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This article continues an on-going, verse-by-verse series on the exhortations in Romans 12.
6We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. (Rom. 12:6-8).
In these verses, Paul continues his series of exhortations that deal with a Christian's relationship to other Christians. This section carries on the thought began in verses 4 and 5. There, he gave the analogy that the fellowship of Christians form one body in Christ, each member with its proper function. Here, he defines the functions as the spiritual gifts God has given us and enumerates some of these gifts, also expressing the attitude one should have in using them.
Paul begins by saying: "We have different gifts". Note first that "we", all of us, have gifts to use in the service of God. This exhortation is addressed to all of us, not just to pastors, missionaries, elders, deacons, etc. Therefore, each of us must determine what our gift is and how God would have us use it. Are you having trouble discerning what your gifts are? Your natural talents, abilities, even your character traits, are clues as to how God would have you serve Him. We must not forget that our talents and abilities are gifts given by God for His service, not solely for our own benefit. It is foolish to use your abilities merely for your own benefit. How will you feel meeting the Lord, never having used the gifts He has given you to serve Him?
Carrying on from his analogy in verses 4 and 5, Paul emphasizes that we all have "different" gifts. Christians are not uniform clones. God has blessed us all with "different" natural talents and strengths, as well as "different" gifts of the Holy Spirit. Having "different" gifts implies a division and distribution of labor, a division and distribution established by the Lord. Never feel like you must fit into someone else's mold, serving the Lord in the same way that they are. God has not made us all to be pastors, missionaries, street evangelists, etc. We have not all been given the character traits to do these things. Find the methods of service God has prepared for you specifically, and then rest in them.
The gifts are "according to the grace given us", not according to our own ambition or effort, not by our desire to do a great work for God, but by God's grace and His desire to achieve His purpose in our lives for His kingdom. This is why it is essential that we seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit when we serve Him. Often, the ways that He would have us serve Him are very different than the ways we would initially choose to serve Him.
Paul goes on to enumerate some of the "different gifts" of the Holy Spirit and to describe how the gifts should be practiced:
1. Prophecy - A "prophet", in the Bible, is anyone speaking with Divine authority and under the direct influence of the Holy Spirit, whether they are speaking concerning the past, present or future ("prophets" do not necessarily predict the future). The gift of prophecy is important. Paul, when enumerating spiritual gifts in another place, ranks the office of prophet second only to apostle: "And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers" (I Cor. 12:28). Here, Paul says that a prophet should use his gift "in proportion to his faith". A prophet should not prophesy anything that is not according to his faith. He should not speak as a prophet without being certain he is speaking the words of God. He should not get carried away with enthusiasm and begin to speak his own words while prophesying. Never feel that you are obliged to prophesy because everybody else is doing it. The punishment for false prophecy in the Old Testament was death: "But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death." (Deut. 18:20). So, be careful when using the words "Thus saith the Lord". Note also, that prophecy must also be in accordance with our faith. It should not contradict the doctrines and principles of the Word of God. Anyone prophesying something contrary to the Word of God is a false prophet.
2. Serving - Doing God's work by humbly serving His people is an important gift. Personally serving others has a great positive impact on the world's view of Christians and Christianity. It has much more impact than the work of great speakers or expositors. Those who serve by doing menial, low-profile work should not feel that they are less valuable to God. God honors those who responsibly and diligently carry out what He has called them to do, whether it be pastoring a church or waxing its floors.
3. Teaching - Teaching is different than prophecy. Teaching mainly entails the interpretation, exposition and explanation of the Bible. Teachers should not feel that they must be speaking words directly from God (as do prophets); however, teachers should seek the guidance and instruction of the Holy Spirit as they prepare to teach.
4. Encouraging - We all appreciate a word of encouragement. Encouragement is a valuable gift that can be given to all: for the Christian in his service of God; for the downtrodden and persecuted to trust and depend on the Lord; for the sinner to repent and turn to Jesus. I dare say that we can all serve the Lord at one time or another using the gift of encouragement.
5. Giving - Some are endowed by God the talent and ability to make money in this world. These are the ones who are prime candidates to cultivate the gift of giving! However, the gift of giving is not limited to financial giving. As Peter, you can say, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you" (Acts 3:6). You can give services, talents, time, etc. And when you give, do it as Jesus commanded: "Freely you have received, freely give" (Matt. 10:8). Also, Paul in these verses encourages the giver to "give generously". Giving should not be limited to the "duty" of tithing.
6. Leadership - The gift of leadership is, indeed, a gift from God. Very few are given the ability to be good leaders. Leadership is an important gift specifically in the organization of a church and its ministries. Every activity and service of a church needs a leader. Leaders should not take their role lightly, but, as Paul says, they should "govern diligently".
7. Mercy - Mercy is a Godly trait. Our God is characterized by His mercy. When one truly shows mercy, he is being a true representative of God. However, as Paul says, when you show mercy, do it "cheerfully", not grudgingly, not because you "have to", but sincerely and from the heart.
So, seek the gift that God would specifically have you use to serve Him. Do not try to copy the gifts of others, but cultivate and practice your specific gifts. Just think how productive and influential the church could be if all used their specific, God-ordained gifts in His service.
As you use your gifts, recognize that you are doing the work of God. Do not take your service lightly, but seriously; practice it diligently and responsibly, for the boss is always watching!
Now Father, we thank You that we can be of service to You. Guide us in our service, leading us to the methods of service that You have prepared for us. Give us a heart for service so that we may represent You faithfully as we serve. Let our service be a reflection of Your love to those around us. We ask these things Jesus' name. Amen.
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