Ready for it?
Here it is: The church at Rome did not have Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.
Take a gander at the list in Romans 12:6-8. Now look at 1 Corinthians 12:7-10 and 12:28. Different list isn’t it? Now we in the 21st century have the advantage of going through all of these various spiritual gifts listed by the apostles and in then compiling a handy list of all the spiritual gifts in the Bible.
Once you have the list of these gifts you ask people various questions to find out what they are passionate about and then you match their passions and experiences with the biblical lists of spiritual gifts. And in all honesty it’s probably closer to say that a spiritual sounding personality test emerges. Because let’s be honest an unbeliever could really like singing in church. And a very moral unbeliever may really get his kicks from serving people. Nonetheless…
Roll back to the church at Rome that receives Paul’s letter. There are only eight things listed. Nothing about discernment, wisdom, evangelism, miracles, healing, tongues, interpretation of tongues, faith, apostles, and some of the others that crop up on these inventories. So what did the poor chap who has the gift of discernment do in Rome? Did he move to Corinth where they’d really use, acknowledge, and appreciate his gift? Did he just try to go with some of his secondary gifts like teaching?
Is it possible that Romans 12:3-8 isn’t an encouragement to find your spiritual gift but it’s actually something else? Is it possible that the early church did not run people through spiritual gifts inventories?
If Not Spiritual Gifts Testing, Then What?
I don’t see the church of Rome sitting around taking tests trying to figure out where they are to serve in the local church. Nor do I see Paul’s encouragement here in Romans to be about the business of assessing their spiritual gifts, find out which one or two of these they have and then do them. I see it much less complicated. Let me give you an example.
As I’m writing this one of my good friends, Jason, has a medical issue with his face. Without giving away all of his medical history I will just say that it’s a very painful malady that will require him to get surgery later this month. I love Jason dearly. When I see that he is hurting my heart wells up within me to help him. But here’s the deal. I really really want to serve him but I’m going to do it really awkwardly because “acts of service” isn’t my spiritual bent.
Yet there are other people in our church that when somebody like Jason is hurting they immediately know what to do to provide comfort and service. Why? Well, because that’s their spiritual gift. Me? When Jason is hurting I pray for him, I exhort him, I might lead others to help, or even somehow teach because that is where my spiritual giftedness lies.
Let’s use Romans 12 to imagine Paul speaking to our church concerning Jason. “Don’t think of yourselves more highly than you ought. You know your level of faith. Don’t try to pretend that you are a superhero in the faith and that you have all the answers to pain and suffering if you’ve only been saved for about 3 weeks. But also if you’ve had an experience like this don’t pretend that you’re an idiot and can’t help. You know what God has done in your life. Respond accordingly. We all have different gifts and roles in the body. God makes it all move together in Christ. Guys, we know that Jason really needs his church right now. You know what to do…”
Now at this point when he says, “You know what to do” a different thing wells up inside of each of us. For some they say, “ah, yes I’ll bake him a cake”. For others, “oh, yes I’ll pray for him”. For somebody else they say, “right I’ll organize a group of people to throw a benefit dinner”. Another guy says, “ Janet, give me the check book”. And yet one other person says, “I’m going to go hang out with Jason and give him some encouragement”. And yet another guy writes an article about spiritual gifts and thinks that in some way it might help his buddy Jason.
And that’s what Paul is saying in Romans 12:4-8. When the hammer drops with a “you know what to do” we do it according to the way God has gifted us. And we do it with a Spirit-motivated attitude.
Serve the church. Serve our community. You know what to do…
This will hopefully make even more sense in part 2 when we look at how spiritual gifts testing can actually be crippling to a church’s discipleship and service.