community involvement. And for those of you who have been applying to colleges, you may have discovered those schools are looking at more than simply grades and test scores – they are looking for involvement in service projects. In fact, I knew a brilliant young man who had off-the-chart test scores. His SAT was almost a perfect score. His ACT was near the top. He graduated with a 4.0. A brilliant young man. And yet he was turned down by his first choices of schools, not because he was lacking academically, but because he had not been involved in service projects.
This desire to serve – this expectation to serve – is a direct result of the faith that permeates our culture. This is one of the gifts of Christian faith to our culture, that we should serve and that we are created to serve.
This is the essence of spiritual gifts – God has given you a gift to make the world a better place and to help others and he wants you to put that gift to use. We are called as a church to help you discover that gift and to put it to use.
But sometimes churches don’t do a very good job of this, and I’ll tell you why – it’s because churches don’t always understand this is one of the foundations of what they were created and called to do.
I’ve been in a lot of churches throughout the course of my life, and most churches want to create a sense of unity. Unity is a good thing, but many churches go about it completely wrong. Most churches try to build unity on a sense of agreement. That will never happen, and it shouldn’t happen. Why should we have to agree on everything? What a boring world that would be!
The New Testament definition of unity is built on a very different idea, and it’s found in the passage we read this morning. Paul says unity is found when each person discovers and uses their spiritual gift. Isn’t that an interesting definition of unity?
To Paul, the church is like a physical body – each part has a particular function, and when all the parts work there is health in the body. What do we do when something is not functioning properly with our bodies? We go to the doctor to get it fixed. We want everything to work properly, don’t we?
Church health and church unity is not based on agreement and it’s not based on everyone getting along and it’s not based on an absence of conflict – church unity is based on people using their spiritual gifts.
Remember these truths –
You have a gift.
Many people say, reflexively, I don’t have a gift. Maybe some people feel it’s too arrogant to say I have this gift, but it’s simply recognizing a reality of how we are created by God.
We have provided spiritual gifts tests that help to identify specific gifts, and I hope you have taken the opportunity to work through one of those tests. But here is one of the simplest tests when it comes to spiritual gifts – what is your passion? I had a young lady ask me some years ago about how to become a singer. Like I know anything about singing. She has a beautiful singing voice and it is truly a gift. I told her she was a singer, but she started asking questions about how to perform and how to find opportunities to sing. What she was really asking was how can I make a living as a singer? If you have a passion for singing, sing. If you have a passion for writing, write. If you have a passion for organizing, call me, I need help with that one.
We must learn to separate gifts from vocation. In our culture we become so concentrated on vocation that we define ourselves by what we do for a living rather than by the gifts God has given us.
It’s interesting to note that very few Biblical characters are identified by their vocation. We know there were a couple of fishermen and that Paul was a tentmaker, but for the most part vocation is never mentioned.
You have a gift, and it is that gift that defines your life far more than what you do in order to earn a living. Throughout the summer we’ll be talking about some of the spiritual gifts, and I hope it will help you to identify your gift and inspire you to find ways to put it to use.
God desires that you use that gift.
I’m not saying this as a pitch on behalf of the Nominating Committee. It’s not that God needs you to use your gift, or that the church needs you to use your gift – you need to use your gift.
I’m fascinated at what happens on mission trips or other activities that are based on service. They are not usually the easiest of circumstances. They often have bad accommodations, so-so food, it’s hard and tiring work, but at some point in during the trip people will say this has been one of the best times of my life, or perhaps the best time of my life. In fact, I had a young man on a mission trip once who complained as we traveled to our location that he did not want to be there. His parents pushed him to go and he kept telling me that he didn't want to go. By the end of the week, though, he told me it had been one of the best weeks of his life.
How can that be? How can giving up a chunk of your precious time, sleeping on a hard floor, and eating bad food be the basis for one of the best times of your life? It’s because we are fulfilling a desire that God places within us. We certainly enjoy a vacation where we get away and relax and do what we want to do, but when we give of our lives to serve others we touch something far deeper within us – we touch that part of us that makes us understand we are doing something significant with our lives.
You are called to use your gift.
I think we make too much of a distinction when we use the word calling. Most of the time we reserve the word calling for ministers and people who do ministry as a vocation. But the reality is that we are all called, and we are called to use the gifts God has given us.
In May of 1978 Tanya and I had only been dating a couple of months. It was the end of the semester and her brother had come to campus to help her take her things home for the summer. I was in the lobby of her dorm when he came in. He’s a year and a half younger than Tanya so at the time he was almost 17, and all punk and swagger.
Mike and I had not met at that point. I still remember his first words to me. He came strutting over to me and said, so, I hear God has called you to be a minister. How did you know, did he whisper in your ear or something? What a punk.
But he asked a good question. I know I have been called because we have all been called.
God has given you a gift, and he calls you to use it. People need you to use your gift to make a difference in their lives. You need to use your gift to make a difference in your life.